Take the Exotic Varanasi Tour to the City of Moksha, Music and Methuselah!

by admin on July 13, 2010

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A Holy Man in Varanasi

The Holy Man of Varanasi

One of the oldest cities in the whole world, a place considered auspicious by three major religions of the world (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism), a living embodiment of the ancient riverine culture and a photographer’s delight with its flickering diyas, roaming bulls and the omnipresent marigolds– Varanasi or Benares elicits only one response at first sight which is ‘holy smoke!’. The city where smoke is holy and so are bulls is going to be the numero uno on your Indian tour itinerary if you are drawn to a combination of mysticism, culture and beauty.

Decoding Varanasi

The first glimpse of Varanasi however is totally deceptive and can make you want to turn your heels. Crowded alleys, huge bulls, rotting flowers and a general absence of speed can be claustrophobic but as they say – give yourself a chance and the mojo moments will arrive like a naughty child saying ‘boo’ to frighten a composed adult and then lighten up your whole stay with its never ending antics!

Varanasi is situated on the banks of the River Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Dedicated to the most volatile and enigmatic of the Indian trinity, Maheshwara or Shiva or Vishwanath, the city of temples and ghats has a special place in its heart for the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

City of temples and ghats

The famous Ganga Aarti at Varanasi

A Glimpse of the Aarti at the Ganga at Varanasi

The house of worship on the banks of the River Ganges celebrates the myth of the river emanating from the dreadlocks of Lord Shiva and the numerous ‘ghats’ or stone steps on the riverfront pays daily obeisance to the river (fondly referred as the ‘Mother ‘in Indian culture) in the form of evening ‘aarti’ with lighted lamps and burning incense which is not only a treat to the eyes but also a magical margarita for the senses.

As the Kashi Vishwanath is the most famous temples along with Sankat Mochan temple, the Durga temple, the Tulsi Manas temple and the Bharat Mata temple; similarly the Dasaswamedh Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat, the Harischandra Ghat, the Kabir Ghat and Assi Ghat are the popular ghats among a hundred.

Manikarnika Ghat and Harischandra Ghat are famous for their crematorium facilities which run 24×7. According to Hindu customs and traditions, death in Kashi or Varanasi means moksha or eternal freedom from the fetters of life and death. Actually you may find people staying in this city awaiting their death and before you start being judgmental let me share this extraordinary fact from the animal kingdom – salmons and elephants are known to have traversed thousands of kilometers to go to a place to die.

sadhu of varanasi

Hmm Flesh Eating Sadhus- only in Varanasi

Yes, you may wrinkle up your nose when you hear about the Aghoris, a sect of sadhus who are known to feed on human flesh from the burning pyre but you are free to not to pursue your queries in that quarter – not only because the truth may be indigestible to you but also because the story may turn out to be nothing more than an urban legend after all! And if the ethnologist in you is really after these cultural trivia, then you will be thrilled to know that the Parsis, a colourful Indian community believes in feeding the birds of prey with their mortal remains and have towers especially built for this function known as the ‘Tower of Silence’.

Kashi Vishwanath and the Gyanvapi Mosque

The Kashi Vishwanath temple a stone throw away from Gyanvapi Mosque

Many faces of Benares Marked by a unique spiritual understanding, Benares allows you to be faithful without dictating your faith. That’s why you would see the Gyanvapi mosque existing within a stone’s throw from the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the harmony is so palpable that you would almost wonder how places in the same country go up in flames in the name of religion.

Sarnath, a mere 10 km away from Varanasi is the place where the Buddha is said to have given his first sermon. Parswanath, the first Jain Tirthankara is also supposed to have hailed from this city which Mark Twain has described as being ‘older than history’. No wonder then that this spiritually enriched site is also the centre for divine music.

Pandit Ravi Shankar

The Maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar

Devotional music, classical and instrumental have kept Varanasi in a legendary thrall and world famous exponents like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustaad Bismillah Khan owe their allegiance to the Benares gharana. And it is not only song and devotion that makes this city unique; for ages the city had been famous for its schools of philosophy and Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language.

Standing Tall - The Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi

Standing Tall - The Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi

The Benares Hindu University keeps the august tradition alive in this land which also gave birth to ‘Ayurveda’, a traditional herbal system of medicine.

For the shopaholic

One beautiful Indian female wear that never fails to catch one’s imagination is the sari. The ode to femininity is the specialty of Benares and you will have a hard time figuring out which one is more appealing among the four main variations that are found here –the pure silk (katan); organza (kora) with zari and silk; georgette, and shattir.Carpets, bangles, brassware are other novelties assured to catch eyeballs with their intricate designs and lively hues.

Notes:

Diya – Lamps (mostly made from the earth but can be made of any metal as well)

Aarti – A ritual associated with prayer involving lighted lamps

Gharana – A long and esteemed tradition in any discipline

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