Varanasi

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Located on the banks of the holy River Ganges, at a distance of about 800 km from the Indian capital city of New Delhi, Varanasi is a city of great religious significance for the Hindus. According to the Hindu scriptures, it is considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva. The Lord Shiva had promised he would never forsake this place. Hence Varanasi is also referred to as Avimukta, which means “that which is never forsaken”. Hindus also consider Varanasi to be a Muktisthala, a place wherein if one dies, one gets liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

The present name Varanasi is derived from the word Varana and Asi, names of the two tributaries of the Ganges which flows through the town. Kashi, Anandavana, Rudravasa and more recently Benares, are some of the other names with which Varanasi is known. The history of Varanasi goes back to thousands of years and it is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Historians believe that Aryans first settled in the Ganges valley and by the 2nd millennium BC, Varanasi became the centre of Aryans’ religion and philosophy. Much later in the 6th century BC, Varanasi became the capital of Kingdom of Kashi. Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang’s visit to India in 635 BC included Varanasi and in his travel memoirs he has described the place as a centre of religious, educational and artistic activities.

Beginning from 1194 AD till the late 17th Century AD, which was the period of Muslim rule in India, Varanasi was on the decline. After the decline of Mughal rule, Varanasi became an independent kingdom in the 18th century. In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramnagar as the headquarters but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi. In 1949, after Indian independence, Varanasi became part of the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Varanasi is the city of temples. There are numerous temples dedicated to different Hindu deities. Varanasi has the unique distinction of having separate temples dedicated to all the nine forms of goddess Durga. Majority of these temples are located along the banks of the Ganges.

Since time immemorial, Varanasi has been blessed with the presence of numerous illumined saints. Many were born here, and many lived and preached the timeless wisdom of spirituality. In the 6th century BC, the Buddha gave his first sermon to his companions at Sarnath, located nearby Varanasi. Two of the Jain Tirthankaras were born in Varanasi. There are many other saints who were associated with Varanasi in some form or other, namely, Kabir, the revolutionary mystic poet; Tulsidas, whose work, Ramcharitmanas, is read and adored in most Hindu household; Swami Shankaracharya, who was the founder of Dashnami system of Akharas and the propagator of Advaita doctrine; and Ramanujacharya, the great Vaishnava saint.

The city had always been and continues to be a centre of arts and crafts. Many reputed gharanas or schools of Hindustani classical music have developed in Banaras over the last few centuries. These include: the Senia and Mishra gharanas in vocal music, Ramsahay gharana in tabla, Badal Mishra gharana in sarangi, and the gharanas of Mian Vilatu and Nandalal in shahnai. Many musical styles notably Dhrupad, Khayal, Dhamar, Dadra, Hori, and Kajri, flourished in the favourable environment of Varanasi.

Thousands of Hindu devotees and other curious tourists from all over the world visit Varanasi every day. These devotees take a dip in the holy River Ganges, on the ghats, and then visit the temple of Kashi Vishwanath. On the day of Shivaratri (Hindu festival associated with Lord Shiva), millions of people throng the temple to take the blessings of their beloved deity, Lord Shiva. The ghats of the Ganges, timeless witnesses to the religious and spiritual activities of the Hindu saints and priests, remain popular for the domestic and international visitors alike. A visit to Varanasi without taking a relaxed stroll on the ghats to allow the subtle spiritual vibrations of the sacred place to rejuvenate each and every cell of the body, and without a boat ride on the Ganges is definitely incomplete.

