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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How To Reach Varanasi

How To Reach, VaranasiVaranasi is the cultural capital of India and the melting pot of Indian civilization. Varanasi or Benaras has a well-developed transport network and is well connected to all the major Indian cities and states by air, road and rail.

By Air
Varanasi is well connected and accessible to major Indian cities and tourist spots. There are daily domestic flights to and from Varanasi to several cities in India. Apart from the state owned Indian Airlines, there are many private air taxi operators that offer their services from Varanasi to other Indian cities. In fact, the daily flights on Delhi-Agra-Khajuraho-Varanasi route are quite popular among the tourists.

By Rail
Since Varanasi lies in the heartland of the North Indian plains, it is well connected to Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and other parts of India. There are two railway stations in Varanasi, the Kashi Junction and the Varanasi Junction (also known as Varanasi Cantonment). Rajdhani Express from Delhi or from Calcutta passes through Varanasi too. One can also catch trains from Mughalsarai, just 10 km south of Varanasi.

By Road
Situated in the flat Ganga plains, Varanasi has a good network of roads. frequent public and private buses and road transport to all the major towns of Uttar Pradesh and nearby areas.

Holy Cities on Ganga

River Ganga is worshipped and venerated as Goddess in Hindu religion. In Hinduism, there are many myths and stories about the descent of River Ganga on Earth. According to Hindu mythology, Bhagirath, a descendant of King Sagara, brought River Ganges on the Earth. It is said that Bhagirath led the way and river Ganga followed him, reaching the spot where lay the ashes of his ancestors. Finally, the water of River Ganga liberated the souls of Bhagirath's ancestors. For ages, River Ganga has been at the center of the economic, social, cultural and religious life of the people, especially in North India.

Over a period of time, many cities grew and developed on the banks of the holy river, Ganges. Two head streams, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi merge together at Devprayg to give birth to Ganga. From the great Himalayas, the Ganges descends on the plains in Haridwar. Haridwar is an important and holy center of Hindu pilgrimage and one of the four venues of the Kumbha Mela (the other three being Ujjain, Prayag and Nashik). Thousands of Hindu pilgrims gather at Haridwar to take holy dip in the Ganges on pious occasions. Other important cities on the Ganges include Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna. Of these cities Allahabad or Prayag and Varanasi hold great significance for the Hindus.

Prayag (Allahabad) is also an important pilgrim center for the Hindus and one of the four venues of the great Kumbha Mela. River Ganga and River Yamuna merge at Prayag (Sangam or union). Perhaps the most popular and venerated of all the cities located on the banks of river Ganga is Varanasi. Varanasi is also known as Kashi or Benaras. Varanasi is considered as the cultural capital of India and attracts thousands of Hindu pilgrims and visitors from all parts of the world. Varanasi has been a traditional center of learning of philosophy, Sanskrit, astrology and religion.

Educational Institutes in Varanasi

For centuries, Varanasi is reputed as a great center of education and learning. Varanasi is also called as "Sarva Vidya Ki Rajdhani" (capital of knowledge). Since ancient times people, from all parts of the world, have been coming to Varanasi to learn philosophy, Sanskrit, astrology, modern sciences and social science. The first step in the direction of establishing formal educational institute in Varanasi goes back to 1791, when a Sanskrit college was started to train the servants of the East India Company. Mrs Annie Besant established the Central Hindu School in the last quarter of the 19th century with the aim of imparting modern as well traditional education. The Central Hindu School formed the core of the Benaras Hindu University. Besides the Banaras Hindu University, other educational institutions of repute are the Sampurnanad Sanskrit University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidya Peeth, U P College and Central Institute of Tibetan Studies.

Banaras Hindu University

The Banaras Hindu University or BHU is an internationally reputed University and is situated in Varanasi. The great nationalist leader, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, founded the Banaras Hindu University in the year 1916. Dr Annie Besant also played an important role in the formation of the BHU. The Banaras Hindu University played an important role in the Indian independence movement. Over a period of time, it has developed into one of the greatest centers of learning in India. The BHU has produced many great freedom fighters and Nation builders. It has immensely contributed to the progress of the nation through a large number of renowned scholars, artists and scientists.

The Banaras Hindu University has a sprawling campus, spanning across 1300 acres. It has well maintained roads (crossing each other at right angle), extensive greenery, a temple, an airstrip and buildings, which are an architectural delight. There is another campus of the Banaras Hindu University at Barkachha, in Mirzapur district, covering an area of 2700 acres. The BHU comprises of 3 Institutes, 14 Faculties, 124 Departments, 4 Interdisciplinary Centers and 3 Constituent Schools, spanning a vast rang of subjects pertaining to all branches of humanities, social sciences, science, technology, medicine, fine arts and performing arts.

