Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is another of the seven sacred Hindu cities with a very old history. Known as the city of Lord Shiva, the god of creation and destruction, it’s believed that anyone who dies here will be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation. Even a wash in the Ganges River is said to cleanse away all sins. The fascinating thing about this mystical city is that its rituals are revealed openly to along the many riverside ghats.
Few places in India are as colourful, charismatic or spiritual as the bathing ghats lining the Ganges in Varanasi. The city of Shiva is one of the holiest places in India, where Hindu pilgrims come to wash away a lifetime of sins in the Ganges or to cremate their loved ones. Varanasi, previously named Benares and Kashi (City of Light) – it was renamed after the Varuna and Asi Rivers, which meet here – has always been an auspicious place to die, since expiring here offers moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death). The city is the beating heart of the Hindu universe, a crossing place between the physical and spiritual worlds, and the Ganges is viewed as a river of salvation, an everlasting symbol of hope to past, present and future generations. The magical but sometimes overwhelming city is where the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public on the city’s ghats. The accessibility to the practices of an ancient but still living religious tradition is what captivates many visitors, and a walk along the ghats or a boat ride on the river is one of India’s most absorbing experiences
Varanasi, is known for its fine-quality silks, 'paan' and Benares Hindu University and Avimukta of the ancient days, Varanasi is the most popular pilgrimage point for the Hindus. One of the seven holiest cities, Varanasi city is also one the Shakti Peethas and one of the twelve Jyotir Linga sites in India. In Hinduism it is believed that those who die and are cremated here get an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and re-births.
Varanasi is the oldest city of the world. Varanasi is more than 3000 years old and is famous as the city of temples. In Varanasi, there are temples at every few paces. Looking at the number of temples in Varanasi, it is hard to believe that a large number of them were demolished during the medieval times. Jyotirlinga Visvanatha Temple or Golden Temple, rebuilt in 1776, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Jnana Vapi well (meaning 'Well of Wisdom) is believed to have been dug by Lord Shiva himself. It is believed that the majestic Alamgir mosque has replaced one of the most ancient shrines known as the temple of Bindu Madhava. The thirty-three hundred million shrines fill one with awe and wonder with sheer numbers.
The Ganga Ghats (river front) are the most popular pilgrimage spot of Varanasi and are centers of music and learning. There is a great tradition of Yatras in the holy city of Kashi and the most sacred path is that of Panchkoshi Parikrama, the fifty-mile path with a radius of five miles that cover 108 shrines along the way, with Panchakoshi Temple as its main shrine. Other popular pilgrimage route is Nagara Pradakshina, which covers seventy-two shrines along the way. Since time immemorial Varanasi is a great center of learning. The holy city has been a symbol of spiritualism, philosophy and mysticism for thousands of years and has produced great saints and personalities like Guatama Buddha, Mahavira, Kabir, Tulsi Das, Shankaracharaya, Ramanuja and Patanjali.