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in Uttar Pradesh and India
• 1,995 /km2 (5,167 /sq mi)
|Time zone||IST ( UTC+05:30)|
| 1550 km2 (598 sq mi)
• 80.71 metres (264.8 ft)
Varanasi (Sanskrit: वाराणसी Vārāṇasī, pronunciation [ʋaːɾaːɳəsiː]), also commonly known as Benares ([bə.naː.rəs]) or Banaras ( Hindi: बनारस, Urdu: بنارس, Banāras pronunciation ) and Kashi ( Hindi: काशी Kāśī ), 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, and one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.
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. A particular style of classical Hindustani music developed in Varanasi centuries ago, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravi Das, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Ustad Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote his Ramacharitamanas there, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath near Kashi. Ayurveda is said to have originated at Varanasi.
Varanasi is the home of Banaras Hindu 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 light", "the city of learning" and the "culture capital of India".
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."
The name, Varanasi, has its origin possibly in the fact that the city lies where the Varuna River and the Assi River in its north and south, respectively, flow into the river Ganga.Another speculation about the origin of the name is that the river Varuna itself was called Varanasi in the old times, and thus the city too got the same name. This is generally disregarded by historians though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so.
The name, Varanasi, was written as Baranasi in the ancient Pali language, and in later times the name transformed into Banaras. Through the ages, Varanasi was variously known as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi.
According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Shiva, around 5,000 years ago,.thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including Rigveda, Skanda Purana, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, describe the city.
Varanasi is generally believed to be about 3,000 years old. Varanasi was a commercial and industrial centre famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BCE), Varanasi was the capital of the kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveler, Xuanzang, attested that the city was a centre of religious, educational, and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.
During successive invasions starting with the hordes of Mahmud of Ghazni in 1033 CE followed by Mohammed Ghori in 1193 CE, Muslims pillaged and destroyed several times Hindu temples (which were being continually rebuilt) in Varanasi, and used the temple material to build mosques. At the start of the seventeenth century, Mughal Emperor Akbar brought some relief in the destruction of Hindu temples, but near the end of that century, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb led another temple destruction and even renamed the city as Mohammadâbâd. In these years of Muslim rule, learned scholars in Varanasi fled to other parts of India.
Varanasi became an independent kingdom in the eighteenth century, and under subsequent British rule, it remained a commercial and religious centre. In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramanagar as its headquarters but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself. Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) still resides in the fort of Ramanagar.
On March 7, 2006, four bombs went off in an act of terrorism at Varanasi. Around 20 people were reported killed, and many were 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. On November 23, 2007 Varanasi faced another bomb blast. The bomb was placed in the civil court of Varanasi. More than 20 people died and over 100 were injured. India TV news channel received an e-mail before 5 minutes of bomb blast saying that there will be bomb blast in different cities of Uttar Pradesh within next 5 minutes. The e-mail address was registered on Yahoo.France. A terrorist organization called HUJI took the responsibility of bomb blast. HUJI is run by a terrorist named Masood Azhar who was released by Indian government in the year 1999 after Air India flight IC 814 was hijacked by Taliban and demanded to release him.
The city of Varanasi is located in the middle Ganga valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganga river. It has the headquarters of Varanasi district. The "Varanasi Urban Agglomeration" — an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units — covers an area of 112.26 km² (approximately 43 mi²). The urban agglomeration is stretched between 82° 56’E - 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N - 25° 23.5’N. Being located in the Gangetic plains of North India, the land is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil.
On a local level, Varanasi is located on a higher ground between rivers Ganga and Varuna, the mean elevation being 80.71 m.As a result of absence of tributaries and canals, the main land is continuous and relatively dry. In ancient times, this geographic situation must have been highly favorable for forming settlements. But it is difficult to ascertain the original geography of Varanasi because the city's current location is not exactly the same as the one described in some old texts.
Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of Ganga and Varuna, and other of Ganga and Assi, (Assi having always been a rivulet rather than a river.) The distance between these two confluences is around 2.5 miles, and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places --a Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a five mile journey)-- ending with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple as a holy ritual.
