Ganga Aarti in Varanasi

Varanasi or Banaras, the ‘Abode of Lord Shiva’ is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Its place in Hindu mythology is virtually unrivaled and in fact, the microcosm of Hinduism. According to legends, the city was created by Lord Shiva himself and the Puranic literature dates its existence to at least three millennia. The early history of Varanasi is replete with hoary tales of plunder and destruction by conquers and a religious zealot. Kashi, the mythological name of its eternal city is said to be derived from the word ‘Kasha’, meaning shine or bright, as it was considered to be the ‘city of light’ or spiritual luminance. The present name is a combination of Varuna and Asi, the two tributaries of Ganga flowing along the northern and southern borders of the holy city. At Varani, Buddha and Mahavira preached and Shankaracharya wrote his commentaries on Hinduism.

Embrace Varanasi, the city of lights!
Embrace Varanasi, the city of lights!

Patanjali, the Sanskrit grammarian wrote Mahabhasya and Tulsidas composed Ramcharitamanas. And Kabir preached amity between religions. Varanasi is also an important center of education and has produced several world-renowned academicians, musicians, and artists. It is a famous center for fine arts and crafts. The Benarasi Silk sari with Zari brocading in gold and silver metal wires is priceless possession of any Indian women. It also has a rich repertoire of silver, brass, copper artifacts and trinkets as well as aromatic perfumeries. There are no Indian attractions like Varanasi. It is much more than just a mere city but is a way of life.

Places To Visit in Varanasi

The Ghats: The major attraction of Varanasi is 5 km. stretch of bathing ghats that line the western bank of river Ganga. About 100 big and small ghats were built during the 18th and 19th century, some of them have withered away, while most of the ghats have withstood the vagaries of time. High above the chain of stone steps of the ghats are pavilions and palaces, temples and terraces. Every ghat has its own religious significance, but bathing in the five most important ones- Assi, Dasashavamedha, Harishchandra, Panchanga, and Manikarnika in the same order on the same day absolves pilgrims from their sims.

Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple: The ancient temple of Lord Shiva in the heart of Varanasi, enshrines the first of the twelve Jyotirlingas. Lord Shiva is worshipped here as Vishwanath or Visheswara, the ‘ Lord of the World’ and the shrines is the main center of devotion for the pilgrims visiting Varanasi. The temple has been a living embodiment of cultural traditions since time immemorial. The original temple was destroyed by Aurangzeb and was rebuilt in 1776, by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore. In 1835, the shikaras of the temple were gold plated by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh of Punjab and shrines also came to be known as golden temple. The shrine of Annapurna Bhavani dedicated to goddess Shakti is located nearby.

Boat Ride in Varanasi

Gyanvapi Mosque: It lies adjacent to the Vishwanath temple and was built on the ruins of the original Vishwanath temple in the 27th century, by Aurangzeb. The foundation and rear of the mosque reveal rare specimens of the ancient temple art.

Alamgir Mosque: Aurangzeb destroyed the Vishnu temple here and built the mosque on its ruins, It is a blend of Hindu-Muslim architecture and religious sentiments and is also known as “Beni Madhav Ka Darera”

Bharat Mata Temple: This unique temple was gifted by two nationalist Baba Shiv Prasad Gupta and Durga Prasad Khatri and inaugurated in 1936, by Gandhiji. It enshrines one of the most perfect relief maps of the Indian subcontinent and Tibetan Plateau, carved out of Marble.

Tulsi Manas Temple: This beautiful modern temple dedicated to Lord Rama is said to be located on the same place where Tulsidas, the great medieval seer, and poet, lived and wrote the pic “Shri Ramcharitmanas”.

Durga Temple: The 19th-century shrine is one of the finest temples of Varanasi.

Banaras Hindu University: It was established in 1916, by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and is considered to be the largest residential university in Asia, sprawling over an area of about 2,000 acres. The New Vishwanath temple and the Bharat Kala Kendra located within the premises of the university are worth visiting.

Around Varanasi

Sarnath: It is considered to be the most important Buddhist pilgrim center after Bodh Gaya. Lord Buddha preached his first sermon at the fabled Deer Park over here after attaining enlightenment. later on, emperor Ashoka built magnificent stupas and other structures. The golden period of Sarnath was around 640 A. D. There were over 1500 priest, an imposing Stupa and a mighty Ashokan pillar. Sarnath is a treasure house of Buddhist antiquities ranging from the times of Ashoka to the 12th century A.D.

Dhamek Stupa is the 110 ft. high Stupa marks the site where Buddha delivered his first sermon. OIt was built around 500 AD and was rebuilt a number of timesThe geometrical and floral patterns on the stupa known as Dharmajika Stupa. It was dismantled in the 18th century by Jagat Sigh of Banaras. near the ruins of the stupa stands the majestic Ashoka Pillar surmounted by the superb capital with the Ashokan symbol of four back to back lions. The capital is now exhibited at Sarnath museum and is the national emblem of modern India.

Chaukhandi Stupa is an imposing mound of break work and is said to be originally built by emperor Ashoka.

Mulagandha Kuti Vihar, the elegant shrine was built in the 1930s, by the Mahabodhi Society. It houses excellent murals and frescoes done by Japanese artists and ancient relics of Buddha. The ancient Mulagandha Kuti temple is located among the brick ruins of Sarnath. Other interesting modern temples at Sarnath are Thai, Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese and Japanese monasteries.

Archeological or Sarnath Museum has a rich collection of Buddhist sculptures recovered from the ruins at Sarnath. The main attraction is the superb capital from the Ashokan p[illar depicting four back to back lions.

Central Institue of Higher Tibetan studies was set up by Dalai Lama in 1971 and is only one of its kind in the entire world.

Digambar Jain Temple, the sacred shrine was built in 1824 and is used to be the birthplace of Shreyanashnath, the 11th Jain Tirthankara.

Ramnagar Fort: The 17th Century fort overlooking the river Ganga is not far away from Assi Ghat. It was the residential palace of the former Maharaja of Varanasi and the personal collection of the erstwhile royalty can be seen here. Ramnagar is also known for the Ramlila, bases on Ramcharitramanas of Tulsidas and Dussehra celebrations.

Chunar: The historical town is famous for its impregnable fort, which is said to be originally built by the legendary king Vikramaditya of Ujjain, in memory of his brother Raja Bharithari, who had taken live samadhi here. The Fort witnessed several battles and was associated with Sher Shah Suri, who defeated Mughal emperor Humayun. In 1575, Akbar recaptured the fort and was presided over by the nawabs of Avadh. It passed into the hands of the British in 1764. The fort has a sundial and a huge wall. it affords a fine view of the Ganga. Chunar is also known for its sandstone, which has been used most famously in Ashokan Pillars.

Reaching There

Airport- Bapatpur airport is 22 kms. from Varanasi and 30 kms. from Sarnath.
Railhead- Well connected to main cities of the country.
Road- Varanasi lies on the Delhi-Kolkata NH2; NH7 to Kanyakumari and NH29 to Gorakhpur.

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