Varanasi

Varanasi

Things to do - general

Introduction

The great Hindu city of Varanasi, also known as Banaras or Benares. Varanasi tour is a must on every traveller’s list. Furthermore, it glows golden in the early morning sun. The city is stretched along the crescent of the holy river Ganga. Born in heaven and descended to earth, Varanasi’s waterfront is dominated by long flights of stone steps known as ghats. Literally ‘landings’, where thousands of pilgrims and residents scheme for their daily ritual ablutions. The ghats remain the single major attraction of Varanasi. It does not possess temples or monuments of any antiquity.

About Varanasi

Known to the devout as Kashi, the Luminous. The city of light, founded by Shiva. Also, this city is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Most of all, it has maintained its religious life since the sixth century BC in one continuous tradition. It outlived outside the mainstream of administrative action and traditional evolution of the subcontinent. Furthermore, it stands at the centre of the Hindu universe. The focus of a religious geography that reached from the Himalayan cave of Amarnath in Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India. Puri to the east, and Dwarka to the west. Located next to a ford on an ancient trade route, Varanasi is among the holiest of all tirthas – crossing places.

Life and death go hand in hand in Varanasi. Visit the bathing ghats, smoke rising from the cremation grounds signals the final release of tormented souls from the earthly round of samsara. The unceasing cycles of death and rebirth. According to Hindu beliefs, anyone who dies in Varanasi, on the banks of the river of life, attains instant moksha or enlightenment. Widows and the old come here to seek asylum. To live out their final days. Finding shelter in the temples. At sunrise, flotillas of camera-clicking tourists pursue the ghats in amazement. While the pilgrims and people of Kashi continue their morning rituals without so much as a second glance.

For Photos, go to Mark Itkonen.

Country INDIA
Visa requirements

Indian Visa Online

Languages spokenHindi, English and Bhojpuri
Currency usedIndian Rupee(INR)
Area (km2)1,550 km²

Culture and history info

Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world and a contemporary of Babylon and Nineveh, dates to the 7th century BC. This eternal city, where religion is an integral part of daily life, has drawn saints, poets and pilgrims through the ages. Behind the riverside, ghats are narrow crowded lanes and bazaars, where people jostle with sacred cows, saffron-robed sadhus and devotees making offerings at roadside shrines. Varanasi is also renowned as a centre of Sanskrit learning and Hindu philosophy, attracting scholars and students from all over India. The Banaras Hindu University, established in the early 1900s, perpetuates this tradition.

Sarnath 

To Buddhists, Sarnath is as sacred as Varanasi to Hindus. The Buddha came to the deer park here in 528 BC, to preach the Dharamchakra, or wheel of Law, his first major sermon after gaining enlightenment. Sarnath was then one of ancient India's greatest centres of learning, visited by Chinese travellers Fa-Hsien and Hiuen Tsang who wrote of its flourishing monasteries.

The Central monument of the existing complex is the 5th century AD Dhamekh Stupa, which is built at the site where the Buddha is believed to have delivered his sermon to five disciples. To its West, are the remains of the Dharamarajika stupa, built by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka to preserve Budhha Relics. The Complex also has several smaller monasteries and temples, as well as a Bodhi Tree, planted in 1931. and the statue of Anagarika Dharmapala, the founder of the society that maintained Sarnath and Bodh Gaya.

The Archaeological Museum exhibits a superb collection of Buddhist artefacts. The highlight is the Ashokan Lion Capital in polished sandstone, India's national emblem

Culture and history image
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