The city of Varanasi is also sometimes called Benaras or Kashi. It is the Hindus holiest of cities, situated on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges) River. The name Varanasi comes from the convergence of the Varuna River (on the north) and the Assi River (on the south) with the Ganga.
Here you will find pilgrims from all over the world, coming together to pray, meditate, study and tour the city’s sights. Spend the afternoon wandering through the narrow lanes, passing the sounds of sitar music and saadhus (Hindu ascetics) of every variety. Stop at the market for offerings of fruit, flowers and tiny oil lamps to set afloat on the river.
This place is said to be the site where Lord Shiva appeared as a radiant column of light, splitting the Earth and extending into space. After a thousand years of trying to find the base and the source of the column, Shiva was acknowledged as preeminent here. Lord Shiva then shrank the column of light and it took the form of a small linga, which is still here to this day. The city has predominately Shiva temples, but all Hindus, Sikhs, and some Buddhists take pilgrimage here at least once in their lives.
Along the river are about 100 ghats, which are large stone stairs leading down to the water. These were constructed around 1700 AD.
The best way to view these ghats is from a boat. Many boatmen line the river offering rides to pilgrims and tourists.
Some of the ghats are used for common things like bathing, swimming and washing clothes. Others are for holy dips in the water and for meditation. Other prominent ghats are the Manikarika Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat, where about 80 cremations are performed every day. It is considered extremely auspicious to be cremated on the banks of the Ganga River, India’s holiest of rivers.
Every evening a group of priests perform a fire pooja at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. This is a worship of the whole universe, including the sun, this river, fire and a special dedication to Lord Shiva. This is really something to see! You must plan to attend this nightly event.