**Holy Varanasi**

Varanasi, the city of Shiva, is one of the holiest cities in India. It was previously called Benares and Kashi (City of Life).
Hindus come to Varanasi to wash away their sins in the Ganges and also to die: expiring here offers moksha, liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Dead bodies, wrapped in silk cloth, are carried through the narrow paths of the old city on a bamboo stretcher to the ghats and they are doused in the river before being cremated. The price of the cremation depends on the wood used (sandalwood is the most expensive). There are two burning ghats: Harischandra Ghat, for those who have less money, and Manikarnika Ghat, the main one; both work 24 hours a day.

People come the to the Ganges (also called Great Mother) for a ritual bath, they perform puja to the rising sun and at sunset, but also to wash clothes, do yoga and meditation, offer blessings, sell flowers, postcards, play cricket, wash their buffaloes, improve their karma by giving to beggars... and worship Shiva who was born here.

Shiva's lingam

The whole city lives thanks to and through the holy river. Varanasi is the beating heart of the hindu universe, a crossing place between the physical and spiritual worlds, and you can really feel the magic!

I met my friend Yos again here. He came to cook and give food to the poor. He prepared ayurvedic food: dal and rice (kicheri), potatoes, carrots and cauliflower fried in ghee (clarified butter) and mustard oil. Then he made (prasad): he offered it to the gods so that it has the deity's blessing residing within it. We finally helped him to distribute it to beggars, lepers and disabled on the main ghat... that was a very intense experience.

Many people live on the 80 ghats. We met Aghori Brahmins (priests who belong to the highest caste) who got rid of the material life. They don't have houses : "the universe is our home. We are free, this is freedom."

More pictures here !!!

Listen to the traffic in the main street!

Listen to Indian music, live at Ashram music centre:



Sitar and tabla:

Aurangabad-Varanasi: 26 heures de train !!!

Quelle chance nous avons de trouver un billet de train pour Varanasi en ce week end de fête (Good Friday, Holi...) et quelle joie de quitter Aurangabad! Le seul hic, c'est que la gare de départ se trouve a 150 km, à Manmad... Trois heures plus tard, le taxi nous dépose a bon port, nous laissant même le temps de déjeuner malgré la carte en hindi et la barrière de la langue. Manmad, c'est... comment dirais-je... un peu Madmax; pas un "foreigner", pas une femme, et pas une personne parlant anglais, vous ajoutez des vélos, motos et rickshaws vous fonçant dessus, le tout dans un vacarme étourdissant.

Enfin le train arrive! Voulant trop bien faire, nous écoutons les conseils bienveillants d'un indien qui nous envoie huit wagons plus loin... Nous comprenons vite que nous faisons fausse route, quand au bout du deuxieme wagon les passagers des couchettes 39 et 40 nous font signe d'aller voir plus loin. Le train se met en marche et nous traversons péniblement ces interminables couloirs.

Nous arrivons enfin à notre banquette sur-occupée...il va falloir jouer du coude pour obtenir nos places! D'ailleurs le contrôleur nous talonne et s'assure que nos places nous sont accordées. Ne parlons pas de nos sacs que nous avons du mal à caser!

Le compartiment comprend six lits, trois de chaque côté, ceux du milieu étant abaissés pour faire un dossier.
Des vendeurs proposent chai, thali, fruits, graines, chaussettes, peignes, jouets... c'est la foirfouille!

En ecoute, l'ambiance dans le train!

Et tous les dêchets sont balancés hors du train, par les fenêtres (quand ils n'atterrissent pas sur les sacs!), nous roulons dans une poubelle à ciel ouvert. Tout cela participe à une vie animale active; rats, cafards et blattes en tout genre viennent se restaurer à nos côtés.
Après la traversée du Maharashtra, nous rentrons dans l'état du Madhya Pradesh, le coeur de l'Inde: villages colorés par la Holi, champs de blé, chèvres, buffles, singes, cochons sauvages, enfants jouant au cerf-volant...

Phulpur, Ugrasenpur, Baryaram, Jhangai...
Varanasi, la ville sainte! Nous sommes sales, fatiguées mais heureuses!

