Varanasi, also popularly known as Kashi and Benares, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Varanasi has a documented history tracing 4500 years back. Varanasi was founded by Lord Siva and the entire city rests on his trident. Situated in the vast Gangetic plains of India, it is amongst the seven most sacred cities (sapta-puri). It draws millions of pilgrims from all over the world. In the Rig Veda, the city was referred to as Kasi or Kashi, which means ‘the luminous one’. Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto 10, chapter 66 describes how Lord Krishna went to Kasi and killed Paundraka and Kasiraja, and how the Lord’s Sudarsana disc defeated a demon, incinerated the city of Kasi and killed Sudaksina.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to Varanasi while going to and returning from Vrindavana to Puri, as described in Sri Caitanya Caritamrta. While staying in Varanasi for two months on His way back from Vrindavana, Lord Caitanya became the guest of Chandrasekhar Vaidya and Tapana Misra. He stayed at the house of Chandrasekhar and honoured prasadam at the home of Tapana. Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami, who is one of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana, was the son of Tapana Misra. It was here that Lord Caitanya met Sri Sanatana Gosvami, after Sanatana had escaped from Nawab’s prison at Ramkeli (Bengal). By the arrangement of a Maharashtriyan brahmana, who was a great devotee of Lord Caitanya, the Lord was invited to a philosophical discourse by Prakasananda Sarasvati, a great giant scholar and sannyasi of the Mayavadi or Sankara sampradaya and discussion was made on the Vedanta philosophy.
After the discussion, Prakasananda immediately fell at the lotus feet of Lord Caitanya and regretted his past behaviour towards the Lord. Prakasananda, along with his 60,000 followers, took up the process of pure devotion to Lord Sri Krishna. Thus, Lord Caitanya established the easy method of Sankirtana movement as the most suitable method for the deliverance of the people in this age of Kali-yuga. Thereafter, Lord Caitanya performed the amazing pastime of tumultuous chanting of Hare Krishna kirtans in front of the famous Sri Bindu Madhav at Pancanada ghat. Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Adi-lila chapter 7, verses 40 to 161 and Madhya-lila chapter 25 describe in detail how all the residents of Varanasi were converted to Vaisnavism.
In particular, Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya-lila chapter 25, verses 165 to 167 describe: “All the inhabitants of Kasī [Varanasi] began chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra in ecstatic love. Sometimes they laughed, sometimes they cried, sometimes they chanted, and sometimes they danced. All the Mayavadi sannyasīs and learned scholars at Varanasi began discussing Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu delivered them. Thus, He turned the whole city of Varanasi into another Navadvīpa [Nadiya-nagara].”
Revered Sri Bindu Madhav Temple is situated on the banks of Pancanada ghat. This temple hosts the most merciful and charismatic deity of Lord Sri Bindu Madhav. When Lord Caitanya was in Varanasi, He chanted and danced before Sri Bindu Madhav performing Harinama Sankirtana. At that time, Sri Bindu Madhav temple was majestic with unique architecture. Unfortunately, being envious of seeing the astounding glories of Lord Bindu Madhav, the tyrant Aurangzeb ordered a decree to demolish the temple and built a mosque here in 1673 AD. Sri Bindu Madhav is now worshiped in a temple beside the mosque. However, by the desire and mercy of the Vaishnava Acaryas, Lord Sri Bindu Madhav’s glories have now spread all over the world!
In Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya-lila, chapter 17 verse 86 purport, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains,
Bindu Madhava temple is the oldest Visnu temple in Varanasi. It is situated on the banks of the Ganges. Formerly, five rivers converged there, and they were named Dhutapapa, Kirana, Sarasvati, Ganga and Yamuna. Now only the river Ganges is visible. The old temple of Bindu Madhava, which was visited by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, was later dismantled by Aurangzeb, the great Hindu-hating emperor of the Mogul dynasty. In the place of this temple, he constructed a big mosque. Later, another temple was constructed by the side of the mosque, and this temple is still existing. In the temple of Bindu Madhava there are the Deities of four-handed Narayana and the goddess Laksmi. In front of these deities is a column of Sri Garuda, and along the side are the deities of Lord Rama, Sīta, Lakshmana and Sri Hanumanji. In the province of Maharashtra, there is a state known as Satara. During the time of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the native prince belonged to the Vaishnava cult. Being a brahmana, he took charge of worshiping the Deity.
As per Kashi-khanda, to fulfil the desire of Lord Siva, Lord Visnu came from Mandarachal to Kashi with the mission of making King Divodasa leave Kashi. After accomplishing His mission, Lord Visnu was enjoying the serene beauty of Kashi at Pancanada ghat. He came across a lean looking sage, Agni Bindu, who was undergoing austerity (tapasa) there. Lord approached Agni Bindu. On seeing the Lord personally appearing, the sage was ecstatic and offered his prostrate obeisances. Singing the praises, the sage addressed the Lord by various names, like Mukunda, Madusudana, Madhava, Narayana, Rama, Janardhana etc. He also mentioned that those who worship the Supreme Lord with Tulasi leaves attract His blessings.
Lord Visnu was very pleased and asked the sage to seek any divine boon. Agni Bindu sought only one thing, that Lord Visnu should always appear for his worship in the vicinity of Pancanada ghat. Lord Visnu granted it accordingly. Lord stated that Kashi is a Punya-ksetra. He will stay in Kashi as long as Kashi is present and there will be no destruction of this holy city as it is situated atop the Trident of Lord Siva. Therefore, even Maha Pralaya (great deluge) cannot destroy the city. Agni Bindu was extremely happy. He sought that Lord Visnu should not just appear here but also appear with a name connected to him. Lord Visnu agreed to the request of the sage. Lord stated that henceforth He would be known as Bindu Madhav. In His presence, the Pancanada ghat will be extremely sacred. Lord Visnu further stated that He was called Aadi Madhav in Satya-yuga, Ananda Madhav in Treta-yuga, Shree Madhav in Dvapara-yuga. In Kali-yuga, the Lord will be known by the name of Bindu Madhav.
