Varanasi

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For district, see Varanasi district. For other uses, see Banaras (disambiguation).
Varanasi
वाराणसी
Kashi , Banaras
Metropolitan City
Holy City of Kashi
Clockwise from top: Manikarnika Ghat, Dashashwamedha Ghat, Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, Tibetan Temple in Sarnath, Banaras Hindu University, Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Nickname(s): The spiritual capital of India
Varanasi is located in Uttar Pradesh
Varanasi
Varanasi
Coordinates: 25°17′N 82°58′E / 25.28°N 82.96°E / 25.28; 82.96Coordinates: 25°17′N 82°58′E / 25.28°N 82.96°E / 25.28; 82.96
Country  India
State Uttar Pradesh
District Varanasi
Government
 • Mayor Ram Gopal Mohle (BJP)
 • MP Narendra Modi (BJP)
 • District Magistrate(DM) Pranjal Yadav (IAS)
Area
 • Metropolitan City 3,131 km2 (1,209 sq mi)
Elevation 80.71 m (264.80 ft)
Population (2011)
 • Metropolitan City 1,201,815
 • Rank 30th
 • Density 380/km2 (990/sq mi)
 • Metro[1] 1,435,113
Languages
 • Official Hindi
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)
PIN 221 001 to** (** area code)
Telephone code 0542
Vehicle registration UP 65
Sex ratio 0.926 (2011) /
Literacy (2011) 80.12%[2]
Website varanasi.nic.in

Varanasi (Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋaːˈraːɳəsi]), also known as Benares,[4] Banaras (Banāras [bəˈnaːrəs]), or Kashi (Kāśī [ˈkaːʃi]), is a North Indian city on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, India 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of the state capital, Lucknow. 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. Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation.[5] It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Varanasi is also known as the favourite city of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva.[6] Kashi was well known during the later Vedic period.[7]

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi, and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[8] The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the Ganges. The city has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years, and has a history that is older than most of the major world religions. The Benares Gharana form of Hindustani classical music was developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in Varanasi. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath, located near Varanasi.[9]

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India. It is often referred to as "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of Shiva", and "the city of learning". Scholarly books have been written in the city, including the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas. Today, there is a temple in the city, the Tulsi Manas Mandir. The current temples and religious institutions in the city are dated to the 18th century.[10] One of the largest residential universities of Asia, the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), is located here.[11]

Varanasi has been chosen as one of the heritage cities for HRIDAY - Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana scheme of the Government of India.[12]

Etymology[edit]

The name Varanasi possibly originates from the names of the two rivers from north and south: Varuna, still flowing in Varanasi, and Asi, a small stream near Assi Ghat. The old city does lie on the north shores of Ganges River bounded by its two tributaries Varuna and Asi.[13] Another speculation is that the city derives its name from the river Varuna, which was called Varanasi in olden times.[14] This is generally disregarded by historians. Through the ages, Varanasi has been known by many names including Kāśī or Kashi (used by pilgrims dating from Buddha's days), Kāśikā (the shining one), Avimukta ("never forsaken" by Shiva), Ānandavana (the forest of bliss), and Rudravāsa (the place where Rudra/Śiva resides).[15]

In the Rigveda, the city is referred to as Kāśī or Kashi, the luminous city as an eminent seat of learning.[16] The name Kāśī is also mentioned in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, Shiva says, "The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kāśī is my royal palace therein."[17] The name Kashi may be translated as "City of Light".[18]

History[edit]

Archaeological evidence of earliest known settlements around Varanasi in the Ganga valley (the seat of Vedic religion and philosophy) suggest that they began in the 11th or 12th century BC,[19] placing it among the world's oldest continually inhabited cities.[20][21][22][23] These archaeological remains suggest that the Varanasi area was populated by Vedic people. However, the Atharvaveda (the oldest known text referencing the city), which dates to approximately the same period, suggests that the area was populated by indigenous tribes. It is possible that archaeological evidence of these previous inhabitants has yet to be discovered.[24] Recent excavations at Aktha and Ramnagar, two sites very near to Varanasi, show them to be from 1800 BC, suggesting Varanasi started to be inhabited by that time too.[25]

Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture.[23] During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 500 BCE), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi.[23] The Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, "The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma", at nearby Sarnath.[26][27] The celebrated Chinese traveller Xuanzang, who visited the city around 635 AD, attested that the city was a centre of religious and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) along the western bank of the Ganges.[23][28] When Xuanzang, also known as Hiuen Tsiang, visited Varanasi in the 7th century, he named it "Polonisse" and wrote that the city had some 30 temples with about 30 monks.[29] 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.[30]

In ancient times, Varanasi was connected by a road starting from Taxila and ending at Pataliputra during the Mauryan Empire. In 1194, the city succumbed to Turkish Muslim rule under Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who ordered the destruction of some one thousand temples in the city.[31][32] The city went into decline over some three centuries of Muslim occupation,[28] although new temples were erected in the 13th century after the Afghan invasion.[30] Feroz Shah ordered further destruction of Hindu temples in the Varanasi area in 1376. The Afghan ruler Sikander Lodi continued the suppression of Hinduism in the city and destroyed most of the remaining older temples in 1496.[31] Despite the Muslim rule, Varanasi remained the centre of activity for intellectuals and theologians during the Middle Ages, which further contributed to its reputation as a cultural centre of religion and education. Several major figures of the Bhakti movement were born in Varanasi, including Kabir who was born here in 1389 and hailed as "the most outstanding of the saint-poets of Bhakti cult (devotion) and mysticism of 15th-Century India";[33] and Ravidas, a 15th-century socio-religious reformer, mystic, poet, traveller, and spiritual figure, who was born and lived in the city and employed in the tannery industry.[34] Similarly, numerous eminent scholars and preachers visited the city from across India and south Asia. Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism.[35]

