Varanasi: An Old City of India and an Enigma

The legend of the origin of ‘Banaras’ is narrated in the ‘Kashi Rahasya’ a work attributed to ‘Veda Vyas’, the compiler of the Vedas. It was founded at the request of seven ‘Rishia’ who approached Lord Vishnu and desired to be shown the certain road to salvation. It is atleast certain that Banaras had already acquired a reputation for secular serenity in Puranic age and consequently its antiquity is beyond dispute.

          The description of the city in Sanskrit literature is usually found with the names of Kashi and Varanasi. The name of Kashi remain current and in Varanasi was abandoned, and Banaraswas in common use till late. Dr. Sampurnanand. The first Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh renamed it as Varanasi.

          Kashi is derived from ‘Kash’ meaning’ to shine’ and construed as ‘sole illumination’. The nameVaranasiis most probably due to rivers ‘Varuna’ in the north and ‘Assi’ in the south of the city.

          The first historical reference to this city, however, dates back to the days of ‘Buddha’. Sarnath symbolizes the site where Buddha made his first converts. In the 5th century A.D. Fahein visited the city of Banaras. Two centuries later, Hieun-Tsang foundBanaras densely populated and its inhabitants in flourishing state.

          In Ain-e-Akbari there are references about this city. Earlier Mahmud Ghazni visited Banaras in 1019 and 1022 A.D. We also find a reference of Banarasof the time of Babar. The district Gazetteer 6 refers to the fact that troops of Babar were garrisoned at Banaras under Jalal-ud-din. Later on he was compelled to abandon the place and retired to Chunar.

          Akbar also faced great resistance and the area did not fall in the hands of Akbar tell the eastern expedition of Khan-i-Zaman in 1559.Banaras flourished immensely under the tolerant rule of Akbar and once again it assumed its ancient position as the religious centre of the Hindu World.

          The history of Banaras during the first part of the nineteenth century is mainly a record of administrative development under the British rule. Since the mutiny of 1857 Banaras had remain obscene and unimportant and connected chiefly with the improvement of communication, development of the city and various reforms in administration. Nevertheless in the mean time the city has functioned as a religious centre of the Hindus and a somewhat important centre of Commerce in the Purvanchal although it was not important in the national context.

          Although it has been the seat of east-while Banaras state, it is primarily known as the biggest religious centre of the Hindus. It has also been a big centre of Indian renaissance. Famous writers of the Hindu language Tulsi Das, Baba Harish Chandra, Jai Shanker Prasad, Pandit Ram Chandra Shukla and Prem Chandra made this city important with their writings  and made the city a cultural and literary one oat the time. The city is a big centre of tourist attraction ad earns foreign exchange for the country. Later on it has attracted the attention of industrialist and apart from its cottage industries like Zari Sarees, wooden toys etc. The complex of heavy industry is fast building in and around the town.

          Varanasi is the larger city in the middle ganga plan situated on the left Kankar infested high levee of the Ganga crescent, planned out of not a very good site for expansion on the back; the three cultural nuclei of Kedareshwar, Visheshwar and Onkarshwar are separated from each other by the Godavari and the Mandakini, the two venerable rivers, one representing the Ganga of the south and other of the north. The city exerted a potent force for national integration through the imperceptible process of cultural assimilation. The confluence of the Saryu of Varanasi with the Ganga provided the burning ghat, hallowed by trhe memory of Harishchandra, the kig of ancient Awadh and as such, the block to the south came to be known as Awadh. This again means the integration of the Awadh culture of the north with the other cultural currents embedded inVaranasi. These discrete blocks coalesced with each other being joined by the Kedareshwar-Visheshwar lane, the life lie of ancient Varanasi, running parallel to the crescentic Ganga through the crest of the levee over a wooden bridge on the Godawari in the present Dasaswamedh area (preserved in the name of a Mohalla ‘Dedasi Ka Pul’,bridge of  Dedasi). The main  residential area has developed roughly like a bow theGangaforming its string. New residential areas have gone up along the outer roads, like the Durgan-Kund, Vidyapith road and the Jagatganj-Civil Court Road. There are a number of planned colonies now and many emerging up in the city which is fast expanding. Having the first bridge in 1882 on the Ganga in the whole of the Middle GangaValley, the city had the maximum advantage of growth, and has increased its population manifold. It is the world famous centre for handicraft products, and true to its cultural history it is the most famous educational centre with three universities. The city has now developed a metropolitan character. The city, in fact, works as a growth engine for the adjoining Purvanchal region. The city is now also spreading on the road connecting to Allahabad which is G.T. Road. City has functional links with Allahabad city.

Links,Sources and Further Readings:

Wikipedia

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About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
This entry was posted in Cities, India, Urban Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Varanasi: An Old City of India and an Enigma

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