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Varanasi
 
Varanasi
 

Varanasi is a city situated on the banks of the River Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, also regarded as holy by Buddhists, and Jains is the Holiest Place of Hindus (and center of earth in Hindu Cosmology) where at least once in life a Hindu is expected to do pilgrimage and if possible pour the remains (ashes) of cremated ancestors here into the River Ganga. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest of India.

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river's religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years. The Benares Gharana form of Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravidas Their Guru Swami Ramanand, Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote Ramacharitamanas here, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi (Kashi).

Varanasi is home to four universities: Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Residents mainly speak Hindi and Kashika Bhojpuri, which is closely related to the Hindi language. People often refer to Varanasi as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of lights", and "the city of learning."

American writer Mark Twain wrote: "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together."

Holy City

Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations. More than 1,000,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. It has the holy shrine of Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva), and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

Hindus believe that bathing in Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its transmigrations. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati's earrings fell. Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard river Ganga itself as Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have always co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself (the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini). In the residential neighborhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism. The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still standing, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples (in the 5th century or earlier, BC). An octagonal tower was built later there.

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Islamic culture has also had an influence on Varanasi. There has been some degree of continuous tension between different religious communities in the city.

Ghats

Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats. Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas) stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. The former Kashi Naresh owns Shivala or Kali ghat.

Dashashwamedh Ghat: Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses in a yajna here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat "Agni Pooja" (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

Manikarnika Ghat: Two legends are associated with this Ghat. According to one, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu dug a pit with his Chakra and filled it with his perspiration while performing various penances. While Lord Shiva was watching Lord Vishnu at that time, the latter's earring ("manikarnika") fell into the pit. According to the second legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of Ganga. Goddess Parvati's idea behind the fib was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings.

According to ancient texts, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat. Hindu cremations customarily take place here, though a majority of dead bodies are taken for cremation to the Manikarnik Ghat.

Scindia Ghat: Scindia Ghat also known as Shinde Ghat borders Manikarnika to the north, with its Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the river as a result of excessive weight of the ghat’s construction about 150 years ago. Above the ghat, several of Kashi’s most influential shrines are located within the tight maze of alleys of Siddha Kshetra (Field of Fulfillment). According to tradition, Agni, the Hindu God of Fire was born here. Hindu devotees propitiate at this place Vireshwara, the Lord of all heroes, for a son.

Mana-Mandir Ghat: Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur built this Ghat in 1770, as well as the Yantra Mantra equipped with ornate window casings along with those at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, and Mathura. There is a fine stone balcony in the northern part of the ghat. Devotees pay homage here to the lingam of Someswar, the Lord of the Moon.

Lalita Ghat: The late King of Nepal built this Ghat in the northern region of Varanasi. It is the site of Ganga Keshav Temple, a wooden temple built in typical Kathmandu style, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple also has an image of Pashupateshwar, a manifestation of Lord Shiva. Local festivals including musical parties and games regularly take place at the beautiful Assi Ghat which is at the end of the continuous line of ghats. It is a favorite site of painters and photographers. It is here at the Assi Ghat that Swami Pranabananda , the founder of Bharat Sevasharam Sangh ,attained 'Siddhi' (fulfilment/success) in his 'Tapasya'(endeavor) for Lord Shiva , under the auspices of Guru Gambhirananda of Gorakhpur.

Other: Man Singh of Amber built Mana-Sarowar Ghat. Maharaja of Darbhanga built Darbhanga Ghat. Tulsidas wrote Rāmacaritamānasa at Tulsi Ghat. Devout Jains visit Bachraj Ghat in particular because it has three Jain temples near the river's banks.

Temples

Varanasi is a city of temples. Almost every road crossing has a nearby temple. Such small temples form the basis of daily local prayers and other rituals. But there are many large temples too, erected at different times through out the history of Varanasi.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple, also called Golden Temple, which in its present shape was built in 1780 by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, is located on the outskirts of the Ganga. This temple makes Varanasi a place of great religious importance to the Hindus, as Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha, the aforementioned Jyotirlinga of the Lord Shiva is enshrined here. It is said that a single view of Vishwanatha Jyotirlinga is considered to merit more than that of other jyotirlingas. A Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the collector Mohammed Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings in 1785. In 1839, Punjab Kesari, the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab donated gold to cover the two domes of the temple. On 28 January 1983 the Temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust with Late Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then Kashi Naresh, as president and an executive committee with Divisional Commissioner as chairman.

The temple was once destroyed by the Muslim Emperor Aurangzeb who converted most parts of the temple into a Mosque. It was later resurrected at a location near the mosque.

