1. Sarnath


(a) Dhamek Stupa

Dhamek Stupa which is also spelled as Dhamekh and Dhamekha is one of the most famous and Buddhist stupas located in Sarnath near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India. Originally built in 249 BCE during the reign of king Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty, this massive and prominent structure has over time gone through several expansions and additions. This solid cylindrical shaped Stupa made of red bricks and stone in its present position stands at a height of 43.6 m with a diameter of 28 m. The significance of this sacred place is that it marks the spot where Lord Buddha preached the first sermon to His five disciples after attaining enlightenment in Bodh Gaya. Buddhist pilgrims from around the world visit Sarnath to circumambulate the holy Stupa and worship Lord Buddha. National and international tourists also flock at Sarnath to get a glimpse of Buddhist architecture and culture at this significant centre of Buddhism.


(b) Dharmrajika Stupa

The Dharmarajika stupa, built by the emperor Ashoka to enshrine the Buddha’s relics, is situated at a short distance of Dhamek stupa(the spot where Buddha gave first sermon) in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. Standing high on a circular base, the original stupa was enlarged during the Gupta’s period, which again when destroyed by repeated foreign invasions of India, got reconstructed in the British era. Having faced several ups and downs with a passage of time, today the Dhararajika stupa is one of the one of the holiest structures venerated by the Buddhists.


(c) Mulagandha Kuti Vihar

Mulagandha Kuti Vihar has a distinct architecture which is very different from that of the other temples. This is because the temple is a more recent addition, constructed by Maha Bodhi society in 1931. The temple is very impressive boasting detailed design and patterns in its interiors; it also has beautiful murals and frescoes made by Kosetsu Nosu, one of the foremost painters of Japan. While frescoes are found in the interiors, the exterior is decorated with murals. There is also a huge bronze bell at the entrance of the vihar that was gifted by the royal family of Japan. The sanctum houses a magnificent life-size golden statue of the Buddha. The temple also has a Bodhi tree that has been transplanted from a sapling brought from a tree in Sri Lanka. The tree in Sri Lanka originated from the real tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya some 2500 years ago.


(d) Chaukhandi Stupa

Chaukhandi Stupa is one of the important Buddhist Stupas at Sarnath. It is a lofty mound of brick, whose square edifice is surrounded by an octagonal tower. The Chaukhandi Stupa is said to be originally a terraced temple during the Gupta period (4th to 6th Century). Govardhan, the son of Raja Todarmal, gave the present shape to the Chaukhandi Stupa. He built an octagonal tower to commemorate the visit of Humayun, the great Mughal ruler. Chaukhandi Stupa was built to mark the place where Lord Buddha met his first disciples as he traveled from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath. Today, the Chaukhandi stupa stands neatly in lush green lawns, well maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Draped in the calmness and mystery of history, the Chaukhandi Stupa forms a gateway to the Buddhist city of Sarnath.

(e) Deer Park

A local legend has it that once Buddha took the form of a deer and requested the hunter king to end his life and spare the pigeon that it had caught and intended to kill. The king was so touched and full of shame that he created a refuge for deer, the place in present is the same and is known by the name of Deer Park. Some legends associated with the Deer Park in Sarnath are—the ancient name of Sarnath, Mrigadava, was so because of the deer population that roamed freely. Going by it, the park in Sarnath was a forest and gifted by the king of Benares so that deer might roam freely in its precincts. The name ‘Sarnath’originated from Saranganath that translates to ‘Lord of the Deer.’ The Deer Park is just behind the Mulagandha Kuti Vihar and entry costs INR 20. The park houses many deer and is the favoured choice of visit for children and families out for a picnic. It is maintained by the forest department and the path passes through towering trees and lovely manicured gardens. Another attraction in the vicinity of the deer park is the 100 years old Myanmar Temple that is all the more fascinating with red-and-gold interiors. It also has the distinction of being one of the oldest temples in Sarnath.


2. Temples


(a)Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous temple in Varanasi, also known as the Golden temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva. It was constructed in the year 1780 by the Maratha monarch, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of the Indore. This makes Varanasi a tourists place because of great religious importance to the Hindus. The gold used to cover the two domes of the temple was donated by the Punjab Kesari, the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who ruled the Punjab. Now, after 28 January 1983, this temple becomes the property of the government of Uttar Pradesh and it is managed by Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then by the Kashi Naresh.Kashi Vishwanath Temple located at the western bank of the holy river Ganges. The Jyotirlinga present in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is considered as the 12th of all the Jyotirlingas. Lord Shiva is the main deity in Hinduism and also known as the Vishwanatha or Vishweshwara (means the ruler of the universe). Kashi is the oldest city of the world in history and known as the city of Lord Shiva.

