Varanasi

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Varanasi

(vərän`əsē), formerly

Benares

(bənä`rĭz), city (1991 pop. 1,030,863), Uttar Pradesh state, N central India, on the Ganges River. Although a rail hub and trade center, Varanasi is chiefly important as a holy city. Thought to be one of the world's oldest cities, it is the holiest city of the Hindus, who call it Kasi. There are about 1,500 temples, palaces, and shrines. Few of these, however, date back further than the 17th cent., since Muslim invasions destroyed many Hindu religious sites. The most famous Hindu temples are the Golden temple, dedicated to Shiva, and the Durga temple with its swarms of sacred monkeys. The banks of the Ganges in the city are bordered by ghats, or flights of steps, that Hindus descend in order to bathe in the sacred river. Hindus believe that to die in Varanasi releases them from the cycle of rebirths and enables them to enter heaven. About one million religious pilgrims visit the city annually. Varanasi is of importance to other religions also. Buddha is said to have begun preaching at Sarnath, 4 mi (6.4 km) outside the city. The mosque of the emperor Aurangzeb stands on the city's highest ground and is one of Varanasi's notable buildings from the Muslim period. Varanasi is also famous for its silk brocades and brassware. The city is an educational center, especially for Sanskrit studies; Benares Hindu Univ. (1916) is there. Across the Ganges from Varanasi is Ramnagar, which was the capital of the former princely state of Benares and is still the seat of the maharajah. Ramnagar is noted for its 31-day Ramilla, the enactment of the events of the RamayanaRamayana
[story of Rama], classical Sanskrit epic of India, probably composed in the 3d cent. B.C. Based on numerous legends, it is traditionally the work of Valmiki, one of the minor characters.
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Varanasi

 

(Benares), a city in northern India; located on the Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh State. Population, 602,000 (1968). Transportation junction on the major route from Calcutta to Delhi. It is also a center for the production of elegant handmade goods such as brocades and jewelry. Factory and plant industry is being created, including a diesel-locomotive plant and cotton-textile, glass, and chemical enterprises. Varanasi is an important cultural center, with the Hindu University and the largest library of Hindi books.

Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in India and is a major center for the Hindu and Buddhist religions (it is the site of pilgrimages to the holy Ganges River). The city was apparently founded in approximately the seventh century B.C. It has also been called Kasi (in antiquity) and Benares (from about the tenth to the 12th centuries A.D.). In the 16th century the city became a major center for the propagation of Hindu culture and learning. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was famous for its production of brocade. In 1775, Varanasi, the center of the principality of the same name, was seized by English colonizers. In 1950 it was made part of Uttar Pradesh State in independent India.

In the Old City, with its narrow and winding streets, there are about 1,500 temples (including the Golden Temple of Siva, which dates from about 1750) and the Aurangzeb mosque (dating from the turn of the 18th century). Along the shores of the Ganges are the palaces of the maharajas of the 16th to 19th centuries (including Man Mandir, c. 1600) and stone steps with places for religious ablutions and Hindu cremations. Part of the city consists of buildings in European styles that were constructed at the beginning of the 20th century.

REFERENCES

Havell, E. F. B. Benares the Sacred City. London [et al.], 1905.

G. V. SDASIUK

Varanasi

a city in NE India, in SE Uttar Pradesh on the River Ganges: probably dates from the 13th century bc; an early centre of Aryan philosophy and religion; a major place of pilgrimage for Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists, with many ghats along the Ganges; seat of the Banaras Hindu University (1916), India's leading university, and the Sanskrit University (1957). Pop.: 1 100 748 (2001)
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