Durga Temple, also nicknamed "Monkey temple," was built at some point of time in 18th century. The temple got the name 'Monkey temple' because of the presence of large number of monkeys in the temple. According to legends, the present statue of Goddess Durga was not made by man but appeared on its own in the temple. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit the Durga temple during Navratri and other auspicious occasions.

The architecture is of Nagara Style, which is typical of North India. The temple is accompanied by a rectangular tank of water called Durga Kund. ("Kund" meaning a pond or pool.) The temple has multi-tiered spires and is stained red with ochre, signifying the red colour of Durga. The Kund was earlier connected to the river itself thus refreshing the water. This channel was later closed, leading to locked water which is replenished only by rain or drainage from the Temple. Every year on the occasion of Nag Panchami, the act of depicting Lord Vishnu reclining on the coiled-up mystical snake or "Shesha" is repeated in the Kund.

Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and is very popular with the local citizens. It is a place for many yearly religious as well as cultural festivals. On 7 March 2006, one of the three explosions carried out by Islamic militants hit the temple, while the aarti, in which numerous worshippers and wedding attendees participated, was in progress.

Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar According to a popular Puranic story, when Vyasa failed to get alms in Varanasi he put a curse on the city. Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa was so pleased with the alms he received that he forgot his curse. However, because of his bad temper Shiva banished Vyasa from Varanasi. Resolved to be near at hand, Vyasa took his residence on the other side of the Ganges where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.

The New Vishwanath Temple: The new Vishwanath Temple, called Birla Mandir, mainly funded by Raja Birla of the Birla family of industrialists, was built as a replica of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Planned by Madan Mohan Malaviya, the temple is part of the Banaras Hindu University, and stands for national revival. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions.

Tulsi Manas Temple: Tulsi Manas Temple Constructed by family of Varanasi, this modern temple is dedicated to Lord Rama. It is situated at the place Where Tulisdas, the great medieval seer, lived and wrote the epic "Shri Ramcharitmanas", which narrates the life of Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana. Verses from Tulidas’s epic are inscribed on the walls. It is just nearby to Durga Temple.

Annapurna Temple: Ear the Kashi Vishwanath temple, there is a nice temple of Devi Annapurna , believed as the "Godess of Fooding".

Sankatha Temple: Near the Sindhia Ghat , there is a important temple of "Godess of Remedy" Devi Sankatha. Inside its premises there is a huge statue of a Lion. Also there is nine temples of nine planets nearby to this temple.

Kalbhairav Temple: It is the ancient temple of Varanasi near the Head Post Office, VishesharGanj. God KalBhairav is believed as "Kotwal Of Varanasi" , without his permission no one can stay in Kashi.

Mrityunjay Mahadev Temple: On the route of Daranagar to Kalbhairav temple this temple of Lord Shiva is situated . Just besides this temple there is a Well of much religious importance , whose water is said to be mixture of several underground streams and good for eliminating several diseases.

Bharat Mata Temple: he Bharat Mata temple at Varanasi is the only temple dedicated to Bharat Mata. It is located in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus. The Bharat Mata temple was built by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupt and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. The statute of Bharat Mata is built in marble and is a model of undivided India, depicting the mountains, plains and oceans. The most peculiar thing about the Bharat Mata Temple is that instead of the customary gods and goddesses, it houses a relief map of India, carved out of marble.

Art and literature

Varanasi has its own culture of fine art and literature. Great Indian writers have lived in this city from Kabir, Ravidas, Tulsidas who wrote much of his Ram Charit Manas here, Kulluka Bhatt who wrote the best known commentary of Manusmṛti here in 15th century and Bharatendu Harishchandra, later writers have been Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Sudama Pandey (Dhoomil) and Vidya Niwas Mishra.

Art lovers and historians like Rai Krishnadasa, his son Anand Krishna, musicians like Omkarnath Thakur, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Lalmani Misra and his son Gopal Shankar Misra, N. Rajam, Rajbhan Singh, Anokhelal, Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, M. V. Kalvint, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna, Kishan Maharaj, Vikash Maharaj Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mahadev Mishra, Chhannulal Mishra and numerous others have kept the city alive to the spiritual aspect of fine arts apart from their ability to entertain. Numerous festivals are celebrated that preserve traditional styles of classical and folk culture. All night, open music concerts like ones organised at Sankat Mochan Temple, Hori, Kajari and Chaiti Mela, Budwa Mangal, are annual features that draw connoisseurs from all over.

Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery, also lived in Varanasi.


Saraswati Bhawan at Ramnagar Fort: A rare collection of manuscripts, especially religious writings, is housed in Saraswati Bhawan. It includes a precious handwritten manuscript by Tulsidas. There are also many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style, with beautifully designed covers.

