Varanasi Local Customs

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Best Rated Local Customs in Varanasi

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    DO NOT PHOTOGRAPH CREMATIONS

    by lynnehamman Updated May 19, 2009

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    As seen from a rooftop.......

    While walking alongside the river, you will pass certain ghats. The cremation ghats, known as "The Burning Ghats" are busy 24 hours of each day. Its very confrontational seeing a cremation for the first time, and the natural urge is to want to photograph or film it. DON'T.
    It is totally disrespectful to take pictures of people cremating their loved ones.
    Anyone may watch- and there are always crowds around Manikarnika Ghat, which is the main crematory ghat.
    Sometimes, if you are passing a ghat whilest on a river cruise, you may take a discreet photo, from a distance- but definitely not while standing watching.

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  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo

    Respecting life in all its forms

    by lynnehamman Updated Apr 28, 2012

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    Pilgrim feeding monkeys- Ghats, Varanasi
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    We were walking back to our hotel late one afternoon, and saw a dead cow, which had fallen off a ghat. Now this is not so unusual, but what stopped us in our tracks was what was happening.....there was a crowd of Hindus, with a priest, and they were having funeral prayers for the cow....and preparing it for cremation. It was bedecked in flowers. This is testament to the faith & respect that Hindus show to all living things.Particuarly cows.
    There is often interaction between humans and animals in India. Monkeys are revered and protected because Hanuman is the 'Monkey God' They unfortunately also create mischief, stealing fruit from markets and grabbing clothes that are laid out on rooftops to dry.
    Ganesh is the God of Health Wealth and Happiness- and is represented by an Elephant. Every home has a shrine (or depication) of Ganesh.

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  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo

    River of Life

    by lynnehamman Updated Nov 11, 2008

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    The Ganga is the source of life and is spiritually revered by all Hindus. So much happens on the banks of the river- people are bathing and praying at all times of the day.
    It is not forbidden, but it is not polite to photograph people doing these daily rituals- especially without their permission. You may, of course, offer a few rupees in exchange- that is between you and the subject. But always ask first.
    The few photos that I took of people bathing were with permission, and I felt comfortable with that.

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  • Hmmmm's Profile Photo

    Dhobi Wallahs - The Laundry Caste

    by Hmmmm Written Feb 11, 2005

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    Dhobi Wallah at Benares - Pic: Aaron Irving

    Have you ever heard of a “dhobi-wallah?” Dhobis are the human washing machines of India. They get up early every morning and head for the dhobi-ghat where they spend the rest of the day stomping around in vats of sudsy water and dirty clothes, laundering everything clean with their feet in a very very dirty Ganges river.

    Where do the clothes come from?
    Other dhobis do the pick-up and delivery. They begin at dawn, heading in all directions on bicycles to collect or deliver their customers’ laundry in big bags tied to the back fender. This is how is it is and how it’s been done for centuries (maybe not with bicycles, though). They bring the clothes in and after cruelly stomping on them they punish the clothes by scrubbing them with stiff brushes. Next, they flog them against cement walls… just to make sure they’re really clean. After that, they use heavy irons loaded with live coals to press out any stubborn wrinkles.

    Why should we care about the dhobi-wallahs? Because they’re becoming extinct. They are being forced out of business by a tough competitor — the washing machine. You and I got one years ago, but the average Indian didn’t. They couldn’t afford one. It was cheaper to hire a dhobi. But today, Indians are buying washing machines by the thousands and the cleaner is losing his job.

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  • Hmmmm's Profile Photo

    The Birth of the River Ganges. (Bis)

    by Hmmmm Written Feb 11, 2005

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    Ritual Bathers, Varanasi. Pic: Aaron Irving

    ...When the 60.000 sons of King Sagar found the horse, they thought Sage Kapila had stolen it. Feeling disturbed and insulted, Sage Kapila burned them to ashes with yogic fire that came out of his third eye. When Ansuman, the last remaining son of King Sagar came to know the fate of his brothers, he asked Sage Kapila how to liberate their souls from the ashes.

