Banaras, The Heritage City of India (Geography, History and Bibliography)

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Item Code: IDL095
Publisher: Indica Books
Author: Rana P.B. Singh
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 8186569855
Pages: 460 (5 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.8"
Weight 800 gm
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Book Description
Back Of the Book

This book describes facets of geography history and heritage of Varanasi the heritage city of India on/about which a vast historical literature is available. The section on Geography covers the general background of the topography, climate, soils, vegetation and human landscape. The history section gives a general brief outline of history form the ancient to the modern, including a chronological chart. The issue of inscribing the heritagescapes, especially of the riverfront ghats, on the line of UNESCO Heritage criteria has also been fully described.

The Bibliography, by far the most complete up to day, contains 1276 entries classified into 16 groups: books, mostly in English; Research papers & essays; Persian works; Urdu sources; Bengali sources; Sanskrit sources; Books/ articles in Hindi; Marathi sources; Bengali sources Published reports/ Government document; Electronic publications; Films (English); Japanese sources; Unpublished dissertations; Unpublished reports; Unpublished reports; (Varanasi; Inscribing Heritage Zones for WHL UNESCO); Unpublished (Undergraduate) fieldwork projects.

This book will serve as a major resource for Banaras studies urban history cultural geography, and heritage studies and can also be used as model frame for similar heritage cities in other parts of the world.

About the Author

Prof. Rana P.B. Singh (b. 1950), Ph, D (1974), Professor of Cultural Geography & heritage Studies since January 1999 at Banaras Hindu University has been involved in studying performing and promoting heritage planning sacred geography and cultural astronomy pilgrimage studies, eco-tourism and development on the Varanasi region for the last three decades as consultant project director collaborator and organizer. He is widely recognized as one the main authorities on the city of Banaras.


The sacred bound between person and place is a reciprocal process. The human relation with nature is realized primarily while narrating the place (genius loci). The essence of Place’ consists of components like location, integration of nature and habitat, framework of circulation, tandem with the relevant brief system. Place is the central nexus where we experience the harmonic relationship between man and nature. The process understanding a place is a walk in search of interrelationship between the physical milieu and its metaphysical values.

We are surrounded not by sense objects but by images that are invisible to everybody else. The symbolic expression of place the set of symbols that gives the people of a culture orientation in space and time is pervasive in Hindu culture. We find in Hinduism that places like special sites or natural scenarios, rivers, mountains, grounds, of the cosmos. In fact a passion for placement is basic to Hindu thought. Scared buildings and sacred cities replicate the forms and processes of the cosmos. In fact a passion for placement is basic to Hindu thought. Scared place as storied place is eulogized in Hindu mythology or oral epics with divine connotation –there intersect myth and terra firma. Banaras is such a distinct place in India.

The uniqueness and distinctiveness of a place are the special aspects of a scared place where genius loci and values of human environment are deeply rooted and maintained by means of scared ways-as reflected in pilgrimages and associated performances and rituals. The quality of the sacred place depends upon the human context that has been shaped by it, with respect memories, experiences, miracles and expectations. The city of Varanasi unique in the architectural artistic and religious expressions of traditional Indian culture and is a living example of this culture even today. The cultural heritage of the city is special and is an exceptional testimony to living traditions, to be seen and to be believed in religious faith, rituals and myriad festivals, traditional forms of worship and belief that are still practiced asceticism, spiritual exercises, education, music dance handicrafts and art forms that continue to be transmitted through generations.

The paraphrasing of Samuel Johanson’s (1709-1784) remarks for London is well suited to the city of Banaras: “by being Banaras on can see as much of life as the whole India can Show”. In fact, Banaras is an archetype of all India, but it is full of complexity and contrasts resulting too difficult in comprehension for those who stand outside the Hindu tradition. Those who love this city with heart and mind will share with me the metaphorically expression in terms of capturing space, time and tradition. Since the city of Banaras records a long experience in history as centre of pilgrimages and mystics everywhere the puranic literature is given prime importance.

The old city center and other important cultural and religious places are today enclose within the modern city and are seriously threatened by pressures of modernization and development. The religious, philosophical and cultural heart of India Varanasi or Banaras as it is popularly called or Kashi as the ancient centre of the city was called in the religious context is the most important pilgrimage destination of the Hindus. The Saranath zone which is within the wider city precincts, is extremely important for Buddhist asset for Indians and for the citizens of the world contributing to the cultural philosophical and intellectual knowledge of Indian culture and the cultural community of the world.

