Popularly known as Benares, Banaras, Benaras, Varanasi, Kashi. Nickname of Varanasi is “The spiritual capital of India” Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together. "-Mark Twain" Kasi or Varanasi is one of the most ancient, famous and holiest of the pilgrim centres. It is situated between two small streams that flow into the river Ganges, Varana on its northern border and Asi (or Assi) on its southern border, from whom it derives its name Varanasi. The name Kasi is derived from either its original founder or a dynasty that ruled it or the kingdom with which it was associated. According to another theory the place might have got its name from a grass named Kusa that grew wildly in the region where the city was built.
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 North 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, Satguru Ravidass ji, Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote Ramacharitamanas here, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi (Kashi).
Varanasi (Kashi) has been the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages. It is often referred to as Benares, and is the oldest living city in the world.
Varanasi is the home of Lord Shiva and Parvati but its origin is yet unknown. About Varanasi it is a belief of Hindus that one who is graced to die on the land of Varanasi would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. It is also believed that Ganges in Varanasi has the power to wash away the sins of mortals.
The city is a centre of learning and civilization for over 3000 years and culture, devotion to Gods, knowledge, philosophy, Indian arts and crafts has all flourished here for centuries. Sarnath which is just 10 km away from Varanasi is the place where Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightenment and is a symbol of Hindu renaissance. Varanasi is a pilgrimage place for Jains and is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar.
In Varanasi Vaishnavism and Shaivism have co-existed cordially. Varanasi was chosen by Mrs. Annie Besant as the home for her 'Theosophical Society' and by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, to establish an institute 'Benares Hindu University' which is the biggest University in Asia. It is said that Ayurveda is originated at Varanasi and is believed to be the basis of modern medical sciences such as Cataract, Plastic surgery and Calculus operations. The preceptor of Ayurveda and Yoga, Maharishi Patanjali, was also affiliated with Varanasi, the holy city. Since the early days Varanasi is also famous worldwide for its trade and commerce, especially for the finest silks and gold and silver brocades.
For ages Varanasi has also been a great centre of learning. Varanasi is linked with encouragement of mysticism, spiritualism, yoga, Sanskrit and Hindi language and honoured authors such as the ever-famous novelist Prem Chand and Tulsi Das, the famous saint-poet who wrote Ram Charit Manas. Appropriately called as the cultural capital of India, Varanasi has provided the right platform for all cultural activities to flourish. Not only this many examples of dance and music have come from Varanasi. The internationally renowned Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, and the famous Shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan, are all sons of the blessed city or have lived here for major part of their lives.
Banaras (or Kashi or Varanasi) is one of the oldest cities in the world, which have been constantly inhabited.
Many-many generations of human life have been seen by this ancient city. Since very ancient time Banaras has seen the progress of human civilization. Because of this very fact this city has obtained the status of being the cultural capital of India.
If we look at the history of Banaras we will find that there are so many eras of the history of Varanasi few of them are discussed below:-
According to Hindu mythology Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva and so is still called ‘The City of Shiva’; and in the city devotion to God Shiva can be seen in abundance.
From its own eyes Banaras has seen the Vedic religion flourishing. In ancient Hind scriptures such as Vedas, Upnishadas and Puranas several references to Kashi are frequently found.
Since the beginning of the history of Hinduism Banaras holds a divine and important status. It was referred as the holiest city of all in Upanishadas.
In the Buddhist Era as well Banaras continued to keep its status of importance. There is lot about the city in Buddhist texts. The ship of Buddhism first sailed circa 528 BC, at the place known as Sarnath near Banaras, when Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon . It is believed by some scholars that as Banaras held significant power and importance in India that time so Buddha started the life of Buddhism here in Banaras only. The preachings of Buddha and Buddhism is significant enough to affect the religious belief of entire India.
Among the sixteen Mahajanpadas (refers to the sixteen kingdoms and oligarchic republics) of sixth to fourth centuries BC, Kashi was one of them with Varanasi as its Capital. Before the era of Buddha, among the sixteen mahajanpadas of India, Kashi was the most powerful.
Banaras was described as rich and prosperous place by the famous Chinese traveller Hiouen Thsang (Xuanzang), who travelled to Banaras circa 635 AD.
For Hinduism and Buddhism both; Banaras was important and while peaceful coexistence of religions was rare in the world but both these religions coexisted rather peacefully in Banaras.
