A DIVINE EXPERIENCE: VARANASI
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.