Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi

Standing on the western bank of India’s holiest river Ganges, Varanasi is the oldest surviving city of the world and the cultural capital of India. It is in the heart of this city that there stands in its fullest majesty the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in which is enshrined the Jyotirlinga of Shiva, Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha. Here gravitate the teeming millions of India to seek benediction and spiritual peace by the Darshan of this Jyotirlinga which confers liberation from the bondages of Maya and the inexorable entanglements of the world. A simple glimpse of the Jyotirlinga is a soul-cleansing experience that transforms life and puts it on the path of knowledge and Bhakti. Vishweshwara Jyotirlinga has a very special and unique significance in the spiritual history of India. Tradition has it that the merits earned by the Darshan of other jyotirlinga scattered in various parts of India accrue to devotee by a single visit to Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Deeply and intimately implanted in the Hindu mind, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple has been a living embodiment of our timeless cultural traditions and highest spiritual values. The Temple has been visited by all great saints- Adi Shankaracharya, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekanand, Goswami Tulsidas, Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, Gurunanak and several other spiritual personalities. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple attracts visitors not only from India but abroad as well and thereby symbolizes man’s desire to live in peace and harmony with one another. Vishwanath is a supreme repository of this spiritual truth, thus strengthens the bonds of universal brotherhood and fellow feeling at the national as well as global levels. On January 28, 1983 the Temple was taken over by the Govt. Of Uttar Pradesh and its management ever since stands entrusted to a Trust with Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh. Former Kashi Naresh, as president and an Executive Committee with Divisional Commissioner as Chairman. The Temple in the present shape was built way back in 1780 by Late Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore. In the year 1785 a Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the then Collector Mohd. Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings. In 1839, Two domes of the Temple were covered by gold donated by Punjab Kesari Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. Third dome but was remained uncovered, Ministry of cultures & Religious affairs of U.P. Govt. Took keen interest for gold plating of the third dome of the Temple.

DAY : 1

RITUALS

The Temple opens daily at 2.30am. In Mangala Aarati 3 to 4 a.m. ticket holders are permitted to join. From 4 to 11 a.m. general Darshan is allowed. 11.30 to 12 a.m. mid day Bhog Aarati is done. Again 12 noon to 7 p.m. devotees are free to have Darshan. From 7 to 8.30 p.m. evenings Sapta Rishi Aarati is done after which Darshan is again possible up till 9 p.m. when Shringar/Bhog Aarati starts. After 9 p.m. Darshan from outside only is possible. Sauna Aarti starts at 10.30p. m. The Temple closes at 11p. m. Most of the Prasad, milk, clothes and other such offerings are given to the poors. Contribution in cash or kind towards development or specific purposes is accepted giving due thought and a receipt thereof is issued and the donation is used for the desired save.

Bharat Kala Bhavan is located inside the BHU campus. It displays the India’s heritage and preserves the past of the nation. It is divided in several sections in the form of galleries such as Mahamana Malaviya Gallary, Nidhi Gallery, Nicholas Roerich Gallery, Archaeological Gallery, Chhavi Gallery, Sculpture Gallery and Decorative Art Gallery. It also houses a number of Mughal miniatures, Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, manuscripts and many more things that will interest those who love historical places.

Banaras Hindu University is one of the largest universities in the world. It was founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya in 1916 and is internationally reputed. Spread over an area of 1350 acres, BHU comprises of 3 institutes, 4 interdisciplinary centers, 14 faculties, 124 departments and 3 constituent schools. It is a must visit for to experience the age-old tradition of learning and spirituality. History buffs most certainly shouldn’t give this place a miss.

DAY 2:

Assi Ghat is the southern most ghat in Varanasi. Located at the confluence of Ganga and Assi rivers. In the evenings, there is an Aarti at Assi ghat which attracts many tourists. The pilgrims bathe in the waters at the gate before paying homage to Lord Shiva.

Ramnagar Fort Located near the Ganges river on its eastern bank, Ramnagar fort is a structure built in 1750 by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh. The architecture of this fort is a blend of Indian and Islamic style. During Dussehra, the fort and its surroundings are decorated magnificently and it’s certainly worth a visit.

