Oh, Banaras, ancient holy city of peace and light
Star-studded sky, myriad diyas twinkling along the river banks
In the hoary past, a centre of cultural delight
Where pilgrims mill about to offer prayers and thanks;
Today Varanasi shines. A city of hope;
Wisdom, spirituality and traditions abound;
The snake charmer, the trick of the rope,
Yet, reason, modernity and science are also found.
White-clad silhouettes that float in the dark,
Mere shadows in the dank, dense mists,
With shorn heads, hollow eyes without a spark,
Paltry coins clutched in their desperate fists.
Rituals performed by priests, the ongoing pall,
Mourners wait wrapped in silence in the funeral ghats,
Flowers, incense, sandalwood, a rice ball,
Rites that strike a chord in most human hearts;
Death, universal, it comes unbidden to all
For salvation of the soul, a whispered prayer,
Rich and poor, young and old, they receive the call,
The Lord gives burdens that mere mortals can bear.
Oh Banaras, ancient city, loved and revered,
Across the seas, sacred to the spiritual world,
Yet, isn’t it time your loins to gird,
Remember those days when in Shiva’s tresses you swirled?
Isn’t it time to raise your voice in anguished hurt,
To protest at the havoc created on your banks?
To scream in fury at the pollution and the dirt
Which desecrate your splendour, and destroy your flanks?
Wake up, oh divine city, and make your anguish felt,
Issue warnings so that ambitious men do repent,
For the world is sinking even as the glaciers melt,
While they brazenly ignore the warnings sent.
Oh Banaras, hope lies eternal in the human breast
May you go back to your glory and wonder;
May life and death co-exist, in the manner best,
Before all of humanity is torn asunder.