India – Uttar Pradesh – Varanasi – Ganga River – 239bb

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Varanasi, also known as Benares, or Kashi is an Indian city on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres south-east of the state capital, Lucknow. It is the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism, and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism. Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Varanasi is also known as the favourite city of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva as it has been mentioned in the Rigveda that this city in older times was known as Kashi or "Shiv ki Nagri".

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi, and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the Ganges. The city has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years, and has a history that is older than most of the major world religions. The Benares Gharana form of Hindustani classical music was developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in Varanasi. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath, located near Varanasi.

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India. It is often referred to as "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of Shiva", and "the city of learning". Scholarly books have been written in the city, including the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas. Today, there is a temple of his namesake in the city, the Tulsi Manas Mandir. The current temples and religious institutions in the city are dated to the 18th century. One of the largest residential universities of Asia, the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), is located here.

ETYMOLOGY
The name Varanasi possibly originates from the names of the two rivers: Varuna, still flowing in Varanasi, and Asi, a small stream near Assi Ghat. The old city does lie on the north shores of Ganges River bounded by its two tributaries Varuna and Asi. Another speculation is that the city derives its name from the river Varuna, which was called Varanasi in olden times.[11] This is generally disregarded by historians. Through the ages, Varanasi has been known by many names including Kāśī or Kashi (used by pilgrims dating from Buddha’s days), Kāśikā (the shining one), Avimukta ("never forsaken" by Shiva), Ānandavana (the forest of bliss), and Rudravāsa (the place where Rudra/Śiva resides).

In the Rigveda, the city is referred to as Kāśī or Kashi, the luminous city as an eminent seat of learning. The name Kāśī is also mentioned in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, Shiva says, "The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kāśī is my royal palace therein." The name Kashi may be translated as "City of Light".

HISTORY
According to legend, Varanasi was founded by the God Shiva. The Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata are also stated to have visited the city in search of Shiva to atone for their sins of fratricide and Brāhmanahatya that they had committed during the climactic Kurukshetra war. It is regarded as one of seven holy cities which can provide Moksha:

The earliest known archaeological evidence suggests that settlement around Varanasi in the Ganga valley (the seat of Vedic religion and philosophy) began in the 11th or 12th century BC, placing it among the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. These archaeological remains suggest that the Varanasi area was populated by Vedic people. However, the Atharvaveda (the oldest known text referencing the city), which dates to approximately the same period, suggests that the area was populated by indigenous tribes. It is possible that archaeological evidence of these previous inhabitants has yet to be discovered. Recent excavations at Aktha and Ramnagar, two sites very near to Varanasi, show them to be from 1800 BC, suggesting Varanasi started to be inhabited by that time too. Varanasi was also home to Parshva, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara and the earliest Tirthankara accepted as a historical figure in the 8th century BC.

Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BC), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, "Turning the Wheel of Law", at nearby Sarnath. The celebrated Chinese traveller Xuanzang, who visited the city around 635 AD, attested that the city was a centre of religious and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 kilometres along the western bank of the Ganges. When Xuanzang, also known as Hiuen Tsiang, visited Varanasi in the 7th century, he named it "Polonisse" and wrote that the city had some 30 temples with about 30 monks. The city’s religious importance continued to grow in the 8th century, when Adi Shankara established the worship of Shiva as an official sect of Varanasi.

In ancient times, Varanasi was connected by a road starting from Taxila and ending at Pataliputra during the Mauryan Empire. In 1194, the city succumbed to Turkish Muslim rule under Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who ordered the destruction of some one thousand temples in the city. The city went into decline over some three centuries of Muslim occupation, although new temples were erected in the 13th century after the Afghan invasion. Feroz Shah ordered further destruction of Hindu temples in the Varanasi area in 1376. The Afghan ruler Sikander Lodi continued the suppression of Hinduism in the city and destroyed most of the remaining older temples in 1496. Despite the Muslim rule, Varanasi remained the centre of activity for intellectuals and theologians during the Middle Ages, which further contributed to its reputation as a cultural centre of religion and education. Several major figures of the Bhakti movement were born in Varanasi, including Kabir who was born here in 1389 and hailed as "the most outstanding of the saint-poets of Bhakti cult (devotion) and mysticism of 15th-Century India"; and Ravidas, a 15th-century socio-religious reformer, mystic, poet, traveller, and spiritual figure, who was born and lived in the city and employed in the tannery industry. Similarly, numerous eminent scholars and preachers visited the city from across India and south Asia. Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism.

