Varanasi , also commonly known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a city situated on the banks of the River Ganges and is regarded as a holy city by Buddhists and Jains, and is the holiest place in the world in Hinduism. The city hosts one of the Shakti Peethas and one of the twelve Jyotir Lingas. It is a place of unlimited attractions having Temples, Ashrams & Muths and Ghats of Holy Ganges. It is also famous for its fine-quality silks, 'paan' and Benares Hindu University.
Rivaled only by Damascus (Syria), Benares is arguably the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. The city has references in the great Hindu scriptures including the Rigveda, Ramayana and Mahabharata and in the Buddhist Jataka tales. According to mythology, it is believed that Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati came to reside in Varanasi after their marriage and that Lord Shiva never left the city thereafter. Thus Varanasi is an important pilgrimage destination for Shaivites.
The city has been an important centre for religion and learning for over 2,500 years as well as a thriving trade center given its location. Other religions too find importance in Varanasi. Buddha gave his first sermon here (in the suburb of Sarnath) in 567 BC. Three of the Tirthankaras (disciples of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism) were born in Varanasi.
Varanasi was repeatedly raided by Muslim rulers starting with Mahmud of Ghazni in 1033 AD through to Emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century. Aurangazeb in particular played a significant role in destroying most of the ancient temples in Benares. Sadly, even though Varanasi has 2,500+ year old history, much of what is seen today in the city is only about 250 years old (i.e. rebuilt since the earlier destruction).
By Air: Varanasi airport is connected to some cities in India including Delhi, Mumbai and Agra. There are daily domestic flights from Varanasi to these cities. International travelers can get connecting flights from Delhi, which is 810 km away. Delhi is well linked with all major cities in India and many cities abroad.
By Rail: Varanasi is well connected with all major railway stations in India. There are two railheads nearby, namely Varanasi junction and the Kashi junction. Many express trains connect Varanasi with Delhi and Kolkata.
By Road: State owned public bus services connect Varanasi with other holy cities in Uttar Pradesh and neighboring states. Frequent and regular private bus services are available from nearby cities to Varanasi.
Varanasi is famous for its silk weaving industry. Popularly known as the Benarasi saree, the silk sari or shawl is traditionally a single coloured textile. Motifs and patterns are woven in gold or silver threads. Apart from these popular silk fabrics, those interested in religion may also pick up books on religion and other religious items like beads, incense sticks and small statues of gods and goddesses.
The city has a tremendously rich tradition of handicrafts, which makes for a wonderful shopping in Varanasi.
Varanasi is not only the cultural capital of India. The place has a special importance also when it comes to commerce. The city is a flourishing commercial center and has a lion share in the trade volume in the regions east of Delhi. The city from ages has been a center of handicraft especially silk weaving. Nowhere in the world would you find this fine embroidery not even in China.
Other items that are worth buying include brassware, ivory ware, gold jewelry, woodcraft, wall hangings, lampshades, carpets and busts of various deities. Pick up a few for mementoes. The main shopping areas are Chowk, Godowilia, Vishwanath Lane and Thatheri Bazaar though modern shopping malls are also popping up. The city dominates the silk weaving arena in the world. It has become the part and parcel of any ceremony so much so that finely weaved Banarasi silks are a part of every girl's wedding trousseau. Banaras Brocades has no competition whatsoever. Do buy a few to gift your dear ones. They are costly and might burn holes in your pockets but as said, "Good Things Costs Money".
Banaras is also famous for its ' Langda' or 'Malda mangoes', a variety of juicy mangoes that have a craze all over India. Betel leaf is also a specialty in Banaras. If you have an ear for music then Benaras is a place to be. The city that has likes of Ravi Shankar and Ustad Bismillah Khan as its patron boasts of skillfully designed musical instruments that are famous throughout the world. These include among others Sitars, Tabla, Pakhawaj and Shehnai.
