The sacred city of Varanasi, or Benares, is located on the riverfront of The Ganges in North-Eastern India. This city is known for being the location which Siddhartha Gautama discovered enlightenment, and where the Buddhism first came to be.
The original name for Varanasi was Kashi, derived from the Sanskrit word, shining.
Along with being the most desirable funeral destination, Varanasi has been a pilgrimage site for those of the Hindu religion for ages. The Hindus believed that the one who is graced to die on the land of Varanasi, would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth, and re-birth. Benares has always been a part of the Hindu culture. As the great author Mark Twain exclaimed: "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together"
Legend says that the Ganges is where the Hindu Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati, both stood when time began. There is thought to be intimate connection with mythological characters, and legendary figures who had once lived there. Many important epics were written in Varanasi, including Shri Ramchartimnas, and it has said to be have a place in holy Buddhist scriptures.
The city is also famous for it's beautiful antique temples, including the Kashi Vishwanath temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple withstood many Muslim invasions, and was later plated in gold, calling it "The Gold Temple".
The city went into a destructive phase that lasted three centuries. Starting in 1194, and ending in the seventeenth century, Varanasi was invaded by Muslims, and taken under control. Temples were destroyed, and scholars were forced to flee. All ended when the tyrannical Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb came to power.
The most valuable asset of the city is the seven kilometer arc of wide-set steps on the Ganges riverfront. These steps are known as the Ghats. This stone set of stairs leads to the Ganges, and is used for bathing and cremating. They also hold significant religious stature, and a panoramic view of the city.
In the year 1910, the British declared the city a new Indian State, and after India's independence in 1947, Varanasi became part of the Uttar Pradesh State.
The Ghats of Varanasi
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