Varanasi has a humid subtropical climate with large variations between summer and winter temperatures. Summers are long, from early April to October, with intervening monsoon seasons. Cold waves from the Himalayan region cause temperatures to dip across the city in the winter from December to February. The temperature ranges between 32°C – 46°C (90 °F – 115°F) in the summers, and 5°C – 15°C (41°F – 59°F) in the winters. The average annual rainfall is 1110 mm (44 in).. Fog is common in the winters, while hot dry winds, called loo, blow in the summers.
The city is relatively free from air pollution.. Through a combination of water pollution, new constructions of upstream dams, and increase in the local temperature, the water level of the Ganges has recently gone down significantly, and small islands have become visible in the middle of the river.
Regions of Varanasi near the banks of Ganga are extremely crowded and have narrow winding lanes that are flanked by road-side shops and several Hindu temples. The main residential areas of Varanasi (especially for the middle and upper classes) are situated in regions far from the ghats; they are more spacious and less polluted.
Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats. Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Maratha Shindes ( Scindias), Holkars, Bhosales, and Peshawe ( Peshawas) stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi.
Many ghats are owned privately. The former Maharaja of Kashi (Kasi) owns Shivala or Kali ghat.
Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies.
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 in a yajna 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 Ganga, the Sun, Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.
Two legends are associated with Manikarnik 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 ("manikarnik") 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 Ganga. 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 Manikarnik Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings.
According to mythology, the owner of Manikarnika 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 creation to the Manikarnik Ghat.
Picturesque Scindia (Shinde) Ghat borders Manikarnik to the north, with its Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the river as a result of excessive weight of the ghat’s construction about 150 years ago. Above the ghat, several of Kashi’s most influential shrines are located within the tight maze of alleyways of Siddha Kshetra (the Field of Fulfillment). According to mythology, Agni (the Lord of Fire) was born here. Hindu devotees propitiate at this place Vireshwara, the Lord of all heroes, for a son.
Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur built Mana-Mandir Ghat (in 1770 CE), and also his observatory equipped with ornate window casings here (along with observatories in Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, and Mathura). There is a fine stone balcony in the northern part of the ghat. Devotees pay homage here to the lingam of Someswar, the Lord of the Moon. Man Singh of Amber built Mana-Sarowar Ghat. Maharaja of Darbhanga built Darbhanga Ghat.
The late King of Nepal built Lalita Ghat in the northern region of Varanasi. It is the site of Ganga Keshav Temple, a wooden temple built in typical Kathmandu style, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple also has an image of Pashupateshwar (a manifestation of Lord Shiva).
Local festivals including musical parties and games regularly take place at the beautiful Assi Ghat which is at the end of the continuous line of ghats. It is a favorite site of painters and photographers.
Devout Jains visit Bachraj Ghat in particular because it has three Jain temples near the river's banks.
Tulsidas wrote Ramcharitmanas at Tulsi Ghat.
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. According to mythology, Lord Shiva once in fact lived in Kashi (Varanasi).
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 neighbourhood 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.
Varanasi is a city of temples. Almost every road crossing has a nearby temple. Such small temples form the basis of daily local prayers and other rituals. But there are many large temples too, erected at different times through out the history of Varanasi.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple, also called Golden Temple, which in its present shape was built in 1780 by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, is located on the outskirts of the Ganga. This temple makes Varanasi a place of great religious importance to the Hindus, as Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha, the aforementioned Jyotirlinga of the Lord Shiva is enshrined here. It is said that a single view of Vishwanatha Jyotirlinga is considered to merit more than that of other jyotirlingas. A Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the collector Mohammed Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings in 1785. In 1839, Punjab Kesari, the Jat-Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab donated gold to cover the two domes of the temple. On January 28, 1983 the Temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust with Late Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then Kashi Naresh, as president and an executive committee with Divisional Commissioner as chairman.. The official website of the Shri Kashi Vishwanath temple Kashi Vishwanath was launched on 23rd Jul 2007 and gives details about temple activities as well as facilities for online booking of various sevas and pujas.
