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 Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, India 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of the state capital, Lucknow and 121 kilometres (75 mi) east of Allahabad. Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The spiritual capital of 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. Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, which connects it to Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra, and Delhi, and is served by Varanasi Junction 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 BC 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. Despite the Muslim rule, Varanasi remained the centre of activity for Hindu 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 and Ravidas. Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism. 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, though much of modern Varanasi was built during the 18th century, by the Maratha and Bhumihar 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 Diesel Locomotive Works and Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited. Varanasi Hospital was established in 1964.

Varanasi has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years, and is closely associated with the Ganges. Hindus believe that death in the city will bring 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 particularly note are the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat, and the Harishchandra Ghat, where Hindus cremate their dead. The Ramnagar Fort, near the eastern bank of the Ganges, was built in the 18th century in the Mughal style of architecture with 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. 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). The Hindi-language nationalist newspaper, Aj, was first published in 1920.

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 is located on the north shores of the Ganges, bounded by its two tributaries: Varuna and Asi.[5] Throughout the ages, Varanasi has been known by many names including Kāśī or Kashi (used by pilgrims dating from Buddha's days), Kāśikā (Sanskrit: "the shining one"), Avimukta (Sanskrit: "never forsaken" by Shiva), Ānandavana (Sanskrit: the forest of bliss), and Rudravāsa (Sanskrit: the place where Rudra/Śiva resides).[6]

In the Rigveda, an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, the city is referred to as Kāśī or Kashi, the "luminous city as an eminent seat of learning".[7] 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."[8] The name Kashi may be translated as "City of Light".[9]

History[edit]

According to legend, Varanasi was founded by the god Shiva.[10] 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.[11] It is regarded as one of seven holy cities which can provide Moksha; Ayodhyā, Mathurā, Gayā, Kaśī, Kañchi, Avantikā, and Dwārāvatī are the seven cities known as the givers of liberation.[12]

Archaeological evidence[edit]

Archaeological evidence of the earliest known settlements around Varanasi in the Ganges valley suggest that they began in the 11th or 12th century BC,[13] placing it among the world's oldest continually inhabited cities.[14][15][16][17] These archaeological remains suggest that the Varanasi area was populated by Vedic people. However, the oldest known text referencing the city, the Atharvaveda, 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.[18] Recent excavations at Aktha and Ramnagar, two sites very near to Varanasi, show them to be from 1800 BC, suggesting Varanasi was also inhabited by this time.[19]

Ancient period[edit]

Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture.[17] During the time of Gautama Buddha, Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi.[17] 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.[20][21] The celebrated Chinese traveller Xuanzang, also known as Hiuen Tsiang, 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.[17][22] When Xuanzang, visited Varanasi in the 7th century, he named it "Polonisse" and wrote that the city had some 30 temples with about 30 monks.[23] 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.[24]

Middle period[edit]

During the Mauryan Empire period, Varanasi was connected by a road starting from Taxila and ending at Pataliputra. "In 1194, the city succumbed to Muslim rule under the Turkic king Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who ordered the destruction of approximately 1,000 temples in the city.[25][26] The city went into decline over some three centuries of Muslim occupation,[22] although new temples were erected in the 13th century after the Afghan invasion.[24] Feroz Shah ordered the 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.[25] 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,[27] 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.[28]

Modern history (1500 – present)[edit]

A lithograph by James Prinsep (1832) of a Brahmin placing a garland on the holiest location in the city.
A painting by Edwin Lord Weeks (1883) of Varanasi, viewed from the Ganges
An illustration (1890) of Bathing Ghat in Varanasi

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.[29]

Varanasi experienced a Hindu cultural revival in the 16th century under the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar, who invested in the city and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu.[22][25] The Raja of Pune established the Annapurna Mandir, and the 200-metre (660 ft) Akbari Bridge was also completed during this period.[30] The earliest tourists began arriving in the city during the 16th century.[31] 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. It was 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.[22] 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.[32] The kings governing Varanasi continued to wield power and importance through much of the British Raj period, 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.[31] In 1791, under the rule of the British Governor-General Warren Hastings, Jonathan Duncan founded a Sanskrit College in Varanasi.[33] 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 [34]

An 1895 photograph of the Varanasi riverfront.