Muslim Invasion Era – Era of declination and suppression of Benaras
Banaras was loved even by Muslim kings and emperors. Unlike others their love for Banaras was slightly different. Unfortunately they loved Banaras for looting, attacking and demolishing; especially the Hindu buildings. In the year 1194 Qutb-ud-din Aibak, in the year 1376 Feroz Shah Tuglaq and in the year 1496 Sikander Lodi destroyed every old temple in Banaras. For centuries Banaras lived in the era of declination and suppression and lost thousands of its temples.
Under the Mughal dynasty till the second half of 16th century this suppression of native culture continued. Things got changed from the year 1556 when Akbar of Mughal Dynasty became the emperor. Even though Emperor Akbar belongs to a Muslim dynasty he was secular. During his reign Hinduism began to flourish again and he built several Hindu temples in city. However, the secular traditions of Akbar were not continued by his descendants; and they went back to the routine of suppression of Hinduism. During the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, Banaras again experienced major blows as he was particularly brutal against Hinduism.
Mughal dynasty weakened considerably after the death of Aurangzeb. Since many Hindu landlords began standing against the Muslim rule so keeping hold on the regions began to become more difficult. Establishment of a Hindu king who would pay loyalty to the emperor was finally decided to deal with this problem. This dynasty of rulers of ‘the Benares State’ lasted till the independence from the British rule.
The first king of this dynasty was Mansa Ram and next to him, Balwant Singh became the king of the Benares State. With the aid of British, state of Banaras was disconnected from the Delhi rule as there was a crunch between Balwant Singh and Delhi Raja Balwant Singh. While keeping peace with the British, Raja Balwant Singh also managed to keep sovereignty of the state. But it was for a very short period as British grasp on the State of Benares continued to get stronger. This struggle was continued by Chait Singh after Balwant Singh. However soon in the British Raj, the Benares state was forced to remain only a princely state. Afterwards, by paying loyalty to the British Raj, Benares State remained a princely state.
Post Independence Era of Benaras
On 15 August, 1947, India achieved the Independence.
As Varanasi serve as a major commercial centre in the eastern Uttar Pradesh state and western Bihar state so at present it has become a major city. Banaras is a notable centre of education because it holds 4 universities (including Banaras Hindu University – BHU, one of the most prominent universities in India).
Till date the religious and cultural importance of Banaras is maintained and is respected by Hindus and Buddhists in particular from entire world.
Climate of Varanasi
Varanasi has a humid subtropical climate with the great fluctuations in the summer (around 22°C to 46°C with hot dry winds) and winter (about 5 °C with deep fog). The rainfall in Varanasi is normal which is around 1,110 mm annually.
Population of Varanasi
Population of Varanasi is vast. During any celebration people from all over the world are attracted by the religious beliefs and cultural activities of Varanasi. Varieties of religions are there in Varanasi. Religions of Varanasi comprise of around 68% Hindus, 30% Muslims, 0.2% Sikhs, 0.2% Christians, less than 0.2% Buddhists, 1.4% Jains and 0.4% other religions. The urbanized area in Varanasi according to 2011 census has a population of 1,435,113 of which 761,060 of the total population were males and 674,053 of the total population were females.
Benaras Tourism or Tourism in Varanasi
For tours and tourism every year Varanasi is the famous and striking place in India. Around 3 million Indians (generally from UP, MP, Bihar, West Bengal,South India etc) and 200,000 foreigners (generally from USA, China, Sri Lanka, Japan etc) visit Varanasi every year for the religious reasons. Because of the increasing number of malls, three star and five star hotels, dharamshalas, multiplexes, multi specialty hospitals etc Varanasi is now developing economically very fast.
Religious Festivals of Varanasi
A large crowd of the devotees are driven by the variety of fairs and festivals in Varanasi such as Mahashivaratri, Ganga Mahotsav , Deepawali , Dev Deepawali , Hauman Jayanti , Ramlila , Bharat Milap , Nag Nathaiya ,Nakkatayya , Dhrupad Mela Vijayadashami etc.
Transport in Varanasi
Whether it is road line, railway line or airline Varanasi has very convenient transports. For railways the stoppage is at Varanasi junction or Varanasi Cantt Railway Station and Manduadih Railway station. Airport of Varanasi is Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport or Babatpur Airport. In Varanasi 24 hrs transport facility is available.
Languages spoken in Varanasi
Official Languages: Hindi, English, Urdu
Other Language: Bhojpuri
Things to do in Varanasi
12 Must do in Varanasi, India
The morning of Varanasi is a mystic blend of nature’s grandeur and human existence. The enchanting light of the rising sun on the horizon towards the opposite bank of the river Ganga creates a mystical environment. A large number of visitors walk down to the Ghat every morning for the unique cultural and spiritual event called Subah-e-Banaras . Many people use to start the day with Vedic enchanting and vibrant soulful Indian music at the ghat. The sunrise of many places are beautiful and famous but the sunrise of Banaras is spectacular in the world. The residents and visitors of Varanasi feel the spiritual fragrance and eternal beauty of nature there.
