Varanasi: the purification of holy water and fire

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I followed the Ganga River to arrive in Varanasi, another highly spiritual city. The “nude babas”, covered with dust, already occupy the place. They installed themselves along the river in many tents, around the Gath, these long stairs leading to the river. They spend their time sleeping, meditating and smoking. They easily invite foreigners to share a cup of tea or a “shilum” (sort of pipe with hashish). For people who renounced the earn money, they spend quite a lot in drugs!! Some practice the “penis yoga”: by putting their penis around a rope they can carry another person just with their penis strength!! I didn’t believe it before seeing it. Just incredible.

At the Manikanika Gath, several wood pyramids are burning, bringing some souls toward another life. Regularly, chanting and bells announce the arrival of a new dead body. Only the male members of the family are coming at the cremation place. Usually the body is fully covered by a fabric, but sometimes we can see the head. Then you see the hairs burning and the face becoming dark. And you realize we are all meant to go back to dust…IMG_5793

It is possible to cross the Ganga River by boat to reach a beach, unfortunately full of rubbish. Strange object floating in the water don’t give me the desire to bath… Nevertheless, many Indians are bathing every day at both sides of the river! At sun down, Indians are celebrating the “arti” to venerate the Ganga River with fire, flowers and incent. Many families put flowers and candles on the river, giving birth to hundreds of fireflies following the river current.

I stayed a few days in Varanasi among the Rainbow family who moved also from the Kumbah Mela to Varanasi. We were often invited to eat with some baba, and I discovered the best “lassi” (milky drink) in all India. I was hosted by a couchsurfer about 5km away from the Ganga River, in a sumptuous house. After sharing a last meal with a Christian community, I took a train for Calcutta…

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Kulbah Mela: the Las Vegas of spirituality

Every 12 years, Indians people, and a few western tourists, are converging by millions toward Allahabad to bath and get purified in the Ganga river, at the sacred place called Sangham, where it encounters the Yamuna river (and another mythical river). It is the biggest human gathering in the world. On about 60 km², numerous camps are been built to welcome all the visitors. Each camp has a guru, disciples and its own way to venerate to Gods. Arriving at night, I had the impression I just ended up in the Las Vegas of spirituality: if you chose the good guru, you may access heaven; otherwise, you lose all your money! Huge doors full of lightening are inviting the visitors to come in, as well as noisy speakers, 24h on! Many posters are advertising different gurus. I had the impression to be in a guru supermarket. I walked for hours through these sandy never ending streets to learn more about Hinduism, mediation and guru’s life. I met guru smoking hash the whole day and having extra-long dreads, others practicing tantra and drinking water in a human skull, and some other called “naga” living nicked…

I then realized the Hinduism is a mix of all the existing religions, because any God, any person, or even any object can help you to reach the “moksha” (like heaven for Christians). I saw then some families adoring, at the same time, a picture of Jesus, one of Vishnu and one other of a guru. I even saw people adoring a king of grass. So the medium is not important, only maters the aim. The purpose of any Hindu is to reach “Moksha”, a state of non-desire, comparable to awaked sleep… To reach it, many ways are available. Some chose to become Sadhu, and leave their life to practice yoga, meditation and mantra chanting.

The first day, I simply followed other people. We started by a yoga lesson early in the morning and then, I ended up in a “Sat Song”, meaning a spiritual teaching in the camp of Prem Baba, a very well know guru for foreigners. I discovered a luxurious camp where only foreigners were allowed, a sort of spiritual Club Med, very expensive. I followed this guru, among 50 other foreigners in the Ganga River, for my first bath. It was supposed to purify me, but at the end I felt rather dirty! I stay very skeptical in front of all these “disciples” blindly following their guru, some for years… What are they looking for? What can it bring them? This spirituality looks more like an efficient business for a guru, than a real path toward internal peace…

Away from this fake spirituality and these crazy businesses, I discover the Indian hospitality by spending time with Indian families in my camp. Kids and women are very happy to talk to me and they make me try many different local sweets made with milk, honey and sugar. I start to learn some basics of Indian language and cooking. Girls are drawing henna on my hands or making me an Indian hairstyle. Women even offered me a “sari” and though me how to wear it. As Indians people consider the guest as a God, they are very welcoming. I also discover a more real spirituality with the couchsurfeur Iqbal, who spent 9 hours a day practicing rituals when I met him. Nevertheless he took time to show me around and explain me many things about the Indians culture and spirituality…

(see some pictures on the French version)

Agra: pilgrims of love

We arrived in our guesthouse with a beautiful view on the Taj Mahal just in time for Anaïs’ birthday. What a nice gift! A thick smog was slowly disappearing, letting us enjoy the weight marble of the monument, incrusted with semi-precious stones. Why is it so famous? He isn’t more impressive than some palaces we already visited, and a lot smaller. I think it is because he is the symbol of an absolute love of a maharadja for his wife, who died while giving birth. This maharadja could only admire the finished monument from the window of the prison, where he was kept by his own son! Millions of Indians pilgrims are coming to venerate the grab of the couple, inside the monument. They are turning around the grab like pilgrims going to Mecca, but they are rather venerating love than a religion. According to me, the interests are more around the Taj Mahal, than inside. All these people coming from all over India, from different regions, different castes, different ages and backgrounds are really beautiful to observe. You can see Buddhist monks, as well as people from rural areas and beautiful saris…

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