In 1897, author Mark Twain, 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."[35] In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramnagar as its capital but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself. The religious head, Kashi Naresh, has had his headquarters at the Ramnagar Fort since the 18th century, also a repository of the history of the kings of Varanasi, which is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges.[36] The Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the local people and the chief cultural patron; some devout inhabitants consider him to be the incarnation of Shiva.[37]

In 1857, the British Army committed a massacre of Indian troops and city residence during the early stages of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.[38] Annie Besant founded the Central Hindu College, which later became a foundation for the creation of Banaras Hindu University in 1916. Besant founded the Central Hindu College because 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."[39]

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 in 2000.[40] The current king and the resident of the fort is Anant Narayan Singh, since 1971.[41]

Geography and climate[edit]

Location in India

Geography[edit]

Varanasi is located at an elevation of 80.71 metres (264.8 ft)[42] in the centre of the 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.[43] The city is 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.[44] The "Varanasi Urban Agglomeration" – an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units – covers an area of 112.26 km 2 (approximately 43 mi²).[45] Neighbourhoods of the city include Adampura, Anandbagh, Bachchhaon, Bangali Tola, Bhelpura, Bulanala, Chaitganj, Chaukaghat, Chowk, Dhupchandi, Dumraon, Gandhinagar, Gautam Nagar, Giri Nagar, Gopal Vihar, Guru Nanak Nagar, Jaitpura, Kail Garh, Khanna, Kotwali, Lanka Manduadih, Luxa, Maheshpur, Mahmoorganj, Maulvibagh, Nagwar, Naipokhari, Shivala, Siddhagiribagh, and Sigra.[44]

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.[46] Varanasi is located between the Ganges confluences with two rivers: the Varuna and the Assi stream. The distance between the two confluences is around 2 miles (4 km), and serves as a sacred journeying route for Hindus, which culminates with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple. [47]

Climate[edit]

Varanasi experiences a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cwa) with large variations between summer and winter temperatures.[48][49] 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.[50] 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.[51][52]

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)[53][54]

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.[55] 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 a huge margin.[56]

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 BC. Since 1922, Ayurveda has been a subject of training in the Banaras Hindu University and in 1927 a separate Ayurvedic College was established.[57][58] There are many Ayurvedic centers in Varanasi like Sparsa Ayurvedic Centre which provide Ayurvedic treatments such as Panchakarma and other methods.[59] S S Ayurveda Hospital operates a Panchakarma treatment centre, in association with Kerala Ayurveda Ltd.[60]

Varansi has several hospitals, including Heritage Hospital, Marwari Hospital, Mata Anand Mai Hospital, Rajkiya Hospital, Ram Krishna Mission Hospital, Shiv Prasad Gupta Hospital, Sir Sundar Lal Hospital, and Varanasi Hospital and Medical Research Centre. A separate cancer institute is also operated in Varanasi.[61] The largest is Varanasi Hospital, established in 1964 by Dr. Baijnath Prasad.[62] The hospital, which in 2012 had 66 beds, serves Varanasi and surrounding districts and states, many of which rely on it for surgery.[62] Although the hospital suffers from a lack of funding, it has facilities such as x-ray, ultrasonography, echocardiography and a pathology lab.[62] The urban portion of Varanasi District had an infant mortality rate of 70 per 1,000 live births in 2010–2011.[63]

Public maintenance[edit]

Due to the high population density of Varanasi and the increasing number of tourists, the Uttar Pradesh government and international non-governmental organizations and institutions have expressed grave concern for the pollution and pressures on infrastructure in the city, mainly the sewage, sanitation, and drainage components.[64] 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.[64] The sewage problem is exacerbated by the role of the Ganges in bathing and in river traffic, which is very difficult to control.[64] Varanasi's water supply and sewage system is maintained by Jal Nigam, a subsidiary of Varanasi Nagar Nigam. Power supply is by the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited. The city produces about 350,000,000 litres (77,000,000 imp gal; 92,000,000 US gal) per day[65] of sewage and 425 tonnes (418 long tons; 468 short tons) per day of solid waste.[66] The solid wastes are disposed in one landfill site.[67]

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.[68]

