Monday, November 9, 2009
Varanasi – A must visit sacred destination in India
“Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”—Mark Twain
History of Varanasi / Benaras / Kashi dham
The Ganga flows here in a half cresent formation with Varuna on one side and Asi on the other. Varanasi, the oldest living city in the world, is at the confluence of these three rivers. It is compared to Babylon (7th century BC) and Nineva in ancient world. It is mentioned in the Upanishads as the holiest of all the holy pilgrimages. One of the legendary seven cities, Varanasi is believed to have been founded by Kasya, the son of Suhotra, twelve hundred years ago. Kashi, another name of Varanasi seems to be derived from Kasya, the founder. There is another opinion about the name. Here the sky, during sunrise, looks deep saffron (Sanskrit Kashaya) and hence the name Kashi is popularized, The City of Lights. Much later Varna, the King of Kashi installed the idol of a goddess named Varanasi. Kashi became Varanasi henceforth. Bamana Puran gives another account two holy streams flowed from the legs of the absolute God who was born out of Vishnu. The compassionate Varuna was born out of the right leg and was flowing towards north and Asi came out of his left leg and headed toward south. Varuna and Asi joined together here and so the name Varanasi prevailed.
Kashi was under Kanauj for sometime in the medieval period. Later, in the 7th century, it went to the Pal Kings of Bengal. From them, it was gone under Muslim rulers. Many temples in Varanasi were destroyed by Muhammad Ghori (1033), Kutb-ud-din Ghori (1194), Alauddin Khilji (1294-1316) and Aurangzeb (17th century). Varanasi was renamed Muhammadabad for a short period in the 18th century. The British arrived in 1775 and made a separate state of Varanasi with Ramnagar as its district head quarter. Varanasi came to Uttar Pradesh in 1949.
What to see in varanasi
This is the second home of the Bengalees and the ultimate refuse of the traditional Hindu widows in their old age. Temples abound in the lanes and by-lanes. Some of them have worn out with age, while some are gorgeous and imposing. The streets and lanes are an utter maze. The traffic scene is completely chaotic. There are as many lanes as the people and shops. So much so that Kashi's lanes are known as “labyrinth of the east”. The countless cycles, auto-rickshaws and rickshaws jostle their way through the crowd, only to be impeded by the nonchalant bulls. The pandas are a pestering lot. The muddy water of Ganga is horribly polluted. Yet, despite all this, the bathing ghats invoke the feeling of a tradition that is as old as the Vedas. The chants during a sunrise change the whole atmosphere even today. The evening 7 pm arati is still now a spectacle.
The Viswanath Temple is a holy pilgrim place to the Hindus. Ganga here is one of the holiest of all the holy places in the three worlds, according to Hindu Purana. Staying here is believed to be a way to emancipation. Drinking a palmful of the water of Ganga is believed to deliver the effects of an Aswamedha Yajna. A sojourn here for three consecutive nights is believed to relieve one of the tortures of hell after death. Pilgrims, naturally enough, assemble here in great numbers. Varanasi is one of the fifty one Sati Pithas. According to Purana, the earring of Sati fell in Manikarnika Ghat.
Benaras Hindu University has a world-wide reputation. Sarnath and Ramnagar are two major attractions nearby. Buddhism as a religion developed and flourished in Sarnath which is the part of the Rajgir—Mathura tourist circuit. Varanasi has its own great place in the tourism map of India. It attracts a large number of tourists from across the world. Yahan banta hai Rasa (Here art is made)—that is why Benaras or Bane- ras. But the name was officially changed into Varanasi on May 24, 1956. The town stretches from Raj Ghat (near the bridge) to Asi Ghat (Hindu University) and Varanasi Junction is the new township.
When to visit Varanasi:
The summer is menacing (46.01°—32.02° C). The monsoon (June-Sept) is another trouble. Ganga swells up to a dangerous extent during the monsoon in July-August The best time for travelling is Oct-March. The average temperature during winter is 15.5°—5°C.
Other articles on Varanasi
Varanasi – A must visit place in India
Transport, Tours and Travel agents of Varanasi
Hotels and other accommodation at Varanasi
Choice of Food in Varanasi
Places to visit at Varanasi - Temples
Places to visit at Varanasi - Ghats
Shopping and other attractions of Varanasi
This article is originally published in Travel India and India Study Channel