A DIVINE EX­PE­RI­ENCE: VARANASI

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Varanasi is among the old­est liv­ing cities in the world and its an­tiq­uity finds place in an­cient scrip­tures. Lo­cated along the Ganga it is a sa­cred place for all Hin­dus, Jains and Bud­dhists. Varanasi is older than his­tory, older than tra­di­tion, older even than leg­end and looks twice as old as all of them put to­gether. Varanasi is lo­cated on the banks of mighty river, Ganges and houses sev­eral shrines within its ter­ri­tory. Some of the most fa­mous holy shrines of the city are Kashi Vish­wanath Mandir, Durga Tem­ple, Tulsi Manas Tem­ple and Bharat Mata Tem­ple. Among all th­ese tem­ples, Kashi Vish­wanath Mandir is the most pop­u­lar one and en­shrines the Jy­otir­linga of Shiva. His­tory re­veals that this tem­ple had been de­stroyed twice by in­vaders but still it is stand­ing tall with all its grace. An­other most charm­ing as­pect of Varanasi is its long line up of Ghats along­side the river, which looks awe­some at dawn. When the first ray of ris­ing sun touches the stairs of th­ese Ghats, they come alive. And to ex­plore the real Ba­naras, one needs to a boat and sailed on Ganges River.

Varanasi, one of world’s old­est liv­ing cities, is rightly called the re­li­gious cap­i­tal of In­dia. Also known as Ba­naras or Be­naras, this holy city is lo­cated in the south­east­ern part of the state of Ut­tar Pradesh in north­ern In­dia. It rests on the left bank of the holy river Ganga (Ganges), and is one of the seven sa­cred spots for Hin­dus. Ev­ery de­vout Hindu hopes to visit the city at least once in a life­time, take a holy dip at the fa­mous ‘Ghats’ of the Ganga, walk the pi­ous Pan­chakosi road that bounds the city, and, if God wills, die here in old age.

Both Hin­dus and non-hin­dus from around the world visit Varanasi for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Al­though Varanasi is pop­u­larly called the city of Shiva and Ganga, it is at once the city of tem­ples, the city of ‘ghats’, the city of music, and the cen­ter for mok­sha or nir­vana. For ev­ery vis­i­tor, Varanasi has a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence to of­fer. The gen­tle wa­ters of the Ganges, the boat ride at sun­rise, the high banks of the an­cient “Ghats”, the ar­ray of shrines, the me­an­der­ing nar­row ser­pen­tine al­leys of the city, the myr­iad tem­ple spires, the palaces at wa­ter’s edge, the ashrams (her­mitages) , the pavil­ions, the chant­ing of mantras, the fra­grance of in­cense, the palm and cane para­sols, the de­vo­tional hymns - all of­fer a kind of mys­ti­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that is unique to the city of Shiva.

The for­mer name of the city, ‘Kashi’ sig­ni­fies that it is a ‘site of spir­i­tual lu­mi­nance.’ Not only is Varanasi a place for pil­grim­age, it is also a great cen­ter of learn­ing, and a place known for its

her­itage in music, lit­er­a­ture, art and craft. It is a cherished name in the art of silk weav­ing. The Ba­narasi silk sa­rees and bro­cades are prized all over the world. The clas­si­cal mu­si­cal styles or ‘gha­ranas’ are wo­ven into the lifestyle of the peo­ple and are ac­com­pa­nied by mu­si­cal in­stru­ments that are man­u­fac­tured in Varanasi. Many re­li­gious texts and theo­soph­i­cal trea­tises have been writ­ten. It is also the seat of one of In­dia’s big­gest uni­ver­si­ties, the Ba­naras Hindu Univer­sity.

To the Hin­dus, the Ganges is a sa­cred river and any town or city on its bank is be­lieved to be aus­pi­cious. But Varanasi has a spe­cial sanc­tity, for it is be­lieved, this is where Lord Shiva and his con­sort Par­vati stood when time started tick­ing for the first time. The place also has an in­ti­mate con­nec­tion with a host of leg­endary fig­ures and myth­i­cal char­ac­ters, who are said to have ac­tu­ally lived here. Varanasi has found place in the Bud­dhist scrip­tures as well as the great Hindu epic of Ma­hab­harata.the holy epic poem Shri Ram­char­it­manas by Goswami Tul­si­das was also writ­ten here. All this makes Varanasi a sig­nif­i­cantly holy place.

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