Banaras Region: A Spiritual and Cultural Guide

Item Code: IDE450
Author: Rana P.B. Singh & Pravin S. Rana
Publisher: Indica Books, Varanasi
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 8186569243
Pages: 402 (Figures: 112)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5"
Weight 530 gm
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Book Description

About the Book:

This book is the first compendium of cultural sites in and around Varanasi. It covers a very wide range of places and subjects and provides a huge quality of information, being a veritable small encyclopaedia of the Banaras region.

The first section includes Setting, Historical background, Religious landscape, Cosmogony, Festivities, Riverside landscape, and seven detailed Area walks along the ghats and the old city. There are also sections on the cosmic circuit of Panchakroshi, Ramanagar, Sarnath, the Jain places, the Muslim sacredscapes, and the rural landscape.

The second section 'Around Banaras' covers the sites lying at less than 80 km, like Chunar and its medieval fort; Ahraura, with an Ashokan inscription; Lekhania, having pre-historic rock paintings; Vindhyachal, the Goddess's area; Kaithi, an ancient Shiva temple; Shitala Dham, a site of a folk goddess; Jakhini, the site of a pre-Aryan goddess; Bhadohi, a center of carpet weaving; Sitamarhi, a site of puranic antiquity; Jaunpur with its important Muslim monuments; Chandraprabha and Kaimur Wild life sanctuaries.

The third part covers the places in the range of 100-300 km, like: Allahabad, the city of the Kumbha Mela festival; Ayodhya, the place of Sri Rama; Chitrakut, Lord Rama's halting site; Khajuraho, the city of lived monuments; Banvasi Seva Ashram, an NGO; Mundeshvari, a 7th century goddess temple; Sasaram, with a 16th century royal tomb; Ballia and Sonepur, sites of sacred bath and cattle fairs; Varanasi to Vaishali by road - via Ballia, Sonepur and Hajipur; Deo and Madanpur, the 12th century Sun temples; Gaya the City of Ghostscape; Baijanath Dham, city of Shiva.

About the Author:

Rana P.B. Singh is professor in the Dept. of Geography, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, and Founding President, Society of Heritage Planning & Environmental Health.


Pravin S. Singh is a visiting faculty in the Dept. of History of Art & Tourism Management, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.


Preface & Acknowledgements

All my life I have felt close to place. Place speaks. Place talks. Place communicates. Place is a growing organism, a form of being. Place is an interrelated community, playing between man and cosmos. Presence of place was real to me long before I knew anything of the energies by which it works. Since my childhood I have sensed 'something' in and around a place. The visible and invisible messages have been a source of real meaning to my life. I have moved from one place to another. However, I carried with me the memories and mythic sentiments attached to the place. I don't know how and why this sense remained always with me. Somehow later in life I learned that place attachment is a human quest for understanding and also a feeling – the immanence and transcendence of a force linking Man and Cosmos.

I first became aware of the sensitivity I've just described during the early 1970s when I was doing fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation. In the late 70s my inner quest mobilized my sight and vision for reading the genius loci of a place or landscape, ultimately trying to interpret and understand the meanings, messages and milieus preserved there. Further along on that march, I don't known when I became a traveler, a wanderer, who always carried the familiarity and ordinary while moving in search of much, I don't known when I became a traveler, a wanderer, who always carried the familiarity and ordinary while moving in search of much walking, people from different parts of the world joined and made our group a companion of seekers, a mosaic of culture, thought and vision. The latest member who joined is my won son, Pravin, who recently received his master degree in tourism studies.

The American philosopher David Appelbaum in his seminal book, Everyday Spirit, narrates the aim, objective and perspective of a guidebook:


The idea of a guidebook exposes a treachery in the language. About the guide, there is little agreement other than the element belongs to experience. One removes it to express thought only like the thoughtful fisher, to return to its medium. An angler learns more about himself than about his prize. In this way, although one does not avoid the illusion of knowledge and owning the fish, one is less temped to objectify it. Such fish exist only in water. Such guidance exists only in a moment when the two worlds achieve contact: 'the physical world of existence and metaphysical world of meanings' (italic added).

The first and foremost wanderer who inspired and persuaded me to follow this path of sacred journey is my German friend Niels Gutschow whom I first met in 1978, and slowly we became co-pilgrims in search of genius loci of sacredscapes. He knows where and how am I marching, and where is the end! Several times we together performed pilgrimages and visits to the sacred places and holy spots that are narrated in this book.

I express my special thanks to the American art historian Robert Linrothe (Skidmore College, NY), a friend and a fellow co-pilgrim, who so kindly edited the entire manuscript and took pain to make the guidebook more readable and suitable. In the whole journey his insights are always with us.

