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One Day In Varanasi, India’s Holiest Hindu City Of Ceremonies


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Katha Whitley



Varanasi, also known as Benares or Kashi, is a city nestled on the banks of the sacred Ganges River in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India. It holds a significant place in Hindu mythology and is considered one of the holiest cities in the country. Varanasi attracts millions of pilgrims and tourists each year, seeking spiritual enlightenment and a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of India.


The city is steeped in history, with origins dating back to ancient times. It is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, making it a treasure trove of historical landmarks, vibrant rituals, and intricate architecture. Varanasi’s narrow winding lanes, bustling markets, and colorful ghats (steps leading to the river) create a captivating tapestry of sights, sounds, and aromas.


Varanasi is renowned for its religious significance, particularly in the Hindu faith. Devotees flock to the city to perform sacred rituals, including bathing in the holy waters of the Ganges and seeking blessings from the many temples dotting its landscape. The city’s cultural fabric is also deeply intertwined with the birth of Buddhism, making it a destination of interest for followers of both religions.


Visiting Varanasi is a transformative experience, providing a glimpse into the essence of India’s spirituality and traditions. The city’s vibrant energy, juxtaposed with the serenity of the Ganges, creates a harmonious and mystical atmosphere that lingers with visitors long after they have departed. Whether you are seeking a spiritual awakening, a cultural immersion, or simply an encounter with the soul of India, Varanasi is a destination like no other.


Morning in Varanasi: Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat

As the first rays of the sun kiss the sublime city of Varanasi, a mesmerizing ritual takes place at Dashashwamedh Ghat. The Ganga Aarti, a daily worship ceremony dedicated to the sacred Ganges River, is a sight to behold. This ancient tradition dates back centuries and is performed by a group of priests who create a captivating spectacle of light, sound, and devotion.


The Ganga Aarti commences as the sun begins to set, but experienced visitors know that arriving early in the morning offers a more intimate and tranquil experience. As the city awakens, pilgrims and tourists gather on the steps of Dashashwamedh Ghat, adorned in traditional attire, eager to witness the spiritual event.


The ceremony begins with the chanting of ancient hymns and the rhythmic ringing of bells. The priests, adorned in vibrant saffron robes, move in synchrony, their hands gracefully holding lit lamps or fire bowls, called “aartis.” As the sun rises, the priests make offerings to the sacred river, their movements choreographed with precision and devotion.


With the chanting reaching a crescendo, the aartis are collectively raised towards the sky, creating a mesmerizing visual display. The waters of the Ganges reflect the shimmering flames, and the air becomes filled with the aromatic scent of incense and camphor.


As the ceremony reaches its climax, the priests offer prayers for peace, prosperity, and the well-being of humanity. The crowd, captivated by the spiritual aura and the enchanting chants, is momentarily transported into a realm of profound faith.


The Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat is a symbolic representation of the Hindu belief in the divine power of the Ganges. It is believed that witnessing this ritual washes away sins and brings blessings to those who observe it with sincerity.


As the ceremony concludes, devotees offer flowers and lighted diyas (lamps) on banana leaf boats and release them into the river. The sight of hundreds of tiny lights floating on the Ganges creates an ethereal ambiance, symbolizing the release of worries and the embrace of hope and enlightenment.


Experiencing the Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat is a soul-stirring experience that leaves an indelible impression. It is a reminder of the spiritual essence that permeates every facet of life in Varanasi and reinforces the city’s reputation as the spiritual capital of India.


Exploring Varanasi’s Ghats: Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats

Varanasi is renowned for its iconic ghats, a series of steps leading down to the sacred Ganges River. These ghats serve as both a spiritual hub and a bustling social center, offering a vivid glimpse into the daily life and rituals of the people of Varanasi. Two prominent and significant ghats in Varanasi are Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat.


Manikarnika Ghat, also known as the “Burning Ghat,” holds immense spiritual significance in Hindu mythology. It is believed to be the place where Lord Shiva’s wife, Parvati, dropped her earring, or “manikarnika,” into the river while bathing. The ghat is a prominent cremation site, where the final rites of cremation are performed. It is believed that being cremated at Manikarnika Ghat guarantees liberation from the cycle of birth and death.


