Varanasi: An inquiry into Space, Performance and Bodies

Pravah Khandekar | Musician and Architecture Student, Sir JJ College of Architecture, India

Atimanyu Vashishth | Artist and Architecture Student, Sir JJ College of Architecture, India

Eben Felix | Psychologist, Mumbai, India

Life has a gnawing inclination for self-preservation, and yet we have a cause to believe that one can escape life, its cycles, its shackles, and transcend death itself by not being reborn. The city of Varanasi has had people travelling at the end of their lives, in the pursuit of this salvation, a spiritual reward, Moksha. How can a physical space reward an exit from life and death? Through ‘social action’, which is produced  as a  result  of the interaction of animate and inanimate bodies, the city is perceived, believed and experienced to afford Moksha (Mumford,  1937). The  inhabitants with their respective  props convincingly  adopt  their roles in  the  delivery of this spiritual reward, forming a granular theatre. Thus, as a historical cultural landscape, the city of Varanasi manifests as evolving ‘situated events’, collectively forming a cultural performance (Sinha, 2017). This presentation, coupled with the short film Semicolon  investigates  the  performativity of the  city, and  enquires the inherent democratic nature of this performance in hosting the various identities of its performers, and the multitude of modalities it can inherit. Varanasi can even invite one  to  bear witness  to  a tourist  cruise in front of a cremation Ghat, compelling one to question their own ethical constructs and biases, social aesthetics and philosophical hygiene.