Since the first stage of Human evolution, the idea of mystical power of place has been part of human consciousness. The identification of a place as sacred is never ‘chose’ by humans, it is merely discovered by them. In some way or another the ‘spirit of place’ attracts and reveals itself to a human and that is how he or the merely finds it, though the process of discovery become easier when one follows the spiritual path.

Humans have used all their senses to search for places where divine beings manifest their power. Several such stories are mentioned in ancient mythologies. We learn from history that archaic people sought meaningful ways to link reality and psychic felling in order “to combine empirical facts with imaginative fancies and to think in rhythm with their feelings and feel in rhythm with their thinking (Herberger 1972). Going back to history in a search for holistic theory we find the idea of theoria an ancient way of rasping experience that involves all the senses and feeling and ultimately how humans express themselves: human talk. The will to sacred journey involves a surrender of self to the divine a kind of soul healing.

The key is a small thing really but its power is great. The key is genius loci. To every place there is a key –direct communication with the inherent meanings and messages of the place. When the key cultural tradition the quest to understand what is beyond –all are the facets of crossings. In Indian culture the crossings are the tirthas (‘sacredscapes’) where one transforms oneself from the physical to from one side-physical-that the vertical can be attained only by strict attention to the horizontal. The ladder provides the way of ascent through care and deeper quest. A spiritual walk is the ladder, sacred ways are the steps and human understanding is the destination. Thinking together is a new vision. Going together is a new start. Walking together is a real march. Realizing together is the final destination-enlightenment. Without a pilot, one gets lost in madness, illness, or death. Without a way a pilgrim or traveler gets lost in the route. The way is a spirit –‘spirit’ is an eternal sight for passing on the path in the right order.

By spiritual walk can we regain certain understand that have been forgotten? Why not? These understanding would help us to a creation extent our balance inwardly (spiritually, ad psychologically) and outwardly in terms of ecological cosmology. This book is an attempt to serve as a key a way and a companion on this march towards crossing and soul healing.

The devout Hindus say that the three bridge-pillars interlinking the earth to the heaven are Prayaga (Allahabad), Kashi (Varanasi) and Gaya. This can be revealed through the experiences of their distinct images. They express this as Prayaga munde (by tosure), Kashi dhundhe (by search in the labyrinth lances) and Gaya pinde (by offering rice-balls to ancestors). Through these steps one can get liberation. This triadic framework of India cultural tradition is narrated in this companion book of spiritual walking. There are many ways of expressing the vividness and contrasts of Kashi Kshetra (territory) its cultural setting and its exposures. This publication is a humble attempt to present almost all the important sites and scenes in and around Banaras, described with a view to experiencing the deeper meaning and message. Through the present one can feel the process of becoming which reminds us that.

The future of present is in the past.

The future of past is in the future.

The future of Future is in the present.

Ultimately, present makes both past and future.

It is our wish that you and we will either meet in the lanes of Banaras or even better that we will perform co-pilgrimage in and around Banaras while walking on the cosmic circuit.

A Call for Co-pilgrimage

Banaras where always ready (Bana) is the juice of life (rasi)! This ‘Life-juice’ flows in plenitude here in different colours, varying tones, multiple textures and layers diverse situations, contrasting conditions, etc. it is the blending or “complex mixing” of these which makes up the mosaic of culture known as Banaras the city of Lord Shiva.

Shiva’s liquid energy flows in the form of the Ganga river and he is represented in the iconographic form of the linga. The residents of Banaras believe that lord Shiva and his associates live invisibly in the rhythm of the city, but that only the enlightened one can experience and revel this.

Once mark twain famously commented (1897-480): “Banaras is older than history, older then tradition older even then legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. Banaras is not the story of bricks and stones; it is in fact a living history in itself. A son of the soil and experiential writer (Kamal Gupt 1986:79) describes the city metaphorically in terms capturing space time and tradition.

Banaras either of the past or the present and would be of the future was a historically important city of the past and is of the present and would be of the future. Banaras is not only a city, but also a culture in itself. Looking this city is easy, recognition difficult touching it is easy capturing difficult. Making portrait is easy transformation on the mental canvas difficult. In this way in spite of easiness in outlook in appearance it is a city of dignity, infity and complexity.

