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Varanasi History

Varanasi Travel Guide

The culture of Varanasi or Kashi or so say Benaras (often refer to Banaras) is completely associated with the river Ganga and river's religious importance. The history of Kashi witnessed so many legends who born here and delivered there great to the world. In the very long span of time this cultural and divine city has given so many poets, philosophers, prominent writers, musicians who resided and reside in Varanasi.

From its commanding position on the river Ganges, Benaras (Banaras) has witnessed the entire history of Indian civilization as it evolved in North India. From the ancient Aryan kingdoms and there rivalries, through the golden mauryan and Gupta empire empires, to the thousand years of muslim and then British domination, the historical currents of the times have passed through Banaras. Here the great sages have propounded there philosophies and here reformers have come with new way of seeing. Yogis and ascetics have made there retreats and hermitage here, orthodox Brahmins have articulated and elaborated there rituals, poet and saints have sung their songs. And here all the Hindu gods emerged from the shadows into bold relief, as people have come to understand them, have seen there faces, and have created their multi-form images. As we attempt to see what Banaras have seen through the ages, we will see some of the great movements in the history of Indian civilization.

The city encompasses Buddhist sacred place "Sarnath", where Buddha preached his first sermon in about 530 B.C. It was first known as Kashi, the city of light, when it was the capital of the kingdom of the same name about 500 B.C. for over 2000 years, Banaras, the eternal city, has been the religious capital of India. During the 4th to the 6th century, 'the city of lights' Kashi was a mature cultural centre, after the arrival of Muslims in 1193 the city bears a huge loss in cultural and religious aspect. Mega destruction of its ancient temples for nearly six centuries, the city was under Muslim rule. The first raid by muslims, who sacked and plundered some Hindu temples, occurred in about A.D. 1035. Banaras was finally conquered in 1194 when an Afgan general, according to muslim historians, destroyed nearly a thousand temples and carried off his booty on the back of 1,400 camels.

After that the scenario of destruction and rebuilding temples continued for a long lasting time, until the last episode of destruction by Mughal emperor Aurangazeb in 1669. Many emperors took part to plundering this city while many done a great job to rebuilding the cultural and religious dignity of the city of lights Kashi.

The holy beginning of the river Ganges city Benaras is known to start in the early years, say 1,000 B.C., there were a forest of bliss at the bank of holy Ganga, where the Varanasi city is situated now, under the trees, gurus, and their students, ascetics, meditators, scholars, and disciples made their hermitages, their classrooms. This is one of the most sacred places on the 1, 560 mile course of the holy Ganga River.

The religious capital of India has a great essence of this fact that many legends, princess and conquerors, merchants and artisans came to it and left their marks on it. That is how still uncountable pilgrims continue to visit the city. The city has another big name that is "the city of death", it is believe in Hindu religion that if someone dies here attains Moksha or Liberation.

Kabir Das Era
One of the great poet of the age and, indeed, one of the greatest in all of Indian literature, was Kabir, was from a group of very low-caste Banaras weavers, called 'julahas'. Some believe he born in muslim religion and later changed into Hindu, but one fact always remind his memory and that is his dedication toward true welfare of society, the literature he has given and the believe of one god. Kabir lived in kashi throughout his life but refused to die in Kashi because he believed that 'if Kabir dies in Kashi, what homage will he render Ram or Rahim', the point of course, is that god alone, Ram alon can save, no matter where one dies. But many still believe that to die in Kashi (Varanasi) brings liberation.

Tulsi Das Era
Kabir was at his height in Kashi during the 15th century. In the 16th century, he was followed in banaras by another great poet of the hindu bhakti tradition, Tulsi das. Like Kabir, tulsi wrote in hindi, the vernacular language of the people, rather than in Sanskrit. Unlike kabir who was little concerned about scriptures, tulsi das rendered sacred literature- the very province of the Sanskrit pandits into hindu. His famous version of the Ramayana, called the Ramcharitmanas, was attacked at first by orthodox pandits, but it was loved by the people. Tulsi das was a Bhakt of Rama, the lord whose tale is told in the Ramayana. Hanuman, the monkey servant of lord rama, was also important to Tulsi's devotion. Tulsi Das lived through the best days of the Mughal period in Banaras, during his time Akbar built many temples and great places whice tulsi mentioned in his literature. He was dedicated to the city and lived in various places in Kashi. Unlike Kabirdas, Tulsidas was not so disdainful about the city Kashi where he lived. In many of his work he praised lord Shiva and the holy city Kashi in order to provide a nearest destination of liberation or so called Moksha for people on earth. Tulsi das died in 1623 at the age of eighty, and his ashes were consigned to the Ganges. In the mid 20th century a great marble temple was eracted in the southern part of Kashi to honor Tulsi Das called Tulsi Manas Temple, people also know this as Vimala temple means 'Flawless'. The memory of tulsi das is vividly preserved in this temple today. He too is cast in plastic and sits in mechanical animation at the temple door, turning the pages of his epic and repeating the name, "Ram Ram".

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