Since long, Varanasi has earned global acclaim for exquisite silk saris with intricate floral patterns and elaborate zari (golden thread) works. Strikingly smooth and vibrant colors almost epitomize the feminine grace. These are hugely adored by the Indian women of all corners and are considered precious possessions through out their lives. Do not forget to pick up one or two 'Varanasi' saris while shopping in Varanasi.
Stone carved items of Varanasi are also quite famous. The ace craftsmen of the city chisel out beautiful utility items and objets d'art from stone. Candle stands, ashtrays, jewelry boxes not to mention replicas of Taj Mahal serve as fantastic souvenirs of a Varanasi tour.
Apart from the above, you can also find usual assortment of specialty crafts other from other parts of the state, like: Zardozi from Agra, embroidered fabric from Lucknow, leather works of Kanpur which are also popular items for shopping in Varanasi.
Banarasi Saree is an Indian woman's coveted possession. For a long time Banarasi Saree has been an important part of the Indian bride wardrobe and rarely fails to flatter a woman, making her feel delicate and feminine. The Banarasi sari speaks volumes of the genius of the traditional weaver. The Banarasi saris became more popular during the Mughal era and the sari weaving art reached its zenith. It was during this period when Sari weaving saw the amalgamation of Indian designs and Persian motifs.
The Banarasi sari comes mainly in four different varieties. They are pure silk (katan); organza (kora) with zari and silk; georgette, and shattir. Sari weaving is kind of a cottage industry for millions of people around Varanasi. Most of the silk for the Banarasi saris comes from south India, mainly Bangalore. The Sari weavers weave the basic texture of the sari on the power loom. In weaving the warp, the weavers create the base, which runs into 24 to 26 meters. In an ideal Banarasi Sari there are around 5600 thread wires with 45-inch width.
The weaving of Banarasi sari involves teamwork. Ideally three people are engaged in making the Sari. One weaves, the other works at the revolving ring to create bundles. At this point, another important process begins. This is related to designing the motifs. There are several traditional artists in Varanasi who, create wonderful designs for Saris. To create design boards, the artist first sketches on graph paper with color concepts. Selection of the final design follows creation of punch cards.
For one design of Banarasi sari, one requires hundreds of perforated cards to execute the idea. The prepared perforated cards are knitted with different threads and colors on the loom and then they are paddled in a systematic manner so that the main weaving picks up the right colors and pattern. The normal Banarasi Sari takes around 15 days to one month and sometimes more time to finish. However, this is not a hard and fast rule as all depends on the complexity of designs and patterns to be produced on the sari.
Varanasi and its neighboring areas are well known for carpet making. The Varanasi-Bhadohi-Mirzapur belt in Uttar Pradesh produces maximum number of carpets in the country. The carpets produced in Varanasi region are famous for the excellence in quality and design. Every carpet that is woven here has a distinctive grace and unmatched style that speak volumes about the carpet weaving tradition of Varanasi and its surrounding areas. The stylish and quality of the carpets also proves the genius of the traditional carpet weavers of Varanasi region.
A majority of carpets exported from India come from Varanasi and its neighboring areas. This carpet belt specializes in traditional Indian woolen carpets and Durries. The Bhadohi carpets match the gracefulness of carpet weaving in any part of the world and are distinguished for their beauty and elegance and are worth buying. For carpet lovers the Varanasi-Bhadohi-Mirzapur belt offers great shopping opportunities as the carpets are not only cheaper yet stylish and fashion oriented. The Varanasi-Bhadohi-Mirzapur belt also produces hand tufted, Indo-Tibetan and low, medium and high Knotted Carpets.
Handicrafts of Varanasi
Varanasi has, since times immemorial, been hailed as a leading center for some of the finest Indian handicrafts. The most renowned craft of Varanasi city is silk weaving. 'Banarasi Sarees', produced by local craftsman are among the most preferred, not only in India but also all over the world. Besides the famous Benarasi Sari, brassware, copperware, ivory work, glass bangles, wood, stone and clay toys and exquisite gold jewellery are some of the other crafts Varanasi city is famous for. Among the other shopping attractions of Varanasi and surrounding areas are the Bhadohi Carpets and musical instruments.