Describing the historicity and inherent power of preserving continuity, Sherring (1868:7-8) writes:

Twenty five centuries ago, at the least, it was famous. When Babylon was struggling with Nineveh for supremacy, when Tyre was planting her colonies when Athens was growing in strength before Rome had become known or Greece had contended with Persia, or Cyrus has added luster to the Persian monarchy, or Nebuchandnezzar had captured Jerusalem and the inhabitants of Judaea had been carried into captivity she had already risen to greatness, if not to glory. Nay she may have heard of the fame of Solomon, and have sent her ivory, her apes and her peacocks to adorn his places while partly with her gold he may have overlaid the Temple of the Lord. Not only is Benares remarkable for her venerable age, but also for the vitality and vigour which, so far we know, she has constantly exhibited. While many cities and nations have fallen into decay and perished her sun has never gone down; on the contrary exhibited. While many cities and nations have fallen into decay and perished her sun has never gone down; on the contrary, for long ages past it has shone with almost meridian splendour. Her illustrations name has descended from generation to generation, and has ever been a household word venerated and beloved by the vast Hindu family.

From the 11th to the 17th centuries Muslim invaders destroyed the city at least four times. However it survived and was repeatedly revived the sites and holy spots were re-searched the monuments were re-paired and re-built and the spirit was again re-awakened to re-unite with the primordial. In this way the eternity of life ahs survived in spite of several superimpositions’, or attempts to submerge it.

The multiple personalities of Kashi are projected as.

City of light where every day the sunrise reflects on the crescent moon-shared Ganga River and finally illuminates the river front city of delight where high degrees of pleasure and joy are experienced.

City of plight where ups and downs always make life full of frequent and sudden changes ;< P> City of might possesses the power of felling and attraction; City of sight, which allows clear vision to emerge where humanity and divinity meet;

City of right where all the human deeds are righteously assessed by the patron deity Shiva who then blesses and curse accordingly.

The Kashi Khanda (35.10) says, “The Ganga River Lord Shiva, and the divine city of Kashi make the Trinity of grace and perfect bliss”. The Trinity is symbolized by the three hillocks as the three forks of Shiva’s trident on which the city exists, viz. Omkareshvara in the north, Vishveshvara in the central part, and Kedareshvara in the south. Blessed by Lord Shiva, Bhagiratha brought the goddess Ganga to the earth the who provides vital life to Kashi as well as to the wide range of the plains. The mythical figure Divodasa become a divine king of the city, but finally handed it over to Shiva. Lord Shiva left Mount Kaliash and settled here in a variety of forms. There are more than three thousand forms of lingas. By Shiva’s power the city has grown as a seat of knowledge. Over fifty Sanskrit schools are still preserving the ancient traditions. Many other education institutions have grown up here as well. Presently there are seven universities or university-level institutions, viz. the Banaras Hindu University, Sampurnananda Sanskrit University Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith University, Central Institute of higher Tibetan Studies Udai Pratap (autonomous) P.G. Collage, Agrasen (autonomous) P.G. Collage and Jamia Salfia Darul-Islamia, an Islamia university. There are also hundreds of active culture institutes and religious establishment tradition schools music dance and art forms that have spread to the world. The city has always played a special role at least since the 5th century BCE in promoting education- debates and dialectics both religious and spiritual- traditional medicine (Ayurveda) yoga astrology. Further the pattern of spiritual transposition of holy sites is unique in the sense that all the important holy centres of India were replicated here before the 12th century. Varanasi can, in fact be considered a living symbolization and a living expression of Indian culture and traditions in all its religious rituals in its multiethnic artistic tradition in all its architectural treasures, in its life-expressions in its particular relationship with life and death in its traditional schools where Sanskrit and the sacred texts are still taught and in its multicultural and multi-population.

The spiritual magnetism of Banaras had attracted the Buddha here in the 5th century BCE to “Turn the Wheel of Law”. By the turn of the 3rd century BCE the great Buddhist king Ashoka had built a monastery township that flourished till the 11th century CE Later, due to destruction by the Muslim invaders and by fire it turned into ruins. Now, after some time the restored Sarnath has become a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and a place of spiritual for others.

