Tuesday 1 January 2019

History, myths and lesser-known facts about Kashi or Varanasi – the world’s oldest city

There are some cities which are respected at the very mention of their name. Period. We are talking about Varanasi. One of the world’s oldest cities. However, do not go to this city, if you are not a worthy traveler. The city is old, and still retains the ancient charm of paying respect to God via the traditional methods and the cremation of dead bodies at the Ghats. It has a history of 3500 years. Come, let us know about the history and facts about Kashi in detail on today’s read.

Varanasi will always occupy prime importance in Hindu religion. It is said, that a Hindu has to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi at least once in their lifetime. In short, Kashi or Varanasi is to a Hindu what Mecca is to Islam and Vatican to a Christian.

Yantra means a machine. According to Sadguru, this Kashi is a large human machine without inertia. Shiva is a yogi and his favorite number is 5. So they built the city along the lines of 5. The fundamental geometry of Kashi is to connect the microcosm and macros. So, they designed 468 temples. The basic temples are 54 for Shiva, the same number for Shakthi.

History and Facts about Kashi
Everything in creation is a part of the cosmos itself. The history of Kashi is documented right from 3500 years ago. In short, the city has existed even when Athens had not laid its foundation for glory. In fact, this holy place existed even when Rome was just a city and Egypt was not even formed. Spelling the name “Kashi” brings vibration in the human body. In fact, the city is best described as a place where the micro (human) can connect with the macro (cosmos).

In the ancient Indian cities, places were differentiated for every activity. For washing clothes, there is the dhobi ghat; for bathing, there used to be a separate place and for cremation of bodies, there was the graveyard. In ancient Hindu texts, the city is referred to as Maha Smashana (large cremation ground). True to the name, the Manikarnika Ghat gets about 300 human bodies daily for cremation.

Also known as Benares and Kashi, this city is located on the banks of River Ganga. The name has been derived from the rivers of Varuna as well Assi tributaries where the city is located.

Importance – What You Should Know About Varanasi

  • Near Varanasi, there is an area known as Sarnath. Buddha delivered his first sermon after enlightenment.
  • Adi Shankaracharya has written Kasi Panchakam, a tribute to the city.
  • This city holds prominence as being the birthplace of at least four Jain Tirthankaras. They are Suparshvanath (7th), Chandraprabhu (8th), Shreyanshnath (11th) and Parshvanath (23rd).
  • Tulsi Das composed the evergreen Hanuman Chalisa and Ramcharitmanas in Kashi.
  • The guardian deity of Kashi is Kaal Bhairav. His image – a thick mustache, vahana is a dog, has a tiger skin as cloth, holds a sword by the right hand and the head of a demon on the other hand.

Varanasi is the city of temples. You have them in every nook and corner. Among the famous, Kashi Vishwanath Temple stands tall. Also prominent are Durga Temple, Mahadev Temple, Bharat Mata Temple etc. There is no city in the world which has a hundred ghats. And there are three types; the bathing ghats, cremation sites and praying ghats.

Evening Aarti – The topmost activity that a traveler should never miss is the glorious Evening Arati of Kashi. It is one moment that you will cherish forever. The rituals unfolding for the Lord is a treat to watch. The lamps (made of brass) come to 4.5 kilograms.

Weavers Village – One of the famous sarees of this city is the Banarasi Saree made of gold, silver and popular for its zari.

Prior to five decades, and even today, many Indian people have the notion that a bath in the Ganges will relieve the past diseases. This can be true to a certain extent. Before Ganga becomes a river, there is a place called the Gangotri. Before this place, the river water passes through mountains and valleys. Maybe, when the water passes through certain herbal plants, it may acquire medicinal properties. But now, Ganga has become polluted. People from the other Indian States come to take water away in small containers, stating that whoever is given a drop of Ganga water on their deathbed will attain salvation.

Facts About Kashi You Should Definitely Know About
The temple of Kashi Vishwanath is so old that it has been stated in the Skanda Purana. A legend goes like Lord Shiva’s mother-in-law was worried that her son-in-law does not have an abode. For his wife, Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva asked the demon, Nikumbha to make a place suitable for his family at Kashi.

In this place, the Mother was so pleased that she offered food to everybody, the reason, she is worshipped as Annapoorani. In fact, Lord Shiva is known to be the Master of all in Shaiva literature. But the Lord himself seeks food from the Devi, that too, in a begging bowl. In fact, this place is considered to be one among the 52 Shakthipeedams (Kashi is the place where the Sakthi’s left arm fell after the body was cut by Sudarshana Chakra of Lord Vishnu).

An ancient Indian legend has it, on the day of creation of Mother Earth, the first light ray was shown to Kashi. There are also other legends which state that Lord Shiva actually stayed in the city in the form of  “Lord Kalabhairava” as the guardian of the city.

