Varanasi also known as Benares, Banaras or Kashi is a city on the banks of the river Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, India, 320 kilometres south-east of the state capital, Lucknow, and 121 kilometres east of Allahabad. A major religious hub in India, 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 and Ravidassia. Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, and is served by Varanasi Junction railway station and Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport.
Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BCE when he gave his first sermon, "The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma", at nearby Sarnath. 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. During the Muslim rule through the Middle Ages, the city continued as an important centre of Hindu devotion, pilgrimage, mysticism and poetry which further contributed to its reputation as a centre of cultural importance and religious education. Tulsidas wrote his epic poem on Rama's life called Ram Charit Manas in Varanasi. Several other major figures of the Bhakti movement were born in Varanasi, including Kabir and Ravidas. Guru Nanak visited Varanasi for Maha Shivaratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism.
In the 16th century, Varanasi had a cultural revival under the Mughal emperor Akbar who patronised the city, and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. Much of what is considered modern Varanasi was built during the 18th century, by the Maratha and Bhumihar Brahmin kings. 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. The city is governed by the Varanasi Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation) and is represented in the Parliament of India by the current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, who won the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 by a huge margin. Silk weaving, carpets and crafts and tourism employ a significant number of the local population, as do the Banaras Locomotive Works and Bharat Heavy Electricals. Varanasi Hospital's foundation stone was laid by governor Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi in 1954 and it was inaugurated by president S. Radhakrishnan in 1964.
Varanasi has been a cultural centre of northern India for several thousand years, and is closely associated with the Ganges. Hindus believe that dying here and getting cremated along the banks of the "holy" Ganges river allows one to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation, making it a major centre for pilgrimage. The city is known worldwide for its many ghats, embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions. Of particular note are the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat, and the Harishchandra Ghat, the last two being where Hindus cremate their dead. The Hindu genealogy registers at Varanasi are kept here.
The Ramnagar Fort, near the eastern bank of the Ganges, was built in the 18th century in the Mughal style of architecture, featuring carved balconies, open courtyards, and scenic pavilions. Among the estimated 23,000 temples in Varanasi are Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva, the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, and the Durga Temple. The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi, and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The city has long been an educational and musical centre: many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in the city, and it was the place where the Benares gharana form of Hindustani classical music was developed. One of Asia's largest residential universities is Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Shiva, one of three principal deities along with Brahma and Vishnu. During a fight between Brahma and Shiva, one of Brahma's five heads was torn off by Shiva. As was the custom, the victor carried the slain adversary's head in his hand and let it hang down from his hand as an act of ignominy, and a sign of his own bravery. A bridle was also put into the mouth. Shiva thus dishonoured Brahma's head, and kept it with him at all times. When he came to the city of Varanasi in this state, the hanging head of Brahma dropped from Shiva's hand and disappeared in the ground. Varanasi is therefore considered an extremely holy site.
The Pandavas, the protagonists of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, are said to have visited the city in search of Shiva to atone for their sin of fratricide and Brāhmanahatya that they had committed during the climactic Kurukshetra War. It is regarded as one of seven holy cities (Sapta Puri) which can provide Moksha; Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Kashi, Kanchi, Avanti, and Dvārakā are the seven cities known as the givers of liberation. The princesses Ambika and Ambalika of Kashi were wed to the Hastinapur ruler Vichitravirya, and they later gave birth to Pandu and Dhritarashtra. Bhima, a son of Pandu, married a Kashi princess Valandhara and their union resulted in the birth of Sarvaga, who later ruled Kashi. Dhritarasthra's eldest son Duryodhana also married a Kashi princess Bhanumati, who later bore him a son Lakshman Kumara and a daughter Lakshmanaa.