(b)Sankat Mochan Mandir

Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to the Lord Hanuman. This temple is also called as the Monkey temple because of the presence of lot of monkeys inside the premises. It is one of the holy temples of the Lord Hanuman and the main location for Hindus for their many religious as well as cultural festivals. It is located in the southern part of the Varanasi, on the way to the Durga Mandir and New Vishwanath temple BHU, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. The meaning of the Sankat Mochan is relief from all the problems (Sankat means problem and Mochan means relief giver). Sankat Mochan Temple was constructed by the educationist and freedom fighter Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya (the founder of the BHU) in the early 1900s. The Hanuman Jayanti (birthday of the Lord Hanuman) is celebrated every year by organizing a special Shobha Yatra (a parade) from Durga temple (Durga Kund) to the Sankat Mochan Temple.


(c)Durga Mata Mandir

Durga temple is also known as the Monkey temple (because of the presence of huge number of monkeys), situated in the Durga Kund, Varanasi. The temple is dedicated to the Goddess Durga. It was built in the 18th century. Durga temple was constructed by a Bengali Maharani in the north Indian Style with multi tiered shikhara. An attractive pond known as the Durga Kund is made on the right side of the temple which really increases the beauty of the temple. The pond has stone stairs at all sides as well as there is watch pillars at each corner of the pond.
The statue of Goddess Durga is not human made; it was appeared by its own in the temple. A millions of Hindu devotees go to the Durga temple in the Navratri and other propitious occasions and pray to the Goddess Durga to complete their wishes. This temple is made up in the square shape with the red color stone representing the color of the Mata Durga. Some of the devotees make a round around the building of the temple for their religious importance he Hinduism. It is considered that Durga Mata always protects the Varanasi from problems.

(d) Tulsi Manas Mandir

Tulsi Manas Mandir Temple is one of the famous temples of the Varanasi and also known as the Tulsi Birla Manas Mandir. It is located at Durgakund very close to the Durga Temple in the Varanasi city. It is made up of the white marble in the year 1964 and looks very attractive having beautiful garden. The temple is dedicated to the Lord Rama and constructed by the family of Banaras. The temple has beautiful images of the Ram, Sita, Lakshhman and Hanuman.The main gate of the temple has written Shri Tulsi Manas Mandir Haridwar. At the right side of the entrance gate, there is an attractive Tulsi Garden which has very calm and clean environment. The Tulsi Garden has the statue of Tulsidas which illustrates the stanza “Tulsi Das chandan ragane, tilak det Raghuvir.” On the left side of the main temple, there is a beautiful pond having four Ghats.

(e) Bharat Mata Mandir

The Bharat Mata Temple is located at the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus, Varanasi and dedicated to the Bharat Mata (Mother India). It was constructed by the Babu Shiv Prasad Gupt and inaugurated by the Mahatma Gandhi in the year 1936. The statue of the Mother India is made up of the marble and looks like a model which symbolizes the entire India, represents mountain, plains and oceans of the India. The Bharat Mata temple does not have a traditional statue of Gods or Goddess but it has a real map of the Mother India.Bharat Mata Temple is a unique, has an attractive and huge map of the Mother India on the ground denoting the statue of mother of India. The statue has inimitable design which indicates the Goddess of India for all the religious deities, freedom fighters and leaders. The temple is a kind of admiration to all those who take part in the formation of India as it was built before the partition of the India.

(f) Vishwanath Temple (New) BHU

Conceived by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who also founded the Banaras Hindu University, the New Vishwanath Temple is dedicated to God Shiva. The foundation stone of the 252-feet-tall shrine was laid in March 1931, and it took over three decades to complete. The temple is built with white marble and is an exact copy of the original Vishwanath Temple in Kanshi which was destroyed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir. The New Vishwanath Temple is a huge complex. It comprises seven temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses. While the temple dedicated to God Shiva is housed in the ground floor, the temples of Lakshmi Narayan and Durga are located on the first floor. A unique trait of the new temple is the tall shikhara, made of white marble. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple has a Shivalingam. The inner walls are inscribed with important texts from Gita and other scriptures along with vivid illustrations. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions in line with the liberal and progressive outlook of the Pt Madan Mohan Malviya.


3. River Ganga & Ghats


(a) Dashashwamedh Ghat

Dashashwamedh ghat is one of the oldest, most spectacular and important ghat, located at the bank of the river Gange near to the old Vishwanath Temple in the Kashi. The literal meaning of the Dashashwamedh is the Ghat (river front) of the ten sacrificed horses (dash means 10, ashwa means horse, medh means sacrifice).There are two mythologies about the ghat is that the Lord Brahma was created the Dashashwamedh ghat in order to welcome the Lord Shiva, and the second one is the Lord Brahma was sacrificed the ten horses in a yajna here. The Dashashwamedh ghat was reconstructed by the Bajirao Pesava I in the year 1740 AD. It was later reconstructed by the Queen of the Indore (the princess Ahilyabai Holkar) in the year 1774.