    The Rishi advised Ansuman to please Brahma with penances so that he would release Ganga from his kamandula and bring Ganga to Earth to purify the ashes and liberate his brothers. This task was undertaken for many generations. In the seventh generation of King Sagar, Bhagiratha was born. His austerities were so disciplined that he could finally please Brahma enough to help.

    Brahma had no objection to release Ganga, but first Bhagiratha had to worship Shiva, so that he would accept to hold the force of Ganga in his hair, lest she would overwhelm the entire Earth. Thus Bhagiratha undertook further penances to please Shiva. When Ganga descended from the heavens, Shiva covered the sky with his hair locks, so that not a drop would fall on Earth.

    When he had fully captured Ganga, Shiva released a small part of Ganga's force and told her to follow Bhagiratha.Wherever Ganga would flow in following Bhagiratha, people came in large numbers to bath and obtain purification. Finally Ganga reached the ashram of Sage Kapila and freed the 60.000 souls from their ashes. Ganga continues to purifie the people that take bath in her and is herself purified by the saints who will bath in her water.

    Every morning you will see people in their hundreds and thousands bathing in the River for purification.

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  • Hmmmm's Profile Photo

    Ganesh: The Virtual son of Shiva and Parvati

    by Hmmmm Written Feb 11, 2005

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    A Wooden Rendition of Ganesh. Pic: Aaron Irving

    hen I first arrived in India I was talking with an Israeli man who looked like a cross between Mahatma Gandhi and Joe Blow Sadhu. He Obviously loved India, I could tell be his enthusiasm for it, and took pride in appearing more Indian than most Indians. He asked me who my favourite Indian deity was. I replied instantly, Ganesh. He asked me why? I replied because he is in charge of good luck. Over time my choice change of course, but I still hold Ganesh right up there as one of my two favourites. The Israeli like Hanuman, because he was powerful.

    So who is Ganesh?

    Ganesh is the Hindu elephant-headed god, Ganesha (or Ganesh) is known (by various names in different parts of India and on different occasions) as the Remover of Obstacles, the god of domestic harmony and of success. He is the most beloved and revered of all the Hindu gods, and is always invoked first in any Hindu ceremony or festival. He is the son of Parvati (the wife of Shiva, the Destroyer, the most powerful of the Hindu trinity of principal gods). There are many stories about how Ganesha got his elephant head, and about his exploits and antics. He was created as an ordinary boy, but was decapitated in battle. Shiva's emissaries were sent into the forest and told to get the head of the first animal they found and to fit that head onto the boy's neck. They found a little elephant, and it worked!

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  • Hmmmm's Profile Photo

    The Birth of the River Ganges.

    by Hmmmm Written Feb 11, 2005

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    The far Bank of the Ganges. Pic: Aaron Irving

    The Ganges River is Central to Indian Culture, and no cultural section of India can omit, its creation story, because its this story that tells us why so many people descend on the river too be purified.

    There is creation story of the Ganges. -- Once upon a time, a demon named Bali acquired enough power to chase the gods from the heavens. So the Gods cosulted Vishnu (the Supreme) and he promised aid. Vishnu, incarnated as the dwarf Vamana tricked Bali in to granting him as much of his kingdom as he could measure in 3 steps. Bali liked this since Vishnu was a dwarf in his eyes.

    With Vishnu's first step he covered all of Earth. With his second step he covered all the heavens and while doing that Brahma washed his feet in his kamandula or water pot,and spilled water everywhere. Finally with his third step, Vamana (Vishnu) pushed Bali back to the underworld.

    Drops Brahma's kamandula combined and they formed the beautiful goddess Ganga. She was very pretty and danced in the heavens to the delight of all.

    One time however, when a gust of wind blew off the only cloth in which the Rishi Durvasa was wearing, Ganga laughed too much. The rishi cursed Ganga to become reincarnated as a river in which all humans would seek purification (Plus it was also common knowledge that the people need teh Ganga on Earth). The 8 vasus obtained the vow from Ganga that she would become their mother when incarnated as a river. They themselves were suffering from a curse to incarnate given by Saint Vashista and hoped that Ganga would drown them as soon as they were born.

