Benaras – The religious capital of India

It has been a few years when I last visited Varanasi with my family , not sure how much the city has changed since then, but I enjoyed my last trip to Varanasi. Varanasi is the cultural capital of India and the melting pot of Indian civilization. Varanasi has a well-developed transport network and is well connected to all the major Indian cities and states by air, road and rail. We boarded from Patna Bihar, reached there by train and stayed there for 2-3 days and enjoyed the beauty of this pious city, spent most of our time in sight seeing, temple visit and worship, boating and shopping, Also, while returning home, did not forget to fill some bottles with the holy water of Gnagaes which is stored and further used in religious rituals by Hindus.

Benaras city
Varanasi has many titles like “The City of Temples”, “The City of Learning”, “The Holy City of India”, “The Religious Capital of India”, “The Spiritual Capital of India” and “The City of Lights”. Photo from Flickr

Varanasi is a historical city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India and historically known as Kashi, located at approximately 26 degree North of the Equator, near the Tropic of Cancer in Gangaes River Valley. The people here enjoy reasonably comfortable winter season, but a nearly unbearable hot season, unfortunately we went there in summers, had we gone there in winters, probably our trip would be more enjoyable. The city is situated 300 kilometers southeast of the state capital, Luckhnow, and commonly known as Benares or Banaras. The city has many titles like “The City of Temples”, “The City of Learning”, “The Holy City of India”, “The Religious Capital of India”, “The Spiritual Capital of India” and “The City of Lights”. Unfortunately, many of city temples were destroyed by Mohammad Ghauri in the 12th Century. The temples and the religious institutions in the city now left are of 18th century vintage.

Hindus regard this city as one of the most sacred cities in India. This city is considered holiest of the seven sacred cities(sapt puri) in Hinduism and Jainism. Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings Salvation. It is said that the city was found 5000 years ago by Lord Shiva. The existence of the city has been noted in many Hindu scriptures like Rig-Veda, Skanda Purana, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It is the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and oldest in India.Scholarly books have been written in the city, including the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas. There is a famous temple in the city on his name, the Tulsi Manas Mandir. One of the largest residential University of Asia Benaras Hindu University is also located here. One of the Hindustani classical Indian music form developed in Varanasi, and famously known as Benaras Gharana sangeet padhati. Many prominent Indian philosophes, poets, writers, and musicians live or born and lived in Varanasi. Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath that is located near Varanasi.

The name Varanasi has its origin possibly from the names of two rivers Varuna that still flows in Varanasi and Assi now not visible, though a small stream of Nalla near Assi Ghat is considered as Assi River. Thorugh the ages, Varanasi was known with various names as Avimuktaka Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma, Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya and Kasi.

Historically, Varanasi is at least 3,000 years old. In 567 BC, during the time of Gautama Buddha, Varanasi was the capital of the kingdom of Kashi. The city was a commercial and industrial centre, particularly famous for its muslin, perfumes, ivory works, sculpture and silk fabric.

Things to do in Varanasi
Visiting River Front (Ghats)
The great river banks at Varanasi is must to go when one goes on a trip to Varanasi. There are hundreds of ghats in Varanasi, big and small, is marked by a lingam, and occupies its own special place in the religious geography of the city. Some have crumbled over the years, but some others continue to thrive, with early-morning bathers, priests worshiping God, and many people practicing meditation and yoga. Hindus regard the Ganges as chaste, pure, Goddess, the elixir of life, which brings purity to the living and salvation to the dead, though skeptical tourists tend to focus on lack of hygiene as the ashes to the dead, emissions from open drains and the left-overs from religious rites float by the devout as they go about their bathing and ceremonial cleansing, all this makes the environment very unhygienic and polluted.

Some of the famous ghats of Varanasi are – Asi Ghat, Kedara Ghat, Chauki Ghat or Chausathi Ghat, Dashashwamedha Ghat, Manmandir Ghat, Lalita Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Panchanga Ghat, Adi Keshawa Ghat. For centuries, pilgrims have traced the perimeter of the city by a ritual circumambulation, paying homage to shrines on the way. Amng the most popular routes is the Panchatirthi Yatra, which takes in the Pancha (Five) Trithi (Crossing) of Asi, Dashashwamedha, Adi Keshva, Panchaganga and Finally Manikarnika. To appease the gods, the devotee, accompanied by a priest, recites a sankalpa(statement of intent,oath) and performs a ritual at each stage of the religious journey.

Visiting City temples
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple
This temple is also known as the Golden Temple, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva, vishweshwara or Vishwanatha, the presiding deity of the city. Millions of people of India come here to seek benediction and spiritual peace by the darshan of this jyotirlinga which confers liberation from the bondages of maya and the inexorable entanglements of the world. This is a very famous temple and has been visited by our great Indian Saints- Adi Shankaracharya, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekanand, Goswami Tulsidas, Maharshi Dayanand Sarswati, Gurunanak and several other spiritual personalities. More than the Ghats and even the Ganga, the jyotirlinga installed in the temple remains the devotional focus of Varanasi.

