Varanasi also known as Banaras, Benares, or Kashi is considered one among the seven sacred cities of Hinduism and Jainism. It is termed as the holiest city of India. The popular religious hub is located on the banks of the sacred Ganga river in Uttar Pradesh, India. Kashi is known for its faith, religious value, and rich mythology. The sacred land where Ganga is glorified and worshipped is frequented by devotees from all over the country. The iconic Ganga Aarti on the banks of the holy river with the backdrop of continuous chanting is one of the major attractions of Varanasi.
According to the Hindu mythology, once Lord Brahma and Shiva had a fight in which Lord Shiva tore the former’s one head. Lord Shiva disrespected Brahma’s head and carried it everywhere he’d go as a symbol of his bravery. When he went to Varanasi, the head fell off his hand and disappeared. Thus, the legend tells that the sacred land was found by Shiva, one of the three principal deities of Hinduism. The land of numerous Ghats or steps is said to be the place to attain moksha. The Hindu mythology bores evidence of the fact that the Pandavas of Mahabharata had visited Varanasi to seek penance for violence in the Kurukshetra War.
History of Kashi:
The industrial significance of Varanasi:
Varanasi had a rather checkered history. It was a flourishing kingdom during the early Aryan settlements. It had become an important commercial center for its fabrics, muslin, ivory, and sculptures.
The religious significance of Varanasi:
Jainism was also born in Varanasi when Buddha gave his first sermon in the holy land. Varanasi continued to grow as an important center for the spread of other religions like Sikhism and Vaishnavism. The kingdom gained prime importance during the Mughal Emperor, Akbar’s patronage. It became the pilgrimage site for devotees. Several Bhakti movement poets and writers like Kabir and Ravidas were also born in Varanasi, increasing the place’s spiritual and religious value. The epic poem- Ram Charit Manas was written by Tulsidas in this holy place.
Who destroyed Kashi?
The prosperous kingdom of Varanasi was destroyed by the Muslim rulers. Varanasi had a major setback in terms of trade, religion, and education. Many learned scholars fled to different parts of the country to save their life. However, the city heaved a sigh of relief during the rule of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. Unfortunately, the dark phase was not over for Varanasi. It again suffered a downfall during the rule of Aurangzeb under is was revived by the Marathas. After independence Varanasi become a part of Uttar Pradesh.
Major landmarks of Varanasi:
Ghats of Varanasi:
When we hear Varanasi most of us picture the holy Ghats that lead to the sacred Ganga. No doubt Varanasi is famous worldwide for its Ghats. They are embankments made of stone steps where the religious rituals are carried out by the devotees. Many of the 84 Ghats are used for bathing while some are used for Hindu cremation. The major ones being the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat, and the Harishchandra Ghat.
It is termed as the oldest Ghat of Varanasi and is one of the notable sites of the city. It is located close to the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Above the Ghat there are several other pilgrimage sites namely, the temples dedicated to Ganga, Bandi Devi, and Sulatankesvara. The mythological legend says that these Ghats were created by Jagatpati Brahma to welcome the supreme God, Lord Shiva. The prestigious ritual Ashvamedha was also performed by him where 10 horses were sacrificed.
This Ghat is primarily used for Hindu cremation in the Varanasi. Hence called the Mahamasana. The natives say that an earring of Sati Devi had fallen in the Manikarnika Ghat. However, some believe it to be a myth.
Famous temples of Kashi:
Kashi Vishwanath Temple:
Kashi Vishwanath Mandir of Varanasi is one of the most famous Hindu temples in India. It is one among the 12 Jyotirlingas dedicated to Shri Vishwanath, the manifestation of Lord Shiva. The revered temple has been demolished a few times by foreign rulers like Aurangzeb. Several renovations of the temple have been made in history and still, its architectural features are being enhanced.
The temple is an important pilgrimage site for Jain devotees. Parshvanath temple is primarily dedicated to Parshvanath, the 23rd Tirthankara of Jain cosmology. The pristine temple belongs to the Digambar sect of Jainism.
Other renowned temples of Varanasi are- Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, Durga Mandir, Bharat Mata Mandir, and Kala Bhairav Mandir.
The 18th century Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Balwant Singh. The historic fort was built by chunar colored sandstone and is a beautiful example of Mughal architecture. Its major features include carved balconies and open courtyards. The fort also houses a museum which is often termed as the “Eccentric Museum.”
Varanasi is not only a famous religious hub but also an important educational center. The city had great learned scholars and revered educational institutes.
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