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Tapestry of Spirituality

travel Updated: Jul 02, 2010 09:44 IST
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Every morning when the first
rays of the Sun hit Varanasi,
the city awakes its heritage,
rituals, traditions and
customs...just another day in
the life of a 3,000-year-old city.
Located along the left crescentshaped
bank of River Ganga,
this city has around 3,000
Hindu temples and shrines.

The gentle Ganga, myriad temples, chants of mantras and hymns, tolling bells, devotion of pilgrims, boatride at sunset, dips at the famous Ganga ghats meandering narrow alleys of the city and an array of shrines. There are countless images of Varanasi. Besides, it is denoted by different names at different times in different contexts. Kashi is the oldest name which means 'concentration of cosmic light', Banaras, 'the place where juice of life is always readymade' and Varanasi lying between River Varuna in North and Assi stream in South (Varana+Asi).

Spiritual luminance
Being one of the seven holiest cities, it is perceived as a site of 'vigour and rigour' where religion, culture, people and society get interconnected deeply as mosaic called 'microcosmic India', or the 'cultural capital of India'. It is also one of the Shakti Peethas and one of the twelve Jyotir Linga sites in India. The culture is closely associated with Ganga and the river's religious importance. To the Hindus, the Ganga is a sacred river and any town or city on its bank is believed to be auspicious. But Varanasi has a special sanctity, for it is believed, this is where Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati stood when time started ticking for the first time. The religious magnitude of Varanasi has been well described in the Buddhist scriptures, the great Hindu epic of Mahabharata and Shri Ramcharitmanas.

Riverfront landscapes
The 84 ghats of Varanasi form a symbolic chain of holy sites and offer a panoramafrom ablution to workout-of a multitude of people, for whom the river is the be-all and endall of life. Here people consult the astrologers under their palm leaf parasols, buy offerings for rituals, sell silk apparels and brassware, or just gaze at the faraway horizon where the mighty river meets the heavens. Apart from all view of the ghats from a boat on the motherly river gives a captivation.

Some of the famous ghats are the Tulsi ghat, the Dasaswamedh ghat and Assi ghat. It's great to visit Varanasi during festivals Ganga Festival, Kartik Purnima, Bharat Milap, Ram Lila, Hanuman Jayanti, Mahashivratri, Rath Yatra, Dussehra and Diwali as these humming ghats become even more spectacular. The city comes to life on festivals.

Seat of art and education
Apart from being a place for pilgrimage, Varanasi has also been a great centre of learning, and known for its heritage in music, literature, art and craft. It is the first name in the art of silk weaving with Banarasi silk sarees and brocades being prized all over the world.

It is also the seat of one of India's biggest universities, the Banaras Hindu University,Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. So many layers to a city only happens in Varanasi.