Jantar Mantar at Varanasi: Jantar Mantar is an observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh, of Jaipur in the year 1737. Jai Singh was a great admirer of science and technology and he was particularly passionate about astronomy. Before the commencement of construction (of observatories) he sent scholars abroad to study the foreign observatories. The emissaries returned with many manuals on astronomy. The Jantar Mantar at Varanasi was built in line with Delhi, Mathura, Ujjain and Jaipur observatories.

The Jantar Mantar was built to measure the local time, the Sun's declination, altitude, the declination of stars, planets and to determine eclipses The Jantar Mantar at Varanasi has several masonry instruments to record the motion, speed and properties of stars and planets and study astronomy that are accurate and can still be used efficiently today. The Jantar Mantar incorporates multiple structures of unique form, each with a specialized function for astronomical measurement.

Archaeological museum: Archaeological museumSarnath is the oldest site museum of Archaeological Survey of India. In order to keep the antiquities found from the site, a decision was taken in 1904 by the Government to construct a site museum adjacent to the excavated site at Sarnath. It was due to initiative of Sir John Marshall., the then Director General of Archaeology in India, that this museum was created. The plans were prepared by Mr.James Ramson, the then consulting Architect to the Government of India. The building was completed in 1910 to house, display and study the antiquities in their right perspective. The building forms half of a monastery (Sangharam ) in plan. There are five galleries and two verandahs on the museum to display the antiquities ranging from 3rd century B.C.to 12th century A.D. found at Sarnath.

Bharat Kala Bhavan: Bharat Kala Bhavan, located inside the BHU campus, is an art and architecture museum and houses a vast collection of paintings, Hindu and Buddhist sculptures and other materials of archeological importance. The Bharat Kala Bhavan was established in the year 1920 A.D. In the main hall of the Bharat Kala Bhawan, there is a figure of a man standing on one leg and one hand on his hip and lifting a mass of stone above his head, with one hand. The figure is said to be of Lord Krishna, lifting Mount Govardhana. Many images in the Bharat Kala Bhavan confirm to the existence of Krishna cult in Kashi in 15th and 16th century.

Bharat Kala Bhavan also has a great collection of miniature paintings from the courts of Mughals and other Kingdoms and principalities. Some of the important sections in the Bharat Kala Bhavan are Mahamana Malaviya gallery, Nicholas Roerich gallery, Chhavi (Painting Gallery), sculpture gallery, Nidhi (Treasures) gallery, sculpture gallery, archaeological gallery, decorative art gallery and Banaras through ages gallery.

Ramnagar Fort: The Ramnagar fort lies about 14 km. from Varanasi and is situated on the opposite bank of river Ganga. It is the ancestral home of the Maharaja of Banaras. Maharaja Balwant Singh built this fort-palace in the eighteenth century. The fort is built in red sandstone. The Ramnagar fort has a temple and a museum within the grounds and the temple is dedicated to Ved Vyasa, who wrote Mahabharata, the great Indian epic. Legends have it that Ved Vyasa stayed here for a brief period.

The Ramnagar fort houses a museum displaying the Royal collection which includes vintage Cars, Royal palkies, an armory of swords and old guns, ivory work and antique clocks. The Durga Temple and Chhinnamastika Temple are also Located at Ramnagar. A temple of Dakshin Mukhi Hanuman is there. Inside the giant walls of the Ramnagar fort-palace, there is a big clock. This clock not only displays year, month, week and day but also astronomical facts about the sun, moon and constellation of stars. An interesting array of ornate palanquins, gold-plated howdahs and weapons are some of the artifacts on display in the Ramnagar fort-palace museum.

Tourism

Probably due to its unique culture, Varanasi is a major tourist destination for foreign tourists in India. A number of 3, 4 and 5 star hotels like Taj Hotel, Radisson hotel, clarks hotel, Ramada hotel, Hindustan International are present in the city, as well as more efficient housing for Western student researchers. All sort of cuisines are available mostly as street food due to rich and hospitable culture of Varanasi.

Varanasi is a noted centre for Banarasi silk weaving and brassware. Fine silks and brocaded fabrics, exquisite saris, brassware, jewellery, woodcraft, carpets, wall hangings, lamp shades and masks of Hindu and Buddhist deities are some of Varanasi's shopping attractions. The main shopping areas include the Chowk, Godaulia, Vishwanath Lane, Lahurabir and Thatheri Bazaar. Assi Ghat, a midway point between Godaulia in the heart of downtown and youth culture of Benares Hindu University, is the district where most young, foreign, long-term residents stay.

 
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    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varanasi
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