Varanasi

varanasi

A crumbling maze of a city that rises from the ghats (steps) on the western banks of the Ganges, Varanasi is in many senses the quintessential India. With an ancient history — Mark Twain famously described it as “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together” — it is also one of the most sacred cities in the world today.

Kashi, or “City of Light, where the eternal light of Shiva intersects the earth,” as Varanasi is seen by devotees, is the holiest of Indian pilgrimages, home of Shiva, where the devout come to wash away their sins. It is also one of the holiest tirthas (literally a “crossing” or sacred place where mortals can cross over to the divine, or the gods and goddesses come to bathe on earth), where many return to die in the hope that they may achieve moksha, the salvation of the soul from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.