Tour to India cannot be complete without a visit to the holy city Varanasi – city of temples and Ghats.
Varanasi is situated on the banks of the river Ganges (most sacred river in India & Gomukh is the origin of Ganga which is situated 18 km from Gangotri Dham ) and it has been a cultural and religious center of India for several thousands of years. This city has been regarded as a holy city for both Buddhists and Jains, but it has been even more important for Hindus – for them, Varanasi is the holiest place on the Earth.
History of Varanasi
Varanasi is considered as one of the oldest inhabited areas on the world, and the oldest in India. The legend says that the city was founded by Lord Shiva itself, some five thousand years ago (although historians believe that the city is probably three thousand years old). This is the reason why the city is the most important pilgrimage site for Hindus. There is no Hindu script that does not mention Varanasi. It was the cultural and commercial center of the Kashi Kingdom and its capital during the life of Gautama Buddha The city was famous for its fabrics, especially muslin and silk, Varanasi saris (regional type of saris made of silk), ivory products and perfumes. During 18th century Kingdom of Kashi was independent but then it came under the rule of British Empire. Today, Varanasi is a part of Uttar Pradesh.
Every year, more than one million Pilgrims and devotees of all major religions in India together with tourists from all over the world visit Varanasi.
Being founded by Lord Shiva, Varanasi is one of the most sacred Pilgrimage sites in Hinduism. Devotees believe that bathing in the waters of Ganges can wash away all past sins. People who die in Varanasi liberate their soul, achieve Moksha (final release) and stop the cycle of reincarnation.
For Buddhists, Varanasi stands next to Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya and Lumbini, Pilgrimage sites being designated by Buddha.
For Jains, Varanasi is also important Pilgrimage site, as they believe it is a birth place of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar (holy man, propagator, who achieved enlightenment and became a teacher for those needing spiritual guidance).
There are more than 100 Ghats in Varanasi – some of them are very old, dating back to prehistoric times, connected with many myths and legends, and some of them are new. Most of them are for bathing, but there are also a number of them for cremation.
Dasaswamedh Ghat (The Ghat of Ten Sacrificed Horses) is the main Ghat in the Holy City. It is believed that on this place, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses in order for Lord Shiva to return from its banishment.
Man Mandir Ghat, built by Maharaja of Jaipur houses the observatory Jantar Mantar. Maharaja was interested in science and technology. He sent a group of scientist of that time to study foreign observatories and come up with a design for Jantar Mantar. Some of the original instruments from that time are still accurate and in use.
Manikarnika Ghat is a very old Ghat, in line with Dasaswamedh Ghat. It is the main cremation site, the symbol of destruction and creation at the same time.
The best way for tourists to experience Varanasi would be on a boat cruise along Ganges, in the early morning or after sunset. In the morning, they can observe people offering morning prayers and water to the God Surya (Sun). In the evening they can watch Puja performed by the group of priests lifting lighted chandeliers in the honour of the River, Fire, Lord Shiva and the whole Universe. Plan your Varanasi tour during festivals season (from September to December) and enjoy the buzzing ghats, riches of colours and beautiful music in this mesmerizing city.