Places of Spiritual Significance

Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Kashi-Vishwanath-Temple-Varanasi

The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located on the western bank of the Ganges in Varanasi. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Shiva and the Shivalinga is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is worshipped here as Vishwanath, which means the Lord of the Universe. According to Hindu mythology, the religious significance of a visit to this temple is equivalent to a visit to all the other 11 Jyotirlingas, located at different places in India. Some historical sources claim it to be built in the 5th century AD during the rule of Gupta dynasty, whereas, some believe it to be built in the 15th century AD. However, it is certain that the temple was looted and vandalized many times by the Muslim invaders, and it was completely destroyed by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb in the 17th century AD. The present-day temple was built by the Queen of Malwa Kingdom in the 18th century. The temple’s dome is coated with gold which was gifted by Maharaja of Punjab, Ranjeeth Singh. Located close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the temple of Goddess Annapurna.

Kalabhairava Temple

Kalabhairava-Temple-Varanasi

The Kalabhairava Temple is located at a distance of 1 km from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Shiva who is worshipped in the form of Kalabhairava. According to Hindu mythology, a pilgrim visiting Varanasi must visit the Kalabhairava Temple to seek the blessings of Kalabhairava, who is considered to be the guardian of Varanasi.

Dasaswamedh Ghat

Dasaswamedh-ghat-Varanasi

The Dasaswamedh Ghat is located close to Kashi Vishwanath Temple and is the most popular ghat among the devotees and pilgrims who come here for taking dip in the holy Ganges. Every day in the evening a grand Aarti (ritualistic worship) of Ganges is performed which is witnessed by hundreds and sometimes thousands of people together which include locals, pilgrims and foreign tourists. Besides Dasaswamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Harischandra Ghat, Tulsi Ghat, Panchganga Ghat and Assi Ghat are some of the other well known ghats of Varanasi. Manikarnika Ghat and Harish Chandra Ghat are the cremation sites and are considered extremely holy because it is believed that whomsoever dies in Varanasi and is cremated on these two ghats, gets liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Visalakshi Temple

Visalakshi-Temple-Varanasi

Visalakshi Temple is located on the Meer Ghat of Varanasi. It is one of the 108 Shakti-Peeths dedicated to the worship of goddess Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the earring of goddess Sati had fallen at this place. As per Hindu mythology, King Daksha, father of Goddess Sati,conducted a fire ceremony in which all the gods were invited, except Lord Shiva. Goddess Sati was aggrieved by this. She went to her native place to talk to her father about the matter. She quizzed her father for not inviting her husband, Lord Shiva, for the ritual. In response to her quizzing, Daksha spoke ill words about Shiva, in front of the entire assembly of guests who had come there to be part of the ritual. Goddess Sati could not withstand this public humiliation of her husband, aggrieved, she jumped into the ritual fire and died. Shiva then took the corpse of his beloved and started doing his fiery dance of Tandava. Tandava created furore in the cosmos, and thus, all other gods were in deep concern seeing the plight of the Universe. Understanding that corpse of Sati was fuelling Shiva’s anger and grief, Lord Vishnu used his celestial weapon ‘Sudarshan-Chakra’ and destroyed the corpse of Sati. Struck by Sudarshan-Chakra, the corpse was divided into 108 parts and fell at different locations. All these locations are now known as Shakti-Peeths. The festival of Kajali-Tij is celebrated here with lot of enthusiasm.

Sankat Mochan Temple

Sankat-Mochan-Temple-Varanasi

The Sankat Mochan Temple is one of the most revered temples of Varanasi. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Hanuman. The idol of Lord Hanuman was being discovered by Tulsidas, the great devotee saint of Lord Rama and the author of revered holy text of Hindus, Ramacharitmanas. According to legend, Tulsidas had the darshan (vision) of Lord Hanuman at this place. The present day temple was built by the legendary visionary and freedom fighter, Madan Mohan Malviya in the early years of twentieth century. The festival of Hanuman Jayanti (birthday of Lord Hanuman) is celebrated here with lot of pomp and vigour.

