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Varanasi- The City of Light

Published June 23rd, 2013

Varanasi believed as the oldest surviving city of the world, is deeply entrenched in antiquity
with its colorful ghats, temples and shrines,its narrow alleys and famous sandhya arati on the banks of the Ganges. In spite of layers of dirt and filth covering the temples,alleys, ghats of the old city, Varanasi definitely is once-in-a-lifetime experience, an exhilarating adventure and definitely a picturesque place for the photographers to explore..
Here is a presentation of my short visit to sacred city-Varansi from 20th April,2013 to 23rd April,2013..

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Varanasi

History of the old city reveals a few facts about it..Varanasi - Benares - Kaasi is considered to be the holiest of all pilgrimage sites in India and in fact people from all over the world come here to pay obeisance. The name Varanasi is derived from the names of two rivers, Varuna and Assi and this holy place is considered home to Shiva - Visweswara. Benares is also known as Kaasi because it is believed that Supreme brilliance shines there, and lights the way to salvation (Kas - to shine).

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A early morning boat ride

A early morning boat ride along the Ganges to view the ghats and temples from the Ganges is a quintessential Varanasi experience. An hour-long trip from Dasaswamedh Ghat to Harishchandra Ghat and then to Manikarnika Ghat and back gives a glimpse of the color and clamour of pilgrims bathing and performing puja.

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The day begins at Benaras

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Munshi Ghat

The ghat was built by Sridhara Narayana Munshi a finance minister in the State of Darabhanga in 1912. After his death in 1924 this portion ghat named in his honour.

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Naga Sadhu at Dasaswamedh Ghat

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Basanti devi visarjan ceremony

A view from the river boat along the ghats of Varanasi

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Surya namaskar

Lady performing rituals by offering prayer to mother Ganges

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At the break of dawn

Boats are parked in all the ghats along the river and a early morning glimpse of the river, boats and the ghats gives a sense of calmness and serenity of the place

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The reflection

As the morning light melts in river water various activities around the ghats starts...

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Kids playing in the river

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Ladies taking bath in holy Ganges

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Sadhu sitting at the bank of the river

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Pujari preparing for sandhya arati

In Varanasi, one experience that you cannot miss is the spectacular Ganga aarti on the Dashaswamedh ghat.

The beautiful ritual unfolds every evening on the banks of the Ganga with brass lamps, accompanied with chants and a multitude of people in attendance.

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Pujaari performing arati

Students of the Vedas and Upanishads perform the ceremony which was started by the head pujari of the Gangotri Seva Samiti, Babu Maharaj in 1992.

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Ganga Arati

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A walk along the ghat in rain

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A circle of boats

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Jis Desh me Ganga Bahti Hay

Pilgrim playing dafli and singing of his simple faith in the river, love, and music in front of Munshi Ghat

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Boats parked at Ahalyabai Ghat

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Manikarnika Ghat

Manikarnika Ghat is the main burning ghat and the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated. Dead bodies are handled by outcasts known as doms, and they are carried through the alleyways of the old city to the holy Ganges on a bamboo stretcher swathed in cloth. The corpse is doused in the Ganges prior to cremation. Huge piles of firewood are stacked along the bank of the ghat.

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Munshi Ghat

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Varanasi - unity in diversity

Varanasi is not only a sacred place for Hindus, but also home and tourist place for various other religions.. Around 16% of population are Muslim and most of Varanasi’s Muslims belong to a weaver caste called “Ansari”.

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Compassionate

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A lazy afternoon

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Dhobi Ghat

The area is mainly inhabited by the washermen community and signs of their traditional work of washing and drying of clothes are evident at the ghat.

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A view from boat

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Ganga arati

An hour before the aarti is due to begin, five elevated planks are placed at the edge of the steps, the big brass lamps are readied and the pujaris (priests) are dressed in identical dhotis and kurtas. A flotilla of boats converge on the riverbank with camera-sporting tourists in eager attention-cum-curiosity.

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Arati with brass lamps

The brass lamps weigh around four-and-a-half kilos and look beautiful under the night sky. Incense-filled smoke rises forth from the ritual as bhajans rent the air.

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Ring of fire

A group of priests daily in the evening at Dasaswamedh ghat perform "Agni Pooja" (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga (the Ganges), Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

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Pushpanjali after Ganga Arati

Ganga arati mantra sung as an accompaniment to the ritual of aarti.

"Jai-jai bhagirathnandini, muni-chay-chakor-chandini,

nar-naag-bibudh-bandini jai jahnu baalikaa"

The purpose of performing aarti is the waving of lighted wicks before the deities in a spirit of humility and gratitude, wherein faithful followers become immersed in God's divine form. It symbolises the five elements: 1) ether (akash), 2) wind (vayu), 3) fire (agni), 4) water (jal), and 5) earth (pruthvi).

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