History of Varanasi – Cultural Significance and Heritage

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Varanasi or Banaras or Kashi, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world whose prominence in Hindu mythology is virtually unrevealed. Hindus believe that visiting the spiritual land of Varanasi would let you attain moksha or salvation and also liberation from the cycle of life and death. The city has been quite famous for Hindu renaissance, culture, knowledge, Indian arts and crafts, and most importantly devotion to gods.

This spiritual capital of India is decked on the shores of River Ganges which is believed to hold the power to cleanse the committed sins and the wrongdoings of every mortal. The city is nicely associated with the promotion of Sanskrit, Yoga, spiritualism, mysticism, and Hindi language, mother tongue of Indians. Kashi or Varanasi has been an ultimate pilgrimage site for Hindus for centuries.

Cultural Significance and Heritage of Varanasi

The city is believed to be the birthplace of three major religions of India i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Varanasi, abruptly known as the cultural capital of India has offered a perfect platform for several cultural activities to flourish. Ustad Bismillah Khan, popular Shehnai player, Ravi Shankar, internationally renowned Sitar maestro, and many other exponents of music and dance have come from Kashi or Banaras and are believed to have lived major part of their lives.

The city rich in Heritage

The travelers get astonished to see that this spiritual city of the nation is also a Museum architectural designs that represents the evolving patterns and movements of arts and crafts and other things in course of history. The museum is bestowed with several rich and original varieties of sculptures, paintings, and the exceptionally rich treasures of folk art. The city is believed to have produced master craftsmen during the ages.

Varanasi has earned unconditional popularity for its Silk Sarees, textiles, ornaments, toys, metal work, wood and clay work, fibre and leaf crafts too.

History of Varanasi

There is no proven evidence of the history of this oldest city on earth and Bhanu Shankar Mehta, who has spend almost 80 years of his life in Varanasi and has been giving lectures on its history, says that the history of this city is not less than a puzzle that needs to be solved by a committee of well-known and educated scholars. He also adds “all the historical, mythological, and proto historical tales together” can give a proper idea about this.

P.N. Singh, a well-known History lecturer at Banaras Hindu University claims “Varanasi is quite significant from an archaeological perspective”. It is believed that the ancient remnants are found at the Rajghat plateau established in the northeastern part of the city. Here, the archaeologists excavated broken masonry from as late as 1500 AD and the potteries dating back to 1000 BC. This all suggests that the city has been continuously inhabited for almost 2500 years.

Early History of Varanasi

The great historians have now evidenced that the Aryans were the first who settled themselves in the Ganges Valley and later by the second millennium BC, the city became the nucleus of Aryan philosophy and religion. The destination also evolved nicely as an industrial and commercial centre pretty popular for its silk products, muslin, ivory works, sculptures, and perfumery.

During the 6th century BC, Benaras became the capital of Kashi and this is the same period when Lord Buddha delivered his very first sermon at Sarnath which is only 10 km away from Varanasi. Being a renowned centre of religious, cultural, educational, and artistic activities, the city attracted huge pilgrims from all around the world. Chinese traveler Hsuan Tsang was one of the most known personalities who visited the country around 635 AD.

Varanasi under Muslim Control

The city faced a hugely destructive phase from 1194 to the next three centuries as it came under the rule of Muslim Rulers. During this period, several temples were plundered and destroyed and the scholars were brutally tortured and forced to leave the city. Later in the 16th century, the tolerant emperor, Akbar sat on the Mughal throne and spread his kingdom all over the city.

It was the time when certain religious sites were restored but unfortunately all of them were again destroyed when Aurangzeb sat on the throne in the 17th century.

Modern History

During the 18th century, the city regained its glory and impeccable charm and in 1910, British declared it as an independent kingdom with Ramnagar as its capital city. Later in 1947, after the independence of India, the city became a part of Uttar Pradesh and took Uttar Pradesh tourism a notch higher.

Mythological significance of the city

The legend of this spiritual city of India dates back to almost 10,000 years to a few old holy epics of Hinduism including the Mahabharata, the Puranas, and the Vedas. As per these epics, the city is believed to be the site of Lord Shiva who visited here with Goddess Parvati (his wife) at the beginning of the era. The legends also state that it could be the battlefield where Lord Krishna put fire to a duplicate but imposter himself.

It also happens to be the same place where Lord Rama performed a deep meditation after killing the demon Ravana. In simple words, we can conclude that Varanasi is an encyclopedia itself that has got around 100 dimensions and it’s never easy to cover them even in a book.

How Varanasi got its name?

Sanctified in religious scriptures and glorified in Hindu mythology, the city has attracted huge influx of devotees, worshippers, and pilgrims from several years. As per the “Vamana Purana”, the Assi and Varuna rivers were originated from the body of the primordial being at the starting of the era. Varanasi, the current name of the city has been originated with the two magnificent tributaries of River Ganga namely Assi and Varuna.

The area of land lying between them was referred as “Varanasi”, the holiest of the pilgrimages in the country.

Different names associated with the city

India is one of those countries where majority of the cities are called by at least two names but Varanasi has over a hundred names. The locals still refer this city as Banaras perhaps after the king Benar and according to the Jataka Tales, a collection of Buddhist tales, refer the city as Jitwari, the place perfect for a successful business. It is also called as Molini referring lotus garden city or Pushpavati, the city adorned with colorful flowers or flower garden city.

Achievements of Varanasi

  • Being blessed with several small and huge temples, Varanasi attracted Annie Besant and she selected the place as home or centre for her “Theosophical society” and the sanctity and serenity of this city compelled Pandit Mohan Malviya to establish Benaras Hindu University, the largest university of the Asian continent.
  • Ayurveda, the basis of several modern medical sciences like Plastic surgery, calculus, and cataract operations is believed to have been originated in Varanasi only.
  • The preceptor of Yoga and Ayurveda, the legend, Maharshi Patanjali was also associated with this holy city in UP.
  • The city doesn’t require any sort of introduction in terms of its popularity for its trade and commerce especially for the gold and silver brocades and the finest skills of arts and crafts since the early days.

The Unseen Benaras

However, Varanasi is known for its religious sites like Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Dashashwamedh Ghat, Assi Ghat, etc. but there are several other spots established in the city that are less explored. So, on your next trip to Varanasi do not forget to discover the spots that are associated with the freedom struggles and martyrs. Plan well and get yourself ready to know about the untold history of Ghazipur, Sarnath, Bhadohi (Carpet town), Kashiraj, and also experience the Panorama of Banaras that describes the real identity of Varanasi.

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