A Brahmin placing a garland on the holiest spot in the sacred city. A lithograph by James Prinsep, 1832.
Varanasi, 1883.
Bathing Ghat of Banaras, 1890

In the 16th century, Varanasi experienced a cultural revival under the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar who invested in the city, and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu.[28][31] The Raja of Poona established the Annapurnamandir and the 200 metres (660 ft) Akbari Bridge was also completed during this period.[36] The earliest tourists began arriving in the city during the 16th century.[37] In 1665, the French traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier described the architectural beauty of the Vindu Madhava temple on the side of the Ganges. The road infrastructure was also improved during this period and extended from Kolkata to Peshawar by Emperor Sher Shah Suri; later during the British Raj it came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road. In 1656, emperor Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of many temples and the building of mosques, causing the city to experience a temporary setback.[28] However, after Aurangazeb's death, most of India was ruled by a confederacy of pro-Hindu kings. Much of modern Varanasi was built during this time especially during the 18th century, by the Maratha and Bhumihar kings (who were rulers of Varanasi since centuries), and most of the important buildings in the city today date to this period.[38] The kings continued to be important through much of the British rule (1775–1947 AD), including the Maharaja of Benares, or Kashi Naresh. 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, during the reign of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh. In the 18th century, Muhammad Shah ordered the construction of an observatory on the Ganges, attached to Man Mandir Ghat, designed to discover imperfections in the calendar in order to revise existing astronomical tables. Tourism in the city began to flourish in the 18th century.[37] In 1791, under the rule of the British Governor-General Warren Hastings, Jonathan Duncan founded a Sanskrit College in Varanasi.[39] In 1867, the establishment of the Varanasi Municipal Board led to significant improvements in the city's infrastructure and basic amenities of health services, drinking water supply and sanitation [40]

Benares riverfront, 1895

In 1897, Mark Twain, the renowned Indophile, said of Varanasi, "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together."[41] In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramnagar as its headquarters but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself. Kashi Naresh still resides in the Ramnagar Fort which is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges.[42] Ramnagar Fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Varanasi. Since the 18th century, the fort has been the home of Kashi Naresh, deeply revered by the local people. He is the religious head and some devout inhabitants consider him to be the incarnation of Shiva. He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[8]

A massacre by British troops, of the Indian troops stationed here and of the population of the city, took place during the early stages of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.[43] Annie Besant worked in Varanasi to promote theosophy and founded the Central Hindu College which later became a foundation for the creation of Banaras Hindu University as a secular university in 1916. Her purpose in founding the Central Hindu College in Varanasi was that she "wanted to bring men of all religions together under the ideal of brotherhood in order to promote Indian cultural values and to remove ill-will among different sections of the Indian population."[44]

Varanasi was ceded to the Union of India in 1947, and Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh incorporated his territories into the United Provinces in 1949. He died on the Christmas day in 2000.[45] The current king and the resident of the fort is Anant Narayan Singh, since 1971.[46]

According to legend, Varanasi was founded by the God Shiva.[47] The Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata are also stated to have visited the city in search of Shiva to atone for their sins of fratricide and Brāhmanahatya that they had committed during the climactic Kurukshetra war.[48] It is regarded as one of seven holy cities which can provide Moksha; Ayodhyā, Mathurā, Gayā, Kaśī, Kañchi, Avantikā, Dwārāvatī are the seven cities known as the givers of liberation.[49]

Geography and climate[edit]

Location in India

Varanasi is located at an elevation of 80.71 metres (264.8 ft)[50] in the middle Ganges valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganges, averaging between 15 metres (50 ft) and 21 metres (70 ft) above the river.[51] It has the headquarters of Varanasi district. By road, Varanasi is located 797 kilometres (495 mi) south-east of New Delhi, 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of Lucknow, 121 kilometres (75 mi) east of Allahabad, and 63 kilometres (39 mi) south of Jaunpur.[52] The "Varanasi Urban Agglomeration" – an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units – covers an area of 112.26 km 2 (approximately 43 mi²).[53] The urban agglomeration is stretched between 82° 56’E – 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N – 25° 23.5’N.[53] Neighbourhoods of the city include Adampura, Kotwali, Jaitpura, Dhupchandi, Chaukaghat, Kail Garh, Guru Nanak Nagar, Chaitganj, Naipokhari, Sigra, Maulvibagh, Siddhagiribagh, Bulanala, Chowk, Bangali Tola, Luxa, Khanna, Gopal Vihar, Giri Nagar, Mahmoorganj, Maheshpur, Bhelpura, Shivala, Anandbagh, Nagwar, Dumraon, Gandhinagar,Bachchhaon, and Gautam Nagar, Lanka Manduadih.[52]

Being located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India, the land is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil.[54] Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of the Ganges and Varuna, and other of the Ganges and Assi, although the latter has always been a rivulet rather than a river. The distance between the two confluences is around 4 kilometres (2.5 mi), and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places – a Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a 8-kilometre (5 mi) journey) ending with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple – as a holy ritual.[55]

Climate[edit]

Varanasi experiences a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cwa) with large variations between summer and winter temperatures.[56][57] The dry summer starts in April and lasts until June, followed by the monsoon season from July to October. The temperature ranges between 22 and 46 °C (72 and 115 °F) in the summers. Winters in Varanasi see very large diurnal variations, with warm days and downright cold nights. Cold waves from the Himalayan region cause temperatures to dip across the city in the winter from December to February and temperatures below 5 °C (41 °F) are not uncommon. The average annual rainfall is 1,110 mm (44 in). Fog is common in the winters, while hot dry winds, called loo, blow in the summers.[58] In recent years, the water level of the Ganges has decreased significantly; upstream dams, unregulated water extraction, and dwindling glacial sources due to global warming may be to blame.[59][60]

