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Varanasi

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Overview

Varanasi
वाराणसी
Kashi
Metropolitan City
The Holy City of Kashi

Clockwise from top: Ahilya Ghat, New Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, Tibetan Temple in Sarnath, Banaras Hindu University, Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Nickname(s): The spiritual capital of India
Varanasi is located in Uttar Pradesh
Varanasi
Varanasi
Coordinates: 25°16′55″N 82°57′23″E / 25.282°N 82.9563°E / 25.282; 82.9563Coordinates: 25°16′55″N 82°57′23″E / 25.282°N 82.9563°E / 25.282; 82.9563
Country  India
State Uttar Pradesh
District Varanasi
Government
 • Mayor Ram Gopal Mohle (BJP)
 • MP Narendra Modi (BJP)
Area
 • Metropolitan City 3,131 km2 (1,209 sq mi)
Elevation 80.71 m (264.80 ft)
Population (2011)
 • Metropolitan City 1,201,815
 • Rank 30th
 • Density 380/km2 (990/sq mi)
 • Metro[1] 1,435,113
Languages
 • Official Hindi, Urdu
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)
PIN 221 001 to** (** area code)
Telephone code 0542
Vehicle registration UP 65
Sex ratio 0.926 (2011) /
Literacy 80.12 (2011)%[2]
Website www.varanasi.nic.in


Clockwise from top: Ahilya Ghat, New Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, Tibetan Temple in Sarnath, Banaras Hindu University, Kashi Vishwanath Temple - Varanasi
Clockwise from top: Ahilya Ghat, New Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, Tibetan Temple in Sarnath, Banaras Hindu University, Kashi Vishwanath Temple
For district, see Varanasi district. For other uses, see Banaras (disambiguation).

Varanasi (वाराणसी) (Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋaːˈraːɳəsi] ( )), also known as بنارس, Benares,[3] Banaras (Banāras [bəˈnaːrəs] ( )) or Kashi (Kāśī [ˈkaːʃi] ( )), is an Indian city on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres (200 mi) 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.[4] 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".[5][not in citation given]

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi, and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] One of the largest residential universities of Asia, the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), is located here.

Etymology

The name Varanasi[9] 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.[10] 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).[12]

In the Rigveda, the city is referred to as Kāśī or Kashi, the luminous city as an eminent seat of learning.[13] 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."[14] The name Kashi may be translated as "City of Light".[15]

History

According to legend, Varanasi was founded by the God Shiva.[16] 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.[17] It is regarded as one of seven holy cities which can provide Moksha:

Ayodhyā, Mathurā, Gayā, Kaśī, Kañchi, Avantikā, Dwārāvatī -- these seven cities should be known as the givers of liberation.

Garuḍa Purāṇa XVI 114[18]

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,[19] placing it among the world's oldest continually inhabited cities.[20][21] 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.[22] 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.[23] Varanasi was also home to Parshva, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara and the earliest Tirthankara accepted as a historical figure in the 8th century BC.[24][25]

Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture.[21] During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BC), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi.[21] 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.[26][27] 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 (3.1 mi) along the western bank of the Ganges.[21][28] 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.[29] 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.[30]

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.[31][32] The city went into decline over some three centuries of Muslim occupation,[28] although new temples were erected in the 13th century after the Afghan invasion.[30] 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.[31] 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";[33] 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.[34] 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.[35]

A Brahmin placing a garland on the holiest spot in the sacred city. A lithograph by James Prinsep, 1832. - Varanasi
A Brahmin placing a garland on the holiest spot in the sacred city. A lithograph by James Prinsep, 1832.
Varanasi, 1883. - Varanasi
Varanasi, 1883.

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.[28][31] The Raja of Poona established the Annapurnamandir and the 200 metres (660 ft) Akbari Bridge was also completed during this period.[36] The earliest tourists began arriving in the city during the 16th century.[37] 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.[28] 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.[38] 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.[37] 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.

