The spiritual capital of India
|• Mayor||Ram Gopal Mohle (BJP)|
|• City||1,550 km2 (600 sq mi)|
|Elevation||80.71 m (264.80 ft)|
|• Density||2,399/km2 (6,210/sq mi)|
|• Official||Hindi, English, Urdu|
|Time zone||UTC+5:30 (IST)|
221 001 to** (** area code)
|Vehicle registration||UP 65|
|Sex ratio||0.926 (2011) ♂/♀|
Varanasi (Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋaːˈraːɳəsi] (listen)), also Benares, Banaras (Banāras [bəˈnaːrəs] (listen)) or Kashi (Kāśī [ˈkaːʃi] (listen)), is a city on the banks of the Ganges (Ganga) in Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres (200 mi) southeast of the state capital, Lucknow. It is holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism and Jainism. Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India.
The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi, and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the Ganges. The city has been a cultural center 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.
Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India. Scholarly books have been written in the city, including the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas. Today there is a temple of his namesake in the city, the Tulsi Manas Mandir. One of the largest residential universities of Asia the Benares Hindu University is located here. Varanasi is often referred to as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of lights", "the city of learning", and "the oldest living city on earth."
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Geography and climate
- 4 Administration
- 5 Demographics
- 6 Economy
- 7 Landmarks
- 8 Culture
- 9 Religion
- 10 Religious festivals
- 11 Education
- 12 Sport
- 13 Transport
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 External links
The name Varanasi possibly originates from the names of the two rivers: the Varuna still flowing in Varanasi and the Assi (not visible, though a small stream or Nalla near Assi Ghat is considered to be the Assi River). Indeed, the old city lies on the north shores of the Ganges bounded by its two tributaries, the Varuna and the Assi, while the Ganges proper lies to its south. Another speculation is that the city derives its name from the river Varuna, which was called Varanasi in olden times. This is generally disregarded by historians, though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so. Through the ages, Varanasi has been known by many names including Kashi (used by pilgrims, dating from Buddha's day), Kashika (the shining one), Avimukta ("never forsaken" with reference to Shiva), Anandavana (the forest of bliss), and Rudravasa (the place where Shiva (Rudra) resides).
In the Rigveda, the city was referred to as Kasi or Kashi, "the luminous one" as an allusion to the city's historical status as a centre of learning, literature, art and culture. Kasikhand described the glory of the city in 15,000 verses in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, the Hindu god Shiva says, "The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kashi is my royal palace therein."
According to legend, Varanasi was founded by the god Shiva. 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.. It is regarded as one of seven holy cities which can provide Moksha:
Garuḍa Purāṇa XVI 114
The earliest known archaeological evidence suggests that settlement around Varanasi in the Ganga valley (the seat of Aryan religion and philosophy) began in the 11th or 12th century BC, placing it among the world's oldest continually inhabited cities. 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. Varanasi was also home to Parshva, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara and the earliest Tirthankara accepted as a historical figure in the 8th century BC.
Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BC), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, "Turning the Wheel of Law", at nearby Sarnath. The celebrated Chinese traveler 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. Hiuen Tsiang also visited Varanasi in the 7th century; he named it "Polonisse" and wrote that the city had some 30 temples with about 30 monks. 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.
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. The city went into decline over some three centuries of Muslim occupation, although new temples were erected in the 13th century after the Afghan invasion. 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. 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"; and Ravidas, a 15th-century socio-religious reformer, mystic, poet, traveler, and spiritual figure, who was born and lived in the city and employed in the tannery industry. 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.
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. The Raja of Poona established the Annapurnamandir and the 200 metres (660 ft) Akbari Bridge was also completed during this period. The earliest tourists began arriving in the city during the 16th century. 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. 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 by the Rajput and Maratha kings, especially during the 18th century, and most of the important buildings in the city today date to this period. 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. In 1791, under the rule of British Governor-General Warren Hastings, Jonathan Duncan founded a Sanskrit College in Varanasi. In 1867, the establishment of the Varanasi Municipal Board led to significant improvements in the city.