Banaras Hindu University also has 6 centers of advanced studies, 10 Departments under Special Assistance Programme and a large number of specialized Research Centers. There are four Degree Colleges in Varanasi that are affiliated to the BHU. The Bharat Kala Bhavan, an art and archaeological museum, is a treasure trove of rare collections. The Banaras Hindu University also has a medical college (Institute of Medical Sciences) and an engineering institute (IT BHU). Sir Sundar Lal Hospital (having a capacity of 927 beds) is equipped with all the modern amenities and caters to the medical needs of a large population. The University also provides for a well-developed sports infrastructure. BHU has wide range of facilities for sports and hobbies. It has large playgrounds, a big auditorium, a flying club and many other services and utilities like Printing Press, Publication Cell, Fruit Preservation Center, subsidized Canteens, Employment and information Bureau, Security, etc.

The Banaras Hindu University consists of about 15000 students, coming from to all streams of life, castes, religions and races. It has about 2000 teachers and nearly 5000 non-teaching staff. Another important feature of the BHU is the number of foreign students. A large number of students come from the U.S.A., Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa, etc.

Kashi Vidya Peeth

The Kashi Vidya Peeth was set up in 1920 by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta to provide alternate education arrangement during the Non-cooperation movement during India's freedom struggle. It soon became a center of National education with Hindi as the medium of instruction. Acharya Narendradev, Babu Sampurnanand, Babu Sriprakash and many more luminaries of the time have been associated with this institute. Over a period of time, the Kashi Vidyapeeth has flourished into an educational institute of repute.

Today, the university offers courses almost on all disciplines ranging from humanities and management to life sciences. A medical college is also being planned in the University. Besides, the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth has taken a great leap forward by keeping pace with the changing times and offering new courses according to the needs of the times and also the students. As a result of this many new departments and faculties have come up at the University campus in the last few years.

Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya

The Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya (university) was founded on 22 March 1958 by the then Chief Minister Dr. Sampurnanand and Education Minister Pt. Kamalapati Tripathi, with the name of `Varanaseya Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya'. Dr. A.N. Jha was its first vice-chancellor. It was renamed as Sampurnanand Sanskrit University under the U.P. State University Act, 1973.

The University has since been proceeding along the set path of the programme while trying to achieve its goal. The Sampurnanand Sanskrit University has a great history of about 205 years (including the Govt. Sanskrit College). In other words, the history of the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University includes history of the Sanskrit Education itself. The guidelines set by the glorious past of the Govt. Sanskrit College Benares has been the focus of the university.

The history of the Govt. Sanskrit College goes back to the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Under a proposal of Sri Jonathan Duncan, the Govt. Sanskrit College was established in 1791. Pt. Kashinath was its first teacher and Acharya. At that point of time, there was an arrangement for the teaching of subjects such as Vedas, Vedanta Purana, Ayurveda, Sahitya, Astrology, Theology, Mimamsa, Nyaya, etc. The college was conducted with the surplus revenue of the Benares State. At present the Sampurnanand University has a number of faculties and departments, dedicated to the study of various humanities and science disciplines.

Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies

Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies was established with the philosophy of imparting education in Tibetan Studies with a preference for the traditional Tibetan method of teaching within an innovative framework of modern universities, comprising time-bound courses of study, written examinations and award of degrees. The institute is situated in the serene and beautiful surroundings of Sarnath. The Institute is mainly research-oriented and seeks to mould through its teaching departments students turning into suitably qualified persons capable of undertaking works of research and restitution in concurrence with the fundamental objectives of the organization. The curriculum of courses have been so drawn as to provide the students with sound footings in traditional subjects of Tibetology, while enabling them to be fully conversant with modern subjects and research methodology.

The Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies earlier functioned as a special constituent wing of the Sampurnananda Sanskrit University, Varanasi. The Institute was registered under the Societies Registration Act in the end of 1977 to operate as an autonomous organization under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Education, Government of India. Ever since, the Institute has gradually progressed with optimal success. With considerable growth in its infrastructure and academic excellence, the Department of Culture initiated a proposal for the Institute to give it a Deemed University Status. The Institute was finally declared as a "Deemed to be University" in 1988.

Udai Pratap College

The Udai Pratap College is situated in the northeast part of the holy city, Varanasi. The U P College spans across 100 acres. This college is one of the several academic institutions running in the same campus managed by Udai Pratap Educational Society. Late Rajarshi Udai Pratap Singh Ju Deo, the Raja of Bhinga estate established this college in the year 1909. At that time, it started as a High School but at present there are several institutions running in this campus.

