From The Jacket
Well travelled and well versed in the ways of the world Severine Dabadie and her long time friend Christiane Etchezaharreta finally discovered a new reality in Varanasi or Kashi as they so lovingly dub it. Inspired by the antiquity they decided to produce a book that would make Varanasi available to all. Coming from Basque Country both have travelled widely together Severine with her ever-ready camera and Christiane with her flowing pen. This is their first attempt at a full-scale book but they assure us that there may be more to come. Severine Dabadie though has over the past ten years displayed her photographs in many exhibitions.
Kashi is the original name of this more than 3000 years old mythical and mystical city. It is also known by the names of Varanasi or Banaras. The former is its most explicit, most beautiful and most poetic name: Kashi, the city of light. The meaning of the word Kashi is. "concentration of the cosmic light". This name is to be found, in texts from the 15th century BC: "Kashi shines and illuminates the universe. Kashi covers everyone with Moksha (liberation) and gives wisdom." Atharva Veda (V. 22.4). That is Kashi, the Luminous one.
The name Varanasi comes from the two tributaries of the Ganges, Varana and Asi, it is located between the confluences of both. The legend says that Varana and Asi would be, the right and left leg of Vishnu respectively. It has been the administrative name of the city since May 24, 1956.
It is also known by the name of Banaras, a corrupted form of Varanasi or, according to some, "Nana": always ready, and "Ras" juice of life, which would means (according to the etymology) that Banaras would be the city where the juice of the life would be always ready.
It was also called Avimukta in the old texts. It means "never abandoned", in reference to the fact that it never stopped being a living city, inhabited for over 3000 years, which confers it the honour of being one of the oldest cities in the world, along with Beijing, Jerusalem Alexandria and Athens. It also received other names such as: Anandavana: the forest of happiness, Rudravasa: Shiva's city or Mahashmashana: the great place of cremation, since more than 38000 bodies are cremated there each year.
Varanasi-this is the way by which it has to be officially referred to-is an important city in the Indian State o Uttar Pradesh, located 80 meters above sea level and some 120 kilometres to the east of Allahabad (Pryaga) famous for the Khumbha Mela. The city has a population of more than 105 million inhabitants for an area of 74 km.
It is spread along the left bank of River Ganges, facing the rising sun and is the only place where the river flows northwards. This city is also called the city of the God Shiva but, above all, the city of light. It is on the banks of the Ganges, which provides it with the energy of a mystical flood.
Kashi-as we prefer to name it since it is its original name-is the place of al prayers, but it is also, itself, a prayer. It represents the city of Hinduism par excellence, and the Holy City where all Hindus dream to make their pilgrimage (Yatra) to, wish to die and to be cremated. Dying in Banaras, having your ashes thrown into the holy river is the ultimate wish of each Hindu, as it means reaching the Moksha, the release, i.e. the end of the cycle of reincarnations, known as samsara. Kashi is fundamentally a deeply mystic city. But even if the city is recognised by all Hindus as one of the best places to die, it should not be forgotten that the Banarsis cherish there a style of living they are certainly committed to. It is a city where life, death and eternity mix together. This feeling is perceptible in the innermost recesses of the city. Banaras is not only a town of culture, it is the culture itself, this is why this city of more than one million and half inhabitants is not easy to grasp and understand. It is one of the world's oldest inhabited cities. In spite of time, several violent invasions by the Mughals, and a history agitated by the upheavals of time, it never stopped being a lively and animated town. It survived all the disturbances, the repeated invasions and the looting of the temples that were the soul of the city. As recounted in the Kashi Khanda (35.10): "The River Ganges, Lord Shiva and the divine city of Kashi are the trinity of grace and perfect happiness". The holy river, which bathes it, gives it this vital energy and its mystical power.
But Kashi is also the city of Knowledge. It has always attracted intellectuals from everywhere. There are more than 50 schools still teaching the Sanskrit language, more than six large schools, as well as the largest Indian university, the celebrated Banares Hindu University where knowledge is spread to thousands of students coming not only from the whole of India, but also from abroad. In the 6th century BC, the Buddha himself was attracted to the town of light.
Kashi is also the residence of Shiva and attracts millions of pilgrims each day, more than 20,000 people make their morning ablutions along the Gange's stairs known here as "ghats". On special occasions (during important festivals) it is possible to find more than one million devotees bathing in the Ganges. There are more than 3,000 temples and other Hindu places of worship in the city. There are also 1,400 mosques or Muslim worship places, twelve churches, three Jain temples, nine Buddhist temples (Vihara) and three Sikh temples (Gurudwara). But-as it is often forgotten-it is also a trading town. Banaras, Kashi or Varanasi (no matter which one of these three names are chosen to call it) is more than a city. It is, itself, a significant part of the soul and vital energy of the country. It is one of the essential sites that allows one to discover the mysteries of India.
Back Of The Book
Banaras a city with many mysteries, exquisitely depicted in colour. A selection of one hundred and eight photographs depicting a day in Kashi a day out of this world.
Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi one of the most ancient of living cities. One can still trace its ancient background through the face it presents today. It is a city that unfolds its deepest secrets to only a few. A few who through dedication and love come time and time again to document the most inner and hidden secrets o this ancient city.
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