Importance of Kashi: Kasi or Kashi is the placed at the top of the spiritual & holistic cities in India and it has a great historical importance too. Kashi is both, an exalted place of pilgrimage and an idealized centre of faith, has been likened to Jerusalem and Mecca. Some historians say that this city was founded before the birth of Jesus Christ. Kasi is also referred in the Great Hindi Epic ‘Mahabharata’ and in Buddhism literature called ‘Jataka Tales’.
How did it get its name as ‘Varanasi’: Kasi is known as other names as Banaras and Varanasi. For Varanasi which is more popular now, it probably derives from the two rivers that flank the city, the Varana to the north and the Asi to the south. Many still use the anglicized forms of Banaras or Benares, while pilgrims refer to Kashi. According to the well known the American author and litterateur, Mark Twain, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Banaras, once wrote: “Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
Devotees’ hub: Life on the banks of the Ganga begins before dawn when thousands of pilgrims – men, women and children – come down to the river to wait for the rising sun when immersion in the sacred river will cleanse them of their sufferings and wash their sins away. The city of Varanasi is on the Western bank of the River Ganga with few buildings on the Eastern bank, allowing for a spectacular view of the rising sun. The view is just spectacular when we see thousands of people set aside their inhibitions and take off their clothes, thus taking off the expression of their wealth, taking off the expression of their social status, and indeed, an extremely rare phenomena in Indian society, taking off the difference of the sexes, and be just one with their Almighty.
At the Ghat of Varanasi: Along the water’s edge, there are the burning ghats. The most sacred one is Manikarnika, associated with Goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva. The most famous temple to visit is the Golden or Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Shiva. The original Vishvanath Temple was located across the road, but it was destroyed by Aurangzeb who had built a mosque over it. The present temple was built by Ahalya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1776. The Mosque of Aurangzeb, has been built using columns from the original temple razed by Aurangzeb. This mosque has minarets towering 71 metres above the Ganges. Around this temple evolved the spiritual identity of Varanasi.
The Famous Banaras Hindu University: Banaras has always been associated with philosophy and wisdom. A place of learning for many years, the Banaras Hindu University carries on this tradition. The University campus, to the south of the city, was established in 1916, has a student population of 25,000, most of who live within the 7 sq. km campus, thus making this University one of the largest in India.
Sightseeing: Temples form the major source of attraction in this ancient city. The banks of the Ganges, considered to be a sacred river by the Hindus, are the centre of many religious activities that occur in the city. The ghats built along the banks of the river for such religious activity also form a major source of attraction here. Some of the other interesting places to visit around the city are Alamgir Mosque, Durga Temple, Vishwanath Temple, Bharat Mata temple, Tulsi Manas Temple, Banaras Hindu University and the Archaeological Museum.
Renowned Silk Fabric of Banaras: This city is also largely renowned for its silk weavers, who prepare the finest types of woven silk fabrics. A Banaras silk sari or shawl is traditionally a single colored textile with motifs and patterns woven in gold or silver threads. The technique is intricate, the procedure complex and demands great expertise. As the warp and the weft are interwoven on the loom, small, often minute shuttles with gold thread are introduced to form the motif. When the design of the motif is completed, a knot is made and the gold thread cut. The weaving continues until the next design. The smaller the motif or the more intricate the design, the more complex the weaving skills required. Silk weaving in Banaras is a cottage industry and in many areas of the city, especially the Muslim quarters, one can see looms at work all day. Entire families are involved; children often pick up the art from the elders at an early age. There are shops in Banaras and throughout India that sell these fine silk fabrics.