Friday, December 21, 2007


Oldest living City in the World

Varanasi (also called Benares) is the oldest living city in the world.

I lived and worked in Varanasi for two years, but that was over 25 years ago.
After that, I have visited Varanasi on and off.
Varanasi has changed, as all modern cities have, for the worse.

In those days, we lived in a small apartment, close to Dasashwamedh Ghat, the most popular ghat (bank) of the river Ganges.
We used to drop our two sons at the bus stop for their school bus to pick them up, walk down to the Ganges river every morning, stroll along the ghats (all the ghats are connected to each other) and meander through the narrow lanes bordering the river.
The morning walks used be really fascinating.
We would pass small shops selling all kinds of colourful merchandise.
Bulls sitting or standing in the narrow lanes completing blocking the way.
But they neither disturbed any one nor felt the least disturbed when any one pulled them or pushed them to one side to pass through.
Lots of temples, pundits (priests), devotees, pilgrims, tourists and mere idlers like us.

The most fascinating thing about Varanasi was that no one seemed to be in a hurry.
Everyone had plenty of time to stand and stare and enjoy life.
Even many of those who had to go to office, ritually went to the river every morning, did some exercises, had an oil massage, took a dip in the holy river and visited one of the numerous temples.
So deep was this practice imbibed in many, that if they were in Varanasi, it was impossible to wean them away from this morning ritual.
For them, this was the most essential part of life.

Once we had a very strange experience.
My wife fell sick for quite a few days.
We could not go down to the river.
Then a strange thing happened.
It suddenly started raining.
And the river started swelling.
The area started getting flooded.
The river crossed its banks and came right up to the place where we stayed.
For some time, we sat with our feet immersed in the water.
After that, the water gradually receded.
This could be pure coincidence.
But someone had predicted that since we were not able to go to the river, the river would come to us.


There is no doubt that Varanasi is a very ancient town.
It is much older than Rome.
Old Rome has gone down the pages of history.
But Varanasi has not only survived, but prospered.

According to mythology, Varanasi was created by Lord Shiva.
We find mention of Varanasi in the epic Mahabharata and in our ancient scripture Skanda Purana.
Buddha arrived in Sarnath on the outskirts of Varanasi in 500 BC.
Even then it was a prosperous city.

The original name of Varanasi was Kashi from the word ‘Kasha’ meaning bright.
The present name is a combination of two words - Varuna and Assi, the two rivers on the north and south of Varanasi.

Even now, many Hindus believe that if they die in Varanasi, they will reach Heaven.
There are a number of old homes whether the aged come to live and spend their last days.

Varanasi has given the world its unique style of classical Hindustani music and has produced such eminent poets, writers and musicians as Kabir, Ravi Das, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia and Ustad Bismillah Khan.
Tulsidas wrote his Ramcharitmanas here.
Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath.

What to see


Varanasi is a city of temples.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the shrine of Jyotirlinga, is the most sacred shrine of Lord Shiva in India.
The original temple was destroyed by Emperor Aurangzeb who built a mosque in its place.
The present temple was rebuilt near the mosque in 1780 by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore.
In 1839, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab, donated gold to guilt the two domes of the temple with gold.

The Ghats
There are several interconnected ghats along the river.
Visit them in the morning or evening.
You will sense the fervour of the place.

Gyan Vapi Mosque
This mosque was constructed in the 17th century on the old temple by Emperor Aurangazeb.

Banaras Hindu University
The sprawling Banaras Hindu University is a great centre of higher education.
It is the largest residential university in India and the only university with a Hindu temple inside.
Man Mandir

The old palace of the Maharaja of Jaipur with a astronomical observatory.

Sarnath (10 kms from Varanasi)
Buddha gave his first sermon here.
The 110 ft. tall Damekh Stupa marks the place where Buddha preached his first sermon.
Later, Mauryan Emperor Ashoka erected magnificent stupas and other buildings and the famous stone pillar.
This place is visited by Buddhists from all over the world.

Reaching there

Varanasi has an airport with direct flights from New Delhi, Kolkatta, Mumbai and other places.

Varanasi is an important railway station.
The city is linked by trains with all metros and major cities across the country - New Delhi (760 Kms.), Mumbai (1509 Kms.), Kolkatta (735 Kms.), Chennai (1970 Kms.), Lucknow (286 Kms.).
Varanasi is connected with all the major cities by good motorable, all-weather roads.

Best Season

Varanasi is hot in summer.
The best time to visit Varanasi is between September and November because Varanasi celebrates a lot of festivals during this period.
Visit the oldest living city in the world.
Perhaps you will share the same feeling which brought Gautam Buddha to this place.
Varanasi is famous for its silk zaree saris (silk saree embroidered with pure gold thread) and woollen carpets.
But purchase from a respectable shop.
Varanasi is equally famous for its cheats.

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