Who does not know about Kashi? It has had many names but as we all know, a rise by any other name is still a rose. Benaras, Varanasi and who knows what names it was called prehistorically??
I am sure that Kashi is much older than we give her credit for. It is old, ancient, who knows how old??
In an attempt to answer this perplexing puzzle and to find out more, a group of archeologists led by former professor of archeology at the Banaras Hindu Uni(BHU) Prof Vidula Jayaswal is busy “unearthing the antiquity” of this city through excavations at the ASI protected site at Rajghat with help from the Archaeological Survey of India.
Below I quote from an article TIMES OF INDIA PUBLISHED FEB- 6TH 2014.
“Based on archaeological remains unearthed at the Kashi-Rajghat area about four decades ago, findings had suggested that the city was inhabited around 9th century BC. But our venture aims at finding answers to a number of questions like how old is Varanasi actually? What are the factors which helped this city to survive till today — particularly when other old cities on the banks of the Ganga died out? The news excavations could push the date back by several centuries,” Vidula told TOI on Wednesday.
“We are digging the earth in 5X5 meter blocks till a depth of 5-6 meters to find out archeological remains,” she said. Based on the earlier findings, the ASI records say that the site of Rajghat perhaps represents the ancient Kashi. This area has been one of the oldest settlement sites and still possesses natural groves and old remains. This mound was excavated by BHU and from 1960 to 1969 and a trial trench was dug in 1957. The excavation carried out at Rajghat brought to light artefacts dating back to 8th century BC to 18th century AD.
“We would take help of carbon dating technique to ascertain the antiquity of our findings,” she said.
Vidula, who is associated with Jnana Pravaha, Centre for Cultural Studies and Research, said, “During my tenure at BHU I had led the excavations in the periphery of Varanasi at Ramnagar (2004-2005 & 2006-2007) and Akatha (2001-2002 & 2002-2003). The archaeological remains found at Akatha suggested that it had a settlement in 1800 BC while Ramnagar had settlement in 1750 BC. These findings of Akatha and Ramnagar compelled us to do a fresh exercise to ascertain the actual age of Kashi (Varanasi), which has a living history from 800 BC based on earlier excavations at Rajghat.”
“The undisrupted occupation of Kashi region since ancient times till date played a vital role in the make up of modern Varanasi. The fact is that Kashi was not established by any royalty, but it has been nurtured by people and folk culture,” she said.
Vidula, who has also authored a book, Ancient Varanasi (An Archaeological Perspective), had already mentioned in it that ancient remains of Varanasi, which were unearthed at Kashi-Rajghat about four decades ago, could demonstrate that this holy city was inhabited around 9th century BC and had attained status of a promising urban centre by 3rd century BC.
Sarnath, the place of first sermon of Gautam Buddha, retains archeological remains from the time of the Maurya king Ashoka. But, excavations as Aktha reveal that this settlement had greater antiquity than that has been obtained at Kashi-Rajghat. Glimpses of its past come through the descriptions of ancient texts and archaeological remains. The information available from the former is fragmentary in nature, while archaeological records, an authentic base for the reconstruction of the past, are ever growing. The discoveries and findings add and modify the known history. The recent archaeological investigations, as the one at Aktha, has brought to light new evidence which is significant and needs to be added to the history of Varanasi, she mentioned.
According to her book, on account of the archaeological remains of Kashi-Rajghat and Sarnath — the stretch of the cultural zone of Kashi — was considered to be within a five kilometre radius from the nucleus of the modern city of Varanasi — the Pucca Mahal locality. Besides, ancient texts and modern studies on human geography suggest that the large urban set ups like Varanasi needed to be supported by a number of satellite settlements of feeding centres which, though small entities occupying peripheral region, remain integral part of settlements of Varanasi-Sarnath region. The first colonization of Kashi region, on account of these findings, could be pushed back about 500-600 years.
Yet, what is 500- 600 years- Kashi is way older than that!!!
We all know the sacred sthan or place of worship which exists in the coordinates 25.2820° N, 82.9563° E, is a place like none other. We know it is the place of Kashi Vishwanath or Lord Shiva and his consort Maa Annapurna.
No one goes hungry in Kashi and for a Hindu to die in Kashi, on the banks of the river Ganges means they are going into Devachanic bliss, emancipation from the endless cycles of birth and death. Numerous pilgrims hoping for this reach Benaras at the twilight hour of their life.
