National Geographic : 1971 Oct
I recalled a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, the "Song of God," in which Lord Krishna consoles the warrior-prince Arjuna on the eve of a slaughter: Worn-out garments are shed by the body: Worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller within.... New bodies are donned by the dweller, like garments. So in Banaras there is the exultation of life too. I heard it in the cry of the curd seller as he wanders the narrow, crooked streets with pots on a shoulder pole; in the bedlam of itinerant musicians who show up as if by magic at any house when a son is born; in the incredible jangling of bicycle ricksha bells; and in the fervent prayers of the devout who crowd the hundreds of temples, or circle the sacred mint plants, or adorn with flowers and Ganges water the uncounted lingams, short stone monuments representing Lord Shiva and the regenerative force of life. I went often at dusk to the river to listen to the bards who sang and spoke the ancient Hindu epics as Homer once chanted the Iliad and Odyssey. On the great steps of the Munshi Ghat women clustered, their saris drawn close, house and trunk keys tied to the hem thrown over the left shoulder. Musicians began their sad melody with drums, cymbals, and hand organ. A dark frail figure in white dhoti and apricot shawl rose and began to sing the Ramayana, one of the two great Hindu epics, a tale of love and banishment. The melody is sweet, repetitious, sad. For 12 years the singer has come here each day; completing the epic, he begins again, and the women never tire of it. Some place before him bananas and little sacks of food. VIBHUTI NARAIN SINGH, Maharaja of Banaras, was moustachioed; a sandal wood tilak marked his brow, a purple and-gilt cap crowned his head. The small office in his palace overlooked the Ganges, and a breeze shook the weighted papers piled on his desk. Laden with wheat flour, a barefoot villag er hurries homeward through monsoon rain in Bihar. Some 160 million Indians live in the villages and farms of the Gangetic Plain, where floods bring gifts of soil-enriching silt during summer. Webs of irrigation ditches route Ganges water to fields of rice, wheat, and corn in drier months. KODACHROME © N.G.S.