The U P College, Varanasi started functioning as a degree college in the year 1949 with only a few graduation level courses in Arts and Commerce. At present the U P College provides for higher education in several courses at graduate and post-graduate level. The college has been granted an Autonomous status, getting the authority to design and implement its own curriculum and to conduct the examination and announce the results, by the UGC and the State Government of U.P.

Apart from academic activities, the U P College has excellent records in the field of sports and games in general and hockey, in particular. In the campus the U P College has its own hospital to provide regular medical service to the students and the staff. There are a number of hostels to provide residential accommodation to its students. In the College campus, IGNOU has opened a study center through which thousands of students get distance education in numerous disciplines.

Art & Culture of Varanasi

Silk Benares, VaranasiThe art and culture of Varanasi is unique. It is the rich cultural tradition of Varanasi that makes it the cultural capital of India. A combination of archaeology, mythology, geography, art and history makes Varanasi a great center of Indian culture. Though Varanasi is associated mainly with Hinduism and Buddhism but one can find glimpse of many religious beliefs, types of worship and religious institutions at Varanasi. It is amazing to see the primitive worship cults being practiced at Varanasi.

Varanasi presents a complete museum of Indian art and culture. At Varanasi one can feel the changing patterns and movements in course of history. It has a rich and unique style of art forms and folk art. For centuries, Varanasi has produced master craftsmen and earned name and fame for its beautiful Sarees, handicrafts, textiles, toys, ornaments, metal work, clay and woodwork and other crafts.

Since ancient times, Varanasi has been the Capital of all knowledge (sarva Vidya ki Rajdhani). Varanasi has produced numerous famous scholars and intellectuals, who have left their mark in respective fields of activity. Varanasi is home to numerous universities, college, schools, Madarsas and Pathshalas and the Guru Shishya tradition still continue in many institutions. The literary tradition of languages, dialects, newspapers, magazines and libraries continue to even this day.

Varanasi presents a unique social and cultural fabric. Cultural and linguist pluralism and various ethnic groups are so very eternal to the holy city, Varanasi. At Varanasi one gets to explore the city of affluence, intellectuals, oral traditions, castes and customs, personalities, professions and communal harmony. There is another interesting facet to Varanasi, where one gets to enjoy Benarasi pans, Thandai, Gamcha, Bahri Alang and Mauj Masti.

Music, drama and entertainment are all synonymous with Varanasi. Benaras has long been famous for its music, both vocal and instrumental and has its own dance traditions. Add to this, Varanasi has a very rich stock of folk music and drama (esp. Ramlila), fairs and festival and the rich tradition of akharas, games and sports. All these combine together to give a distinct look to the city of moksha, Varanasi.

Astrology,Sanskrit &Yoga at Varanasi

Varanasi is a center of education and learning for centuries and is aptly called as the cultural capital of India. Scholars, intellectuals, philosophers, mystics and saints from all over the world have been coming to Varanasi, the capital of education. In earlier times, Varanasi was more famous for Vedic education and astrology (jyotish). Students and scholars from different parts came to the holy city to study and learn philosophy and astrology.

Thus, there developed a great tradition of learning of Vedic astrology or "jyotish shastra" at Varanasi. The system of Vedic astrology continues to even this day in Varanasi. It is very much evident in the "Guru Shishya parampara" of Kashi. In ancient and medieval period, jyotish was taught at "Ashrams" and "Gurukuls" and it continues to be taught at many of the present educational institutions at Varanasi. There are separate faculties Meditation and Astrology in B.H.U. and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Following are main center for meditation and astrology.

Sanskrit is not only a classical language but also a repository of Indian cultural heritage. Sanskrit is the most ancient among the languages of the world. Its storehouse of knowledge is unrivaled and one of the most invaluable treasures of the world. Sanskrit language is a symbol of Indian tradition and thought, which has exhibited full freedom in the search of truth. The most interesting aspect of Sanskrit language is that it has shown complete tolerance towards other languages. Varanasi is a true example of Guru-Shishya tradition, which has helped in the growth and development of Sanskrit language.

Since ancient times, Varanasi is a great center of learning of Sanskrit language. Over a period of time, Varanasi has produced many great scholars of Sanskrit. Many great works of Sanskrit have also been penned at Varanasi. The Sampurnanand Sanskrit University was set up at Varanasi to keep intact the traditional scholarship and to strike a balance between India and western outlooks and to conduct research and to study various aspects of culture and spiritual literature. Over a period of time, this university has contributed towards the development of Sanskrit language by taking up the study and research on Vedas, Vedanta Purana, Ayurveda, Sahitya, Astrology, Theology, Mimamsa, Nyaya, etc.