How to Reach
Varanasi is served by Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport , which is approximately 26 km from the city centre in Babatpur. The airport's new terminal was inaugurated in 2010, and it was granted international airport status on 4 October 2012. Air India, Air India Express, Buddha Air, IndiGo, Malindo Air, SpiceJet, SriLankan Airlines, Thai AirAsia, Thai Smile and Vistara operate flights from Varanasi to Ahmedabad, Bangkok, Colombo, Delhi, Gaya, Kathmandu, Khajuraho, Sharjah, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Goa, Guwahati, Jaipur, Kolkata and several other cities.
Over 3,010,702 passengers passed through the airport in 2019–20, making it the 20th busiest airport in India. The total aircraft movement for the session 2019–20 was 24,056 while cargo tonnage equalled 3,580. Total footfall of the international passengers for the session 2019–20 was 231,730.
Varanasi Junction, commonly known as Varanasi Cantt Railway Station, is the city's largest train station. More than 360,000 passengers and 240 trains pass through each day. Manduadih railway station is also a Terminal station of Varanasi. Because of huge rush at Varanasi Junction the railway developed the station as a high facilitated terminal.Varanasi City railway station is also one of the railway stations in Varanasi district. It is 4 km North-East of Varanasi Junction railway station. It serves as Terminal station because of heavy rush at Varanasi Junction. Mughalsarai Junction railway station is also the important station in Varanasi suburban.
Some important express trains operating from the Varanasi Junction railway station and Manduadih railway station are: Shiv Ganga Express runs between New Delhi Junction and Manduadih station while Mahamana Express runs between Varanasi junction and New Delhi Junction; the Udhna Varanasi Express that runs between Udhna (Surat) junction and Varanasi, a distance of 1,398 kilometres, the Kashi Vishwanath Express that runs between Varanasi and New Delhi railway station; the Kanpur Varanasi InterCity express, also called Varuna express, which runs over a distance of 355 kilometres and connects with Lucknow (the capital city of Uttar Pradesh) and Varanasi; and the Sabarmati Express which runs between Varanasi and Ahmedabad. Vande Bharat Express, a semi-high speed train was launched in the month of February in 2019 in the Delhi-Varanasi route. The train reduced the time travel between the two cities by 15 percent as compared to the Shatabdi Express.
Varanasi Junction, is the main railway station which serves Varanasi.
Manduadih Railway Station at night Varanasi has following railway stations within the city suburbs:
Auto rickshaws and E-rickshaws are the most widely available forms of public transport in the old city. In the outer regions of the city, taxis are available. Daily commuters prefer city buses, which operate on specific routes of urban and suburban areas. The city buses are operated by Varanasi City Transport Service Limited. Nearly, 120 buses are operated by Varanasi City Transport Service Limited. The following National Highways pass through Varanasi.
The Jantar Mantar observatory, constructed in 1737, is located above the ghats along the Ganges, and is adjacent to the Manmandir and Dasaswamedh Ghats and near the palace of Jai Singh II of Jaipur. While less equipped than the observatories at Jaipur and Delhi, the Jantar Mantar has a unique equatorial sundial which is functional and allows measurements to be monitored and recorded by one person.
The Ramnagar Fort, located near the Ganges on its eastern bank and opposite the Tulsi Ghat, was built in the 18th century by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with cream-coloured chunar sandstone. The fort is a typical example of the Mughal architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and scenic pavilions. At present, the fort is in disrepair. The fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares. Cited as an "eccentric" museum, it contains a rare collection of American vintage cars, bejewelled sedan chairs, an impressive weaponry hall, and a rare astrological clock. In addition, manuscripts, especially religious writings, are housed in the Saraswati Bhawan which is a part of a museum within the fort. Many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style 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 Ghats in Varanasi are world-renowned embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions. The ghats are an integral complement to the Hindu concept of divinity represented in physical, metaphysical, and supernatural elements. Varanasi has at least 84 ghats, most of which are used for bathing by pilgrims and spiritually significant Hindu puja ceremony, while a few are used exclusively as Hindu cremation sites. Steps in the ghats lead to the banks of 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 Hindu legends and several are now privately owned.