Climate data for Varanasi Airport (1971–2000)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 32.3
(90.1)
35.8
(96.4)
42.4
(108.3)
45.3
(113.5)
46.8
(116.2)
48.0
(118.4)
43.9
(111)
39.8
(103.6)
42.3
(108.1)
39.0
(102.2)
35.3
(95.5)
32.7
(90.9)
48.0
(118.4)
Average high °C (°F) 23.0
(73.4)
26.2
(79.2)
32.6
(90.7)
38.5
(101.3)
40.3
(104.5)
38.4
(101.1)
33.7
(92.7)
32.9
(91.2)
32.8
(91)
32.7
(90.9)
29.4
(84.9)
24.7
(76.5)
32.1
(89.8)
Average low °C (°F) 9.2
(48.6)
11.6
(52.9)
16.2
(61.2)
21.9
(71.4)
25.5
(77.9)
27.2
(81)
25.7
(78.3)
25.4
(77.7)
24.4
(75.9)
20.6
(69.1)
14.4
(57.9)
10.1
(50.2)
19.2
(66.6)
Record low °C (°F) 0.3
(32.5)
2.4
(36.3)
7.9
(46.2)
11.4
(52.5)
17.8
(64)
14.3
(57.7)
21.4
(70.5)
21.7
(71.1)
19.1
(66.4)
8.9
(48)
4.3
(39.7)
2.3
(36.1)
0.3
(32.5)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 19.0
(0.748)
18.2
(0.717)
8.3
(0.327)
6.1
(0.24)
10.3
(0.406)
107.3
(4.224)
309.3
(12.177)
288.4
(11.354)
244.9
(9.642)
32.3
(1.272)
9.3
(0.366)
4.8
(0.189)
1,058.2
(41.661)
Avg. rainy days 1.6 1.7 1.0 0.6 1.2 5.4 13.9 13.1 10.0 1.8 0.6 0.5 51.5
Source: India Meteorological Department (record high and low up to 2010)[61][62]

Administration[edit]

Politics and law[edit]

Varanasi is governed by a number of bodies, the most important being the Varanasi Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation) and the Varanasi Development Authority, which is responsible for the master planning of the city. Water supply and sewage system is operated by the Jal Nigam.[63] Varanasi 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 huge margin.[64]

Healthcare[edit]

Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of the Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery lived in Varanasi and practiced medicine and surgery sometime during 5th century B.C. Since 1922, Ayurveda has been a subject of trining in the Banaras Hindu University and in 1927 a separate Ayurvedic College was started.[65][66] There are many Ayurvedic centers in Varanasi like Sparsa Ayurvedic Centre which provide the Ayurvedic treatments such as Panchakarma and other methods.[67] A Panchakarma Treatment Centre has been established at the S S Ayurveda Hospital in association with Kerala Ayurveda Ltd.[68] It has several hospitals, Varanasi Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Heritage Hospital, Varanasi, Shiv Prasad Gupta Hospital, Sir Sundar Lal Hospital, Rajkiya Hospital, Mata Anand Mai Hospital, Ram Krishna Mission Hospital, Marwari Hospital, and a Cancer Institute.[69] The largest is Varanasi Hospital, established in 1964 by Dr. Baijnath Prasad.[70] The hospital, which in 2012 had 66 beds, serves Varanasi and surrounding districts and states, many of which rely on it for surgery.[70] Although the hospital suffers from a lack of funding, it has facilities such as X-ray, Ultrasonography, Echocardiography and a Pathology Lab.[70]

The urban portion of Varanasi District had an infant mortality rate of 70 per 1,000 live births in 2010–2011.[71]

Public maintenance[edit]

Due to the high population density and increasing number of tourists, the state government and international NGOs and institutions have expressed grave concern for the pollution and pressures on infrastructure in the city, mainly the sewage, sanitation and drainage components.[72] Between 1985 and 1990, the Ganga Action Plan saw a Rs. 430.5 million renovation of five sewage pumping stations along the ghats and the installation of sewage treatment plants.[72] The sewage problem is exacerbated by the role of the Ganges in bathing and in river traffic, which is very difficult to control.[72] Varanasi's water supply and sewage system is maintained by Jal Nigam, a subsidiary of Nagar Nigam. Power supply is by the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited. The city produces about 350 million litres per day[73] of sewerage and 425 tonnes per day of solid waste.[74] The solid wastes are disposed in one landfill site.[75]

Demographics[edit]

Religions in Varanasi
Religion Percent
Hindus
  
80%
Muslims
  
18%
Christians
  
0.2%
Jains
  
1.4%
Others†
  
0.4%
Distribution of religions
Includes Sikhs (0.2%), Buddhists (<0.2%).

According to provisional data from the 2011 census, the Varanasi urban agglomeration had a population of 1,435,113, with 761,060 men and 674,053 women.[76]

The population of the Varanasi urban agglomeration in 2001 was 1,371,749m with a ratio of 879 females every 1,000 males.[77] However, the area under Varanasi Nagar Nigam has a population of 1,100,748[78] with a ratio of 883 females for every 1,000 males.[78] The literacy rate in the urban agglomeration is 77% while that in the municipal corporation area is 78%.[78] Approximately 138,000 people in the municipal area live in slums.[79]

Economy[edit]

Banarasi sari

Approximately 29% of Varanasi's population is employed.[80] Approximately 40% of those employed work in manufacturing, 26% work in trade and commerce, 19% work in other services, 8% work in transport and communication, 4% work in agriculture, 2% work in construction, and 2% are marginal workers (working for less than half of the year).[81]

Among manufacturing workers, 51% work in spinning and weaving, 15% work in metal, 6% work in printing and publishing, 5% work in electrical machinery, and the rest work in a wide variety of industry sectors.[82] Varanasi's manufacturing industry is not well developed and is dominated by small-scale industries and household production.[80]

