A Brief History
Standing on the western bank of India’s holiest river Ganges, Varanasi is the oldest surviving city of the world and the cultural capital of India. It is in the heart of this city that there stands in its fullest majesty the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in which is enshrined the Jyotirlinga of Shiva, Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha. Here gravitate the teeming millions of India to seek benediction and spiritual peace by the darshan of this Jyotirlinga which confers liberation from the bondages of maya and the inexorable entanglements of the world. A simple glimpse of the Jyotirlinga is a soul-cleansing experience that transforms life and puts it on the path of knowledge and bhakti. Vishweshwara Jyotirlinga has a very special and unique significance in the spiritual history of India. Tradition has it that the merits earned by the darshan of other jyotirlinga scattered in various parts of India accrue to devotee by a single visit to Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Deeply and intimately implanted in the Hindu mind, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple has been a living embodinent of our timeless cultural traditions and highest spiritual values. The Temple has been visited by all great saints- Adi Shankaracharya, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekanand, Goswami Tulsidas, Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, Gurunanak and several other spiritual personalities. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple attracts visitors not only from India but abroad as well and thereby symbolises man’s desire to live in peace snd harmony with one another. Vishwanath being a supreme repository of this spiritual truth thus strengthens the bonds of universal brotherhood and fellow feeling at the national as well as global levels. On January 28, 1983 the Temple was taken over by the Govt. of Uttar Pradesh and it’s management ever since stands entrusted to a Trust with Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh. Former Kashi Naresh, as president and an Executive Committee with Divisional Commissioner as Chairman.
The Shiva temple has been mentioned in Puranas including Kashi Khanda (section) of Skanda Purana. In 11th century A.D., Hari Chandra reconstructed the temple. Muhammad Ghori destroyed it along with other temples of Varanasi during his raid in 1194. Reconstruction of the temple started soon after. This was demolished by Qutb-ud-din Aybak. After Aybak’s death the temple was again rebuilt. In 1351 it was destroyed again by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. The temple was rebuilt in 1585 by Todar Mal, the Revenue Minister of Akbar’s Court. Aurangzeb ordered its demolition in 1669 and constructed Gyanvapi Mosque, which still exists alongside the temple. Traces of the old temple can be seen behind the mosque. The current temple was built by Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780.The temple spire and the dome are plated with 1000 kg of gold donated by the mighty Jat Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, in 1835. In the year 1785 a Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the then Collector Mohd. Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings. In 1839, Two domes of the Temple were covered by gold donated by Punjab Kesari Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. Third dome but was remained uncovered, Ministry of cultures & Religious affairs of U.P. Govt. took keen interest for gold plating of third dome of Temple.
Sri Kasi Viswanath – God for Salvation
The temple structure
The temple complex consists of a series of smaller shrines, located in a small lane called the Vishwanatha Galli, near the river. The linga the main deity at the shrine is 60 cm tall and 90 cm in circumference housed in a silver altar. There are small temples for kal BHAIRO, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri in the complex. There is a small well in the temple called the Jnana Vapi (the wisdom well) and it is believed that the Jytorlinga was hidden in the well to protect it at the time of invasion. It is said that the main deity of the temple had jumped in the well with the Shiv Ling in order to protect the (Jyoti-r)Ling from the invaders.
Importance of the temple
A visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganga is believed to lead one on a path to Moksha (liberation). Thus, people from all over the nation, try to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. There is also a tradition that one should give up at least one desire after a pilgrimage the temple, and the pilgrimage would also include a visit to the temple at Rameswaram in South India, where people take the water samples of Ganga to perform prayer at the temple and bring back the sand from near that temple. Due to the immense popularity and holiness of this temple, hundreds of temples across the nation have been built with the same style and architecture.
India’s Prime minister Dr.Manmohan singh’s visit to Sri Kasi Viswanath Temple
Climate of Varanasi
Situated in Uttar Pradesh, in northern part of India, Varanasi is located on the banks of the holy river, Ganges. During summers, weather can be as hot as 45° C and humid too as Varanasi lies at the Tropic of cancer. Torrential rains and high humidity accompanies the monsoons that usually come in late June or early July for about two months. Delicious and juicy mangoes offer little relief from the sweating weather. On the other hand, winters are pleasant and temperature dips down to about 7°C. In Varanasi, the climatic conditions are most favorable for the tourists between October to April. For those who are ready to face a sun and don’t mind the odor of sweat, Varanasi is a place to visit all the year round.
Eateries in Varanasi
Just like its rich culture and lifestyle, Varanasi is equally famous for its rich variety of foods and cuisines. The sumptuous and delicious but tangy and spicy North Indian food and snacks are the best options to try at Varanasi. However, one can get good Chinese, Italian, Continental and South-Indian food too. There are good number of Byzantine eateries and restaurants in the cities where one can explore for the food that suits one’s tastes. The wide variety of mouth-watering sweets and ‘chatpate’ snacks are just not to be missed.
There is ‘paapri-chaat’, which plays with your taste buds with its tangy and spicy flavor of ginger and tamarind chutney and the cooling and soothing yoghurt. While talking about the specialties of Benarasi flavors, who can ever forget the sour and sweet ‘Langda aam’, a variety of mango available in summers and the fragrant ‘Benarasi paan’ that is often added with aromatic essences such as that of rose and ‘supari’ (areca-nut) along with other goodies. Chewing this ‘paan’ seems to be a part of the cultural identity of the people of Varanasi. One can find some good Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Continental, Mexican, Greek and vegetarian South-Indian cuisine and snacks and sweets offers to eat to your fill in the old city or Godaulia, Cantonment area and near Railway Station or Lahurabir area.
