Varanasi, the oldest civilization that has been around, has propagated a lifestyle based on cultural and traditional Vedic values. However lifestyle has evolved simultaneously with the continuous evolution of Varanasi itself, revolving around the Hindu culture and religion which has been a slow melting pot of amalgamation of Vedic proponents with other alternate variants or pathways in pursuit of the ultimate goal.
We are already aware of the righteous and purification ritualistic approach to life by pleasing the elements with oblations. However this way of worshipping and seeking blessings of the Gods was not a viable option for all and sundry. Articles involved for performing rituals and involvement of purohits (priests ) was a necessity not everyone could afford. Moreover understanding of the purpose behind such ritualistic complex process of appeasing Gods could not be grasped by average intellects handicapped by scarcity of and access to basic needs. The accommodating religion or culture that Hinduism is, not to encourage abstinence of an individual or group or not keep religious activities limited to any particular sect, gave birth to many alternate cults which strived to accommodate and involve the despicable and outcast, discards of society, the social rejects as the Gods own children and as much a part of the universal family as anyone else. The Aghora is one such alternative cult, within the Hindu relio-cultural archaetype, which has a considerable followers and schools. Saint Keenaram, the founding father of Aghora was said to be the re-incarnation of Lord Shiva himself, so profound was his tutelage to the demography of population deemed unacceptable by the rest of society for their habits and way of life. He lived for 170 years before he voluntarily absorbed himself in a state of consciousness that distinctly separated his soul from the body. His tomb still stands today as a hotbed of pilgrimage for Aghors and other sects of Hinduism alike.
Then there are Naga sadhus, a separate school of Hinduism, who decline to cover any part of their body with clothing and exist always in the bare naked. And the various sects dedicated to various other Gods or prophets. It is very interesting to observe this cacophonic assimilation of various contrasting and contradictory concepts all finding inclusion in the same religious and cultural space of Hinduism. And even more intriguing it is to see people and a society functional from the beginning of time on these contrasting and contradictory values, inhabit the same cordially and co-existing co-operatively for achieving the same common goals through different paths or vehicles.
And for understanding the functional element which allows Hinduism to prosper and flourish despite so many contradictions or contrasts within itself, one has to see the story through the eye glass of the local, for a perspective on the aspects which are not apparently evident. Visiting tourists and those interested will be taken on an extensive tour of ancient temples and places of worship dedicated Lord Shiva, the founding deity of Varanasi as also the various other temples dedicated to other deities and the history and importance of the same in present day society. Varanasi is also the gateway to the confluence of 3 of the Indian subcontinent’s most profound rivers Ganges, Yamuna & the now invisible Saraswati at Prayag, which is considered a place holy and revered by Hindus. And once in 12 years this place is home to one of the world’s greatest religious gatherings, the Kumbh Mela. Timing and planning one’s trip in advance can make those interested and tourists, avail the spectacle of being witness to the Kumbha Mela and its chaos of energy. Truly it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. And for the icing on the cake, it will be followed up by a tour of an authentic Indian village in and around Varanasi and staying amongst them for a firsthand experience on how such establishments have been functioning based on social religious and cultural values derived from the beginning of time. Interactions with locals and living a day or two like a local Indian villager can also be facilitated complete from attire to accommodation and food. Even individual participation in trivial chores in day to day life, for those interested, can be an interesting option for exploring new ways of looking at life.