Many of the ghats were constructed under the patronage of the Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwas. Most are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. A morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular tourist attraction. The extensive stretches of ghats in Varanasi enhance the riverfront with a multitude of shrines, temples, and palaces built "tier on the tier above the water's edge".
The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main and probably the oldest ghat of Varanasi located on the Ganges, close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is believed that Brahma created this ghat to welcome Shiva and sacrificed ten horses during the Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed there. Above and adjacent to this ghat, there are also temples dedicated to Sulatankesvara, Brahmesvara, Varahesvara, Abhaya Vinayaka, Ganga (the Ganges), and Bandi Devi, which are all important pilgrimage sites. A group of priests performs "Agni Pooja" (Sanskrit: "Worship of Fire") daily in the evening at this ghat as a dedication to Shiva, Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the entire universe. Special aartis are held on Tuesdays and on religious festivals.
The Manikarnika Ghat is the Mahasmasana, the primary site for Hindu cremation in the city. Adjoining the ghat, there are raised platforms that are used for death anniversary rituals. According to a myth, it is said that an earring of Shiva or his wife Sati fell here. 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 throughout its existence.
The Jain Ghat is believed to birthplace of Suparshvanatha (7th Tirthankara) and Parshvanatha (23rd tirthankara). The Jain Ghat or Bachraj Ghat is a Jain Ghat and has three Jain Temples located on the banks of the River. It is believed that the Jain Maharajas used to own these ghats. Bachraj Ghat has three Jain temples near the river's banks, and one them is a very ancient temple of Tirthankara Suparswanath.
Among the estimated 23,000 temples in Varanasi, the temples most popular for worship are: the Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva; the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple; and the Durga Temple, known for monkeys that reside in the large trees nearby.
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple, on the Ganges, is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga Shiva temples in Varanasi. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its existence. The Gyanvapi Mosque, which is adjacent to the temple, is the original site of the temple. The temple, which is also known as the Golden Temple, was built in 1780 by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore. The two pinnacles of the temple are covered in gold and were donated in 1839 by Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab. The dome is scheduled to receive gold plating through a proposed initiative of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs of Uttar Pradesh. Numerous rituals, prayers, and aartis are held daily at the temple between 02:30 and 23:00.
The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, which is situated by the Asi River, is one of the sacred temples of the Hindu god Hanuman. The present temple was built in the early 1900s by the educationist and Indian independence figure, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University. According to Hindu legend the temple was built on the spot where the medieval Hindu saint Tulsidas had a vision of Hanuman. During a 7 March 2006 terrorist attack, one of three explosions hit the temple while a wedding was in progress, and resulted in injuries to 30 people apart from 23 deaths. Following the attack, a permanent police post was installed inside the temple.
There are two temples dedicated to the goddess Durga in Varanasi: Durga Mandir built in the 16th century (exact date not known), and Durga Kund (Sanskrit 'kund' meaning "pond or pool") built in the 18th century. A large number of Hindu devotees visit Durga Kund during Navratri to worship the goddess Durga. The temple, built in the Nagara architectural style, has multi-tiered spires 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). During annual celebrations 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 nearby to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, is dedicated to Annapoorna devi, the goddess of food, the Sankatha Temple adjacent to the Sindhia Ghat is dedicated to Sankatha, the goddess of remedy. The Sankatha Temple has a large sculpture of a lion and a cluster of nine smaller temples dedicated to the nine planets.
Parshvanath Jain temple is the temple of Jain religion dedicated to Parshvanath, the 23rd Thirthankara who was born at Bhelpur in Varanasi. The idol deified in the temple is of black colour and 75 centimetres (30 inches) in height. It is located in Bhelapur about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from the centre of Varanasi city and 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) from the Benares Hindu University. It belongs to the Digambar sect of Jainism and is a holy tirtha or pilgrimage centre for Jains.
Other temples of note are: the Bharat Mata Mandir, dedicated to the national personification of India, which was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, the Kalabhairav Temple, the Mrithyunjay Mahadev Temple, and the New Vishwanath Temple located in the campus of BHU, the Tulsi Manas Mandir.
