Videshi Baba In Varanasi
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Varanasi is a holy city for Muslims and Buddhists, and the most revered pilgrimage place for Hindus. Shiva, according to one legend, is supposed to have laid down, and where his body was, where the river Ganga now flows.
It is a city of narrow streets and ancient buildings, perfumed and acrid smells. In Varanasi there are 365 holy days a year and a temple exists to commemorate each. For Hindus, a pilgrimage to Varanasi and a bath in its waters liberates the soul forever from returning to human form.
I'd arrived with no place to stay but quickly found a cheap room in a ramshackle hotel, and then headed out into the thick of it. I wound through streets and alleys in a slightly downhill fashion, and in perhaps an hour or two I'd reached the ghat. The sun was setting and the river was golden and shallow. I could see rows of people and small boats congested on a sandbar in the middle of the holy river.
In no time I arrived at a row of little wooden shacks that were locked up for the day. I could smell the cannabis and knew I was in the right place. Down the street I could see a dozen or more boats moored to poles at water's edge. I decided to come back at dawn then headed back to my room through the bustling streets. The next morning, I was right there, to my surprise most locals were fairly open about talking about chillum than one would expect in an Indian town. The problem and the humor however, came in the form their fantasized stories about the cannabis and the bhang. Funnily enough, each one of them have their own stories to narrate about how the cannabis became so popular in one of the most religious places in the country, and all of them were rife with fantastical details about Lord Shiva and how he loved to have cannabis. This narration, although mystical is also quite interesting, some of them not to mention hilarious as well… Arun Mishra, our boatman while we traversed across ghats, had one such anecdote to narrate
“In a battle between the Gods and the demons, the Gods had lost. It was then that Lord Vishnu, suggested to churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality and consume it among themselves, the gods and the demons both. It was during this time that Halahal was unleashed- a dangerous poison that could’ve wiped out the entire world. It was then that lord Shiva, in an act of sacrifice swallowed this poison and this is when his neck turned blue. And that is precisely why we call him Neelkanth. We celebrate this deed by consuming ganja or bhang or both.”
According to another legend… “Lord Shiva, while upset over some familial row, took to the fields to cool off. There, he took refuge under the shade of a tall cool Marijuana plant. Curious about the plant he ate some leaves from it, and he instantly adopted them as his favorite food.”
Right when we reached the banks of the Kedar ghat, Arun grinned and told in a rather patronizing voice, “Don’t forget. Shiva lives here. Welcome to my city.”