Benares or Varanasi or Kashi, [Wiki link] is about 2000 kms. from Mysore. According to legend, it was founded by Lord Shiva himself and hence considered as the holiest city for esp. Hindus. History records evidence of this place being inhabited from as early as 12th century B.C. It is among the oldest, continuously inhabited cities of the world, on the banks of the Holy River Ganges [Ganga]. In 1897, Mark Twain, the renowned Indophile, said of Varanasi, "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together." It remains a unique city for myriad reasons.
One Anuradha Sankar has a well presented blog [found on the web] which she aptly titled as 'Kashi Yatra' [Tour of Kashi] http://kashiyatra.blogspot.in/p/about-me.html [read her profile there! And do not forget to return to my blog!] Brief information and photos of the author's trip of the places of importance in that region is useful. This avoids my repeating them here.
Let me begin now. A pilgrimage tour to Benares/Kashi/Varanasi [names of same place] was undertaken by my great grandfather Mylar Rao 'long ago'. This, I had overheard my grandmother mentioning when I was very young in the 1970s and this place appeared very far away when I saw in the school atlas map.
I have preserved many diaries of Mylar Rao which are more than a century old. Recently, one among them of 1912 had me thrilled. I saw some account entries instead of his daily jottings which he habitually recorded. Instantly, I correlated it with my grandmother's mention 40 years ago - the trip to Kashi, because I could find familiar place names, which to my great delight were actually of that very Benares trip, precisely in 1911-12. It was also in 1911 that he had started to construct the house from where this post comes from, a hundred years later. Around the turn of the 19th century itself, many cities in our vast country had railway connectivity and reaching Kashi had become a thinkable proposition, unlike older times when people had to walk all the way.
This is the diary, which Mylar Rao, the ever meticulous took on that tour. Click on images [to enlargify] and read the entries - some are curious.
Today, we do advance bookings sitting at home and many long distance trains are available to take people to all parts of the vast country! Long distance pilgrimage tours were really adventures in the bygone era for many reasons.
It appears that tickets were bought just before they boarded Mysore and did the same at every place on the route. Mysore-Arsikere-Miraj-Pune-Nasik-Itarsi-Allahabad-Varanasi-Gaya-Calcutta-Berhampore-Madras. 'Hopping' was the only option in the absence of long distance trains. They would have waited at each halt many hours to board their onward train
He had collected some addresses of contact persons in some places before the party left, probably for any help for accommodation in a choultry.
First let me list in brief, the dates and places from the account diary.
His account and journey starts on 23.12.1911, with a purchase of 14 tickets.
Fourteen people in the pilgrimage party! There are some names mentioned in the diary. Mrs. Rangiengar, Venkapathiah, B.N., Swamy,Somayaji, Rangappa,
24th they were in Harihara [near Davangere].
25th - Harihara to Belgaum.
26th - Belgaum to Poona [Pune]
27th - Sight seeing in Poona.
28th - Journey to Nasik.
An entry "Pilgrim tax" Four annas each = Four rupees was paid! There are many interesting entries!
29th-30th - Nasik is another place on the banks of River Godavari, where rituals are performed for the propitiation of souls of forefathers.
31.12.1911 they are in Itarsi, go to Narbada river by 5 tongas.
2.1.1912 - Rituals at Prayag [Allahabad is its new name].
There is an address - Jagannath Sastri at Allahabad... did they stay there?
5.1.12 - Still in Allahabad. 15 tickets to Benares. Who came in extra?
They are in Banares for a few days.
9.1.1912 - Boat to Vyasa Kasi [Vishwanatha Temple?].
Solder-sealing of the holy water in little copper vessels [Gange Thali] from Ganga River was done - may be one such thali is still in our worship room. "Holy Ganga water" does not spoil when kept sealed and the seal is opened to put a small quantity of it into the mouth of someone in the family who is very close to take the last breath. That way, it is believed that the person will attain moksha [salvation].
This picture [probably framed later] is said to have been bought at Benares during that trip. It was in the worship room.
11.1.12 - Benares to Gaya. Gaya also rituals done.
11.1.12 - Gaya to Calcutta. 14 tickets for Rupees Forty six! [Where did they stay? There is an address B.V.Ramaiah at Chander Lane, some Mysorean in Calcutta?].
