Two years ago, the Prime Minister had accompanied Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a tour to Varanasi, where the two had performed Ganga aarti — the traditional puja of the sacred river — and watched a cultural programme on the banks of the river.
The reception for the 40-year-old French Prime Minister was no less grand – with cultural programmes, Sanskrit slokas, classical music and dances presented along the ghats, some of them hundreds of years old, of India’s oldest and holiest town.
Mr Macron – who had reached Delhi on Friday on a four-day visit with his wife Brigitte Macron – landed in Varanasi this morning on a special plane. At Assi ghat, he was given a traditional welcome, complete with garlands and a Shehnai recital before he boarded a flower-decked boat named “Bajra”.
Besides PM Modi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also accompanied him for the 20-minute ride to the famed Dashashwamedh ghat, said to have been created by Lord Brahma.
Along the way, the various ghats were a riot of colours and music, with artistes holding various programmes: A recitation of Ramcharitmanas at Tulsi Ghat — the Ramayana of 16th Century poet Tulsidas after whom the ghat was named; an enactment of the first sermon by Lord Buddha at Prabhu and Chetsingh ghats.
Ash-smeared Naga sadhus were present at Akhada Sri Niranjini Ghat. At Mansarovar Ghat, a recital of the couplets of Sant Kabir – a 15th Century saint ad mystic poet — was on. At Pandey and Chausatti ghats, artistes performed kathak according to Banaras gharana – one of the three eminent styles of the ancient dance form — to classical instrumental music.
The steps of the ghats were decorated with alpanas – traditional floral motifs in coloured powder and flower petals.
In the morning, PM Modi and Mr Macron had visited Mirzapur to inaugurate a 100-megawatt solar plant built by the French company Engie. Later, they came back to Varanasi to visit a handicrafts centre to watch weavers at work on the famed Banaras silk sarees and the carpets of Bhadohi.
They also watched “Chitrakoot” – a play based on Ramcharitmanas staged in the open auditorium that portrayed the life of Lord Ram during his 14-year exile.
After the boat ride, the two leaders had a private lunch. Mr Macron then flew back to Delhi as the Prime Minister stayed on to address a public rally.
(With PTI inputs)