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Mosque Or Temple Won't Fill Stomach: Musicians Lament Loss Of Kashi's Old Culture

As the old city of Kashi swarms with media crews and camerapersons along with throngs of cops waiting on the sidelines, some of the city’s residents lament the loss of Varanasi’s charm and intrinsic artistry to the politics of division and development. 

Lighting at Banaras Ghat.
Lighting at Banaras Ghat. Tribhuvan Tiwari/Outlook

The stir caused by the Gyanvapi mosque-Shringar Gauri temple dispute in Varanasi has left a bad taste in the mouth of the city’s artists, musicians and local communities. As the old city of Kashi swarms with media crews and camerapersons along with throngs of cops waiting on the sidelines, some of the city’s residents lament the loss of Varanasi’s charm and intrinsic artistry to the politics of division and development. 

Arun Chatterjee, a resident of Varanasi, a scribe by profession and a tabla player by passion, laments the loss of the old culture of Kashi when one could hear the sound of mridangam and pakhawaj from every house of the Old City. 

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"Music is in itself a way to spirituality. Many don’t have the time to go to temples of mosques. But even if one can remember god through a small bhajan, through an azaan, it’s a form of prayer. In Varanasi, such spirituality was always in currency. But today, people want symbols like mosques and temples alone to represent god," Chatterjee aserts. 

Left side  Badrinath Pndit and right side Arun Chaterjee
Left side Badrinath Pandit and right side Arun Chatterjee Tribhuvan Tiwari/Outlook

Badri Narayan Pandit, another musician, adds that issues like the Gyanvapi mosque are driven by politics and often hide the real issues faced by people or communities, especially artists. “Building a temple or razing a mosque will not help us fill our stomachs. If they really want to the save the culture of Varanasi, they should focus on improving lives for the artist communities of the city that give it its distinct culture,” says Pandit.

Both Chatterjee and Pandit rehearse regularly with Mahant Viswambar Nath Mishra, the Mahant of Sankat Mochan temple in Kashi and the head of the Mechanical Engineering department at IIT BHU. Apart from being a man of God and science, Mishra is also a pakhawaj player pas excellence. He is also a vocal dissident of the recent development drives in Kashi and the current mandir-masjid politics.

 Mahant Viswambar Nath Mishra
Mahant Viswambar Nath Mishra Tribhuvan Tiwari/Outlook

“Varanasi is a prototype of India. People from all states, religions and communities have come and settled here, and live in peace. Some say it’s a religious place, but really, it’s a spiritual place with its own syncretic cult­ure,” Mishra tells Outlook. Of late, Mishra fears this culture is under threat from political for­c­es. While politics does not surprise him, he claims he is somewhat shocked by the people of Kashi today. “People here were always vocal. They have never stood for any nonsense and knew how to make their objections heard. Today’s Kashi seems to have become a mute spectator to the tyranny of a powerful few,” Mishra says.

Read the In-Depth Story -- Gyanvapi: Tales Of Fear, Hope And Redemption From Ancient Kashi

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