As you walk along the ghats, you’ll witness the profound rituals of cremation taking place. Funeral pyres line the riverbank, where bodies of the departed are cremated 24 hours a day. The air is infused with the scent of incense, sandalwood, and the sacred chants of mourning families. While this may seem confronting to some, the cycle of life and death represented at Manikarnika Ghat highlights the spiritual beliefs and acceptance of mortality deeply rooted in Indian culture.


Harishchandra Ghat, located adjacent to Manikarnika Ghat, is also associated with the cremation process. It is believed to be the place where the legendary king Harishchandra, known for his unwavering truthfulness, performed his own son’s funeral rites. The ghat stands as a testament to the values of truth and integrity.


Visitors to Harishchandra Ghat can witness the rituals associated with cremation, which are carried out with utmost reverence and precision. The sight of the funeral pyres, the smoke rising into the sky, and the solemn atmosphere remind us of the transient nature of life and the importance of embracing its impermanence.


Exploring Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat offers a profound insight into the circle of life and death, core beliefs of Hinduism, and the eternal bond between the living and the departed. These ghats are a testament to the deep-rooted spirituality and cultural significance that Varanasi holds in the hearts of millions of people who seek solace, enlightenment, and a connection to the divine.


A Boat Ride on the Ganges River

A boat ride on the sacred Ganges River is a quintessential experience for anyone visiting Varanasi. It offers a unique perspective of the city and allows visitors to witness the interplay between spirituality, daily life, and the river that is central to it all.


As you step onto the boat, you embark on a journey that transcends time and space. The soft ripples of the Ganges, the gentle lapping of water against the boat, and the panoramic view of Varanasi’s ghats create a serene and enchanting ambiance.


The boat glides along the river, passing by a tapestry of colorful buildings, temples, and ghats. The life of Varanasi unfolds before your eyes, revealing the vibrant daily rituals and interactions with the river. You may observe pilgrims bathing in the holy waters, priests performing sacred ceremonies, or locals going about their daily chores on the ghats.


As the boat meanders along the river, you may catch sight of the famous Dasaswamedh Ghat, with its grandeur and bustling activity. It is said that Lord Brahma performed a ritual of sacrifice here, marking its significance in Hindu mythology. The boat guide regales you with tales and legends associated with the ghats and temples that line the riverbank, immersing you in the rich history and cultural heritage of Varanasi.


The boat ride offers a different vantage point to observe the evening Ganga Aarti, a spectacular ceremony held at the ghats. As dusk descends, the ghats come to life, illuminated by a myriad of lamps and the enchanting chants of the priests. The rhythmic swaying of the aartis in the hands of the priests, against the backdrop of the darkening sky, creates a captivating spectacle that leaves a profound impact on all who witness it.


As the boat ride comes to an end, the captivating journey on the Ganges River leaves you with a sense of tranquility and a deeper understanding of the spiritual significance the river holds in the lives of the people of Varanasi. It is a reminder of the eternal cycle of life and death, the sacredness of the Ganges, and the indelible bond between this mystical city and its timeless river.


A boat ride on the Ganges River is not just a sightseeing experience; it is a spiritual journey, a connection to the soul of Varanasi, and an insight into the profound beliefs and rituals that have shaped this ancient city for centuries.


Visit to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple

No visit to Varanasi would be complete without paying homage to the revered Kashi Vishwanath Temple, one of the most sacred Hindu temples in the world. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is believed to be where divine blessings and liberation can be obtained.


The temple, also known as the Golden Temple, stands as a testament to the architectural grandeur and spiritual significance of Varanasi. As you approach the temple complex, the rhythmic sounds of bells, the fragrance of incense, and the chants of devotees create an atmosphere charged with devotion and reverence.


The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is famed for its stunning golden spire, gleaming resplendently in the sunlight. However, only Hindus are permitted inside the sanctum sanctorum, where the lingam of Lord Shiva is enshrined. Non-Hindu visitors can still admire the grandeur of the temple from the outside and soak in its sacred aura.


