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Varanasi
 


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Varanasi is said to be the oldest inhabited city in the world. There are supposed to be 2,000 temples in Varanasi. It is 125km east of Allahabad, on the bank of the Ganges.

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Many older people come to Varanasi to die and to be burned at the burning ghats along the river. It is believed that anyone who dies in Varanasi attains moksha (liberation). It is said that being burned at Varanasi adds to the pious credits of someone, therefore many bodies are brought here to be cremated. Many widows come here to die.

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The name Varanasi most likely stems from the two rivers, Varuna and Asi, which join the Ganges on the north and south borders of the city.

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It is said that the first Siva Jyotirlinga, the fiery pillar of light, came through the earth here and flared into the sky. Therefore Varanasi is also called Kasi, "City of Light." Kashi is mentioned in the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Srimad Bhagavatam, and the Puranas, which date back 5,000 years, as the foremost city of Siva. The Muslims gave it the name Benares. At Independence, the old name, Varanasi, was given to the city again.

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The Ganges, which normally flows southeast, reverses its course and flows north for a while at Varanasi, which is considered very auspicious. There is a five-mile parikrama path that goes around this sacred city. There are 81 bathing ghats and other holy kunds, or sacred tanks.

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Many saints and sages have come to Varanasi including Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the Buddha, Sankaracarya, and Sri Ramanuja. Sri Caitanya met Sanatana Gosvami here and converted Prakasananda Sarasvati and his followers here.

display enlarged image in new window For many, it is one of the highlights of a trip to India to get on a boat at 6 am and see the city on the waters of the Ganges at sunrise.
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Six o'clock in the morning is the best time to visit the waterfront. It is a good idea to rent your own boat and not go with many other people.

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In upper part of town used to be the Maharaja of Varanasi's palace...

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..but he has later built his residence on the opposite side of the river. It is called Ramnagar.

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Hariscandra Ghat
Bodies are brought from thousands of kilometers away to be burned here. This ghat is named after King Hariscandra, who is said to have had to work as a Dom (caretaker of the crematorium) in order to keep his word. Kings Hariscandra was famous for never refusing a guest and never telling a lie...

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...He was a worshiper of Brahma. Indra told Brahma that he believed that Hariscandra's devotion was not as strong as he made it appear to be. So in order to prove that it was, Brahma disguised himself as a Brahmin priest and asked the king for his entire kingdom. Hariscandra gave it. In order to give the priest payment (daksin) for performing some rituals the king became a worker at the crematorium at this ghat...

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...His wife was sold to a seller of flowers. When his son died of a snakebite his wife brought him to the burning ghat where her husband was working. Because she had no money to pay the cremation fee, she ripped her sari in half to pay the fee...

display enlarged image in new window ...Brahma then restored the son back to life and gave the king back his kingdom. He also told Hariscandra that this ghat would be especially sacred and that it would be named after him. Hariscandra Ghat, also called Smashan (Masan) Ghat, is a major burning ghat using electric ovens.
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Dasasvamedha Ghat
This is the main bathing ghat in town, so it can be extremely crowded.

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The area around this ghat is the main center of activity in the city, especially for pilgrims and tourists. This ghat is full of pilgrims bathing in the holy Ganges.

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It is said that Lord Brahma performed a Ten Horse Sacrifice here for king Divodasa. Das means 'ten,' aswa means 'horse,' and medha means 'sacrifice.' It is said that bathing here gives the same merits as received by doing the 'ten horse sacrifice' that were performed here. On certain auspicious days up to 30,000 pilgrims may take bath here.

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Manikarnika Ghat
Mani-karnika means "Jeweled Earring." It is said that this name was given because Lord Siva's earring fell into the well just next to the ghat.

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Manikarnika Ghat is considered the holiest of all the ghats. There is a major cremation ground right next to this ghat at Jalasayin Ghat. Normally the cremation ground is outside of town, as it is polluted. Here the burning ghat is in the middle of the city, because death in Varanasi is considered a great blessing. It is said to be bad luck to mourn or cry for the dead.

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The cremation ground is under the supervision of the Doms, an untouchable caste, who have been doing it for a very long time. They sell the wood, tend the ever-burning sacred fire from which each pyre is lit, and tend individual pyres. You can view the burning ghats from a boat or from a tower next to the burning place. At any given time there may be half a dozen bodies burning here. The bodies are first placed in the Ganges before being burned.

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Manikarnika Kund is said to be so ancient that it was present before King Bhagiratha brought the Ganges to Varanasi. This kund is also called Chakra-Pushkarini Kund or "Discus Lotus-Pond." The well is said to come from a source separate from the Ganges, an underground river that comes directly from Gaumukh, which is the source of the Ganges. It is said that this well was dug by Lord Vishnu with his disc (chakra) and filled by water as his first act of creation. It is said that at one time this kund was a very large lake.

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There is an image of Lord Vishnu in the northern wall of the kund. Offerings of milk, sandalwood, sweets, and bilva flowers, which are sacred to Siva, are thrown in the well.

display enlarged image in new window In October or November, there is a good chance the kund will be covered by dirt, because when the Ganges floods during the rainy season (June-Sept), dirt from the Ganges covers up the kund. The kund is dug out each year in November.
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Lord Vishnu's footprints are located at Chakra-Pushkarini, which is between Manikarnika Kund and the river...

