DESTINATION
HISTORY OF VARANASI

The land of Varanasi (Kashi) has been the famous pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages. The holy city is situated on the banks of the river Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Ganges in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals.

 

Often referred to as Benares, Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. It is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati. The name Kasi (another name for Varanasi) is mentioned in the Rig-Veda. It is often also referred to as "city of temples and learning".

 

Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightenment at Sarnath, just 10 km away from Varanasi. Knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts has all flourished here for centuries. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

 

Jainism is also a part of the different religions followed here. Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar therefore it is a famous pilgrimage centre for the Jains. With a number of temples, Mrs. Annie Besant chose Varanasi as the home for her 'Theosophical Society'.

 

Being a prosperous city, the place was invaded by many Muslim rulers therefore the Muslim influence is also present here. The Benares Hindu University, the biggest University in Asia built by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya is also situated in Varanasi. Ayurveda is said to be originated at Varanasi and is believed to be the basis of modern medical sciences.

 

Varanasi is also famous for its trade and commerce, especially for the finest silks and gold and silver brocades, since the early days. Varanasi has also been a great center of learning for ages. Varanasi is associated with promotion of spiritualism, mysticism, and Sanskrit, yoga and Hindi language.

 

Aptly called as the cultural capital of India, Varanasi has provided the right platform for all cultural activities to flourish. Varanasi has its own style of classical Hindustani music, and has produced prominent musicians, philosophers, poets, and writers in Indian history, including Kabir, Prem Chand, and Tulsi Das, the famous saint-poet who wrote Ram Charit Manas, Jaishankar Prasad, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Ustad Bismillah Khan.

 

The language spoken in the city is Bhojpuri, a dialect of Hindi. The history of Varanasi is very old but it however lives in the form of old manuscripts and the folk traditions but most importantly through its people.

Top Things to See

Aside from dozens of unique Hindu temples and a handful of mosques, Varanasi offers a selection of places of worship that welcome all, regardless of caste or religion. After exploring Varanasi’s religious monuments, discover the history of this cultural centre at one of the city’s comprehensive museums.

 

But perhaps the best way to take in the city is to spend some time relaxing at the Ghats, where you can watch bathers, religious ceremonies and mix with locals and sadhus (holy men) over a clay cup of chai (tea).

Sightseeing of Varanasi
Alamgir Mosque
Also known as Beni Madhav Ka Darera, this mosque was originally built in the Vishnu architectural style but now displays Hindu and Mughal architectural influences. Perhaps best seen from a boat, the mosque sits picturesquely on the banks of the River Ganges.
Bharat Mata Temple
Unusual for its absence of images of gods and goddesses, this temple is dedicated to ‘Mother India’ and instead contains a relief of a map of India. A fairly recent construction when compared to other temples in the city, the building was sponsored by Shiv Prashad Gupt, completed in 1936, and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. One of the most interesting facets of the temple is that it is open to people of all creeds.
Ghats

With over 100 Ghats to explore, it is unlikely any visitor will have time to see them all. Each of the primary Ghats (steps leading down to the river) are indicated by a lingam, or a phallic symbol of lord Shiva.

 

Many of the Ghats double as morning bathing spots for pilgrims, an amazing sight at dawn. The Ghats are also a popular hang out for religious men, some of which spend their time practicing yoga or smoking ganja for religious purposes.

 

These colorful characters are often willing to engage in conversation with visitors and are even willing to be photographed for a small donation. Highlights include Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats, which are commonly referred to as ‘burning Ghats’ for their function as the site of Hindu cremations.

 

Visitors can pause to take in this sight, but are not encouraged to linger for long or to take photographs.

Government Museum Mathura
One of Varanasi’s museum highlights is this interesting collection of antiques, largely gathered by archaeologists Cunnigham, Growse, and Fuhrer. Of great importance is the museum’s collection of pieces that are associated with the Mathura School of Sculptures and dating from the 3rd to the 12th century. Other works include paintings, clay objects, pottery and bronze items.
Great Mosque of Aurangzeb
The last Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, is well known for his destruction of temples and their replacement with mosques during his 48-year rule over Hindustan. The Bineswar Temple in Varanasi did not escape this same fate and was replaced by the Great Mosque of Aurangzeb in the second half of the 17th century. Nestled on the banks of the Ganges, its minarets are 71 metres high and can be see from afar.
Pandit Malaviya Temple
Unique in that it is open to people of all castes and religions, the Pandit Malaviya Temple was inspired by the man of the same name, who wanted to see Hinduism eliminate caste distinctions. The interior is said to be a reconstruction of the now destroyed Vishwanath Temple, which was toppled by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb in the 17th century.
Ram Nagar Fort and Museum
Formerly the residence of Maharaja of Benaras, this 17th century stronghold is best seen from the river. Reached via a dilapidated bridge or by ferry during the monsoon season, the fort also contains an interesting museum that contains some elaborate relics. Expect to see everything from gruesome elephant traps to astrological clocks and razor-sharp swords.

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