The History of Varanasi

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Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Kashi, the ancient name of this great city is mentioned in almost every Hindu scripture. Varanasi has also been known in various texts as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahashmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarshana and Ramya. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva after a duel with Lord Brahma slayed the latter and carried the head with Him wherever He went. While touring the lands where The Ganges flowed northwards the head of Brahma fell off Shiva’s hands on the ground and disappeared. That very place came to be known as Kashi and Shiva became its divine founder. While Kashi meaning light is the ancient name of the city, the name Varanasi is more famous. In Vamana Purana, the tract of land between rivers Varuna and Asi is named as Varanasi and is considered to be the holiest among all Hindu teerthas Archeological evidence found from artefacts collected in the excavations carried out in Ramnagar and Aktha proves that the city of Varanasi existed in its full glory circa 1800 BCE. That means the city is at least four thousand years old. No other city has been alive this long without any intermission. Owing to its geographical position and spiritual significance the city of Varanasi grew as an educational and industrial hub. Like the light of a lamp attracts moths, this glorious land to has charmed seekers, scholars, and traders from far and wide. Buddhism’s seeds were sown around 528 BC in Varanasi when the enlightened Buddha preached his first sermon to his disciples at Sarnath. At that time Varanasi was part of Kingdom of Kosala and was considered to be an important centre of power and religion. Probably that is why Buddha chose Varanasi to promulgate his teachings in the era when blind following of rituals was obfuscating the real meaning of spirituality. Famous traveller Heian Tsang who travelled in the Indian subcontinent around 635 AD described Varanasi as a centre of religious and scholarly activities that attracted scholarly men from around the world. Circa 322 BC Mauryan Empire got a highway built connecting Varanasi with Takshashila and Patliputra.The highway was well guarded and had amenities for travellers This helped pilgrims and traders from west of Indus to travel to the holy city comfortably without fear of robbers. The same highway famously known as Grand Trunk road was renovated and extended in 16th century

by Sher Shah Suri. By 12th century Muslim invaders had crossed the mighty Indus. They plundered and pillaged many religious conurbations in the northern plains. Varanasi too was not untouched. Being the most important pilgrim centre for Hindus, Varanasi had to endure concerted attacks on its culture and physique for next six centuries. The era of cultural suppression was briefly paused under Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign only to see the most brutal assault by Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of many important Hindu shrines including the Vishwanath temple. He then got mosques built on the sites of obliterated temples. Many sleek minarets stand today on the very foundations of centuries-old temples. This phase is one of the most painful in the history of Varanasi and Indian culture. Mughal rule weakened by the eighteenth century. The Kingdom of Benaras was formally given statehood. The exile of Bahadur Shah Zafar to Burma after the failed mutiny in 1857 saw British strengthen their grip on India. To make sure the people swore their allegiance to the British throne titular heads were appointed in many princely states. Kashi Naresh title was conferred upon the king appointed as head of the Banaras State. Post-independence the title Kashi Naresh continues to exist and the Royal family resides in a palace in the precincts of Ramnagar Fort. Today Varanasi is a flourishing city with religion and education continuing to be the major force of attraction. The history of Varanasi is the story of the Sanatana Dharma. Despite multiple attacks, the core principles have remained ever strong. The spirited chanting of Har Har Mahadev in every nook and corner of the city is the living testimony of Varanasi’s spiritual strength. May this ancient city preserve its mystical character forever

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