American writer Mark Twain wrote: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
Through the ages, Varanasi was variously known as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, Kasi and Benaras. Varanasi, is regarded as a holy city by Buddhists and Jains, and is the holiest place in the world in Hinduism (and center of earth in Hindu cosmology). It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, around 5,000 years ago, thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda, Skanda Purana, Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, mention the city.
Varanasi was a commercial and industrial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha, Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveler, Xuanzang, attested that the city was a center of religious, educational, and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.
Varanasi is not far behind in education either. Varanasi is home to four universities: Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University.
The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river’s religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years. The Benares Gharana form of Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravidas, their guru Swami Ramanand, Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote Ramacharitamanas here, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi.
Recently, the legendary city of Varanasi was hurt deep by some moronic forces who can’t withstand the prosperity of our nation. Mujahideen claimed that this was their revenge for the recent Ayodhya verdict. Let’s keep peace and answer them with development, reforms and better life for people. No violence can justify more violence. Let’s not misplace our priorities.