The temple was once destroyed by the Muslim Emperor Aurangzeb who built a mosque over it. It was later resurrected at a location near the mosque, and is many times a cause of local strain among Hindus and Muslims.
Durga Temple, also nicknamed "Monkey temple," was built at some point of time in 18th century by a Bengali Queen. The temple got the name 'Monkey temple' because of the presence of large number of monkeys in the temple. According to legends, the present statue of Goddess Durga was not made by man but appeared on its own in the temple. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit the Durga temple during Navratri and other auspicious occasions. Non-Hindus can enter the courtyard of the Durga temple but not the inner sanctum.
The architecture is of Nagara Style, which is typical of North India. The temple is accompanied by a rectangular tank of water called Durga Kund. ("Kund" meaning a pond or pool.) The temple has multi-tiered spires and is stained red with ochre, signifying the red colour of Durga. The Kund was earlier connected to the river itself thus refreshing the water. This channel was later closed, leading to locked water which is replenished only by rain or drainage from the Temple. Every year on the occasion of Nag panchami, the act of depicting Lord Vishnu reclining on the coiled-up mystical snake or " Shesha" is repeated in the Kund.
Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and is very popular with the local citizens. It is a place for many yearly religious as well as cultural festivals. On March 7, 2006, one of the three explosions carried out by Islamic militants hit the temple, while the aarti, in which numerous worshippers and wedding attendees participated, was in progress.
The new Vishwanath Temple, called Birla Mandir, mainly funded by Raja Birla of the Birla family of industrialists, was built as a replica of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Planned by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the temple is part of the Banaras Hindu University, and stands for national revival. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions.
Arts and literature
A holy city, Varanasi does not take a backseat when it comes to fine arts and literature. Great Indian writers have lived in this city from Kabir, Ravi Das, Tulsidas who wrote much of his Ramayana here, Kulluka Bhatt who wrote the best known commentary of Manu here in 15th century and Bharatendu Harishchandra, later writers have been Jayshankar Prasad, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Vidya Niwas Mishra, Kashi Nath Singh, Namvar Singh, Rudra Kashikeya, Nirgun among many other notables.
Art lovers and historians like Rai Krishnadas, his son Prof. Anand Krishna, musicians like Pt. Omkarnath Thakur,P t. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Dr. Lalmani Misra and his son Dr. Gopal Shankar Misra, Dr. N. Rajam, Dr.Rajbhan Singh, Pt. Anokhelal, Pt. Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, Pt. M. V. Kalvint, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna, Pt. Kishan Maharaj, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mahadev Mishra and numerous others have kept the city alive to the spiritual aspect of fine arts apart from their ability to entertain. Numerous festivals are celebrated that preserve traditional styles of classical and folk culture. All night, open music concerts like ones organised at Sankat Mochan Temple, Hori, Kajri and Chaiti Mela, Budwa Mangal, are annual features that draw connoisseurs from all over.
Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery, also lived in Varanasi .
Varanasi has several small cottage industries, including Silk sari making, the production of textiles such as hand-woven carpets, and handicrafts. The Banarasi Pan (betel leaves) and Banarasi Khoa (a milk product, somewhat similar to cheese) are popular, and the related small-scale industries employ many people. Indian Railways runs a major diesel locomotive factory in Varanasi, Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW). The first Indian business house of Varanasi and Kanpur was the firm NihalChand KishoriLal established in the year 1857 which set up the fourth Oxygen plant in the country here by the name of Indian Air Gases Ltd. According to Macaulay, Varanasi was the "city which, in wealth, population, dignity and sanctity was among the foremost in Asia". He described the commercial importance saying "from the looms of Benaras went forth the most delicate silks that adorned the halls of St. James and of Versailles."
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 Municipal Corporation 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 61.5% while that in the municipal corporation area is 61%. 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.
