The Sacred City – Varanasi
Varanasi, India, formerly known as Benaras, is a sacred Hindu City on the Ganges River. Signs greet visitors at the airport announcing, “Welcome to the Holy City of Varanasi,” the cosmic center of the universe, according to Hindu belief. On the vast ghats (steps) that line the sacred Ganges River, Hindus bathe, conduct business, worship, and die. Dying in Varanasi guarantees a Hindu a path directly to Nirvana without having to suffer through another life on earth.
How Islam Came to Varanasi
Interwoven within one million Hindus are 250,000 Muslims who have made Varanasi their home for the past 500 years. Standing high over the Hindu temples and shrines, the Mosque of Aurangzeb evokes the past, when Mogul Muslims ruled India for generations. Entering a Muslim area is stepping back in time to that Mogul past. Muslims live in the close-knit communities founded in those days. The call to prayer can be heard rippling through the air and into homes. Textile scraps and brightly colored thread litter the street.
The Silk of Varanasi
Many of Varanasi’s Muslims belong to a weaver caste called “Ansari”, “helper” in Arabic. For generations they have passed on their craft from father to son, hand-weaving silk on room-sized, foot-powered looms. The silks they create are beautiful and intricate. They are fashioned into saris worn only for special occasions; many a Hindu girl has dreamed of a Varanasi silk sari for her wedding day. Even as they value the saris, Hindus look down on the Ansari.
The economic challenges of the 21st century are pressing in on the Ansari. Chinese silk and weaving is competing for the silk market; fabrics woven by power looms compete for the sari market. Some Ansari are beginning to abandon the old ways, branching out into other lines of work that they hope will be more profitable and stable, although they often continue to create beautiful handicrafts. The realities of the modern world require more of them to mingle with the outside world. Often one or more boys from a family are sent to school to learn about the business world and to speak English.
In the past, Christians have overlooked the Muslims of Varanasi, but in recent years, God has led some workers to these people. There are now some house churches among the Muslims in Varanasi.
Prayer guide for Varanasi, India:
* Pray that as the Ansari mix more with the outside world God would reveal Himself to them and they would find believers to disciple them.
* Pray for the house churches in Varanasi, that the Muslims may continue to grow in their knowledge of God and their understanding of His plans for them.
* Pray for emerging leaders of house churches to be identified and trained to take the Gospel to their family and friends.
* Pray for the missionaries living in Varanasi, that God will sustain their ministry and lead them to the harvest fields.
Video: Sights and Sounds of Varanasi (4:13)
About the Photo: Description: A sadhu, photographed in the holy city Varanasi, India. Author: MyotisSI License: CCASA 3.0