Monthly Archives: March 2018

The real City of Light: Varanasi, the most sacred city in India

Kashi - The City of Light Kashi – The City of Light

The city that Lizzie discovers through the portal in her garden in the first book of The Secret of the Tirthas is based on a real city in India.

Kashi is one of the oldest cities in the world. Some estimates put it at up 2,000 years old! It has had several names, including Benares, also spelt Banaras, but it is most commonly known as Varanasi. The meaning of Kashi is the ‘City of Light’. It’s the holiest city of Shiva, the Hindu god responsible for destruction. But Shiva destroys things with a purpose, to ensure there’s space in the world for creation and new life.

Kashi has hundreds of temples and stone steps (‘ghats‘) on its waterfront, leading down into the sacred River Ganges. Hindus believe that pilgrims who die in Kashi are enlightened and achieve instant moksha – that is, escape from the endless cycle of life and birth. Many are cremated at the famous Manikarnika ghat, and their ashes are thrown into the swirling river.

Shiva and the Ganges

The Ganges flowing down from Shiva’s hair

Hindus also believe that Kashi is the centre of all ‘tirthas‘ – sacred crossing places – where the gods come down on to earth and where pilgrims can be transported instantaneously from one holy shrine to another. Now there’s an idea…

Kashi was the first place I visited on a three-month trip to India when I was in my twenties. I remember my first morning, taking a boat out to watch how the early morning sun made the honey-coloured ghats glow. It felt like I’d entered the landscape of a fantasy novel. I realised that there is little need to create imaginary worlds. You just have to visit places and cultures you’ve never been to before.

For more photos and extracts from my journal about the day I arrived in Kashi click here.

 

 

 

Wedding Song – a poem for newlyweds

Weddings open new doors

I wrote this poem to read at the service of a friend’s wedding. Weddings are a unique joy, the perfect time to remember that doors are always opening, that every moment offers a new beginning. But weddings fly by too fast. So I wanted to capture that sense of freshness and love, not only for the newlyweds themselves but for everyone who had come to witness and celebrate their marriage.

Wedding Song

And as they came out into the gladbright day
the light sprang up in their eyes
for all the crowd to see
that they were sunmade –

and the day danced
danced through the eyes of the lovers
danced because there is never
anything except beginning
and never is it known more
than on this day –

and we all would follow
swept up like the spangled leaves
of glorious trees,
savouring their sunshine

and they came out singing
and they came out dancing
and they came out thinking
that they’d never been like this before –

and we would all be
blown gaily through the gorgeous day
as if time were nothing but air –

unless we were now
to stop
for just this one moment
and think each of ourselves
all here now
in our hearts

alive

and real as love.

 

The poem I wrote for my wife on my own wedding day is here.