Varanasi / BarYarNaThi / Banares

Railways station_ Varanasi / BarYarNaThi / Banares – Sarnath

we got to Varanasi  BarYarNaThi near the end of our pilgrimage as we were on the left turn circle, whereas most pilgrims go the other way, reaching Varanasi  BarYarNaThi first after Gaya

Varanasi City

Varanasi (Sanskrit: वाराणसी Vārāṇasī, Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋaːˈɾaːɳəsiː] ( listen)), also commonly known as Benares or Banaras (Hindi: बनारस, Urdu: بنارس, Banāras [bəˈnɑːɾəs] ( listen)) and Kashi (Hindi: काशी, Urdu: کاشی, Kāśī [ˈkaːʃiː] ( listen)), is a city situated on the banks of the River Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres (199 mi) southeast of state capital Lucknow. It is regarded as a holy city by Buddhists and Jains, and is the holiest place in the world in Hinduism (and center of earth in Hindu Cosmology). It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest of India.[3][4]

American writer Mark Twain wrote: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

cow chips on wall for fuel, Varanasi / BarYarNaThi / Banares – Sarnath

Etymology

The name Varanasi[9] has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi for it lies with the confluence of Varuna with the Ganges being to its north and that of Assi and the Ganges to its south.[10] Another speculation about the origin of the name is that the river Varuna itself was called Varanasi in olden times, from where the city got its name.[11] This is generally disregarded by historians though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so.[12]

Through the ages, Varanasi was variously known as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi.[13]

In the Rigveda, the city was referred to as Kasi or Kashi, “the luminous one” as an allusion to the city’s historical status as a center of learning, literature, and culture.[14] Kasikhanda described the glory of the city in 15,000 verses in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, God Shiva says,

The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kasi is my royal palace therein.[15]

Another reference to Varanasi is found in a hymn by Sri Veda Vyasa:

Ganga-taranga-ramaneeya-jataakalaapam,
Gauri-nirantara-vibhushita-vaamabhaagam.
Narayanapriyam-Ananga-madaapahaaram,
Varanasi-pura-patim bhaja Vishwanatham.

History

According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, around 5,000 years ago,[3] thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda, Skanda Purana, Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, mention the city.

Varanasi is generally believed to be about 3,000 years old.[16] Varanasi was a commercial and industrial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BCE), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveler, Xuanzang, attested that the city was a center of religious, educational, and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.

Kashi Naresh and Ramnagar

Varanasi became an independent Kingdom of Kashi in the eighteenth century, and under subsequent British rule, it remained a commercial and religious center. In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramanagar as its headquarters but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself. Kashi Naresh still resides in the fort of Ramanagar. The Ramnagar Fort of the Kashi Naresh is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges.[18] The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century.[5] It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions.[5] The other fort of the Kashi Naresh is the Chet Singh Palace, near Shivala Ghat, Varanasi built by Maharaja Chet Singh.[19]

Ramnagar Fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares and since the 18th century has been the home of Kashi Naresh.[5] Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Benares.[5] He is the religious head and the people of Benares consider him the incarnation of Lord Shiva.[5] He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[5]

Geography

Varanasi is closely associated with the Ganges and has many temples along its banks

The city of Varanasi is located in the middle Ganges valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganges river. It has the headquarters of Varanasi district. The “Varanasi Urban Agglomeration” — an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units — covers an area of 112.26 km2 (approximately 43 mi²).[20] The urban agglomeration is stretched between 82° 56’E – 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N – 25° 23.5’N.[20] Being located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India, the land is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil.

On a local level, Varanasi is located on a higher ground between rivers Ganges and Varuna, the mean elevation being 80.71 m.[21] As a result of absence of tributaries and canals, the main land is continuous and relatively dry. In ancient times, this geographic situation must have been highly favorable for forming settlements. But it is difficult to ascertain the original geography of Varanasi because the city’s current location is not exactly the same as the one described in some old texts.

Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of the Ganges and Varuna, and other of the Ganges and Assi [disambiguation needed], (Assi having always been a rivulet rather than a river.) The distance between these two confluences is around 2.5 miles (4.0 km), and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places—a Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a five mile (8 km) journey) ending with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple as a holy ritual.

I am sorry to inform you that we did not have the time to view the historic Varanasi, as we could the New Dehli and the Agra. We just had time for pilgrimage at Saranath / Migadarwun.