Silk weaving is the dominant manufacturing industry in Varanasi.[83] Muslims are the dominat community in this industry with nearly half million of them working as weavers, dyeing, sari finishes and in commerce.[84] Weaving is typically done within the household, and most weavers are Momin Ansari Muslims.[85] Varanasi is known throughout India for its production of very fine silk and Banarasi saris, brocades with gold and silver thread work, which are often used for weddings and special occasions. The production of silk often uses bonded child labour, though perhaps not at a higher rate than elsewhere in India.[86] The silk weaving industry has recently been threatened by the rise of power looms and computer-generated designs and by competition from Chinese silk traders.[80]

In the metal manufacturing sector, Diesel Locomotive Works is a major employer.[82] Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, a large power equipment manufacturer, also runs a heavy equipment repair plant.[87] Other major commodities manufactured and traded in Varanasi include hand-knotted Mirzapur carpets, rugs, dhurries, brassware, copperware, wooden and clay toys, handicrafts, gold jewellery, and musical instruments.[83] Important agricultural products include betel leaves (for paan), langra mangoes and khoa (solidified milk).[82][88]

DLW manufactured locomotives hauling load across the nation.
Tourists shopping for jewelry in Varanasi

Tourism is Varanasi's second most important industry.[89] Over 3 million domestic and 200,000 foreign tourists visit annually (in 2005 and 2010, respectively), most commonly for religious reasons.[90][89] Most domestic tourists are from Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh; most foreign tourists are from Sri Lanka and Japan.[91] The peak tourist season falls between October and March.[91] In total, there are around 12,000 beds available in the city, of which about one half are in inexpensive budget hotels and one third in dharamsalas.[92] Overall, Varanasi's tourist infrastructure is not well developed.[92]

The prominent malls and multiplexes in Varanasi are IP Mall in Sigra, IP Vijaya Mall in Bhelupur, PDR in Luxa and JHV Mall in the Varanasi Cantonment area. The city has several banks, including the Corporation Bank, State Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Andhra Bank, Allahabad Bank, and the Central Bank of India.[93]

Main sights[edit]

Ramnagar Fort.

Apart from the nineteen archaeological sites identified by the Archaeological Survey of India,[94] the major attractions for pilgrims and tourists visiting Varanasi, are beyond the ghats in the "labyrinthe alleways". People swarm to visit religious and other centers of sights and experience the sensory perception of “colours, smells, sounds and tastes, the aroma of spices, perfume, food , human sweat, cows and funeral pyres”.[95] Some of the prominent places of interest are: The Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), the Bharat Kala Bhawan (Art Museum), the River Front Ghats, the Durga Temple, the Tulsi Manas Temple, New Vishwanath Temple in the BHU campus, the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, the Bharat Mata Temple, the Ashoka Pillar, the Ramnagar Fort, the Alamgir Mosque, the Central Institute Of Higher Tibetan Studies, the Jantar Mantar, the Jain Saint Shvetambar temple near Bhelupur street, and the Aghor Peeth.[96] Some of the notable ones are:

Jantar Mantar[edit]

The Jantar Mantar observatory (1737) is located above the ghats on the Ganges, much above the high water level in the Ganges next to the Manmandir Ghat, near to Dasaswamedh Ghat and adjoining the palace of Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur. Compared to the observatories at Jaipur and Delhi, it is less well equipped but has a unique equatorial sundial which is functional and allows measurements to be monitored and recorded by one person.[97]

Ramnagar Fort[edit]

The Ramnagar Fort located near the Ganges River on its eastern bank, opposite to the Tulsi Ghat, was built in the 18th century by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone. It is in a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and scenic pavilions. At present the fort is not in good repair. The fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares. It has been the home of the Kashi Naresh since the 18th century. The current king and the resident of the fort is Anant Narayan Singh who is also known as the Maharaja of Varanasi even though this royal title has been abolished since 1971.[98][46] Labeled "an eccentric museum", it has a rare collection of American vintage cars, sedan chairs (bejeweled), an impressive weaponry hall and a rare astrological clock.[46] In addition, manuscripts, especially religious writings, are housed in the Saraswati Bhawan. Also included is a precious handwritten manuscript by Goswami Tulsidas. Many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style, with beautifully designed covers 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 film titled Banaras is one of the popular movies shot here. However, only a part of the fort is open for public viewing as the rest of the area is the residence of the Kashi Naresh and his family. It is 14 kilometres (9 miles) from Varanasi.[98][46]

A view of the Ghats in Varanasi from the River Ganges

Ghats[edit]

Main article: Ghats in Varanasi
Dashashwamedh Ghat

Ghats are embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions. Ghats in Varanasi are an integral complement to the concept of divinity represented in physical, metaphysical and supernatural elements. All the ghats are locations on "the divine cosmic road", indicative of "its manifest transcendental dimension".[99] Varanasi has at least 84 ghats.[100][101][102] Steps in the ghats lead to the banks of River 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 legends and several are now privately owned.[103]

Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwas stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. A morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular visitor attraction. The extensive stretches of ghats enhance the river front with a multitude of shrines, temples and palaces built "tier on tier above the water’s edge".[23]

Ganga Aarti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat.

