The umbrella is ubiquitous no longer

The umbrella is ubiquitous no longer

‘Chaukis' (the seat of the Brahmin priest) covered by the ‘chataris' (large sized bamboo parasols) once used to be the symbol of the identity of Varanasi, also known as Kashi, and any mention of the beautiful and picturesque Ganga ghats of the temple town is incomplete without them.

Barely a few years ago, the ghats of Varanasi abounded with the chataris. “There used to be over 5,000 chataris on the 80 ghats at the Ganges,” says Kalyan Krishna, the convener and executive trustee of Varanasi chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

“Unfortunately this centuries-old trademark is now facing danger due to lack of patronage... there are barely 60-odd chataris on the ghats today'', he said.
Besides, earlier many families in Varanasi used to make chataris. “Today only one family of craftsmen takes up the work in the city'', he said.
Varanasi or Banaras is best known for its unbroken chain of ghats along the Ganga and the palatial edifices above them. “These give Kashi the identity through which she is known'', Krishna said.

It has been aptly remarked that to acquaint oneself with the grandeur of Varanasi, one has to view the river front from mid-stream or from the other bank.
“The ubiquitous flight of steps leading to the river is punctuated with the multi-coloured sarees of the female devotees and the chanting of hymns and devotional songs'', Krishna told Deccan Herald from Varanasi.

“At every ghat, there will be a chauki on which the Brahmin priest sits and  blesses the devotees after they take the holy dip in the sacred waters of the Ganges'', he said.
“The chauki is crowned by a chatari, which completes the scene'', Krishna, a professor in the history of arts department at Banaras Hindu University, adds.
The artists and photographers have captured the Banaras scenes by giving prominence to chataris that have practically become a symbol of the ghats of the city in their own right, he says.

“The chataris provide the pilgrims shade during the hot summer and even shelter for idle gossip...the devotees could safely deposit their belongings with the priest under the chatari,” Krishna pointed out.
He said the chataris used to be donated by the benefactors. “Donating chataris used to be considered a pious act.''

The donations are shrinking few people come forward to offer patronage to the craft of making chataris as a result of which the craft of making chataris is slowly disappearing.
Many artisans, who once used to make chataris, have shifted to other professions owing to lack of demand. “If things do not change in the days to come, this family will also turn to some other trade and the art will die completely,” the INATCH office bearer said. INTACH has launched a campaign to save the chataris from becoming extinct. “We have appealed to the people to protect the centuries old tradition from dying. Patronage must be given to the artists so as to protect this landmark of the Banaras ghats,” he said.
“It will also provide an opportunity to the people to earn punya (religious merit),” he added. He said a standard size chatari costs around Rs 1,500 and an additional Rs 200 for transporting, installing and applying a protective varnish layer.

“Fortunately, people, including the foreigners have come forward with generous donations and we have placed orders for many chataris,” Krishna said.
“Our target is to get about 100 chataris made by the end of the year,” he added.  
“It takes about a month to make a standard size chatari... making it requires specialised training... the bamboo sticks have to be carefully woven so that they remain strong and last long'', said Gulab Singh, whose family is the only one in Varanasi, which is still engaged in making the traditional chataris.
The Ganga ghats would certainly lose their attraction as well as grandeur if this symbol (Chataris) vanishes, Krishna added.
Sanjay Pandey in Lucknow

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