We are not located in Varanasi by accident. We are there because in the ups and downs of history, places, people, ways of life have to be loved actively and worked with to give them a breath of life. We love Varanasi and have dedicated ourselves to its life.
Varanasi has an ancient history and its praises have been sung in several genres, so we won’t sing them again here. Suffice to say, it has world-famous silks, brocades, handicrafts, sweets, malai, pan, Sanskrit learning, music, dance, folk arts—and a love of life that is staggering. It has been summed up by Shakespeare as, “The pleasure of being mad that none but madmen know.”
We feel that Varanasi is a microcosm of India that reflects many of India’s problems. It also, if you look carefully, has many resources to provide solutions. Varanasi is still so rich in everyday arts and values, in extraordinarily fine manufactures, and in classical forms of knowledge and performance that it could provide enough material for many aspects of India’s cultural stagnation to be corrected. Even though its name is known by everyone, most people do not know the actual depths of its resources.
The list of events, great people, achievements and impact of Varanasi is long. Instead of repeating them, let us instead mention some ‘work to be done.’ We at NIRMAN love the river and are dedicated to cleaning it. We respect the old buildings, lanes and practices of the old city and want to make sure they are not summarily bulldozered out of existence. We revel in its imaginative creations in literature and music and want to help in keeping up that fertility. We want less garbage, more environmental sensitivity, but not at the expense of the mauj and masti that is so philosophical and so balanced. Hindus could call it the balance between artha, kama, dharma and moksha, but Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs practice it too. In the race towards modernity, we want to creatively use Varanasi’s own resources to resolve its problems.
And yes, for its praises and its lists of achievements, please do look at the most recent book on Banaras, called Banaras: Walks Through India’s Sacred City, by Nandini Majumdar, and her bibliography that points to other books.