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 it to welcome Shiva and sacrificed ten horses during the Dasa -Ashwamedha yajna performed here. Above the ghat and close to it, there are also temples dedicated to Sulatankesvara, Brahmesvara, Varahesvara, Abhaya Vinayaka, Ganga (the Ganges), and Bandi Devi which are part of important pilgrimage journeys. A group of priests perform "Agni Pooja" (Worship to Fire) daily in the evening at this ghat as a dedication to Shiva, Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe. Special aartis are held on Tuesdays and on religious festivals.[101]

The Manikarnika Ghat is the Mahasmasana (meaning: "great cremation ground") and is the primary site for Hindu cremation in the city. Adjoining the ghat, there are raised platforms that are used for death anniversary rituals. It is said that an ear-ring (Manikarnika) of Shiva or his wife Sati fell here. According to a myth related to the Tarakesvara Temple, a Shiva temple at the ghat, Shiva whispers the Taraka mantra ("Prayer of the crossing") in the ear of the dead. 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.[101]

Temples[edit]

Among the estimated 23,000 temples in Varanasi,[48] the most worshiped are: the Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva; the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple; and the Durga Temple known for the band of monkeys that reside in the large trees nearby.[104][105][13]

Kashi Vishwanath temple, the most important temple in Varanasi.

Located on the outskirts of the Ganges, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple – dedicated to Varanasi's presiding deity Shiva (Vishwanath – "Lord of the world") – is an important Hindu temple and one of the 12 Jyotirlinga Shiva temples.[105] It is believed that a single view of Vishwanath Jyotirlinga is worth more than that of other jyotirlingas. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. The Gyanvapi Mosque, which is adjacent to the temple, is the original site of the temple.[106] The temple, as it exists now, also called Golden Temple,[107] was built in 1780 by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore. The two pinnacles of the temple are covered in gold, donated in 1839 by Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Punjab and the remaining dome is also planned to be gold plated by the Ministry of Culture & Religious Affairs of Uttar Pradesh. On 28 January 1983, the temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust with then Kashi Naresh, Vibhuti Narayan Singh, as president and an executive committee with a Divisional Commissioner as chairman. Numerous rituals, prayers and aratis are held daily, starting from 2:30 am till 11:00 pm.[108]

The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is one of the sacred temples of the Hindu god Hanuman situated by the Assi River, on the way to the Durga and New Vishwanath temples within the Banaras Hindu University campus.[109] The present temple structure was built in early 1900s by the educationist and freedom fighter, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University.[110] It is believed the temple was built on the very spot where the medieval Hindu saint Tulsidas had a vision of Hanuman.[111] Thousands flock to the temple on Tuesdays and Saturdays, weekdays associated with Hanuman. On 7 March 2006, in a terrorist attack, one of the three explosions hit the temple while the Aarti was in progress when numerous devotees and people attending a wedding were present and many were injured. However, normal worship was resumed the next day with devotees visiting the temple and reciting hymns of Hanuman Chalisa (authored by Tulidas) and Sundarkand (a booklet of these hymns is provided free of charge in the temple).[110] After the terrorist incident, a permanent police post was set up inside the temple.[112]

18th century Durga Kund Temple, also known as "Monkey temple", overlooking the kund (water tank)..

There are two temples named "Durga" in Varanasi, Durga Mandir (built about 500 years ago), and Durga Kund (built in the 18th century). Thousands of Hindu devotees visit Durga Kund during Navratri to worship the goddess Durga. The temple, built in Nagara architectural style, has multi-tiered spires[107] 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). Every year on the occasion of Nag Panchami, the act of depicting the god Vishnu reclining on the serpent Shesha is recreated in the Kund.[citation needed]

While the Annapurna Temple, located close to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, is dedicated to Annapurna, the goddess of food,[105] the Sankatha Temple close to the Sindhia Ghat is dedicated to Sankatha, the goddess of remedy. The Sankatha temple has a large sculpture of a lion and a nine temple cluster dedicated to the nine planets.[105]

Kalabhairav Temple, an ancient temple located near the Head Post Office at Visheshar Ganj, is dedicated to Kala-Bhairava, the guardian (Kotwal) of Varanasi.[105] The Mrithyunjay Mahadev Temple, dedicated to Shiva, is situated on the way to Daranagar to Kalbhairav temple. A well near the temple has some religious significance as its water source is believed to be fed from several underground streams, having curative powers.[105]

The New Vishwanath Temple located in the campus of Banaras Hindu University is a modern temple which was planned by Pandit Malviya and built by the Birlas.[105] The Tulsi Manas Mandir, nearby the Durga Temple, is a modern temple dedicated to the god Rama. It is built at the place where Tulsidas authored the Ramcharitmanas, which narrates the life of Rama. Many verses from this epic are inscribed on the temple walls.[105]

The Bharat Mata Temple, dedicated to the national personification of India, was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. It has relief maps of India carved in marble. Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta and Durga Prasad Khatri, leading numismatists, antiquarians and nationalist leaders, donated funds for its construction.[105]

Mosques[edit]

There are 15 historical mosques in the city of which the most popular are the Dhai Nim Kangore, Ganje Shahada, Chaukhambha, Bibi Razia, Gyanavapi, Alamgir Dharahra, Fatman and Abdul Razzaq. Many of these mosques were constrcuted from the despoils of the Hindu shrines which werr destroyed by the Muslim invaders or rulers. The earliest invasion was by Ahmad Niyaltgin in 1033, when a Hindu Vishnu temple was destroyed and with debris of this temple the Dhai (Ardhai) Nim Kangore mosque was built; the oldest mosque in the city located in Daranagar or Hanuman Patak.[113] The Gyanvapi Mosque was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. The Alamgiri Mosque was built by Aurangzeb over the ruins of a Vishnu temple.[114] This mosque is also called the "Beni Madhav ka Darera". This Mosque's lower half is entirely a part of a Hindu temple.[96]

Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan[edit]

Shri Guru Ravidass Park

Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan, Seer Goverdhanpur, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India is called the "Begumpura" and is the ultimate place of pilgrimage or religious headquarters for followers of the Ravidasi religion. The foundation stone of this Mandir was laid on Monday 14 June 1965 on Ashad Sankranti day at the birthplace of Guru Ravidass. The construction of the temple was completed in 1994.[115]

Culture[edit]