Benares riverfront, 1895 - Varanasi
Benares riverfront, 1895

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."[39] 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.[40] 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.[6]

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.[41] 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."[42]

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.

Geography and climate

The Ganges at sunrise at Varanasi - Varanasi
The Ganges at sunrise at Varanasi
The Ganges at dawn (2008) - Varanasi
The Ganges at dawn (2008)
Location in India - Varanasi
Location in India

Varanasi is located in the middle Ganges valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganges, averaging between 50 feet (15 m) and 70 feet (21 m) above the river.[43] It has the headquarters of Varanasi district. By road, Varanasi is located 797 kilometres (495 mi) south-east of New Delhi, 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of Lucknow, 121 kilometres (75 mi) east of Allahabad, and 63 kilometres (39 mi) south of Jaunpur.[44] The "Varanasi Urban Agglomeration" – an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units – covers an area of 112.26 km 2 (approximately 43 mi²).[45] The urban agglomeration is stretched between 82° 56’E – 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N – 25° 23.5’N.[45] Neighbourhoods of the city include Adampura, Kotwali, Jaitpura, Dhupchandi, Chaukaghat, Kail Garh, Guru Nanak Nagar, Chaitganj, Naipokhari, Sigra, Maulvibagh, Siddhagiribagh, Bulanala, Chowk, Bangali Tola, Luxa, Khanna, Gopal Vihar, Giri Nagar, Mahmoorganj, Maheshpur, Bhelpura, Shivala, Anandbagh, Nagwar, Dumraon, Gandhinagar,Bachchhaon, and Gautam Nagar, Lanka Manduadih.[44]

Being located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India, the land is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil.[46] Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of the Ganges and Varuna, and other of the Ganges and Assi, although the latter has always been a rivulet rather than a river. The distance between the two confluences is around 2.5 miles (4.0 km), and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places – a Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a five-mile (8.3 km) journey) ending with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple – as a holy ritual.

Climate

Varanasi experiences a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification: Cwa) with large variations between summer and winter temperatures.[47][48] The dry summer starts in April and lasts until June, followed by the monsoon season from July to October. The temperature ranges between 22 and 46 °C (72 and 115 °F) in the summers. Winters in Varanasi see very large diurnal variations, with warm days and downright cold nights. Cold waves from the Himalayan region cause temperatures to dip across the city in the winter from December to February and temperatures below 5 °C (41 °F) are not uncommon. The average annual rainfall is 1,110 mm (44 in). Fog is common in the winters, while hot dry winds, called loo, blow in the summers.[49] In recent years, the water level of the Ganges has decreased significantly; upstream dams, unregulated water extraction, and dwindling glacial sources due to global warming may be to blame.[50][51]

Climate data for Varanasi
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 19
(67)
24
(76)
31
(87)
37
(98)
38
(100)
36
(97)
32
(90)
31
(88)
31
(88)
31
(87)
27
(81)
22
(71)
29.9
(85.8)
Average low °C (°F) 8
(47)
12
(54)
17
(62)
22
(72)
25
(77)
27
(80)
26
(78)
26
(78)
24
(76)
21
(70)
15
(59)
11
(51)
19.5
(67)
Precipitation mm (inches) 19.3
(0.76)
13.5
(0.531)
10.4
(0.409)
5.4
(0.213)
9.0
(0.354)
100
(3.94)
320.6
(12.622)
260.4
(10.252)
231.6
(9.118)
38.3
(1.508)
12.9
(0.508)
4
(0.16)
1,025.4
(40.37)
Source: [52][53]

Administration

Politics and law

Varanasi is governed by a number of bodies, the most important being the Varanasi Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation) and the Varanasi Development Authority, which is responsible for the master planning of the city. Varanasi is also the constituency from where the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi fought the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections and won.

