Varanasi,Known formerly as Kashi or Banaras is one of the holiest cities in India.Varanasi, the temple city of India, is regarded as the most sacred Hindu pilgrimage center of India. Sprawling along the left bank of the holy river Ganga, Varanasi houses hundreds of temples, shrines and palaces, which appear like rising in several tiers from the water’s edge. It is also a city of fairs and festivals, celebrating about 400 of them all round the year. Varanasi is also an important city for Buddhists as Lord Buddha preached his first sermon here. According to the historians, the temple city of Varanasi was founded about 3,000 years ago. The city is mentioned in Holy Scriptures like ‘Vamana Purana’, Buddhist texts and in the epic ‘Mahabharata’. According to Hindu scriptures and religious beliefs Varanasi is the abode of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. The life and activities in Varanasi centre on the holy river Ganges and its numerous Ghats- all having a Shiva lingam. Thousands of pilgrims coming from all corners of the country come down to the river to wait for the rising sun when immersion in the sacred river will cleanse them of their sufferings and wash their sins away. Everyone performs the rituals in his own unique way. Some bathe in the holy water; other take a dip, some drink the water; other make water offerings to the sun; while others fill their pots with holy water to take back to their homes to perform rituals and purification.
Places of Interest
Kashi Vishvanath Temple – Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple has earned the name of Golden Temple due to the gold plating done using one ton of gold donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh on its 15.5-m high spire. Invaders destroyed the original temple and Rani Ahilyabai of Indore rebuilt it only in in 1776. Again, the fanatic Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb destroyed the Vishvanath temple to replace it with the Gaynvapi Mosque. However, one can still see the remnants of the temple in the intricate and fine artwork of the western wall of the mosque. Today, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Gyanvapi mosque lie adjacent to each other.
Kaal Bhairav Temple – The Kaal Bhairav is said to be the Inspector (Kotwal) of Kashi. It is believed if he gets angry on someone, the person cannot leave Varanasi for his entire life. The legends says that even death is scared of Kaal Bhairav. People who go on pilgrim visit to Varanasi, do not forget to visit Kaal Bhairava Temple.
Durga Temple – The 8th century Durga temple is built in Nagara Style and is one of the most important temples of the city. The ‘shikhara’ of the temple consists of several small spires layered one on top of the other.
Bharat Mata Temple – Dedicated to Mother India, it is situated in Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth. It was built by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupt and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. The statue marble of Mother India shows undivided India with mountains, plains and oceans in exact proportions.
Tulsi Manas Temple – Dedicated to Lord Rama, this temple is said to be built on the site where Goswami Tulsidas wrote the epic ‘Ramacharitramanas’. It was built in 1964 by a philanthropist family.
Nepali Temple – Built in Nepali style by the King of Nepal on Lalita Ghat, it is also known as the Kathwala temple because of the magnificent woodwork. Tourist attraction for visitors from all over the world, it is said to be incomparable to any other temple in India. It is said that the workers and the wood was imported from Nepal to build this temple and the its specialty is that termites do not eat the wood used to construct it.
New Vishwanath temple – The Birlas, one of India’s richest industrial families, set up this temple. It was also planned by Pandit Malaviya who wished to see Hinduism revived but without the caste distinctions. Accordingly, the temple is open to persons of all castes and creeds.
The Ghats (River Front) – Varanasi Ghats are the major attractions of the temple city. There are more than one hundred Ghats in the city and each of them is marked by a lingam having their own religious significance. Thousands of devotees throng to these Ghats every in the morning to take a dip in the holy water and enjoy a spectacular view of sunrise. Though most of the Ghats are used for bathing, some of them are also used for cremations. The most sacred Ghats in Varanasi are the Asi Ghat, Adi Keshava Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Panchaganga Ghat and Dashashwamedha Ghat. The Pancha Trirtha Yatra is performed by crossing these five Ghats.
Getting there and Around
By Air – Varanasi is on several Indian Airlines routes, including the popular daily tourist shuttle Delhi/Agra/Khajuraho/Varanasi and back. There are flights from Lucknow, Jaipur, Bhubaneshwar and Kathmandu also. The airport is about 22 km away from the city, and the Indian Airlines shuttle bus service runs from there to the city.
By Rail – There are not many trains running from Delhi or Calcutta to Varanasi, but most Delhi-Calcutta trains do pass through Mughalsarai, 12 km south of Varanasi. Varanasi is connected by train to Mumbai, Allahabad, Patna, Jaipur, Gorakhpur and Khajuraho.
By Road – There are buses running from Varanasi to Jaunpur, Allahabad, Lucknow, Faizabad, and Gorakhpur. No direct buses run to Khajuraho.
There is a wide variety of hotel accommodation available in the city. The hotels at the top end, which are mostly in the cantonment area of the city, include Hotel de Paris (Tel: +91-542-346601) and Hotel Varanasi Ashok (Tel: 346020, Fax: 342141). Hotel Clarks Varanasi (Tel 342401, Fax: 348186) is the oldest hotel here, dating back to the British era. Hotel Taj Ganges (Tel: 342481, Fax: 348067) is also a good option.
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