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Banaras

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Varanasi, India.

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Banaras, the most visited pilgrimage destination in India, is one of seven Holy Cities, one of twelve Jyotir Linga sites and also a Shakti Pitha site. Myths and hymns speak of the waters of the Ganges as the fluid medium of Shiva's divine essence and a bath in the river is believed to wash away all of one's sins. Known in different eras as Varanasi and Kashi, this great center of Shiva worship has had more than 3000 years of continuous habitation. The city's primary Shiva shrine, the Jyotir Linga Visvanatha or ‘Golden Temple’ and the Jnana Vapi or ‘Well of Wisdom’ are the ritual center of Banaras.

In Banaras, it is said there are millions of shrines and deities. Since a pilgrim would need all their life to visit each of these shrines, it is considered wise to come to the holy city and never again leave. Banaras is traditionally called Mahashamshana, ‘the great cremation ground’. Hindus believe that cremation at the holy city insures moksha, or final liberation of the soul from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Encircling the holy city at a radius of five miles is the sacred path known as the Panchakroshi Parikrama. Pilgrims take five days to circumambulate Kashi on this fifty-mile path, visiting 108 shrines along the way. Today a crowded and noisy city, Banaras was in antiquity an area of rolling hills, lush forests, and natural springs bordered by the magical waters of the river Ganges. A favored hermitage site for many of India's most venerated sages, Buddha and Mahavira, Kabir and Tulsi Das, Shankaracharaya and Patanjali all meditated here.

Photo: Early morning fog shrouds the river Ganges and the holy city of Banaras.

More about Banaras from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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