 

Culture

 

 

Varanasi’s “Old City,” the quarter near the banks of the Ganges, has crowded narrow winding lanes that are flanked by road-side shops and scores of Hindu temples. As atmospheric as it is confusing, Varanasi’s labyrinthine Old City is rich with culture, and a deservedly popular destination for travelers and tourists.[36] The main residential areas of Varanasi (especially for the middle and upper classes) are situated in regions far from the ghats; they are more spacious and less polluted.

Ramlila at Ramnagar

When the Dasara festivities are inaugurated with a colourful pageant Kashi Naresh rides an elephant at the head of the procession.[5] Then, resplendent in silk and brocade, he inaugrates the month long folk theatre of Ramlila at Ramnagar, Varanasi.[5] The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Rāmacaritamānasa, the version of the Ramayana penned by Tulsidas.[5] The plays sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[5] On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[5] Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition of staging the Ramleela at Ramnagar in mid-nineteenth century.[5] This is very important to the river ganges ritual

Holy City

 

Varanasi is holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations and is one of seven most holy places for Hindus in India.

Ayodhyā Mathurā Māyā Kāsi Kāñchī Avantikā I

Purī Dvārāvatī chaiva saptaitā moksadāyikāh II – Garuḍa Purāṇa I XVI .14

A Kṣetra is a sacred ground, a field of active power, a place where Moksha, final release can be obtained. The Garuda Purana enumerates seven cities as giver of Moksha, They are Ayodhya, Mathura, Māyā, Kāsi, Kāñchī, Avantikā and Dvārāvatī.[37]

More than 1,000,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. It has the holy shrine of Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva), and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person’s soul from the cycle of its transmigrations. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati’s earrings fell.[15] Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the river Ganges itself as the Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have always co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself (the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini). In the residential neighborhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism. The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still standing, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples (in the 5th century or earlier, BC). An octagonal tower was built later there.

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Islamic culture has also had an influence on Varanasi. There has been some degree of continuous tension between different religious communities in the city.

Ghats

 

Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats. Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas) stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. The former Kashi Naresh owns Shivala or Kali ghat.

 

Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses in a yajna here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

Manikarnika Ghat: Two legends are associated with this Ghat. According to one, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu dug a pit with his Chakra and filled it with his perspiration while performing various penances. While Lord Shiva was watching Lord Vishnu at that time, the latter’s earring (“manikarnika”) fell into the pit. According to the second legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of the Ganges. Goddess Parvati’s idea behind the fib was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings.

According to ancient texts, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat. Hindu cremations customarily take place here, though a majority of dead bodies are taken for cremation to the Manikarnik Ghat.

Scindia Ghat also known as Shinde Ghat borders Manikarnika to the north, with its Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the river as a result of excessive weight of the ghat’s construction about 150 years ago. Above the ghat, several of Kashi’s most influential shrines are located within the tight maze of alleys of Siddha Kshetra (Field of Fulfillment). According to tradition, Agni, the Hindu God of Fire was born here. Hindu devotees propitiate at this place Vireshwara, the Lord of all heroes, for a son.

Mana-Mandir Ghat: Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur built this Ghat in 1770, as well as the Yantra Mantra equipped with ornate window casings along with those at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, and Mathura. There is a fine stone balcony in the northern part of the ghat. Devotees pay homage here to the lingam of Someswar, the Lord of the Moon.

Lalita Ghat: The late King of Nepal built this Ghat in the northern region of Varanasi. It is the site of the Ganges Keshav Temple, a wooden temple built in typical Kathmandu style, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple also has an image of Pashupateshwar, a manifestation of Lord Shiva. Local festivals including musical parties and games regularly take place at the beautiful Assi Ghat which is at the end of the continuous line of ghats. It is a favorite site of painters and photographers. It is here at the Assi Ghat that Swami Pranabananda, the founder of Bharat Sevasharam Sangh,attained ‘Siddhi’ (fulfilment/success) in his ‘Tapasya'(endeavor) for Lord Shiva, under the auspices of Guru Gambhirananda of Gorakhpur.

Other
Man Singh of Amber built Mana-Sarowar Ghat. Maharaja of Darbhanga built Darbhanga Ghat. Tulsidas wrote Rāmacaritamānasa at Tulsi Ghat. Devout Jains visit Bachraj Ghat in particular because it has three Jain temples near the river’s banks.

