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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.
Kabir Chaura Math Varanasi is a composite collection of the immortal memories of the 15th-century mystic Kabir. The highlight here is the Samadhi-Mandir, a temple where the mortal remains of the saint is kept. Kabir-Hut and Kabir Chabutara, two platforms where the saint used to talk to his followers, is another sight visited with reverence here. Beejak Temple, has a collection of Kabir's scriptures and Neeru Teela, has his parents' remains preserved in a temple-like atmosphere. The complex also has a library and sculptures around a beautifully curated garden. The atmosphere is serene and evokes an interest to go deeper into Kabir's teachings.
Part of the Man Mahal Palace which was built by the legendary Raja Man Singh, the Man Mandir Observatory was added in the 1730's by the equally gallant Sawai Jai Singh II. Till date, the ancient astronomical instruments have been well-preserved and provide an astonishing insight into how much our forefathers knew even centuries ago. Exquisite painted ceilings and palatial windows which double up as balconies are a big draw with visitors who are thrilled by the expansive views of the entire western and eastern banks of the Ganges that can be seen from the spacious terrace.
Ahilyabai Ghat has the distinction of being the first ghat named in honor of a person, namely, the warrior queen Ahilyabhai Holkar of Indore who actually built it in 1778 along with a number of temples and spiritual residences throughout the city of Varanasi. The best time to come here is in the morning when Indian worshipers take a holy dip in the river to cleanse themselves of sins in hope of attaining moksha.
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.
Situated between Manikarnika Ghat and Scindhia Ghat, The Sinking Temple is an arresting sight while walking through the ghats. This historic Shiva temple appears to be sinking into the river and has a rusty exterior and a rising dome. The perplexing stature of the temple is the result of a 19th-century renovation of the adjacent ghats; thanks to which it has become an attraction from then on. Manikarnika Kund, Dattatreya Paduka Mandir and Scindhia Guest House are nearby.
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.
Varanasi is rightly associated with being a city steeped in musical traditions, and what better place to pursue this than at the Shanti Niketan Institute of Music and Culture. Located along the tranquil Ram Ghat, this school offers both basic and advanced courses to those inclined towards Indian classical dance, vocals and musical instruments. It's not uncommon to bump into foreign students who spend long hours grasping the finer nuances of these fascinating art forms. Live concerts each evening are a common occurrence too so make sure to catch one of those while in the city!
Alternately known as Aurangzeb Mosque or Dharahara Mosque, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)- protected Alamgir Mosque enjoys a superb location along the relatively quieter Panchganga Ghat which is sacred to Hindu bathers. A steep climb will lead you up to one of Varanasi's most celebrated landmarks which pretty much defines the skyline with its spectacular brown minarets. Built by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb upon the site of the Bindu Madhava Temple, legend has it that this structure was actually much taller than its present state, and the Emperor enjoyed views all across to Delhi! While there is no way of verifying this, there remains no doubt that this mosque is a must-visit especially for its unusual architecture manifesting both Hindu and Mughal elements. Its proximity to the nearby Shri Laxmi Narayan Mandir and the newer Bindu Mahadev Temple reflects the co-existence of 2 major world religions - Hinduism and Islam.
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.