Patrons swear they have never seen such a spruced up Dashaswamedh Ghat in a long time. The occasion was historic as the Prime Ministers of two nations came together to witness the finest ritual that Varanasi has to offer.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, wearing a brown Nehru jacket, looked in sync and displayed a great deal of camaraderie as they sat together on a chahbutra, a raised platform converted into a stage, with the Ganges to their right. The two leaders were seen constantly talking to each other. They stood up together and turned to each side of the stage to acknowledge loud cheers from the crowd. Mr. Modi raised his arm to wave to the people while Mr. Abe smiled.
“Kyoto last year, Kashi this year...cultural bonds between India and Japan during Shinzo Abe’s visit,” the PMO’s tweet had set the stage for a grand event.
Another tweet by Mr. Modi had announced that a convention centre would be built in Varanasi with Japanese assistance. “This is a great gesture & I thank PM Shinzo Abe for it,” he tweeted.
The two leaders arrived at the ghat at around 5:50 p.m. to loud cheers. They walked under a gate ornamented with flowers, over the red carpet and then down the steps of the ghat, where they performed the Ganga Stuti ritual and ‘jal abhishek. ’
Sanskrit mantras reverberated at the venue, illuminated by LED lights. The shikaras of the temples glowed with different coloured light under the shade of flowers. The festive atmosphere belied the heavy deployment of security forces, including central paramilitary forces and navy personnel at the venue.
The music system was installed after special permission from the Allahabad High Court. Then to the accompaniment of musical instruments began the Ganga Aarti song. Conch shells were blown followed by the chanting of ‘ Har, Har Mahadev.’
Among the dignitaries present at the event were Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Union Ministers Manoj Sinha and Kalraj Mishra.
Earlier, Mr. Modi and Mr. Abe landed in Varanasi at around 4 p.m. and were received with garlands and music at the Babatpur airport by the Chief Minister and Governor Ram Naik.
After a brief stopover at a hotel, the two leaders then took to the road, which had been freshly macadamized, to travel to the ghat. It was the first time that Mr. Modi welcomed a foreign dignitary to his constituency. Mr. Modi then hosted Mr. Abe to a cultural programme at the Taj Hotel where a pure vegetarian Banarasi banquet was served.
The visit comes in the backdrop of the Partner City Agreement between Kyoto and Varanasi signed by the two leaders during Mr. Modi’s trip to Japan last August. An 11-member Steering Committee was also formed to assist in the modernization of Varanasi, though upgradation of water management and sewage facilities, waste management and urban transportation, using Japan’s expertise and technologies.
For the big day, Varanasi got a mini-makeover as the 25-km stretch of road through which the VVIP convoy passed was spruced up on a war-footing.
Traffic signals were restored, electric wires dangling loose from poles fitted back and drains cleared of filth. Road dividers were also repaired and painted, sewers checked for leaks, banners and posters discarded, public toilets fitted with new tiles and illegal encroachments removed.