Masaan. Laga Chunri Mein Daag. Satyajit Roy’s ‘Jay Baba Felunath’, Chetan Bhagat’s –Revolution 2020 and Coldplay’s ‘Hymn For The Weekend’. There is something strikingly common among all these. The first two are the names of two famous Bollywood movies from two different decades, third one is the one of the best movies helmed by the Oscar winning and legendary film maker Satyajit Roy, next-the best selling novel of Chetan Bhagat, and the last one is the most popular music video from Coldplay-An American Music Band, which has been enthralling millions of people all over the world with their soothing and soulful music.
But what is it that connects all of these different genres in one string? No prize for guessing. It is the holy abode of Benaras or Varanasi that has grabbed the centre stage in each of the above art forms and cemented their place in history.
One may wonder what is so magical and unique about this city that has been luring throng of writers
What makes this ancient city so
“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.
There are multiple legends and folklores associated with Benaras. Legend has it, the great Varanasi was founded by none other than Lord Shiva and it is in Varanasi that Lord Shiva stood with Goddess Durga when time started ticking for the first time ever.
According to some other legends, Varanasi was the site of great dispute between Brahma and Vishnu. They resorted to Vedas to decide who was greater between them.
But to their dismay they found Lord Shiva as the ultimate destroyer, the supreme. And as the two Gods- Brahma and Vishnu stood there arguing, a huge column of fire originated from Varanasi and split the Earth into two.
Astounded, Brahma and Vishnu decided to determine the origin and extent of this luminous pillar. Vishnu went and explored the depths of the nether worlds as a boar and Brahma mounted his goose and tried to fly to the top of the pillar.
Despite their efforts, neither could reach the end of this incredible beam of light. When they returned to Varanasi, Shiva emerged from the light beam to meet them. They both realized that Shiva was the greatest.
Last year I had the opportunity to visit Varanasi with my family and as expected I was struck by the mysticism of this holy pilgrimage of Hindus, I was struck by the awesomeness of the culture and Here in this article I will be listing down the things that fascinated me the most.
- Alleys of Varanasi:
As we reached Varanasi station and descended from the train to get to my hotel, it seemed almost like any other North Indian city, congested, roads being blocked by throng of cows and bulls, chaos among people and Multinational retailer stores lined along side the road.
But real surprise awaited us when the driver dropped us off in front of an alley and said-“ Gadi aur nehi ja sakte. Ab paidal chalna padega.”( Car can not proceed anymore, you have to walk to your hotel on foot). Loaded with our backpacks we followed our guide and Bang.
We were in another world within minutes. A world of narrow alleys. Alleys that seemed almost like crypts, alleys that reeked of smell of Ancient India, that was devoid of any 21 st century features. Every few meters, and you could spot a sadhu wrapped in saffron or ash taking pulps from his ganja or meditating with his legs folded. Occasionally you could find some small temples also which do not have any existence in Google map.
As we were making way through the alley, sometimes it became tougher to accommodate even two people in a row, it felt out of the world to make even a move in those narrow alleys without having the fear of bumping into some other passerby coming from the opposite direction.
Add with that the plight of making space for fiery
Rather it is better to blindly follow your guide and soak in the ‘out of the world’ experience as much as you can. But to our surprise, we became adept in commuting in those alleys within days and it presented to us the real Varanasi, the Varanasi that is unique in its own way. So if you want to explore and discover the real Varanasi, visiting the alleys is a must.
- Kashi Biswanath Temple:
Biswanath Temple, dedicated to the great Lord Shiva, is one of the biggest attractions of Varanasi. Such is the greatness of this temple, that offering your prayers to Shiva in Biswanath temple is a must if you visit Varanasi.
This temple has been synonymous with practicing the Shaiva
Destroyed once by the Mughal emperor
Hindus from around the world try to visit the temple at least once in their lifetime – the belief being that the temple darshan and a dip in the Ganges will lead a devotee to salvation.
- Ganges and the Ghats:
Dashaswamedh, among them is the most popular one attracting thousands of tourists and devotees all over the world. Mythologically this ghat has great significance. According to one legend, Lord Brahma created this ghat to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses in a yajna here.
Watching the Sandhya Arti performed by priests in the evening is another lifetime experience that one should not miss. Thousands of devotees participating in the ‘Kirtan’ to offer their good wishes and thanks to Ganges, is no doubt a majestic sight to behold.
We stayed there for one good week. And while we were bidding audieu to this holy place, I got my answer to the question- What does Varanasi offer that no city can?
Varanasi offers us a deep insight into ancient and mystic India that is fading fast in other parts of our country falling victim to the advanced requirements of 21st century. It makes us believe, if we want , we can save our culture, save our heritage and still win the heart of the world.
And that’s why Varanasi is unique. That’s where its secret lies.