India is full of ancient rituals that can make anyone wonder how spiritual our history was. Bhagwan Shiva’s land Kashi, the oldest city in the world, can take you on a whole new journey every single day. There are so many events in Varanasi that you will not find anywhere else in the world. One such event is Chita-Bhasm Holi, in which the participants, often called “Bholenath ke Gan”, play Holi with the ashes collected from human crematory grounds at Manikarnika Ghat. Strange it may sound, but the festival creates an aura in the city that can take you on a divine journey.
Shiva, the God of Destruction, teaches to celebrate death as a festival. When people play with colours and ashes together, it creates a mesmerising scene at the Ghat.
Chita-Bhasm Holi is celebrated on the second day of Ranghbhari Ekadashi, the eleventh day of the lunar month. It falls on the waxing moon period of Falgun Month as per the Hindu calendar. In 2021, it was celebrated on March 25. The event marks the beginning of Holi celebrations in Kashi. It is believed that Bhagwan Shiv himself participate in the festivities. Hence, the followers of Bhagwan Shiva, Shaiva, Shakta, and Avghad visit Kashi to celebrate this unique festival.
According to legends on this day, Bhagwan Shiva came to Kashi with Mata Parvati and Bhagwan Ganesh after performing the Gauna ceremony. On this day, everyone except Bhoot Pishach and Visible-Invisible spirits, who are Bhagwan Shankar’s followers, welcome them to Kashi.
On the second day of Rangbhari Ekadashi, Bhagwan Shiva plays Bhasm Holi with his devotees. The ashes from the burning dead bodies on Manikarnika Ghat is mixed in the Bhasm.
The Ganas of Bhagwan Shiva, who look scary, also participates in the festivities. These are the same Ganas who participated in Bhagwan Shiva and Mata Parvati’s wedding. According to the legends, Mata Parvati’s mother fainted on seeing these Ganas and Aughar form of Shiva. Those Ganas come to Kashi and celebrate Bhasma Holi with Shiva and other devotees.
Some legends say that on this day, Shiva takes the form of Mahashamshan Nath and Mata Parvati takes the form of Mata Mashan Kali. They both celebrate Bhasm Holi with the devotees. Before the festivities can commence, the Shringar ceremony takes place in which Baba Mahashamshan Nath gets ready for the festivities.
According to Padam Vibhushan Pandit Channulal Mishra, the Bhasma Holi of Varanasi has its own importance. While talking about the celebrations, he sung, “खेले मसाने में होरी दिगंबर, खेले मसाने में होरी, भूत पिशाच बटोरी दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी…। वह कहते हैं कि लखि सुंदर फागुनी छटा के, मन से रंग-गुलाल हटा के चिता भस्म भर झोरी… दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी….।“
During Bhasma Holi, the devotees experience the divine moments filled with ‘raag’ and ‘viraag’. Legends say Bhagwan Shiva comes with a pouch full of ashes and play Holi with his devotees. Shiva feels the satisfaction of being with his devotees and forgets about everything. The presence of the divine powers in Kashi on Bhasma Holi brings peace to everyone’s mind.
When Bhagwan Shiva lands in Kashi and play Holi, it can be described with these beautiful lines. “भूतनाथ की मंगल-होरी, देखि सिहाएं बिरिज के गोरी, धन-धन नाथ अघोरी… दिगंबर खेलैं मसाने में होरी।“
Kashi is the land of Moksha. It is believed that Bhagwan Shiva gives Tarak Manta to his devotees in Kashi.
Thus, death is also celebrated in the city. The devotees play Holi with the ashes of the dead mixed with colours and a wish of happiness and prosperity for everyone.
It may look strange, one may see it as a scary event, but when you join the festivities, when you feel the presence of the divine power, the presence of Bhagwan Shiva right next to you, the fear will go away.
शव हूँ मैं भी शिव बिना शव में शिव का वास
शिव मेरे आराध्य हैं मैं हूँ शिव का दास
हर हर महादेव!
Photos and videos by Dr. Munish Kumar Mishra