The temple complex is more than just the main shrine. It consists of several smaller temples, each dedicated to various deities, including Lord Hanuman, Goddess Annapurna, and Lord Kaal Bhairav. Exploring the intricately designed courtyards and halls of the temple complex offers an opportunity to appreciate the craftsmanship and artistic heritage of ancient India.


As you walk through the temple complex, you may witness devotees engaged in various rituals and prayers. Some perform abhishekam (ritual bathing) of the lingam with milk, honey, and other sacred substances, seeking blessings and purification. The rhythmic chants and the deep devotion in their eyes reflect the spiritual fervor that permeates the temple.


The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is not just a place of worship but also a cultural hub. It serves as a gathering point for scholars, artists, and spiritual seekers from all over the world. The temple has nurtured and preserved the ancient wisdom of India for centuries, making it an essential pilgrimage site for Hindus.


Visiting the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is an experience that transcends religious boundaries and offers a glimpse into the spiritual heart of Varanasi. It is a sanctuary of peace, a place where the mortal meets the divine, and where devotees find solace, healing, and spiritual enlightenment.


A visit to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is more than just a tourist attraction; it is a pilgrimage steeped in tradition, culture, and the age-old quest for ultimate truth and liberation.


Strolling through Varanasi’s Narrow Alleys

One of the most fascinating aspects of Varanasi is its intricate network of narrow alleys, known as “galis,” that wind their way through the heart of the city. Exploring these alleys is like stepping into a different world, immersing yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Varanasi’s daily life, traditions, and culture.


As you venture into the winding alleys, you’ll be greeted by a myriad of sights, sounds, and aromas. The lanes are bustling with activity as locals go about their daily routines, vendors display their wares, and shop owners beckon you to explore their stores.


The alleys are alive with colors, adorned with vibrant saris, intricate doorways, and expressive street art. Each turn reveals new surprises – from small shrines tucked away in corners to communal spaces where neighbors congregate, sharing stories and laughter.


Walking through the alleys, you’ll encounter traditional craftsmen practicing their age-old trades. Witness artisans weaving intricate silk sarees, carving delicate wooden statues, and molding brass artifacts. The craftsmanship and skill passed down through generations are a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Varanasi.


As you meander through the maze-like alleys, you may stumble upon hidden gems like hidden temples, serene courtyards, and secret gardens. These hidden pockets offer a respite from the bustling city and allow for moments of contemplation and reflection.


The narrow alleys are also a treasure trove of culinary delights. Street vendors tantalize your taste buds with mouthwatering street food, such as kachoris (fried bread stuffed with lentils), chaats (savory snacks), and lassi (a sweet yogurt-based drink). Trying these local delicacies is an absolute must for food enthusiasts.


While strolling through the alleys, you’ll witness the seamless coexistence of ancient traditions and modernity. You may pass by a centuries-old temple and then stumble upon trendy boutiques and cafés, blending the old and the new in perfect harmony.


The narrow alleys of Varanasi are not just pathways; they are the lifelines of the city. They are the veins through which the history, culture, and spirit of Varanasi flow. Exploring these alleys is an adventure in itself, constantly surprising, intriguing, and captivating.


Strolling through Varanasi’s narrow alleys is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the vibrancy and essence of this ancient city. It is a chance to witness the everyday lives of its people, engage with its rich cultural heritage, and experience the timeless charm that keeps visitors enchanted.


Experiencing Varanasi’s Sarnath: The Birthplace of Buddhism

Located just a few kilometers away from Varanasi lies Sarnath, a place of immense historical and spiritual significance. It is in Sarnath that Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon, setting in motion the wheel of Buddhism and laying the foundation for one of the world’s major religions.


Sarnath offers a serene and contemplative atmosphere, a sharp contrast to the bustling streets of Varanasi. As you enter the expansive grounds of Sarnath, you are transported back in time to the era of ancient India, where the profound teachings of Buddha spread far and wide.


One of the main attractions in Sarnath is the Dhamek Stupa, a massive structure that marks the spot where Buddha preached his first discourse. Towering over the landscape, the stupa stands as a testament to the rich Buddhist heritage of the region. The intricate carvings and inscriptions on its walls depict scenes from Buddha’s life and teachings.