The population of the Varanasi urban agglomeration in 2001 was 1,371,749 with a ratio of 879 females every 1,000 males.[69] However, the area under Varanasi Nagar Nigam has a population of 1,100,748[70] with a ratio of 883 females for every 1,000 males.[70] The literacy rate in the urban agglomeration is 77% while that in the municipal corporation area is 78%.[70] Approximately 138,000 people in the municipal area live in slums.[71]

Economy[edit]

Banarasi sari

According to the 2006 City Development Plan for Varanasi, approximately 29% of Varanasi's population is employed.[72] Approximately 40% are employed 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).[73]

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.[74] Varanasi's manufacturing industry is not well developed and is dominated by small-scale industries and household production.[72]

Tourists shopping for jewelry in Varanasi

Silk weaving is the dominant manufacturing industry in Varanasi.[75] Muslims are the influential community in this industry with nearly half a million of them working as weavers, dyers, sari finishers, and salespersons.[76] Weaving is typically done within the household, and most weavers are Momin Ansari Muslims.[77] 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.[78] The silk weaving industry has recently been threatened by the rise of power looms and computer-generated designs and by competition from Chinese silk imports.[72]

In the metal manufacturing sector, Diesel Locomotive Works is a major employer.[74] Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, a large power equipment manufacturer, also runs a heavy equipment repair plant.[79] 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.[75] Important agricultural products include betel leaves (for paan), langra mangoes and khoa (solidified milk).[74][80]

DLW manufactured locomotives hauling load across the nation

Tourism is Varanasi's second most important industry.[81] Over 3 million domestic and 200,000 foreign tourists visit annually (in 2005 and 2010, respectively), most commonly for religious purposes.[82][81] Most domestic tourists are from Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, while the majority of foreign tourists are from Sri Lanka and Japan.[83] The peak tourist season falls between October and March.[83] 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.[84] Overall, Varanasi's tourist infrastructure is not well developed.[84]

The prominent malls and multiplexes in Varanasi are JHV Mall in the Varanasi Cantonment area, IP Mall in Sigra, IP Vijaya Mall in Bhelupur, and PDR in Luxa. The city has several banks, including the Allahabad Bank, Andhra Bank, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Central Bank of India, Corporation Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, and State Bank of India.[85]

Notable landmarks[edit]

Apart from the 19 archaeological sites identified by the Archaeological Survey of India,[86] some of the prominent places of interest are the Aghor Peeth, the Alamgir Mosque, the Ashoka Pillar, the Bharat Kala Bhawan (Art Museum), the Bharat Mata Temple, the Central University for Tibetan Studies, the Durga Temple, the Jantar Mantar, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith, the New Vishwanath Temple on the BHU campus, the Ramnagar Fort, the Riverfront Ghats, the Tulsi Manas Temple.[87]

Jantar Mantar[edit]

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 Raja Jai Singh 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.[88]

Ramnagar Fort[edit]

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-colored 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, bejeweled sedan chairs, an impressive weaponry hall, and a rare astrological clock.[41] In addition, manuscripts, especially religious writings, are housed in the Saraswati Bhawan. 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.[41][89]

A view of the Ghats in Varanasi from the Ganges

Ghats[edit]

Main article: Ghats in Varanasi

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 concept of divinity represented in physical, metaphysical, and supernatural elements.[90] Varanasi has at least 84 ghats.[91][92][93] 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 legends and several are now privately owned.[94]

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 tourist attraction. The extensive stretches of ghats in Varanasi enhance the riverfront with a multitude of shrines, temples, and palaces built "tier on tier above the water's edge".[17]

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 perform "Agni Pooja" ("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.[92]

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. 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.[92]

Temples[edit]

Among the estimated 23,000 temples in Varanasi,[11] 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.[95][96][5]

The Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the most important temple in Varanasi

The Kashi Vishwanath Temple, on the Ganges, is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga Shiva temples.[96] 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.[97] The temple, as it exists now, also called Golden Temple,[98] 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. Numerous rituals, prayers and aratis are held daily, starting from 2:30 am till 11:00 pm.[99]

