Varanasi - Kashi

The Ghats

The Ghats

Varanasi, known to the devout as Kashi, is said to have been founded by Shiva, Lord of the Universe.The venerable and ancient city is the religious center of the world for Hindus. It is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi was already old when Rome was founded. A magnificent city, with myriad attractions, both as an exalted place of pilgrimage and a microcosmic center of faith. Thousands of pilgrims visit the city from all parts of India and from across the world. A unique city where the past and present, eternity and continuity live side by side.

The city rises from the high northern bank on the outside curve of Ganga, the holiest of all Indian rivers, to form a magnificent panorama of buildings in many varieties of Indian architecture.

The unique relationship between the sacred river and the city is the essence of Varanasi -"the land of sacred light". The Ganga is believed to have flown from heaven to wash away the worldly sins of mankind. Thus, to be in Varanasi is an out of this world experience, an experience of self-discovery, a journey through the present and the past in search of immortality.

Devotee

Devotee According to historians, the city was founded some ten centuries before the birth of Christ. Situated between the two tributaries of the Ganges - Varuna to the north and Asi to the south - it has attained immortality. The city is mentioned in holy scriptures like "Vamana Purana", Buddhist texts and in the epic "Mahabharata". It was at Sarnath, only 10 km away from Varanasi, that the Buddha, first preached his message of enlightenment, 25 centuries ago.

The life and activities in the city revolves around the holy river. Life on the banks of the Ganga begins before dawn when thousands of pilgrims - men, women and children, come down to the river to wait for the rising sun. Some come in groups, some alone, all absorbed in their intense thoughts of salvation, waiting for the moment when immersion in the sacred river will cleanse them of their mundane sufferings and wash their sins away. Gradually the sun rises, and the river mists slowly lift to reveal the magnificent buildings that have a solemnity unmatched by any city in the world. Soon after sunrise, the city's great amphitheater of ghats burst into activity. Under large umbrellas made of palm leaves the devotees take their places. In the charged holistic atmosphere of the morning venerable Brahmins (known as Pandas) recite passages from sacred texts, priests dispense holy ashes to pilgrims to mark their foreheads in veneration of the Gods.

Varanasi inspires one to reflect about life, to ponder about creation and the insignificance of temporal wealth in the face of death. Along the water's edge, there are the burning ghats. The most sacred one is Manikarnika, associated with the Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva's wife. Every pious Hindu believes that to die in Kashi and to be cremated on banks of the Ganges is to attain release from the cycle of birth and death.

The major shrine is the Viswanath Temple, the abode of Lord Shiva - the most important of the trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, the Lords of the universe. Around this temple evolved the spiritual identity of Varanasi and the inner city within the city - Kashi.

The city has always been associated with the inner lights - wisdom and philosophy. It was the ancient seat of learnings, the center for Sanskrit and philosophical studies. Banaras Hindu University carries on the tradition. The market lanes of Varanasi offer a unique experience. The crowded markets sell everything from objects to rituals, objects d'art, priceless Banarsi saris, jewellery, fragrant flowers and a whole assortment of foods. The evenings bring another charm in the city. From a boat or from the riverside the city looks mysterious. The skyline stands tall and silent, dotted with temple spires, terrace buildings and scattered lights.

Varanasi is not only the home of thousands of gods and goddesses; almost every day of the year is an occasion for celebration here. In fact, the city celebrates the very spirit of life, spiritual and temporal, in endless colors, smells and sounds.

Festivals

Buddha Poornima: in May, celebrates the birth of the Lord Buddha. A large fair is held at Sarnath and the relics of the founder of the religion are taken out in a procession. The relics are on public view only on this day.

Chetganj Nakkataiya: in November, is held to recount an episode of the Ram Charit Manas in which the younger brother of Lord Ram, Laxman, cut off the nose of the demoness, Surpanakha.

Naganathaiya: in November, celebrated on Tulsi Ghat, recounts the story of Lord Krishna in which he jumped into the river Yamuna, to conquer the serpent king, Kalia.

Bharat Milap: in October-November, celebrated at Nati Imli, a day after Dussehra. Recounts the return of Rama to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, and his reunion with his brother, Bharat. The former Maharaja of Varanasi, seated on an elephant, also attends the annual event.

Panchkrosi Pilgrimage: held in January-February. Thousands of devotees participate in the pilgrimage - a trip around Kashi - as specified in the Puranas.

Rathyatra: held in June-July, to coincide with its famous counterpart held in Puri, Orissa. A large fair is organized where all take part in the celebrations.

Shivratri: held in February-March, is a day of worship of Lord Shiva, the patron deity of Varanasi. People keep fast and a fair is also organized.

Ganga Dussehra: celebrates the anniversary of the day the waters of the river Ganga reached Haridwar. It is observed as a day of fasting.

Shopping

Varanasi has been a center of handicrafts, specially silk weaving. Other attractions include brassware, ivoryware, gold jewellery, woodcraft, wall hangings and lamp shades, carpets, masks of various Hindu/Buddhist gods, goddesses and saints. The main shopping areas are Chowk, Godowlia, Vishwanath Lane and Thatheri bazar.

Government Emporiums:

UPICA, Nadesar, Cantt.
UP Handlooms, Lahurabir and Bula Nala
Tantuja (Bengal Emporium), Dasaswamedh Road
Mahatex (Maharashtra Emporium) Godowlia
Gandhi Ashram, Godowlia, Bula Nela, Chowk and Sigra

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Uttar Pradesh