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Banares aka Kasi and Varanasi the holiest city of the Hindus - III

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But Banares is not only temples and ghats.

Kasi has always been identified with Vedas and Sanskrit. It was a center of learning. It still continues to be center of Vedic learning. There are a large number of maths from all over India. And many of them have their own Veda Patasala. The Aarti in Viswanath temple reverberates with Vedic Agosham. In fact the terms the Pundits of Benares is true today as it has been for thousands of years. People came to Benares for studying Sanskrit and Vedas.

And the number of Sannyasis here. More than anywhere in the world. You have the headquarters of major Mutts like the Dhandi Math (all the sannyasis of this math carry a dhanda like what the Sankaracharyas carry.) But here it does not represent any official power. They are only Dhandi Sannyasis.

Kasi used to overflow with sadhus and sannyasis for a long time. The number is reduced now. I saw fewer sadhus compared to the number I saw twenty five years back.

You need a Guru. Vedic or Tantrik. Take a trip to Kasi and if you search sincerely you will get a guru. That is how it was. Though it is not as good now still your chances of finding a Guru here is higher than any place in India. Kasi was a Beacon of Hindu spirituality.

Since ancient times people have been coming to Varanasi to learn philosophy, Sanskrit, astrology, social science and religious teachings. In Indian tradition, Varanasi is often called "Sarva Vidya Ki Rajdhani" (capital of knowledge).

The Sanskrit college here was established in 1791. After independence this became Sampurnanand Sanskrit University.

Benares Hindu University (1916) was founded by Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya with the cooperation of Dr Annie Besant.

Talking about Sanskrit, many of the old books in Sanskrit were published in Kasi. The Chowkamba series of Sanskrit books are well known. You can depend on them for correctness. Now we have a number of publishers from all over U.P. Still it is heartening to note that Chowkamba still continue the tradition. There are now three of them probably due to property division. Please visit the Chowkamba Book Stall in Benares. Now they are stocking not only their own books, but also books published in India and abroad about different aspects of Hinduism. A sloka book, a book giving the details of performing the different samskaras, a copy of the Rudra Yamala Tantra, Krishna Yajur Veda. You have them all here. Sannyasis and research scholars mix here in buying books. Keep at least an hour for the Book stall to browse through their collection.

A holy city, Varanasi does not take a backseat when it comes to fine arts and literature. Great Indian writers have lived in this city from Kabir, Ravi Das, Tulsidas who wrote much of his Ramayana here, Kulluka Bhatt who wrote the best known commentary of Manu here in 15th century and Bharatendu Harishchandra. Later writers have been Jayshankar Prasad, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, and others.

Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery, also lived in Varanasi.

Benares Gharana:

Benares has always been famous for Hindustani music. The Benares Gharana has produced many famous musicians like Pt. Omkarnath Thakur,P t. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Dr. Lalmani Misra and his son Dr. Gopal Shankar Misra, Dr. N. Rajam, Dr. Rajbhan Singh, Pt. Anokhelal, Pt. Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, Pt. M. V. Kalvint, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna, Pt. Kishan Maharaj, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mahadev Mishra and numerous others.

Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan, a devotee of Saraswati and Lord Vishwanath , regularly played at the Vishwanath Temple.

Numerous festivals are celebrated that preserve traditional styles of classical and folk culture. All night, open music concerts like ones organised at Sankat Mochan Temple, Hori, Kajri and Chaiti Mela, Budwa Mangal, are annual features that draw connoisseurs from all over the world.

Other than these festivals concerts are held frequently in places along the ghats. Please enquire.

Did you notice a Tamil Brahmin in the list. Dr. N. Rajam. Padmabhushan Smt. N. Rajam. A famous violinist. She switched over from Carnatic music to Hindustani Music.


The city was connected by a single road from Taxila going through Pataliputra during the Mauryan empire.

Taxila where Chanakya is reported to have studied . A center of Hindu learning.


This road was later renovated and extended by Sher Shah Suri during the 16th century and later came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road.

Benares Silk:

Banares is famous for Silk sarees. No self respecting Bride in North India would be seen in anything but a Benaresi Silk saree on the Wedding day. There are places all over the city selling these. There are also thousand of brokers who harass you with offers. Test the silk with flame test. The shopwallh will gladly do it for you. And they are expensive.

Benarasi Lassi:

Benares is famous for its Lassi. It is served in earthen pots. It is simply out of this world. Check up Chowk near Gowdolia. The best Lussi shops. This is the place where the Chowkamba bookstall is also located.

Benaresi Pan:

Benaresi Pan has been widely known all over India. The betal leaves used in this Pan is different from the one used in South India. The variety used in South India is green. Rest of India uses dark green. Try it. But tell the pan wallah that you do not want Jharda (Tobacco). There are connoisseurs in this Pan business. My Bihari friends hold long conversations with the panwala about how it should be made. According to them it is an art. You remember the Pan Benarasiwala song?

I have written this for two reasons.

1. It feels like going back to Benares. I love the city. Once had an idea of spending 6 months every year there. But I have given it up because the Ghats are too crowded now and not suitable for Meditation on all the days.

2. Tamil Brahmins seem to consider Benares as a city only for Pithru Karyam. Though Pitru Karyam is important, that is not the only thing about Benares. Benares represents Hinduism, its history and culture. It has kept the tradition alive and will keep it alive till the end of time.

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