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Celebrating life and death along the ghats of Varanasi. Along with an array of feeling as I walked by the ghats of The Ganges, this was the strong realisation that struck me this time. Of so many visits, I have always witnessed Varanasi from different viewpoints. My visits were at different ages of my life and the changed everytime I visited Varanasi since my childhood.
Walking amid the bustling crowds, utter chaos, pollution and high decibel noise I found that life reigns. Amid all odds belief makes all these obstacles look so trivial. With all the attacks and terrorist warnings things are as usual the same, warm, affectionate, loving, religious, strange and weired but absorbing.
Life does not stop here, like the river it flows. Not even death can make it stop. Like The Ganges it takes along everything that comes its way. The oldest of the living cities of today, Varanasi has witnessed history being written again and again. Perhaps thats the reason that its still the icon of the great Indian civilization. Its not that life has not changed around the city, its not that the city has not been effected by the ripples of open market and open society but the core remains the same. It remains as Indian as ever along with all the dogmatic parochialism, its religiousness and also its spirituality. Along with The Ganges, it remains the same as it was thousands of years back. Like a living fossil Varanasi remains with all a mental well being.
The people of Varanasi are proud of their love of mauj- masti, a reckless spirit of fun. They love music, dance, food and conversation, enjoy wrestling in the akharas and the carnival of festivals. They defiantly face life by putting kohl in their eyes, stuffing paan into their cheeks and venturing out with a gallant swagger. A visitor is often amazed at Kashi’s blase acceptance of death. You renounce the world here, and wait for death, serenely sipping Ganga water and listening to mantras. The experience of Kashi spans the spectrum from masti to mrityu, joy to death. Open the windows of your mind to its elusive, ephemeral magic and let Kashi speak to you.
Known as the cultural capital of India, Varanasi is known for its religious and spiritual lifestyle. One of the most important pilgrimage spots for Jains, Buddhists and especially Hindus, it is situated on the banks of Holy Ganges, which plays an important role in day-to-day lives of the people of Varanasi. Being the oldest living city, Varanasi has been a mute witness to many great historic upheavals and events.
Mythology reins the city and there are many religious places and institutions and places of worship throughout the city where people visit everyday, especially in the mornings and the evenings. On closer look, one can still find the primitive worship cults that are still in practice in the city. The religiosity of the region is evident from the fact that Buddha, Jain Tirthankars, several Shaiva and Vaishnava saints, Kabir and Tulsi were either born here or were associated with the place in a significant way and have spent a long time here.
People of Benaras are known for being the exponents of literature, music, Vedic philosophy, arts, crafts and architecture. Socio-economic aspects of the city are highly influenced by the Ganges and on most of the Hindu festivals; people can be seen using the bathing ghats even before daybreak as an important part of their rituals. In the city, the atmosphere is relaxed in general and we can see people chewing the famous ‘paan’ and chatting in a laid-back manner. That does not keep Varanasi behind, as is evident from the growing modern industries in the city. It is also the most ancient seat of education in India and Benaras Hindu University is still famous throughout the world for its scholars. The city is also a seat for Sanskrit and one can still see the Guru-Shishya tradition being followed here at certain places.
Several social and religious customs co-exist in the city and the caste system is still prevalent here. People wear ‘Gamcha’ (a cotton towel), as they go bathing in Ganga and drink Thandai (a coolant with milk as its base), which have become a part of the cultural identity of traditional ways of Varanasi. Music, drama and entertainment have found a place in the lives of the people. Its dance traditions and vocal and instrumental music is highly developed and one can catch the glimpses of folk drama in the ‘Ramlila’ organized before Dussehra. Traditional games and sports include ‘Akharas’, where wrestling or ‘kushti’ competitions are organized. Foreign tourists love to ride horse-driven ‘Ekkas’ and cycle rickshaws that are still in use here. Indian medical science of Ayurveda, yoga and meditation are cherished here since ages.
Varanasi, the holy city of India, is also known by the name of Kashi and Benaras. Kashi, the city of Moksha for Hindus since centuries, is known for its fine-quality silks, ‘paan’ and Benares Hindu University and Avimukta of the ancient days, Varanasi is the most popular pilgrimage point for the Hindus. One of the seven oliest cities, Varanasi city is also one the Shakti Peethas and one of the twelve Jyotir Linga sites in India. In Hinduism it is believed that those who die and are cremated here get an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and re-births.
Considered as the abode of Lord Shiva, Varanasi is situated on the banks of River Ganges, which is believed to have the power of washing away all of one’s sins. As pundits here will tell you, whatever is sacrificed and chanted here or given in charity reaps its fruits thousand times more than those good deeds performed at other places because of the power of that place. It is believed that three nights of fasting in Varanasi city can reap you rewards of many thousands of lifetimes of asceticism! Varanasi is the oldest city of the world. Varanasi is more than 3000 years old and is famous as the city of temples. In Varanasi, there are temples at every few paces. Looking at the number of temples in Varanasi, it is hard to believe that a large number of them were demolished during the medieval times. Jyotirlinga Visvanatha Temple or Golden Temple, rebuilt in 1776, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Jnana Vapi well (meaning ‘Well of Wisdom) is believed to have been dug by Lord Shiva himself. It is believed that the majestic Alamgir mosque has replaced one of the most ancient shrines known as the temple of Bindu Madhava. The thirty-three hundred million shrines fill one with awe and wonder with sheer numbers.
Reaching Varanasi: Varanasi can be reached by train and bus mainly.
Trains are the easiest way to reach Varanasi, with multiple daily services to cities including Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, Mumbai and Kolkata. Varanasi is served by two major railway stations. Many trains arrive at Varanasi Junction (IR station code : BSB) in the heart of the city, and many others arrive at Mughal Sarai Junction (IR station code : MGS), about 15 km east of the city (Rs 20, 45 min in a rickshaw). Here is a list of useful trains to reach Varanasi:
|Train Number||Train Name||You may board at||You may alight at|
|2424||Rajdhani Express||New Delhi||Mughal Sarai Junction|
|2436||Rajdhani Express||New Delhi, Lucknow||Varanasi Junction|
|2560||Shivganga Express||New Delhi||Varanasi Junction|
|2165||Lokmanya Tilak (T) – Varanasi Express||Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai)||Varanasi Junction|
|2336||Lokmanya Tilak (T) – Bhagalpur Express||Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai)||Mughal Sarai Junction|
|2333||Vibhuti Express||Howrah (Kolkata)||Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction|
|2307||Howrah-Jodhpur Express||Howrah (Kolkata)||Mughal Sarai Junction|
|2669||Ganga Kaveri Express||Chennai Central||Varanasi Junction|
|2295||Sangamitra Express||Bangalore City, Chennai Central||Mughal Sarai Junction|
|7091||Secunderabad-Patna Express||Secunderabad (Hyderabad)||Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction|
|4854||Marudhar Express||Jaipur, Agra Fort||Varanasi Junction|
|4864||Marudhar Express||Jaipur, Agra Fort||Varanasi Junction|
Also see Rail travel in India
There are daily buses to the Nepali border and other points around northern India. Local buses leave from the main bus station near the train station, almost every hour in the morning and one in the evening, to Gorakhpur (5-6 hrs), from where buses leave to the Nepali border at Sonauli (~3 hrs). There are buses run by state government from Lucknow (8hrs), Kanpur (9hrs) and Allahabad(3hrs)