Adjacent to the Dhamek Stupa is the Mulagandhakuti Vihara, a Buddhist temple that houses a golden image of Buddha. The temple’s serene ambiance and the soothing chanting of monks create a tranquil atmosphere conducive to meditation and self-reflection.


In the Sarnath Archaeological Museum, you can delve deeper into the history and significance of Sarnath. The museum houses an impressive collection of ancient artifacts, including sculptures, inscriptions, and relics dating back to the time of Buddha. These artifacts provide invaluable insights into the art, architecture, and culture of the era.


Embarking on a guided tour of Sarnath allows you to learn more about the life and teachings of Buddha. Knowledgeable guides share stories and explain the philosophical concepts espoused by Buddha, emphasizing the path to enlightenment and inner peace.


As you explore Sarnath, you’ll also notice the presence of monks and devotees from various Buddhist traditions. Their serene presence, clad in saffron robes, adds to the spiritual ambience of the place. Observing their rituals and meditative practices offers a glimpse into the lived experience of Buddhism and the pursuit of enlightenment.


Visiting Sarnath is not just a historical journey but also a spiritual one. It allows you to connect with the teachings of Buddha, understand the philosophy that has shaped the lives of millions, and find a sense of peace and harmony amidst the ancient ruins and tranquil gardens.


Sarnath stands as a beacon of enlightenment and a testament to the enduring legacy of Buddhism. Experiencing the birthplace of Buddhism in Sarnath is a transformative journey, offering an opportunity for introspection, reflection, and spiritual growth.


Varanasi’s Traditional Cuisine: Trying the Local Delicacies

Varanasi, with its rich cultural heritage and vibrant atmosphere, is also a culinary paradise. The city’s traditional cuisine is a gastronomic delight, offering a blend of flavors and aromatic spices that tantalize the taste buds.


One of the most iconic dishes to try in Varanasi is the famous Banarasi Paan. Paan is a betel leaf filled with a mixture of spices, sweeteners, and ingredients like dried fruits, saffron, and fennel seeds. The flavors burst in your mouth as you savor this unique and refreshing after-dinner treat.


Moving on to savory delights, one cannot miss out on the mouthwatering Kachori Sabzi. It consists of deep-fried bread stuffed with a spicy lentil mixture, served with a flavorful vegetable curry. The combination of crispy kachoris and the rich curry is a match made in culinary heaven.


The streets of Varanasi are adorned with small stalls selling piping hot Jalebis. These golden, crispy spirals of deep-fried batter are soaked in sugar syrup, resulting in a sweet and sticky treat that melts in your mouth.


The city is also famous for its variety of Chaats, a street food favorite. Aloo Tikki, a spiced potato patty, is topped with a tangy tamarind chutney, yogurt, and an assortment of crunchy toppings. The explosion of flavors and textures in every bite is a testament to the creativity and culinary prowess of Varanasi’s chaat vendors.


No exploration of Varanasi’s cuisine is complete without sampling the creamy and delectable Malaiyyo. A fluffy dessert made from condensed milk, saffron, and cardamom, it is garnished with pistachios and rose petals. Malaiyyo is a sweet treat that will leave you craving for more.


For those seeking a heartier meal, the iconic Banarasi Thali is a must-try. This traditional platter consists of a variety of regional specialties, including dal (lentils), baati (bread), subzi (vegetable curry), raita (yogurt-based side dish), and a selection of delectable sweets. The Thali offers a wholesome and flavorsome experience, capturing the essence of Varanasi’s culinary heritage.


To wash it all down, do not miss out on trying the famous Lassi of Varanasi. This refreshing yogurt-based drink is often flavored with rose, mango, or saffron, providing a cool respite from the city’s bustling streets.


Exploring the traditional cuisine of Varanasi is a journey through the city’s history, culture, and flavors. From street food to elaborate thalis, every bite tells a story and offers a sensory experience that exemplifies the gastronomic richness of this ancient city.


Indulging in Varanasi’s local delicacies is not just a culinary adventure but also an immersion into the vibrant soul of the city, a celebration of its traditions, and an opportunity to create gastronomic memories that will last a lifetime.