Healthcare

Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of the Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery lived in Varanasi. The city grew as a place for Authentic Ayurveda and Panchkarma treatment. Many Ayurvedic centres are here.[54] It has several hospitals, Varanasi Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Heritage Hospital, Varanasi, Shiv Prasad Gupta Hospital, Sir Sundar Lal Hospital, Rajkiya Hospital, Mata Anand Mai Hospital, Ram Krishna Mission Hospital, Marwari Hospital, and a Cancer Institute.[55] The largest is Varanasi Hospital, established in 1964 by Dr. Baijnath Prasad.[56] The hospital, which in 2012 had 66 beds, serves Varanasi and surrounding districts and states, many of which rely on it for surgery.[56] Although the hospital suffers from a lack of funding, it has facilities such as X-ray, Ultrasonography, Echocardiography and a Pathology Lab.[56]

The urban portion of Varanasi District had an infant mortality rate of 70 per 1,000 live births in 2010–2011.[57]

Public maintenance

Due to the high population density and increasing number of tourists, the state government and international NGOs and institutions have expressed grave concern for the pollution and pressures on infrastructure in the city, mainly the sewage, sanitation and drainage components.[58] Between 1985 and 1990, the Ganga Action Plan saw a Rs. 430.5 million renovation of five sewage pumping stations along the ghats and the installation of sewage treatment plants.[58] The sewage problem is exacerbated by the role of the Ganges in bathing and in river traffic, which is very difficult to control.[58] Varanasi's water supply and sewage system is maintained by Jal Nigam, a subsidiary of Nagar Nigam. Power supply is by the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited. The city produces about 350 million litres per day[59] of sewerage and 425 tonnes per day of solid waste.[60] The solid wastes are disposed in one landfill site.[61]

Demographics

Religions in Varanasi
Religion Percent
Hindus
  
80%
Muslims
  
18%
Christians
  
0.2%
Jains
  
1.4%
Others†
  
0.4%
Distribution of religions
Includes Sikhs (0.2%), Buddhists (<0.2%).

According to provisional data from the 2011 census, the Varanasi urban agglomeration had a population of 1,435,113, with 761,060 men and 674,053 women.[62]

The population of the Varanasi urban agglomeration in 2001 was 1,371,749m with a ratio of 879 females every 1,000 males.[63] However, the area under Varanasi Nagar Nigam has a population of 1,100,748[64] with a ratio of 883 females for every 1,000 males.[64] The literacy rate in the urban agglomeration is 77% while that in the municipal corporation area is 78%.[64] Approximately 138,000 people in the municipal area live in slums.[65]

Transport

Varanasi Junction, the largest station serving the city - Varanasi
Varanasi Junction, the largest station serving the city

Varanasi is well-connected by air, rail and road. One of the major factors in Varanasi's sustained existence as an inhabited city is its role as an established transportation hub between cities.

Varanasi is served by Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, which is approximately 26 km (16 mi) from the city centre in Babatpur.[66] The airport inaugurated a new terminal in 2010, and it was granted international airport status on October 4, 2012.[67][68] Air India, Buddha Air, Jet Airways, Jet Konnect, IndiGo, and SpiceJet operate flights from Varanasi to Delhi, Gaya, Kathmandu, Khajuraho, Sharjah, Lucknow, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kolkata.[69] Over 330,000 passengers pass through the airport each year.[67]

Varanasi Junction, commonly known as Varanasi Cantt Railway Station, is the city's largest train station; more than 3.6 lakh passengers and 240 trains pass through each day.[70]

Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, which connects it to Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra and Delhi.[44] National Highway 29 connects Varanasi to Gorakhpur via Ghazipur to the northeast. National Highway 56 connects Varanasi to Lucknow via Jaunpur and Sultanpur, to the northwest.[44] National Highway 7, the longest National Highway in India, is the most important road connecting Varanasi to southern India, passing through the cities of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Salem, Madurai, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari.[44] Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available forms of public transport in old city.[71] In the outer regions of the city, buses are common, and taxis are available.[71]

