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Contextualizing a Sacred City

Sanhita Gupta Bhowal

By Manu Parekh
Contemporary Indian Artists Series, 2007, pp. 218, price not stated.


Banaras, one of the most sacred pilgrimage centres is considered among the seven holy cities since ancient time. It houses one of the twelve jyotirlinga sites and is also a shaktipithasthana. Myths and legends speak highly of the water of the Ganges which flows by it to have the power of washing away the sins of its believers. Here the Ganges meets two other rivers—the Asi and the Varana, hence the name Varanasi. Also known as Avanimukta and Kashi meaning city of luminous spirituality and supreme light, has seen 3000 years of habitation. It is also known as the Mahashamshana—the great cremation ground which ensures Moksha, the final liberation of the soul from the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth.   According to the ancient scripture Tirthalisetu ‘whatever is sacrificed, chanted, given in charity, or suffered in penance, even the smallest amount, yields fruit.’ Asceticism of a lifetime is obtained by just fasting three days in ancient Kashi. Many Hindus for this reason prefer to die or get cremated here on the ghats of Banaras. The city always remained as the favoured hermitage site for many sages—Gautam Buddha, Mahavir, Kabir, Tulsidas, Shankaracharya, Ramanuja and Patanjali. Banaras was not just a place for pilgrimage and hermitage; it was also a great centre for music, literature, art, craft and learning. This religious capital of India is a crowded noisy and bustling city today vibrant and throbbing with life. Various activities like yoga, wrestling, chanting and rituals are being performed even today on its ghats with the same zeal as in the past. Many buildings in Banaras date from the 16th century and even earlier and to this day remain untouched by colonial urbanism.   The greatness of Banaras has been described by Kalidas in his Meghdoot … Banaras has been the inspiration for the creative genius of many poet writers, filmmakers, playwrights and artists.   The book Banaras, Eternity Watches Time is a collection of essays by seven writers inspired by Manu Parekh’s series of paintings depicting the city of Banaras. The book is not to be mistaken for a monograph, rather it is a collaborative work between a painter and seven writers from various domains—journalism, production, poetry, art criticism, law, and art collection.   Art here is universal and its language is common to all. Only its mode of expression and representation is as different as the authors’ creative manifestation. A ...

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