Dasaswamedh Ghat is probably the most ancient and magnificent of all the ghats located on the banks of river Ganga in Varanasi. Its history dates back to thousands of years.
Dasaswamedh means “sacrifice of ten horses”. Legend has it that Lord Brahma conducted a yagya here to call back Lord Shiva from his exile. It is not clear whether the ten horses were sacrificed as an act of penance during the yagna or to celebrate the return of Lord Shiva. According to legend, in the 2nd century, the same sacrificial ceremony was performed by Bhara Shiva Naga rulers.
Given its historic importance, it is considered to be the main ghat in Varanasi. It is also the largest and the most visited and venerated of all the ghats in the town. Aarti is performed by the priests every morning and evening. The sight is all the more mesmerising in the evenings when the Ganga aarti is performed with choreographed pyrotechnics and devotees light small lamps and float them on the water.
Located between the Dashaswamedh Ghat and the Rana Mahal Ghat, Darbhanga Ghat was named after the royal family from Darbhanga. Apart from the ghat, the family also built a magnificent palace in 1900s near the bank of the river from where they could watch the rituals and other activities.
Popular Hindu belief has it that dying or being cremated on the ghats of Varanasi is a path to salvation. Like most ghats, Darbhanga Ghat also serves as an open crematorium. The ghat is a bit steep and narrow but becomes wide near Babua Pandey Ghat. This ghat also has a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Kashi Vidyapeeth, named Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth in 1995, was the epicentre 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 Bhagavad Gita and Quran.
Its first board of management comprised eminent patriots like Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Jamunalal 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 amongst many others.
Located on the right banks of river Ganga, the Ramnagar Fort and the museum was the residential complex of Raja Balwant Singh, who built the fort in the 17th century.
Ramanagar was where rishi Ved Vyas of Mahabharata meditated. In fact, the place was originally named after him as Vyas Kashi. Ramnagar is very famous for the 31-day-long ramleela that is performed during the months of September and October.
The museum boasts of several beautifully carved balconies, magnificent pavilions and an open courtyard. The Vidya Mandir of the museum brilliantly represents the court as it existed during the time of the rulers. The museum has an interesting collection of items related to royalty, including antique clocks, old armory, swords, old guns, vintage cars and ivory work. You can also see medieval costumes, jewellery, and furniture belonging to the royal families.
One of the oldest ghats in Varanasi, Manikarnika Ghat has several mythological legends associated with it. According to one legend, Lord Shiva spent a great amount of his time visiting his devotees leaving his consort Parvati alone. The goddess pretended to have lost her earring on the bank of river Ganga and requested Shiva to find it. The idea was to keep him home locating the ornament forever. Whenever a person from the mortal dies and is cremated here, it is said that Lord Shiva asks him if he has seen the said manikarnika.
There is also a tank known as Manikarnika, which is believed to have been dug by Lord Shiva while he was searching for the lost earring.
Manikarnika Ghat is the scene of what can be termed as "death tourism" in Varanasi. Several visitors come here to see the funeral pyres being lit in the open.
Close to it is the temple of Lord Ganesh and a stone slab called Charanpaduka bearing the footprints of Lord Vishnu. The wealthy and the VIPs are cremated on this slab.
Rana Mahal Ghat, as the name suggests, was built by a Rajput chieftain, Maharana of Udaipur in 1670. It is situated between Darbhanga Ghat and Chousatti Ghat and on the southern side of Dashaswamedh Ghat. The ghat is also home to a grandiose palace which showcases the best of Rajput style of architecture. The palace wore out with time but was renovated by Rana Jagat Singh of Udaipur.
The ghat is located at the foot of the brown structure of the royal palace. The main attraction of the ghat is the magnificent shrine built at its top.
The ghat was included in the renovation project called Revitalization of Varanasi initiated by Regional Tourism Department for renovation and reconstruction in 2008-2009. Children and adults flock here in summers to learn swimming. There is a story doing the round that the ghat is haunted by ghosts during night.
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 neighbouring areas boast of being the native place of five Jain Tirthankaras — saint preachers — Suparshav, Chandraprabha, Parshvnath, Shreas and Parshva.
The Jain temple is situated three kilometres from the Banaras Hindu University and four kilometres from Banaras Cantonment in Shri Parshwanath Digambar Jain Tirtha Kshetra at Bhelupur in Varanasi.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Parshvnath, the twenty-third Tirthankar of Jain faith, who was also born in Varanasi in 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 tranquillity 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.
Conceived by Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, the then prime minister of India, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS) was set-up in 1967 after consultation with the Dalai Lama.
The CIHTS was established for education of the Tibetan young men and women who are living in exile in India and those in border areas close to the Himalayan region.
The institute, which was earlier just an autonomous educational body under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Education, Government of India, was granted the status of a Deemed University in 1988.
