Varanasi: City of Ghats, Light, Temples, Death, and above all Life

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Varanasi, mostly known as Banaras or Kashi, the city on the bank of river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, India. It is the one of the oldest heritage city of India. Mark Twain, the English author, has written: Benares is older than history, older than tradition, even older than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.

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Varanasi Cantt Railway Station *Credit : Shibnath Mandal

Is there any place in the world where you can see both life and death and that too with the same pair of glasses? Is there any place in the world whose mourning also seems like a cheerful laugh? If you are puzzled and still searching for the answer, then just ask a person who has lived in Banaras or Kashi or Varanasi. By whichever name you call this city, it’s beauty remains the same. The city of lights, the oldest city and most importantly the melting pot of all the cultures. It is often said that change is the only constant, but Banaras has defied this because the people of the city never changes and the uniqueness of this city is that without any change also it has remained an enigma for all.

This city starts it’s day by embracing the shining sun and it’s warmth along the river Ganga. The warmth of the sun infuse the spirit of love and togetherness in the people. The ghats and their eternal beauty mimics the soul of Banaras. This city doesn’t live in apartments and muti-storeyed building, it’s soul resides in the narrow alleys of Godowlia and Chauk. Where one can see the jostling of people, someone chanting the name of “Mahadev” and most of the time the bulls also block the path.

The city feeds on kachauri, Jalebi and Malaiyo and punctuate their appetite with the sweet refreshing famous ‘Banarasi paan’. Flock of tourists and pilgrims can be seen here, some set their foot on this land to attain knowledge and some for salvation. This ‘Sarva Vidya ki Rajdhani’ offers a great deal of knowledge in form of showing the true picture of life and death. One can tame his/her untamed spirit here just by passing one hour at the ghats.

It is believed by the Hindus that one who dies in the Benares will get salvation and deliverance from the cycle of birth and death and finally be modulated into Lord Shiva.

Art and culture reside in the heart of Banaras. Be it in the form of music, dance, painting, beverage or anything. The city sings the song of living life, the city taps it feet on the ecstatic music which it’s soul sings. This city is a painting in itself, full of different colours and different shades. The colours of all religion and culture can be seen here and without being inseparable these colours are mixed with each other.

Banaras is not just a city, it is the heartbeat of people who live here. Whether someone is Hindu, Muslim, Sikhs, Christian, Buddhist, Jain or from any other community, they find solace in the heart of the city. The breeding ground of so many religion and culture, this city has welcomed all. One can find the sweetness of this city by chewing the sweet paan, one can find the bitterness of this city by listening to all the abusive words at Assi, one can feel the pain of city by observing the cremations that take place.

This city preaches Maa Ganga, and the divinity of the place can be felt just by looking at the Ganga river flowing in serenity. Often being mistaken as religious place, Banaras is truly a spiritual place. One can find solace here. One can find the truth of life here. One can find oneself here. Banaras has not lost it’s vigour and charm since time immemorial. It’s heart is still beating with the same pace, it’s seems like the city has drank the youth potion and it’s never going to lose it’s vigour and enthusiasm. Once you set your foot out of the city, the only moment you realise it’s worth and beauty and then you only exclaim ‘Zinda rahe Banaras, Bana rahe Banaras’!!

Here you get peace on ghats, temples for worships and also some of the most unique and delicious food. Banaras has got loads of specialities in its treasure box.

Banarasi Saree, more than 80 Ghats, its Galliyan(narrow lanes) which can make you go round on and turn bewildered, are the prime among all the attractions this place has to offer and with their sheer beauty they can leave anyone completely enthralled! Also there’s one phenomenon here, The Aadiyogi(the first yogi), Shiva Shankar who is a deity in Hindu mythology and it is said this city one of the places very dear to Him. There’s famous saying here which goes: ‘Kashi ke kankar kankar mein Shiv Shankar!’, which literally symbolises that ‘The Mighty Lord Shiva resides in every single pebble of Kashi’. That clearly shows how popular Shiva is, in Banaras.

Varanasi has become the most famous place for tourism in India because of its culture, tradition, ghats, sightseeing, fairs of handicraft, festival, and temples. Lets us see some of the best place to visit and some best food to taste in Varanasi .

Place to visit in Varanasi :

1) Sarnath

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It is believed that after receiving knowledge in Bodh Gaya, Lord Buddha gave the first sermon here in Sarnath.

Sarnath, which is just 10 km away, is a big pilgrimage center for Buddhist pilgrims. It is believed that after receiving knowledge in Bodh Gaya, Lord Buddha gave the first sermon here in Sarnath. It is known as “Mahadham” Chakra transformation.This place also holds considerable significance in terms of structures of archaeological significance like Dharmarajika Stupa and Radha Kuti Vihar.

“Dhamek Stupa” is one the best attraction in Sarnath. Stupa is approx 100m tall. Chowkandi Stupa is the place where Lord Buddha met his first five disciples who came to Sarnath for the first time.

2) Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple

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Golden Spires of Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple

The Jyotirlinga present in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is considered as the 12th of all the Jyotirlingas. This temple is also known as Golden temple of Kashi.

Located at 5.4 km from the centre of the City, The Kashi Vishwanath temple was last rebuilt and restored to its glory by the Queen of Indore, Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar. It is one of the oldest temples of Lord Shiva situated in the western bank of river Ganga. People from all around the world come here for the worship of Lord Shiva. The Jyotirlinga present in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is considered as the 12th of all the Jyotirlingas. This temple is also known as Golden temple of Kashi because the spires of the temple is plated with gold. The Temple will open at 3 A.M in the morning.

