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Located on the Ganga, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, means many things to many people. Some come here to absolve themselves of all sins, some see it as the abode of god Shiva, some are driven by curiosity while for tourists, it is a friendly city where you can pick up spiritual merit, enjoy local food, go shopping and sightseeing.
But Varanasi means a lot more than that, according to Shagufta Siddhi, who wears several hats, including that of an educator, an art historian and a trained archivist. She has also started the not-for-profit Ganga Jamuni Foundation, an educational and cultural initiative that aims to promote cultural and cross-cultural understanding among people, especially the young. As Siddhi pointed out, Banaras is not just Shiva’s abode, but significant to Buddhists, Jains, Muslims and more recently, Bahais.
The Foundation holds walks in Delhi and Varanasi and is also engaged in documenting living traditions, festivals, lives of artisans, craftspeople and the oral history based testimonies of the elderly.
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Starting in 2019, the Foundation had to shift to the digital mode owing to the pandemic containment rules. On their Facebook page they would organise discourses on a variety of topics, such as inviting writer-director-performer Mahmood Farooqui about the 'daastangoi' form of storytelling, danseuse Shovana Narayan on elements of Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb in the Kathak form, a session with the granddaughter of Kashi Naresh Vibhuti Narayan Singh to know about the festivals and rituals at the Ramnagar Kila, etc.
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To make it easy for people to understand Varanasi’s many layers of history and culture, the initiative will soon be conducting a tour of the city which focuses on Ganga Jamuni Banaras- Varanasi- Kashi. Interestingly, the route has been laid out along the Panchkoshi Yatra, a centuries old pilgrimage route (yatra) that circumnavigates the holy City of Banaras.
“Our tours are all about co-learning and interacting with the unique geo-sacred space of Banaras being our teacher,” said Siddhi. Although pilgrims undertake the ‘yatra’ on foot over five days, Ganga Jamuni Foundation has planned to take guests along the entire perimeter of the sacred stops within a day by car, so that they have more time to interact with the local people they will be meeting at the interesting stops en route.
However, that does not mean you will have to sacrifice on the general attractions of the city. “There will be a mix of the mainstream and offbeat routes, stories and sites,” said Siddhi. “There's Banarasi food and music. There is exploration and shopping.”
‘A Tour To Banaras’ will be held from January 13 to 16, 2022. Highlights include Anjoura e Banaras, Banarasi Khana, Music, Gullies and Galiyaras, Banarasi Silk and Sarees.
For details and booking, check here.
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