History of Varanasi
Varanasi, a most famous and oldest inhabited city of the world, originally known as the Kashi (Kashi word was derived from the ‘Kasha’ which means the brightness). Varanasi is renowned by many names, some of are Brahma Vardha, Anandakanana, Avimuktaka, Mahasmasana, Kasi, Sudarsana, Surandhana and Ramya. Currently Kashi is known by the name Varanasi which was derived from the two tributaries of the holy River Gange named Varuna and Assi. Kashi is situated at the banks of the Holy River Ganges in the Uttar Pradesh state of India.
Varanasi city is the center of a variety of cultural and religious activities of the Northern India including learning, literature and art from years. It is also known as the city of God as it is considered that it was manufactured by the Lord Shiva. It is the center for origination of the Hindustani classical music from Benares Gharana. It is the birth place and work place for many Indian philosophers, poets, writers, musicians and other great personalities. It is the place where Gautama Buddha has given his first sermon at the holy place named Sarnath.
Location of the Kashi
It is located in the North India in the middle valley of Gange, in the east part of the UP state and around 320 kilometres southeast to the Lucknow. It is situated about 797 km towards southeast of the New Delhi, 121 km towards east of Allahabad and 63 km towards south of Jaunpur. It is considered that people make a panch koshi parikrama between the Varuna and Assi ghat (a five mile, 8.3 km distance) which ended at the Sakshi Vinayak Temple.
According to the Hinduism and Jainism, Kashi is the most holy city of the seven sacred cities. It is believed by the Hindus that one who dies in the Varanasi will get salvation from the cycle of birth and death and finally intermingled in to the Lord Shiva.
It has become the most famous place for tourism in India because of its culture, tradition, sightseeings, attractive places, ghats, fairs, festivals and temples. Many of its old temples have been destroyed decades ago in the 12th century in the time of the Muslim King Mohammad Ghauri. The current temples and other religious places in Kashi are of 18th century.
King of Kashi
The King of Kashi, Kashi Naresh, become the chief guest and organizer of all the cultural as well as religious celebrations of the Varanasi city. The culture of Varanasi is very old and religious, which is intimately connected with the Gange River.
From the eighteenth century, Varanasi became an independent Kingdom of Kashi. Kashi Naresh’s generations still lives in the fort of the Ramanagar. It is situated at the east of the Varanasi at the right bank of the River Ganges. This Fort was built by the Kashi Naresh “Raja Balwant Singh” in the eighteenth century.
The Ramnagar fort and its museum tell the true history of the kings of Benares. The king of Ramnagar was the chief cultural patron and known as the essential part of all religious celebrations of Hindus.
The modern Varanasi was built at the time of Rajput and Maratha kings. The kings of Varanasi were continued to be important through much of the British rule including the maharaja of Benares, or Kashi Naresh until independence of India and during the reign of the Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh. Anant Narayan Singh, the son of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, became the next king of the Benares after his father death.
It is the most cultural and spiritual capital of the India which is renowned for having the largest residential University of Asia Benares Hindu University. It is the holy city where the most famous Hindu Epic Ramcharitmanas was written by the Goswami Tulsidas. People often say the Varanasi by the name city of temples, the holy city of India, the religious capital of India, city of lights, city of classical music, city of learning and oldest living city on the earth as well.
The Etymology of Varanasi
The origin of the name of Varanasi is behind the names of two rivers, the Varuna and the Assi. The old speculation about its origin is that the river Varuna itself was known as Varanasi. With the time passes, the Varanasi was known as Avimuktaka, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Anandakanana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi.
According to the Rigveda, Varanasi was referred as Kasi or Kashi. The Varanasi is known as the centre of learning, literature, art as well as culture. The glory of the city has been described in the Kasikhand in 15,000 verses in the Skanda Purana.
The God Shiva says, in the ancient, Varanasi city was founded by the Hindu deity the Lord Shiva which makes it one of the most important and old pilgrimage destinations in the India. There was a general belief that the Varanasi stands on the “The Trishool” (also known as Trident), the weapon of the Lord Shiva. The name of the city is mentioned in many Hindu scriptures such as the Rigveda, Skanda Purana, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata.
Varanasi is around 3000 years old city in the world. It is the most famous city for its muslin, silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and various sculptures. It is also known as the center of most religious and artistic activities. Some of the historical figures of the 18th century of Varanasi are Parshva, some of the earliest and 23rd Jain Tirthankara who lived in the Varanasi. Earliest (at the time of Gautama Buddha), Varanasi was the capital of Kashi Kingdom. Varanasi city is famous for its religious importance from the 8th century when Adi Shankara was started worshiped as a Lord Shiva.
Varanasi was ruled by the Muslim ruler Qutb-ud-din Aibak who had destroyed thousands of the temples and religious monuments in the year 1194. Thousands years later, after the Afghan invasion, some new temples were established in the 13th century. Some of the other old temples were also destroyed by the rulers in the year 1496. Even after facing such difficulties, Varanasi has maintained its honor as a cultural center of the religion and education. Varanasi has been lead by the most popular personalities such as the Kabir Das, Ravidas who were the superior saints and poets of the Bhakti of the 15th Century. Guru Nanak Dev (founder of the Sikhism) had visited the Varanasi at the religious festival, Shivratri in the year 1507.
Cultural importance of the Varanasi was improved greater around 16th century during the time of the Mughal emperor, Akbar. Some new temples of the Lord Shiva and Vishnu were built by the Akbar. One of the temples of the Goddess Annapurna was made by the king of Poona. In the 18th century, tourism in the city has started by the people.
Varanasi is told (by the Mark Twain, a famous Indophile) as the older than history, older than tradition and legend. A great legend, Annie Besant, had worked in the Varanasi and promoted the theosophy as well as established the Central Hindu College which was later developed as the big university named Benaras Hindu University in 1916.