Watch the daily rituals and ceremonies along the Ghats
Really a fascinating one to just walk 6 km long along the river on Ghats from Assi Ghat to Rajghat . The river Ganga and the Ghats are very peaceful and serene in the dawn. People start to descend on the ghat. Locals and pilgrims come to take bath in the sacred river, washerman washes the clothes by rhythmically hitting on the slabs, monks meditate on the ghat and all these activities simultaneously creates a fascinating scene. Also, the cremation on the ghats of Varanasi is one of the oldest rituals. Two ghats of Varanasi is designated as cremation ghats as it is believed among Hindus that Varanasi is the most sacred place to die.
Witness a Funeral procession at the cremation ghats :-
Ghats of Varanasi are considered one of the auspicious locations for the cremations. The Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats are the ghats for cremation. This is the place where one can see the funeral procession. On these ghats photography is not allowed, one can capture the moment from distance or from a boat. Varanasi is the only place where the holy river Ganga, the holy temples, the pilgrims from all around the globe, the cremation ghats, the infants, the young, the old, the person with sorrow, the person with happiness and the holy cows exist together
Boating in the mystic environment of Varanasi in the morning time is really a spectacular thing. Boating along the Dashwamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat has now become the tradition for the visitors. Boat ride is a must do activity in Varanasi. Usually visitors use to ride boat either at the dusk or at the dawn and also this is the best time to ride.
Enjoy Ganga Aarti in the Evening
Varanasi become more vibrant in the evening at 7p.m. It is the time for the magnificent and holy Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh ghat. At the time of Aarti number of devotees, tourists and locals gathered around the ghat to enjoy the aarti. A group of priests starts aarti in a well organised manner by having a lighting lamp in their hand, start a rhythmic chant of mantras. Priests blow the conch shell in between the aarti very loudly and aarti continues with the incense sticks. After completion of the mantras, priests do aarti with multi-tiered brass lamps having firing camphor.
Enjoy Dev Deepawali :-
Dev Deepawali is celebrated on the fifteenth day of Diwali in the respect of Ganga every year. The Dev Deepavali is the festival of Kartik Poornima celebrated in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. It falls on the full moon of the Hindu month of Kartika and takes place fifteen days after Diwali Then entire ghats of the Ganga, from Ravidas Ghat at the Southern end to Rahghat get decorated with the number of tiny earthen lamps and floral rangolis at the evening of Kartik Purnima. It is considered that pilgrims flow diyas in water of Ganga to welcome the God.
Explore the Roots of Buddhism in Sarnath :-
After the attainment of enlightenment at Bodhgaya , Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon in Sarnath. Afte that, in sarnath Buddhist kings constructed many stupas, viharas and monasteries and also evolved Sarnath as a great learning centre of Buddhism. Sarnath is the place from where the famous Ashoka pillar was excavated. And from which “The Lion Capital”, the National Emblem of India is adopted.
Visit at least a Fair/Festival :-
By virtue of its religious and cultural importance, Varanasi is abuzz with fairs and festivals all around the year. The fairs and festivals of Varanasi attract lakhs of visitors. Some famous fair held in the month of October during the festivals of Navratri and Diwali in Varanasi are- The Nag Nathaiyya(nailing the king cobra by Lord Krishna) at the Tulsi Ghat, Bharat Milap(first meeting of lord Rama with his brother Bharat after exile) of Nati Imli, Nakkataiy(cutting the nose of Suparnakha) of chetganj. And the most enjoyable and famous festivals are Holi, Diwali, Navratri, Durga Puja, Chhath Puja.
Eat Banarasi Paan :-
Basically Banarasi Paan is the betel leaves . Banarasi Paan is famous all over the world because of its awesome taste. Banarasi Paan refreshes the mouth and is also helpful in digestion. Preparing a Banarasi Paan is an art as only the appropriate ingridients will give the perfect taste. Banarasi Paan is also known as Tambul in Sanskrit. There is wide array of delicious paans available in Varanasi.
Enjoy the street foods :-
Besides the restaurant and hotels Varanasi is full of small shops, hawkers selling food items along the road or in streets. Among all these- Kachori in kachori gali, Jalebi Rabri in Vishwanath Gali, Lassi and Lawang Lata at Pahalwan’s Shop or at Basant Bahar, aloo chat at Kashi chat bhandar are some the famous street shops. There is a complete neat and clean environment maintained in Varanasi. Varanasi is a place to enjoy and celebrate.