Varanasi or Kashi is older than traditions. Varanasi presents a unique combination of physical, metaphysical and supernatural elements. According to the Hindu mythology, Varanasi liberates soul from human body to the ultimate. It is the Ganga Ghats of Varanasi that complement the concept of divinity. 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 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.
Festivals of Varanasi
Varanasi is the most popular pilgrimage place for the Hindus. The rich cultural heritage and tradition of Varanasi makes it the cultural capital of India. For ages, Varanasi has been a center of learning of Indian philosophy, spiritualism, mysticism and other branches of education. Varanasi is essentially a melting pot of Indian culture. In Hindu religion, it is believed that one, who dies and is cremated at Varanasi, gets an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and re-births. Being associated with Hindu traditions and religion, Varanasi is home to numerous temples, muths and Ashrams.
By virtue of its religious and cultural importance, Varanasi is abuzz with fairs and festivals all round the year. Almost every month, some important festival is celebrated in Varanasi. Besides festivals and holidays, many “Melas” or fairs are also held at Varanasi. At Varanasi, fairs and festivals are celebrated with traditional gaiety and fervor and are symbolic of celebration of life at its best. The festive atmosphere never seems to end in Varanasi. It’s not important to make itinerary according to the dates and months as one can come and enjoy the festive season of Varanasi anytime of the year!
River Ganga or the Ganges is a major river of the Indian subcontinent, associated in myth and reality with the land and people of India as well as neighboring countries like Bangladesh. In Hinduism, the river Ganga is personified as Goddess and holds an important place in the Hindu religion. In Hindu mythology, it is believed that bathing in the river Ganga causes the remission of sins and facilitates the attainment of salvation or nirvana. This deep-rooted truth is proved by the fact that people travel from distant places to immerse the ashes of their kin in the waters of the Ganga at Varanasi or other places located on the banks of this holy river. Some of these sacred places, located on the Ganga, are Varanasi, Haridwar and Prayag (Allahabad).The first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, aptly summarized the importance of River Ganga in the hearts of the Indians, in general, and Hindus, in particular.
“The Ganga, especially, is the river of India, beloved of her
people, round which are intertwined her memories, her hopes
and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her
defeats. She has been a symbol of India’s age-long culture
and civilization, ever changing, ever flowing, and yet ever
the same Ganga”
Art & Culture of Varanasi
The art and culture of Varanasi is unique. It is the rich cultural tradition of Varanasi that makes it the cultural capital of India. A combination of archaeology, mythology, geography, art and history makes Varanasi a great center of Indian culture. Though Varanasi is associated mainly with Hinduism and Buddhism but one can find glimpse of many religious beliefs, types of worship and religious institutions at Varanasi. It is amazing to see the primitive worship cults being practiced at Varanasi.
Varanasi presents a complete museum of Indian art and culture. At Varanasi one can feel the changing patterns and movements in course of history. It has a rich and unique style of art forms and folk art. For centuries, Varanasi has produced master craftsmen and earned name and fame for its beautiful Sarees, handicrafts, textiles, toys, ornaments, metal work, clay and woodwork and other crafts.
Since ancient times, Varanasi has been the Capital of all knowledge (sarva Vidya ki Rajdhani). Varanasi has produced numerous famous scholars and intellectuals, who have left their mark in respective fields of activity. Varanasi is home to numerous universities, college, schools, Madarsas and Pathshalas and the Guru Shishya tradition still continue in many institutions. The literary tradition of languages, dialects, newspapers, magazines and libraries continue to even this day.
Varanasi presents a unique social and cultural fabric. Cultural and linguist pluralism and various ethnic groups are so very eternal to the holy city, Varanasi. At Varanasi one gets to explore the city of affluence, intellectuals, oral traditions, castes and customs, personalities, professions and communal harmony. There is another interesting facet to Varanasi, where one gets to enjoy Benarasi pans, Thandai, Gamcha, Bahri Alang and Mauj Masti.
Music, drama and entertainment are all synonymous with Varanasi. Benaras has long been famous for its music, both vocal and instrumental and has its own dance traditions. Add to this, Varanasi has a very rich stock of folk music and drama (esp. Ramlila), fairs and festival and the rich tradition of akharas, games and sports. All these combine together to give a distinct look to the city of moksha, Varanasi.
How To reach Varanasi
Varanasi is the cultural capital of India and the melting pot of Indian civilization. Varanasi or Benaras has a well-developed transport network and is well connected to all the major Indian cities and states by air, road and rail.
Varanasi is well connected and accessible to major Indian cities and tourist spots. There are daily domestic flights to and from Varanasi to several cities in India. Apart from the state owned Indian Airlines, there are many private air taxi operators that offer their services from Varanasi to other Indian cities. In fact, the daily flights on Delhi-Agra-Khajuraho-Varanasi route are quite popular among the tourists.
Since Varanasi lies in the heartland of the North Indian plains, it is well connected to Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and other parts of India. There are two railway stations in Varanasi, the Kashi Junction and the Varanasi Junction (also known as Varanasi Cantonment). Rajdhani Express from Delhi or from Calcutta passes through Varanasi too. One can also catch trains from Mughalsarai, just 10 km south of Varanasi.
Situated in the flat Ganga plains, Varanasi has a good network of roads. frequent public and private buses and road transport to all the major towns of Uttar Pradesh and nearby areas.