VARANASI: THE CITY OF MOKSHA
Hello Friends! This is my second blog.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” Eleanor Roosevelt
As I am writing (third time scratching the prelude) since the place which I am going to jot is full of paradox, as it is ancient and holiest of all, steeped in history, places where sages, tantric, astrologers, snake charmers (major monastic organizations you name them & you have them) ascetic, widows (they used to visit our ancestral house which is now converted to heritage resort), literate, spiritual all live in harmony. On the other plane, it is a place of hippies (remember song “Dum Maro Dum Mit jaye gum…”) traveler, writer, blogger (like me), rockbands, musicians, king and commoners find a place in its umbrella.
It is believed people get rid of their sins, cycle of reincarnations and death attaining “MOKSHA” (salvation) where ancient meets modernism, traditionalism mixes with popular culture to amalgamate to cause lingering effect on our own subconscious mind forever, welcome to “VARANASI ( Banaras or Kashi) the city of MOKSHA”
Mark Twain “Older than history, older than tradition, older than legend”
Location of Varanasi: Latitude 25020’N Longitude 83000’ E
CONNECTIVITY: Varanasi is connected by rail/road or plane from all major cities. By road/rail it is 123 km from Allahabad, 320 km from Lucknow (capital of Uttar Pradesh). Varanasi lies along DNH 2 which connects Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra and Delhi and is served by Varanasi Rly Junction and Lal Bahdur Shastri International Airport. Confluence of 3 rivers Varuna, Assi on either side (giving its name Varanasi) with Ganges flowing through the city (heard proverb ‘ulti ganga behna’ here it is a reality). Kashi derives from Sanskrit word meaning ‘light of radiance in every space’.
Railway Station Varanasi
Everyone knows that it is abode of Gods, place to attain moksha, with many temples, shrines, world’s largest crematorium ( Maha Samshan), popular tourist destinations, food joints….but why it is so?
Have you wondered?
What is the story and myth behind it?
Come, let’s unravel the mystery and embark on a journey of eternal bliss…….
The month of Saavan (considered holy by Hindus) has begun and as I am standing near the temple within my complex where aroma of incense sticks and chanting of prayers, took me subtly to ‘Varanasi’ where spiritual seekers ( Kawariyas) flock to offer prayers and water to ‘Shiva’ ( remember popular Indian TV series Devo Ke Dev Mahadev, where story of ‘Shiva’ revealed for commoners like us).
Talking to many revealed that when ‘Shiva’ married ‘Parvati’; apart from Kailash ( Shiva’s home) He created ‘Kashi’ to fulfill worldly aspirations where ‘Parvati’ in the form of ‘Annapurna’( food fulfillment) would reside to satiate the hunger of needy on earth, so that no one goes hungry.
With this came in many sages, saints, scholars etc. creating aura of purity and sanctity but ‘Kaliyuga’ brought its own harmful infliction. To save its grace they pulled Kashi towards the innermost crust of the earth ‘Paatal’. Philosophically there are 7 types of earth crust. They are
My father had told me about a myth where this ethereal Kashi still exists below in Paatal where everything is in its purest form (river…etc) whose sheer positive energy vibrates and gives earthly Kashi its holiest status. Only a true hermit with deep meditation can see or feel its inner vibrations. (Ha, ha …I doubt many geologist may wither this but has anyone drilled till the entire crust of approx 50 km thickness beneath Varanasi)
HISTORY: Sounds boring, surprisingly it is one of the oldest living cities dated far back to the time of Indus Valley Civilization http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Is-Varanasi-older-than-its-known-history/articleshow/29924240.cms (latest movie Mohenjo Daro….) but fun side is the names of great sages who visited or resided in Varanasi. Ved Vyasa ( remember he wrote the Mahabharata), Buddha ( gave his first sermon on Buddhism at Sarnath), Guru Nanak (founder of Sikhism), Shankaracharya, Patanjali, Hiuen Tsang (Chinese Buddhist monk & traveler), Ramkrishna Paramahansa, Anandmayima, Kabir, Ravidas, Queen Laxmi Bai (Jhansi ki Rani) etc are few names only who visited/lived Varanasi in their life. Also a pilgrimage place for Jains, Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar. (It is also my birthplace…but a commoner)
Muslim kings Qutbuddin Aibek,Tughlaq, Lodhi, Akbar left their mark in Varanasi and later by Hindu Kings ( Mansa Ram,) who formed ‘Banaras State’ and later King Balwant Singh paid loyalty to British till our independence.
