Varanasi is one of the most ancient great cities of India. It is known
by several names as- Varanasi, Banaras, Kashi, Anandkanan, etc. It
has a very hoary antiquity and the earliest period remains obscure.
Archaeologically, the remains date back to about the first
millennium B.C. It is regarded as one of the 7 holy cities which
impart salvation to the devotees.
Although, the city is held in high esteem by the three early major religions of India i.e., Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma (in which five major sects are there), Buddhism and Jainism, yet it has a very strong hold of Shaiva (one of the sects of sanatan dharma) devotees since one of the twelve Jyotirlingas i.e., Visheshwara or Vishwanath is installed here.
The city is situated on the western bank of the most sacred river of north India i.e., Ganga and the vital point is that here the holy river takes the turn i.e., its stream starts flowing from south to north. Hence it is again a matter of greatest reverence among the devotees.
Traditionally, Kashi is supported on the Trisulas (Trident) of Shiva. Etymologically, Kashi means a place which shines and it does shine through its glory of learning, mythological significance and continuous flow of the stream of Indian culture from the times immemorial to the present day.
The city is also known as Varanasi being situated between rivulets Asi and Varuna and this part is held in high respect by the Hindu devotees. So many stories and legends are associated with the city and it has attracted a large number of saints from distant quarters of the Country through the ages. Kings and noblemen, traders and merchants, Acharyas and their followers founded a number of institutions and constructed buildings for charity & philanthropy and to earn religious merit. This place represents almost all the important pilgrim centers of India.
The city is also renowned as birth place of Jain Tirthankara, particularly Parshvanath, Sreyanshnath, Chandraprabhu and Suparshvanath. The rich Jain community constructed a good number of religious places as token of their reverence to the faith. Not far from Varanasi is one of the most important pilgrim centres of Buddhists known as Sarnath. It is also called in early literature as “Rishipattanam Mrigdav” since a good number of seers and sages performed their penances in the company of deers and the entire region was once a thick forest. It was here that Buddha gave his first sermon to the 5 devotees after his enlightenment at Bodhgaya. The building activity commenced at least from the time of Asoka, the great Mauryan Emperor, continues to date and the forest is now transformed into a big township with lofty, buildings. The followers of Buddhism from different countries have put up their monasteries and religious establishments. Archaeologically the place imparts a majestic view as the earlier habitation area is seen exposed. Among the existing names, Dhamek and Chowkhandi stupas are well known.
Besides Museum, administered by the Archaeological Survey of India, remains centre of attraction. The foremost institute of higher Boddhist Studies, Tibettan Institute is also an additional attraction at Sarnath. One can have a glimpse of development of sculptural art of India from the 3rd cent. B.C. to about 12th cent. A.D. The Asokan column with 4 roaring lions and beautiful abacus is an outstanding specimen of art. Same is the case of the Buddha image posture belonging to Gupta period i.e., 5th , century A.D. Besides its charming physique the statue is known for wonderful expression combining divine bliss and tranquility. Richly decorated halo add further grandeur to the deity. Sarnath has been an important school of sculptural art and it was in its Zenith in the Gupta period between the 4th and the 5th century A.D.
Varanasi is one of the earliest existing cities of the world and its antiquarian significance has amply been corroborated by archaeological remains, religious and cultural traditions continuing from the hoary past and intense faith of people thronging from distant quarters of land. Despite several upheavals, the city imparts glimpses of cultural continuity from the prehistoric and Vedic times to the present day. This is the real force of ‘Kashi Sanskriti’. As the visitor moves on the ghats and lanes of Varanasi, he not only witnesses the holy stream of Uttar Vahini Ganga but also the cultural current flowing uninterruptedly with the passage of time.
The glory and sagacity of Varanasi or Kashi has been experienced by seers, sages, travelers, writers and devotees. The Sanskrit works call it pleasing, chanting, beautiful and capable of removing sins and ignorance. The Ramacharitmanas remembers it as journey dock of salvation and treasury of oriental knowledge. James Princep, an illustrious British scholar and scientist visionary and orientalist, saw it a moving sea of heads studded with temples with sound of cymbals and drums. Mirza Galib (Urdu poet) spelled that the glory of Benaras was so high that it was not possible to measure or conceive it. Varanasi-Place of Realization Generally, it is seen, a human habitant used to convert into a city after a long peaceful co-existence and mutual acceptance of cultural habits which evolve traditions. Varanasi, known to be older than traditions has cultivated traditions, nourished traditions and inspired traditions to voyage beyond boundary of this country. In fact Varanasi is a city where metaphysics is taught in the atmosphere of physics. From the age of Vedic era to the pages of modern history this city had been the one institution in itself to teach wisdom and culture to the people who came with quest irrespective of class, Varanasi or Kashi is often referred to as microcosm and city divine light. It is the permanent abode of Lord Shiva or Vishvanath (Lord of universe) the auspicious God of benediction and welfare of the mankind. It is a devotional place of great pilgrimage for the Vaidics, Buddhists and Jainas as well, which makes it an outstanding tourist place. The western scholars like M.A. Sherring, James Princep, Annie Besant and recently Diana L. Eck have experienced the spiritual fragrance of Kashi and paid there oblation to this great city of antiquity and assimilative cultural continuity through their pen might.
A Treasure Place of Intangible Heritage
In span of time man has developed symbolic structure to make his feelings and values in an organized form that is how monuments are accepted as historical heritage & lineage. Varanasi, the epitome of human consciousness, is a place where people are living to attain salvation. When the entire world is afraid of pains of death, here in Varanasi the life style of common man seems to combat death in a usual manner. That’s why the city is not careless but carefree Modern science and way of life, ancient wisdom and its message can work together to help in searching harmonious and peaceful path of mankind’s integrity with nature. Our heritage site tells the history possibilities and future prospect of our existence and continuity. Heritage is mirror of mankind’s growth progress and prospect that must be preserved. The present day Varanasi is cosmopolitan city revealing the spirit of religious cultural tolerance and assimilation. The mixed population of Hindus, Muslims, Persians, Budhist, Jains and even people from western hemisphere, is the landmark of Varanasi. The Indian population with different religious faith and cultural segments live here in Kashi. in perfect harmony as a cultural unit to represent unity in diversity of India in true pluralistic spirit.