Nav view search

Navigation

About Benares:

     Situated on a historic highway, Benares or Varanasi, as the city is called, is one of the sacred and historical places of not only for India but also the world. This became the centre for the cross - fertilization of cultures. The city attracted saints and sages, kings and conquerors, priests and pilgrims, traders and craftsmen. Each one of them brought their individual brand of identity, which united and grew together to give the city a specific transformation.

The Rich Legendary of Benares

     Varanasi is regarded as a holy city by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest in India. It is also one of the rich weaving craft centres of India. Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of the Ganges and Varuna, and other of the Ganges and Assi, (Assi having always been a rivulet rather than a river.) The distance between these two confluences is around 2.5 miles (4.0 km), and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places Pancha-koshi Yatra (a five mile (8 km) journey) as a holy ritual.

     Varanasi is one of the holiest cities of pilgrimage for Hindus. As the place where Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon to his disciples, Varanasi is the city where Buddhism was founded. It is the birthplace of Suparshvanath, Shreyansanath, and Parshva, who are respectively the seventh, eleventh, and twenty-third Jain Tirthankars and as such Varanasi is a holy city for Jains.

     Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507 and had an encounter, which with other events, forms the basis of the founding of Sikhism. Varanasi is home to numerous tribal faiths which are not easily classified and many denominations of the religions are present.

     Annie Besant worked in Benares to promote theosophy and founded the Central Hindu College which later became a foundation for the creation of Banaras Hindu University as a secular university.

     The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river's religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years. The Benares Gharana form of Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravidas their Guru Swami Ramanand, Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote Ramacharitamanasa here, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi (Kashi).

     The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Ramacharitamanasa, the version of the Ramayana penned by Tulsidas. The plays sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days. On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition of staging the Ramlila at Ramnagar in mid-nineteenth century.

     During the time of Gautama Buddha (567 BC), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveller, Huan Tsang, attested that the city was a centre of religious, educational, and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.

     Varanasi became an independent Kingdom of Kashi in the eighteenth century, and under subsequent British rule, it remained a commercial and religious centre. Varanasi suffered during the raids into India by Muhammad of Ghori, as described by Kamil-ut-Tawarikh of Ibn Asir: “The slaughter of Hindus (at Varanasi) was immense; none were spared except women and children, (who were taken into slavery) and the carnage of men went on until the earth was weary”. In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramnagar as its headquarters but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself.

     The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century. It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions. The other fort of the Kashi Naresh is the Chet Singh Palace, near Shivala Ghat, Varanasi built by Maharaja Chet Singh. Ramnagar Fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares and since the 18th century has been the home of Kashi Naresh. Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Benares. He is the religious head and the people of Benares consider him the incarnation of Lord Shiva. He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.

The royal and rich cultural heritage history of Benares is inimitable. The Varnasi history continues in its way in its art of handloom weaving.