Presently, it is the constituency of Shri Narendra Modi (Prime Minister of India).
Myth is also that out of 7 immortals (chiranjivi), 3 still live in Varanasi. They are
- Veda Vyasa
(If you ask me I can tell you the signs to notice them only if you have that devotion)
WHERE TO STAY
There are numerous hotels from budget to star category. Right for backpackers to family stay & luxury stay
For centuries, Varanasi has been home to Indian philosophy, mysticism and spiritualism. Varanasi, therefore, has numerous (religious outfits) Muths and Ashrams survived for centuries. Some of the noted Muths and Ashrams of Varanasi are listed below:
- Dharm Sangh
- Nirajani Akhanra
- Satua Baba Ashram
- Shankaracharya Math
- Jangambari Math
- Sadhu Bela Ashram
- Mata Anandmai Ashram
- Radha Swami Bag
- Kabir Math
- Karpatri Ji Math
- Dandi Swami Math
- RamKrishna Mission Sevashram
- Kinaram Math
- Sanatan Gaudiya Math
- ShriMath, Panchganga Ghat
- Tailang Swami Math
- Gadwa Ghat Ashram
- Gopal Math
- Bhinagaraj Dandi Sevashram
For paying guest house details you can visit this link
PLACES to VISIT:
Though there are numerous but here is my list which I think is wholesome to know and explore Varanasi.
- Kashi Vishwanath Temple ( situated in a narrow lane with numerous shops you have to walk barefooted)
- Kaal Vairabh temple (you may seek blessings, permission from him regarded as Kotwal of Kashi)
- Annapoorna Temple (adjacent to Kashi Viswanath temple, story as indicated in this blog)
- Sankat Mochan Temple ( Hanuman the monkey god as deity)
- Bharat mata mandir ( Near Durga kund it has a map of India)
- Sarnath ( calm and serene, 10km away, Buddhist sacred place)
- Gyan Vapi Masjid ( adjacent to Kashi Vishwanath Temple)
- Ramnagar ( Kashi naresh’s palace, open to visitors, king and his family still live there and if you are lucky you can catch a glimpse of the king/prince)
- Vireswar Temple ( for wish fulfillment)
- Tulsi Manas Mandir ( Quite nice with lights in the evening)
- Ghats near Ganges (enjoy morning and evening arati)
- Dev Deepawali is a famous Utsav celebrated every year at the holy city Varanasi. it is celebrated to mark the victory of Lord Shiva over demon Tripurasur. Hence Dev Deepawali Utsav is also known as Tripurotsav which is observed on the auspicious day of Kartik Purnima. This year it is on 14th November 2016. Holi is also celebrated with much fervor with hasya kavi sammelan at evening.
- Ghats in Varanasi are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the River approx. 87 ghats are there where you can sit and watch evening aarti, or feel the cool breeze of Ganges or a boat ride overlooking many of the ghats made by rulers of Maratha, Scindia and many dynasties, or you can munch some snacks like aloo bhaja (French fry ), churmura or jhalmuri (puffed rice with assortments), with garam chai. Some famous ghats are:
Crematorium: It is believed that you attain Moksha if you die in Varanasi. So the largest mahashamshan is located on the banks of Ganges (1. Manikarnika ghat 2. Harishchandra ghat, where a tilted temple is present). It is the very place where people dread to come but it paves for ultimate salvation.
SEATS OF LEARNING
Ignorance is bliss but sometimes you have to seek knowledge but where let’s see
- Banaras Hindu University: It is the second largest university, built by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya with land from Kashi Naresh and now having more than 20,000 s(from 34 nations) students, spread over 1300 acres campus and is one of the best universities in the world (my alma mater too).
- For details of other institutes follow this link
SECRET PLACES OF VARANASI
Well of Seshna– Entrance to paatal, since at beginning told you about paatal here if you go inside you may reach ethereal Kashi (if you really have gut).
Ganja on Ganges: Yes, it is true sometimes sub consciously we yearn to try something different (nowadays difficult to say what’s ethical, personally I haven’t tasted nor do appreciate) but truth is you may get some weeds in narrow bylanes near ghats (bhang, ganja, weeds) some Govt approved shops are there too (for bhang only).