Among the friends who accompanied me in several sacred journeys in and around Banaras and inspired me include the Dutch Indologist Hans Bakker, the British scholar living in Varanasi Mark Dyczkowski, the American anthropologist John Fritz, the American scholar of mysticism Roxanne Gupta, the Swedish scholars of Hinduism Sandy journeys Roger Housden, the American scholar of Hinduism Sandy Huntington, the British photographer and writer Richard Lannoy, the German Indologist peregrinologer Axel Michaels, the American astrophysicist Kim Malville, the Banaras tour organizer Raj Kumar Mathur, the British art historian George Michell, the Japanese geographer J. Douglas Porteous, the American cultural geographer Carolyn Prorok, the Indian art historian Shobita Punja, the Japanese Hindi teacher Teiji Sakata, the Danish historian of religions Eric Sand, the Dutch scholar Irma Schotsman, the geographer of sacred places Ravi Shankar, the Canadian scholar of pilgrimage Hiroshi Shimazaki, the American site producer and editor Pam Strayer, the Swiss tour organizer Hans Wettstein, the German Scholar of Hinduism Annette Wilke, and the Japanese scholar of Hindu goddesses Yuko Yokochi.

The writings of Paul Deverux, a man who devoted most of his life to understanding the power of place and earth mystery, have shaped my ideas into more concrete form and helped me to search out of the rooted meaning and messages. I express my deep gratitude to him. The list of scholars and authors who helped and inspired me during the last twenty-five years is so long that it is not possible to mention. However, some persons have given special support to develop the sense of better understanding and inspired me to prepare this book. Among them, I thank the American philosopher David Appelbaum (New York), the American art historian Fredrick Asher (Minnesota), the famous tour guide T.K. Basu (Banaras), the Flemish scholar of Indian literature and writer on Banaras Winand Callewaert (Leuven), the scholar of peregrinology D.P. Dubey (Allahabad), the American Indologist Diana L. Eck (Harvard), the Japanese scholar of Indian civilization Masaaki Fukunaga (Tokyo), the Dutch photographer of Banaras Robert Schilder (The Hague), the Dutch photographer of Banaras Robert Schilder (The Hague), the professor of Buddhist philosophy Hari Shankar (Delhi), the great walker Satish Kumar(UK), the Indian architect Arun Rewal (New Delhi), the rural tourism guide Ramakanta Singh (Majhanpura) and the owner of heritage hotel and art critic Shashank Singh (Varanasi). Dr. J.K. Mishra, a chest physician at IMS – BHU, has always taken care of my physical and mental health and shared with me the joy of working and walking.

Mr Alvaro Enterria and Mr. Dilip Jaiswal, the publishers and partners of Indica Books (Varanasi), have been a spirit behind the contract, progress and the final product. It is thankless to thank them because they are the companions along the sacred path and writing. Their sincerity and devotion are marked in this production at every step. I am thankful to Mr. Niguel Gomez Andrea Gol and Ms Christine Macy for being kind enough to allow reproduction of some of their sketches.

From the family side, how can I express my deep gratitude to my wife Manju 'Usha' who sacrificed so many good days in order to be part of sacred performances. She has always been a source of inspiration and a silent observer! She will be the happiest one to see our co-experiences and co-pilgrimage in the form of a book. Our youngest son, Prashant, has always pushed me to speed up my work and spent several hours making the computer work an searching for materials on the Internet; he has always warned me to be precise and to follow the time schedule. My daughters Pratibha and Prabha took care to keep up my spirits and keep me on time. My eldest son, Pravin, does not need any compliment, as he is my collaborator and co-author. Ravi Shankar, a co-pilgrim, my old student and now son-in-law, is a companion on the sacred march; to him I express my deep sense of appreciation for rational criticism and inspiration.

Remember, no one can write the last saga! This is a first and small attempt and certainly needs constructive criticism and suggestions for incorporation and change in the future.





  Preface & Acknowledgements 15
  Sacred Ways and Spiritual Walks 18
  A Call for Co-pilgrimage


1. Geographical Setting & Nomenclature
2. The Historical Background
3. Kashi: Cosmogram and Sacred Journey
4. The Religious Landscape
5. Festivities and Seasons
6. The Riverside Landscape, the Ghats


7. Area Walks
8. The Panchakroshi, Pilgrimage on the Cosmic Circuit
9. Ramanagar, Across the Ganga
10. Saints of the Medieval period: Kabir, Raidas, Tulasi
11. Sarnath
12. The Jains and their Holy Places
13. The Muslim Sacredscapes
14. Indian Village: Rural Landscape and People
Utility Services & Information
Accommodation. Restaurants.
Selected Bibliography: Books on Varanasi City


1. Chunar
2. Ahraura
3. Lekhania
4. Vindhyachal
5. Kaithi
6. Shitala Dham
7. Jakhini
8. Bhadohi
9. Sitamarhi
10. Jaunpur
11. Chandraprabha
12. Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary


1. Allahabad
2. Ayodhya
3. Chitrakut
4. Khajuraho
5. Banvasi Seva Ashram
6. Mundeshvari
7. Sasaram
8. Ballia and Sonepur
9. Varanasi to Vaishali by road via Ballia, Chapra, Sonepur and Hajipur
10. Deo and Madanpur
11. Gaya
12. Baijanath Dham / Vaidyanatha


  List of Tables 373
  Appendices 375
  Index 389
Sample Pages

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