Temples

 

Varanasi is a city of temples. Almost every road crossing has a nearby temple. Such small temples form the basis of daily local prayers and other rituals. But there are many large temples too, erected at different times through out the history of Varanasi.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple, also called Golden Temple,[38] which in its present shape was built in 1780 by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, is located on the outskirts of the Ganges. This temple makes Varanasi a place of great religious importance to the Hindus, as Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha, the aforementioned Jyotirlinga of the Lord Shiva is enshrined here. It is said that a single view of Vishwanatha Jyotirlinga is considered to merit more than that of other jyotirlingas. A Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the collector Mohammed Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings in 1785. In 1839, Punjab Kesari, the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab donated gold to cover the two domes of the temple. On 28 January 1983 the Temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust with Late Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then Kashi Naresh, as president and an executive committee with Divisional Commissioner as chairman.[39]

The temple was once destroyed by the Muslim Emperor Aurangzeb who converted most parts of the temple into a Mosque. It was later resurrected at a location near the mosque.

Durga Temple, also nicknamed “Monkey temple,” was built at some point of time in 18th century. The temple got the name ‘Monkey temple’ because of the presence of large number of monkeys in the temple. According to legends, the present statue of Goddess Durga was not made by man but appeared on its own in the temple. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit the Durga temple during Navratri and other auspicious occasions.

The architecture is of Nagara Style, which is typical of North India. The temple is accompanied by a rectangular tank of water called Durga Kund. (“Kund” meaning a pond or pool.) The temple has multi-tiered spires[38] and is stained red with ochre, signifying the red colour of Durga. The Kund was earlier connected to the river itself thus refreshing the water. This channel was later closed, leading to locked water which is replenished only by rain or drainage from the Temple. Every year on the occasion of Nag Panchami, the act of depicting Lord Vishnu reclining on the coiled-up mystical snake or “Shesha” is repeated in the Kund.

Baba Keenaram Sthal– Headquarter and world fame Pilgrim of Aghora scet. Work place of great saint Baba Keenaram. One of the most Visiting Places, of Varanasi, by Researchers, Documentaries Maker,Writers and Tourists.

Vishalakshi temple This temple is dedicated to Vishalakshi (means wide-eyed) or Parvati , the consort of Lord Shiva

Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and is very popular with the local citizens. It is a place for many yearly religious as well as cultural festivals. On 7 March 2006, one of the three explosions carried out by Islamic militants hit the temple, while the aarti, in which numerous worshippers and wedding attendees participated, was in progress.[40]

Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar According to a popular Puranic story, when Vyasa failed to get alms in Varanasi he put a curse on the city.[5] Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa was so pleased with the alms he received that he forgot his curse.[5] However, because of his bad temper Shiva banished Vyasa from Varanasi.[5] Resolved to be near at hand, Vyasa took his residence on the other side of the Ganges where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.[5]

The New Vishwanath Temple The new Vishwanath Temple, called Birla Mandir, mainly funded by Raja Birla of the Birla family of industrialists, was built as a replica of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Planned by Madan Mohan Malaviya, the temple is part of the Banaras Hindu University, and stands for national revival. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions.

Tulsi Manas Temple Constructed by family of Varanasi, this modern temple is dedicated to Lord Rama. It is situated at the place Where Tulisdas, the great medieval seer, lived and wrote the epic “Shri Ramcharitmanas”, which narrates the life of Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana. Verses from Tulidas’s epic are inscribed on the walls. It is just nearby to Durga Temple.

Annapurna Temple Near the Kashi Vishwanath temple, there is a nice temple of Devi Annapurna, believed as the “Goddess of Fooding”. She is a form of Parvati. She is also known as Kashipuraadeeshwari (“Queen of Kasi”).

Sankatha Temple Near the Sindhia Ghat, there is an important temple of “Goddess of Remedy” Devi Sankatha. Inside its premises there is a huge statue of a Lion. Also there is nine temples of nine planets nearby to this temple.

Kalbhairav Temple It is the ancient temple of Varanasi near the Head Post Office, VishesharGanj. God KalBhairav is believed as “Kotwal Of Varanasi” , without his permission no one can stay in Kashi.

Mrityunjay Mahadev Temple On the route of Daranagar to Kalbhairav temple this temple of Lord Shiva is situated. Just besides this temple there is a Well of much religious importance, whose water is said to be mixture of several underground streams and good for eliminating several diseases.

Bharat Mata Temple The Bharat Mata temple at Varanasi is the only temple dedicated to Bharat Mata. It is located in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus. The Bharat Mata temple was built by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupt and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. The statute of Bharat Mata is built in marble and is a model of undivided India, depicting the mountains, plains and oceans. The most peculiar thing about the Bharat Mata Temple is that instead of the customary gods and goddesses, it houses a relief map of India, carved out of marble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Varanasi / BarYarNaThi / Banares”

  1. anbu Says:

    great post!

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