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What to see in Varanasi

what to see in Varanasi

“At the bottom of the plain where the old Ganges flows, from the bottom of the immense plain of mud and grass that the vapors of the night still mist, the eternal sun has just arisen and, like every day since three thousand years, he encounters there in front of him, arresting his first pink ray, the granites of Benares, the red pyramids, the golden spikes, the whole holy city erected like an amphitheater, as if eagerly seizing the initial light, adorning itself with morning glory.

And here, it is the hour, par excellence; it is, since the beginning of the Brahmanic ages, the consecrated hour, the hour of the great religious life and of the great prayer. Benares suddenly pours onto its river all its people, all its flowers, all its garlands, all its birds, all its beasts. By the granite stairs, at this apparition of the sun, there is a joyful collapse of all that has just awakened, of all that has received from Brahma a soul, human or obscure". India (without the English), Pierre Loti, 1903.

Varanasi (formerly Benares) is one of the oldest cities in the world. What to see in Varanasi is mostly on the gaths, stone steps descending into the river Ganges allowing Hindu devotees to perform their ablutions and prayers (puja).

the gaths of varanasi


They are the essentials of Benares, the heart of the city, where everything happens. Hundreds of stairs, small or large, descending into the Ganges river and which appear or disappear according to the fluctuations of the level of the river. Each "ghat" is marked with a "lingam" (symbol of Shiva) and occupies a very special place in the religious geography of the city. Some have collapsed over the years while others continue to thrive.

Daily, especially at dawn, the ghats are bustling with a steady stream of pilgrims and visitors, bathers and priests offering pujas (prayers), and those practicing meditation and yoga. Hindus consider the Ganges as the elixir of life which brings purity to the living (bathing in the Ganges is supposed to wash away all sins) and salvation to the dead (cremations take place there almost 24 hours a day).

Arti ceremony on the Ganges


Every day at dusk, a powerful and uplifting spiritual ritual takes place on the gaths of Varanasi. It is the ceremony of Arti, a ritual of devotion to the goddess Ganga who uses fire as an offering.

The Arti takes place facing the river. It is performed by a group of young pandits (Hindu priests), all draped in saffron-colored robes with their puja trays spread out in front of them. After blowing into a conch shell, they wave incense sticks in elaborate gestures and form circles using large flaming lamps. The movement of the lamps held by the pundits is closely synchronized with the rhythmic chanting of hymns and the clanking of cymbals. The heady scent of sandalwood deeply pervades the air.

Sarnath close to Varanasi


It was here that Buddha came to give his first sermon after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya.

In the 3rd century BC. J.-C., the emperor Ashoka made set up magnificent stupas and monasteries, as well as an engraved pillar. When the Chinese traveler Xuan Zang passed through it in 640 AD. JC, Sarnath had a stupa 100 meters high and 1500 monks occupied the large monasteries. However, soon after Buddhism declined, and when Muslim invaders sacked the city at the end of the 12th century, Sarnath disappeared completely. The site was "rediscovered" by British archaeologists in 1835.

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