VARANASI - Situated between the rivers Varuna and Assi as they join the Ganges, Varanasi takes its name from its location. It is often referred to as the oldest living city in the world.
It is also known as Kashi, the city of light, but the British, in an endeavor to simplify matters, had coined their own name for the place- Benaras. Varanasi is the city of a thousand temples. Its Prominence in Hindu mythology is virtually unrivalled.
According to Hindu belief, Varanasi is the cosmic centre of the Universe. The renowned American novelist Mark Twain 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."
Visit Archaeological Museum, located in Sarnath. It houses the capitol from the Ashokan pillar, the symbol of which has been adopted as the state emblem of the modern India. The museum also has the figures and the sculptures from the Mauryan, Kushana and Gupta periods discovered during the excavations at Sarnath. You can have a look at the earliest Buddha image found at Sarnath and many images of Hindu Gods dating from the 9th to 12th centuries. It houses the capitol from the Ashokan pillar, the symbol of which has been adopted as the state emblem of the modern India.
It remains closed on Fridays.
Banaras Hindu University
One of the oldest educational centres in India, the Banaras Hindu University was built in 1917. The university was founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya as a centre for the study of Indian art, culture, music and Sanskrit. The university campus is spread over five square kilometres and houses the Bharat Kala Bhavan. The Bhavan has a fine collection of miniature paintings, sculptures from first to fifteenth centuries, old photographs of Varanasi and brocade textiles.
Bharat Kala Bhawan
Bharat Kala Bhavan lies within the sprawling grounds of Benaras Hindu University. Its outstanding collection of sculpture, paintings and textiles began with the private collection of the enlightened Raj Krishnadasa.
Bharat Mata Temple
This temple of Bharat Mata (Mother India), inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, lies about 3 kilometres west of Godaulia, outside the old city. Here, instead of gods and goddesses, one finds a huge relief map in marble of the whole of Indian subcontinent and Tibetan plateau. The map is said to be perfectly to scale both vertically and horizontally with mountains, rivers and the holy tirthas (pilgrimage centres) all clearly visible.
Early morning you experience the life of this ancient city. See the beauty of the rising sun on the Ganges. Enjoy the boat ride, experience the early morning rituals of the Hindus being performed, thousands of people taking a bath in the holy river believing they will be free from the circle of rebirth. It is interesting to see the pilgrims offering sweets, flowers and holy water to the Sun God.
The Chunar fort is situated in the Vindhya Range at a distance of about 45 odd km from Varanasi. The Chunar fort is located in the Mirzapur district. According to the Puranas the oldest name of Chunar was Charanadri as Lord Vishnu had taken his first step in his Vaman incarnation in the dynasty of Great king Bali. It is said that Maharaja Vikramaditya, the king of Ujjain established the fort of Chunar. According to the Alha Khand, King Sahadeo made this fort as his capital and established the statue of Naina Yogini in a cave of Vindhya hill. To commemorate his victory on 52 rulers, King Sahadeo built a stone umbrella inside the fort.
The Chunar fort became important for its association with the Mughal king, Babar and later Shershah Suri, who got the possession of the fort by marrying the wife of Taj Khan Sarang-Khani, the Governer of Ibrahim Lodi. In 1531 AD Humayun made an unsuccessful effort to capture this fort but later in 1574 AD, Akbar the great captured this fort and since that very time it remained under the Mughals up to 1772 AD. In the year 1772 AD the East India Company captured the Chunar fort.
Located 2 kilometres south of the old city, this eighteenth century Durga Temple is also known as the Monkey Temple due to many aggressive monkeys that reside here. The temple was built in a common north Indian style with an ornate shikhara, consisting of five segments symbolizing the elements and supported by finely carved columns. Here Durga is represented as the embodiment of shakti or female power, clad in red and riding a tiger and fully armed with Shiva's trident, Vishnu's discus and a sword. Non-Hindus are admitted to the courtyard but not the inner sanctum.
Excursion to Chunnar
Chunargarh is located just 45 odd kilometers from Varanasi and falls in Mirzapur district. The city has a very deep historical importance because of the Chunar Fort that stands just off the town. It is said that Maharaja Vikramaditya, the king of Ujjain established the fort of Chunar as back as 56 BC. King Sahdeo who also built a stone umbrella like cenotaph inside the fort in order to commemorate his victory over 52 different rulers later inhabited it.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
The temple is located in the premises of the Banaras Hindu University and is about thirty minutes walk from the gates of the university. The temple, built by the Birlas, was planned by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Unlike many other temples in Varanasi, this temple is open to all irrespective of caste or creed.
Formerly the residence of Maharaja of Benaras, this 17th century stronghold is best seen from the river. Reached via a dilapidated bridge or by ferry during the monsoon season, the fort also contains an interesting museum that contains some elaborate relics. Expect to see everything from gruesome elephant traps to astrological clocks and razor-sharp swords.
A major Buddhist centre, Sarnath lies 10 kilometres north east of Varanasi. It was here that Buddha preached his message of the 'middle way' to nirvana after achieving enlightenment at Bodhgaya. In around 234 BC, Emperor Ashoka, a great follower of Buddhism, erected a stupa here. Between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD, several Buddhist structures were built here in Sarnath. Most of the Sarnath's monuments are set in large gardens making it quite pleasant for a visitor to spend some time here.
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Also known as the Golden Temple, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of the city. Varanasi is said to be the point at which the first jyotirlinga, the fiery pillar of light by which Shiva manifested his supremacy over other gods, broke through the earth's crust and flared towards the heavens. More than the Ghats and even the Ganga, the Shivalinga installed in the temple remains the devotional focus of Varanasi.
Entry restricted for foreigners.
Tulsi Manas Temple
Built in 1964, the Tulsi Manas Temple stands about 150 m south of Durga Temple. The temple, dedicated to Lord Rama is situated at the place where Tulsidas, the great medieval seer, is believed to have lived and written the great epic "Shri Ramcharitmanas". The two tier walls of the temple are engraved with the verses and scenes from this great epic.
The 3,000 year old Varanasi, also known as Benaras or Kashi, on the banks of the sacred river Ganga is also the abode of Lord Shiva. An Indian Journey takes you across its famed ghats and temples and introduces you to its illustrious tradition of literature, music and dance as well as the art of weaving shimmering silks and glittering brocades.
Varanasi AartiVaranasi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is one of the top-most destinations of India. There are many descriptions of Varanasi, 'The city of temples', 'The holy city of India', 'The city of lights', 'The city of learning' and the 'culture capital of India'. Since time immemorial, it has been renowned for its silks, ghats, temples, art, literature and music. It is the most popular pilgrimage for Hindus as it is believed that those who are cremated here, are liberated from the cycle of births and re-births. Thus, a visit to Varanasi often tops the list of many tourists coming to India.
Daily domestic flights operated by Indian Airlines, Kingfisher, Jet Airways and Spice Jet ply between Varanasi and a number of cities. Varanasi Airport is about 25km from the city centre and it takes an hour or more to reach there depending on traffic. Taxis charge around Rs 200-250, while auto-rickshaws charge about Rs 125 from the airport to the city centre. There are two railway stations in Varanasi, the Kashi Junction and the Varanasi Junction (also known as Varanasi Cantonment). Alternatively, one can also catch trains from Mughal Sarai, just 10km south of Varanasi. Frequent public and private buses also run between major towns of Uttar Pradesh and nearby areas. Keeping the popularity of the destination in mind, An Indian Journey chalks out your itinerary for 36 hours in Varanasi.