Mughal Emperor Akbar gave permission to build the original temple   after its earlier destruction, which was later again destroyed by Aurangzeb.

Aarti (Prayer) time:

Mangala Aarti : 3 AM- 4 AM (Morning)

Bhog Aarti : 11.15 AM to 12.20 PM (Day)

Sandhya Aarti : 7 PM to 8.15 PM (Evening)

Shringar Aarti : 9 PM to 10.15 PM (Night)

Shayan Aarti : 10.30 PM – 11 PM (Night)

3) Dashashwamedh Ghat

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River View of Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi

The name ‘Dasashwamedh’ signifies the 10 Ashwamedha yajna(or yagya), the most powerful of all the yajnas, which were  by Lord Bramha(God of creation, according to Hindu mythology). This ghat is most notable for its Ganga Aarti held each evening.

Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the oldest ghat in this holy city. It is the most illustrious ghat from a religious, traditional and historic viewpoint. It is near to Sri Kashi Vishwanath temple. In the puranas(sacred writings in Hindu mythology), this ghat has been mentioned as Rudrasarovar. The name ‘Dasashwamedh‘ signifies the 10 Ashwamedha yajna(or yagya), the most powerful of all the yajna, done by Lord Bramha(God of creation, according to Hindu mythology). The ritual was done on the land on which Dasashwamedh ghat is situated. There are two mythologies about this ghat- Lord Brahma created this ghat to welcome Lord Shiva and other one is Brahma sacrificed ten horses in yachna here.Dashashwamedh ghat was reconstructed by the Bajirao Peshava I in the year 1740 AD. It was later reconstructed by the Queen of the Indore (the princess Ahilyabai Holkar) in the year 1774. This ghat is most notable for its Ganga Aarti held each evening, which is a special offering to the Ganges because the river is considered as the holiest of all. Also, the Hindus consider this river as their mother. Tourists come here to see the Aarti of Maa Ganga. The environment at evening is somewhat which one must experience once in life.

4) Durgakund Temple

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Durgakund Temple

Thousands of Hindu devotees visit Durga Kund Temple during Navratri to worship Goddess Durga and during other auspicious occasions.

This famous beautiful temple is located at Sankat Mochan road in Bhelupura area. Temple is open from 4 am to 1pm and then from 3 pm to 11 pm. Devotees worship Devi Durga during Navratri, which is a 9 day festival, falling in September/October. Durga Kund Temple overlooks the kund or pond and was built in the 18th century. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit Durga Kund Temple during Navratri to worship Goddess Durga and during other auspicious occasions.

5) Tulsi Manas Temple and Sankat Mochan Temple

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Tulsi Manas Mandir

Goswami Tulsidas had written the ancient Hindu Epic Ramacharitamanasa at this place in the Kashi.

It is located between Durga Kund Temple and Sankat Mochan Temple. It is also called as Tulsi Birla Manas Mandir. The whole temple is made up with marble and it is constructed in 1964. Temple area is surrounded with a very beautiful garden. Tulsi Manas Mandir Temple has both, the historical as well as the cultural importance in Kashi. Goswami Tulsidas had written the ancient Hindu Epic Ramacharitamanasa at this place in the Kashi. He had described the life history of the Lord Rama in this Epic and got incredible popularity soon. Lord Rama was a great King and he always presented a good example in front of the people. Many years later, a temple was built at that spot named Tulsi Manas Mandir Temple. In the Ramacharitamanasa, the King Rama is described as “the Lord Rama”, a Hindu deity.Opening Time of the Temple is: 5:30 am to 12:00 pm and 3:30 pm to 9:00 pm.Aarti time is: 6:00 am in the morning and 4:00 pm in the evening.

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Sankat Mochan Temple

It is said that the temple was built from the time when Goswami Tulsidas had a vision of Hanuman, a deity who signifies strength and courage.

Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Hanuman. This temple is also called as the monkey temple because of the presence of a lot of monkeys inside the premises. It is located in the southern part of Varanasi, on the way to the Durga Mandir and New Vishwanath temple BHU. It is said that the temple was built from the time when Goswami Tulsidas had a vision of Hanuman, a deity who signifies strength and courage. The temple was established by the great saint Goswami Tulsidas.

Opening Time of the Temple : The Sankat Mochan Temple opens at 5 AM in the morning and closes at 10 PM in the night.

Aarti Time : Aarti timings are 4 AM in the morning (Subah Aarti), 9 PM in the night (Sandhya Aarti).

The taste buds won’t go disappointed from Varanasi:

1) Kachori, Sabji and Jalebi

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Kachori Sabji And Jalebi

2) Makkhan Malaiyo or Nimish

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Malaiyyo in Kadai
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Malaiyyo in ‘kullhad’ (Cost 15-25 Rs )

3) Baati Chokha

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Baati Chokha plate at Baati Chokha Restaurant, Teliyabag, Varanasi

4) Tamatar Chaat

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Tamatar Chaat Cost 25-35rs per plate

5) Launglata and Samosa

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Launglata Cost (12-20Rs)
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Samosa Cost 5-8RS/Piece

6) Lemon Tea

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Lemon Tea (Cost 7-10 rs)

7) Benarasi Pan

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Banarasi Paan (Cost 15-500 rs )

And that’s all for this place, rest will be left for you all to explore. Hope you liked the post. Don’t forget to tell us through your comment what you found most fascinating! Here, I end this post the way a typical Banarasi would end a conversation, saying – “Har Har Mahadev!”

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*Some part of the Content Written by – Vartika  

*source of some of the content: varanasi.org.in