KASHI THE CITY OF LIGHT

Airports India - - ODISHA -

Varanasi, or Be­naras, (also known as Kashi) is one of the old­est liv­ing cities in the world. Ac­cord­ing to the ‘Va­mana Pu­rana’, the Varuna and the Assi rivers orig­i­nated from the body of the pri­mor­dial Per­son at the be­gin­ning of time it­self. The tract of land ly­ing be­tween them is be­lieved to be ‘Varanasi’, the holi­est of all pil­grim­ages. The word ‘Kashi’ orig­i­nated from the word ‘Kas’ which means to shine. Steeped in tra­di­tion and myths, Kashi is the ‘orig­i­nal ground’ cre­ated by Shiva and Par­vati, upon which they stood at the be­gin­ning of time. A city of tra­di­tional clas­si­cal cul­ture, glo­ri­fied by leg­end and sanc­ti­fied by re­li­gion, it has al­ways at­tracted a large num­ber of pil­grims and wor­ship­pers from time im­memo­rial. The rays of the dawn shim­mer­ing across the Ganges, the high­banks, the tem­ples and shrines along the banks bathed in a golden hue, soul stir­ring hymns and mantras­be­ing chanted along­with the fra­grance of in­cense fill­ing the air and the refreshing dip in the holy wa­ters by pil­grims at the gen­tly splash­ing wa­ter at the Ghats – the ex­pe­ri­ence of aarti at the ghats and dis­cov­ery of Hin­duism’s spir­i­tual roots reach the ul­ti­mate bliss here.

Varanasi is unique, and a walk along the ghats or a boat ride on the river at sun­rise or sun­set will live long in the mem­ory. Pil­grims come to the ghats lin­ing the River Ganges here to wash away a life­time of sins in the sa­cred wa­ters or to cre­mate their loved ones on huge fu­neral pyres. It’s a par­tic­u­larly aus­pi­cious place to die, since ex­pir­ing here of­fers mok­sha, making Varanasi the beat­ing heart of the Hindu uni­verse.

The old city of Varanasi is sit­u­ated along the western bank of the Ganges and ex­tends back from the river­bank ghats in a labyrinth of al­leys called galis that are too nar­row for traf­fic. Along its wind­ing streets are some 2,000 tem­ples, in­clud­ing Kashi Vishwanath, the “Golden Tem­ple,” ded­i­cated to the Hindu god Shiva. Pop­u­lar ho­tels and restau­rants are usu­ally sign­posted and, how­ever lost you be­come, you will even­tu­ally end up at a ghat and get your bear­ings. You can walk all the way along the ghats, apart from dur­ing and im­me­di­ately af­ter the mon­soon, when the river level is too high.

Varanasi is also renowned for its rich ta­pes­try of mu­sic, arts, crafts and ed­u­ca­tion. Some of the world renowned ex­po­nents In­dia has pro­duced in th­ese fields were schooled in Varanasi’s cul­tural ethos.

Lu­mi­nar­ies apart, Varanasi abounds in the art of silk weav­ing, an ex­otic work of art which man­i­fests it­self in pre­cious Ba­narasi Silk Sa­rees and Silk bro­cades with their in­tri­cate zar­dosi em­broi­dery with fine gold thread, which are cher­ished as col­lec­tor’s items across the world to­day.

Dev Di­wali is one of the fa­mous fes­ti­vals in Varanasi cel­e­brated on the oc­ca­sion of Kar­tik Poorn­ima, with holy Vedic mantras chanted by priests and aarti per­formed on the river­banks to please and wel­come the God of light, light­ing sparkling fire crack­ers and dis­tribut­ing sweets, with all the build­ings lit up in colour­ful lights. All the ghats are packed with the great crowds of pil­grims and they float thou­sands of Diyas (earthen lamps) in the holy river Ganges ac­cord­ing to their rit­u­als.

Ev­ery year since the early 1800s the Ram Lila, a lengthy version of the Ra­mayana, has been per­formed be­side Ram­na­gar Fort in Varanasi. The epic saga is per­formed mainly by Brah­min youths aided by masks, mu­sic, danc­ing and gi­ant pa­pier-mâché fig­ures.

Sur­round­ing places of in­ter­est are Jaun­pur, Vid­hyan­chal ( Vid­han­chal Devi Tem­ple), Chan­dauli (Chan­dra Prabha Wild Sanctury), Mirza­pur (Chu­nar Fort) , Sonbhadra (an­cient Rock Paint­ings).

Nearby Sar­nath is a Bud­dhist Pri­grim Cen­tre . Also known as Ve­sak, the fes­ti­val of Bud­dha Jayanti or Bud­dha’s birth­day cel­e­brates the birth, en­light­en­ment and death of Bud­dha. Sar­nath takes on a par­tic­u­larly fes­tive air on this day, when Bud­dhists from many coun­tries take part in a pro­ces­sion and a fair is held.

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