Economy

Banarasi sari - Varanasi
Banarasi sari
Selling chickpeas in Varanasi - Varanasi
Selling chickpeas in Varanasi

Approximately 29% of Varanasi's population is employed.[72] Approximately 40% of those employed work in manufacturing, 26% work in trade and commerce, 19% work in other services, 8% work in transport and communication, 4% work in agriculture, 2% work in construction, and 2% are marginal workers (working for less than half of the year).[73]

Among manufacturing workers, 51% work in spinning and weaving, 15% work in metal, 6% work in printing and publishing, 5% work in electrical machinery, and the rest work in a wide variety of industry sectors.[74] Varanasi's manufacturing industry is not well developed and is dominated by small-scale industries and household production.[72]

Silk weaving is the dominant manufacturing industry in Varanasi.[75] Weaving is typically done within the household, and most weavers are Momin Ansari Muslims.[76] Varanasi is known throughout India for its production of very fine silk and Banarasi saris, brocades with gold and silver thread work, which are often used for weddings and special occasions. The production of silk often uses bonded child labour, though perhaps not at a higher rate than elsewhere in India.[77] The silk weaving industry has recently been threatened by the rise of power looms and computer-generated designs and by competition from Chinese silk traders.[72]

In the metal manufacturing sector, Diesel Locomotive Works is a major employer.[74] Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, a large power equipment manufacturer, also runs a heavy equipment repair plant.[78] Other major commodities manufactured and traded in Varanasi include hand-knotted Mirzapur carpets, rugs, dhurries, brassware, copperware, wooden and clay toys, handicrafts, gold jewellery, and musical instruments.[75] Important agricultural products include betel leaves (for paan), langra mangoes and khoa (solidified milk).[74][79]

DLW manufactured locomotives hauling load across the nation. - Varanasi
DLW manufactured locomotives hauling load across the nation.
Tourists shopping for jewelry in Varanasi - Varanasi
Tourists shopping for jewelry in Varanasi

Tourism is Varanasi's second most important industry.[80] Over 3 million domestic and 200,000 foreign tourists visit annually (in 2005 and 2010, respectively), most commonly for religious reasons.[81][80] Most domestic tourists are from Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh; most foreign tourists are from Sri Lanka and Japan.[82] The peak tourist season falls between October and March.[82] In total, there are around 12,000 beds available in the city, of which about one half are in inexpensive budget hotels and one third in dharamsalas.[83] Overall, Varanasi's tourist infrastructure is not well developed.[83]

The prominent malls and multiplexes in Varanasi are IP Mall in Sigra, IP Vijaya Mall in Bhelupur, PDR in Luxa and JHV Mall in the Varanasi Cantonment area. The city has several banks, including the State Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Andhra Bank, Allahabad Bank, and the Central Bank of India.[84]

Main sights

Ramnagar Fort. - Varanasi
Ramnagar Fort.

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.[85]

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.[86][87] 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.[87] 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 (9 miles) from Varanasi.[86][87]

A view of the Ghat of Varanasi from the River Ganges - Varanasi
A view of the Ghat of Varanasi from the River Ganges

Ghats

Main article: Ghats in Varanasi
Dashashwamedh Ghat - Varanasi
Dashashwamedh Ghat

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".[88] Varanasi has at least 84 ghats.[89][90][91] 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.[92]

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".[21]

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.[90]

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.[90]

Temples

Among the estimated 23,000[17]) 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.[93][94][10]

Kashi Vishwanath temple is the most important temple in Varanasi. - Varanasi
Kashi Vishwanath temple is the most important temple in Varanasi.

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.[94] 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.[95] The temple, as it exists now, also called Golden Temple,[96] 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.[97]

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.[98] 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.[99] It is believed the temple was built on the very spot where the medieval Hindu saint Tulsidas had a vision of Hanuman.[100] 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).[99] After the terrorist incident, a permanent police post was set up inside the temple.[101]

18th century Durga Kund Temple, also known as &quotMonkey temple", overlooking the kund.. - Varanasi
18th century Durga Kund Temple, also known as "Monkey temple", overlooking the kund..