Wall paintings, Varanasi, 1974

Varanasi has its own culture of fine art and literature. Renowned Indian writers have lived in the city: Kabir, Ravidas and Tulsidas, who wrote much of his Ram Charit Manas here, Kulluka Bhatt, who wrote the best known commentary of Manusmṛti here in the 15th century,[116] and Bharatendu Harishchandra. Later writers have included Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Sudama Pandey (Dhoomil) and Vidya Niwas Mishra. Several newspapers and journals are or were published in Varanasi such as Varanasi Chandroday and its successor Kashivartaprakashika, initially a fortnightly, which later became a weekly journal, first published on 1 June 1851.[117]

The main newspaper is Aj, a Hindi-language nationalist newspaper first published in 1920.[118] The newspaper was the bulwark of the Indian National Congress and today is still a major newspaper of Hindi northern India.[118]

Art lovers and historians like Rai Krishnadasa, his son Anand Krishna, musicians Omkarnath Thakur, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Lalmani Misra and his son Gopal Shankar Misra, Thakur Rajbhan Singh, N. Rajam, Anokhelal Mishra, Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna,Pandit Vikash Maharaj, Kishan Maharaj,[119]

Varanasi is the hub of arts and crafts, particularly silks and brocades with gold and silver thread work, carpet weaving (with a carpet-weaving centre at Bhadoi), wooden toys, bangles made of glass, ivory work, perfumes, artistic brass and copper ware and a variety of handicrafts.[120][121] The former cantonment graveyard during British Raj is now the location of Varanasi’s Arts and Crafts.[122]

Religion[edit]

People performing Hindu ceremony at Kedar ghats of Varanasi.

Varanasi has embodied within itself an "awakening and a notion of national consciousness" and its people consider their city as a "mini-India or a cultural capital of India". The earliest such amalgamation of prominent national and regional religious centres, and also Hindu epics, was started in the sixth century and culminated during the reign of Gahadvala period in the 13th century. This effort has contributed to making the city the holiest of all cities in India. The four dhams (abode of gods) in the four cardinal directions of the country - the Badrinath in the north, the Puri in the east, Dwarka in the west and Rameshwaram in the south - are all represented in the city in "archetypal forms" as the presiding deities at Maha Ghat, Rama Ghat, Shankudhara Ghat and Mir Ghat respectively. In addition, the other Hindu holy places of the country such as the Kedarnath at Kedar Ghat, Mathura at Bakaruia Kund or Nakhi Ghat, Prayag (Allahadbad) at Dashahvamedha Ghat, Kamakhya (Assam) at Kamachha, Kurukshetra at Kurkukshtrea Kund near Asi, Lake Manasarovar at Mansarovar near Shyameshvara and so forth, are part of the city's mosaic.[123]

Other forms of the socio-cultural mix of all major religions of the country are represented in not only its about 3,300 Hindu religious places but also in the 12 churches, three Jain mandirs, nine Buddhist shrines, three Gurudwaras (Sikh shrines), and 1,388 Muslim holy places. [123]

Hinduism[edit]

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities and centres of pilgrimage for Hindus of all denominations.[124] It is one of the seven Hindu holiest cities (Sapta Puri), considered the giver of salvation (moksha).[125][126] Over 50,000 Brahmins live in Varanasi, providing religious services to the masses.[125] Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its transmigration. Thus, many Hindus come here to die.[127]

As the home to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Jyotirlinga, it is very sacred for Shaivism. Varanasi is also a Shakti Peetha, where the temple to goddess Vishalakshi stands, believed to be the spot where the goddess Sati's earrings fell.[17] Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the River Ganges itself to be the Goddess Shakti.[128] Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here,[129] leading to the great Hindu revival.

In 2001, Hindus made up approximately 84% of the population of Varanasi District.[130]

Islam[edit]

Construction of the Mosque of Aurangzeb near the bank of the Ganges River at Varanasi.

Interwoven within one million Hindus are two hundred and fifty thousand Muslims who have made Varanasi their home since the time of Islamic empires. In 2001, Muslims made up approximately 18% of the population of Varanasi District.[130] As of 2001 Muslims constituted 29.7% of the total population of the city. They have made a distinctive mark in the socio-cultural and economic development of the city. Muslim settlements started here following the invasion by Mohammad Ghaznavi (1021-1030 AD) and subsequently there was doubling of their numbers due to conversion of Hindus, mostly of the lower class people. The Muslim sacred places in the city are of seven categories which comprise 415 mosques (masjid), 299 religious cultural sites called mazars, 197 crossings where the taziya procession crosses known as imamchauks, 88 burial places called talaya, 11 special locations for prayer known as idgah, 3 sites for burying the taziyas, and 375 other religious sites.[131]

Jain Ghat, Varanasi.

Others[edit]

Jain Mandir in Bhelupur, Varanasi.

At the 2001 census, persons of other religions or no religion made up 0.4% of the population of Varanasi District.[130]

Varanasi is also a pilgrimage site or tirtha (holy place) for Jains, as four of their Tirthankaras were born here during the 8th century BC. In the 8th century BC Parsvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara was born close to Bhelpur in Varanasi, now identified with the Parshvanatha Jain temple; he propounded the triad-principle of the Mahavratas (great vows) - ahimsa (meaning "non-violence"), asteya (meaning: "non-stealing") and aparigraha (meaning:"non-accumulation"). During archaeological excavations at this site many Jain images excavated were unearthed which were dated to the 9th-11th centuries BC; a few images are stated to be of 5th century BC. After Parsvanatha, Mahavira came here in the 6th century BC who was a contemporary of Buddha; Buddha had also visited Varanasi, when he was 42 years old, as a wandering ascetic to teach Buddhism. It is also said to be the birth place of Suparshvanatha though the exact location of his birth is not known. It is believed that the present Jain temple in Saranath, near the Dhamekh Stupa, commemorates the birthplace of Shryyamshanatha, the 11th Thirthankara who was born in the village of Simhapur. At Simhapur there are two Jain temples, one of Svetamabara and the other of Digambara. [132]

