Varanasi is an ancient city on the banks of the River Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India.

It is one of the most sacred sites in India because it is believed to have been the home of Lord Shiva. Some Hindus believe that the River Ganges pays its respects to Lord Shiva by the direction in which it flows. Usually, the river flows from the north to the south, but at Varanasi it flows from the south to the north.

Millions of pilgrims visit Varanasi in order to purify themselves by bathing in the River Ganges at sunrise.

Some Hindus believe that if they die at Varanasi, they might be able to attain moksha sooner. Because of this, some Hindus go there when they are close to death in order to die there. Others have their ashes scattered there by relatives. A feature of the landscape at Varanasi is the cremation ghats that line the banks of the Ganges.

The processions that take the dead bodies to the ghats may be joyful, even accompanied by singing and dancing, because of the belief in reincarnation and the possibility of moksha of the person who has died.

There are many different funeral rituals, but often the body is dipped into the Ganges and covered with ghee, then wrapped in cotton before being cremated in the open on a funeral pyre. The ashes are then scattered in the River Ganges.

Nature and importance

There are lots of mandir in Varanasi, dedicated to Lord Shiva and other deities. Some Hindus believe that worshipping at the mandir in Varanasi dedicated to their favourite deity builds positive merit and may aid their path to moksha.

Three famous mandir Hindu pilgrims may visit are:

  • the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir - dedicated to Lord Shiva
  • the Durga Temple - dedicated to the goddess Durga
  • the Tulsi Manas Temple - dedicated to Lord Rama