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About Varanasi

Named after the confluence of two rivers, Varuna and Asi, the city is centered on the ghats that line the waterfront.Varanasi, or Benaras, (also known as Kashi) is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi`s Prominence in Hindu mythology is virtually unrevealed. Mark Twain, the English author and literature, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Benaras, once wrote : "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together" . According to the ‘Vamana Purana’, the Varuna and the Assi rivers originated from the body of the primordial Person at the beginning of time itself. The tract of land lying between them is believed to be ‘Varanasi’, the holiest of all pilgrimages. Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world and the ultimate pilgrimage for Hindus, who believe that to die in the city is to attain instant salvation. Varanasi is the tract of holy land lying between the Ganga and the Assi rivers. The Assi river also flows into Ganga. Varanasi is also known as Kashi, the city of light since one of the twelve 'Jyortinglinga's is installed here. Varanasi has been a great cultural centre, especially in the fields of music, learning and the craft of silk weaving. Varanasi, India's most sacred city is situated on the West bank of the Ganga. Varanasi is also known as Benaras. Varanasi derives its name from two streams, the Varuna on the North side of the city and the Assi, a small trickled on the south. Varanasi is said to combine all the virtues of all other places of pilgrimage and anyone dying within the area marked by the Panch Kosi road is transported straight to heaven. It is also an important pilgrimage centre for Buddhists as it was at Sarnath (10 km from Varanasi), Lord Buddha gave his Ist sermon after enlightment.

Varanasi today, is also a centre of education, art and craft Nearly 5000 years ago, Kasikanda described the glory of the city in 15, 000 verses in the Skanda Purana. In it Lord Shiva says, 'the three worlds form one city of mine and Kasi is my royal palace therein'. As Shiva’s abode Varanasi has always been venerated. It is believed that the jyoti linga in its Kasi Vishwanath Temple goes back to the time of the epics. The temple itself is of more recent origin. Successive invasions starting with the destruction of the city in 1193 by Mohammed Ghori and ending with the plunder of Benaras by Warren Hastings nearly 600 years later; saw the temple being built and rebuilt a number of times. The present temple was constructed by Rani Ahalya Bai Holkar, the ruler of Indore, in 1776. A few years later in 1835, at the instance of the Sikh ruler of Lahore, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the temple shikara was gilded with gold leaf. The great Hindu city of VARANASI, also known as Banaras or Benares, stretches along the crescent of the River Ganges, its waterfront dominated by long flights of stone ghats, where thousands of pilgrims and residents come for their daily ritual ablutions. Known to the devout as Kashi, the Luminous – the City of Light, founded by Shiva – Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world. It has maintained its religious life since the sixth century BC in one continuous tradition, in part by remaining outside the mainstream of political activity and historical development of the subcontinent, and stands at the centre of the Hindu universe, the focus of a religious geography that reaches from the Himalayan cave of Amarnath in Kashmir, to India's southern tip at Kanyakumari, Puri to the east, and Dwarka to the west.

Varanasi is among the holiest of all tirthas – "crossing places", that allow the devotee access to the divine and enable gods and goddesses to come down to earth. It has attracted pilgrims, seekers, sanyasins and students of the Vedas throughout its history, including sages such as the Buddha, founder of the Jain faith Mahavira and the great Hindu reformer Shankara.

Sightseeing:

Durga Temple
The Durga temple is one of the most important temples in Varanasi and is built in the 18th century, by Bengali maharani and is stained red with ochre . This temple is built in north Indian Nagara style with a multi-tiered shikhara (spire). The shikhara of the temple is formed by many small spires which are built one on top of the other. Durga is the 'terrible' form of Shiva's consort Parvati, so at festivals there are often sacrifices of goats. It is commonly known as Monkey Temple due to many frisky monkey that have made it their home.

Vishwanath Temple
The Vishwanath temple, or Golden Temple, is the most sacred temple in Varanasi and is dedicated to Vishveswara-Shiva as lord of the universe. The original temple was destroyed by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, and the present temple was built in 1776 by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore . 800kg of gold plating on the towers, which gives the temple its colloquial name, was provided by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore some 50 years later.

Bharat Mata Temple
Dedicated to 'Mother India', this temple has a marble relief map of India instead of usual images of gods & goddesses. The map is said to be perfectly in scale, both vertically and horizontally. the temple was opened by Mahatma Gandhi.

Tulsi Manas Temple
Only 150m south of Durga Temple is the modern marble shikhara-style Tulsi Manas Temple, built in 1964. Its two tier walls are engraved with verves and scenes from the Ram Charit Manas, the Hindi version of the Ramayana. Its author , poet Tulsi Das, lived here while writting it.This Temple is on the spot where Saint Tulsidas composed the Ramayana in Hindi (The Ramacharitamanas).

Benaras Hindu University
Varanasi has long been a centre of learning and that tradition is continued today at the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) built in 1917. It is considered to be the largest residential university in Asia. It was founded by the great nationalist Pandit Malaviya as a centre for education in Indian art, music, culture and philosophy, and for the study of Sanskrit. The five sq km campus houses the Bharat Kala Bhavan which has a fine collection of miniature paintings, sculptures from 1st to 15th centuries.

Ram Nagar Fort & Museum
On the opposite bank of river, this 17th century fort is the home of the former maharaja of Benaras. It looks most impressive from the river, though the decrepit planking of the pantoon bridge you cross to reach it is somewhat of a distraction. During the mansoon access is by ferry. The intresting museum here contains old silver & brocade palanquins for the ladies of the court, gold-plated elephant howdahs, an astrological clock, marcabre elephant traps and an armoury of swords and old guns.


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