In the 16th century, Varanasi experienced a cultural revival under the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar who invested in the city, and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. The Raja of Poona established the Annapurnamandir and the 200 metres Akbari Bridge was also completed during this period. The earliest tourists began arriving in the city during the 16th century. In 1665, the French traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier described the architectural beauty of the Vindu Madhava temple on the side of the Ganges. The road infrastructure was also improved during this period and extended from Kolkata to Peshawar by Emperor Sher Shah Suri; later during the British Raj it came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road. In 1656, emperor Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of many temples and the building of mosques, causing the city to experience a temporary setback. However, after Aurangazeb’s death, most of India was ruled by a confederacy of pro-Hindu kings. Much of modern Varanasi was built during this time by the Rajput and Maratha kings, especially during the 18th century, and most of the important buildings in the city today date to this period. The kings continued to be important through much of the British rule (1775–1947 AD), including the Maharaja of Benares, or Kashi Naresh. The kingdom of Benares was given official status by the Mughals in 1737, and continued as a dynasty-governed area until Indian independence in 1947, during the reign of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh. In the 18th century, Muhammad Shah ordered the construction of an observatory on the Ganges, attached to Man Mandir Ghat, designed to discover imperfections in the calendar in order to revise existing astronomical tables. Tourism in the city began to flourish in the 18th century. In 1791, under the rule of the British Governor-General Warren Hastings, Jonathan Duncan founded a Sanskrit College in Varanasi. In 1867, the establishment of the Varanasi Municipal Board led to significant improvements in the city.

In 1897, Mark Twain, the renowned Indophile, said of Varanasi, "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together." 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 Ramnagar Fort which is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges. Ramnagar Fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Varanasi. Since the 18th century, the fort has been the home of Kashi Naresh, deeply revered by the local people. He is the religious head and some devout inhabitants consider him to be the incarnation of Shiva. He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.

A massacre by British troops, of the Indian troops stationed here and of the population of the city, took place during the early stages of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Annie Besant worked in Varanasi to promote theosophy and founded the Central Hindu College which later became a foundation for the creation of Banaras Hindu University as a secular university in 1916. Her purpose in founding the Central Hindu College in Varanasi was that she "wanted to bring men of all religions together under the ideal of brotherhood in order to promote Indian cultural values and to remove ill-will among different sections of the Indian population."

Varanasi was ceded to the Union of India on 15 October 1948. After the death of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh in 2000, his son Anant Narayan Singh became the figurehead king, responsible for upholding the traditional duties of a Kashi Naresh.

MAIN SIGHTS
Varanasi’s "Old City", the quarter near the banks of the Ganga river, has crowded narrow winding lanes flanked by road-side shops and scores of Hindu temples. As atmospheric as it is confusing, Varanasi’s labyrinthine Old City has a rich culture, attracting many travellers and tourists. 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.

Museums in and around Varanasi include Jantar Mantar, Sarnath Museum, Bharat Kala Bhawan and Ramnagar Fort.

JANTAR MANTAR
The Jantar Mantar observatory (1737) is located above the ghats on the Ganges, much above the high water level in the Ganges next to the Manmandir Ghat, near to Dasaswamedh Ghat and adjoining the palace of Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur. Compared to the observatories at Jaipur and Delhi, it is less well equipped but has a unique equatorial sundial which is functional and allows measurements to be monitored and recorded by one person.

RAMNAGAR FORT
The Ramnagar Fort located near the Ganges River on its eastern bank, opposite to the Tulsi Ghat, was built in the 18th century by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone. It is in a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and scenic pavilions. At present the fort is not in good repair. The fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares. It has been the home of the Kashi Naresh since the 18th century. The current king and the resident of the fort is Anant Narayan Singh who is also known as the Maharaja of Varanasi even though this royal title has been abolished since 1971. Labeled "an eccentric museum", it has a rare collection of American vintage cars, sedan chairs (bejeweled), an impressive weaponry hall and a rare astrological clock. In addition, manuscripts, especially religious writings, are housed in the Saraswati Bhawan. Also included is a precious handwritten manuscript by Goswami Tulsidas. Many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style, with beautifully designed covers are also part of the collections. Because of its scenic location on the banks of the Ganges, it is frequently used as an outdoor shooting location for films. The film titled Banaras is one of the popular movies shot here. However, only a part of the fort is open for public viewing as the rest of the area is the residence of the Kashi Naresh and his family. It is 14 kilometres from Varanasi.

GHATS
Ghats are embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions. Ghats in Varanasi are an integral complement to the concept of divinity represented in physical, metaphysical and supernatural elements. All the ghats are locations on "the divine cosmic road", indicative of "its manifest transcendental dimension" Varanasi has at least 84 ghats. Steps in the ghats lead to the banks of River Ganges, including the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat (where Hindus cremate their dead). Many ghats are associated with legends and several are now privately owned.

Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwas stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. A morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular visitor attraction. The extensive stretches of ghats enhance the river front with a multitude of shrines, temples and palaces built "tier on tier above the water’s edge".

