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If there was ever a word to describe the concept and layout of Bharat Mata Mandir, it is INIMITABLE. This one isn't an ode to the legacies of Laxmi, Shiva, Ganesha, Hanuman or Ram; it is the ultimate tribute to Mother India (Bharat Mata). Upon entering, one is stunned into silence with the sunken-level three-dimensional relief map of undivided India, carved from marble and with every proportion in place. The range of Himalayas protruding upwards particularly catches the eye, so do the smaller mountain ranges and oceans along the west coast. Brainchild of the artistic duo of Babu Shiv Prashad Gupta and Shri Durga Prashad Khatri, this matchless work of art was built in 1936 and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi.
Carving one of the world's mostly populated river beds, River Ganges, believed to be arising directly from Lord Shiva's head, is the holy mother for North India. The ancient city of Varanasi is one of the most prolific gifts of this stunning river which ranks top among the world's big rivers in the amount of water discharge. The 7 kilometer (4.34 mile) stretch of the ghats along River Ganges is a major site of sacred rituals in Hindu tradition; Dasashwamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat being the most popular. Originating from Himalayan glaciers, this river is considered as one of the largest in India and surely is a ravishing sight in spite of the devouring pollution.
Pointing to a time when horse sacrifice was common, the translation of the name Dasashwamedh says 'the place where ten horses were sacrificed'. Hindu mythology says the creator Brahma did a sacrifice here to let Lord Shiva get back to Varanasi; and thus it is one of the most auspicious sites for Hindus all over the world. This is the site of the stunning Ganga Aarti, which is performed daily on the raised platforms on the ghat with seven priests doing choreographed ritualistic offerings to mother Ganga. Considered as the most important ghat along the banks of Ganga, a large number of guesthouses and restaurants are located around the area. The main burning ghat, Manikarnika is towards the north. One of the most ancient sites in the city, Dasaswamedh Ghat is a legendary sight filled with tourists and pilgrims.
According to Hindu tradition, people cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat after death will be freed from the chain of life and death. That explains the chaos, mystery, indifference, noise and everything surrounding this area which is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva. The name Manikarnika goes back to the story where Shiva dropped his earrings at the well here during his transcendental dance and it came to know as Manikarnika Kund. The cremations take place without break and fills the air with the smell of burning flesh which is surprisingly not repulsive. Foreigners from all around the globe watch the activities here with much intrigue and the locals take it with compassion though not without a fragment of disdain. The apparent indifferent face of death is reinforced with the underlying philosophy of material transition and is something that has to be experienced.
The exalted Kashi Vishwanath Temple finds itself mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures, and was actually built in 490 CE but fell prey to successive demolitions by the Mughal invaders all through the centuries. The present temple was built in 1790 by the warrior queen Ahilyabhai Holkar who was aggrieved by the wanton destruction of age-old sacred structures. Hindus believe that a dip in the river Ganges and a visit to this temple serves to break free from the cycle of rebirth. Also referred to as Golden Temple because of the spire which was made from pure gold donated by Maharaja Ranjith Singh, this temple is a must-visit. The main deity here is a black lingam upon which devotees pour blessed water. Foreigners have to register their passports to enter the premises as security has been beefed up in recent years due to the looming terrorist threat. Mobile phones, cameras and bags of all visitors have to be deposited at any of the shops that line the entrance, while police urge crowds to hurry and keep moving. The experience is most intense, intriguing and divine.
Ghats are a series of steps that lie along the banks of a river. In the city of Varanasi, life revolves around these sacred steps because here is where pilgrims take a dip in the River Ganges to wash away a lifetime of sins. While some ghats are more subdued than the others which are colorful, prominent and backed by magnificent sandstone buildings, all of them have an equally intriguing story to tell. Tourists mostly tend to traverse between Panchganga Ghat in the north and Assi Ghat in the south, however there are many beyond these. A fascinating kaleidoscope of human activity awaits you here - women washing clothes, pilgrims taking a dip, cattle cooling off, dogs scouring the area for food, young boys playing cricket or diving into the river, funeral pyre flames rising into the skies ceaselessly, dread-locked sadhus meditating, boatmen soliciting customers, vendors selling flowers and Western tourists filming this Carnival of Life that plays out day-after day in this City of Shiva.
