Varanasi, the ancient powerful city of Banaras (Benaras), gets it fame from the history, art, archaeology, geography, mythology, and other classes of culture. Varanasi is associated with divinity, civilization, and the birthplace of modern culture. Today, Varanasi stands as a museum to the art, culture, spirituality, and lifestyle of ancient Indians.
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, which is still in use. The city was first named as Kashi. According to mythology, Gods created this city for them to live amidst humans. Lord Shiva is said to have lived in Khasi. According to historians, the civilization in Varanasi was started by Aryans during the Ganges Valley civilization. By the end of 2nd century BC, Varanasi was one of the thriving and wealthy regions of the country.
In 6th century BC, Lord Buddha gave his first sermon, just 10 km away from Varanasi, introducing the new religion, Buddhism. Many people from around the country reached Kashi to learn about various fields. A Chinese traveler, Hsuan Tsang visited Kashi in 635 AD.
The land flourished until 12th century, when invaders destructed most of the ancient Kashi. Many Muslim rulers destroyed Varanasi for three centuries until Akbar came into throne to restore the city to its previous glory, only to be again destroyed by Aurangzeb in 17th century. In 18th century, Varanasi was announced as a separated kingdom, with the capital at Ramnagar. British declared it as a separate state in the beginning of 20th century. After independence, Varanasi was added to Uttar Pradesh boundary.
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More than 95% of the local population speaks Hindi and around 3% of the population mentioned Urdu as their first language. Bhojpuri is also spoken in Varanasi. Historically, Sanskrit was the oldest language of Banaras. However, English is quite common today in Varanasi.
Varanasi was once the center of spiritual education. It was called, SarvaVidya ki Rajdhani (the capital of knowledge of everything). Varanasi developed many scholars, intellects, and others in different fields. Many universities were built in Varanasi, in the past.
Many writers thrived in Varanasi like Tulsidas Kulluka, Kabir Das, Jaishankar Prasad, Bharatendu Harishchandra, Acharya Shukla, Tegh Ali, Baldev Upadhyaya, Vagish Shashtri, Vidya Niwas Mishra, and others. The city also thrived in Ayurveda medical education and Panchkarma treatment. Many hospitals were erected and the famous Indian medical book, Sushruta Samhita’s author, Sushruta lived and trained in Varanasi.
- The city of Banaras is one of the oldest still surviving cities of the world.
- This city was the epicenter for studying Yoga, medicine, holistic healing science, natural science, and others.
- Varanasi is the spiritual capital of the country.
- Varanasi is also the leading trade center for gold brocades, Banarasi silk, silver articles, and others
- The city has more than 3,000 temples dedicated to different Gods of Hindu religion.
- The largest and ancient university of Asia is located in Varanasi. Banaras Hindu University is an important tourist attraction today.
- During rainy season, a couple of frogs are wedding by a priest in AshwameghGhat. The newly-wed couple is left in the river.
- It is a popular belief that if one draws his last breath in Varanasi, he will reach heaven. Due to this, every year, hundreds of people come to Varanasi to stay until they die. Some even jump into the river to take their lives.
- This city has 88 ghats, making it the city with the most number of river banks in the world.
- Varanasi has numerous other names apart from Banaras and Kashi. Top names popular among people are Sudarsana, Brahma Vardha, Mahasmasana, Ramya, and others.
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Varanasi is the birthplace of three main religions of India; Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. These spirituality beliefs and rituals revolve around the holy River Ganges, which is believed to be sent to Earth by Lord Shiva to flourish the land. Apart from 3,300 temples in Varanasi, it also has 3 churches, 9 Buddhist temples, 3 Gurudwaras, 1,388 mosques and Dargahs, and 3 Jain temples.
Varanasi has a unique art culture. In the past, it was the center of traditions and culture. Every modern cultural performancewas derived by the ancient art and culture of this land. According to historians, the Banaras or Kashi was famous for many art works and performance arts. Top art works that flourished the land were metal works, Banaras silk weaving, copperware, and others.
Dance And Music
Varanasi is an epitome of music, since the ancient times. Vocal and instrumental music thrived in Benaras. Even today, the city is filled with rich folk music works. The dance and music forms of Varanasi were said to be developed by Lord Shiva. The music traditions were spread by Renu, son of Vishvamitra. Ancient saints famous for music skills are Meera, Kabir, Surdas, Tulsidas, and Ravidas. The modern form of music developed during the neo-Vaishnava movement.
During 16th century, new forms of music like Hori, Dhamar, Chaturanga, Assarwari, and others were developed. In the recent times, modern music forms like Chaiti, Banarasi Thumri, Kajri, Hori, and others were developed. Notable music personalities of Varanasi are Samta Prasad, Kishan Maharaj, Samar Saha, and others.
