Varanasi is one of the old and holy cities situated in the banks of the river Ganga for about three thousand years of history and civilization. The place has got other names like Kashi and Benaras or Banaras. Varanasi is described in several poetic adjectives like “The city of temples”, “The holy city of India”, “The religious capital of India”, “The city of learning” and “The cultural capital of India”.
The name of the city Varanasi derived by two holy tributary rivers flowing into the River Ganga “Assi” and “Varuna”. Ganga River and their Ghats are one of the prominent must visit places in Varanasi; it is a stretch about 2.5 miles.
It is the land of spirituality and origins of many religions, dharma and movements like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Bhakti Movement and many more.
It is been told that Lord Shiva found and resided in the Varanasi city, thus in “Mahabharat” pandavas went to Kashi in search of Lord Shiva to atone the sins committed in the War of Kurukshetra. Varanasi has one of the famous twelve Jyotirlinga Visvanatha temples at the banks of the River Ganga.
It is one of the seven holiest cities in India. Varanasi is the co-existing city of the past and present, eternity and continuousness.
The evolution of the city took place from the times of Rig Veda, Atharvaveda, Buddhism, Gahadvala dynasty, Mauryan dynasty, Bhakti movement, Sikhism, Mughal dynasty, Maratha Dynasty, Bhumihar (Brahmin) community and British ruling times.
The city came through many struggles and tough times in history by the army of Qutb-ud-din Aibak in 1194 CE who destroyed the actual Vishwanath temple when he won the battle on Raja of Kannaui as a commander of Mohammad Ghori. Later the Gujarati merchant rebuilt the temple during the region of Delhi’s Sultan IItutmish. The temple was demolished again at the time of Hussain Shah Sharqi or Sikandar lodhi, which was built back by Ahilyabai Holkar Daughter-in-law of Malhar Rao in the year 1780 just to the adjacent of the mosque. Mughal Empire kings like Aurangzeb, ordered the destruction of many temples; and the reconstruction of the city took place at the time of Akbar’s kingship of the same kingdom. Ganga Ghats were built at the time of Maratha Empire in 1700 A.D and developed throughout the others kingdoms like Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles and Peshwes (Peshwas).
Ganga river water was said to be pure which contained medicinal properties that helped the humankind in cul¬tivation of good crops, preparation of medicines and many other beneficial purposes. Ganga is the sign of purity were one comes to the river at their old age to wash out all their sins and to attain salvation. She also represents the nectar of immortality by flowing spiritedly. Most of the Hindu dead bodies are cremated in the banks of the river Ganga at Manikarnika ghat and Harischandra ghat to attain moksha and to liberate from the endless cycle of rebirth.
The Ganga at dusk is fascinating. As the sky darkens, lights appear on the ghats, creating ripple on the grey water. Boats begin to briskly ferry people for the Ganga aarti at Dashashwamedh ghat, which draws huge crowds. Those who wish to witness it from the ghat need to be there at least two hours before. Others just watch from boats that are lined at the edge of the ghat. These days, aarti takes place at many ghats. It’s a beautifully choreographed ritual — priests clad in silk dhoti, kurta and angavastram, loud chanting, the clanging of cymbals, synchronized movement of multi-tiered blazing oil lamps and huge brass camphor lamps, colourful flowers and the aroma of dhoop and incense sticks.
There are eighty-seven Ganga Ghats in Varanasi, in which Dashashwamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Harischan¬dra Ghat, Assi Ghat, Kabir Ghat, Lalita Ghat, Scindia Ghat, Chet Singh Ghat, Jain Ghat, Panchganga Ghat, Chaowki Ghat, Ahilya Ghat, Munshi Ghat, Gai Ghat, Tulasidas Ghat, Manasarovara Ghat and Raj Ghat are some of the promi¬nent Ghats among rest of them. Each Ghat has got its own history and purposes. Ghats are built in memory of famous for their contribution to the humankind like Tulsidas who composed an outstanding literary work called Ramacharitamanas, which is now a guiding lamp for humanity. Many ghats are allied with folktales or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned.
Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the outstanding ghats that leads to Vishwanath Temple and it is the most active ghat, were many ritual honor occur like “Ganga Aarathi”, “Dev Deepawali”, “Chhath Pooja”, “Ganga Dussehra” and many more. It is also said that Dashashwamedh Ghat was created by Load Brahma to welcome Load Shiva to the city. Dashashwamedh Ghat is the place where Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses during Dasa – Ashwamedha Yajna performed here. Ghats are built over the steps made of stone slabs, which is leading along the river Ganga. We see lot of tourists and pilgrims in the ghats of Ganga early in the mornings taking a spiritual dip and bath in the river, performing meditation, yoga and witnessing a beautiful sunrise.
There is a huge opportunity of learning and gaining knowledge on Hindu shastras, Sanskrit literature, arts, music and science at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. This university is found by one of the freedom fighters, a great nationalist, a social activist, and educationist with a visualization of growth of knowledge in India called Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya in the year of 1916.
The Varanasi city sits atop Shiva’s trishul or trident removed from the world and unmoved by its rhythms. It is indestructible and incorruptible. While the world around it goes from sin to worse, Kashi lives in a permanent state of purity.