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.
Varanasi, one of the ancient cities in the world, is famous for its rich heritage of art and culture. Naach Ghar, literally meaning house of dance, is a prominent entertainment venue that is located in the Cantonment area. The highlight of the venue is the daily staging of dance performances. The place proves to be a good platform for upcoming talents.
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.
A very prominent cultural venue in the holy city, Nagari Natak Mandali is a class apart. The white imposing structure, with a majestic feel to it has classical music concerts as its major attraction. Varanasi, a city immersed in several classical traditions has no dearth of concerts and musical festivals. The place is one among the many venues that host the 'Sankat Mochan Festival', an annual musical feast of the famous Hanuman Temple.
Nestled in the heart of the buzzing Maheshpur town, Godowlia Market is swarming with local traders selling all kinds of stuff at great bargains. Found at a short distance from the nearest railway station, it is labeled as one of the busiest open markets of the city, and quite rightly so. The cramped lanes are packed with stalls selling household essentials, ethnic jewelry, handmade shawls and zari garments, among other intricately designed apparel. Post a tiring shopping spree at Godowlia, one may choose the visit the serene Kashi Temple lying a few blocks ahead.
A bustling market in the heart of the holy city, Vishwanath Gali is where you can find all things local and traditional. While the market largely caters to pilgrims headed to the nearby Kashi Vishwanath Temple, it is also buzzing with a number of shops that sell Banarasi sarees, dress materials, religious books, statues and jewelry. Particularly popular with foreign tourists are brass items and the Rudraksha mala.