The university, one of its kind in India, focuses on education and research in Buddhology, Tibetology and Himalayan studies. It has earned the status of the institute of national importance and a five-star status from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, NAAC for its excellent work in the field of education.
The Shantarakshita library in the institute houses a comprehensive collection of books, manuscripts and translations of rare works in Indian and Buddhist literature.
Hanuman Ghat is situated near Juna Akhara, a famous religious sect in Varanasi. It was earlier known as Rameshwaram Ghat as it is believed that it was built by Lord Rama himself to honour his faithful devotee Lord Hanuman.
Lord Hanuman is a god of physical strength; so, the ghat is a favourite destination for bodybuilders and wrestlers. Incidentally, the word akhara also means a court or a special ground, where the wrestlers and bodybuilders perform their exercises and hold competitions.
Hanuman Ghat was also the abode of the renowned saint of Vaishnava sect, Vallabhacharya, a great devotee of Lord Krishna.
The ghat houses a temple founded by saint-poet Tulsidas, who wrote the world-famous epic of Ramayana. The ghat also boasts of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam of Sri Shankaracharya Matha at Varanasi. The Sri Kamakoteeswar Mandir is a grand temple where devotional services are regularly held.
Conceived by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who also founded the Banaras 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 Kanshi 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 Shivalingam. 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.
Banaras Hindu University, popularly known as the BHU, owes its origin to the dedicated efforts of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, a prominent patriot, social reformer, educationist and political activist of India.
The foundation stone of the university was laid on 4th February, 1916 by Lord Hardinge, the then viceroy of India. With more than twenty thousand students on its rolls and above sixty hostels, it is considered to be the largest residential university in Asia. In fact, it was once known as the Oxford of the East.
The main campus measures more than 1300 acres. The land was donated by the ruler of Varanasi. The university has another campus located about 60 km from the city at a place called Barkachha in Mirzapur district. This campus is known as Rajiv Gandhi South Campus. The university has four main institutes comprising 14 teaching faculties and 140 departments. It attracts students from more than 34 countries across the world.
Panchganga Ghat is called so because it is built on the confluence of five holy rivers—Ganga, Saraswati, Dhupapapa, Yamuna and Kirna. Out of these five only Ganga remains visible while the other four are believed to have disappeared in earth. The location of Gangaghat, therefore, explains why it is regarded as one of the most sacred ghats in Varanasi.
Apart from its unique and sacred location, Panchganga Ghat is also famous for three historical reasons.
1. Sant Tulsidas, the creator of Ramayana, produced his famous literary work, "Vinay-Patrika", here while he stayed at this place.
2. It was here that the great teacher and scholar of Vedas, Swami Ramanand, taught his disciples.
3. Mughal Aurangzeb destroyed a revered Vishnu temple built by a Maratha chieftain, Beni Madhavrao Scindia, and built the Alamgir Mosque here instead.
Built in 1585 and named after its builder, Sawai Raja Man Singh of Amber, now Ajmer, Man Mandir Ghat was earlier known as Someshwar Ghat. An observatory was also set-up here by Maharaja Jai Singh in the 1730s. He was the same raja who built the famous Jantar Mantar at Delhi and Jaipur.
The observatory is fitted with excellent window castings. It has four astronomical instruments, which are still in good shape and throw a great light on the state of the knowledge of astronomy in those days. The observatory was renovated in 1850 and again in 1912 by the Rajput rulers of Jaipur
Man Mandir Ghat boasts of several important temples, such as Sthuladanta Vinayaka, Rameshwara and Someshwara temples. The latter has a Someswara lingam which is a replica of its counterpart in Somnath Temple in Gujarat. It is believed to be one of the nine famous Jyotirlingams in India.
Located at the southernmost area on river Ganga, Assi Ghat is a favourite destination for foreign tourists and researchers, especially the Israelis who often visit it after retirement from the mandatory military services.
Assi Ghat is located at the confluence of the rivers Assi and Ganga. According to a legend, Goddess Durga threw away her sword here after assassinating Shumbha-Nishumbha, a fearful demon. The point where the mighty sword fell created a river that came to be known as river Assi.
The ghat is also reverentially mentioned in several important Hindu Puranas, such as Matsya Puran, Agni Puran, Kashi Khand and Padma Puran. It houses a Shivalinga under a peepal tree and the temple of Lord Asisangameshwara, the ruling deity of the confluence of the two rivers. There is also an ancient tank, Lolark Kund, which is situated 15 metres below the ground level.
Assi Ghat attracts huge crowds of pilgrims during the festive months of Chaitya (March-April) and Magh (January and February).
Durga Temple, dedicated to goddess Durga, is situated in Ramnagar, Varanasi. Believed to have been built by a Bengali Maharani in the 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 watchtowers 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 Navratri and other festivals. Unfortunately, non-Hindus are allowed to enter only the courtyard and are barred from visiting its sanctum sanctorum. The temple is also called the Monkey Temple because of the presence of a large number of simians on its premises.