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,[94] 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.[94]

Kalabhairav Temple, an ancient temple located near the Head Post Office at Visheshar Ganj, is dedicated to Kala-Bhairava, the guardian (Kotwal) of Varanasi.[94] 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.[94]

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.[94] 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.[94]

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.[94]

Mosques

In the order of their importance the mosques in Varanasi are the Gyanvapi Mosque, the Alamgiri Mosque, the Ganj-e-Shaheedan Mosque and the Chaukhamba Mosque which cater to the prayer needs of 25% of the Muslim population out of total population of about a 1 million. Muslims have been residing in Varanasi since several generations starting from the rule of the Delhi Sultanate.

Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan

Shri Guru Ravidass Park at Varanasi - Varanasi
Shri Guru Ravidass Park at Varanasi

Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan, Seer Goverdhanpur, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India is called the "Begumpura" and is the ultimate place of pilgrimage or religious headquarters for followers of the Ravidasi religion.[102] It has become a cherished dream of devotees of Guru Ravidass from the world over to pay their obeisance at Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Mandir at Seer Goverdhanpur Varanasi at least once in their life. The foundation stone of this Mandir was laid on Monday the 14 June 1965 on Ashad Sankranti day by Sant Hari Dass, along with a large number of devotees of Dera Ballan, specially deputed by Sant Sarwan Dass for the purpose. Devotees traced the birthplace of Guru Ravidass and temple was built. It is believed that Guru Ravidass used to live and do bhakti at this place. The construction of the temple was completed in 1994. Babu Kanshi Ram, the BSP supremo, performed the ceremonial installation of the golden dome atop the temple. K. R. Narayanan, the then-President of India, performed the opening ceremony of the huge monumental entry gate to the temple, on July 16, 1998.

It is the birthplace of Guru Ravidass. It was this city where two great saints of Bhakti Movement i.e. Satguru Kabir and Satguru Ravidass were born. The Janam Asthan Mandir of Guru Ji at Seer Goverdhanpur, Varanasi has now acquired the status of Begumpura (serenity) for Guru Ji’s followers and has become an Ultimate Place of Pilgrimage for them. Every year during birth anniversary of Guru Ravidass, the Mandir attracts millions of devotees from India and abroad.

Culture

Wall paintings, Varanasi, 1974 - Varanasi
Wall paintings, Varanasi, 1974

Varanasi has an own culture of fine art and literature. Renowned Indian writers have lived in the city: Kabir, Ravidas and Tulsidas, who wrote much of his Ram Charit Manas here, Kulluka Bhatt, who wrote the best known commentary of Manusmṛti here in the 15th century,[103] and Bharatendu Harishchandra. Later writers have included Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Sudama Pandey (Dhoomil) and Vidya Niwas Mishra. Several newspapers and journals are or were published in Varanasi such as Varanasi Chandroday and its successor Kashivartaprakashika, initially a fortnightly, which later became a weekly journal, first published on 1 June 1851.[104]

The main newspaper is Aj, a Hindi-language nationalist newspaper first published in 1920.[105] The newspaper was the bulwark of the Indian National Congress and today is still a major newspaper of Hindi northern India.[105]

Art lovers and historians like Rai Krishnadasa, his son Anand Krishna, musicians Omkarnath Thakur, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Lalmani Misra and his son Gopal Shankar Misra, Thakur Rajbhan Singh, N. Rajam, Anokhelal Mishra, Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna, Kishan Maharaj,Vikash Maharaj,[106] [107]Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Chhannulal Mishra and numerous others have kept the city alive to the spiritual aspect of fine arts in addition to their ability to entertain. Numerous festivals are celebrated that preserve traditional styles of classical and folk culture. All night, open music concerts like those organised at Sankat Mochan Temple, Hori, Kajari, Chaiti Mela, and Budwa Mangal, are annual features that draw connoisseurs from near and far.