The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main and probably the oldest ghat of Varansi located on the Ganges, close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is believed that Brahma created it to welcome Shiva and sacrificed ten horses during the Dasa -Ashwamedha yajna performed here. Above the ghat and close to it, there are also temples dedicated to Sulatankesvara, Brahmesvara, Varahesvara, Abhaya Vinayaka, Ganga (the Ganges), and Bandi Devi which are part of important pilgrimage journeys. 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.

The Manikarnika Ghat is the Mahasmasana (meaning: "great cremation ground") and is the primary site for Hindu cremation in the city. Adjoining the ghat, there are raised platforms that are used for death anniversary rituals. It is said that an ear-ring (Manikarnika) of Shiva or his wife Sati fell here. According to a myth related to the Tarakesvara Temple, a Shiva temple at the ghat, Shiva whispers the Taraka mantra ("Prayer of the crossing") in the ear of the dead. Fourth-century Gupta period inscriptions mention this ghat. However, the current ghat as a permanent riverside embankment was built in 1302 and has been renovated at least three times.

TEMPLES
Among the estimated 23000 temples in Varanasi, the most worshiped are: the Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva; the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple; and the Durga Temple known for the band of monkeys that reside in the large trees nearby.

Located on the outskirts of the Ganges, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple – dedicated to Varanasi’s presiding deity Shiva (Vishwanath – "Lord of the world") – is an important Hindu temple and one of the 12 Jyotirlinga Shiva temples. It is believed that a single view of Vishwanath Jyotirlinga is worth more than that of other jyotirlingas. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. The Gyanvapi Mosque, which is adjacent to the temple, is the original site of the temple. The temple, as it exists now, also called Golden Temple, was built in 1780 by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore. The two pinnacles of the temple are covered in gold, donated in 1839 by Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Punjab and the remaining dome is also planned to be gold plated by the Ministry of Culture & Religious Affairs of Uttar Pradesh. On 28 January 1983, the temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust with then Kashi Naresh, Vibhuti Narayan Singh, as president and an executive committee with a Divisional Commissioner as chairman. Numerous rituals, prayers and aratis are held daily, starting from 2:30 am till 11:00 pm.

The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is one of the sacred temples of the Hindu god Hanuman situated by the Assi River, on the way to the Durga and New Vishwanath temples within the Banaras Hindu University campus. The present temple structure was built in early 1900s by the educationist and freedom fighter, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University. It is believed the temple was built on the very spot where the medieval Hindu saint Tulsidas had a vision of Hanuman. Thousands flock to the temple on Tuesdays and Saturdays, weekdays associated with Hanuman. On 7 March 2006, in a terrorist attack one of the three explosions hit the temple while the Aarti was in progress when numerous devotees and people attending a wedding were present and many were injured. However, normal worship was resumed the next day with devotees visiting the temple and reciting hymns of Hanuman Chalisa (authored by Tulidas) and Sundarkand (a booklet of these hymns is provided free of charge in the temple). After the terrorist incident, a permanent police post was set up inside the temple.

There are two temples named "Durga" in Varanasi, Durga Mandir (built about 500 years ago), and Durga Kund (built in the 18th century). Thousands of Hindu devotees visit Durga Kund during Navratri to worship the goddess Durga. The temple, built in Nagara architectural style, has multi-tiered spires[96] and is stained red with ochre, representing the red colour of Durga. The building has a rectangular tank of water called the Durga Kund ("Kund" meaning a pond or pool). Every year on the occasion of Nag Panchami, the act of depicting the god Vishnu reclining on the serpent Shesha is recreated in the Kund.

While the Annapurna Temple, located close to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, is dedicated to Annapurna, the goddess of food, the Sankatha Temple close to the Sindhia Ghat is dedicated to Sankatha, the goddess of remedy. The Sankatha temple has a large sculpture of a lion and a nine temple cluster dedicated to the nine planets.

Kalabhairav Temple, an ancient temple located near the Head Post Office at Visheshar Ganj, is dedicated to Kala-Bhairava, the guardian (Kotwal) of Varanasi. The Mrithyunjay Mahadev Temple, dedicated to Shiva, is situated on the way to Daranagar to Kalbhairav temple. A well near the temple has some religious significance as its water source is believed to be fed from several underground streams, having curative powers.

The New Vishwanath Temple located in the campus of Banaras Hindu University is a modern temple which was planned by Pandit Malviya and built by the Birlas. The Tulsi Manas Temple, nearby the Durga Temple, is a modern temple dedicated to the god Rama. It is built at the place where Tulsidas authored the Ramcharitmanas, which narrates the life of Rama. Many verses from this epic are inscribed on the temple walls.

