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Varanasi – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Varanasi – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Varanasi also commonly known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi is a city situated on the left (west) bank of the River Ganga (Ganges) in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, regarded as holy by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.

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 River Ganges and the river’s religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in northern India for several thousand years.

The Benares Gharana form of Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravidas Their Guru Swami Ramanand,Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Ustad Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote his Ramacharitamanas there, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath near Kashi.

Varanasi is home to these four universities: Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Residents mainly speak Kashika Bhojpuri, which is closely related to the Hindi language. People often refer to Varanasi as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, and “the city of learning.”

American writer Mark Twain wrote: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

Known Personalities

  • Madan Mohan Malavia, Founder of Banaras Hindu University
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri, Former Prime Minister of India
  • Ustad Bismillah Khan, Noted Sehnai Vadak
  • Pt.Ravi Shankar, Sitatvadak,Bharat Ratna
  • Bhagwan Das,Bharat Ratna

Etymology

The name Varanasi, has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi for it lies with the confluence of Varuna with the Ganges being to its north and that of Assi and the Ganges to its south. Another speculation about the origin of the name is that the river Varuna itself was called Varanasi in olden times, from where the city got its name. This is generally disregarded by historians though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so.

Through the ages, Varanasi was variously known as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi.

Recent terrorism

In March of 2006 an bomb blasts from terrorists resulted in 20 people being killed and many injured. One of the bombs was planted in the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, a shrine dedicated to Lord Hanuman, while another was planted on a platform of the Varanasi Cantonment Railway Station, the main railway station in the city.

An Islamic group, Lashkar-e-Kahab, claimed responsibility for the terror attacks. In November 2007 Varanasi endured another bomb blast. The bomb was placed in the civil court of Varanasi. More than 20 people died and over 100 were injured.

Holy City

Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations. More than 1,000,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. It has the holy shrine of Lord Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva), and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

Hindus believe that bathing in Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person’s soul from the cycle of its transmigrations. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati’s earrings fell.Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard river Ganga itself as Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have always co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself, (the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini). In the residential neighborhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha 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 standing, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples (in the 5th century or earlier, BC). An octagonal tower was built later there.

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Islamic culture has also had an influence on Varanasi. There has been some degree of continuous tension between different religious communities in the city.

Demographics

The population of Varanasi urban agglomeration in 2001 was 1,371,749; the sex ratio was 879 females every 1000 males. However, the area under Varanasi Nagar Nigam has a population of 1,100,748 with the sex ratio being 883 females for every 1000 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. The crime rate in the city in 2004 was 128.5 per 100,000 which is higher than Uttar Pradesh rate of 73.2 but lower than the national rate of 168.8.

Transport

Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available public transport within Varanasi. In outer regions of the city, mini-buses are common. Small boats and small steamers are used to cross the river Ganga.

Varanasi is well connected by air, rail and buses with all the main Indian cities. Its distance from Delhi is 776 km. The Babatpur Airport is about 25 km from the city center (about 45 minutes by taxi) and it is well connected to Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Nepal. All the major domestic Indian carriers, including Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Indian, Spicejet, and Alliance Air operate from here.

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. Dating to ancient times, the city was connected to cities like Taxila, Ghazipur, Pataliputra, Vaishali, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur, Agra etc.

The city was connected by a single road from Taxila going through Pataliputra during the Mauryan empire. This road was later renovated and extended by Sher Shah Suri during the 16th century and later came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road.

The traffic is slow-moving and chaotic inside the city. The first railway line to Benares was opened in December 1862: this was the line from Kolkata built by the East Indian Railway Company.

Tourism

Probably due to its unique culture, Varanasi is a major tourist destination for foreign tourists in India. A number of 3, 4 and 5 star hotels are present in the city, as well as more efficient housing for Western student researchers. All sort of cuisines are available mostly as street food due to rich and hospitable culture of Varanasi.

Varanasi is a noted centre for silk weaving and brassware. Fine silks and brocaded fabrics, exquisite saris, brassware, jewellery, woodcraft, carpets, wall hangings, lamp shades and masks of Hindu and Buddhist deities are some of Varanasi’s shopping attractions. The main shopping areas include the Chowk, Godaulia, Vishwanath Lane, Lahurabir and Thatheri Bazaar.Assi Ghat, a midway point between Godaulia in the heart of downtown and youth culture of Benares Hindu University, is the district where most young, foreign, long-term residents stay.

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