Tulsi Manas Temple

Tulsi-Manas-Temple-Varanasi

The Tulsi Manas Temple is located very close to Sankat Mochan Temple. It is believed that the devotee saint of Lord Rama, Goswami Tulsidas had compiled his revered work of Ramacharitamanas at this place. The temple was built by a family of Varanasi in 1964. The temple has the idols of Lord Rama, his consort goddess Sita, Lord Rama’s brother Lakshmana and that of Lord Hanuman. The temple is made using white marble and has a simple yet attractive architecture. The inner walls of the temple are engraved with texts and verses from Ramacharitamanas. On the left side of the main entrance there is a beautiful Tulsi garden which has a statue of Tulsidas and a pond with four banks. The second floor of the temple has statues which depict various scenes from the holy epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

New Vishwanath Temple, BHU

New-Kashi-Vishwanath-Temple-Varanasi

New Vishwanath Temple is located inside the campus of Banaras Hindu University. The temple is a brainchild of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the legendary freedom fighter and visionary of India. The design of the temple is influenced by the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The constructions of the temple started in the year 1931 and after three decades of meticulous work, construction was completed in 1965 and the temple was opened for visitors. The dome of the temple is 252 feet high and is one of the tallest in India. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Shiva who is worshipped in the form of a Shivalinga located on the ground floor. The first floor of the temple has idols of Lakshmi-Narayana (Lord Vishnu and his consort) and that of goddess Durga. The inside walls of the temples are engraved with texts from holy Hindu scriptures including Bhagavad Gita. Religious discourses are held periodically in the centre hall of the temple.

Kabirchaura Math

Kabirchaura-math-varanasi

The Kabirchaura Math is the place where the revered saint of the 14th century Kabir lived and preached. It houses the childhood residence of Kabir where he was brought up, a small hut where he used to preach in the initial years, Beejak Temple (a raised platform from where Kabir would deliver his sermons and which was built to accommodate increasing number of devotees), Kabir’s relics and the Samadhi Shrine. Kabirchaura Math is the most important place of pilgrimage for the devotees of saint Kabir who come from different parts of India and abroad, in order to pay homage to their Guru and seek his blessings.

Aghorapeeth

Aghorpeeth-varanasi

Aghorapeeth is the seat of Aghora sect of Varanasi, which was founded by Aghoracharya Baba Keenaram in the 17th century. He is believed to be the incarnation of Lord Shiva. Aghorapeeth is the place where Baba Keenaram had the vision of Lord Dattatreya (an incarnation of Lord Shiva) and it also houses his Samadhi Shrine. There is a Dhooni (ritual fire) which is maintained since last hundreds of year, and it is a symbolic representation of the wisdom of self-realization and also an indication of deep association of the Aghoris (practitioners of Aghora techniques) with the fire. It is a popular pilgrim destination for the followers of Aghora sect and an ideal place for spiritual aspirants for meditation and contemplation.

Trailanga Swami Math

Trailanga-Swami-Math-Varanasi

The Trailanga Swami Math is located at the Panchganga Ghat of Varanasi. The great saint of Varanasi, Trailanga Swami, used to spend considerable time at the residence of his ardent devotee, Mangalbhatta, which was later converted into this math. The Shivalinga that Trailanga Swami brought out from the bottom of the holy river Ganges is there at the math compound.

Residence of Shyamacharan Lahiri Mahashaya

residence-of-shyama-charan-lahiri-mahasaya-varanasi

Shyamacharan Lahiri Mahashaya, the great disciple of Mahavatar Babaji and the revivalist of Kriya Yoga in the nineteenth century, lived in Varanasi for the majority of his lifetime. The house, where he lived and propagated the teachings of Kriya Yoga, is located in the Bengali-Tola area. The house remains closed round the year except on the day of Guru Poornima when Kriya Yogis and devotees come from different parts of the world to pay homage to the revivalist of Kriya Yoga.

There are many other places of religious and spiritual significance in Varanasi, some of which includes: Gauri-Kedareshwar Temple, Gautameshwar Mahadev Temple, Agastyeshwar Temple, Durga Temple & Durga Kund.

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