Varanasi - the most sacred site of India

Zola By Zola, 4th Aug 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Asia>India>Uttar Pradesh

Some spots in the world are special. When you visit them, you find an atmosphere which is outside of time

A very special place

Deciding where to go and what to do in India is a challenge. The country is so big, you could visit it for years, and still see only a small part of it. But, more challenging than that is the fact that there are so many faces of India, it isn't easy to decide which ones you want to see. So, after much discussion and argument we settled on Varanasi as the first port of call.

Varanasi, also known as Benares. is belived to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. Historians claim that at the time when Sumerian civilization was rising, Varanasi was already an old city.

The centre of life in Varanasi is the Ganges River, or Ganga Ma, Mother Ganges, as the Indians lovingly call it. Its banks are always full of people praying, bathing or washing their clothes. Along a mere 200 meters, we saw children playing in the river, a woman shampooing her hair, water buffalo cooling in the shallows, a man collecting water in a bottle to drink, ashes from a funeral pyre being thrown in the river, and worst of all, a sewage pipe emptying who knows what into the river. Waterborne disease is common, but the faithful believe the water is not only healthy, but good for the soul.

Continuous processions of pilgrims who come here to pray or die, combined with over 2000 shrines and ashrams, make this sacred city look like one big temple where life, death and prayer have continued uninterruptedly for thousands of years. There's such a powerful sense of continuity - the never- ending cycle of life, death and rebirth.

We walked through the narrow, cobbled streets full of sadhus (holy men), street vendors and cows. We visited temples, sat on the ghats (steps leading to the river) and tried to absorb the incredible atmosphere of this magical place. At times, partly due to the extreme heat and humidity, and partly to the almost unreal atmosphere, I felt slightly dizzy, almost like I was dreaming. But, I think it was more than the heat. There was something special, almost hypnotizing about Varanasi.


Throughout day and night, funeral fires burnt along the banks of the Ganges. I noticed that none of the mourners seemed upset or sad, and certainly no one cried. That wasn't surprising, since Indians believe in reincarnation, but how different was the atmosphere from Eurpean funerals! We spoke to some people we met near the ghats and they explained that babies are not burnt, as they are innocent and for them there is no need for purification through fire. Their bodies are taken to the middle of the river, tied to stones, and thrown in.

The highlight of visit to Varanasi is a sunrise boat ride along the Ganges. Before you get into the boat, you buy offerings for the river. These are little dishes made of banana leaf, each containing marigold petals and a wick. You light the wick, say a prayer, and slowly lower the dish into the river. The boat ride is particularly impressive in the evenings, when the river is ablaze with lights from hundreds of these lapms as they float on the water.

The world of the maharajas

High above the river bank, dilapidated remains of maharajas' palaces and shrines stood somberly and in ruins, but with a little bit of imagination it was easy to see them in their full glory, what they must have looked like hundreds of yeas ago. For, even in ruins, they looked majestic.

There is much more to Varanasi than the Ganges, however, the river is the heart and soul of the city and everything else you see or do there seems trivial compared to the magical atmosphere along the Ganga Ma.


Benares, Ganges, Ghat, India, Pilgrims, Reincarnation, River, Sacred City, Sacred Site, Sadhu, Sumerian Civilization, Varanasi

Meet the author

author avatar Zola
Nature-lover, free-lance consultant, environmental activist.
I have many interests, which include travel, health, Eastern philosophies, astrology.

Share this page

moderator Peter B. Giblett moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
5th Aug 2013 (#)

Though I am from India, I learned more about this revered place from your lovely post, Zola - siva

Reply to this comment

author avatar sukkran
5th Aug 2013 (#)

one more interesting post about my country. thank you zola

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?