Situated on the banks of the Ganges, the spiritual city of Varanasi is also known as Kashi, which means the “City of Life” according to the Hindu mythology. This colourful and chaotic city is one of the major religious centres for the Hindus and one of the most visited pilgrim’s destinations in India. There are numerous temples, ashrams, ghats and other religious centres spread across the city, which attract tourists from the far and wide corners of the world. Pilgrims line up on the ghats of the River Ganges every morning to wash away all their sins! It is believed that by taking a dip in the holy water of Ganges, one can achieve salvation or moksha. People perform some intimate rituals and rites on the ghats of Varanasi each day, which create some overwhelming scenes for the onlookers. This holy land is also considered as the culmination point of the Indian civilization and religious philosophy. In fact, Varanasi has been home to many eminent poets, writers and philosophers, who have a great influence on the culture and art of this city. Currently, Varanasi is a parliamentary constituency of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Various development projects have been initiated in Varanasi these days to promote it as one of the cleanest cities in India. There are many things, which earn a unique status for Varanasi. Let us talk about some of the major attractions of Varanasi:
The Ganges River
Varanasi as a city could flourish during the troubled medieval times because of its proximity to the holy river of Ganges. This city has been always remained the epicentre of various cultural and spiritual activities in India. The Ganges is considered as the most important and pious river in India. Millions of people visit Varanasi every year to take a dip in the holy waters of Ganges. There is a lot of faith and cultural significance attached to this river. One can enjoy some stunning views of the river during the sunrise and sunset every day. Many people light candles on its ghats and offer flowers to pay their homage to this great river every day.
This ghat is regarded as one of the most sacred and popular Ghats of Kashi. The entire ghat looks stunning during the Ganga Aarti ceremony, which draws many tourists towards the river every day. Worshippers and tourists fill up every corner of this ghat to participate in the Aarti ceremony, which is attended by the many priests and sadhus. This spectacular event can be enjoyed from a boat in the river.
Though Varanasi is primarily considered as a hub of the spiritual activities for Hindus, Sarnath which is a prominent site for Buddhists, is situated only 10 km away from this holy city. It is believed that the Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon here in Sarnath, after attaining the enlightenment. Emperor Ashoka had erected a stupa at Sarnath around 234 BC to commemorate that event which changed the course of Buddhism across the sub-continent. In fact, Sarnath also has the tallest statue of Buddha in India, which makes it one of the major attractions for tourists.
New Vishwanath Temple
This majestic temple is situated near the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and constructed by the Birla family, hence it is known as the Birla Temple. Actually, it is a big temple complex, which has seven temples in it with the statues of popular Indian deities: Shiva, Durga and Lakshmi among others. The remarkable architecture of this temple has been inspired by the Old Vishwanath Temple. The entire structure is made of white marbles, while the inside walls are adorned with the holy text of Gita, the sacred scripture book of Hindus.
This is another popular Ghat in Varanasi, which is a place of cremation for the Hindus. One can witness the various rituals and rites in progress, which are related to the popular Hindu beliefs. This place is not for the faint-hearted, as you can witness various unique activities in the form of rituals, which are performed over the dead bodies during the cremation.
The Ramnagar Fort was once the residence of the former King of Varanasi. This massive fort was constructed in the year 1750 AD by using red stones and it highlights the architectural excellence of those times. Many consider this fort as an astronomical wonder, as there is a big clock in the palace, which was built precisely to show day, week, month and various astronomical details of space objects. There is a museum in the palace, which has a tremendous collection of antique swords, costumes, and palanquins.
There are hundreds of temples across the Varanasi city. All these temples have historical and religious significance and some of them are as old as 500 years. Though, Sankat Mochan and Kashi Vishwanath temples are the most popular ones, there are many other religious places which belong to various Sadhus or Hindu monks. Varanasi City also has many yoga centres, where one can learn the age-old practises of Yoga under the guidance of experts. There are many hues of Varanasi and one has to spend at least a week in this city to explore some of them.