Named after Varuna, the Vedic god of water and the sea, this river is a small tributary of the mighty Ganges. The river flows into the Ganges at the northern side of Varanasi, and there are believable theories that the city got its name because of the convergence of two rivers Varuna and Assi. This small and gentle river carves a simple landscape in the northern neighborhoods of the city before reaching out for the confluence.
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.
The holy city's Banaras Art Gallery is a thriving fine art exposition space established in the year 1988. Set up to promote the vibrant culture and illustrious heritage of the city, it supports various modern as well as tribal artistes of the region. Art lovers can explore myriad art works depicting Varanasi in various forms and portrayals. The gallery also runs the PUNARWAS art program in a bid to provide a successful platform to emerging artistes.
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.
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.
One of the most prominent sites in Sarnath, where Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, the original structure of Dhamek Stupa was built in 249 BCE by emperor Asoka. This structure was later replaced in 500 CE. Still withstanding some parts of the original build, this is a stunning sight and visited by pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the world. Beautiful stone carvings are visible at the base of this massive 43.6 meter (143.044 feet) structure, which was much taller in its original form. Part of the complex of Ancient Remains, the adjacent compound has a Jain Temple. Archeological Museum, Deer Park and Modern Reception Center are also nearby.
Offering spiritual insights into self transformation, Prajapita Brahmakumari Ishwariya Vishwavidyalaya is spread in 94 countries. Based on Raja Yoga Meditation, they preach a value based world and its prospective benefits. The museum inside has brought together various religious principles under one roof and inventively tries to communicate the message of universal oneness. Located nearby is the Ancient Ruins and the Vajra Vidya Monastery.
Legend has it that the 11th Jain Tirthankara named Shreyanshnath was born here at the Shri Digambar Jain Mandir which lies right to the southwest of the Dhamek Stupa. This temple attracts not just Jains but also Buddhists from India and South East Asia, as well as Hindu pilgrims who make a day-trip from Varanasi. Built in 1824, the temple exudes a peaceful exuberance that matches the serenity of the ancient Sarnath precincts.
Run by a city local named Monu, Monu Tours organizes, bout tours, tuk tuk tours, car tours and walking tours for those keen to explore the sacred city's rich culture and heritage. Boat trips usually happen during sunset or sunrise and take visitors through the beautiful and serene Ganges. Walking and tuk tuk tours let one visit the various markets, temples and the Ghats, rightly labeled as the soul of the city. During each of these tours, visitors also get to devour local grub served at food stalls dotting various narrow lanes and streets.
The mythological intersection of creation and destruction, the Manikarnika Kund is as intriguing as the numerous other aspects of this mysterious city. This historic well symbolizes creation, and the cremation ghat next to it is all about death. This large rectangular structure, with surrounding steps, is believed to be created by Lord Vishnu. Lot of pilgrims can be spotted taking a bath here after performing the rituals of cremation. It is also said to be lucky for couples to take a bath together in this well.
A living monument of India's rich spiritual tradition, Satuwa Baba Ashram, the residence of Satuwa Baba Maharaji, is located at the Manikarnika Ghat along the shores of holy river Ganges. With a backing of over 400 years of history, this place is visited by people from all over the world. The place has shrines of Krishna and Radha, and Lord Shiva. There are facilities inside the ashram for training young minds with a Vedic (Hindu Scriptures) inclination. The beautiful garden and the serene setting here is contrasting to the general loud nature of the city. Do visit and take a little from the unending pool of spiritual wisdom.