The spiritual capital of India, Varanasi, is a city that draws hundreds of pilgrims that bathe in Ganga to get rid of their sins. Set on the banks of river Ganga, it is the holiest of the seven sacred cities of India listed in Hinduism and Jainism. A major religious hub and one of the oldest in India, this city is believed to be the place where Buddha founded Buddhism around 528 BCE when he gave his first address, “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma”, at nearby Sarnath.
The winding streets of this town house a thriving community of South Koreans. Posing a striking contrast to the temples lined up along the ghats of Varanasi, there exist small cafes with dim lighting and soothing mellow music playing inside. These Koreans have dotted the city with their little cafes and stores with K-Pop CDs. The features of these bistros are so authentic that the streets of Seoul don’t feel different from the ones here in Varanasi, they claim.
How did the Spiritual Capital of the country become home to Koreans?
But the question arises, how did these South Koreans settle in this holy town? Some of these settlers came here as tourists and never left whereas some of them are students who keep coming back. There’s something about this old, slow-paced city that draws them. Maybe it’s the discernment of peace that they get here unlike in bustling Korea.
Buddhism has also been stated as another liaison between the two communities. Varanasi is a major stop on the Buddhist Circuit including Bodh Gaya, Vaishali, Rajgir in Bihar, Shravasti and Kushinagar in UP, and Lumbini and Kapilavastu in Nepal. In addition to all this, the Koreans have also grown up hearing about a folktale about an Indian princess who travelled from Ayodhya in 48 CE to marry a king. At age 16, she became the first queen of the ancient Korean confederacy of Gaya.
What’s the upshot of this accord?
Overlooking the cause behind this, this subsistence of communities has led to a cultural exchange between the Indians and Koreans. Several Korean students come to learn Sitar year after and year, and youngsters in Varanasi have started to learn Korean to be able to act as tour guides. Most of the Korean cafes here are joint ventures with Indians providing the space and licences and Koreans, the mood and cuisine.
The Koreans claim to have fallen in love with the city and its people. Many of them fluently speak Hindi and recite scripts of Bollywood movies without any fail. Some have even made marriage to the Indians in Varanasi. These couples divide time between Seoul and Varanasi equally and exist seamlessly. We don’t blame these people. This city’s charm has made every visitor its victim. The music of the sitar playing on one side and the serene sunsets at the ghats pull you back time and again. These ghats offer a peaceful abode when the city becomes too chaotic and all of it is just unavoidable!
So, now you know that the next time you visit Varanasi, spotting the Korean community there should be a must on your bucket list.
Curated by: Shivangi