Varanasi: what's behind the spiritual capital of India?

Varanasi : que cache la capitale spirituelle de l’Inde ?

Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world and is considered the spiritual capital of India. Many Hindus come to end their days there to escape the circle of successive reincarnations. Varanasi (Benares) hides many wonders that beg to be discovered. Here is an overview of what Varanasi is hiding.

varanasi

A very old city

Varanasi is located in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. Spiritual capital, it is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism and one of the most important. It has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and for Hindus it is the center of the world. We come to immerse ourselves in the Ganges to purify ourselves.

What also marks the place is that the Hindus choose this city to come and die there. Cremations are continuous on the quays (ghats) of the Ganges, which can cause some discomfort among tourists.

It is still worth the effort to soak up the spiritual atmosphere of the place and its abundance. It's easy to get lost in the crowded and winding streets. Pilgrims flock there and practice their rituals. The Chowk, the heart of the city, is a veritable labyrinth. Assist to the ritual cremation is an opportunity for the visitor to reflect on the meaning of death.

Varanasi is chosen by the Hindus because the Ganges would transport their soul directly to paradise, no matter their karma. To fully understand the ritual, it is advisable to hire a guide who can explain what is going on. All the details of the ceremony have indeed a symbolic meaning. The ritual includes among others immersion in the Ganges, floral decorations and hair shaving.

The ghât

The eldest of the family must also bathe in the Ganges, dressed in white. It is he who asks that the eternal fire be used to burn the body of the deceased.

Boat trips are organized for visitors who want to observe the Ghats from the Ganges. The ghât Manikarnika is the city's main cremation site. The pyre burns day and night and is said to have been burning like this for millennia. The Man Mandir ghât is also worth mentioning since a large palace dating from 1600 is built there.

The ghats can also be traveled on foot, along a promenade of more than six kilometers. Five of these ghats are of particular prestige since five different gods once chose them to descend the steps to dive into the Ganges. Do not miss the ceremony of lights on the ghât Dashashwameh, the most sacred of Varanasi. .

Walking around the city is an opportunity to discover a very rich and ancient history. The Buddha delivered his sermon in the vicinity of the city, either at Sarnath. Varanasi is mentioned in the Hindu epics. Several times invaded and plundered, the city has always known how to rise from its ashes and welcome the faithful.

The name Varanasi would come from the names of two tributaries of the Ganges: la Varuna and Assi. The Varuna still flows in the city. The Assi is no more than a barely visible stream. Others claim that Varanasi is simply the old name of Varuna.

The Golden Temple

The Golden temple, or Golden Temple, is the most sacred temple in Varanasi. It is located within the Chowk, inside which you have to find your way. It is one of the most important temples of Hinduism. His real name is Vishwanath, a name which designates the ruler of the universe. Pilgrims come here to pay homage to Shiva, the disturbing god who is both creator and destroyer. You have to agree to stand in line for a long time to get inside the temple.

The Golden Temple has been destroyed several times. It has already been replaced by a mosque. The current building was inaugurated in 1777. During the feast of Mahashivaratri, the king of Kashi assumes the role of priest in charge of the ceremony at the temple. He is the only one authorized to enter the holy of holies. He must have completed his office before lifting this ban. This holiday is linked to history by Shiva, who would have united on this day with the goddess Parvati.

A city of prayer

Hindus come to Varanasi to pray there. The Mangala Aarti, a religious ceremony, takes place in the dead of night. So you have to get up at three in the morning to attend. The faithful take advantage of the office to bring their offerings. At dawn, they then come to purify themselves in the Ganges. The city has thousands of Hindu temples.

At dawn, the Hindus also prepare the deceased and their beds, on which they will be carried to the Ganges to enter directly into the hereafter. The bed is decorated with flowers, candles and other offerings to accompany the last path.

Modern life

festival of colors in india

Varanasi is home to the important headquarters of the Hindu University of Benares. It is one of the most prestigious residential universities in Asia. There is also the Bharat Kala Bhavan museum, famous for its imposing collection of Indian paintings. The artisans of the city are renowned for their know-how. Varasani is also famous for its silk factories, which the tourist can visit. The silk made there is appreciated around the world.

The city is very hot in the summer and you need to be prepared for it when you start your journey. From April to June, the temperature is around 40 degrees Celsius. The following months, the monsoon arrives. It is therefore not recommended to go there during this period. The rains are then very heavy until September. The period from October to February is the best time to travel to Varasani. The days are sunny and dry, with cool nights.

Many flights to India are offered at good prices. It is easy to reach the main cities of the country. It is easy to get to Varasani from Delhi. However, it can be long to reach Delhi city center by car due to traffic jams. It is recommended to take the train to Varasani. You have to be vigilant as there are several stations. From Delhi, it is possible to reach Varasani in eight hours.

The bus is not recommended for traveling to Varasani as it is hampered by traffic jams and it takes a long time to reach the destination. The offer for accommodation is plentiful and affordable to all budgets. It is best to find a place to stay directly in the Chowk to more easily reach the ghats and access ceremonies and temples without walking too long.

The Assi Ghât district, south of the Chowk, is located near interesting areas and has nice hotels. It is possible to find accommodation here without being too far from the main temples and ghats.

The festival of colors

At the spring equinox, it's time to celebrate Holi, the festival of colors. The party is dedicated to god krishna. Fires are lit on the first evening in honor of the demoness Holika, who was allegedly burnt by Vishnu. The next day, the party continues as celebrants dressed in white throw colorful pigments and water at each other. People also dance in the streets. Food is prepared for the occasion and consumed there is bhang, a drink made from cannabis.

The color of the pigments has a precise meaning. Green represents harmony, blue represents vitality, orange represents optimism, and red represents love. The festival breaks with the sacred atmosphere of the city since it is very playful. It is even said that members of lower castes have the right to insult representatives of more prestigious castes.

Sarnat

Very close to Varasani, the site of Sarnath is worth a detour since it is considered as the cradle of Buddha, who gave his first lessons there. The monastery was once very large, but only part of it remains. There is still the imposing Dhamek stupa, which dates from the sixth century. It is pierced with niches.

Not far from the site, a more modern temple was built, that of Mulagandha Kuty Viara. There is a gold replica of a Buddha. Beside him was planted a fig tree that would descend from the one near whom the Buddha experienced enlightenment. Plaster statues at his feet represent the sage giving his legendary sermon to his first disciples. They are the work of Burmese monks.

Once there, it is worth entering the Sarnath Archaeological Museum. Its centerpiece is a large sandstone capital titled Crowning of Ashoka Column. It is decorated with lions placed back to back. The work has been made the symbol of India. Several pieces of this museum are also remarkable.

 


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Asian Artisan Blog - Crafts, Culture and Traditions of China and Asia

10 livres interdits en Asie

Banned books in Asia

Wabi sabi : l’art japonais de la perfection et de l’imperfection

Perfect and imperfect art in Japan

Découvrez l’histoire et les secrets des geishas

Discover the history and secrets of geishas