12.1.12 - Reached Calcutta, roamed in Tramcar, buys Badam Halwa. May have visited Kali Temple also. Mahatma Gandhi visited it in 1901 after he returned from South Africa.
13.1.12 - Left Calcutta for Samalkot. Fruits were bought [3 rupees] and a toy for child [6 annas]. Two rupees was paid to the Ticket Collector to reserve the Compartment for the group! That goes to show how busy Calcutta was even in those days.
14.1.12 - Provisions were bought at Berhampore.
No hotels in those days. Telegrams were sent to home from the places they had gone. There are frequent entries 'Telegram" so that kept the people back home informed of their safety.
Carts and carriages were hired to transport the luggage and people to and from railway stations.
15.1.12 - Berhampore to Madras [Chennai].
16.1.12 - Reached and stayed at Madras. Bought provisions again.
17.1.12 - Madras to Bangalore.
They would have relaxed and returned to their homes in Mysore at convenient days.
In his main Account Book at home, he records the total. See. Less than thousand rupees [for 14 people!].
Using Google Maps I tried to chart their round journey from Point A [Mysore] to Point H [Bangalore]. It was roughly 5000 kilometres. The tour stretched 24 days.
Points A to H - Mysore-Nasik-Itarsi-Allahabad-Varanasi-Gaya-Calcutta-Bangalore.
Railways had only coal-fired steam engines in those days. Travelers had to carry their own beds and food. There were no hotels or vendors. They carried water in brass vessels collecting it at every station the train stopped. They bought provisions wherever they halted for the day and cooked food [what about firewood]. So they would have carried suitable vessels, leaves [instead of plates] to eat. Holdall bags were necessary. I am sure steel trunks were also carried to take clothes etc. So imagine the luggage bulk and weight belonging to 14 people for a long tour! No wonder there are frequent entries for coolie, carriage, carts, luggage removing, provisions, telegrams, etc.
Let me show some pictures, also of the time when the party toured. Picture postcard collecting was a hobby with one of my great grand uncles [1900-1915]. I found some scenes showing Benares.
This is how it was when they went to Nasik. The postcard is from the same period.
I found three pictures of Benares in "Glimpses of India", published in 1895, by J.H.Fairneux, one of my favourite books.
My father and grandfather were not able to visit in their lifetimes. I was able to visit it twice, so far. First visit was in November1993. Picture taken at Mysore Ghat, built [in the late 1920s] by and during the reign of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, the ruler of Mysore who also had visited there on his way to Kailas-Manasarovar in 1931.
Picture below taken at Mysore Ghat on my second visit with our cricket team, October 2000. They recently renamed it as Karnataka Ghat - see this image - web link: [Click] Instead of Gange Thalis, I brought the river water in plastic bottles.
Just in case we would not be able to make the trip to Benares in our lifetimes, we are symbolically 'sent' in the form of a ritual 'Kashi Yatra' in Hindu weddings. For a higher spiritual purpose the groom is given a 'final opportunity to leave before the bride enters'. He is asked if he would like to abandon worldly life and lead the life of an ascetic. The father of the bride requests the groom not to leave, but to stay and marry his daughter. This is taken from Devasthanam.
Both my grandfather and father could not make it in real life. This is a picture of my father "doing the Kashi Yatra" on his wedding day, 1956.
Decades later, it was my turn a few years before opportunity to tour presented itself.
'Kashi Yatre' means an arduous adventure. Kannada writer Triveni wrote a novel titled 'Kashi Yatre'. T.P.Kailasam jokes in one of his satirical works "to go in an iron boat to bring river Ganga in a mosquito net".
Visiting Kashi, bathing in River Ganga and performing rituals on its banks, for the propitiation of departed souls in the family esp. the forefathers at least once in the lifetime is a dream and wish of devout Hindus. There have been many instances in ancient times when people had to walk the entire route to fulfill the wish/vow/dream and never returned home, esp. from the south. It is also believed that when a person dies in those places, the soul is liberated. Those who returned home safe were held in high esteem. 'That person has returned from Kashi.'!
Not so in present times, as access to places is much easier. Even then, only luck plays its part to allow or prevent a person from visiting!! That is the mystery of the place!