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." In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramanagar 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. 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.
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. 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."
Varanasi was ceded to the Union of India on 15 October 1948. After the death of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh in 2000, his son Anant Narayan Singh became the figurehead king, responsible for upholding the traditional duties of a Kashi Naresh.
Geography and climate
Varanasi is located 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 50 feet (15 m) and 70 feet (21 m) above the river. It has the headquarters of Varanasi district. By road, Varanasi is located 797 kilometres (495 mi) southeast of New Delhi, 320 kilometres (200 mi) southeast of Lucknow, 121 kilometres (75 mi) east of Allahabad, and 63 kilometres (39 mi) south of Jaunpur. The "Varanasi Urban Agglomeration" – an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units – covers an area of 112.26 km 2 (approximately 43 mi²). The urban agglomeration is stretched between 82° 56’E – 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N – 25° 23.5’N. 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, and Gautam Nagar, Lanka Manduadih.
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. 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 2.5 miles (4.0 km), and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places – a Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a five-mile (8.3 km) journey) ending with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple – as a holy ritual.
Varanasi experiences a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cwa) with large variations between summer and winter temperatures. Summers are long, from early April to October with intervening monsoon seasons, and are also extremely hot, even by South Asian standards. 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. 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.
|Climate data for Varanasi|
|Average high °C (°F)||19
|Average low °C (°F)||8
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||19.3
Politics and law
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.
Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of the Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery lived in Varanasi. The city grew as a place for Authentic Ayurveda and Panchkarma treatment. Many Ayurvedic centers are here, Punarnava Health Ayurvedic center (one of the best) 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. The largest is Varanasi Hospital, established in 1964 by Dr. Baijnath Prasad. The hospital, which as of 2012 has 66 beds, serves Varanasi and surrounding districts and states, many of which rely on it for surgery. Although the hospital suffers from a lack of funding, it has facilities such as X-ray, Ultrasonography, Echocardiography and a Pathology Lab.
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. 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. The sewage problem is exacerbated by the role of the Ganges in bathing and in river traffic, which is very difficult to control. 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 of sewerage and 425 tonnes per day of solid waste. The solid wastes are disposed in one landfill site.
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.
The population of the Varanasi urban agglomeration in 2001 was 1,371,749m with a ratio of 879 females every 1,000 males. However, the area under Varanasi Nagar Nigam has a population of 1,100,748 with a ratio of 883 females for every 1,000 males. The literacy rate in the urban agglomeration is 77% while that in the municipal corporation area is 78%. Approximately 138,000 people in the municipal area live in slums.
Approximately 29% of Varanasi's population is employed. 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).
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. Varanasi's manufacturing industry is not well developed and is dominated by small-scale industries and household production.
Silk weaving is the dominant manufacturing industry in Varanasi. Weaving is typically done within the household, and most weavers are Momin Ansari Muslims. 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. 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.
In the metal manufacturing sector, Diesel Locomotive Works is a major employer. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, a large power equipment manufacturer, also runs a heavy equipment repair plant. 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. Important agricultural products include betel leaves (for paan), langra mangoes and khoa (solidified milk).
Tourism is Varanasi's second most important industry. Over 3 million domestic and 200,000 foreign tourists visit annually (as of 2005 and 2010, respectively), most commonly for religious reasons. Most domestic tourists are from Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh; most foreign tourists are from Sri Lanka and Japan. The peak tourist season falls between October and March. 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. Overall, Varanasi's tourist infrastructure is not well developed.
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 State Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Andhra Bank, Allahabad Bank, and the Central Bank of India.
Varanasi's "Old City", the quarter near the banks of the Ganges, has crowded narrow winding lanes flanked by road-side shops and scores of Hindu temples. As atmospheric as it is confusing, Varanasi's labyrinthine Old City is has a rich culture, attracting many travellers and tourists. The main residential areas of Varanasi (especially for the middle and upper classes) are situated in regions far from the ghats; they are more spacious and less polluted.