The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is one of the sacred temples of the Hindu god Hanuman situated by the Asi River.[100] 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.[101] It is believed the temple was built on the very spot where the medieval Hindu saint Tulsidas had a vision of Hanuman.[102] On 7 March 2006, in a terrorist attack, one of the three explosions hit the temple while a wedding was in progress, were present and many were injured.[101] After the terrorist incident, a permanent police post was set up inside the temple.[103]

The 18th century Durga Kund Temple, also known as the "Monkey temple"

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[98] 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.[104] While the Annapurna Temple, located close to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, is dedicated to Annapurna, the goddess of food,[96] 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.[96] Other temples of note are Kalabhairav Temple, Mrithyunjay Mahadev Temple, the New Vishwanath Temple located in the campus of Banaras Hindu University, the Tulsi Manas Mandir and Bharat Mata Temple, dedicated to the national personification of India, which was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936.[96]

Mosques[edit]

There are 15 historical mosques in the city. Of particular note are Dhai Nim Kangore, Ganje Shahada, Chaukhambha, Bibi Razia, Gyanavapi, Alamgir, Fatman and Abdul Razzaq. Many of these mosques were constructed from the despoils of the Hindu shrines which were destroyed by the Muslim invaders or rulers. The Gyanvapi Mosque was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. The Alamgiri Mosque, also called the "Beni Madhav ka Darera"., was built by Aurangzeb over the ruins of a Vishnu temple.[105] The mosque's lower half is entirely a part of a Hindu temple.[87]

Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan[edit]

Shri Guru Ravidass Park

Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan, also known as the "Begumpura", 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.[106]

Culture[edit]

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,[107] 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.[108] The main newspaper is Aj, a Hindi-language nationalist newspaper first published in 1920.[109] The newspaper was the bulwark of the Indian National Congress and today is still a major newspaper of Hindi northern India.[109]

Wall paintings, Varanasi, 1974

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,[110]

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.[111][112] The former cantonment graveyard during the British Raj is now the location of Varanasi's Arts and Crafts.[113]

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, a 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. 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.[114] In recent times, Girija Devi, the native famous classical singer of thumris, was instrumental in elevating music to a status of respectability and appreciation.[115]

Apart from the vocal music singers, Varanasi is also associated with many great instrumentalists such as Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pandit Vikash Maharaj,[114] and Pandit Ravi Shankar, the famous sitar player and musicologist who was given the highest civilian award of the country, the Bharat Ratna.[116]

Religion[edit]

Varanasi has embodied within itself a "notion of national consciousness" and its people consider their city as a "cultural capital of India". This has contributed to the concept that the city is 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. Other Hindu holy places, 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.[117]

In addition to its 3,300 Hindu religious places, there are 12 churches, three Jain mandirs, nine Buddhist shrines, three Gurudwaras (Sikh shrines), and 1,388 Muslim holy places.[117]

Hinduism[edit]

People performing Hindu ceremony at Kedar ghats of Varanasi

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities and centres of pilgrimage for Hindus of all denominations.[118] It is one of the seven Hindu holiest cities (Sapta Puri), considered the giver of salvation (moksha).[119][120] Over 50,000 Brahmins live in Varanasi, providing religious services to the masses.[119] 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.[121] In 2001, Hindus made up approximately 84% of the population of Varanasi District.[122]

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.[8] Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the Ganges itself to be the Goddess Shakti.[123] Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here,[124] leading to the great Hindu revival.

Islam[edit]

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

Approximately 250,000 Muslims live in Varanasi. In 2001, they made up approximately 18% of the population of Varanasi District,[122] and 29.7% of the city's population. Muslim settlements started here following the invasion by Mohammad Ghaznavi (1021-1030 AD) and subsequently there was a 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, three sites for burying the taziyas, and 375 other religious sites.[125]

Others[edit]

At the 2001 census, persons of other religions or no religion made up 0.4% of the population of Varanasi District.[122]

Varanasi is 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 ("non-violence"), asteya ("non-stealing") and aparigraha ("non-accumulation"). During archaeological excavations at this site, many Jain images were excavated which dated to the 9th-11th centuries BC, while a few images date to the 5th century BC. After Parsvanatha, Mahavira came here in the 6th century BC. It is also said to be the birthplace 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. [126]

Jain Ghat.

