THE CONTEMPORARY CITY
Though its inception dates back in the history of India and it is bathed in the colossal shadows of conquests, religion, and rituals…Varanasi is still thriving in all its glory. It is still creating stories with each passing day.
The oldest city in India, and one of the oldest, yet continuously inhabited, cities in the world, Varanasi is diverse and intense, colorful and chaotic. It's also an exhilarating and charming place to visit. Varanasi is famed for its ‘Ghats’, or the giant steps leading down to the river, where Hindu pilgrims come to cleanse their souls of sin in the waters of the River Ganges. Imagine receiving forgiveness in the holy waters even before the Kingdome came!
It is believed that Varanasi is an auspicious place to die, because it helps to achieve moksha, or the liberation from the endless cycle of rebirth. These rituals of cleansing and cremation take place in full view on the riverbank.
Varanasi has the finest river façade in India, with miles of Ghats, an array of shrines, temples, and palaces rising in tier on tier from the water’s edge. The inner streets of the city, or the alleys, are narrow, winding, and impassable for regular traffic; the newer, outer suburbs are roomier and planned. The sacred city is bounded by a road known as Panchakosi; devout Hindus hope to walk that road and visit the city once in a lifetime and, if possible, to die there in old age.
Each year, Varanasi receives more than a million pilgrims and thousands of domestic and foreign tourists.
Varanasi is most famous as a spiritual site and the heart of traditional Hindu faith. Interestingly, it also has several prominent temples and mosques set up by Islamic rulers, Jains, and Buddhists. So, essentially, it is a conglomeration of religious and spiritual truths. It has numerous temples, of which the most venerated are those of Vishvanatha, dedicated to Shiva; Sankatmochana, dedicated to the monkey-god Hanuman; and Durga, dedicated to the female goddess. The Great Mosque of Aurangzeb is another prominent religious building. Two of the more important modern temples are those of Tulasi Manas and the Vishvanatha. At Sarnath, a few miles north of Varanasi, there are ruins of ancient Buddhist monasteries and temples as well as temples built by the Maha Bodhi Society and by the Chinese, Burmese, and Tibetan Buddhists.
Varanasi has been a city of learning through the ages. There are innumerable schools and countless Brahman pandits (learned scholars), who are responsible for the continuation of traditional learning.
There are three universities, including the large and important Banaras Hindu University (1915), and more than a dozen colleges and high schools.
So if you are interested in exploring traditional, ancient Indian learning, literature, practice, and the wide variety of knowledge capital that makes India one of its kind, then Varanasi is the place you should start with.
Art and Culture
Varanasi is a center of arts and crafts and of music and dance. It is famous for its production of silks and brocades with gold and silver threadwork.
A renowned carpetweaving center is at Bhadoi. Wooden toys, bangles made of glass, ivory work, and brass ware are also produced in Varanasi.
Feel free to explore the shops and offerings of this old city and take back some priceless memorabilia from Varanasi.
Festivals: As the melting pot of a variety of religious and cultural practices, Varanasi hosts many religious festivals. Some of the most prominent festivals are listed here.
- Mahashivaratri, the great night of the god Shiva, is celebrated by a procession from the Mahamrityunjaya Temple to the Kashi Vishvanath Temple.
- The Ganga festival in November or December is dedicated to the goddess of the Ganges River, considered sacred by all Hindus. Thousands of lamps are placed on the Ghats and set afloat on the river
- The festival of Bharat Milap in October or November commemorates the reunion of Lord Rama with his younger brother Bharat after 14 years of exile.
- A five-day festival of dhrupad (classical Indian vocal style) in March attracts renowned artists from all over India to the city’s Tulsi Ghat along the river.