Yes this place is so sacred. This is no nonsense, its the higher vibrations of this place which take you into the higher realms, and if your karma permits you will die there and reach these heights. But not everyone can die here, if your karmic fruits do not permit, you will not and simply cannot die here to reach Devachan; the important lingams is Tarakeshwara, Shiva as Lord of Taraka Mantra, the prayer of crossing at the time of death. Tarakeshwar will take you to the land of pure consciousness if you surrender your mind, body and atman to him at this holy tirthasthan.
From the dawn of history Kashi-Varanasi has been a great seat of Learning. Many famous works in Sanskrit language are said to have been produced in the city. It enjoys a pride of place among the Educational centres of India, being the seat of Kashi Vidyapeeth, Sampurnanand Sanskrit University( built in the style of Gothic Architecture), Islamic University (Jamia-Milia) and the Great and the biggest residential University of Asia – Banaras Hindu University (BHU) founded by Mahamana Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya in 1916.
it is also famed as a place known for its heritage in music, literature, art and craft. It is a cherished name in the art of silk weaving. The Banarasi silk sarees and brocades are prized all over the world. The classical musical styles or ‘gharanas’ are woven into the lifestyle of the people and are accompanied by musical instruments that are manufactured in Varanasi. Many religious texts and theosophical treatises have been written here.
So many holy men come and go in Kashi and some had made it home, like Baba Trailanga Swami, who was himself the walking, talking Shiva of Benaras.
Even Baba Vishuddhananda went there and established an ashram; he also did the sthapana of the Navamundi Mahasana there(the explanation of the Navamundi Asana is available on my blog for interested seekers). The entire city of Shiva is regarded as Mahashmashana, the Great Cremation Ground for the corpse of the entire universe.
Mahavatar Babaji goes regularly to Kashi; in fact Paramhamsa Yogananda met his guru Yukteshwar Giri in Benaras. There are so many anecdotes about Varanasi and holy men that I could go on and on forever.
But did you know that the etheric Kashi that exists above the sthula version is a rather interesting place. Of course things in the ether are larger than in the physical world, the place is less dense and the vibrations are purer than here. There are references of this in the Puranas.
Past smaller ghats such as Mansarovar Ghat, named after the holy lake in Tibet, and Narada Ghat, honouring the divine musician and sage, lies Chausathi Ghat, where impressive stone steps lead up to the small temple of the Chausathi (64) Yoginis. Images of Kali and Durga in its inner sanctum represent a stage in the emergence of the great goddess as a single representation of a number of female divinities. and Chausatti yoginis are all awakened in the etheric Kashi; so are the lingams of Vishweshwar, Dhundiraja.
There is another state of Kashi besides the above mentioned two and that is the causal or the adhyatmic one. Did you know that throughout Bharatavarsha it was famed that there are never and there can never be any earthquakes in Kashi.
In ancient times, Kashi was called Avimuktakshetra, in its adyatmic ir causal state.
When the Kundalini awakens, it rises from the muladhara chakra and step by step reaches the sahasrara chakra through the others; but as it rises, it also falls back- it’s all dependant on one’s karma. The chakras in which it may fall back and rise again are Swadhisthan chakra, Manipura chakra, Anahata chakra and Vishuddha chakra. Understand that nothing is static in this Universe, everything is constantly vibrating and so are the chakras. But in the state of Avimuktakshetra, the vibratory influence fades away, and the yogi can be assured that once the kundalini has risen here, it will never fall back into the other chakras.
This allegory means that Kashi will never have earthquakes. This is the hidden meaning, the secret of Kashi or rather of Avimuktakshetra!!!
On the two sides of Kashi flows rivers Varuna and Asi, they are the symbols of Ida and Pingala, the Surya and Chandra nadis. Sushumna is far too spiritual to have any physical symbol.
Lolarka Kund, the Trembling Sun”, a rectangular tank fifteen metres blow ground level, approached by steep steps is now almost abandoned, except during the Lolarka Mela fair (Aug/Sept), when thousands come to propitiate the gods and pray for the birth of a son, Lolarka Kund is among Varanasi’s earliest sites, one of only two remaining Sun sites linked with the origins of Hinduism. Equated with the twelve adityas or divisions of the sun, which predate the great deities of Modern Hinduism, it was attracting bathers in the days of the buddha. So this place is prehistoric!!!
On certain days like during the mahakumbha, the energy moves from ida and pingala into sushumna and therefore bathing in the Ganges that day purifies your karmas and takes you to Moksha.
So understand the subtle meanings behind why our ancestors had given so much to importance to the mahatirthasthanas!!!