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 centre (about 45 minutes by taxi) and it is well connected to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, 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, Gazipur, 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. (source needed)
The traffic is slow inside the city.
Civic administration and utility services
Varanasi is governed by a number of bodies, the prime being the Varanasi Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation) and Varanasi Development Authority, which is responsible for the master planning of the city. Water supply and sewage system is maintained by Jal Nigam, a subsidiary of Nagar Nigam. Power supply is by the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited. The city produces about 350 million litres per day of sewer and 425 tonnes per day of solid waste. The solid wastes are disposed in one landfill site. A huge amount of sewer flows into the river Ganga daily. Nagar Nigam also runs a bus service in the city and suburban areas. The city is within the Varanasi range of Varanasi zone of Uttar Pradesh Police. A Special Superintendent of Police is the highest ranking police officer in the city. The city constitutes one parliamentary constituency. Indian National Congress won the constituency in Indian general election, 2004.
Varanasi was one the five cities where Ganga Action Plan was launched.
Varanasi is the site of three public universities. Banaras Hindu University, which includes Institute of Technology and Institute of Medical Sciences, is among the top 3 largest residential universities in the world having more than 128 independent teaching departments. Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth University and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University are the other two universities.
Banaras Hindu University (1916) was founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya with the cooperation of Dr Annie Besant. Its 1350 acre (5.5 km²) campus was built on land donated by the Maharaja of Kashi.
Governor General Lord Cornwallis establish the Sanskrit College (1791), which was the first college in Varanasi. The first principal of Sanskrit College was Sanskrit Professor J. Myor, ICS followed by Dr. J.R. Ballentien, RTH Griffith, Dr. G. Thevo, Dr. Aurthor Venice, Dr. Ganganath Jha, and Gopinath Kaviraj among others. After independence this college turned to in Sampurnanand Sanskrit University.
The Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath is a deemed university with a preference for the traditional Tibetan method of teaching within a framework of modern universities. Uday Pratap College, another rdeemed university, is the centre of sports and science study for the suburban students of modern Benares. Varanasi is also noted for many private and public institutes that provide Hindu religious teaching. Since ancient times people have been coming to Varanasi to learn philosophy, Sanskrit, astrology, social science and religious teachings. In Indian tradition, Varanasi is often called "Sarva Vidya Ki Rajdhani" (capital of knowledge). The city also has the Jamiah Salafiah, a Salafi Islamic institution.
Basic and special education
The schools are affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), or the U. P. Board. Under the 10+2 plan, after completing their secondary education, students typically enroll in a 2 year junior college (also known as a pre-university) or in schools with a higher secondary facility. Students usually choose from one of three streams — liberal arts, commerce, or science, though vocational streams are also available. Upon completing the required coursework, students may enroll in general or professional degree programs.
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. 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.
In popular culture
In the Rigveda, the city was referred to as Kasi or Kashi, "the luminous one" as an allusion to the city's historical status as a centre of learning, literature, and culture. Kasikanda described the glory of the city in 15,000 verses in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, God Shiva says,
The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kasi is my royal palace therein.
Another reference to Varanasi is found in a hymn by Sri Veda Vyasa:
Varanasi-pura-patim bhaja Vishwanatham.
- The film Banaras - A Mystic Love Story (2006), is based on Varanasi's history, and it's role in Indian tradition.
- In Kurt Weill's "Benares Song" from the opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
- Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's seminal Bengali novel Aparajito was partly set in Benaras. It was further immortalized by Satyajit Ray in his Apu Trilogy. A part of the film was shot in Varanasi.
- In Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos the barge, transporting the pilgrims to the Sea of Grass, was called Benares.
- Ian McDonald's novel River of Gods is partly set in Varanasi.
- In a song by Krishna Das entitled "Kashi Vishwanath Gange" on the CD Breath of the heart.
- In a song by Waterjuice entitled "Varanasi Space Station" on the CD World Fusion.
- Many Hindu's believe that Varanasi is the 'Centre of Universe', and it is called Universal Capital Banaras.