Banaras the present day city of Varanasi in U.P. is one of the most interesting and vibrant places to visit in India. From the numerous temple visits in the morning to women in bright sarees that line the Ganges for sunrise bathing, the cultural traditions passed on for centuries continue even today. Varanasi has a character that is traditional yet modern. Here is what you should know about this amazing cultural city.
History: Varanasi derives its name from the rivers Varuna and Assi. These two rivers merge with the Ganges in Varanasi hence the name. It is also known as Kashi or Banaras. The city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world with an intriguing appeal. It is not only the spiritual and cultural capital of India but is also the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism that played a significant role in the spread of Buddhism.
Gautam Buddha the founder of Buddhism is said to have given his first sermon in Sarnath, near Varanasi. Kashi continued to grow in its religious and cultural significance in spite of Muslim rule for three centuries from 1194 AD. This was followed by British rule for about a couple of centuries. Never the less Varanasi continued to grow in stature and still remains a center of activity and faith for the Hindus.
For centuries education, culture, philosophy, religion, arts and craft have flourished here. When you visit the sacred and religious places of Varanasi, you will realize that it is this faith in the religion that fuels the city and keeps it vibrant.
The Ganges which originates in Gaumukh flows through India and Bangladesh before merging with the Bay of Bengal. Known as the Ganga here, it is one of the major perennial rivers in north India which supports the population of the northern and eastern states. The Ganges is endowed with immense marine life and is home to hundreds of species of fish, dolphin, tortoise, crocodile and birds. These flora and fauna maintain the ecology of the river and its surroundings. In fact, locals who live along the river bank depend on it for their everyday life. Much like city of Banaras the Ganges is said to be one of the holiest rivers in the country. People believe that taking a holy dip in the Ganges washes away sins and cleanse you of all evils. You will find hundreds of people bathing in the river every morning to purify themselves.
Cremations are also a tradition on the banks of the Ganges, as Hindus traditionally believe that cremation on its banks gives ‘Moksha’ – that frees the soul from the karmic cycle of death and rebirth. The famous cremation ghats of Manikarnika and Harischandra are the preferred cremation sites. The astonishing fact is that in Manikarnika ghat, since ages cremation takes place day in and day out continuously. The cremation there never stops as it operates twenty-four hours throughout the year.
The ghats have a sanctity and uniqueness of their own. The city buses with activity at the crack of dawn with people going to take bath in the Ganges. Many of the daily activities in Varanasi happens along its 87 ghats – steps that descend steeply into the river and stretch down north like a crescent. Most of the ghats were built in 1800 AD by kings and queens of the erstwhile princely states of the country and are associated with saints or legends and mythologies while a few are privately owned. The ghats offer a blissful experience of the city besides the refreshing view of the Ganges.
As you take a boat ride in the river, you will get a beautiful look of the city along the ghats.
Assi ghat is located at the confluence of river Assi and Ganges. From here the river flows north and the ghats extend till the Raj ghat bridge.
Dasaswamedh ghat is one oldest and famous ghats where the popular Ganga aarti is performed every day in the evening. It is a great place to observe people as this ghat is teeming with boatmen offering joy rides in the Ganges, pilgrims performing religious rites, sellers of all kinds, tourists and everything in between.
Manikarnika ghat is a popular ghat for cremation in Kashi. It is best seen at a respectable distance from a boat in the midst of the river. The ghat makes you aware about one of the realities of life – that is death. You realize the meaning of death, one that makes you appreciate the traditions of Hinduism even more.
Scindhia ghat near the Manikarnika ghat is of particular interest. It is known for the partially submerged Shiva temple at the edge of water that sunk during the construction of the ghat in in 1830.
Tulsi ghat is famous because saint Tulsi Das lived on this ghat. The famous Ramcharit Manas was written by him on this ghat centuries ago.
But a visit to Varanasi is not complete without its famed Banarasi Silk Sarees. The fine muslin silk hand woven in Kashi with a soft delicate feel and intricate design patterns is something you cannot do without. Carry the precious gift of a life time for yourself and your loved ones.
Mark your itinerary and invest some quality time at our well known Banarasi saree showroom – the famous Jagdish Das & Company (JDS Varanasi). The curated handloom silk sarees in vivid designs and different colours will keep you spell bound. You will appreciate your visit to the best Banarasi silk shop in Varanasi and carry fond memories along with the beautiful sarees.