War Between Brahma and Vishnu
Do you know the famous war between Brahma and Vishnu about who is Supreme? And the wager to see the depth and height of Lord Shiva? Lord Shiva assumed the form of bright light which penetrated heavens and hell. He told Vishnu and Brahma to find the height and source. Brahma, in the form of a goose, flew to the sky. Vishnu, in the form of a boar, dug into the earth. Even though they searched for eons, they could not find the end of the light. Vishnu felt humbled and accepted defeat. But Brahman, unwilling to accept defeat, asked the Ketaki flower which dropped from Lord Shiva’s head to serve as a witness that he has seen the end. During the conversation with Lord Shiva, while Vishnu asked for pardon, Brahma lied. The angry Lord cursed Brahma that he will never be worshipped on Earth.

Lord Shiva also severed Brahma’s fifth head. After Shiva killed Brahma in the form of Kaalbhairava, he was cursed with Brahma-Hatya. The fifth head clung to his left hand. All efforts to remove the head proved futile. KaalBhairava wandered along the banks of River Ganga southwards. At a certain position, the river turned towards North and he entered Kashi. When he dipped his left hand in the river, the head unclung from his hand and he was liberated. This place became Kashi as told by the legend.

The city stands on the trident of Shiva
There is another myth which states that the city stands on the trident of Shiva. In short, Kashi is not on Mother Earth, it stands above the ground. There are three temples which act as the three points for the trident. They are Aumkareshwara in the North, Vishweshwara in the middle and Kedareshwara in the South.

As per local folklore, there are eight Kaal Bhairavs who guard the city; Ashta Dikkugalu. The temple for these Gods are present in eight cardinal directions and protect the sanctity of the Kashi Vishwanath temple.  In fact, this city is believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva. It is widely rumored that before death, Lord Shiva whispers Tarak mantra in the dead man’s ears to attain salvation.

There is another myth regarding Garudas and lizards. But it is true. Never in the city, an eagle will fly nor the lizards will make the sound. The story unfolds during the time when Rama killed Ravana. To atone for his sins, he wanted to perform puja to a swayambu lingam. He entrusted the task to Lord Hanuman. When Hanuman entered the city, the garuda and lizard helped him identify the linga. But he took the linga without seeking permission of the protective deity of the city, Kaal Bhairava. A fierce battle happened which was cut short by the Gods. Kaal Bhairava, in his anger, cursed the Garuda to not fly over the city, and lizard to not make the sound. The words hold true even to the present day.

History of Kashi Vishwanath Temple
In fact, the temple of Lord Shiva, known as Kashi Vishwanath Temple is known as one among the 12 Jyotirlingas. The other Jyotirlingas are Somnath in Gujarat, Mallikarjuna in Andhra Pradesh, Mahakaleshwar in Madhya Pradesh, Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh, Kedarnath (Uttarakhand), Bhimashankar (Maharashtra), Triambakeshwar (Maharashtra), Vaidyanath Jyotirlinga in Deogarh, Jharkhand, Nageswar (Gujarat), Rameshwar (Tamil Nadu), and Grishneshwar (Maharashtra).

Importance of Kasi Vishwanath Temple
You find rarely a temple or a religious place in any country ravaged many times, only to be built again. The present temple stands a little distance from the original site. It was built by Ahilya Bai Holkar and the gold for the dome was contributed by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh of Punjab.

In the temple, you can find numerous shrines of various Gods. The temple has been built in the form of a quadrangle. Numerous small temples shroud the complex. You can find temples of Dhandapani, Vishnu, Sanishwara, Virupaksha, Avimukteshwara and many more. Because of its importance, the temple gets nearly 3000 devotees daily. On a special occasion, the number can increase to 100000.

The small well in the temple is popular by the name of Jnana Vapi. At the time of invasion from the Moghuls, the Main priest jumped in the well along with Shiv Ling. There may be many temples in the world, but rarely will the deity be performed aarti five times. The duration of this auspicious activity,  every day in the temple are conducted as follows –

Mangala Aarti – At 3 AM in the Morning. It extends till 4 AM

Bhoga Aarti – From 11.15 AM to 12.20 PM

Sandhya Aarti – As the name suggests – it takes place in the evening. 7 PM to 8.15 PM

Shringara Aarti – it extends after evening from 9 PM to 10.15 PM.

Shayana Aarti – In the last hours of the evening. 10.30 PM to 11 PM.

If Delhi is the capital of India, then Varanasi can be called as the spiritual capital of our country. In fact, till the last century, it was believed, that if anyone died in Kashi, their soul goes to Heaven and there will be no rebirth. If they cannot die in Kashi, at least their human bodies if cremated in the holy place can make the soul attain salvation.

(Source: Metro Saga)

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