KASI YATRA (PILGRIMAGE TO KASI OR VARANASI)
The Hindu code of Law and Justice (Dharma Sastra) formulates four successive stages of a man’s life. The first stage is Brahmacharin, a student’s days with his guru at his hermitage learning the Vedas, while observing strict celibacy and discipline. The second stage is Grihasta, in which a man enters married life, establishes a household, begets children, and discharges all social and religious responsibilities. The third stage is Vanaprastha, in which he dwells in the forest as a hermit devoted mainly to meditation. The final stage is Samyasin (ascetic) where he becomes an ascetic, renouncing the world to meditate on the Atman, or supreme soul, and to achieve union with it. The ascetic does not follow rituals or ceremonies. A man may opt to enter married life or to become an ascetic at the early stage of life. To become an ascetic, he must, after his studies (Brahmacharin), proceed to Kasi in pursuit of higher knowledge. Through the ages, the Hindus have revered Kasi (Varanasi) as the holiest place and seat of learning. The tradition holds that every Hindu, after completing his studies, proceeds to Kasi in pursuit of higher knowledge in philosophy. This choice is Jana Marga, the path of wisdom.
In the Kasi Yatra ceremony, the bridegroom (Brahmachari, or bachelor) is supposed to be commencing his pilgrimage to the holy city of Kasi to seek a guru for learning advanced philosophy to attain salvation. here, the father of the bride intercepts him and endearingly dissuades him from the pilgrimage, assuring the groom that the same supreme state could be attained through married life. The father of the bride promises to give his daughter to the groom for becoming a Grihasta (married man). In this ceremony, the groom is attired in yellow robes and holds an umbrella and some religious texts – like a young monk.
The bride’s father addresses the groom thus: “We accord you a grand welcome. O Mahavishnu in human form. Please step into my house and I shall give away my daughter to you in marriage”. The bride’s father then places a coconut and flowers in the hands of the groom and leads him to the entrance of the marriage hall. There, the bride and the groom exchange garlands and are seated on a swing. Sumangalis circumambulate the swing singing devotional songs that describe the marriages of various Gods. They carry oil lamps, flowers, water in silver pots, and colored cooked rice. These are scattered around the swing, which is believed to ward off all evil spells.
The Hindus believe in triad of gods (Trimurti) composed of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. By describing the groom as an incarnation of the god Mahavishnu (Vishnu), the father’s invitation implies the indirect meaning of the Vedanta, that everything is an incarnation of the triad.