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.[127] The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still in existence, though only its foundation remains.[128] Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples in the 5th century.[26]

Guru Nanak came to Banaras on two occasions. He came in 1502 as a young man 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. 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.[129]

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, propagating Christian dogmas. In 1830, the first English Seminary, named Anglo-Indian Seminary, was instituted and Christian missionaries came to preach 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 the end of British rule, Christianity did not expand any further in Varanasi. The city has 22 churches.[130] The Roman Catholic Diocese of Varanasi (Latin: Varanasien(sis)) is located in the city under the Ecclesiastical province of Agra in India. St. Mary's Cathedral is notable.[131]

Dalits encompass 13% of Varanasi's population.[132] Most dalits are followers of Guru Ravidass. Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan is an important place of pilgrimage for Ravidasis from all around India.[133]

Festivals[edit]

On Mahashivaratri (February), a procession of Shiva proceeds from the Mahamrityunjaya Temple to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.[95] Dhrupad Mela is a five-day musical festival devoted to dhrupad style held at Tulsi Ghat in February–March.[134] The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple celebrates Hanuman Jayanti (March–April), the birthday of Hanuman. A special puja, aarti, and a public procession is organized.[135][136] 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.[95][137][138][139]

The Ramlila of Ramnagar is a dramatic enactment of Rama's legend, as told in Ramacharitamanasa.[37] The plays, sponsored by Kashi Naresh, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[37] On the last day, the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[37] Kashi Naresh Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition around 1830.[37][140]

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.[141] Bharat Milap celebrates the meeting of Rama and his younger brother Bharata after the return of the former after 14 years of exile.[95] It is celebrated during October–November, a day after the festival of Vijayadashami. Kashi Naresh attends this festival in his regal attire. The festival attracts a large number of devotees.[140]

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.[95][134]

Every year, the primary Muslim festivals celebrated in the city are the ld-ul-fitr' (Ramzan), Bakrid, Shab-e-Barat, Bara Wafat and Muharram. Additional festivals include Alvida and Chehlum. A non-religious festival observed by Muslims is Ghazi-miyan-ka-byaha ("the marriage of Ghazi Miyan").[142][143]

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.[144][145] Varanasi has an overall literacy rate of 80% (male literacy: 85%, female literacy: 75%).[68] 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– is one of the largest residential universities in Asia.[146] 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. The overall "state of education in Varanasi is ... not good."[147] Schools in Varanasi vary widely in quality, with private schools outperforming government schools.[147] In government schools, many teachers fail to come to class or to teach children.[147] Some government schools lack basic equipment, such as blackboards and sufficient desks and chairs for all students.[147] 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.[147] Pupils attending the more expensive private schools, tended to come from upper-class families.[147] Lower-cost private schools attracted children from lower-income families or those lower-income families with higher education aspirations.[147] Government schools tend to serve lower-class children with lower education aspirations.[147]

Sport[edit]

Gate at Dr Sampurnanda Stadium

Basketball, cricket and field hockey are popular in Varanasi.[148] The main stadium in the city is the Sigra Stadium, also known as Dr Sampurnanda Stadium, where first-class cricket matches are held.[149] 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.[150]

The Physical Education Faculty of Arts of Banaras Hindu University offers diploma courses in Sports Management, Sports Physiotherapy, Sports Psychology and Sports Journalism.[151]

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.[152] Despite concerns regarding water quality, two swimming clubs offer swimming lessons in the Ganga.[153]

The Varanasi District Chess Sports Association (VDCSA) is based in Varanasi, affiliated to the regional UP Chess Sports Association (UPCSA).[154] Udai Pratap Autonomous College is also known for its world class athletes like Prashanti Singh.[155]

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.[156]

Varanasi is served by Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, which is approximately 26 km (16 mi) from the city centre in Babatpur.[157] The airport inaugurated a new terminal in 2010, and it was granted international airport status on 4 October 2012.[158][159] 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.[160] Over 330,000 passengers pass through the airport each year.[158]

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.[161]

Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, which connects it to Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra, and Delhi.[44] 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.[44] 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.[44] Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available forms of public transport in old city.[162] In the outer regions of the city, buses are common, and taxis are available.[162]

Partner cities[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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