Kashi, India : A Spiritual Haven for Seekers and Believers Alike
After our visit to the Mahakumbh Mela, the three of us friends decided to visit Kashi. Also know as Varanasi. Beneras or Banaras, this holy city is only 120 km from Prayagraj (Allahabad). We took a local bus and returned the same day to Allahabad after visiting the holy city. If you are someone who is seeking a spiritual experience in India, there’s no better destination than Kashi. Located in Uttar Pradesh, Kashi is considered one of the holiest cities in India and has been a center of pilgrimage and learning for thousands of years.
Kashi – Rich History and Spritual Centre
Kashi or Varanasi or Banaras/Benares, located on the banks of the river Ganges is a holy Hindu city in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh. For thousands of years, Hindus have gathered on the shores of the holy river Ganges in Varanasi. Its ancient name is Kashi (the place of Lord Shiva). It is believed that the city was founded by the Hindu deity Lord Shiva himself. It is a city older than Babylon, Athens, and Rome. In ancient times, it was a great trading center.
History and Significance of Kashi
Kashi, also known as Varanasi, has a long and rich history as a spiritual center. The city is believed to be over 3,000 years old and is mentioned in ancient Hindu texts like the Vedas and the Puranas. Kashi is considered the spiritual home of Lord Shiva, one of the most important deities in Hinduism. As a result, Kashi is home to many important temples and shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, including the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Moksha at Kashi
Thousands of pilgrims from all over the country and abroad make it a point to visit Kashi or Varanasi, as they prefer to call it. Its waterfront is dominated by stretches of long stone ghats. Worshipers flock to Varanasi to perform the ritual of bathing in the sacred waters of the Ganges River. Hindus believe that when you die in Varanasi, you are freed from the circle of birth and death. You attain instant salvation “Moksha”. Therefore it is the holiest of the pilgrimages “tirthas” among the sacred seven cities. Widows and the elderly come here to live out their final days, finding shelter in temples, assisted by alms from the faithful. It has maintained its religious life for hundreds of years in a continuous fashion.
Destruction of Temples in Kashi by Moslem Invaders
Kashi is also known as “the city of temples” as there are thousands of temples in this holy city. Unfortunately, most of them were plundered and destroyed by Muslim invaders starting with Muhammad Ghori. In 1194, the city further succumbed to Turkish Muslim rule under Qutubuddin Aibak who ordered the destruction of thousands of temples in the city. The city went into abysmal decline during the three centuries of Muslim occupation. Then again the Moslem invader Feroz Shah ordered further destruction of Hindu temples in the Varanasi area in 1376. The Afghan ruler Sikander Lodhi continued the suppression of Hinduism in the city and destroyed most of the remaining older temples in 1496.
Cultural Revival of Varanasi under Akbar
Varanasi experienced a cultural revival under the Mughal emperor Akbar in the 16th century. Akbar invested in the city and built two large temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The Raja of Poona established the Annapurnamandir and the 200 meters (660 ft) Akbari Bridge was also completed during this period. Most of today’s temples and religious institutions date to the eighteenth century. However, the most famous of them the ancient Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva has endured to this day. You can see long serpentine queues of devotees standing for hours since early morning for darshan. Unfortunately, today the entire temple complex is surrounded by shops and other commercial establishments catering to the pilgrims and thriving due to them.
Kashi Vishwanath Mandir
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, drawing millions of visitors every year. The temple is located in the heart of the city and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple complex is also home to several other smaller temples, including the Annapurna Temple and the Vishalakshi Temple. Visitors can witness the daily aarti (prayer ceremony) at the temple, which is truly an unforgettable experience. For further information and details about the Kashi Vishwanath temple please log into their website https://www.shrikashivishwanath.org/
Top Spiritual Sites to Visit in Kashi
In addition to Kashi Vishwanath Temple, there are several other important spiritual sites to visit in Varanasi which are as follows :-
Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the most popular and crowded ghats with a series of steps leading down to the Ganga river. This ghat is one of the busiest and most vibrant places in the city. Pilgrims can be seen performing puja (prayer) and taking a dip in the holy waters of the river Ganges.
Manikarnika Ghat is another important ghat and the main cremation ground in the city. Though this ghat is used for cremation, it is actually considered a very sacred place, as Hindus believe that being cremated here can help them achieve moksha. Moksha means liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
Panchganga Ghat, Rajendra Prasad Ghat, Keshav Ghat
These are some of the many ghats that are popular here in Kashi where scores of pilgrims can be seen performing pooja for their departed ones.
Experiencing Spiritual Practices in Kashi
Kashi is also know for as a place to experience spiritual practices like yoga and meditation. There are a number of ashrams and yoga ashrams or schools where interested visitors can learn different styles of yoga and meditation from experienced yoga teachers and gurus.
Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth
Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth is one of the most popular places to learn yoga in Kashi. This vidyapeeth is a university dedicated to the study of Indian culture and spirituality. Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith University (MGKVP), is a public university located in Varanasi. Formerly known as Kashi Vidyapeeth, it is today one of the largest universities in the state having more than 350 affiliated colleges various districts of Uttr Pradesh.
Exploring the Culture of Kashi
Kashi is also a fascinating place to explore from the cultural perspective as the city is home to a vibrant arts scene, with many artists, musicians, and writers calling it their home. The visitors and especially arts and history aficionados can explore the city’s many galleries and museums to learn more about its rich cultural heritage.
Street Foods in Kashi
Uttar Pradesh has some very interesting places for gastronomes and in this regard Kashi is one place you will love. Kashi has many food vendors and restaurants serving up delicious traditional Indian cuisines. Some must-try dishes in Kashi include chaat, Kachori, Chena Dahi Vada, Malaiyyo, Choora Matar, Thandai and Lassi, Dahi Chutney Wale Gol Gappe, Laaiya Chana, Baati Chokha and so many other dishes. All these street food are vegetarian. Non vegetarian food is a strict no no in this holy city of Varanasi.
Travel Tips for Visiting Kashi
It is important to be aware of the weather conditions and transportation options in Varanasi. It can get quite hot in the summer months so my advise would be it is best to visit during the cooler months of October to March. Kashi is well connected with other major cities with the rail line and the nearest railway station is the Varanasi Junction Railway Station. Besides trains, there are buses available for intercity and outside the city transportation.
Whether you seek deeper connection with your faith and want to come here for religious reasons or simply looking to explore new and fascinating places, people and culture, Kashi is a destination that should not be missed. Here you will find everything, ancient temples and sacred sites, cultural and historical sites, vibrant arts scene and delicious local street food. Varanasi or Kashi or Benaras as you wish to call it has something to offer to every type of traveler. So why not plan a trip this year to this beautiful and interesting holy city?