Spiritual Capital of India
Varanasi, or Benaras, (also known as Kashi) is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi`s Prominence in Hindu mythology is virtually unrevealed. Mark Twain, the English author and literature, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Benaras, once wrote : "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together" . According to the ‘Vamana Purana’, the Varuna and the Assi rivers originated from the body of the primordial Person at the beginning of time itself. The tract of land lying between them is believed to be ‘Varanasi’, the holiest of all pilgrimages. The word ‘Kashi’ originated from the word ‘Kas’ which means to shine. Steeped in tradition and mythological legacy, Kashi is the ‘original ground ‘ created by Shiva and Parvati, upon which they stood at the beginning of time. Varanasi is the microcosm of Hinduism, a city of traditional classical culture, glorified by myth and legend and sanctified by religion , it has always attracted a large number of pilgrims and worshippers from time immemorial. To be in Varanasi is an experience in itself an experience in self–discover an eternal oneness of the body and soul. To every visitor; Varanasi offers a breathtaking experience. The rays of the dawn shimmering across the Ganges, the high-banks, the temples and shrines along the banks bathed in a golden hue soul stirring hymns and mantras alongwith the fragrance of incense filling the air and the refreshing dip in the holy waters gently splashing at the Ghats. Varanasi – the land where experience and discovery reach the ultimate bliss. Varanasi is also renowned for its rich tapestry of music, arts, crafts and education. Some of the world renowned exponents India has produced in these fields were schooled in Varanasi’s cultural ethos. Luminaries apart, Varanasi abounds in the art of silk weaving, an exotic work of art which manifests itself in precious Banarasi Silk Sarees and Silk brocades which are cherished as collector’s items across the world today.
GHATS OF VARANASI
Ghats in Varanasi are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the River Ganges. The city has 87 ghats Most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony ghats, while a few are used exclusively as cremation sites. Most Varanasi ghats were built after 1700 AD, when the city was part of Maratha Empire. The patrons of current ghats are Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwas. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. Morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular visitors attraction.
Dashashwamedh Ghat Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses, during Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat "Agni Pooja" (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.
Manikarnika Ghat Two legends are associated with Manikarnika Ghat.[ According to one, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu dug a pit with his Chakra and filled it with his perspiration while performing various penances. While Lord Shiva was watching Lord Vishnu at that time, the latter's earring ("manikarnika") fell into the pit. According to the second legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of the Ganges. Goddess Parvati's idea behind the fib was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings. According to ancient texts, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat. Hindu cremations customarily take place here, though a majority of dead bodies are taken for cremation to the Manikarnik Ghat. According to other sources that Manikarnik Ghat is named after Jhansi ki Rani Laxmibhai.
Scindia Ghat Scindia Ghat also known as Shinde Ghat borders Manikarnika to the north, with its Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the river as a result of excessive weight of the ghat’s construction about 150 years ago. Above the ghat, several of Kashi’s most influential shrines are located within the tight maze of alleys of Siddha Kshetra (Field of Fulfillment). According to tradition, Agni, the Hindu God of Fire was born here. Hindu devotees propitiate at this place Vireshwara, the Lord of all heroes, for a son.
Maan-Mandir Ghat Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur built this Ghat in 1770, as well as the Jantar Mantar equipped with ornate window casings along with those at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, and Mathura. There is a fine stone balcony in the northern part of the ghat. Devotees pay homage here to the lingamof Someswar, the Lord of the Moon.
Lalita Ghat The late King of Nepal built this Ghat in the northern region of Varanasi. It is the site of the Ganges Keshav Temple, a wooden temple built in typical Kathmandu style,The temple has an image of Pashupateshwar, a manifestation of Lord Shiva. Local festivals including musical parties and games regularly take place at the beautiful Assi Ghat which is at the end of the continuous line of ghats. It is a favorite site of painters and photographers. It is here at the Assi Ghat that Swami Pranabananda, the founder of Bharat Sevasharam Sangh,attained 'Siddhi' (fulfilment/success) in his 'Tapasya' (endeavor) for Lord Shiva, under the auspices of Guru Gambhirananda of Gorakhpur.
Bachraj Ghat 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.
TEMPELS OF VARANASI
Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This is one of the most worshiped Shiva temple in Hinduism and has been mentioned in the Puranas including the Kashi Khanda (section) of Skanda Purana. The original Vishwanath temple was destroyed by the army of Qutb-ud-din Aibak in 1194 CE, when he defeated the Raja of Kannauj as a commander of Mohammad Ghori. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the past 800 years and the existing structure was erected in 18th century.
Kaal Bhairav Mandir is an ancient temple of Varanasi near the main Post Office, VishesharGanj. Lord Kaal Bhairav is believed to be the "Kotwal of Varanasi". Without his permission no one can stay in Kashi.
Mrityunjay Mahadev Mandir of Lord Shiva is situated on the route from Daranagar to the Kalbhairav temple. Just beside this temple there is a well of much religious importance. Its water is said to be a mixture of several underground streams and good for eliminating several diseases.
The New Vishwanath Mandir also called Birla Mandir, mainly funded by Birla family, was built as a replica of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Planned by Madan Mohan Malaviya, the temple is part of the Banaras Hindu University campus, and represents national revival. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions. There are nine temples in the Sri Vishwanath Temple campus, including Vishwanathji (Shiva Lingam), Natarajji, Mata Parvatiji, Ganesji, Mata Saraswatiji, Panchmukhi Mahadev, Hanumanji, and Nandiji. There are idols of Lord Shiva and Lakshmi Narayanji.
Shri Tilbhandeshwar Mahadev Mandir is one of the oldest temples in Varanasi, located near Bengal Tola Inter College and next to the famous weavers colony of Madanpura. It is said that, here, Tilbhandeshwar Shiva Lingam increases by a nominal length every year. Besides Tilbhandeshwar Mahadev, Vibhandeshwar, Maa Parvati, Bhairava, Lord Ayappan and other Hindu deities are visible here. This temple represents a unique combination of Malyali and Banarsi culture. Famous celebrations here include Mahashivratri, Makar Sankranti, Shravan, Navratri, Ayappan Puja etc. Maa Sharda also spent a few days in Varanasi at this temple.
Nepali Mandir Constructed in the 19th century A.D by the King of Nepal, the temple is a replica of the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. Temple is also known as Kanthwala Mandir and Mini Khajuraho.
Durga Mandir: The architecture of Durga Mandir is of a Nagara Style, which is typical of North India. The temple has a rectangular tank of water called the Durga Kund ("Kund" meaning a pond or pool.) The temple has multi-tiered spires and is stained red with ochre, representing the red colour of Durga. The Kund was initially connected directly to the river thus the water was automatically replenished. This channel was later closed, locking off the water supply, which is replenished only by rain or drainage from the Temple. Every year on the occasion of Nag Panchami, the act of depicting Lord Vishnu reclining on the coiled-up mystical snake or "Shesha" is recreated in the Kund.