The Bharat Mata Temple, dedicated to the national personification of India, was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. It has relief maps of India carved in marble. Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta and Durga Prasad Khatri, leading numismatists, antiquarians and nationalist leaders, donated funds for its construction.

RELIGION
HINDUISM
Varanasi is one of the holiest cities and centres of pilgrimage for Hindus of all denominations. It is one of the seven Hindu holiest cities (Sapta Puri), considered the giver of salvation (moksha). Over 50,000 Brahmins live in Varanasi, providing religious services to the masses. 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. Thus, many Hindus arrive here for dying.

As the home to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Jyotirlinga, it is very sacred for Shaivism. Varanasi is also a Shakti Peetha, where the temple to goddess Vishalakshi stands, believed to be the spot where the goddess Sati’s earrings fell. Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the River Ganges itself to be the Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival.

In 2001, Hindus made up approximately 84% of the population of Varanasi District.

ISLAM
Varanasi is one of the holiest cities and centres of pilgrimage for Hindus of all denominations. It is one of the seven Hindu holiest cities (Sapta Puri), considered the giver of salvation (moksha). Over 50,000 Brahmins live in Varanasi, providing religious services to the masses. 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. Thus, many Hindus arrive here for dying.

As the home to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Jyotirlinga, it is very sacred for Shaivism. Varanasi is also a Shakti Peetha, where the temple to goddess Vishalakshi stands, believed to be the spot where the goddess Sati’s earrings fell. Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the River Ganges itself to be the Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival.

In 2001, Hindus made up approximately 84% of the population of Varanasi District.

OTHERS
At the 2001 census, persons of other religions or no religion made up 0.4% of the population of Varanasi District.

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Suparshvanath, Shreyansanath, and Parshva, who are respectively the seventh, eleventh, and twenty-third Jain Tirthankars and as such Varanasi is a holy city for Jains. Shree Parshvanath Digambar Jain Tirth Kshetra (Digambar Jain Temple) is situated in Bhelupur, Varanasi. This temple is of great religious importance to the Jain Religion.

Sarnath, a suburb of Varanasi, is a place of Buddhist pilgrimage. It is the site of the deer park where Siddhartha Gautama of Nepal 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 in existence, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples in the 5th century. An octagonal tower was built later there.

Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507 and had an encounter which with other events forms the basis for the story of the founding of Sikhism. Varanasi also hosts the Roman Catholic Diocese of Varanasi, and has an insignificant Jewish expatriate community. Varanasi is home to numerous tribal faiths which are not easily classified.

Dalits are 13% of population Of Varanasi city. Most dalits are followers of Guru Ravidass. So Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan is important place of pilgrimage for Ravidasis from all around India.

RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS
On Mahashivaratri (February) – which is dedicated to Shiva – a procession of Shiva proceeds from the Mahamrityunjaya Temple to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

Dhrupad Mela is a five-day musical festival devoted to dhrupad style held at Tulsi Ghat in February–March.

The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple celebrates Hanuman Jayanti (March–April), the birthday of Hanuman with great fervour. A special puja, aarti, and a public procession is organized. Starting in 1923, the temple organizes a five-day classical music and dance concert festival titled Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh in this period, when iconic artists from all parts of India are invited to perform.

The Ramlila of Ramnagar is a dramatic enactment of Rama’s legend, as told in Ramacharitamanasa. The plays, sponsored by Kashi Naresh, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days. On the last day, the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana. Kashi Naresh Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition around 1830.

Bharat Milap celebrates the meeting of Rama and his younger brother Bharata after the return of the former after 14 years of exile. It is celebrated during October–November, a day after the festival of Vijayadashami. Kashi Naresh attends this festival in his regal attire resplendent in regal finery. The festival attracts a large number of devotees.

Nag Nathaiya, celebrated on the fourth lunar day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik (October–November), that commemorates the victory of the god Krishna over the serpent Kaliya. On this occasion, a large Kadamba tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) branch is planted on the banks of the Ganges so that a boy acting the role of Krishna can jump into the river on to the effigy representing Kaliya. He stands over the effigy in a dancing pose playing the flute; the effigy and the boy standing on it is given a swirl in front of the audience. People watch the display standing on the banks of the river or from boats.

Ganga Mahotsav is a five-day music festival organized by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department, held in November–December culminating a day before Kartik Poornima (Dev Deepawali). On Kartik Poornima also called the Ganges festival, the Ganges is venerated by arti offered by thousands of pilgrims who release lighted lamps to float in the river from the ghats.

Annually Jashne-Eid Miladunnabi is celebrated on the day of Barawafat in huge numbers by Muslims in a huge rally coming from all the parts of the city and meeting up at Beniya Bagh.

WIKIPEDIA

Posted on 2017-06-28 23:15:29

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