Varanasi also known as Banaras is situated on the banks of river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh and is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is often referred to as the 'Religious Capital of India' and has been the cultural and religious centre of India for several years.
It is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in India and is usually thronged by devotees throughout the year. Tourists coming here get to glimpse into the various religious beliefs of the people and also enjoy the beauty of the town.
Durga Temple, dedicated to goddess Durga, is situated in Ramnagar, Varanasi. Believed to have been built by a Bengali Maharani in 18th century, the temple is currently under the control of the royal family of Banaras. The temple is constructed in Nagara Style of the North Indian style of architecture. It stands on a square platform opposite a pond called Durga Kund. The temple has tall watch towers on each of its four corners and a multi-tiered spire or shikhara. The building is painted in red with ochre shade in line with the clothes worn by the goddess herself. According to a belief, the idol of goddess Durga was not created by human beings, but appeared on its own and that it protects the city from the evil forces. Thousands of devotees throng the temple during Navaratri and other festivals. The temple is also called the Monkey Temple because of the presence of a large number of simians on its premises.
Photo Courtesy: Henk Kosters
Varanasi is a city of temples that represent all the important religions and cultures in the country particularly Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam. The city and its neighboring areas boast of being the native place of five Jain Tirathankars namely Suparshav, Chandapraphu, Parshvnath, Shreas and Parshva. The temple is dedicated to Lord Parshvnath, the twenty third Tirthankar of Jain faith, who was born inVaranasiin 800 BC. A visit to this magnificent temple provides a veritable treat to the eyes. Its bright golden spire draws the attention from a distance. The devotees visiting the temple are filled with blissful peace and tranquility as they enter its premises. Although the temple can be visited any time of the year, the best time to visit it, however, is the first week of January.
Photo Courtesy: Yusuke Kawasaki
Kashi Vidyapeeth, named Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth in 1995, was the epicenter of the freedom movement of India against the British. The Vidyapeeth owes its origin to Babu Shiva Prasad Gupta, a renowned nationalist and educationist. He built it with the help of Mahatma Gandhi and another social worker, Dr.Bhagwan Das who also became its first vice chancellor. Incidentally, Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta was also the moving spirit behind the establishment of the renowned Bharat Mata Temple in Banaras. The Vidyapeeth, which was accorded the status of Deemed University by the U.G.C. in 1963 was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi on Basant Panchami Day, the 10th February, 1921 amidst readings from Bhagwad Geeta and Quran. Its first board of management comprised eminent patriots like Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Jamuna Lal Bajaj, Acharya Narendra Dev, P.D.Tandon besides, and of course, Babu Shiva Prasad Gupta and Dr. Bhagwan Das. Some of the illustrious alumni of the Vidyapeeth include Chandra Shekhar Azad, Pt. Kamlapati Tripathi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, B.V.Keskar, Mananathnath Gupt, Bhola Paswan Shastri, Ram Krishna Hegde and Prof. Raja Ram Shastri among many others.
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Conceived by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who also founded theBanaras Hindu University, the New Vishwanath Temple is dedicated to God Shiva. The foundation stone of the 252 feet tall shrine was laid in March 1931, and it took over three decades to complete. The temple is built with white marble and is an exact copy of the original Vishwanath Temple in Kashi which was destroyed by Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb Alamgir. The New Vishwanath Temple is a huge complex. It comprises seven temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses. While the temple dedicated to God Shiva is housed in the ground floor, the temples of Lakshmi Narayan and Durga are located on the first floor. A unique trait of the new temple is the tall shikhara, made of white marble. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple has a Shiva Lingam. The inner walls are inscribed with important texts from Gita and other scriptures along with vivid illustrations. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions in line with the liberal and progressive outlook of the Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya.
Photo Courtesy: Jonas Verhoeven
There are nearly 100 ghats bordering the river Ganga in Varanasi. A walk along the ghats is a fascinating experience in itself and tourists coming here can learn more about the various beliefs that lie behind these ghats.
Photo Courtesy: Abhishek
How to Reach Varanasi
By Air: Varanasi has its own international airport and is well connected by direct flights from major Indian cities such as Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Khajuraho and Kolkata.
By Rail: Varanasi has two major railway stations, Varanasi Junction and Mughal Sarai Junction, which is about 20 kilometers to the east of the city. There are multiple daily services to Varanasi from cities such as Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, Mumbai and Kolkata.
By Road: Buses run from cities such as Lucknow (5hrs), Kanpur (5hrs) and Allahabad (2hrs).
Photo Courtesy: jose pereira