Varanasi is the hub of arts and crafts, particularly silks and brocades with gold and silver thread work, carpet weaving (with a carpet-weaving centre at Bhadoi), wooden toys, bangles made of glass, ivory work, perfumes, artistic brass and copper ware and a variety of handicrafts.[108][109] The former cantonment graveyard during British Raj is now the location of Varanasi’s Arts and Crafts.[110]

Religion

People performing Hindu ceremony at Kedar ghats of Varanasi. - Varanasi
People performing Hindu ceremony at Kedar ghats of Varanasi.

Hinduism

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities and centres of pilgrimage for Hindus of all denominations.[111] It is one of the seven Hindu holiest cities (Sapta Puri), considered the giver of salvation (moksha).[112][113] Over 50,000 Brahmins live in Varanasi, providing religious services to the masses.[112] 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.[114]

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.[14] Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the River Ganges itself to be the Goddess Shakti.[115] Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here,[116] leading to the great Hindu revival.

In 2001, Hindus made up approximately 84% of the population of Varanasi District.[117]

Islam

Construction of the Mosque of Aurangzeb near the bank of the Ganges River at Varanasi. - Varanasi
Construction of the Mosque of Aurangzeb near the bank of the Ganges River at Varanasi.

Interwoven within one million Hindus are two hundred and fifty thousand Muslims who have made Varanasi their home since the time of Islamic empires. In 2001, Muslims made up approximately 16% of the population of Varanasi District.[117] Muslims live in the close-knit communities founded in the days of the Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal Empire. The Muslim call to prayer, Azaan, can be heard from the Gyanvapi Mosque five times a day. The other important Mosques in Varanasi include: Alamgiri Mosque, Ganj-e-Shaheedan Mosque and Chaukhamba Mosque.

Jain Ghat, Varanasi. - Varanasi
Jain Ghat, Varanasi.

Others

At the 2001 census, persons of other religions or no religion made up 0.4% of the population of Varanasi District.[117]

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.[118] The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still in existence, though only its foundation remains.[119] Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples in the 5th century.[32] 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.[120] Most dalits are followers of Guru Ravidass. So Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan is important place of pilgrimage for Ravidasis from all around India.[121]

Religious festivals

On Mahashivaratri (February) – which is dedicated to Shiva – a procession of Shiva proceeds from the Mahamrityunjaya Temple to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.[93]

Dhrupad Mela is a five-day musical festival devoted to dhrupad style held at Tulsi Ghat in February–March.[122]

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.[123][124] 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.[93][125][126][127]

The Ramlila of Ramnagar is a dramatic enactment of Rama's legend, as told in Ramacharitamanasa.[6] The plays, sponsored by Kashi Naresh, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[6] On the last day, the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[6] Kashi Naresh Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition around 1830.[6][128]

Bharat Milap celebrates the meeting of Rama and his younger brother Bharata after the return of the former after 14 years of exile.[93] 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.[128]

Krishna standing on serpent Kaliya during Nag Nathaiya festival in Varanasi - Varanasi
Krishna standing on serpent Kaliya during Nag Nathaiya festival in Varanasi

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.[129]

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.[93][122]

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.[citation needed]

Education

Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi is an Institute of National Importance in Varanasi - Varanasi
Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi is an Institute of National Importance in Varanasi

Historically, Varanasi has been an education centre in India, drawing students and scholars from across the country.[130][131] Varanasi has an overall literacy rate of 80% (male literacy: 85%, female literacy: 75%).[62] It is home of a number of colleges and universities. Most notably, it is the site of Banaras Hindu University, which – with over 20,000 students[132] – is one of the largest residential universities in Asia.[133] The Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi is an Institute of National Importance in Varanasi and is one of India's 16 IITs. Other colleges and universities in Varanasi include Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Imania Arabic College, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (at Sarnath),National Seed Research and Training Centre, Varanasi,[134] Jamia Salfia Darul-Islamia, islamic University, Varanasi[135] Kashi Institute of Technology, Varanasi (Kashi IT),[136]Institute of Integrated Management and Technology (IIMT), Udai Pratap Autonomous College, Nav Sadhana Kala Kendra, Harischandra P.G. College, Agrasen Kanya P.G. collage and numerous others. Various other engineering colleges have been set up in the outskirts of the city.

