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Benaras (Varanasi) – The Oldest City in the World

Varanasi (Kashi) or simply Benaras has been the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus & Buddhism for ages. Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. These few lines by Mark Twain say it all:

“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.

A vibrant city full of life with incredible colors & traditions beaded like multi-cultured pearls. Though badly maintained & filthy as it looks like but shows a true path of moksha. Hindus believe 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. Abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, the origins of Varanasi are yet unknown.The city is also famous for the its Aghori Sadhus known for their cannibalism habits. Ganges in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals. Varanasi is the cultural capital of India and the melting pot of Indian civilization. Varanasi or Benaras has a well-developed transport network and is well connected to all the major Indian cities and states by air, road and rail. Ganges is said to have its origins in the tresses of Lord Shiva and in Varanasi, it expands to the mighty river that we know of. The city is a center of learning and civilization for over 3000 years.

With Sarnath embedded in its roots, the place where Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightenment, where Ashoka – Great King of Mauryan Empire of India had made his capital known as Lion Capital where the first national emblem pillar was put in place by him. Varanasi has been a symbol of Hindu renaissance. Knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts have all flourished here for centuries. Also a pilgrimage place for Jains, Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously. With a number of temples, Mrs. Annie Besant chose Varanasi as the home for her ‘Theosophical Society’ and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, to institute ‘Benares Hindu University, the biggest Hindu University in the world. Ayurveda is said to be originated at Varanasi. Maharshi Patanjali, the preceptor of Ayurveda and Yoga, was also affiliated with this city. Varanasi is also famous for its trade and commerce, especially for the finest silks and gold and silver brocades, since the early days.

In 1781 Benaras had also witnessed a major rebellion known as Benaras Rebellion of 1781 – 1782 when In 1781, in response to the need for revenue to fight the war in Madras against Hyder Ali, Warren Hastings, the Governor-General of India, had pressed Chait Singh (d.1810), ruler of Benaras, to make additional revenue payments in 1778 and 1779 of five lakhs as a sort of war tax.

Art & Culture History: Varanasi has also been a great center of learning for ages. Varanasi is associated with promotion of spiritualism, mysticism, Sanskrit, yoga and Hindi language and honored authors such as the famous novelist Prem Chand and Tulsi Das. Being the cultural capital of India, Varanasi has provided the right platform for all cultural activities to flourish. Many exponents of dance and music have come from Varanasi. Ravi Shankar, renowned Sitar maestro and Ustad Bismillah Khan, (the famous Shehnai player) forms the soul of city’s culture. The art and culture of Varanasi is unique. It is the rich cultural tradition of Varanasi that makes it the cultural capital of India. A combination of archaeology, mythology, geography, art and history makes Varanasi a great center of Indian culture. Though Varanasi is associated mainly with Hinduism and Buddhism but one can find glimpse of many religious beliefs, types of worship and religious institutions at Varanasi. For centuries, Varanasi has produced master craftsmen and earned name and fame for its beautiful Sarees, handicrafts, textiles, toys, ornaments, metal work, clay and woodwork and other crafts such as handmade carpets from a nearby town Bhadoi. At Varanasi one gets to explore the city of affluence, intellectuals, oral traditions, castes and customs, personalities, professions and communal harmony. All these combine together to give a distinct look to the city of moksha, Varanasi.

City Facts: Languages Spoken: Hindi, Sanskrit,Urdu, Bhojpuri and English, STD Code: 0542, Population: About 1.4 million. During summers, weather can be as hot as 45° C and humid too as Varanasi lies at the Tropic of cancer. Torrential rains and high humidity accompanies the monsoons that usually come in late June or early July for about two months. In winters it is pleasant and temperature dips down to about 7°C.  October to April is the best time to visit Benaras.

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