Varanasi aka Kashi Puri … from chapter 7

Kashi Annapurna

Kashi Annapurna

Varanasi aka Kashi Puri

There is no city in the world as old as Kashi Puri, also referred to as Kashi, Varanasi (where the Varan and Asi rivers meet), or Banaras. Few cities in the world are as picturesque as Kashi, a city laid out on the Ganga, the river, the goddess, which has nourished the fecundity which we now identify as the timeless North Indian culture.

Massive ghats step down to the river from the city in broad platforms and upon these teems the spiritual and religious life of India. The Ganga is considered so pure here that it is said to be able to expiate any sin or bad karma. The first duty of every pilgrim is therefore the Ganga snan, the holy bath in the Ganga.

This is Shiva’s city and people here call him Kashi Vishvanath, the Lord of the Universe. He resides in this holiest of cities in the form of his linga, his phallus, which is enshrined in a great temple.

The goddess Annapurna, the Earth Mother named as Plenty of Grains, serves Shiva with such attention and abundance that, compelled by her devotion, he remains here forever. Kashi grew from the thighs of Plenty of Grains, where the Ganga suddenly turns north, away from the ocean, so she can have darshan, behold Shiva in his primordial home on top of Mount Kailash, in what is now Tibet.

Shiva is not normally a city dweller. His untamed nature demands a remote and barren landscape, but after his marriage to the Lady of the Mountain, Parvati, he chose to dwell with his bride in Kashi.

The presence of such a trio in one place, the goddesses Ganga and Annapurna serving Baba Vishvanath, has, over the millennia, attracted babas, intellectuals, musicians, magicians, bandits, and poets, all of whom are the kind of “marginals” that form Shiva’s barat, his entourage. For as long as people have told stories, Kashi has been not only a spiritual and religious center but a city of culture, famous for its musicians, theater, philosophers, artists, physicians, astrologers, alchemists, and its sadhus.