Schools in Varanasi are affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), or the U.P. Board.[citation needed] The overall "state of education in Varanasi is ... not good."[137] Schools in Varanasi vary widely in quality, with private schools outperforming government schools.[137] In government schools, many teachers fail to come to class or to teach children.[137] Some government schools lack basic equipment, such as blackboards and sufficient desks and chairs for all students.[137] Private schools vary in quality, with the most expensive conducting lessons in English (seen as a key to children's success) and having computers in classrooms.[137] Pupils attending the more expensive private schools (with tuition around 300 Rs./month in 2001–2002), tended to come from upper-class families.[137] Lower-cost private schools (with tuition around 50 Rs./month in 2001–2002) attracted children from lower-income families or those lower-income families with higher education aspirations.[137] Government schools tend to serve lower-class children with lower education aspirations.[137]

Music

Main article: Music in Varanasi
Saint Goswami Tulsidas Awadhi Hindi Poet and prorogator of Bhakthi music in Varanasi - Varanasi
Saint Goswami Tulsidas Awadhi Hindi Poet and prorogator of Bhakthi music in Varanasi

Music in Varanasi is linked to the Pauranic legends. Lord Shiva who is reported to have established this city was credited with evolving music and dance forms. In the historical medieval times, when Vaishnava Bhakthi movement was a rage in the country, literature of the times attest to the fact that Kashi was then a famous centre of music. Saint musicians who furthered the musical fame were Surdas, Kabir, Raidas, Meera and Tulsidas, which continues to this day. During the monarchic rule of Govind Chandra in the 16th century, the Dhrupad style of singing received royal patronage and led to other related forms of music such as Dhamar, Hori and Chaturang.[138] In recent times, Girija Devi, the famous classical singer of thumris, who was born here was instrumental in elevating music to a status of respectability and appreciation.[139]

Apart from the vocal music singers, Varanasi is also associated with many great instrumentalists like Ustad Bismillah Khan an iconic Sehnai maestro,[138] Pandit Ravi Shankar, the famous sitar player and musicologist who was given the highest civilian award of the country, the Bharat Ratna.[140]

Sport

Basketball, Cricket and Field hockey are popular in Varanasi.[141] The main stadium in the city is the Sigra Stadium, also known as Dr Sampurnanda Stadium, where first-class cricket matches are held.[142] Local cricket matches are also played on the Banaras Hindu University Ground Dr. Bheeem Rao sports complex Badalalpur is also a measure sports ground of national level.[143]

The Physical Education Faculty of Arts of Banaras Hindu University offers diploma courses in Sports Management, Sports Physiotherapy, Sports Psychology and Sports Journalism.[144]

Gate at Dr Sampurnanda Stadium

Gymnastics is also popular in Varanasi, and many Indian girls practice outdoors at the ghats in the mornings which hosts akhadas, where "morning exercise, a dip in the Ganga and a visit to Lord Hanuman" forms a daily ritual.[145] Despite concerns regarding water quality, two swimming clubs offer swimming lessons in the Ganga.[146]

The Varanasi District Chess Sports Association (VDCSA) is based in Varanasi, affiliated to the regional UP Chess Sports Association (UPCSA).[147] Udai Pratap Autonomous College is also famous for its world class athletes like Prashanti Singh.[148]

Partner and Sister cities

See also

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