Avec la grande contribution d'Emilie, ma compagne de voyage

Ellora caves

Over five centuries, generations of monks (Buddhist, Hindu and Jain) excavated monasteries, chapels and temples out of the Charanandri hills.

Ellora is a World Heritage Site.

The Viswakarma Cave or Carpenter's Cave (Buddhist cave)
The ceiling has been carved to give the impression of wooden beams.

Kailasa Temple (Hindu cave)

The Kailasa Temple, dedicated to Shiva, is the world's largest monolithic sculpture; it was carved out of one single rock by 7000 labourers removing 200.000 tonnes of rock over 150 years!
It covers an area double the size of Parthenon in Athens.
This rock-cut temple is an enormous representation of Mount Kailasa, Shiva's home in the Himalaya.


HAPPY HOLI, in Aurangabad

Today was Holi, a Hindu festival, when people celebrate the beginning of spring by throwing coloured water and gulal (powder) at one another.

On the night before Holi, bonfires are built to symbolise the destruction of the evil demon Holika. The literal meaning of the word 'Holi' is 'burning'.

There are many stories and legends around this festival...Here are two that I found on holifestival.org

The legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap.
There was once a demon king by the name of Hiranyakashyap who won over the kingdom of earth. He was so egoistic that he commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. But to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana and refused to worship his father.
Hiranyakashyap tried several ways to kill his son Prahlad but Lord Vishnu saved him every time. Finally, he asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. For, Hiranyakashyap knew that Holika had a boon, whereby, she could enter the fire unscathed.
Treacherously, Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap and she herself took her seat in a blazing fire. The legend has it that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life. Holika was not aware that the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone.
Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Lord Naarayana all this while, came out unharmed, as the lord blessed him for his extreme devotion.
Thus, Holi derives its name from Holika. And, is celebrated as a festival of victory of good over evil.

The Legend of Radha-Krishna
Young Krishna is known to be very playful and mischievous. The story goes that as a child, Krishna was extremely jealous of Radha's fair complexion since he himself was very dark.
One day, Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about the injustice of nature which made Radha so fair and he so dark. To pacify the crying young Krishna, the doting mother asked him to go and colour Radha's face in whichever colour he wanted.
In a mischievous mood, naughty Krishna heeded the advice of mother Yashoda and applied colour on her beloved Radha's face; Making her one like himself.


Happy Shivaratri !

Shivaratri or Sivaratri (Night of Shiva) is a Hindu festival celebrated every year. I went to Gokarna with PP, who was a wonderful guide. Gokarna is located in Karnataka, the state south of Goa. People speak and write Kannada, the local dialect. For Hindus, Gokarna is one of the most sacred sites in South India. People come here to gain spiritual purifications. Gokarna means Cows' Ear. It is believed that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow (Prithvi, the Mother Earth) here.

The earth asked Shiva to come out slowly through her ear so that she might be saved the pain of bearing his full weight. Shiva became thumbsize and came out through her ear and addressed her with these words : "Oh! you earth, you go by the name of cow and as this is your ear, let this place be called Gokarna." Go means 'cow' and karna means 'ear'.

We visited the cave and the hole from which Shiva came out of the earth. The cave is called Gogarbha, the cow's belly. We went up the ladder and through the hole like Shiva did. Lots of people come to this cave, it is believed that if you come here, you will be saved, you will have no more reincarnations ; "he who enters this cave shall attaim salvation", Shiva said.

Shivaratri celebrates the mariage of Shiva and Parvati. It lasts three days. On the first night, a boat goes to the temple in the middle of the tank called Kotiteerth, where Shiva and Parvati had a picnic.
PP made a puja and we offered Bilva leaves to Shiva. Two days later, a huge chariot is pulled to the temple (where Shiva and Parvati got married) while people throw bananas, offerings to Shiva. Your bananas must get inside the chariot, I had to throw 15 bananas to finally reach the goal !

The next day was beggars' day; PP and I bought 5 kilos of rice each and we gave it to the beggars.

Sea Rock guesthouse, Gokarna :

Listen to the Baba singing and dancing with the kids!!!