Vireshwar: Wish fulfillment ah! So here is a temple where your wish could be fulfilled (I also went there but door was closed that time)
Aghories: Yes they live near Manikarnika ghat and practice rituals which may be contradictory to religious beliefs but breaking social taboos realizing an alterd sense of consciousness (during ambasya if you dare then watch practicing deadly rituals near Manikarnika ghat)
When I think of food in Banaras often it reminds me the cooking of my grandmother and mother when they preferred the charcoal cooking than the modern where rich aroma of food wavered long after. Next comes the street food which among the best and essential for all travelers to savor.
Here is the listing of street food and famous joints tasted by me which are multicultural ethnicity.
CHAI (Tea): Chai ki Dukaan. Especially, Pappu ki Chai, Kashi Tea Stall Assi Ghat.Now who won’t like adrak (ginjer) wali chai on cool winter evening (lemon tea is also available).They wash glasses with hot water.
PAAN (betel leaf with areca nut and sometimes also with tobacco):
Between Dashaswamedh and Gadoliya on the main road there are numerous world famous paan bhandars. Deepak Tambul Bhandar, Ramchandra Chaurasia Tambul Bhandar are some of them (Khaike Paan Banaras Wala…Amitabh Bacchan’s famous song for Banarasi paan). You also get saunf (flavoured fennel seeds) with umpteen varieties can taste free sample also.
World famous lassi to die for from sweet to namkeen from flavoured to textured or the famous thandai (mixed with bhang+condiment+spices) for adventurous one. Malaiyo another preparation during winter is heavenly. Famous shops are:
- Blue Lassi
- Kkashi Thandai Ghar
CHAAT AND KACHOURIES:
Varanasi is famous for lip smacking chat, kachouri with allo ki subzi, pudiney ki chutney (mint chutney). Kachouri gali is renowned place for kachouri and for chaat visit
- Deena Chat Bhandar
- Kashi Chaat Bhandar
- Monga’s chaat.
- Pizzeria Vaatika Café: If you like pizza, pasta Italian fare then you can visit this place near Assi ghat.
- Israeli café: You can try here near Pataleshwar.
Along with that if you want vegetarian, Bengali, North Indian, South Indian delicacies, there are numerous joints near Dasaswamedh or Godhulia which is heart of the city.
Who doesn’t like shopping when the place is exotic and many authentic things to buy for friends and family? Few things I swear you should buy are:
- Banarasi Silk Saree; now who doesn’t want to buy original banarasi sari integral part of bridal trousseau for Indian bride (only wish it’s not fake).some well-known shops who sells original sarees are: Malhotra silk house
- Carpet: if you want a majestic look for your house then opt for a carpet (made in Bhadohi, Mirzapur near Banaras) 1. Bholanath carpets showroom
- Triveni handicrafts
- Varanasi Silk Handicraft
- Vibgyor impex and numerous other shops where you can buy brassware, copper ware, ivory,toys (clay , wood)bangles, gold jewellery.
- Musical Instruments: Varanasi is world famous for its music and artists. It was said to be established by Shiva, precursors were Renu and other saints continued by apsaras & gandharvas. It is attached with UNESCO as one of the “cities of music” . Some of the renowned artists of Banaras:
- Late Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar)
- Late Ustad Bismillah khan (shehnai)
- Girija devi (singer)
- Jotin Bhattacharyya (sarod)
Musical instrument shops are:
- Radhe Shyam Sharma & company
- Indian music house
- Niyamatullah table maker. Next time if you are trying to strum that sitar or guitar for the jam session you know where to buy.
- Religious articles: Any religious thing whether kamandal, shaligram (ammonoid fossil worshipped as form of Vishnu amongst Hindus), T shirts (Hare Krishna Hare Ram written) at Vishwanath Gali or near Godhoulia area (now if you want to be a sage/sadhu you know where you can buy all the stuff.)
Warnings: You have to soak in its natural earthiness otherwise its first look may not impress you (Indian Govt. is working on its beautification with Kyoto Japan as its twin city) where numerous narrow by lanes, dilapidated buildings (century old) cow and street dogs sitting on the roadside in their lazy slumber, beggar searching for some alms, frequent power cuts (during summer) better to visit in winter.
Keep mosquito repellant, hand sanitizer, warm clothes during winter (monkey cap for old and bongs if feel the chill more ha ha..)
It is hard to conclude as so many aspects there to cover. This blog in nutshell gave you my experience of Varanasi. It reminds me of familiar sound of conch shells, bells, where different aroma of multicuisines waver through the by lanes satiating your taste buds, where everything is in motion but time stands still, making your life refreshed to relive your memories, you won’t forget.so for next blog please wait till then happy travelling…
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