Viewfinder: Sunset on Sheetla Ghat

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A week before a terrorist attack blew up the Sheetla Ghat in Varanasi, India, Hindu sannyasins rested from their travels on its steps. The renunciates gather in the most ancient and holy living cities in India. Sheetla Ghat, or steps, is home to the sunset aarti, an evening prayer ritual offered to the holy river Ganges. Locals sweep and run water along the steps in preparation for the daily ritual.

The orange garb signifies renunciation of possessions, desires, and temporal attachments. The sannyasin’s goal is to achieve mosksha, liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering. Meditation is common along the ghats. Whether children are flying kites, or Davidson students are resting from learning the intricate designs and history of temples, steady is the rhythm in Varanasi.

This moment was a threshold, as the men gazed at an approaching festive crowd. It was a rare experience to watch as Varanasi united two increasingly separated worlds of India, one of serenity and one of throbbing existence.

—Coleen Jose ’12

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