CHITRAKOOT Known as the Hill of Many Wonders, Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh is one of the oldest pilgrimages in the country. Located on the banks of the Mandakini River (also known as the Paishwani River), the town is a gift of nature and the gods as incarnations of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh are believed to have been born here. According to legend, Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman stayed in the region for about 11 years of their 14 year exile and met Hermit Atri and Sati Anasuya. It is also believed that all the gods and goddesses came to Chitrakoot when Lord Ram performed the final rites of his father here and refused to leave as they were mesmerized by the beauty of the place. Vashishta, the priest forgot to utter the immersion chant and the gods made the town their permanent dwelling. The saint poet, Goswami Tulsidas could witness Lord Ram after pleading to Lord Hanuman in Chitrakoot. Chitrakoot is of great religious importance as it is one of the most important truths and has a status even higher than that of Allahabad. There are many festivals celebrated in the town like Shrawan Jhoola Mela, Amavasya Fair, Ramnavami, Diwali, Vijaydashami and Navratri. Chitrakoot is a popular destination known for its natural beauty and numerous religious places of interest like Kamadgiri which in Sanskrit means the mountain that fulfills all desires. The peculiarly shaped mountain has many caves and also has a huge lake. Ram Ghat, on the banks of the Mandakini River with its temples, is worth visiting. There are a few ashrams like the Valmiki Ashram, Sutikshna Ashram and Sati Anusuya Ashram that is popular religious places of interest. For visiting natural creations, one must visit the Pramod Van and Mayurdhwaj Ashram. Janaki Kund, believed to be the bathing place of Sita, is on the Mandakini River and has clear blue water. Ram Shaiyya and Sphatik Shila are prominent tourist attractions as they are believed to be the places where Lord Ram and his wife, Sita stayed. There is a cavern known as Gupt Godavari, where the Godavari River flows over rocks set deep inside the cave and the river disappears inside another cave. Other places worth a visit in Chitrakoot are Bharat Milap Mandir, Bharat Koop, Shabari Fall, Param Kutir, Hanuman Dhara, Viradh Kund and Lakshman Chowki. There are many budget and mid-range options when it comes to accommodation in Chitrakoot. You can also find guest houses, lodges, dharamsalas and a tourist bungalow. Being a religious place all restaurants serve only vegetarian food. Most restaurants and food stalls are clustered near Ram Ghat serve North Indian cuisine. The best time to visit Chitrakoot is during July and March.

Kushinagar

Among the five Buddhist pilgrimages associated with Lord Buddha’s life, Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh is the place where Gautam Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. Situated 53 km from Gorakhpur, the town is popular for its history, stupas and temples. It is said that Lord Buddha fell ill and later attained Parinirvana. The town is popular as it is the last resting place of Lord Buddha. Today, one can see several stupas and temples in the town, which stands as a testimony to the Lord Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana. These stupas and temples were discovered during excavations by Gen A Cunningham and A C L Carlyle in 1861-1876. The excavation brought the town and its historical past into limelight. The historical structures have been divided into three groups – Nirvana temple, the central Stupa and surrounding monasteries, Mathakuar Kot and Ramabhar Stupa. The most prominent attraction is the Mahanirvana stupa. It is the place where Lord Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. The Wat Thai temple and Ramabhar Stupa are the other major attractions of the town. One can see several temples, stupas and monasteries built in the Buddhist architectural style. The town also finds a place in Ramayana. In ancient time it was called Kushavati, the city of Kusha, son of Lord Ram. It is said that the stupas and viharas were built between 3rd and 5th century CE. The Mauryan Emperor Ashoka is credited with building the Buddhist structures in the town. The town was also called Kushinara, the capital of the Malla dynasty. There are several accommodation options available in Kushinagar. One can find many budget hotels, dharmshalas and lodges. One can also opt to stay at the Pathik Niwas hotel, run by the UP tourism department. Most of the restaurants pre-dominantly serve North Indian cuisine. One can also opt to have food at the UPSTDC restaurant. The best time to visit Kushinagar is between October and March.

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