The city being a prime tourist destination in India, it is not difficult to find hotels in Varanasi. In fact there are a huge number hotels in Varanasi.
Starting from high-end luxury hotels to budget category ones, the hotels in Varanasi offer a wide range of choice. Reputed Indian and international chains are present with their hotels in Varanasi. At the same time you also find a number of individual hotels, which offer decent arrangement at a modest price.
Most in Varanasi of the hotels are located in the city, while a few are located close to the river Ganges and offer good view too. It is easy to approach the tourist attractions in Varanasi from the hotels in Varanasi.
Palace On Ganges
Bharat Milap at Varanasi
Varanasi is a city of fairs and festivals. Almost every month, a fair or festival is celebrated at Varanasi. Celebration all round the year is another interesting facet of the holy city, Varanasi. Bharat Milap, held in October/November is an important festival of Kashi or Varanasi. Bharat Milap is celebrated to commemorate Lord Ram's return to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and his reunion with his brother, Bharat. The essence of this festival is victory of truth over evil. Lord Ram returned back to Ayodhya after spending 14 years in exile. The story of Lord Ram is the main theme of Valmiki's Ramayana and Tulsidas' Ramcharitamanas.
The Bharat Milap festival is held the day following Dussehra. The Bharat Milap festival is held at Nati Imli, Varanasi. The annual Dussehra festival and the Bharat Milap festival is one of the greatest attractions of Varanasi city. The people of Varanasi celebrate Bharat Milap with great fanfare and devotion. Thousands gather in the streets to see the procession of Lord Ram and his reunion with younger brother, Bharat. People pay their respect by putting Tilak on forehead and garlanding Lord Ram and his brothers. Another interesting part of the Bharat Milap celebration is the presence of Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) with all his royal paraphernalia and regal finery.
Ganga Mahotsav is a cultural festival that is specific to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh). The festival celebrates the various facets of this holy river. The Ganges is a symbol of religious purity and is one of the five important rivers of India. Ganga Mahotsav is celebrated over a 5 day period on the banks of the river Ganga and also promotes the city of Varanasi as the cultural capital of India.
The festival is a platform to promote the culture and tradition of Varanasi which is known for its dance and music, arts, silk, carpet industries and handicrafts. The festival is like a cultural program promoting all forms of Indian dance and music.
The festival celebrates tha rich cultural heritage of Varanasi with excellent cultural programmes, and local martial arts. Celebrated every year from Prabodhini Ekadashi to Kartik Purnima in the month of Oct. / Nov. it concludes with the festivals of lights, "Deo Deepavali" when more than a million earthen lamps are lit on the ghats of Ganga and one can se festivity all over the place.
Hanuman Jayanti is an important festival of Hindus (at Varanasi) and is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman. Hanuman Jayanti falls on Chaitra Shukla Purnima (the March-April full moon day). In Hinduism, Lord Hanuman is seen as the symbol of strength and energy. Hanuman was a zealous devotee of Rama, and is worshipped for his unwavering devotion to Lord Rama. Like all other Hindu Gods, Lord Hanuman is also very popular among Hindus.
The Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated with great fanfare and feast at Varanasi. The main Janmotsava or bithday celebration of Lord Hanuman is held at Sankat Mochan Temple (Varanasi) for five days with cultural and musical programmes by reputed artistes from all over India. The devotees flock the Hanuman temples all over Varanasi and apply Sindhoor Tilak on their foreheads from statues of Hanuman. Laddoos (sweets) are also offered to Lord Hanuman and distributed among poor people and other devotees.
