Ganges, dawn, a luminous haze
over the water. The bathing ghats
are busy with the faithful. (But India
is inconceivable without faith.)
The robed bathers, raising river water
to the sun, pouring it back
to mother Ganges, are they worshipping
the sun or the river?
For them God is everywhere
and everything. Water, sun,
the river and the twinkling lamps floating on it
are part of one consciousness.
The burning ghats too (such quantities of wood
stacked ready) are beginning their day.
The funeral party approaching in respectful haste
have a job to do. They build their pile,
move the body to the wood,
start the fire. I watch, but not for long.
This moment, so intimate, so public, reminds me
I am an intruder here. The ashes
will return to Ganga unwitnessed by me.
Away from the river, the vendors of tea
do their trade among the stalls. Monkeys,
cheerfully pilfering, are chased away
half-heartedly, for they are Hanuman’s representatives,
and they, with the sacred, garbage-clearing cows,
are part of the one consciousness. In this land
all are “the faithful”, everything is God’s creation.
In this poverty is richness.
Varanasi is the Hindu holy city formerly called Benares. The "ghats" are a series of steps leading down to the river, and are divided into areas for various purposes. Hanuman is the Hindu monkey-god.