A place from where the life starts and finishes ’’Varanasi’’ at the bank of holy river Ganges is one of the oldest living inhabitations of the world. It is attracting pilgrims for centuries and Varanasi is among the seven sacred cities in the country and popular for the famous Ganges ceremony and cremation at the bank this holy river.
We believe that Lord Shiva channeled the celestial Ganges on earth, and that is why the river is considered holy. Thousands of devotees from all over the country come to bathe in its waters as we believe that taking a dip in the holy Ganges absolves all of our sins. People also believe that if we do cremation here after death achieve moksha (salvation). For many pilgrimage to Kashi, as Varanasi was earlier called) is one of the most important rituals to undertake during their lifetime. In recent years, the city became popular for yoga, the ancient medicinal science of Ayurveda and astrology.
It is one of the most popular Buddhist pilgrimage centers in the world. Sarnath is located just 10 km far away from Varanasi. People believe that after attaining nirvana, Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon here. Sarnath has several structures like the Dhamekh Stupa and the Chaukhandi Stupa, where Lord Buddha met his first five disciples.
Dhamekh Stupa is made of bricks in cylindrical shape and has a height of 43.6 m and a diameter of 28 m. The King Ashoka founded this stupa in 249 BCE and rebuilt in the 5th century. It is also known as the Dharma Chakra Stupa. Chaukhandi Stupa lies 13 km far from Varanasi and built like an octagonal tower between the 4th and 6th centuries.
Among the popular attractions in Sarnath is a metallic pillar. Emperor Ashoka established it in 272-273 BC that marks the foundation of the Buddhist Sangha. The pillar is 50 m high and has a symbol of four lions on top of it and also known as lion Capital. It is the emblem of the Republic of India. Below the lions, there are four other animals – bull, lion, elephant and horse. These represent the phases of the life of Lord Buddha. The main attraction of Sarnath is the Mulagandhakuti Vihara, which is a 100-foot-tall tower temple.
BHU, Banaras University
The Banaras Hindu University (BHU) is one of the oldest Universities in India. The freedom fighter and social reformer Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya founded in 1916 with the assistance of British socialist Dr Annie Besant. The sprawling 1,300-acre main university campus located on the outskirts of Varanasi was built on land donated by the ruler of Kashi.
The university counts many freedom fighters, as well as a great number of scholars, artistes and scientists among its alumni. With well-maintained roads, a large temple, an airstrip and several buildings of architectural significance, the university, with a dense green cover, resembles a sub-city. Its wide streets are lined with trees on each side and make for great walking avenues. With accommodation available for over 30,000 students within the main campus, BHU is one of the largest residential universities in Asia.
Assi Ghat is one of the biggest ghat that is also furthest south to the main ghats. This place is particularly important because holy River Ganges meets the Assi River. Visitors come here to worship a lingam of Lord Shiva. The evening ceremony (a holy fire ritual) follow here is a spectacular view when saint chant mantras, conches are blown and even the air feels heavy with a spiritual essence. This ghat is also a starting point for boating rides and one can come here to enjoy early-morning yoga sessions and devotional music.
According to the Legend Goddess Durga, after killing demons Shumbha-Nishumbha, threw her sword in the River Assi that is why this ghat name is Assi. While the evening ceremony invites visitors regularly. The ghat is especially full of pilgrims during the months of chaitya (March/ April) and magh (January/ February). Other significant events like lunar/solar eclipse, Makar Sakranti and Probodhoni Ekadashi also see swarming crowds.