What Makes Foreigners Call Varanasi Their Home?
Varanasi, for some, is an unlikely destination on India’s must-visit list. But for some foreigners, they come to this city of ghats as tourists, fell in love and decided to stay back.
Varanasi or Kashi is the oldest city in India. It is colourful, vibrant, spiritual and steeped in mysticism. Its soul reflects the centuries-old traditions, influences, invasions, and metamorphosis. So, what makes the foreigners living in Varanasi tick and who throng here for a slice of its aura.
Fascinated by Hinduism: Many outsiders are intrigued by this ancient religion. They come here to experience this important Hindu centre first-hand. They want to explore the sacred Hindu scriptures and texts. And what better way to observe the various rites and rituals than on the numerous ghats on the river Ganga. The ghats, which are more than a hundred, have been used for various religious ceremonies over the centuries.
Nirvana-seekers: Varanasi or Kashi is believed to be the place where one attains salvation or ‘moksha’. Hindus believe that cremating their loved ones on the banks of Ganga will guarantee ‘moksha’. Those who are unable to perform the rites here, carry the ashes after cremation and immerse them in the river. Foreigners, too, couldn’t remain untouched by the call of the divine. They seek divinity and a spiritual path for themselves. They come here seeking meaning and purpose to their lives.
Scholars and Researchers: This city has been one of the most prominent learning centres in the country. Many scholars call this city their home. They learn about the scriptures, learn Sanskrit-the language of the ancient texts, research about the history that is embedded in the alleys and bylanes of this city.
Hippies: The place is replete with Sadhus, Tantriks, Aghoris, and practitioners of the Occult. They pay obeisance to Lord Shiva- the destroyer. Lord Shiva’s favourite ‘Bhaang’ or cannabis, is a permanent fixture here. It is common to find Sadhus getting high on a chillum. As twilight descends, the ghats fill up with people wanting some Nirvana. For some, it is a way to be one with the lord and for others, the chillum takes the connotation of pleasure. The Ganga flowing by and the gentle breeze offers an unmatched tranquillity for these foreigners.
On the lookout for the extraordinary: There’s something about this place that engulfs you. Perhaps it the excitement of a bustling city, unfamiliar environment, a very different culture, the pleasure of discovering hidden gems every now and then or the vibrancy of an ancient heritage make foreigners throng this place.
Foreigners living in Varanasi are a curious lot. They carry the baggage of their past and their homelands along with embracing something new and entirely different, seamlessly. They have imbibed the spirit of India with open hearts. This city, in turn, has succeeded in loving them back.