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 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.
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. 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. 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 km from Varanasi.
Ghats are embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions. Ghats in Varanasi are an integral compliment 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". Varanasi has at least 84 ghats. 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. 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. 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".
The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main and probably the oldest ghat of Varansi 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.
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.
Among innumerable (about 23,000) temples in Varanasi, 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.
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. 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. The temple, as it exists now, also called Golden Temple, 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 throughout the day, starting from 2:30 am till 11:00 pm.
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. 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. It is believed the temple was built on the very spot where the medieval Hindu saint Tulsidas had a vision of Hanuman. 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). After the terrorist incident, a permanent police post was set up inside the 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 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.
While the Annapurna Temple, located close to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, is dedicated to Annapurna, the goddess of food, 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.
Kalabhairav Temple, an ancient temple located near the Head Post Office at Visheshar Ganj, is dedicated to Kala-Bhairava, the guardian (Kotwal) of Varanasi. 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.
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. The Tulsi Manas Temple, 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.
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.
In the order of their importance the mosques in Varanasi are the Gyanvapi Mosque, the Alamgiri Mosque, the Ganj-e-Shaheedan Mosque and the Chaukhamba Mosque which cater to the prayer needs of 25% of the Muslim population out of total population of about a 1 million. Muslims have been residing in Varanasi since several generations starting from the rule of the Delhi Sultanate.
Varanasi has its own culture of fine art and literature. Great 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, and Bharatendu Harishchandra. Later writers have includedJaishankar 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.
The main newspaper is Aj, a Hindi-language nationalist newspaper first published in 1920. The newspaper was the bulwark of the Indian National Congress and today is still a major newspaper of Hindi northern India.
Art lovers and historians like Rai Krishnadasa, his son Anand Krishna, musicians like Gopal Mishra (considered one of the best sarangi players of all times), Omkarnath Thakur, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Lalmani Misra and his son Gopal Shankar Misra, N. Rajam, Rajbhan Singh, Anokhelal Mishra, Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, M. V. Kalvint, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna, Kishan Maharaj, Vikash Maharaj, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mahadev Mishra, Chhannulal Mishra and numerous others have kept the city alive to the spiritual aspect of fine arts in addition to their ability to entertain. Numerous festivals are celebrated that preserve traditional styles of classical and folk culture. All night, open music concerts like those organised at Sankat Mochan Temple, Hori, Kajari, Chaiti Mela, and Budwa Mangal, are annual features that draw connoisseurs from near and far.
Varanasi is the hub of arts and crafts, particularly silks and brocades with gold and silver threadwork, 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. The former cantonment graveyard during British Raj is now the location of Varanasi’s Arts and Crafts.
Varanasi is one of the holiest cities and centres of pilgrimage for Hindus of all denominations. It is one of the seven Hindu holiest cities (Sapta Puri), considered the giver of salvation (moksha). Over 50,000 Brahmins live in Varanasi, providing religious services to the masses. 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 transmigrations. Thus, many Hindus arrive here for dying.
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. Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard the River Ganges itself to be the Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival.
Interwoven within one million Hindus are two hundred and fifty thousand Muslims who have made Varanasi their home for more than a thousand years. As of 2001, Muslims made up approximately 16% of the population of Varanasi District. Muslims live in the close-knit communities founded in the days of the Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal Empire. The Muslim call to prayer, Azaan, can be heard from the Gyanvapi Mosque five times a day. The other important Mosques in Varanasi include: Alamgiri Mosque, Ganj-e-Shaheedan Mosque and Chaukhamba Mosque.
Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Suparshvanath, Shreyansanath, and Parshva, who are respectively the seventh, eleventh, and twenty-third Jain Tirthankars and as such Varanasi is a holy city for Jains. Shree Parshvanath Digambar Jain Tirth Kshetra (Digambar Jain Temple) is situated in Bhelupur, Varanasi. This temple is of great religious importance to the Jain Religion.
