Varanasi, the city of Ghats, Temples and oldest traditions

I have travelled a lot of places but holiest of them all I found was Varanasi or Banaras or Kashi. The city is famous for so many things, be it the ‘Nashta’, ‘Paan’, ‘Galiyan’, ‘Ghats’, Temples or for being the home for Kashi Naresh or being one of the 7 sacred cities in India or being one of the oldest inhabited city and it goes on. The introduction won’t ever end so soon.

The holy city lies in the northern belt of India, which clearly tells us that the temperature goes to its extreme whether its summer or winter. The best time explore the city is between October and March; however it welcomes the pilgrims all-round the year especially during the major Hindu festivals. The legend says that Kashi was founded by Lord Shiva; Pandavas the Heroes of Hindu Epic Mahabharata also visited the place in search of Shiva to cover for their sins during the Kurukshetra war.­ The earliest archeological evidence confirms that it is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities.

Image Credits: Atur Agrawal
Image Credits: Atur Agrawal

The old city as it is entitled has mouth widening narrow lanes; which it is also famous for and the Hindu temples as well as the road side shops decorate it with the tiny details. Tourists are often amazed by the lanes that consist of anything and everything, no Varanasi doesn’t have just narrow lanes, but it is something which is not so common. The cultural capital of India has numerous sites that attract the tourists, these site include the temples, ghats, the museums and even the centers of education that were established long ago.

Ghats

Varanasi has at least 84 ghats, the major ghats include- Assi ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat, Harishchandra ghat, Ram ghat etc. Boat rides across the ghats is a popular visitor attraction. The extensive stretches of ghats enhance the river front with a number of shrines, temples and palaces built along. The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main and probably the oldest ghat of Varansi, it is also close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. A group of priests perform “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) daily in the evening at this ghat as a dedication to Shiva, Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe. Special aartis are held on Tuesdays and on religious festivals.

Image Credits: Atur Agrawal
Image Credits: Atur Agrawal

[Take a dawn boat ride in Dashashwamedh Ghat with a Padhaaro Greeter] 

Ramnagar Fort

The Ramnagar Fort is located on the eastern ghat of the river Ganges and it serves as a residence to the Kashi Naresh or ‘Maharaja of Varanasi’ but some part of it is open for public view and stores items of historical interest. The fort is made of creamy sandstone in the Mughal architecture style; its scenic beauty invites several film makers to make it their shooting location. Most popular of them all being ‘Banaras’.

Temples

Among uncountable temples that the city has most worshipped include Kashi Vishwanath temple, Sankatmochan temple and Durga temple.

Kashi Vishwanath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva- Varanasi’s presiding deity; it is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga Shiva temples. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The templt as it exists now is called the ‘Golden temple’.

New Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the modern temple made inside the BHU campus by the Birlas and planned by Pandit Malviya.

Annapurna Temple is dedicated to the Goddess of food; the Sankath Temple is close to Sindhia ghat dedicated to the Goddess of remedy. The Sankath temple has a large sculpture of a lion and nine temples clustered to indicate the nine planets.

Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple is another sacred temple in Varanasi. It is dedicated to the monkey God ‘Hanuman’ situated on the way to Vishwanath and Durga temples inside the Banaras Hindu University campus. It is believed that the temple is built on the spot where Saint Tulsi Das had a vision of Lord Hanuman.

Durga Temple – Durga Kund is the sacred pond (built 18th century) and Durga Mandir is a red colored Nagara style temple which represents the color of Durga. The pond serves as the place for a holy bath during Navratri and a platform for the act of depicting ‘Lord Vishnu reclining on the serpent Shesha’ during Nag Panchmi.

Image Credits: Atur Agrawal
Image Credits: Atur Agrawal

Sarnath

Located 13 km north east of the city, near the confluence of the Ganges and the Gomati rivers. Singhpur is a village which is approximately a km away from the site, was the birthplace of Shreyansanath, the eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism, and a temple dedicated to him, is an important pilgrimage site.

Varanasi has been a cultural hub of art and craft all the way; it is famous for ‘Banarasi Silk Saree’ the fine work of silver and golden threads, carpet weaving, glass bangles, brass and copper ware, ivory work, wooden toys etc. It has also been home to eminent people in the history of India; Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ravi Das, Tulsi Das, Munshi Premchand etc.

Festivals you can’t afford to miss: 

Having a religious and cultural importance, Varanasi is a center for all major festivals of India. It is a must for a tourist to witness either of the following festivals:

•          Diwali

•          Ganga Mahotsav

•          Buddha Purnima

•          Maha Shivaratri

•          Hanuman Jayanti

•          Ramlila

•          Panch Koshi Parikrama

•          Nag nathaiya

•          Kumbh Mela

•          Govardhan Puja

•          Holi

•          Rathyatra

•          Chhath pooja

•          Dussehera

•          Krishna Janmasthmi

•          Durga pooja

•          Durga ashtami

•          Sawan mela

•          Shilp mela

•          Naag panchami

•          Ganesh Chaturthi

•          Id

•          Muharram

•          Hartalika Teej

•          Vaisakhi mela

•          Ganga Dashahara

Savour your taste buds    

The residents of the city crave for sweets; that is what they are good at preparing. Be it rasmalai, jalebi, imarti, laddoo, balu sahi and so on. Not to forget the snacks like samosas and kachoris that make a part of their breakfast. The food consists of variety of flavors and spices that every normal Indian wants in a gourmet and to end with, the Banarasi Paan does it all.

Banarasi Paan | Image Credits: Jitendra Purswani
Banarasi Paan | Image Credits: Jitendra Purswani

How to reach Varanasi

Varanasi welcomes you through all the well-connected routes by air, rail and road. It now has its own International airport about 26 km from the main city, which can be reached by road. Varanasi Cantt Railway station is the largest station in the city and welcomes several trains every day or if you prefer a long drive with your family, the city awaits you as it lies along NH 2 and NH 7 (the largest national highway of India).

Happy Travels!!

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