Believed to be set upon the confluence of 5 sacred rivers namely Ganga, Saraswati, Yamuna, Kirana and Dhutapapa, the Panchganga Ghat is relatively quieter than its counterparts but this makes it no less special. One of India's most venerated poets Tulsidas put together his masterpiece Vinay-Patrikahere right here. Several thousand years later not much has changed and one often finds pilgrims taking a holy dip in the river during full moon nights - this makes for a unforgettable spectacle! Easily identified even from afar by the looming outline of the Alamgir Mosque, Panchganga serves as one of the main entrances to the aforesaid mosque, the Bindu Madhava Temple, Shri Matha and Shri Laxmi Narayan Temple.
This rectangular pond beside the Durga Temple and Anand Bagh Park is a major land mark in the holy city of Varanasi. Landscaped by the the supreme aesthetics of the Durga temple, Durga Kund is visually appealing. The reflection of the stunning red structure of the temple bestows charm to the water in the pond which is otherwise dull. Built in the 18th Century by a Queen of Bengal, the pond was once used by devotees for a dip.
This is the unofficial yet lionized home of long-term backpackers, researchers and students who have chosen to stay on for extended periods of time in Varanasi. The southernmost ghat on the long stretch of ghats, life at Assi is as indulgent as the water buffaloes who wallow around for hours on end in the Ganges. Despite its distance from the main burning ghats, travelers head here for a break from the intrusive touts, guides, fake holy men, beggars, boat men, masseurs and even children who participate with great fervor in the contrived chaos. Assi has a large Jewish community and this is reflected through the hotels and cafes with names such as Haifa and Yafah which serve up typically Middle Eastern dishes like hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush and kawwah (Arabic Coffee). Assi Ghat has been mentioned in the ancient Indian Vedic texts and commands the respect of Indian pilgrims too who arrive here in boats or on foot for a holy dip.
Mark Twain described Varanasi as 'older than history, older than tradition, older than legend'; this epitomizes the inspirations and experiences this ancient city offers to any visitor that graces its sacred streets. The seat of Hinduism, believed to be directly governed by the supreme deity Lord Shiva Himself, it is also the site where one seeks moksha, or liberation from the endless cycle of life and death. At the holy riverfront of the sacred Manikarnika Ghat, publicly-held cremation ceremonies reinforce this timeless belief. The scenic stretch of steps, also known as the Dashashwamedh Ghat, on the banks of the mythical River Ganges, outlines the deeply iconic legacy of Varanasi. As the sun sets on this holy city, the ghat comes alive with religious rituals that awaken and stir even the most non-religious of souls. The city returns to a state of calm soon after, until the first rays of the sun render it alive again. Several historic monuments that tremble with divinity dot its streets,from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Sankat Mochan Temple, to Bharat Mata Mandir the Buddhist site of Sarnath (a few kilometers away). Varanasi, with its narrow alleyways, saffron-robed Godmen, atmospheric ghats and a cornucopia of smells is a splendid milieu of sought-after chaos.
Started as a small collection in 1917, the Central Library of the Banaras Hindu University has grown into its present status with generous donations from Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda in 1941. The library, presently housed in a majestic building, has a comprehensive collection of books, research journals and study materials. The library offers a lending facility for the students of the university and visitors have to pay a fees to access the reference section. Set in a beautiful green landscape, Sayaji Rao Gaekwad Library evokes a persistent atmosphere of well being and knowledge seeking.
Located 13 kilometers (8 miles) away from the holy city of Varanasi, Sarnath is a major site of Buddhist pilgrimage. The deer park here is believed to be the location where Gautama Buddha gave his first lecture after attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya. Also known as Isipatana, the major sight here are the ruins of historic Buddhist establishments mostly destructed by Muslim invasion. Dhamek Stupa, is another conspicuous sight inside this stunning archeological complex. The Archeological Museum and the base of the famous Ashoka Pillar are also things not to miss in Sarnath.The location is bestowed with a lot of Tibetan, Burmese and Chinese monasteries which interests visitors with their distinctive architecture and layout. A small number of guesthouses and restaurants are also available in the area.