Varanasi – City of Knowledge
For centuries Varanasi has been a great centre of learning. Revolutionary and conflicting schools of philosophy have jockeyed for acceptance here. Thinkers, poets and educationists have lived and worked here, making Varanasi the leading repository of Indian culture. It has always been well-understood that anyone wanting to achieve ideological legitimacy in India must establish a foothold in this holy city. The Mughals and the British were among many in a long line of rulers and thinkers, who tried to fashion Indian culture through interventions in Varanasi. During the Indian struggle for independence from the British, Varanasi became a hotbed of activity as new ideas and ideals sought to be established. In the years after Indian independence, the city continues to remain a major vibrant centre of intellectual and cultural activity.
We cannot attempt to cover the entire universe of Indian philosophy in one single tour. However, we have attempted to present to you some interesting places of learning in Varanasi.
Walk through the Riverfront Ghats
This is a walk through the waterfront, from Asi Ghat to Dashashwamedh Ghat.
It constitutes one half of the famous Panchatirthi pilgrimage, the visit to the five sacred fords. Although on this tour we are not going to do the prayers or ritual baths that are part of the pilgrimage, you will be able to see pilgrims participating in it.
The walk starts at Asi Ghat, the southern end of the city where the Asi river meets the Ganges. Pilgrims bathe in the ghats here to start their Panchatirthi pilgrimage. On the banks of the ghat, they pray to an open-air linga, the representation of the God Shiva.
From Asi Ghat, we will walk downriver. We will pass Tulsi Ghat (named after a great poet-saint), where the offices of the non-profit Sankat Mochan are located. They have been working on efforts to clean the Ganges river.
Next we will pass the ashram of Anandamayi Ma and the 17th century palace of Maharaja Chet Singh, to reach Hanuman Ghat. The Hanuman Ghat area is home to a substantial South Indian community, and you can see them offering morning prayers at the ghat. This ghat is famous for its Hanuman (Monkey God) Temple and the temple of Ruru (The Dog) Bhairava. Your guide will tell you the stories of these deities.
The next ghat is Harishchandra Ghat, one of the two burning ghats of Varanasi. People in this part of the city believe this is the oldest ghat, surpassing Manikarnika in its sanctity. Here you can see the performances of ritual rites for the dead.
Continuing downriver, we come to Kedara Ghat, a busy ghat that is the sacred focus of the Kedara Khanda of the city. Further down is Chauki Ghat, where you can climb up to the top of the steps if you would like to see a huge tree with shrines to the Nagas, the serpent dieties.
We will then pass through a quieter section, where the dhobis (washermen) wash and lay out clothes. This part of the city is the Bengali Tola, settled by people from Bengal. There are more ghats here, Mansarovar, Narada, Amareshwara and Chaunsathi Ghat. Each of these is named for specific dieties, and the guide will tell you the associated legends.
Finally we will reach the Dashashwamedha Ghat, where the walk ends at the temple of the popular goddess Shitala Devi, who cures ailments and pox.
Culture of Varanasi
Varanasi is the oldest city of India known as the “City of God”, situated near the banks of the Ganges. It is most crowded city because of the narrow winding lanes that are taken by road-side markets and Hindu temples. Banaras is famous for its great culture and a popular destination for travellers and tourists. The main residential areas of the Varanasi are located in the regions far from the Ganges ghats.
Art and literature
Varanasi has old culture of fine art and literature. Great Indian writers such as Kabir Das, Ravidas, Tulsidas Kulluka Bhatt, Bharatendu Harishchandra, Jaishankar Prasad, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Acharya Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Sudama Pandey, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri and Vidya Niwas Mishra have lived in this city.
In Varanasi the art lovers and historians such as Rai Krishnadasa, musician Gopal Mishra, Omkarnath Thakur, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Lalmani Misra, N. Rajam, Rajbhan Singh, Anokhelal Mishra, Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, M. V. Kalvint, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna, Kishan Maharaj, Vikash Maharaj, Rajan, Sajan Mishra, Mahadev Mishra, Chhannulal Mishra and numerous others who have kept this city alive to the spiritual aspects of fine arts. People celebrate their numerous festivals in traditional styles of classical and folk culture of Varanasi.