Varanasi also known as Benares, 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. 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.
Why did I choose to visit Varanasi?
Firstly, I never made a trip to any of the popular holy places in the North India. Secondly, to escape from all chaotic and stressful city life.
But it wasn’t an easy trip. It involved a long train from Mumbai to Varanasi and return, 56 hours of travelling. To avoid getting bored, a better option would be to carry a book for reading. It will be greatly informative if that book is about the history and tradition of Benaras.
22nd December 2016, 0200 hrs
I was so excited to explore holy city of Varanasi for the very first time in my life. Having heard much about its culture and heritage, myself was sure this will later be remembered as one of the finest trip. Had a pleasant stay at the railway station dormitory till 8 in the morning.
It took about 30 minutes to reach Kashi Vishwanath temple from Varanasi railway station. The atmosphere around the temple was phenomenal.
As expected first of many things you could probably see will be Sadhus smoking, lot of cows and so on. Before making a perfect plan in order to roam around all the spots, i had to search for a budget hotel, preferably along the shores of Ganges. Finally found out one and it’s name was Alka hotel, which was nearby Mir ghat (Ghats will be explained later as it’s a vast topic).
The hotel manager explained the things which one should not miss in Varanasi. He gave me a Map of the location which enhanced my understanding further. That means pre-planning part was over. It’s time to began the first day.
Kashi Vishwanath temple
One should be well aware of this temple’s history before getting inside it. In my opinion every traveller must do a little bit of research about the place he/she’s visiting. Having said that, let’s look into history of this glorious Temple.
Kashi Vishvanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The main deity is known by the name Vishvanatha or Vishveshvara meaning Ruler of The Universe. The Varanasi city is also called Kashi, and hence the temple is popularly called Kashi Vishvanath Temple.
Hindus from all over the world try to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. There is a popular belief that Shiva himself blows the mantra of salvation into the ears of people who die naturally at the Vishwanath temple.
So much great spiritual history was based on this holy temple. After spending sometime there I moved on to explore other locations.
0200 hrs: A walk through the ghats
Ghats in Varanasi are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the River Ganges. The city has 87 ghats. Most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony ghats, while a few are used exclusively as cremation sites.
Most Varanasi ghats were built after 1700 AD, when the city was part of Maratha Empire. The patrons of current ghats are Marathas, Shindes , Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas). Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned.
As it will consume much time to visit all these 87 ghats, I went to see only the popular ones.
Most popular ghat is Dashashwamedh Ghat
Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses, during Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.
Two legends are associated with Manikarnika Ghat. According to one, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu dug a pit with his Chakra and filled it with his perspiration while performing various penances. While Lord Shiva was watching Lord Vishnu at that time, the latter’s earring (“manikarnika”) fell into the pit. According to the second legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of the Ganges. Goddess Parvati’s idea behind the fib was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings.
According to ancient texts, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat. Hindu cremations customarily take place here, though a majority of dead bodies are taken for cremation to the Manikarnik Ghat. According to other sources that Manikarnik Ghat is named after Jhansi ki Rani Laxmibhai.
The Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats are dedicated to the cremation ritual. Annually, less than 2 in 1000 people who die in India, or 25,000 to 30,000 bodies are cremated on various Varanasi Ghats; about an average of 80 per day.
I took more than three hours to visit these ghats.
When you plan to visit Varanasi, never miss these famous ghats.
The alleys over there were confusing but you could experience many things when you walk down these paths. Every minute you will experience something new and exciting.
Couple of other things you shouldn’t miss here will be drinking Lassi and Thandai . The blue lassi shop would be the most popular one.
A bit costly, but if interested in buying the world famous Benaras silk saree, definitely one should buy. I bought one for my mom.
1830 hrs: Time for Ganga Aarti
This was one of the most beautiful sight I had ever experienced in my life. One will get the best view of aarti when watching it from Ganges, by hiring a boat.
Ganga Aarti was performed by a group of priests at the Dashashwamedh ghat. Through the Aarti, Agni Pooja was performed in which a commitment was being made to Lord Shiva. A trip to Varanasi will be incomplete if one missed out this magnificent event.
It was planned last night to visit Banaras Hindu University. The map showed that it was around 6 kilometres from my hotel. While walking through the Ghats, i saw many young artists sketching the pictures of stupendous architecture of the Varanasi.
It took around three to four hours to reach Banaras Hindu university. The campus, as expected was vast. Highlight of the day was National cultural fest. It was a great opportunity to witness folk arts from the states of Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. I took some photos of the performances.
That’s it. Varanasi trip will never be forgotten for many reasons. Truly the holiest place I ever visited in my entire life.
Thanks for reading..