Sarnath, a suburb of Varanasi, is a place of Buddhist pilgrimage. It is the site of the deer park where Siddhārtha Gautama is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism. The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still in existence, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples in the 5th century. An octagonal tower was built later there.
Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507 and had an encounter which with other events forms the basis for the story of the founding of Sikhism. Varanasi also hosts the Roman Catholic Diocese of Varanasi, and has a significant Jewish expatriate community. Varanasi is home to numerous tribal faiths which are not easily classified.
The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple celebrates Hanuman Jayanti (March–April), the birthday of Hanuman with great fervour. A special puja and aarti, and a public procession is organized. Starting in 1923, the temple also 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.
The Ramlila of Ramnagar is a dramatic enactment of Rama's legend, as told in Ramacharitamanasa. The plays sponsored by Kashi Naresh, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days. On the last day, the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana. Kashi Naresh Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition in c. 1830.
Bharat Milap celebrates the meeting of Rama and his younger brother Bharata after the return of the former after 14 years of exile. It is celebrated during 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.
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 young 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 along with 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 river boats.
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 also release lighted lamps to float in the river from the ghats.
Historically, Varanasi has been an educational center within India, drawing students and scholars from across the country. Varanasi has an overall literacy rate of 80 percent (male literacy: 85%, female literacy: 75%). 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. The Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi is an Institute of National Importance in Varanasi and is one of India's 16 IITs. Other colleges and universities in Varanasi include Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Imania Arabic College, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (at Sarnath), Institute of Integrated Management and Technology (IIMT), Udai Pratap Autonomous College, Nav Sadhana Kala Kendra, Harischandra P.G. collage, Agrasen Knya P.G. collage and numerous others.
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". Schools in Varanasi vary widely in quality, with private schools outperforming government schools. In government schools, many teachers fail to come to class or fail to teach children. Some government schools lack basic equipment, such as blackboards and sufficient desks and chairs for all students. Private schools vary in quality, with the most expensive conducting lessons in English (seen as a key to children's success) and even having computers in classrooms. Pupils attending the more expensive private schools (with tuition around 300 Rs./month in 2001–2002), tended to come from upper-class families. Lower-cost private schools (with tuition around 50 Rs./month in 2001–2002) also attracted children from lower-income families, or at least those lower-income families with higher educational aspirations. Government schools tend to serve lower-class children with lower educational aspirations.
Cricket and Field hockey are popular in Varanasi. The main stadium in the city is the Sigra Stadium, also known as Dr Sampurnanda Stadium, where first-class cricket matches are held. Local cricket matches are also played on the Banaras Hindu University grounds. The Physical Education Faculty of Arts of Banaras Hindu University offers diploma courses in Sports Management, Sports Physiotherapy, Sports Psychology and Sports Journalism. 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. The Varanasi District Chess Sports Association (VDCSA) is based in Varanasi, affiliated to the regional UP Chess Sports Association (UPCSA).
Varanasi is well connected by air, rail and road. One of the major factors in Varanasi's sustained existence as an inhabited city is its role as an established transportation hub between different cities. Varanasi is served by Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, which is located approximately 26 km (16 mi) from the city centre in Babatpur. The airport inaugurated a new terminal in 2010, and it was granted international airport status on October 4, 2012. Air India, Buddha Air, Jet Airways, Jet Konnect, and SpiceJet operate flights from Varanasi to Delhi, Gaya, Kathmandu, Khajuraho, Lucknow, Mumbai, and Kolkata. Over 330,000 passengers pass through the airport each year. Varanasi Junction, commonly known as Varanasi Cantt Railway Station, is Varanasi's largest train station; more than 80,000 passengers and 100 trains pass through the station each day.
Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, which connects it to Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra and Delhi. National Highway 29 connects Varanasi to Gorakhpur via Ghazipur to the northeast, and National Highway 56 connects Varanasi to Lucknow via Jaunpur and Sultanpur, to the northwest. 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, Madurai and Kanyakumari. Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available forms of public transport in old city. In the outer regions of the city, city-buses are common, and taxis are also available.
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