Sarnath, a suburb of Varanasi, is a place of Buddhist pilgrimage. It is the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism.[133] The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still in existence, though only its foundation remains.[134] Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples in the 5th century.[32]

Guru Nanak came to Banaras on two occasions, in 1502 and 1506. In 1502 he came at an young age on a pilgrimage. In 1506 he came for religious interaction with the sages of Banaras when he preached his dogma of Sikhism on the Maha Shivaratri festival day. At this time he resided in a garden which was then called Kuxa but now known as Guru Bagh; the Gurudwara, called Guru-ka Bagh, commemorates this site. The 9th Guru Tegh Bahadur (1664-1675) came to Varanasi in 1666 and the place where he resided is called Asu Bhairava Sangar (Nichibagh), which was also the place where Guru Gobind Singh the 10th and the last Guru also stayed. Gobind Singh had deputed five of his disciples to a school in Varanasi to learn Sanskrit and this school is still continuing; this is named as Guru Nanak Sanskrit Vidyalaya in Bisheshvarganj. Other notable religious places of the community are three sacred sites known as Sangats, and a monastery at Ramnagar which is stated to possess an original copy of the Guru Granth Sahib. There is also a grand Gurudwara near Augharnath-ka-Takia. A majority of Sikhs here are migrants from West Punjab in Pakistan who settled here after India's partition in 1947. The population of Sikhs was reported to be around 5,000.[135]

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Varanasi

In the 18th century under Warren Hastings's British administration, the city was under the East India Company. During this time the company purposely promoted learning of Sanskrit and Hindu theology by instituting the Sanskrit School in 1791 to create a conducive climate to establish Christianity in the city. They propagated the Christian dogmas. In 1830, the first English Seminary, named Anglo-Indian Seminary was instituted and Christian missionaries came to propagate the religion but it had no impact on the upper caste Hindus. It was only the lower class of the society, that too the untouchables, who embraced Christianity. However, with end of the British rule, expansion of Christianity has been checked in the city. The city has 22 churches.[136] The Roman Catholic Diocese of Varanasi (Latin: Varanasien(sis)) is located in the city under the Ecclesiastical province of Agra in India. The well known church of this diocese is the St. Mary’s Cathedral, Varanasi.[137]

Dalits are 13% of population Of Varanasi city.[138] Most dalits are followers of Guru Ravidass. So Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan is important place of pilgrimage for Ravidasis from all around India.[139]

Religious festivals[edit]

On Mahashivaratri (February) – which is dedicated to Shiva – a procession of Shiva proceeds from the Mahamrityunjaya Temple to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.[104]

Dhrupad Mela is a five-day musical festival devoted to dhrupad style held at Tulsi Ghat in February–March.[140]

The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple celebrates Hanuman Jayanti (March–April), the birthday of Hanuman with great fervour. A special puja, aarti, and a public procession is organized.[141][142] Starting in 1923, the temple organizes a five-day classical music and dance concert festival titled Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh in this period, when iconic artists from all parts of India are invited to perform.[104][143][144][145]

The Ramlila of Ramnagar is a dramatic enactment of Rama's legend, as told in Ramacharitamanasa.[8] The plays, sponsored by Kashi Naresh, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[8] On the last day, the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[8] Kashi Naresh Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition around 1830.[8][146]

Bharat Milap celebrates the meeting of Rama and his younger brother Bharata after the return of the former after 14 years of exile.[104] It is celebrated during October–November, a day after the festival of Vijayadashami. Kashi Naresh attends this festival in his regal attire resplendent in regal finery. The festival attracts a large number of devotees.[146]

Krishna standing on serpent Kaliya during Nag Nathaiya festival in Varanasi

Nag Nathaiya, celebrated on the fourth lunar day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik (October–November), that commemorates the victory of the God Krishna over the serpent Kaliya. On this occasion, a large Kadamba tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) branch is planted on the banks of the Ganges so that a boy acting the role of Krishna can jump into the river on to the effigy representing Kaliya. He stands over the effigy in a dancing pose playing the flute; the effigy and the boy standing on it is given a swirl in front of the audience. People watch the display standing on the banks of the river or from boats.[147]

Ganga Mahotsav is a five-day music festival organized by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department, held in November–December culminating a day before Kartik Poornima (Dev Deepawali). On Kartik Poornima, also called the Ganges festival, the Ganges is venerated by arti offered by thousands of pilgrims who release lighted lamps to float in the river from the ghats.[104][140]

Every year the primary Muslim festivals celebrated in the city are the ld-ul-fitr' (Ramzan), Bakrid, Shab-e-Barat, Bara Wafat and Muharram. In addition the other festivals celebrated are Alvida, Chehlum and many more. A non-religious festival observed by them is known as Ghazi-miyan-ka-byaha (meaning:"the marriage of Ghazi Miyan").[148][149]

Education[edit]

Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi is an Institute of National Importance in Varanasi

Historically, Varanasi has been an education centre in India, drawing students and scholars from across the country.[150][151] Varanasi has an overall literacy rate of 80% (male literacy: 85%, female literacy: 75%).[76] It is home of a number of colleges and universities. Most notably, it is the site of Banaras Hindu University, which – with over 20,000 students[152] – is one of the largest residential universities in Asia.[153] The Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi is designated an Institute of National Importance and is one of India's 16 IITs. Other colleges and universities in Varanasi include Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith, Imania Arabic College, Institute of Integrated Management and Technology (IIMT), Udai Pratap Autonomous College, Nav Sadhana Kala Kendra and Sri Agrasen Kanya P.G. College. Various engineering colleges have been set up in the outskirts of the city.