Sankat Mochan Temple
Sankat Mochan is one of the sacred temples of Varanasi. It is located in the Southern part of Varanasi near the Banaras Hindu University. It is dedicated to Lord Hanumana also known as “Sankat Mochan” – one who removes hurdles and sufferings. As per Indian mythology, one who visits the “Sankat Mochan” temple regulary, gets all his wishes fulfilled. Thousands of devotees queue up in front of “Sankat Mochan” temple to worship Lord Hanumana every Tuesday and Saturday.

Other famous temples that can be visited in Varanasi are Bharat Mata Temple, Durga Temple, New Vishwanath Temple, Tulsi Manas Temple and some more.Also places like Chandraprabha Sanctuary, Bharat Kala Bhavan should be visited once. Kala Bhavan, located inside BHU campus , is an art and architecture museum and houses a vast collection of paintings,Hindu and Buddhist sculptures and other materials of archeological importance.

Shopping
Varanasi is famous for its silk weaving, and Banarasi Silk Sarees, kurtas. Banaras Brocades are prized the world over. Brassware, Copperware, Wooden and Clay toys and exquisite gold jewellery are some of the other craft the city is famous for. The hand-knotted carpets of Mirzapur and musical instruments are among the other shopping attractions. I remember when I started learning classical music during my school days I did not get an affordable harmonium and tabla in any market in my city and my music teacher went to bought it from Banaras for me at reasonable price. Banaras is also famous for its ‘Banarasi Pan’ and ‘Langada Aam’ . Main Shopping areas are Vishwanath Lane, Thatheri bazaar, Godoulia, Dashswamedh Gali, Lahurabir and Golghar.

Fairs and Festivals
There are several fairs and festivals celebrated in Varanasi, the famous ones are Ganga Mahotsav, Boudh Mahotsav, Kajari Mhaotsav, Ganga Water Rally.
Ganga Mahotsav is a five-day-long celebration .During the Ganga Mahotsav classical music programs are organized, the classical music rendered by maestros indeed imparts an unforgettable flavor. That increases with the daily Shilp Mela and the unique Dev Deepawali with innumerable ‘Diyas’ or earthen lamps in chain, lit by devotees and floating down the river on the full moon night of kartik. This is a spectacular sight.

The Boudh Mashotsava festival celebrates the birth of Lord Buddha with traditional religious fervor. A large fair is held at Sarnath and the relice of Buddha are taken out for public display in a procession on this day in the month of May. Millions of earthen lamps placed in Mulgand Kunti Vihar amplify the beauty of this event, also cultural programs are organized by U.P. Tourism for 2 days during this event.

The kajri Mahotsava is famous festivals of Mirzapur though it is celebrated in Banaras, Mathura, Allahabad and the Bhojpur regions of Bihar also. Kajali was King Kanti Naresh’s daughter and was born in Mirzapur. She loved her husband very much but was separated from her husband due to circumstances and sung the songs of virah (sadness of separation). Her songs became a genre of Hindustani classical music singing, popular in state of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar often sung during the rainy season. It comes in the series of season songs, like Chaiti, Hori and Sawani. The festival is celebrated a a tribute to this exclusive musical art form of Mirzapur in the month of August of Akshay Tritiya of Bhado Month of Indian Calendar. Two days cultural programs are also organized by U.Poa. tourism.

Ganga Water Rally comes under the category of adventure sports and develops adventure touris in India. The Boat Club Allahabad patronizes this event and the participants coming from all the corners of India and abroad use kayaks, canoes or row boats in this nomadic sport. Celebrated in the month of November Ganga Watter Rally is first major water sporting event of its kind in the state. Boat Rally starts from Allahabad then reaches to Varanasi through Mirzapur and Chunar.

Author: Swati

Comments

  1. Very nice article, I have been visiting Varanasi as a kid… as my maternal grandmother used to stay there. Brings back a lot of memories, including the ones where on every visit to Sankat Mochan my puja offerings were ruthlessly snatched away by the so many ‘hanumans’ (monkeys) there!

  2. Great article about Benaras, I am planning to visit Benaras some time this year to take photos of the holy city. I’ll share my experience with Spice Flair members.

  3. Pam Brown says:

    Couple of my friends visited Benaras, they both liked their stay there. Though they complained about the cleanliness of the river, mostly they have positive experience in the city. After reading your article, I’d like to visit Benaras.

    • Yeah Cleanliness is definitely an issue that people and Government needs to take care of. I hope in coming days there will be some improvement on this front.

  4. Lot of information about Benaras, interesting to read. I hope to see this place soon.

  5. Varanasi is my home town and I love being there all time. It is never relaxing and calming here like in Varanasi. Away from the chaos of daily life, drenched in the water of the Ganges, I feel blessed being a native of this Holy Destination, though it has been a few years since I last visited the place.

  6. Shrishti says:

    Varanasi is a great holy destination for the people of Hindu religion. Hindus believe that a dip in the holy water here can free one from all the sins of this birth and previous births.

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