There is a Varanasi School of Music inside the city, which trains children in traditional and folk versions of music like Kajri, Chaiti, and others. Both instrumental and vocal music are taught in this school. Top music instruments of Varanasi are sitar and tabola. If you plan on buying instruments from Varanasi, remember that the instruments can be made with mango tree wood and teak wood. The one with mango tree wood is inferior and cheap in price. The instruments made with vijyasar, a herbal tree wood is very expensive and is considered as a heirloom.
Dance Forms Of Varanasi
Kathakis one of the classical dance forms famous in Banaras and surrounding regions. This dance is a form of storytelling and mythological narration. The Banaras Gharana version of Kathak originated in Varanasi.
This is a typical mythology based dance-cum-music drama, which explains the life and love of Lord Krishna. This folk dance is very common during festivals related to Lord Krishna.
This is similar to Raslila, but it focuses on legends of Lord Ram. This form of dance is one of the oldest forms of folk dances in Banaras. This folk dance is usually performed during Dusshera festival. Tabla and Harmonium are the major musical instruments used during this performance.
Top festivals celebrated in Varanasi are Mahashivratri, ShavanMaah, Holi, Deepavali, Dhrupad Mela, Ekadashi, Akshya Tritiya, and others. Almost all Hindu festivals are celebrated religiously here. Do you know that the land has many festivals dedicated to music? Top music festival of Varanasi are Drupad Festival of TulsiGhat ( March/April), SankatMochanSangeetSamaroh (April/May), Kartik Purnima (November), and others. During Buddha Purnima and Shivratri, many music performances take place.
Varanasi’s cuisine does not include meat and alcohol. The cuisine of the land has numerous desserts in it. This is one of the very few cuisines in the land, where even breakfast menu has desserts like Jalebi, Kachaudi, and others. The cuisine also has many seasonal dishes, which would be served only during any special occasions or festivals. Top seasonal dishes of Varanasi are dahibade, gujhiya, and others. The locals fast during festivals. During those times, the people can consume milk products, fruits, and dishes served to deities.
Banaras Silk is the most important craft of the city. It takes more than 6 months to craft a saree, and it is considered as heirloom by locals. Other top craft items of the land are
- Ivory work
- Bhadohi carpets
- Musical instruments
- Wooden toys
- Clay toys
- Stone articles
- Gold articles
Varanasi is not just about strolling temples and experiencing spiritual activities. You can also enjoy numerous adventure activities in Varanasi like,
- Early morning Ganges boat cruise
- Watch Indian styled traditional funeral at ManikarnikaGhat
- Safari at Chandraprabha wildlife sanctuary, closer to Varanasi
Varanasi is a traditional land with strongly-held life values. Thus, tourists are expected to respect that tradition by wearing decent clothing. Both the genders are expected to wear clothing that stretches below knee, and covers neck region, appropriately. Summers in Varanasi are hot and humid. Thus, choose thin cotton clothing. Monsoon provides heavy rainfall and creates muddy puddles throughout the road. Thus, wear dark clothing with appropriate rain gears. Winter is pleasingly warm with cool nights. A thin jacket will suffice for winter visitors.
Varanasi was once the land of artists, scholars, scientists, medicine men, and spiritual workers. Today, the people of Varanasi excel in several occupations starting from computer technology to sports. In the past, Varanasi was the city that produced numerous scholars and pandits, who flourished in different parts of the country. Today, the trend has been shifted, as modern styles of education spread in other parts of the country.
The city of Varanasi might look modern, but the traditions are still in the papyrus-era. Thus, finding pubs, bars, and other nightlife entertainments is impossible. Alcohol and meat are not sold inside the city. If you wish to stay awake and enjoy, here are some of the night-time activities to enjoy in Varanasi.
- Ganga River bank strolling
- Music performances, dance programs, and other cultural activities
- Visit DasaswamedhGhat to hear locals sing all night long
- Enjoy shopping in the alleys of the city
Tourism is flourishing in terms of pilgrims and sightseeing lovers. Varanasi is a beautiful destination filled with numerous tourist destinations like
- DashashwamedhGhat – for boat ride, Ganga Aarti, and other rituals
- Sankt Mochan Hanuman Temple
- Ramnagar Fort
- New Vishwanath Temple and others inside BHU
- Durga Temple
- Tibetan temple
- Kashi Vishwanath Temple
- Day trip to Sarnath
- GyanVapi Well
- Chunar Fort
- Man Mandir Observatory
- Banaras Silk Emporium
- Godowalia Market