Varanasi, city of Shiva, on the bank of the sacred Ganges is one of the holiest places in India. Hindu pilgrims came to bathe in the waters of the Ganges, a ritual which washes away all sins. The city is an auspicious place to die, since dying here offers moksha – liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
It’s a magical city where the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public on the city’s famous ghats (which are steps leading to the Ganges). It’s this accessibility to the practices of an ancient religious tradition that captivates so many visitors.
In the past, it is called Kashi and Benares, but its present name is restoration of an ancient name meaning the city between two rivers – the Varuna and Assi.
Varanasi has been a center of learning and civilization for over 2,000 years and claims to be one of the oldest living cities in the world.
“Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together,” according to Mark Twain.
The first historical event known about Varanasi occurred between 1400 and 1000 BC when the Kasis (an Aryan tribe in northern India) settled in the Ganges Valley , near present-day Varanasi.
The city became a great Hindu centre and the Kasis were eventually absorbed into the Kasala kingdom, which was in turn incorporated into the great empire of Magadha, ruled from modern-day Patna.
Around the 8h century AD, Varanasi went through a revival period with the appearance of Shankaracharya, a reformer of Hinduism who established Shiva worship as the principal sect in the Hindu religion.
Varanasi’s principal attraction is the long string of ghats that line the westernbank of the Ganges. Most are used for bathing but there are also several “burning ghats” where bodies are cremated.
There are around 100 ghats in Varanasi, but Dasaswamedh Ghat is probably the most convenient starting point. A short boat trip from Dasaswamedh to Manikarnika Ghat can be an interesting introduction to the river.
The Assi Ghat is one of the five special ghats which pilgrims are supposed to bathe at in sequence during the ritual route called Panchatirthi Yatra.
Mansarowar Ghat was built by Raja Man Singh of Amber and named after the Tibetan lake at the foot of Mount Kailash, Shiva’s Himalayan home.
Someswar or Lord of the Moon Ghat is said to be able to heal diseases. The name of Dasaswamedh Ghat indicates that Brahma sacrificed ten horses here.
The Meer Ghat leads to the Nepalese Temple, which has erotic sculptures.
The Ganges River or Great Mother as it is known to Hindus, provides millions of Indians with an important link to their spirituality. Around 60,000 people go down to the ghats to take a holy dip everyday along a 7km area of the river. There are 30 sewers continuously discharging into the river.
It took us three (3) hours to reach the place from New Delhi. Thousands of people were lined up when we arrived at the River. We took a boat ride for almost one (1) hour.
Then the guide brought us to have a glimpse of the city. The place appear messy as cows are considered holy animals and they are allowed to stay wherever they want. They even emit fecal matters at various places. This explains the popular expression “sacred cows” to probably denote privileged individuals.
The following day we went to Sarnath, which is situated 10 kilometers northeast of Varanasi. Buddhism came to the place to preach his message of the middle way to nirvana after he achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya.
Ashoka later erected magnificent stupas and monasteries. Dhamekh Stupa is a 34-meter stupa. We saw also the Main Shrine and the Ashoka Pillar.
Ashoka is said to have meditated in the Shrine and the Pillar.
In the evening, I bought souvenirs of Hindu angel and an ethnic tribe.
Thank you Lord for this trip.