Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India

Similar to Kolkata, Varanasi is  abrupt in the way it enters your senses.  

“Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colorful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth. Varanasi takes no prisoners. But if you’re ready for it, this just may turn out to be your favorite stop of all…Also known in various time in history as Kashi (city of life) and Benares, this is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities and is regarded as one of the Hinduism’s seven holy cities. Pilgrims come to the ghats lining the River Ganges here to wash away a lifetime of sins in the sacred waters or to cremate their loved ones.  It’s a particularly auspicious place to die since expiring here offers moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death), making Varanasi the beating heart of the Hindu universe”

 –The Lonely Plant travel guide

Varanasi was crowded and cluttered and full of foreigners and people in search of spiritual fulfillment.   While there is a lot of beauty contained in the colors of Varanasi, it was one of the most spiritually charged places I visited while in India.  

In all honesty I had a hard time in Varanasi.  Every street and around every corner there was another temple, shop, or guru claiming to have the recipe for liberation and salvation.  Crammed in each of these places were Indians as well as people from other countries all searching and wandering in a desperate search for tangible hope.  I was able to visit a few temples and to watch a giant fire ritual for the river Ganges and each event reminded me again and again of the clever tactics of the enemy and the impending need of God’s reign.  

So what is the solution?  Obviously my first thought is Christ and the Body of Christ being planted in Varanasi because if there is one thing I learned while in India, its that there is power in presence.  But then I was struck with an uncomfortable thought… “Would I be willing to be planted in Varanasi if asked?”  In all honesty, I pray I would be, but reality tells me it would be a point of contention between God and I.  

I do not want to be asked to plant myself in Varanasi, and though I feel this way I know that God doesn’t.  

He loves the people that are in Varanasi, both the native residents and the visitors.  He loves the way they express themselves through art and color and music, and loves their desire to connect with nature and the universe around them.  God created the Ganges and all the scenery surrounding the ancient city.  He believes in Varanasi enough to give it a hope and a future.  Knowing this and feeling the way I do reminds me that I have not yet grasped God’s eyes or God’s heart to the fullest potential.  I am still in the process of becoming, and am being reshaped and refined daily, just like Varanasi.  This city and I are in the same boat (no pun intended).

It's a humbling reality, but one that I needed in order to see the beauty and potential contained in Varanasi.

Ashley Sider