Varanasi also commonly known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a city situated on the banks of the River Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, regarded as holy by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest of India.
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 Ramacharitamanas here, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi (Kashi).
Varanasi is home to four universities: Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Residents mainly speak Kashika Bhojpuri, which is closely related to the Hindi language. People often refer to Varanasi as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, and “the city of learning.”
American writer Mark Twain wrote: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
History Of Varanasi
According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, around 5,000 years ago, thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda, Skanda Purana, Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, mention the city.
Varanasi is generally believed to be about 3,000 years old. Varanasi was a commercial and industrial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BCE), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveler, Xuanzang, attested that the city was a center 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 center. In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramanagar as its headquarters but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself. Kashi Naresh still resides in the fort of Ramanagar.
The Ramnagar Fort of the Kashi Naresh is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges. 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.
Geography Of Varanasi
The city of Varanasi is located in the middle Ganga valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganga river.
It has the headquarters of Varanasi district. The “Varanasi Urban Agglomeration” — an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units — covers an area of 112.26 km² (approximately 43 mi²). The urban agglomeration is stretched between 82° 56’E – 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N – 25° 23.5’N. Being located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India, the land is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil.
On a local level, Varanasi is located on a higher ground between rivers Ganga and Varuna, the mean elevation being 80.71 m. As a result of absence of tributaries and canals, the main land is continuous and relatively dry. In ancient times, this geographic situation must have been highly favorable for forming settlements. But it is difficult to ascertain the original geography of Varanasi because the city’s current location is not exactly the same as the one described in some old texts.
Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of Ganga and Varuna, and other of Ganga and Assi [disambiguation needed], (Assi having always been a rivulet rather than a river.) The distance between these two confluences is around 2.5 miles, and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places—a Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a five mile journey) ending with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple as a holy ritual.
Education Of Varanasi
The schools are affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), or the U. P. Board.
Varanasi is the site of three public universities:
Banaras Hindu University was founded in 1916 by Madan Mohan Malaviya with the cooperation of Annie Besant. Its 1350 acre (5.5 km²) campus was built on land donated by the Kashi Naresh. The University includes Institute of Technology and Institute of Medical Sciences and is among the top three largest residential universities in the world, having more than 128 independent teaching departments.
Sampurnanand Sanskrit University: Governor General Lord Cornwallis established the Sanskrit College (1791), which was the first college in Varanasi. The first principal of Sanskrit College was Sanskrit professor J. Myor, ICS followed by J.R. Ballentien, RTH Griffith, Dr. G. Thevo, Dr. Aurthor Venice, Dr. Ganganath Jha, and Gopinath Kaviraj among others. After India achieved independence, this college became Sampurnanand Sanskrit University.
Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth is a deemed and chartered university that is named for Gandhi and follows the principles of Gandhism.
The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (Central University of Tibetan Studies) at Sarnath is a deemed university with a preference for the traditional Tibetan method of teaching within a framework of modern universities. Udai Pratap College, autonomous college, is the center of sports and science study for the suburban students of modern Benares. Agrasen Mahila Mahavidyala is another autonomous college in the city.
Varanasi has many private and public institutes that provide Hindu religious teaching. Since ancient times people have been coming to Varanasi to learn philosophy, Sanskrit, astrology, social science and religious teachings. In Indian tradition, Varanasi is often called Sarva Vidya Ki Rajdhani (capital of knowledge). The city also has the Jamiah Salafiah, a Salafi Islamic institution.
There are various degree colleges across the city like Agrasen Degree College, Harishchandra Degree College, Arya Mahila Degree College, and the School of Management .
Economy Of Varanasi
Varanasi has several small cottage industries, including Banarasi Silk sari making, the production of textiles such as hand-woven carpets, and handicrafts. Banarasi paan (betel leaf) and khoa (a milk product) are popular, and the related small-scale industries employ many people. Varanasi is a centre of Child labour.
Banarasi Silk is known all over the world for its finery and softness. Banarasi Sarees are adorned with intricate designs and zari embellishments making it popular during traditional functions and weddings. Earlier, the embroidery on sarees were often done with threads of pure gold.
Indian Railways runs a major diesel locomotive factory in Varanasi, Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW). The first Indian business house of Varanasi and Kanpur was the firm NihalChand KishoriLal established in the year 1857 which set up the fourth Oxygen plant in the country here by the name of Indian Air Gases Ltd.
According to Macaulay, Varanasi was the “city which, in wealth, population, dignity and sanctity was among the foremost in Asia”. He described the commercial importance saying “from the looms of Benaras went forth the most delicate silks that adorned the halls of St. James and of Versailles.”