As a pilgrimage centre for Hindus, Banaras is known as a tirtha: a spiritual ‘ford’ where the boundaries between the physical world and the sacred one are permeable. A tirtha, as Diane Eck (1983, 24) describes it, is a powerful place, where one can easily and safely cross over ‘the river of samsara – this round of repeated birth and death – to reach the far shore of liberation’.1 Nonetheless, such powerful ‘crossing places’ must be negotiated for the worshipper with the help of meaningful symbols, ritual assistants and organizational structures – they cannot be negotiated alone. The organizational structures, including a variety of institutions, ceremonial practices and ritual transactions form the basis of the Banaras ritual economy; and central to this economy are the ritual specialists, facilitating and instructing worshippers in matters of ritual and belief.