(b) Harishchandra ghat

Harish Chandra Ghat is one of the oldest Ghats of Varanasi. Harish Chandra Ghat is name after a mythological King Harish Chandra, who once worked at the cremation ground here for the perseverance of truth and charity. It is believed that the Gods rewarded him for his resolve, charity and truthfulness and restored his lost throne and his dead son to him. Harish Chandra Ghat is one of the two cremation Ghats (the other being Manikarnika Ghat) and is some times referred as Adi Manikarnika (the original creation ground). Hindus from distant places bring the dead bodies of their near and dear ones to the Harish Chandra Ghat for cremation. In Hindu mythology it is believed that if a person is cremated at the Harish Chandra Ghat, that person gets salvation or “moksha”. The Harish Chandra Ghat was somewhat modernized in late 1980’s, when an electric crematorium was opened here.

(c) Manikarnika Ghat

Manikarnika Ghat, the main burning ghat, is the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated. Dead bodies are handled by outcasts known as doms, and are carried through the alleyways of the old town to the holy Ganges on a bamboo stretcher, swathed in cloth. The corpse is doused in the Ganges prior to cremation.Huge piles of firewood are stacked along the top of the ghat; every log is carefully weighed on giant scales so that the price of cremation can be calculated. Each type of wood has its own price, sandalwood being the most expensive. There is an art to using just enough wood to completely incinerate a corpse. You can watch cremations but always show reverence by behaving respectfully. Photography is strictly prohibited. You’re almost guaranteed to be led by a priest, or more likely a guide, to the upper floor of a nearby building from where you can watch cremations taking place, and then asked for a donation (in dollars) towards the cost of wood. If you don’t want to make a donation, don’t follow them.Above the steps here is a tank known as the Manikarnika Well. Parvati is said to have dropped her earring here and Shiva dug the tank to recover it, filling the depression with his sweat. The Charanpaduka, a slab of stone between the well and the ghat, bears footprints made by Vishnu.

(d) Assi Ghat

Situated at the confluence of Ganga and Asi rivers, Assi Ghat is the southernmost Ghat in Varanasi, where pilgrims bathe before paying their homage to Lord Shiva in the form of huge lingam situated under a peepal tree. Assi Ghat also constitutes the southern end of conventional city. Another lingam worshipped here is the Asisangameshwar lingam representing the lord of confluence of the Asi, enshrined in a small marble temple near the Assi Ghat. It was at the Assi Ghat where the famous Indian poet saint, Tulsi Das had written the much-celebrated Ramcharitmanas. There are numerous references of Assi Ghat in early literature of the Hindus. We find the mention of Assi Ghat in matsya purana, Agni purana, kurma purana, padma purana and kashi khanda. According legends, Goddess Durga had thrown her sword after slaying the demon, Shumbha- Nishumbha. The place, where the sword had fallen resulted in a big stream, known as Assi River. Assi Ghat is located at the confluence of River Ganga and Assi River. In Kashi Khand, Assi Ghat is referred as Assi “Saimbeda Tirtha” and according to it one gets punya of all the Tirthas (religious places) by taking a dip here. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims take holy dip here in the months of Chaitya (March/ April) and Magh (Jan/Feb) and other important occasions like solar/ lunar eclipse, Ganga Dussehra, Probodhoni Ekadashi, Makar Shankranti etc.

(e) Ganga Aarati

Gange aarti is the magnificent event during evening in the Varanasi that one must not miss to see it. It makes us to experience the great feelings while Gange aarti become in process. This beautiful ritual makes every moment of the evening period special and fills with the spiritual thoughts. It is performed by the brass lamps which accompanied with the mantra chant in the presence of the huge crowd.
All the priests who have to perform the aarti, wear same cloth, the dhoti and kurta which is tightly bind with a long towel. First they make preparation of the Gange aarti by making collection of the five elevated planks, a multi tiered oil lamp, an idol of the Goddess Ganga, flowers, incense sticks, a conch shell, a big and heavy brass lamp having a snake hood at the edge of the River Gange. A group of boats filled with devotees come around the place of aarti at the bank of River. They are very eager to see the event; some of them take live video, photos as well. Ritual of the Gange aarti is performed by the students of the Vedas and Upanishads which is lead by the head priest of the Gangotri Seva Samiti. The whole event takes around 45 minutes.

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