Nag Nathaiya of Varanasi
Nag Nathaiya is yet another important festival of Varanasi. Nag Nathaiya festival is a part of the Krishna Leela ceremony, a mythological tradition involving depiction of a famous episode in the life of lord Krishna. The Nag Nathaiya festival of Varanasi is held at the Tulsi Ghat. Lord Krishna jumps into River Ganga for Nag Nathan. The Nag Nathaiya festival is famous as Nag Nathaiya Leela. The Nag Nathaiya festival is held during the month of Nov-Dec and a large number of people gather to see the re-enactment.
The origin of Nag Nathaiya is traced back to the Mahabharata. According to the Mahabharata, while playing, the young Krishna lost his ball in the river. When the little Krishna dived into the river to get his ball back, he was confronted by King Cobra, Kalia. Recognizing the strength and power of Lord Krishna, King Cobra withdrew and lifted the little Krishna to the surface instead. Much to the delight of his friends, sitting on the hood of Kalia, Lord Krishna surfaced above the water.
Nakkatayya of Varanasi
Nakkatayya (slitting of nose) is an episode from the Ramayana, the great Indian epic. Nakkatayya Leela is re-enactment of that episode. At Varanasi, the Nakkatayya Leela is held at Chetganj and is attended by large number of people from all parts of Varanasi city and nearby towns. Exile of Lord Ram forms the backdrop of this story. Nakkatayya re-enacts a story from Ramayana in which Surpanakha (sister of Ravana, the devil King), comes to entice Ram and then Lakshman. Lakshman, the younger brother of Ram, gets angry and slits Suparnakha's nose and she goes back crying. This act of nose slitting is enacted at stage during mid October in Chetganj locality of Varanasi. On the occasion of Nakkatayya, numerous processions and tableaux are carried out in the streets of Varanasi, symbolizing the victory of truth over evil.
Ram Leela of Varanasi
Ram Leela is a popular enactment of the mythological epic, Ramayana. Ram Leela celebration forms an integral part of the cultural life of the Hindi-speaking belt of North India. It is believed that the great saint Tulsidas started the tradition of Ram Lila, the enactment of the story of Lord Ram. The Ramcharitamanas, written by him, forms the basis of Ram Lila performances till today. The Ramnagar Ram Leela (at Varanasi) is enacted in the most traditional style. This special Ram Leela of Ramnagar lasts for almost one month. Ram Leela of Ramnagar was started in the first quarter of the nineteenth century by the then Maharaja of Benaras, Udit Narayan Singh. Hundreds of Sadhus called the 'Ramayanis' come to watch and recite the Ramayana.
Generally, the Ram Leela is enacted on a single stage but the Ramnagar Ram stands out alone in this regard. Here, almost the whole town is transformed into a vast Ram Leela ground as permanent structures are built and spaces designated to represent the main locations of the story. Thus, we have Ashok Vatika, Lanka etc at different locations in the town. The audience moves along with the performers with every episode, to the next location. The most amazing thing about the Ram Leela of Ramnagar is its sober character. It is incredible to see that electric lights, mikes and loudspeakers are hardly used in the performances, even when the audience number in thousands.
Boat trip down the ghats. When you sit in a boat in the middle of the Ganges looking at the ghats, it is not the eclectic architectural diversity of the view that strikes you first. Instead, it's the enormous walls supporting the various temples, shrines and palaces that are awe-inspiring. Man-made cliff faces towering above the ghats that dwarf the people on the steps below. Some walls are vast expanses of unadorned, smooth sandstone blocks. Others are carved into classical columns not unlike those supporting the vault in an English cathedral - only bigger. Varanasi is on the outside bank of a huge meander in the river. During the monsoon when the waters flood over the ghats into some of the smaller alleys close to the river, these walls prevent the river eroding into the city. Varanasi is home to one of the world's most impressive and decorative flood defense systems. The whole riverfront is a remarkable feat of engineering particularly when you consider that there was no unified plan or design in the construction.