The Sampurnanad Sanskrit University has played an important role in the development of Sanskrit language through translation and publication of specific texts as well cataloguing of manuscripts. It has also coordinated the oriental and occidental currents of thoughts, while preserving the ancient Indian tradition. It has helped in the grooming up of new and talented scholars who are well versed in the knowledge of traditional Sanskrit and fully acquainted with modern thoughts and are capable of carrying on comparative study on modern lines.

Varanasi has been a great center of Indian philosophy, spiritualism, Ayurveda, Yoga and mysticism. Yoga is a way of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and emotions. Yoga is done through the practice of asana (the physical exercise), pranayama (the breathing technique) and mudra. All these practices purify the body, mind and energy system to prepare the ground for higher practice of meditation and for the ultimate experience of cosmic consciousness.

The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word "Yog", which means "unity" or means to join. This unity or joining is described in spiritual term as the union of Shakti (energy) with his consort Shiva (the supreme consciousness) and this is the central theme of yoga. At Varanasi, there is a great tradition of Yoga learning and this continues even to this day. Traditionally, Ashrams and Muths have been the center of Yoga practice and learning and with the establishment and development of modern institutions of learning, Yoga has been given due place in their curriculum.

There are separate faculties and departments of Yoga, Ayurveda, and Meditation and Astrology in B.H.U. and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Varanasi is the center for Yoga, Ayurveda, Meditation and Astrology. Following are main centers for Yoga, Meditation and Astrology.

                       VARANASI MUSIC
Music is supposed to be the soul of life. By virtue of being the oldest living city, Benaras has its own rich history and treasure of music. According to mythology, when Renu (son of Vishwamitra) and Mahagovind founded Kashi (Varanasi), they also brought with them the Aryan traditions and the Vedic culture. Lord Shiva is the presiding deity of Varanasi and is also considered as the lord of dance and music. According to the Puranic tales the Apsaras, Gandharvas and Kinnars lived in Varanasi and made the musical tradition of Varanasi a rich one.

Going back to history, we find numerous instances and examples of dance, music and drama evolving in Varanasi. Excavations at Varanasi have shown a terracotta figurine, in which two musicians are playing percussion instruments. The literature of ancient and medieval times also point out to a great tradition of music in Kashi or Varanasi. The Bhakti movement in the medieval period also contributed to the development of music in Varanasi. Great saint Chaitanya and Vallabhacharya played an important role in the development and popularity of music in Varanasi. Saints like Surdas, Kabeer, Raidas, Meera and Tulsi also made rich and valuable contributions to the devotional music and their Bhajans are popular to even this day.

Benaras also developed as a great center of Dhrupad style of singing. In the 16th century, Govind Chandra ruled Varanasi and during his regime Dhrupad was the royal music. With the development of Dhrupad, other styles like Dhamar, Hori and Chaturang also grew. The Famous Assarwari, "Ghunghat ke pat Khol" was made famous by the Nirgun singers of Kashi while Meer Rustam (the Nawab of Awadh) patronised Music Festivals like Jhoola, Jhoomar, Kajri, Birha, Dangal, Gulab Bari and music festivals on boats. Over a period of time Tappa form of singing also became popular in Varanasi and its main exponents were Shori Miyan, Gammu Khan and Shade Khan.

Over a period of time, the Maharajas of Kashi or Varanasi also gave patronage to music and that resulted in making Varanasi a great center of music. Here, it's important to note the contribution of Maharaj Prabhu Narayan Singh, who gave patronage to Bahadur Shah's court Musicians like Waris Ali, Akbar Ali, Nisar Khan, Sadiq Ali and great Ashiq Ali Khan. Ali Mohammad and Ali Bux, the sons of Basat Khan, were considered the "jewels" of Kashi Darbar. Thus, a galaxy of great musicians made Banaras a great center of music. Varanasi saw the development of Banarasi Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, Hori, Bhairavi, Kajri, Tarana, Ghato and much more. Besides these major streams, lesser-known forms like Tirwat, Sadra, Khamsa, Lavni, Chaturang, Sargam, Ragmala, Kirtan, Qauwali, Kathagayan, Bhajan and Ramayan also developed at Varanasi.

Varanasi is also associated with many great instrumentalists. Sehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan is famous world wide while Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar has earned wide acclaim throughout the world. Other instrumentalists who have left their mark are Madan Mohan, Bhola Nath, Pathak, Mannuji, Amarnath Mishra, Brindwan Das, Ramdeo and Subodh Babu.

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