    The moment when Ganga was needed on Earth came when King Sagar decided to perform an Ashwamedh Yagya (horse sacrifice) that would make him Emperor of Earth. When Indra saw that happen, he became worried by Sagar's increasing power. So Indra stole Sagar's horse before the ritual could be completed and tied it to the tree under which Sage Kapila was meditating.

    (Continued Below)

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  • Hmmmm's Profile Photo

    Pan Massala - The Red Spit.

    by Hmmmm Written Feb 11, 2005

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    Pan Massala Shop. Varanasi. Pic: Aaron Irving

    ou ever notice the ubiquitous red blobs all over the walls and the ground of India. Its Pan Massala, or beetle -nut. Somepeople use Areca nut, a cheaper nastier version. Pan Massala is the beetle nut narcotic concoction that causes all of the red spit throughout India.

    Indian Guys (and I saw many elderly women use it too) love it. They typically they take the fresh beetle nut, wrap it in a leaf, add shredded coconut and dab on several different herbs and pastes. The concoction is sold throughout India especially outside of restaurants as an after dinner treat!

    Also an istant pan massala is widely available. They are the tiny little sachets that are sold in stalls and shops all over india, like the one in the picture. with this instant version one just has to just open the sachet and within minutes one is ready to drool the red beetle nut juice and later spit it on the wall.It seems like a great concept except that it was immediately suspected of causing cancer of the lip.

    Guys often sit around, watching the worm go by almost out of it on this Pan Massala. There isn't really anything good at all about Pan Masala and Areca nut save the fact taht it is said to be a good taenifuge for tapeworm. So there you go.

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  • Vija_v's Profile Photo

    People cremation

    by Vija_v Written May 19, 2005

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    After the death Hindu people are getting cremated and it is a big honor to be cremated in Varanasi, as it is a holy place.

    As one local told us- everyone is very proud to be born in Varanasi and to die in there.

    Near the river there is few places for cremation and actually i was a bit surprised that from all that ceremony people are making kind of show. There is very loud music, a lot of local people who are just watching the burning and many boats with tourists in the river.

    So the dead body are getting burned and the quantity of the wood for each person depends on his caste- as higher it is, as more wood u get. So poor ones sometimes maybe burned not proper ;)

    All ashes after the fire are thrown into the river and family of the dead are going into the water to do some traditional swimming.
    Yes, but there is still some people who are not getting burned, like pregnant women, they get stone around they neck and after they are thrown into the water.

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    SINDOOR (vermillion) colours on every wall

    by Rupanworld Written Jul 19, 2007

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    When you are in Varanasi, you will come across many walls (of streets, houses, shops, temples, everywhere) where you will find red or orange coloured paint pasted on some photos or may be sculptures or even just on the walls. The reason!!! well these are not just colours, but sacred Sindoor (vermillion that Hindu married women wear on their forehead) which people put on the walls or idols of god as a sign of worship or holiness.

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    Ganesh: The Virtual son of Shiva and Parvati (Bis)

    by Hmmmm Written Feb 11, 2005

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    A Minaturel Rendition of Ganesh. Pic: Aaron Irving

    Why does Ganesh, who is obviously a person have a head of an elephant?

    When Lord Shiva, was away fighting for the gods, the lady of the house, goddess Parvathi was alone at home. On one occasion, she needed someone to guard the house when she was going for a bath. Unable to think of an alternative, she used her powers to create a son, Ganesh. She instructed Ganesh to keep strict vigil on the entrance to the house and not to allow anyone into the house. Ganesh agreed and stayed on the strictest of strict vigils.

    In the meantime Lord Shiva returned happy after a glorious victory for the gods, only to be stopped at the entrance by Ganesh. Ganesh, acting on Parvathi's orders verbatim, did not allow Shiva to enter the house. Lord Shiva became enraged beyond control and in a fit of rage slashed the head of Ganesh. Paravti came out from her bath and was aghast at the scene. She was very very angry at her lordship for what had happened and explained him the situation.

