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Varanasi Pilgrimage Site in India

Varanasi

Varanasi Pilgrimage Site

Varanasi also commonly known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi is a city situated on the banks of the River Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres (199 mi) southeast of state capital Lucknow. It is regarded as a holy city by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest in India. 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 River Ganges and the river's religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years. Tulsidas wrote Ramacharitamanas here, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi (Kashi). People often refer to Varanasi as " the city of temples ", " the holy city of India ", "the religious capital of India", " the city of lights ", and " the city of learning .

 

Varanasi City

Varanasi, Kashi, Benares. This city with three names is among the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi is the city that grew along the banks of River Ganga in the stretch between the Assi and Varuna Rivers. A spiritual city called Kashi in the scriptures and widely known as Benares, the city was renamed as Varanasi after India gained independence. The city is a centre for religion, history, culture and learning.

Kashi To the people of Hindu faith, the 'spiritual city' known as Kashi lives in a permanent state of purity, where the jyotirlinga or column of light joins heaven to earth. It is known as the city of the Hindu God Shiva. Kashi is seen as the ford across samsara, the river of life. To the Hindu, the ultimate guarantee of moksha or salvation comes from dying in Kashi.

River Ganga The river flows some 2,500 km from the Himalayan Mountains to the Bay of Bengal. The Ganges Basin is inhabited by nearly 400 million people, making it the most populous river basin in the world. The basin measures about 1 million square kilometres and has a mean annual flow of over 400,000 million cubic kilometres. It includes part of the territories of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Tibet. The 7km stretch through Varanasi is the only part of this journey where the river turns back towards Her source. Here Ganga is known as Gangamaiyya, Mother, Goddess who nourishes the very soul of Kashi, nurturing its life and gathering up its dead. It is said that the river fell in love with the city and nearly turned back here. The half loop northwards creates the curved bank where the ghats stand today. The flood plain on the opposite bank of Ganga has never been inhabited and stays as a sandy waste, used for growing watermelons during the dry season. To Hindus (the main religious group in India) the Ganges River has special significance for religious rites. Every day more than 60,00 people come to bathe and pray in the river along the religious bathing areas in Varanasi. They sip Ganga Jal (water) as an act of religious purification. Hindus believe that if their ashes are placed in the river after cremation that they will go to Nirvana (Heaven).

 

 

Legendary history Varanasi

According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity Lord Shiva, several thousand years ago, thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is also a general belief that it stands on the weapon " The Trishool" of Lord Shiva . It is one of the seven sacred cities of the Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda, Skanda Purana, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, mention the city.
Varanasi is generally believed to be about several thousand years old. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BCE), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveller Xuanzang attested that the city was a center of religious and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.

Kashi Naresh and Ramnagar

Varanasi became an independent Kingdom of Kashi in the eighteenth century, and under subsequent British rule, it remained a commercial and religious centre. Varanasi suffered during the raids into India by Muhammad of Ghori, as described by Kamil-ut - Tawarikh of Ibn Asir : " The slaughter of Hindus (at Varanasi) was immense; none were spared except women and children, (who were taken into slavery) and the carnage of men went on until the earth was weary." 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 fort of Ramanagar. The Ramnagar Fort of the Kashi Naresh is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges. The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century. It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions. The other fort of the Kashi Naresh is the Chet Singh Palace, near Shivala Ghat, Varanasi built by Maharaja Chet Singh.
Ramnagar Fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares and since the 18th century has been the home of Kashi Naresh. Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Benares. He is the religious head and the people of Benares consider him the incarnation of Lord Shiva. He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.

Varanasi Holy City

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities and targets of pilgrimage for Hindus. As the place where Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon to his disciples, Varanasi is the city where Buddhism was founded. It is 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. 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. The city has a sizeable native Muslim population, it hosts the Roman Catholic Diocese of Varanasi, and has a significant Jewish expatriate community. Varanasi is home to numerous tribal faiths which are not easily classified and many denominations of the religions which are present.
Annie Besant worked in Benares to promote theosophy and founded the Central Hindu College which later became a foundation for the creation of Benaras Hindu University as a secular university.
As a place of pilgrimage for many faiths Varanasi continually hosts an unusually rich diversity of religious practitioners and teachers who are not resident in the city.

Hinduism in Varanasi

Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations and is one of seven most holy places for Hindus in India.
A Koetra is a sacred ground, a field of active power, a place where Moksha, final release can be obtained. The Garuda Purana enumerates seven cities as giver of Moksha, They are Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya, Kasi, Kañchi, Avantika and Dvaravati. It has the holy shrine of Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva), and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.
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. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati's earrings fell. Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the river Ganges itself as the Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have always co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

Islam in Varanasi

Islam came to Benares in 12th century during the rule of Delhi Sultanate; and established during the Mughal Period. The Muslims form a substantial part of the city's population, particularly in the old city where they form about one third of the population. Weaving in Varanasi of the famous Baranasi saris is a Muslim domain. Many of city's Muslims belong to the weaver caste called "Ansari"

Buddhism in Varanasi

Sarnath is a place of Buddhist pilgrimage. The site where Buddha gave his first sermon and thereby founded Buddhism is marked by Dhamek Stupa. Buddhist traditions worldwide have each built their country's architectural style of Buddhist temple here.
Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself (the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini). In the residential neighbourhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha 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 standing, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples (in the 5th century or earlier, BC). An octagonal tower was built later there.

Jainism in Varanasi

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Islamic culture has also had an influence on Varanasi. Shree Parshvanath Digambar Jain Tirth Kshetra (Digambar Jain Temple) is situated in Bhelupur, Varanasi. This temple is of great religious importance to Jain Religion. Parshvanath or Parshvanatha (parsvá-natha, occasionally spelled Parshvanath or Parswanath) was the twenty-third Tirthankara (fordmaker) in Jainism. fl. ca. in the 9th century BCE, traditionally (877 - 777 BCE. He is the earliest Jain leader generally accepted as a historical figure. He was a nobleman belonging to the Kshatriya caste. He lived in Varanasi in India around 800 BCE and is the most popular object of Jain devotion.

Ghats Varanasi

Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats . Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas) stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. The former Kashi Naresh owns Shivala or Kali ghat.

Culture Varanasi

Varanasi's "Old City , " the quarter near the banks of the Ganges, has crowded narrow winding lanes that are flanked by road-side shops and scores of Hindu temples. As atmospheric as it is confusing, Varanasi's labyrinthine Old City is rich with culture, and a deservedly popular destination for 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.



 
 


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