Varanasi, the holy city of India, is also known by the name of Kashi and Benaras. Varanasi is the most popular pilgrimage point for the Hindus. One of the seven holiest cities, Varanasi city is also one the Shakti Peethas and one of the twelve Jyotir Linga sites in India. In Hinduism it is believed that those who die and are cremated here get an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and re-births.
Considered as the abode of Lord Shiva, Varanasi is situated on the banks of River Ganges, which is believed to have the power of washing away all of one’s sins. As pundits here will tell you, whatever is sacrificed and chanted here or given in charity reaps its fruits thousand times more than those good deeds performed at other places because of the power of that place.
Places to Visit in Varanasi
Varanasi is the oldest city of the world. Varanasi is more than 3000 years old and is famous as the city of temples.. Jyotirlinga Visvanatha Temple or Golden Temple, rebuilt in 1776, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Jnana Vapi well (meaning ‘Well of Wisdom) is believed to have been dug by Lord Shiva himself. It is believed that the majestic Alamgir mosque has replaced one of the most ancient shrines known as the temple of Bindu Madhava. The thirty-three hundred million shrines fill one with awe and wonder with sheer numbers.
Ghats of Ganga are perhaps the holiest spots of Varanasi. The Ganga Ghats at Varanasi are full of pilgrims who flock to the place to take a dip in the holy Ganges, which is believed to absolve one from all sins. There is a great tradition of Yatras in the holy city of Kashi and the most sacred path is that of Panchkoshi Parikrama, the fifty-mile path with a radius of five miles that cover 108 shrines along the way, with Panchakoshi Temple as its main shrine.
There are number of temples on the bank of the Ganga river in Varanasi. It is believed that people are cleansed physically, mentally and spiritually at Ganga Ghats. It is at the Ganga Ghats where we see life and death together. For thousands of years people have been thronging these Ghats to offer their morning prayers to the rising sun. There are more than 100 ghats along side Ganga in Varanasi. Some of the prominent and popular Ghats at Varanasi are the Dasaswamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Harischandra Ghat, Kabir Ghat and Assi Ghat.
Other popular pilgrimage route is Nagara Pradakshina, which covers seventy-two shrines along the way. Since time immemorial Varanasi is a great center of learning. The holy city has been a symbol of spiritualism, philosophy and mysticism for thousands of years and has produced great saints and personalities like Guatama Buddha, Mahavira, Kabir, Tulsi Das, Shankaracharaya, Ramanuja and Patanjali.
The Alamgir Mosque, blend of the Hindu and Mughal styles of the architecture, is another important attraction of Varanasi. Some of the most important temples of Varanasi are Durga temple, Vishwanath temple, Sankat Mochan temple, Tulsi Manas temple and the Bharat Mata temple. The Bharat Mata Temple houses a huge relief map of the whole of Indian subcontinent and Tibetan plateau. Other attractions of Varanasi are the Benaras Hindu University (BHU), the Archaeological Museum, Sarnath, Bharat Kala Bhavan and the Buddhist Stupas and temples at Sarnath.
Excursions in Varanasi
There are a number of historical and religious places and towns around Varanasi that are worth visiting. Some of the important and famous are Sarnath, Chunar, Jaunpur, Kaushambi, Kushinagar and Vindhaychal. Sarnath is about 10 km from Varanasi and is famous for being the place where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon after getting enlightenment. Sarnath is an important pilgrimage place for the Buddhists as it was here that the wheel of dharma was set in motion. Sarnath also boasts of a number of monuments and edifices ranging from the Ashokan period to the 12th century.
Chunar is about 40 km from Varanasi and is known for the Chunar fort. The Chunar fort looks beautiful upon the Kaimur Hills that provides a fantastic view of the meandering Ganga River. This is the same ‘Churnargarh’, on which the famous Hindi classical novelist Devinandan Khatri based his renowned work ‘Chandrakanta’. Another important and historical place around Varanasi is Jaunpur. The Tughlaq ruler, Feroz Shah built Jaunpur in 1360. It was built to guard the eastern frontier of the kingdom. The town still has some of the beautiful monuments of that period.
is about 90 km from Varanasi and is one of the several Shaktipeeths in India, which is believed to be the abode of Goddess Durga. Besides these cities and towns, one may also visit the Kaimoor Wildlife Sanctuary spread over an area of 500 sq km and the Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary. Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in the Chandauli district and has rich flora and fauna. Kushinagar is yet another important excursion point around Varanasi. Lord Buddha breathed his last at kushinagar.