On the bank of Khajur Sagar or Ninora Tal near the village stands the Brahma Temple. It is simple in plan and design with its body in granite stone and shikhare and made in sandstone. in the sanctum is now enshrined a four faced image of Brahma, hence it is called the Brahma temple. Originally this temple must have been dedicated to Lord Vishnu, as it is clear from his figure carved centrally on the lintel of the sanctum doorway.
The largest, most typical Khajuraho temple, it soars 31 m high. Dedicated to shiva, the sanctum sanctorum enshrines a lingam. The main shrine is exquisitely carved and features, in delicate detail, gods, goddesses, celestial maidens and lovers. Particularly noteworthy are the entrance arch, the ceilings and pillars of the interior compartments.
The only granite temple and the earliest surviving shrine of the group (900 A.D.), it is dedicated to Kali. Only 35 of the orginal 65 shrines remain. Another Kali temple (originally dedicated to Vishnu) is the Devi Jagdambe Temple.
The lintel over the entrance of this beautiful Vaishnavite temple shows the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with Lakshmi, Vishnu's idol of Vishnu's incarnations, Narasimha and Varaha. This boar incarnation also appears in a nine-feet high statue at the Varaha Temple.
Still a living place of worship, the temple is dedicated to shiva, has an eight feet high lingam, and is outside the precincts of the Western Group.
Dulah Deo Temple
This finest temple at Khajuraho also called Kunwar Math offers some of the choicest sculptures especially the Shalbhanjika. It is a fully developed temple measuring 21 m by 12 m (69 ft. by 40 ft.) with the ardhamanadap, the mandapa, the maha mandapa, the antarala and the garbha griha with no circumambulatory passage. The ceiling of the maha mandap is a series of diminishing circles of overlapping stones. There is an image of Shiva on the lintel of the entrance to the garbh griha indicating that the temple was originally dedicated to Lord Shiva
The sanctum today enshrines a shivlingam. The superstructure is in the traditional style, with several subsidiary shikhars clustering around the central shikhara. in this temple also, apart from the othr various sculptures inside the temple, the outer walls of the temple are decorated with three bands f sculptres. "The masters of Dulhadeo temple worked on a high level of inspiration", remarks Stella Kramrisch. "indeed, whether oe examines the 'superb grace and elegance' of the Shalbhanjika-bracket capitals of the mahamandap, or the glory of the breathing bodies of apsaras on the pilasters of the ardhamandapa or again the squat forms of the living four armed ganas which provide the contrasting elements the ugly against the lovely-the masterly touch is ever apparent.
The outside ornamentation is equally rich. Specially noteworthy are the vidyadhar which occupy the highest of the three bands of sculptures. The images of these wizards are carved flying singly and flying in pairs with their consorts. They carry weapons and garlands, brandish swords, play on musical instruments, carry dance in their hands, flight in their legs, and sentiment of detachment on their faces. Their form is of the purest medieval cast, on the high level of serenity". A few extra ordinary erotic couples(mathunas), including one or two of the most embarrassing variety, provide that essential ingredient present in Khajuraho's greater temples tha putting stamp of excellence on this temple.
Three kilometers south of Khajuraho, in the village of Jatkari lie the two temples now in ruins. One of them is a Shiva temple enshrining a marble ligham. The other one enshries a 3.3 m (11 ft.) high image of Chatturbhuja (Vishnu) in the sanctum with an expression of transcendental calm and bliss on its face.
Over the lintel of the doorway are carved exquisite figures of Brahama, Vishnu and Mahesh. It is a nirandhara temple of a modes tsize similar to Javeri in plan and design consisting of a sanctum, mandapa and an entrance porch. The shikhara of the temple is plain. There are three bands of scuolptures on the jangha of the temple. The temple is an earlier and smaller version of the Duladeo temple and can be assigned to circa 1100.