Varanasi

Regarded by Hindus as an eternal city, India’s holy pilgrimage centre of Varanasi is indeed one of the oldest living cities in the world. Standing on the north banks of river Ganga, Varanasi is located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Devotees from all over India and abroad come to Varanasi to perform various religious rituals in the ghats of Varanasi that are believed to have powers to cleanse people of their sins and grant eternal peace to the souls of their forefathers.

Varanasi is also known as a centre of music, art, crafts and education since ages. Varanasi’s known history dates back to about 3500 years but there is frequent mention of the city in ancient Indian scriptures. While the British preferred to call the holy city as Benaras, there is reference of it in ancient scriptures as Kashi. The present name Varanasi is a restoration of an ancient name meaning a city between the rivers Varuna and Asi. Other than the sacred ghats, there are also many ancient temples in Varanasi. Varanasi has also emerged as a centre for the study of Hindu philosophy and for the learning of yoga and meditation.

Climate
Varanasi can be very hot during summers and winters can be very cold. The place also receives good rainfall during the monsoon season from July to September. But irrespective of the weather, devotees throng the holy pilgrimage centre throughout the year.

Best Time to Visit
September to April

How to reach

Air: Varanasi figures in the air map of India. Both state carrier Indian Airlines and private service providers operate flights to Varanasi from various destinations of India including national capital Delhi.

Rail: Varanasi is well connected to the rest of the country by railways.There are trains to Varanasi from many destinations of India. Varanasi has two railway stations-Kashi and Varanasi Junction.

Road: A good road network connects Varanasi with the rest of Uttar Pradesh and other destinations of north India. Deluxe bus services are also available from Delhi and Lucknow.

Where To Stay
Varanasi offers a wide spectrum of accommodation facilities for the tourists. There are hotels in all categories-budget, mid-range and top-end. Among the best luxury hotels of Varanasi are Clarks and Taj Ganges. Good hotels in the mid range category are Barahdari, Golden Buddha and Ganapati. It is worth mentionable that many dharamshalas are also available in Varanasi for staying.

Attractions in Varanasi
Ghats of Varanasi : The ghats of Varanasi are the prime attractions of this holy pilgrimage city. Regarded as sacred by Hindus, every ghat of Varanasi has a history attached to them. Some of these sacred ghats also find mention in our ancient scriptures. The most prominent is the Dashashwamedha ghat. Stretching up to a distance of 4 kms, many religious rituals are held in the ghats on a regular basis. The ghats of Varanasi are best viewed at dawn, as a steady stream of devotees perform various kinds of rituals and earthen lamps are immersed in the waters.

Durga Temple :
The Durga temple of Varanasi is also held in high reverence by Hindus. In this temple, Goddess Durga is worshipped as an embodiment of shakti or female power, clad in red and riding a tiger. The deity is shown in an angry posture armed with a trident, discus and sword. The earlier ritual of animal sacrifice in the temple has now been replaced by a symbolic mark in vermilion.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple :
Also known as the ‘Golden Temple’, this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva as Vishveswara (Vishwanath), Lord of the Universe. In 17th century, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb destroyed the original temple and constructed a mosque over it. Even today, you will find traces of the old temple behind the mosque. Vishwanath Temple was rebuilt by Rani Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore in the year 1776. This temple is called the ‘Golden Temple’ because of the gold plating on the towers (shikharas) provided by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore in 1835.

As you enter inside the temple, you come across the image of Lord Vishnu, who is worshipped alongwith Vishwanath. You will see the linga of Lord Vishwanath on a golden altar, apart from this there are several other shrines in the temple complex. Behind the temple complex is the ‘well of knowledge’, known as Gyan Kupor. Near the temple are narrow streets dotted with large number of big and small shops.

Non-Hindus (non-believers) are not allowed into the temple complex, they can look inside the temple through a hole in the wall or one can see the roof of the temple from the roof of the Trimurti Guest House.

Bharat Mata Temple:
The Bharat Mata Temple is a relatively new building in this ancient city. Inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, the temple houses one of the perfect relief maps of India carved out of marble. The temple was actually gifted by nationalists Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta and Durga Prasad Khatri. Instead of worshipping any religious deity, the temple is dedicated to motherland India.

Bharat Kala Bhawan:
Established in the year 1950, Bharat Kala Bhawan is famous for its impressive collection of miniature paintings. The wide collection of the place includes Rajasthani paintings, pahari paintings, Nepalese & Tibetan Thankas, company paintings and also paintings of many contemporary artists. The museum has also preserved many ancient scriptures. The museum offers a nice break from the religious places of Varanasi.

Excursion Places near Varanasi:
Sarnath Temple: One of major Buddhist pilgrimage centres, Sarnath is 10 kms from Varanasi. Sarnath is the place where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon after gaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. Later, Emperor Ashoka erected several magnificent stupas like Dharmarajika Stupa and Dhamekh Stupa and other impressive buildings. The Dhamekh Stupa, believed to date from around 500 A.D 600 A.D, has been rebuilt several times. It is an imposing cylindrical tower soaring to a height of above 98 ft. and it is believed to mark the place of Lord Buddha’s sermon.

Slightly to the west is the Ashoka Pillar, dating back to the 3rd century, which bears the Ashokan symbol of four back-to-back lions on the capital. The Dharmarajika Stupa is located at a short distance to the west of the Dhamekh Stupa. Close to it is a building called the ‘main shrine’ where Ashoka is said to have meditated.

You will also see a modern Maha Bodhi Society temple known as Mulagandhakuti Vihara. The temple was built in the year 1931 and it has a series of frescoes in the interior, painted by well-known Japanese artist, Kosetsu Nosu in 1936. The silver casket in the Mulagandhakuti Vihara temple is believed to have the original relics of Lord Buddha. Beside, the temple has wonderful murals presenting the life story of Buddha. Just outside the temple is an Aswatha tree which is a transplant from the tree in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, which in turn is said to be a descendant of the original tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment.

Ramnager:
Ramnagar at a distance of 14 kms from Varanasi is a place famous for the royal museum. Its display of royal collections include vintage cars, royal palkies, swords, old guns, ivory work and antique clocks.

Chunar Fort:
The historical fort of Chunar was built by one of the greatest warriors in Indian history- Sher Shah Suri. The attractions inside the fort are sonwa mandap, sun clock and a huge well. A splendid view of river Ganga is also available from the fort. The fort is at a distance of 40 kms from Varanasi.

Shopping in Varanasi:

Varanasi is famous for its silk weaving industry. Popularly known as the Benarasi saree, the silk sari or shawl is traditionally a single coloured textile. Motifs and patterns are woven in gold or silver threads. Apart from these popular silk fabrics, those interested in religion may also pick up books on religion and other religious items like beads, incense sticks and small statues of gods and goddesses.

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