Varanasi- The Holy City
Varanasi, also known as Kashi and Banaras, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. Situated in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of river Ganga, Varanasi is among the most revered religious destinations in India.
The city gets its name from two rivers – Varuna and Assi — which meet here. The word Kashi is derived from the word ‘Kas’ which means to shine. Varanasi is famous for the bathing ghats along the banks of river Ganga. Pilgrims throng these ghats to take a holy dip to wash themselves of their sins. Varanasi has been synonymous with the majestic river Ganga and its numerous rivulets. The Ganga Aarti held every evening at Dasashwamedha Ghat is a sight to behold.
The Kashi Vishwanath temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, the holiest of the pilgrimages dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Varanasi is an important destination among Hindus as they believe those who die in Varanasi attain salvation. Many people like to spend their old-age in this holy city and prefer to die here. Varanasi is also a preferred site for immersing ashes of the dead in river Ganga. Performing funeral rites and cremation in the pyres are common sights here.
Places to visit
Kashi Vishwanath temple
Kashi Vishwanath, a manifestation of Lord Shiva, is the patron deity of Varanasi. The idol is a jyotirlinga, one of the 12 jyotirlingas in India. The Kashi Vishwanath temple has been built and re-built several times over the past few centuries. The present temple was built in the 18th century by Rani Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore after Mughal emperor Aurangzeb destroyed the previous temple and built a mosque at the site (now adjacent to it). The temple get its name from Kashi, which is another name for Varanasi.
The Kashi Vishwanath temple is one of the most popular Hindu pilgrim centers of India. It also finds a mention in old religious texts like the Skanda Purana. The aarti held at this temple is one of the most majestic experiences you can have on a trip to India.
Bharat Kala Bhavan
Bharat Kala Bhavan is located inside the Banaras Hindu University campus. It displays India’s heritage and preserves the past of the nation. It is divided in several sections in the form of galleries such as Mahamana Malviya Gallary, Nidhi Gallery, Nicholas Roerich Gallery, Archaeological Gallery, Chhavi Gallery, Sculpture Gallery and Decorative Art Gallery.
From archaeological materials to paintings and costumes, the museum has a vast collection of historic treasure. It also houses a number of Mughal miniatures, Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, manuscripts and many more things that will interest those who love historical places. So if you are in Varanasi, you must visit this amazing history center.
Banaras Hindu University
Banaras Hindu University is one of the largest universities in the world and a prime attraction in Varanasi. It was founded by Pandit Mohan Malviya in 1916 and is internationally reputed. Spread over an area of 1350 acres, BHU comprises of 3 institutes, 4 interdisciplinary centres, 14 faculties, 124 departments and 3 constituent schools covering all branches of humanities.
The BHU is one of the few institutions of the country which can sense the wind of change in its culture. Excelling in arts and sciences, the university is also known for its role in the Indian independence movement. It is a must-visit to experience the age-old tradition of learning and spirituality. History buffs most certainly shouldn’t give this place a miss!
Assi Ghat is the southern most ghat in Varanasi. It is located at the confluence of Ganga and Assi rivers. In the evenings, there is an aarti at Assi ghat which attracts many tourists. Pilgrims bathe in the waters at the ghat before paying homage to Lord Shiva. It is the best place to witness Hindu culture and traditions as well as a beautiful sunrise.
Located near Ganges river on its eastern bank, Ramnagar fort is a structure in Varanasi built in 1750 by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh. The architecture of this fort is a blend of Indian and Islamic style. During Dussehra, the fort and its surroundings are decorated magnificently and it’s certainly worth a visit.
The fort is located opposite the Varanasi ghats giving a great view of the Ganga and its banks. It is also home to a museum called Saraswati Bhawan which has a rare collection of American vintage cars.
Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the oldest and most important ghats in Varanasi. In the early 16th century when the Marathas were ruling over the region, th3ey built several ghat sin Varanasi that lined the holy river Ganga. There are a total of 87 ghats in Varanasi. While some of them like the Tulsi Ghat, Assi Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Ravidas Ghat, Lalita Ghat and the Munshi ghat are the famous ones and are the most visited ghats in the city, there are close to 50 ghats in Varanasi that are primarily visited by locals for everyday religious rituals.
There are various legends associated to how the ghat got its name and came into being. Some believe that the Dashashwamedh Ghat was built by Brahma when he was welcoming Shiva to earth. Another legend has it that Brahma performed theAshwamedha with ten horses. He sacrificed 10 horses at this ghat, hence giving it the name.
Locals also believe that around the year 1740, Bajirao Peshwa I built the Dashashwamedh Ghat. However, a few decades later, Ahilyabahi Holkar, the Queen of Indore rebuilt the ghat in the year 1774. The best time of the day to visit the Dashashwamedh Ghat is during the Ganga Aarti when the whole ghat comes to life when several priests perform the aarti in the most grand manner!
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN VARANASI
Varanasi has numerous ashrams around the ghats. Several hotels are located near theghats and offer a beautiful view of the Ganga. Affordable hotels and lodgings are available in the interior sections of the city. The hotels also provide travel and medical assistance to the guests. The city gets hot and humid in summer, but is quite cool during the nights. Most hotels offer air-conditioned rooms.
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN VARANASI
Food in Varanasi is basically traditional, plain and simple. Roof-top restaurants offering homemade food are also available. The restaurants and bars (found in some hotels) serve variety of cuisines. Restaurants located closer to the ghats cater more to foreign tourists. To get the taste of authentic Banarasi food, head to the main market area.
The city is also known for its sweetmeats. Rabri Malai Balai is a popular dessert. You can’t leave Varanasi without trying street food specialties like aloo chat and pani puri. But the one thing you must try here is the famous Banarasi Paan (mixture of betel nut leaves, Areca nut, tobacco and lime), made even more popular by Bollywood movies and songs.
The famous Bhang is a potent, powdered form of cannabis often mixed into lassis, and called Bhang Lassi. As Varanasi is a major center of Shiva worship, it is offered to the Lord in form of prasad. It can be quite intoxicating. Thandai is a cool milk based drink made with pistachios, almonds and saffron, served with a large dollop of malai (cream). You can try thandai and lassi at stores located near the Godowlia area.