Evening Ghat Ceremony: The Spectacular Subah-e-Banaras

As the sun sets over the sacred city of Varanasi, the ghats come alive with a spectacular ceremony known as Subah-e-Banaras. This evening ritual is a visual feast for the eyes, combining music, dance, and religious devotion to create an unforgettable experience.


The Subah-e-Banaras ceremony takes place at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, one of the most iconic and oldest ghats in Varanasi. As dusk descends upon the city, locals and visitors gather by the riverbank, eagerly anticipating the commencement of the ceremony.


The event begins with the resonating sounds of conch shells and the rhythmic beats of traditional musical instruments. The air becomes filled with the enchanting melodies of classical Indian music, transporting the audience to a realm of spiritual ecstasy.


Dancers elegantly sway to the rhythm, their colorful costumes twirling in perfect harmony. The lively dance performances showcase the rich cultural heritage of Varanasi, with each movement depicting stories from ancient mythology and folklore.


The centerpiece of the Subah-e-Banaras ceremony is the aarti, a devotional ritual offering to the river Ganges. Priests clad in saffron robes hold brass lamps filled with ghee (clarified butter) and perform intricate movements to create mesmerizing patterns of light. The flickering flames illuminate the darkness, casting a divine glow over the ghats.


As the aarti reaches its climax, the priests offer prayers and seek blessings from the river, honoring its sacredness and the spiritual significance it holds in the lives of Varanasi’s inhabitants. The audience watches in awe and reverence, immersed in the devotional spirit of the moment.


The Subah-e-Banaras ceremony is not just a religious spectacle, but a celebration of unity and collective devotion. People from different walks of life, cultures, and faiths come together to witness this majestic event, bridging the divides that often separate us.


The atmosphere during Subah-e-Banaras is charged with positive energy, faith, and a sense of gratitude. It is a time to reflect on the importance of spirituality and the interconnectedness of all beings, as the Ganges River, considered a living goddess, flows beside us.


Attending the Subah-e-Banaras ceremony allows you to witness the ancient traditions and rituals that have existed in Varanasi for thousands of years. It is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the sacredness of the city and experience the beauty of devotion in a truly captivating and uplifting way.


The Subah-e-Banaras ceremony is a testament to the spiritual vibrancy and cultural richness of Varanasi. It leaves an indelible impression on all who witness it, reminding us of the power of rituals, the beauty of traditions, and the enduring spirit of humanity.



A visit to Varanasi is an immersive journey into the heart and soul of India. This ancient city, steeped in history, spirituality, and cultural heritage, offers a kaleidoscope of experiences that leave a lasting impact on all who venture here.


From the mesmerizing Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat to the tranquil boat rides along the sacred Ganges River, Varanasi captivates with its unique blend of spirituality, rituals, and natural beauty.


Exploring the narrow alleys reveals the vibrancy of daily life and the deep-rooted cultural traditions that shape the city. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple stands as a beacon of devotion, while Sarnath beckons as the birthplace of Buddhism, offering insights into the universal quest for enlightenment.


Sampling Varanasi’s traditional cuisine is a journey through flavors and aromas that reflect the richness of the city’s culinary heritage. And, of course, witnessing the Subah-e-Banaras evening ghat ceremony is a mesmerizing spectacle that captures the essence of devotion and unity.


Varanasi, with its multitude of experiences, reminds us of the interplay between the spiritual and the tangible, the ancient and the modern, the commonplace and the extraordinary. It is a city where life and death coexist, rituals intertwine with everyday activities, and the sacred merges with the secular.


A journey to Varanasi is not just a visit to a destination; it is an encounter with the eternal, an exploration of the profound depths of human spirituality, and an immersion into a world that transcends time and space.


Whether you seek a spiritual awakening, an immersion into a rich cultural tapestry, or simply a deeper understanding of India’s diverse heritage, Varanasi offers a transformative experience that will leave an indelible imprint on your soul.


So, come, let Varanasi embrace you with its warmth, mystery, and spiritual energy. Uncover the ancient secrets, embrace the timeless traditions, and allow the sacredness of this extraordinary city to touch your heart and mind like never before.