    Lord Shiva wanted to make it up to Parvathi and agreed to put life back into Ganesha by putting the head of the first sleeping living creature that came in sight which was sleeping with its head to the north. He sent his soldiers to go in search of the creature. The first creature which came in sight was an elephant. So Lord Shiva re-created his son with the head of the elephant. Hence the trunk of Lord Ganesha. Parvathi was still not totally happy so Shiva granted Ganesha a boon that before beginning of any undertaking or task people would worship Lord Ganesh. Thus the reason for worship of Ganesha before start of any work.

    You'll see many small shrines for Ganesh on road signs. All over India and even in Nepal too. Ganesh is a much loved divinity.

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    Shiva: IThe Venerated.

    by Hmmmm Written Feb 11, 2005

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    Shiva and his second wife Parvathi

    Often I see Shiva depicted blue and serene. In a constant Meditation. Yet All who know Shiva is that is Serenity is because he is in a state of Meditation, his rage will come when he sees the way of the world.

    So Who is Shiva?

    Shiva is the third deity of the Hindu triad of great gods, the Trimurti. Shiva is the destroyer of the world (but has also the aspect of regeneration), following Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver, after which Brahma again creates the world and so on. Shiva is responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of the shedding of old habits. In Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram or Truth, Goodness and Beauty, Shiva also represents the most essential goodness. Shiva is the god of the yogis, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a lover of his spouse (shakti). Shiva's first wife was Sati and his second wife was Parvati, also known as Uma, Gauri, Durga, Kali and Shakti. His sons are Ganesha and Kartikeya. Shiva lives on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas. Shiva is also the Keeper of Poison. He is the Provider of marijuana. Hence you'll often hear 'Boom Shiva' when Sadhu partake of it.

    Actually they say that Varanasi, every piece of it, is Shiva.
    ____________________________

    Actually one of my fondest memories of India is when my good friend Madhu would tell me stories of the Hindu Patheon of Deities. Maddhu really appreciated Shiva because he knew that one shoudl definately be on the right side of him.

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    Shiva: The Venerated

    by Hmmmm Written Feb 11, 2005

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    Shiva and his second wife Parvathi

    Do you wanna hear the story of the bowl of poison?

    My friend Maddhu told me this story once. When the world was being made, using the butter churn, many things came into the world, one of the things was the poison and all the other substances that are dangerous to people. It was decided that the keeper of the bowl of poison would be Shiva. Shiva took the bowl of the world's poisons and drank from it. As he drank some drops fell to the ground. These drops grew into the canabis plant. The people were allowed to have this only. But the poisons in the bowl are forbidden to the people.

    Fondest Memory:
    Shiva is also depicted with the moon in his hair. It was said that in the process of making the would with the butter churn, Shiva should house the moon in his hair. Shiva is after all the destroyer, and in the words of Madhu "Shiva's mind was veru crazy, so they put the moon in his hair and ..... Shanti".

    Shiva is also depicted with a Black Cobra necklace. Shiva is depicted with the Ganga in his hair - When Ganga incarnated on Earth, Shiva captured her in his hair to avoid that she would flood all of Earth. He carries a trident and rides a white bull. Sometimes Shiva is depicted as white, with a dark-blue throat, with several arms and three eyes. Sometimes he wears necklaces of skulls, but usually he is meditating often beside his consort Parvathi (Devi).
    ____________________________

    Actually one of my fondest memories of India is when my good friend Madhu would tell me stories of the Hindu Patheon of Deities. Maddhu really appreciated Shiva because he knew that one shoudl definately be on the right side of him.

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    One photo, one photo !!

    by l_joo Written Feb 24, 2005

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    One of the local Varanasian local custom is this 'One photo, one photo !!'. You see, whenever you show your camera, local peoples would ask you One photo, one photo !! and its not good to say No to them when they are so happy waiting for just one photo by you. So here I uploaded one for sharing.

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    One photo, one photo !!

    by l_joo Written Feb 24, 2005

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    ...here's another photo to share with all you guys on VT. I have so many photos of this kind, 10, 20 anytime if you want, just say it, I will upload here for you. They are so happy to show their faces on camera screen, I am happy to help put them up.

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