Varanasi

“Varanasi is one of the most ancient cities of learning. This was a place where hundreds of enlightened beings lived at a time. In every street, you had an enlightened being to meet.”

A city as old as time. A city that has seen the world turn, tides change and generations of humans born and die. Varanasi or Kashi, which has been standing the tests of time for over 5,000 years is said to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

There are supposed to be 2,000 temples in Varanasi. It is 125km east of Allahabad, on the bank of the Ganges.

In Mark Twain’s words, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

What draws millions of pilgrims from all over the world to the city of Varanasi is the fact that it is one of the holiest of the seven sacred cities in India. Called the spiritual capital of India, this magnificent city of learning radiates endless energy. Despite being witness to ancient civilizations come and go over centuries, Varanasi is still alive, unabashedly colorful, vibrant, and wonderfully rich in history and legends.

 

Varanasi or also popularly known as Banaras or Kashi  has been given several poetic adjectives such as ‘the city of temples’, ‘the holy city of India’, ‘the religious capital of India’, ‘the city of light’, ‘the city of learning’, ‘the culture capital of India’, etc.

Varanasi, the holy ‘City of Light’ shines bright, both physically and metaphorically. It is believed that a single dip in the holy waters of the Ganges can wash away a lifetime of sins.

According to Puranic history, Varanasi was founded by the Lord Shiva and was his favorite abode. In one verse of the ancient religious text of Skanda Purana, Shiva says, “The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kāśī is my royal palace therein.” The Kashi Khanda of Skanda Purana gives a great detailed description about the glories of this Holy place.

In Varanasi, the most natural and inevitable cycle of life and death is celebrated and revered with as much gusto. Also known as ‘Maha-smashana’ or ‘The Great Cremation Grounds’, the holy city humbles you by bringing you face to face with the balance of life and death.

Many old people come to Varanasi to die and to be burned at the burning ghats along the river. It is believed that anyone who dies in Varanasi attains moksha (liberation). It is said that being burned at Varanasi adds to the pious credits of someone, therefore many bodies are brought here to be cremated.

A boat ride across the sacred Ganges perfectly captures the spirit of Varanasi. Countless candlelit paper boats with flowers carrying people’s prayers float their way across the waters. Countless pilgrims take a holy dip in the waters, others meditate in solitude and the rest bow their heads in prayer along the Ghats.

As the sun goes down, the evening ritual of worship, called the Ganga Aarti, unfolds.

Varanasi has been the original hub of art, culture, spirituality and music. Many prominent Indian saints, philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in Varanasi. Several major figures of the Bhakti movement were born in Varanasi, including Kabir and Ravidas.

Varanasi is home to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, one of the most important places of worship in the country, considered to be one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva, holding great significance in the spiritual history of India.

Near Varanasi is the 1500-year-old Mahabodhi Temple marking the spot of the legendary Bodhi tree, under which Buddha meditated and attained enlightenment. Buddha delivered his first sermon at Sarnath, near Varanasi, thereby giving birth to Buddhism.