In Banaras city alone there are over 3300 Hindu shrines and temples about 1388 Muslim shrines and mosques, 12 churches, 3 Jain temples, 9 Buddhist temples, 3 Sikh temple (gurudvaras) and several other sacred sites and places. This is the only place in the world where such a huge number of Hindu sacred places co-exist.

The city is also known as the ‘City of Good Death’ and the place where ancestral souls can gain final release. The fires of cremation (mantra) of liberation to the souls of the dead. Along the ghats (stairways) pilgrims perform ancestral rites to the Ganga and give donations a rite by which they are said to get ‘reservation’ in the wandering souls of their ancestors. For the living there are many varieties of monasteries where one can satisfy his/her spiritual. Quest.

The 84 ghats along the arc-shaped Ganga symbolize the integration of the 12 signs pf the zodiac (division of time) and the 7 sheaths of the body or the 7 layers of the atmosphere (divine of space), thus 12× 7= 84. among these, there are five of special merit; Asi Dashashvamedha, Manikarnika, panchaganga and Adi Keshava. Yet the whole stretch of the Ganga provides shelter and means of the ghats), seller of ritual items and flowers and tourist too. To colourscape. Every morning around twenty thousand people take a holy dip, but the bathers number near to a million on special occasions like the full moon in October- November (Karttika Purnima ) and on solar and lunar eclipses.

The natural setting the spirit of place and the continuity of cultural traditions have all blended together to create and preserve a unique lifestyle known as Banaras Gharana (style). Many great musicians and performing artists have been born here and still regularly return to visit and to perform their art for the public as tribute to the spirit of the soil. Layers of time and tradition are superimposed one upon the other, but the essence of the life has maintained its the original style despite some modern touches.


List of Figures List of Tables9-11
Acknowledgements 13
Preface: Banaras the world of Sacrality 19
1Geographical Personality 27
Background Geographical setting topography flood climate; Nomenclature and related tales; Growth of popualtio early 19th century, 20th century, population characteristics; religious Landscape; ethnic and social structure, archetype of an all-India, Shiva as supreme, Jain and temple, Sikgism and shrines, Christianity and churches, Muslims; sacred places; Varanasi the mini-India; Industrial landscape; Tourist landscape; Epilogue
2Banaras; Transformation on the cradle of Time 70
Background early historical period; pratiharas and Gahadavalas period; Delhi Sultanate and Mugal Eras; the story of Vishvanatha Temple; Perspectives in time; The modern and British period; Post-Independence period; Battle to save the Ganga River and its riverfront the issue of Contesting pilgrimage
3Varanasi the Heritage city of India; Master Plan JNNURM and Issue of Inscription in Unesco WHL135
Background; Towards conceptualizing Heritage; battle for the heritage preservation; The master Plan & Heritage Zone; other Heritagescapes; UNESCO guidelines for culture heritage and cultural Landscape; Varanasi on the criteria of UNESCO –WHC; Old City Heritage and Riverfront Cultural landscape JNNURM and the Varanasi CDP; Dilemmas! Pressures and Heritage scenario; Deteriorating Heritage and Issue of Awakening; Actions at the various levels of Govermance; concluding remarks.
4Banaras/ Varanasi: A Selected Bibliography 183
(1276entries) Books, mostly in English with select annotations Research papers & Eassays (mostly English) Persian Works, Translated; Urdu Sources; the Sanskrit sources on Kashi/ Varanasi (selected); Books/ articles in Hindi; Marathi Sources; Bengali sources Published Reports/ Government Document; Electronic publication; Film (English); Japanesa Sources (in Japanesa); Unpublished Reports (Varanasi; Inscribing Heritage Zones for WHL UNESCO); Unpublished (Undergraduate) Fieldwork Projects, The University of Wisconsin program Collage year in India
1Historical Cultural Happenings in North India and Banaras AD 1100-2008354
2Banaras Kashi; Notable Dates in History 365
3Kashi Varanasi; List of Divinities and locations 378
4Shiva Lings from the Kashikhanda 421
5Varanasi/ Kashi The 84 Ghats along the River front 450
6Varanasi/Kashi: 96 Jala Tirtha Yatra 452
7Hindus Festivals 2006-2015454
About the Author 456
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