Friday, 8 January 2016

Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world !!

  India has numerous cities that are  several centuries old. Steeped in religious belief and age old traditions, some of them are considered holy. In Hinduism, the aim of devotion to God is to lead a moral life by way of following the righteous path, so that a man may be free from the curses of cycle of birth and death - a journey that is beset with untold sufferings and misery. Materialism does not give happiness and such pleasures are transitory. For the Hindus, before their  final journey, in the twilight of their age, they must go on a pilgrimage  to Kasi (Varanasi) to conduct religious ceremonies  to their forefathers, before taking ever lasting rest in the grave. In by- gone days centuries ago, several  Indians used to go to  Varanasi in groups through the tough terrains, despite dangers such as wild animals, bandits, etc., to wash off their sins. Mostly they traveled by bullock carts or horse carts and on foot. It would take two to three months for the group to go there and return to their native place, depending on the distance and location.
Oldest city varanasi, UP, India

 "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together." 
                         ...........  Famous American author Mark Twain 1897), said of Varanasi.

Varanasi, also known as Benares,  lies on the banks of the River Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, India 121 miles from Allahabad  and, as historians world wide agree, it is one of 'the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.' Way back,  it was known by different names like  Anandakanana,  Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, Kashi etc.

Starting from Raja Satya Harishchandra to the Scientific dating of the Ramayana, it is agreed Varanasi's age is  not less than  8000 years; Being  the birth place of  Buddhism, Varanasi  is the place  where  Gautama Buddha gave his  first  sermon to  his disciples. It is also a holy place for Jains because three thirthankaras (holy saints) of Jainism were born here. Kashi Vishwanatha, which is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga, and also one of the 52 Shakti Peethas of Hinduism is an important holy place for the Hindus. Varanasi is  also an important industrial center, well-known for  its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture.

The following are the interesting facts:

 01. From Archaeological evidence of the earliest known settlements around Varanasi in the Ganges valley, it is strongly believed, the city   began in the 11th or 12th century BC,  placing it among the world's oldest continually inhabited cities. However, an age of  1800 BC is suggested by the recent excavations at Aktha and Ramnagar, two sites very near to Varanasi.
An illustration (1890) of Bathing Ghat in Varanasi. /

 02. It was  only after the visit of  Adi Shankara  of Kaladi, Kerala, founder of Dwaidtha philosophy, who   established the worship of Shiva as an official sect of Varanasi,  the city became more popular destination for devout Hindus.

03. It is just mind-boggling that there are roughly  23,000 temples in Varanasi and surrounding places. Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva, the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, and the Durga Temple are quite famous and are visited by people in thousands.

The 15.5 meter tall temple spire and the dome of  Kashi Vishwanatha Temple are plated with 1000 kg of gold donated in 1835  by the Sikh Maharajah Ranjit Singh of Punjab (who was a world class batsman and in whose name  first class cricket matches are held very year among the top  teams. He also played for the English Test team.

 04. Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC; - his first sermon, "The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma", at nearby Sarnath.

 05. Varanasi was the centre of activity for Hindu intellectuals and theologians during the Middle Ages, even  the Muslim ruler further contributed to its reputation as a cultural centre of religion and education.

 06. Under the  Secular Mogul ruler Akbar, two large temples  dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu came up here. 

 07. Several Gurus, who propagated  Bhakti (devotion) movement, were born in Varanasi, including Kabir and Ravidas. A trip made by Guru Nanak Dev to Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507 changed his entire approch to spiritual awakening  which  ultimately led him to found  Sikhism  in the 16th century.

 08. Being the spiritual capital of India, it is the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism as discussed before.

 09. As for the British India history, in 1857, the British Army  resorted to the most heinious crime by committing  massacre of Indian troops and city dwellers  during the early stages of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. 

 10. During the  East India company rule,  the British Governor-General Warren Hastings,  and  Jonathan Duncan founded a Sanskrit College in Varanasi in 1867. which was very much appreciated by William Jones, polyglot and lover of Sanskrit.

 11. Annie Besant, a highly spirited Irish woman who adopted India her home and one of founders of Indian national Congress,  started the Central Hindu College,  and this later  laid the foundation for the creation of Banaras Hindu University in 1916, one of the largest residential university in Asia today.

 11. In 1867,  the Varanasi Municipal Board was formed and this  led to marked  improvements in the city's infrastructure and basic amenities of health services, drinking water supply and sanitation  

 12. The city produces about 350,000,000 litres (77,000,000 imp gal; 92,000,000 US gal) per day of sewage and 425 tonnes (418 long tons; 468 short tons) per day of solid waste.  The solid wastes are disposed in one landfill site.

 13. Water pollution of the Ganges is a major problem because of the presence of so many bathing ghats and near- by cremation grounds. Despite Government warning, the visiting tourists in thousands pollute the
surrounding. Both central and state governments have plans to  sort out the  water pollution problems and clean the Ganges.

14. As many cities world  over are plagued by unwanted elements, the holy city of Varanasi has some eye sores that need serous attention. Some fake Sadhus and Agories, using religion as an excuse get a bad name for the city by smoking Ganja and using hallucinating drugs, etc. Some of them go round  a particular part of the city almost naked. They are actually hobos,  having  no  family commitments. Yet another  sorry and nauseating  spectacle is  people burn the corpses  on  the cremation  ghats  and  down  them  in  the  river
something  that  is  beyond  the  realm  of comprehension. The religion does nor preach this kind of practice. They are just blots on the true spirit of Hinduism.