SACRED QUEST: Art by Hiroshi Shimazaki

May 12, 2015

SACRED QUEST: Art by Hiroshi Shimazaki

  • When: May 12 ~ 31, 2015  
  • Where: Silk Purse Arts Centre, West Vancouver
  • Opening Reception: Tues. May 12, 6 ~ 8pm

Geographer & artist Hiroshi Shimazaki has travelled the world capturing the essence of sacred sites of pilgrimage in breathtaking water-colour paintings.

Each work is accompanied by insightful ruminations on the pilgrimage site written by geographer Philip L. Wagner.


The Silk Purse Arts Centre
1570 Argyle Ave, West Vancouver, BC, V7V 1A1  / 604-925-7292 /

Philip. L. Wagner's Word

VARANASI, India, Hiroshi Shimazaki, 2003

Epitome of India

Close your eyes as you stand at dawn beside one of the 50 or so terraced ghats, or landings, along the great Ganges at Varanasi.  Breathe in the whiffs of pungent incense, cow dung, ritual ganga (marijuana), fetid river water, flowers cast into the stream, and cremating bodies. Or hark to the mumble of prayers recited by pilgrims performing their puja as they bathe in the holy, highly polluted river, and the shouts of harmatan (“untouchable”) Dom rajas stoking the funeral pyres.  Then open your eyes to the heart of Mother India, the wonder of fervent yet tolerant India.

Between Calcutta and Delhi in Uttar Pradesh state, at the confluence of the rivers Assi and Varana, Kashi, the place of light, otherwise known as Banaras or (now) Varanasi, epitomises India.  Purportedly the world’s oldest city (at 3,500 years); mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and in ancient Tamil hymns; acknowledged as the cultural centre of India; home for a while to renowned sages (the Buddha; Mahavira of the Jains, born here around 500 B. C.; Shankara; Ramanuja…) Varanasi indeed can claim unique status.

          Ordinary Hindu people come here in vast numbers to seek a grateful death on the ghats, and thus to achieve liberation from the endless cycles of imperfect being.  Their relatives, aided by the Dom rajas, conduct cremation ceremonies (mahashamsaha).  Meanwhile, pilgrims crowd to bathe in the stream and thus gain purification (despite the evident pollution).  They will go on to pray at the great golden Shiva Vishweshwara temple or at some of 200 others, at numberless shrines, or at the Jnani Vapi sacred well – “axis of the world”.  Many of the pilgrims will perform the arduous five-day circumambulation around the 80-kilometre Panchakroshi Parikrama path, pausing to pray at its 108 shrines. Some people still healthy come to Varanasi to live out the rest of their lives there in order to make sure of dying at last on the ghats.

          Buddhists and Jains come to Varanasi (or rather to the deer park four kilometres away at Sarnath) as well, for holy redemption.  Muslims flock to the great Gyanvapi Masjid (mosque) founded by Aurangzeb in 1669 in the heart of the city on a former Hindu temple site near the ghats.  The Roman Catholics have an Episcopal seat here, too.

          Intellectually as well as spiritually, Varanasi stands out, with a Sanskrit university, the renowned Varanasi Hindu University, an institute of Arabic studies, a Tibetan institute, and numerous ashrams.  The Indian national identity, too, has its own shrine: Bharat Mata, established by Gandhi himself, with a huge mosaic map of Mother India.

          Hinduism’s utter, trusting immersion in its own immemorial reverence, nourished by its devotions to a multitude of divine powers, goes along with an awesome respect for other’s practices and beliefs.  Varanasi proclaims that India has found the way we may all very much need.                              Philip. L. Wagner