About Varanasi

Varanasi, or Benaras, or Kashi is one of the oldest living cities in the world, with a continuous history dating back 3,000 to 5,000 years. Mark Twain, the English author, who was fascinated by the legend and sanctity of Benaras, once wrote: "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together". It rests on the left bank of the holy river Ganga (Ganges), and is one of the most important sacred spots for Hindus. Every devout Hindu hopes to visit the city at least once in a lifetime, take a holy dip at the famous 'Ghats' of the Ganga, walk the pious Panchakosi road that bounds the city, and, if God wills, die here in old age.

The name Varanasi has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi (not visible), for the old city lies in the north shores of the Ganges bounded by its two tributaries, the Varuna and the Assi, with the Ganges being to its south. Another speculation is that the city derives its name from the river Varuna, which was called Varanasi in olden times. This is generally disregarded by historians, though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so. The place also has an intimate connection with a host of legendary figures and mythical characters, who are said to have actually lived here.

The city is a center of learning and civilization for over 3000 years. With Sarnath, the place where Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightenment, just 10 km away, Varanasi has been a symbol of Hindu renaissance. Knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts have all flourished here for centuries. Also a pilgrimage place for Jains, Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar. It is also the seat of one of India's biggest universities, the Banaras Hindu University. Varanasi has found place in the Buddhist scriptures as well as the great Hindu epic of Mahabharata. The holy epic poem Shri Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidas was also written here. All this makes Varanasi a significantly holy place.

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. In the Rigveda, the city was referred to as Kasi or Kashi, "the luminous one" as an allusion to the city's historical status as a centre of learning, literature, art and culture. Kasikhand described the glory of the city in 15,000 verses in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, the Hindu god Shiva says, "The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kashi is my royal palace therein."

Varanasi is the miniature 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. Many religious texts and theosophical treatises have been written here.

Varanasi has been graced by the presence of innumerable enlightened beings and it is a living testimony to the variety and exuberance of the spiritual paths that India has given birth to. Varanasi’s preeminent position as India’s spiritual hub is still alive today and can be seen in the hundreds of thousands of seekers who visit the city every year and in the thousands of funeral rites that are conducted every day, resonating the belief that anyone who dies in Varanasi attains moksha. Varanasi is rightly called the religious capital of India.

Varanasi – a city older than history itself, the land where experience and discovery reach the ultimate bliss 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.

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 along with the fragrance of incense filling the air and the refreshing dip in the holy waters gently splashing at the Ghats. The boat ride at sunrise, the meandering narrow serpentine alleys of the city, the myriad Temple spires, the palaces at water's edge, the ashrams (hermitages) , the pavilions, the chanting of mantras, the devotional hymns - all offer a kind of mystifying experience that is unique to the city of Shiva.

 

Some Facts and Figures of Varanasi

Varanasi Total Population - Census 2011

3,682,194

Rural Population

2,082,934

Urban Population

1,599,260

Total Area

1535 sq km

Male

1928641

Female

1753553

Average Density

2399 persons / Sq Km


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