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...This is said to be the holiest spot in Varanasi.

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At the very big Scindia Ghat...

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...there is a partially submerged Siva temple. Agni, the god of fire, is said to have been born near this ghat

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Pancha-ganga Ghat
Beneath this ghat the Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Kirana, and Dhutapapa Rivers are said to meet. It is one of the five main ghats in Varanasi. It is considered especially auspicious to bathe here dur­ing the month of Karttika (Oct-Nov), and even more so on the full moon day of Karttika.

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At this ghat is the large Alamgir Mosque built by Aurangzeb in the 17th century, after he destroyed the major Bindu Madhava Temple that used to be here.

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The present Deity of Bindu Madhava is in a small temple by the mosque.

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It is located just above the Pancha-ganga Ghat. If you are taking a boat by yourself, you can have the boat stop here and walk up to the temple.

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Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu bathed at Pancha-ganga Ghat and visited the old temple of Bindu Madhava. While staying in Varanasi on His way back from Vrindavan Sri Caitanya became the guest of Tapana Misra and Candrasekhara. It was here that he met Srila Sanatana Goswami...

Sri Caitanya also converted Prakasananda Sarasvati and his followers while staying at Varanasi.

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The Adi Keshava Vishnu Temple is located where the Ganges meets the Varuna River, in the north of town.

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Tulasi Das translated the Ramayana from Sanskrit into Hindi in Varanasi, and there is a temple in his honor.

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Lord Vishnu is said to have first put his feet here when he came to Varanasi.

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Millions of pilgrims a year come to Varanasi. The three most important ghats are Manikarnika, Dasaswamedha, and Pancha-ganga.

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To bath at these three ghats is called Tri-tirtha Yatra. Also important are Asi Sangam and Varuna Sangam. To bathe in these five places is call Pancha-tirtha Yatra. You are supposed to bathe in these five ghats in a certain order. First you bathe in Asi Ghat, then Dasaswamedha Ghat, then the ghat by the Adi Keshava Temple near the Varuna River, then Pancha-ganga, and then Manikarnika...

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...After taking bath at these five places, most pilgrims then go for darshan of Visvanath, Annapurna, and Sakshi Vinayaka (the witnessing Ganesh)....

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...It is said that if you bathe in these five places, all in the same day and in this order, you will not get another material body. You can do Pancha-tirtha Yatra by boat, but it is better to do it by foot.

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In October, the ghats are so covered by mud brought by Ganges waters...

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...that they have to be literary excavated every year.

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In the old part of the city there are numerous mazes of thin, very crowded streets, which makes the place very interesting.

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The streets are so narrow, that one can easily get lost here..

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..and has to go to the ghats to find out where he actually is.

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Varanasi was looted numerous times by Muslim invaders beginning from the 11th century. Aurangzeb destroyed most of the temples during his reign in the 17th century...

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...This is why most of the temples are not more than 300 years old. In 1669 the Bindu Madhava Vishnu Temple and the Siva Visvanath Temple were destroyed. Mosques were built in their place.

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The Panchakroshi road goes around the city of Varanasi. Many pilgrims walk the 58km around Varanasi starting at Manikarnika Ghat. They then walk to Asi Ghat and then proceed around the city...

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...You are supposed to visit 108 shrines along the way. Following this procedure is said to be the same as circling the entire world.

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Ganga-puja is performed every evening on Dasasvamedha Ghat.

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Circular gheelamps...

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...and those with snake's hoods...

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...are offered first to mother Ganga...

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...and than to different directions...

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...and as the puja is slowly ending...

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...people and pilgrims are joyfully worshipping the holy river Ganges...

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...which flows so graciously...

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...by the side of the holy city of Varanasi.


Video from Varanasi for download

If this download does not start,
please clik on the above link by right button of your mouse and "save target as"
.

See for yourselves how Varanasi looks from the Ganges river and get the feeling of evening Ganga-puja. Soundtrack is without music with original "windy" audio. Sorry for that, but at the present I do not have suitable free background music available.

duration: 5:18 min
size: 65 MB
resolution: 720 x 400
video: DivX 5.2.1
audio: mp3 128 kbps

English texts, images and design:
Tattva-darsi das
Some texts are based on the information from Jada Bharata's book Holy Places of India,
which contains many additional information useful for travelers. It can be found on:
www.spiritualguides.net

 


Published:
November 2006
 
How did you like this article?
from 0 (min.) to 10 (max.)
How many readers expressed it: 50



Deepak A
2008-07-03

Excellent insight on Varanasi, I would love to visit this teertha sthala of glorious spiritual heritage.

rgds,
Deepak


NARAYANA
2007-04-09

IT IS NICE FOR US THAT WE CAN GAIN OUR DEVOTIONAL PATH BY SEEING SUCH THING ON WORLD WIDE LABEL


Samrat Bose
2006-12-28

Very informative for the seeker who wishes to visit Kashi and know about its spiritual heritage.

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