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The last two weeks of December 2013 should count as one of the high points of our lives.  We made a trip to Varanasi (Kashi), combining a personal family yatra, a Dikshitar pilgrimage with some of our students, and a few concerts which sprung up out of nowhere, just as though they were destined to happen.
Bump into anyone in Varanasi and get talking, they will tell you “Ved and Sangeeth are the two eyes of Bhagwan Shiv, and since Kashi Vishwanathji resides here, there is music and veda chanting everywhere.” Seriously, any lane you walk through around the ghats, you can hear some mantra ghosham. The fact that there is music in the air everywhere is exemplified by this one incident which blew us off.  We were just walking up the stairs on the banks of the Shivala Ghat after a holy dip in the Ganges. We were shivering due to the cold weather, and were in a rush to head back to the mutt to finish our puja. We heard in the background some superlative vocal music, the raag shankara being sung to perfection.  We couldn’t move an inch, mesmerized as we were with the notes floating in the air, the sight of the river on a chill winter morning with the sun trying to peep out, all adding to the divinity of the atmosphere.  We thought it must be one of those lucky classical musicians getting to do his riyaz on the banks of the Ganges early in the morning, but no! The local accompanying us told us that he was a boatman and would randomly compose on Lord Shiva and sing everyday in this manner. Our jaws dropped!  
Sarnath, Burmese Buddha Temple

Rabdi, doodh, kachori, jalebi, masala chai, litti chokha, chaats, yum! Kshirsagar mithai shop was our daily destination.  Not to forget the Banarasi paan.  There are as many cows and buffaloes in the streets as there are people. Rickshaws, fresh vegetables and fruits heaped on thela gadis, cars – you name the brand and the model – it is there, rows and rows of shops displaying Banarasi sarees, and temples in each and every micro and mini lane are some of the unforgettable sights of Kashi.
Roadside chat shop!

The first couple of days were spent focusing on our personal task at hand in Kashi.  We then caught up on our agenda and first visited the Triveni Sangam. The boat ride was great. You can actually make out the difference in colours of the Ganges and Yamuna when you reach the Sangam spot, as also the difference in their turbulence. There is a very nice sahasralinga temple established by the Kanchi Mutt at the entrance to the Sangam. There is also the temple of Hanumanji in a sleeping position in the Sangam, probably the only one in this pose. We also visited Sarnath and some of the Buddhist temples therein

Benaras Hindu University, Dept of Performing Arts

The subsequent day was spent in singing of the Kritis Dikshitar has composed in the sanctum sanctorum of the deities in Kashi, i.e., Kalabhairav, Visalakshi and Annapoorni.  Sri Dikshitar’s song Gange Mam Pahi was sung by us when we were on the boat on the way to the Dasashwamedha Ghat to witness the magnificent Ganga Arti. While on the Ghat, we sang our Paramaguru Ananthakrishna Iyer’s composition Sheethalambam Sada Bhajeham in praise of the deity Sheethala situated on the banks of the Dashashwamedha Ghat.
There was more to come….
Dashashwamedha Ghat, Sheetala Temple is the Red Building

We had carried our portable veenas from Chennai just to practice during our free time in the hotel room. The panditji who was in charge of doing all the pujas for us came to know that we had brought our veenas and asked us if we could perform at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple if he did manage to arrange a concert. Our joy knew no bounds. To play seated in front of Lord Vishweshwar, what more could one ask for? The security arrangements in the Vishwanathji mandir are very, very strict. They do not even allow a pen inside. But as a special case by the grace of God we were allowed in, and played a concert for an hour and a half. It appears there has never been a music concert inside the Vishwanathji temple! It has not yet sunk in that we are the first to have had the privilege. We silently bowed down our heads and thanked our Gurus and parents who have made us what we are, and all our wellwishers for keeping us in their thoughts. We had a Darshan of the Lord from up close and did abhishekam of rose water and honey especially carried from Chennai for this purpose, and also gave vastram to the Lord. We sang the kriti “Shri Vishwanatham” of Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar in the raga Bhavani, as we performed the abhishekam. We were also honoured to perform a concert at the Chakralingeshwar Temple in Hanuman Ghat, where the Samadhi of Chidambaranatha Yogi, the guru of Muthuswamy Dikshitar himself, is located. The other concert we played was at the Sri Dattatreya Prasad Ashram, that of a Mauni Baba who we believe had not uttered a word for 40 years, for the welfare of this earth.  

Performing at Chakralingeshwar Temple
Chakraligeshwar, Samadhi of Chidanandanath Yogi
Varanasi to the onlooker would not be visually a very clean place, far from it in fact! It would really help for the administration to work on this aspect. But, talk about it being spiritually uplifting, it is like no other place in the world. The sight of the expansive Ganges and the strains of Indian Classical Music and the Vedas are enough to take you to a different plane altogether.

It is said –
“ Darsanaat Abhrasadasi , Jananaat Kamalalaye, Kasyantu Maraananu Muktih, Smaranaat Arunachale.”
‘To see Chidamabaram, to be born in Tiruvarur, to die in Kasi, or merely to think of Arunachala is to be assured of liberation. 

One must go to Kashi to realize what it has to offer to one’s inner peace…It is better experienced than articulated.

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