Buy Banarasi Silk Saree :-
Sari made in Varanasi which is much popular as Banarasi Sari is among the finest saris in India. Banarasi Saris are known for their gold and silver brocade or Zari, fine silk and opulent embroidery and are decorated with intricate design.
Varanasi is a city full of contrast as Varanasi is considered as holiest and is also the dirtiest; Ganga is one of the sacred and is also the polluted; city is full of kind people and is also famous for its thugs; it’s a place to live and also there is cremation place. In short one can say that Varanasi is a place to enjoy and experience. Once a person visit here, either love this place or hate this place. This is the place where people togetherely enjoy, puzzled, shocked, feel comfort and feel hatred. This is the place to relax or to soothe forgetting all the worldly tensions. This place takes a special space in one’s heart once who spend time here. It can be said about Varanasi is that- this place is more than a pilgrimage place, more than a spiritual place and more than a place to enjoy.
About the Banarasi Paan
You might remember famous Bollywood song, “khaike Paan Banaras wallah” from the movie Don starring Amitabh Bachhan as Don and singing the song. Such is the fame of Banarasi Paan that it has attracted cinema too.
Banarasi Paan is almost same as other Paan of any other part of India. But the process of making, way of service and creativity to shape Paan in different sizes and shapes is remarkable and makes Banarasi Paan distinct from other Paans.
Banaras has unknown tradition of Paan being served and prepared in each and every corner of street. There is no gali in Varanasi where you couldn’t find Paan. These Paan serving and offerings have great traditions from ancient times. Paan is a Hindi word for Betel leaves laced with areca nut and Pickling Lime.
People eat this Paan because of its remarkable taste and fragrance.
Ingredients of Banarasi Paan :
Banarasi Paan is same as other Paans. Betel leaves are stuffed with Catechu, Pickling Lime, Areca Nut, Plain Tobacco and other things. What makes difference is the process of making and using these ingredients into Betel Leaves. A Banarasi Paan walla does hard labour before bringing final Paan to your mouth. These ingredients are refined after soaking and filtering ingredients for many days and passing them through other processes.
How is Banarasi Paan made :
In process of making betel leaves are first cleaned. Betel nuts are cut and its astringency is removed after soaking into the water. Then Catechu or Kattha is dipped into the water and after some days it is dipped into milk. Then Catechu is boiled and spread in utensils to decant. After that Catechu is tied into the clothes and kept under heavy rocks. Thereafter, it Catechu is put into ashes. All this process is done with aim of removing astringency of Catechu.
After all this process Catechu is turned bright in colour. Then it is churned into a paste. This churned and hand-made Catechu is the specialty of Banarasi Paan. Fresh lime is never used it preparation of Paan in Banaras this is the exceptional thing from other Paan of world. After soaking limestone into the water for days and filtering it with clothes curd and milk is mixed with Paan. This gives Paickling Lime. In this process all the heat of lime is removed. Next come use of tobacco or Surti in local dialect. In Banarasi Paan Yellow or plain Tobacco is used instead of black tobacco. Almost plain surti is used as yellow surti is harmful and acidic.Plain surti is thoroughly washed and mixed with barash, small cardamom and peppermint. Rose water is added to it.In other cities like Delhi, Lucknow etc. ingredients of Paan are put into betel leaves hours before and become stale until you put it into your mouth. But in Banarasi Paan,Paan walla or Paneris put ingredients into betel leaves while serving.
Style of Service :
In Banarasi style Paan walla follows Nawabi Traditions of service or royal way of service i.e. putting left palm under elbow of right hand. This makes their service distinctive from other cities.
History of Paan in Banaras :
There is unknown history of Paan in India. It is believed that rulers and common folk used Paan as a mouth freshener. Paan was much in vogue in ancient and medieval history of India. There lived a person called Paneri in Northern India who used to serve Paan to every home of the village. Paan was being prepared with special materials on special occasions. There was no home which didn’t welcome guests without Paan. Such was the tradition that people related Paan with prestige.
What is health benefit of Paan :
Paan or betel leaves without tobacco and areca nut are very good for digestion. It is used to remove bad odour of mouth after having meals. Generally this Paan without additional materials is called Meetha Paan.
Paan as an offering to Gods :
Paan is also offered to God in Indian culture. It is kept on earthen pitchers in marriages and other special ceremonies. Paan is considered as a symbol of longevity as it lasts long and remains green for long time. It is believed that offering Paan to Gods gives longevity to the husband of lady who offers it.
Cost of Paan in Varanasi :
It varies from INR 5 to INR 5000, depend upon the ingredients and making of paan.