Schools in Varanasi are affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), or the U.P. Board.[citation needed] The overall "state of education in Varanasi is ... not good."[154] Schools in Varanasi vary widely in quality, with private schools outperforming government schools.[154] In government schools, many teachers fail to come to class or to teach children.[154] Some government schools lack basic equipment, such as blackboards and sufficient desks and chairs for all students.[154] Private schools vary in quality, with the most expensive conducting lessons in English (seen as a key to children's success) and having computers in classrooms.[154] Pupils attending the more expensive private schools, tended to come from upper-class families.[154] Lower-cost private schools attracted children from lower-income families or those lower-income families with higher education aspirations.[154] Government schools tend to serve lower-class children with lower education aspirations.[154]

Music[edit]

Main article: Music in Varanasi
Saint Goswami Tulsidas Awadhi Hindi Poet and prorogator of Bhakthi music in Varanasi

Music in Varanasi is linked to the Pauranic legends. Lord Shiva who is reported to have established this city was credited with evolving music and dance forms. In the historical medieval times, when Vaishnava Bhakthi movement was a rage in the country, literature of the times attest to the fact that Kashi was then a notable centre of music. Saint musicians who furthered the musical fame were Surdas, Kabir, Raidas, Meera and Tulsidas, which continues to this day. During the monarchic rule of Govind Chandra in the 16th century, the Dhrupad style of singing received royal patronage and led to other related forms of music such as Dhamar, Hori and Chaturang.[155] In recent times, Girija Devi, the famous classical singer of thumris, who was born here was instrumental in elevating music to a status of respectability and appreciation.[156]

Apart from the vocal music singers, Varanasi is also associated with many great instrumentalists like Ustad Bismillah Khan an iconic Sehnai maestro,Pandit Vikash Maharajan icon of Benares Gharan & sarod,[155] Pandit Ravi Shankar, the famous sitar player and musicologist who was given the highest civilian award of the country, the Bharat Ratna.[157]

Sport[edit]

Gate at Dr Sampurnanda Stadium

Basketball, cricket and field hockey are popular in Varanasi.[158] The main stadium in the city is the Sigra Stadium, also known as Dr Sampurnanda Stadium, where first-class cricket matches are held.[159] Local cricket matches are also played on the Banaras Hindu University Ground Dr. Bheeem Rao sports complex Badalalpur is also a measure sports ground of national level.[160]

The Physical Education Faculty of Arts of Banaras Hindu University offers diploma courses in Sports Management, Sports Physiotherapy, Sports Psychology and Sports Journalism.[161]

Gymnastics is also popular in Varanasi, and many Indian girls practice outdoors at the ghats in the mornings which hosts akhadas, where "morning exercise, a dip in the Ganga and a visit to Lord Hanuman" forms a daily ritual.[162] Despite concerns regarding water quality, two swimming clubs offer swimming lessons in the Ganga.[163]

The Varanasi District Chess Sports Association (VDCSA) is based in Varanasi, affiliated to the regional UP Chess Sports Association (UPCSA).[164] Udai Pratap Autonomous College is also known for its world class athletes like Prashanti Singh.[165]

Transport[edit]

Cycle rickshaws in a busy street in Varanasi

Varanasi is well-connected by air, rail and road. One of the major factors in Varanasi's is its access to all parts of the country. Within the city mobility is provided by taxis, rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and three wheelers but with certain restrictions in the old town area of the city.[166]

Varanasi is served by Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, which is approximately 26 km (16 mi) from the city centre in Babatpur.[167] The airport inaugurated a new terminal in 2010, and it was granted international airport status on 4 October 2012.[168][169] Air India, Buddha Air, Jet Airways, Jet Konnect, IndiGo, and SpiceJet operate flights from Varanasi to Delhi, Gaya, Kathmandu, Khajuraho, Sharjah, Lucknow, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kolkata.[170] Over 330,000 passengers pass through the airport each year.[168]

Varanasi Junction, commonly known as Varanasi Cantt Railway Station, is the city's largest train station; more than 3.6 lakh passengers and 240 trains pass through each day.[171]

Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, which connects it to Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra and Delhi.[52] National Highway 29 connects Varanasi to Gorakhpur via Ghazipur to the northeast. National Highway 56 connects Varanasi to Lucknow via Jaunpur and Sultanpur, to the northwest.[52] National Highway 7, the longest National Highway in India, is the most important road connecting Varanasi to southern India, passing through the cities of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Salem, Madurai, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari.[52] Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available forms of public transport in old city.[172] In the outer regions of the city, buses are common, and taxis are available.[172]

Partner cities[edit]

Kyoto-Varanasi Partner City Agreement[edit]

Shortly after arriving in Kyoto, Japan for a 5-day bilateral meeting with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Abe announced the Kyoto-Varanasi Partner City Agreement. The text of the agreement was signed in the presence of the leaders of both nations by Mayor of Kyoto Shri Daisaku Kadokawa and Ambassador of India to Japan Smt. Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa.[173][174]

As Varanasi forms a part of Prime Minister Modi's Lok Sabha constituency, "the prime minister ensured that Kashi, on the banks of river Ganges, finds a partner in Kyoto, as India's holy city moves ahead on the path of revival to become the 'smart heritage city' - Modi's fascinating dream to turn his parliamentary constituency into a modern 21st-century city, yet retaining its rich tradition and cultural heritage."[174]

On December 3, 2014, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) of the Government of India's Ministry of Urban Development announced the formation of an 11-member steering committee to facilitate, in line with Prime Minister Modi's directives, the modernization of water management, sewage management, waste management and urban transportation, "drawing upon Japanese expertise and technologies." The committee will also promote the "application of Japanese practices, techniques and management for conservation of rich heritage of Varanasi" and foster "exchanges between Kyoto University and Banares Hindu University, as well as religious organisations."[175]

See also[edit]

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