Varanasi


The land of Varanasi (Kashi) has been the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages. Often referred to as Benares, Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. These few lines by Mark Twain say it all: "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together". Hindus believe that one who is graced to die on the land of Varanasi would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. Abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, the origins of Varanasi are yet unknown. Ganges in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals.

Ganges is said to have its origins in the tresses of Lord Shiva and in Varanasi, it expands to the mighty river that we know of. The city is a center of learning and civilization for over 3000 years. With Sarnath, the place where Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightenment, just 10 km away, Varanasi has been a symbol of Hindu renaissance. Knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts have all flourished here for centuries. Also a pilgrimage place for Jains, Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar.

Vaishnavism and Shaivism have co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously. With a number of temples, Mrs. Annie Besant chose Varanasi as the home for her 'Theosophical Society' and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, to institute 'Benares Hindu University, the biggest University in Asia. Ayurveda is said to be originated at Varanasi and is believed to be the basis of modern medical sciences such as Plastic surgery, Cataract and Calculus operations. Maharshi Patanjali, the preceptor of Ayurveda and Yoga, was also affiliated with Varanasi, the holy city. Varanasi is also famous for its trade and commerce, especially for the finest silks and gold and silver brocades, since the early days.

Varanasi Ghat

Varanasi has also been a great center of learning for ages. Varanasi is associated with promotion of spiritualism, mysticism, Sanskrit, yoga and Hindi language and honored authors such as the ever-famous novelist Prem Chand and Tulsi Das, the famous saint-poet who wrote Ram Charit Manas. Aptly called as the cultural capital of India, Varanasi has provided the right platform for all cultural activities to flourish. Many exponents of dance and music have come from Varanasi. Ravi Shankar, the internationally renowned Sitar maestro and Ustad Bismillah Khan, (the famous Shehnai player) are all sons of the blessed city or have lived here for major part of their lives.

Devout Hindus make pilgrimages from all parts of India to bathe in the holy river Ganga. Along the river, stairways have been set-up, known as ghats, from which people can bathe before saying their daily prayers.

The city's life revolves around its seven km long sweep of about 100 bathing ghats, which skirt the west bank of the Ganges. Most of them are used for bathing, while some are used for cremating bodies. The most sacred ghats are the Asi, Dasashwamedh Ghat, Manikarnika and Panchganga. Pilgrims who bathe in each one consecutively believe their prayers will be fulfilled. The best time to visit the ghats is at dawn when the river is bathed in a magical light and pilgrims come to perform Puja to the rising sun. The best view of the Ghats can be had from a boat midstream or from the Malviya Bridge. Burning pyres, people getting their hair shaved off, the chanting of sacred slokas, giving of alms to Brahmins Priests sitting under huge umbrellas offering prayers for their clients, devotees praying and drinking water from the holy river are the common sight at these ghats.

Varanasi Ghat

Vishwanath temple the most sacred temple in Varanasi is the Vishwanath temple, located at Vishvanath Gali dedicated to Lord Shiva who is believed to reside here. The current temple was built in 1776 by Ahalya Bai of Indore with about 800 kg of gold plating on the towers, which gives the temple its colloquial name, Golden Temple. The gold plated spire was the gift of the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore in 1835.

Sarnath around 10 Km. north-east of Varanasi, is the place Sarnath, which was visited by Lord Buddha to preach his message "Maha-Dharma-Chakra Pravartan" (in Buddhist terminology, 'turned the wheel of the law') after he achieved enlightenment at Bodhigaya. Saranath probably derived its name from one of Buddha's title, Saranganath, Lord of the Deer. Later, the great Buddhist Emperor Ashoka built here the Dharmarajika Stupa and near it erected a pillar surmounted by the magnificent capital of four adored lions, which today forms the national emblem of India. Ashoka erected several memorial towers or stupas.

Ramnagar the residential place of Kashi Naresh (Former Maharaja of Varanasi) across the Ganges at Ramnagar houses a museum with the exhibits of palanquins, costumes, swords, sabres, etc. The fort at Ramnagar houses a museum displaying the Royal collection which includes vintage cars, Royal palkies, an armory of swords and old guns, ivory work and antique clock. The place also has the beautiful Durga Temple and Chhinnamastika Temple.

Durga Temple was built in the 18th century by a Bengali maharani and is stained red with ochre. The Durga Temple is commonly known as the Monkey Temple due to the many frisky monkeys that have made it their home.

Kedareshvara Temple the most important Shiva temple of the city also has a mysterious side to it. It is believed that the stone linga (symbol of Shiva) emerged on its own. Legend has it that a pure hearted devotee of Shiva prayed for a chance to visit the famous Kedareshvara Shiva temple in the Himalayas with such ardent devotion that Shiva blessed him with the linga.

Alamgir Mosque was constructed by Aurangazeb. It is a blend of Hindu and Muslim designs. A famous bathing point, Panjaganga Ghat lies below it.

Sankat Mochan Temple (deliverer from troubles) belongs to Lord Hanuman (the monkey God), an incarnation of Vishnu. The best time to visit this temple is in the early evening.

Shitala Temple this white temple is interesting as it is dedicated to Shitala, the smallpox goddess. It is situated at Shitala Ghat. The Santoshi Mata (Mother of Contentment) shrine is added to this temple.

Chausath Yogini Temple is situated just above the Chausath Yogini Ghat. It was originally devoted to a tantric cult. Now it is devoted to Kali. The deity here is known as 'Ma' (mother).

Bharat Mata Temple, inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, lies about 3 km west of Godaulia, outside the old city. Here, instead of gods and goddesses, one finds a huge relief map in marble of the whole of Indian subcontinent and Tibetan plateau. The map is said to be perfectly to scale both vertically and horizontally with mountains, rivers and the holy tirthas (pilgrimage centers) all clearly visible.

Tulsi Manas Temple built in 1964; the Tulsi Manas Temple stands about 150 m south of Durga Temple. The temple, dedicated to Lord Rama is situated at the place where Tulsidas, the great medieval seer, is believed to have lived and written the great epic "Shri Ramcharitmanas". The two tier walls of the temple are engraved with the verses and scenes from this great epic.

Bharat Kala Bhavan is a museum which displays India's heritage. It is a mine of knowledge which has preserved the past of our country. The Bharat Kala Bhavan museum was established in the year 1920 A.D. It is an art and architecture museum and houses a vast collection of paintings, Hindu and Buddhist sculptures and other materials of archeological importance.

Benaras Hindu University is the largest and oldest university in north India. Spread over an area of 2,000 acres, this great place of education was established by Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya. Today the campus has faculties of Arts, Science, Music, Sanskrit, Languages, Engineering, Statistics and Medical to name a few of them.

The university also has the huge Vishwanath temple which was built and maintained by the Birla family. The Sunderlal Medical center has all the modern facilities of medical field is also located in the university campus.