Utsava Murti of Lord Bindu Madhav was found in the holy Ganges at Varanasi by HH Madhavendra Thirtha Swami in the 17th century while he was having a bath at this ghat. During that period, the main deity of Sri Bindu Madhav was transferred to the Moola Mutt of Kashi Mutt for protection from the invaders. However, the Utsava murti was missing for a long time. Swamiji lovingly reinstalled this utsava murti. Pancanada ghat is one of the five main ghats in Varanasi.
Tapana Misra's house and the resting place of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu are near Bindu Madhav Temple. The exact location is Jatanbar, Dudh Katra, Bisweshwarganj, Varanasi. Lord Caitanya’s resting place is in an open area on a road junction. Here one can have the darshans of beautiful paintings of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes. Tapana Misra's house is close-by. Unfortunately, there is no signage posted in front of his house as it is now inside private property. To recognize this place, there is a blue coloured front door at the main entrance. One can inquire from the nearby shops about the exact location. Everyone can come and have darshans of the deities at Tapana Mishra's house.
Lord Caitanya discussed the deeper topics of Krishna consciousness with Sanatana Gosvami at the famous Dasashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi as described in Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya-lila chapter 20.
Important note: There are two ways to reach Sri Bindu Madhava temple – (1) by taking a boat ride from any of the ghats in Varanasi to reach Pancanada ghat, or (2) by going on a motorbike, bicycle or walking to the temple through the inner city. Devotees can approach this place by travelling to Bhaironath in a rickshaw and then walking on foot to this temple. As Varanasi is an anciently inhabited city, the lanes in the inner part of the city are narrow. To reach Bindu Madhav temple, one has to pass through several intertwining narrow lanes. In contrast, the boat ride on the Ganges River is pleasant and takes one directly to Pancanada ghat where Bindu Madhav temple is located.
Shri Kashi Vishwanath is the famous Temple in Varanasi. It is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas. The main temple shrine is small and has a golden flag atop. Recently, a magnificent state-of-the-art corridor was constructed at the Temple that leads directly to the Ganges River, which was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi. The entire temple area is marvellously developed with immaculate marble flooring, structures, libraries and auditoriums to conduct Vedic conferences. Indeed, it is worth visiting and a must-see place. This temple has been destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in history. The last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb, who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. The current structure was built on an adjacent site by the Maratha monarch, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, in 1780.
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has a temple in Varanasi. Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Gopal Ji are the presiding deities. The temple is close to the main city area. Currently, a new temple is being constructed on the same premises. ISKCON devotees actively participate in the Krishna Conscious preaching programs at the nearby Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Banaras Hindu University is the most prestigious and respected university in India. Many ISKCON sannyasis and senior devotees regularly dedicate their time and efforts to conduct seminars and Youth preaching programs at BHU to uplift society to take up the eternal, all-beneficial process of Krishna Consciousness. The outcomes have been very positive.
Varanasi is situated at the confluence of rivers Varuna and Asi (hence Varun-asi or Varanasi), which form the mainstream of the mighty Ganges River. Ganges, which normally flows southeast, reverses its course and flows north for a while at Varanasi. Ganges ghats (river front) are the most popular pilgrimage spot of Varanasi. The spectacular 5 km sweep of the ghats is a unique sight, best viewed at dawn, except during the winter months when the area is covered with fog. Varanasi has at least 84 ghats, most of which are used for bathing by pilgrims and spiritually significant puja ceremonies, while a few are used exclusively as Vedic cremation sites.
The extensive stretches of ghats in Varanasi enhance the riverfront with a multitude of shrines, temples, and palaces built “tier on tier above the water’s edge”. There is a great tradition of Yatras in the holy city of Kashi and the most sacred path is that of Panchkoshi Parikrama, a fifty-mile path with a radius of five miles that covers 108 shrines along the way, with Panchakoshi temple as its main shrine. Every evening at sunset, spectacular Arati ceremonies are performed in various ghats of Varanasi, which is worthwhile to attend. Many pilgrims take part in the Arati ceremonies by getting on boats that take them to different ghats.
There are references to Kashi in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. Several great personalities, including Lord Nityananda, Sripad Ramanujacarya, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Guru Nanak, Sankaracharya and others have visited Varanasi.
Lord Buddha came to Sarnath. It is 13 km from Varanasi. After attaining enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, Buddha came here. He delivered his first sermon in Sarnath and set in motion the wheel of law. Sarnath has many exquisitely beautiful gardens and Stupas (pagoda). Buddhism spread throughout India and other parts of the world when Emperor Ashoka came into power. Here, in Sarnath, the king established a marvellous image of four lions facing four directions joined together with the wheel of dharma. This statue became the national symbol of India.
Varanasi has been the hub of art, culture, spirituality, and music for several centuries. Several unique and rare festivals are held at Varanasi, including (1) Lord Krishna’s Kaliya Nag Nathaiya Lila (subduing of Kaliya serpent) at Tulsi Ghat is held in Nov-Dec. (2) Bharata Milap Festival at Nali Imli, celebrating Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and His reunion with His brother Bharata is held the day following Dussehra. (3) Nakkataiya Mela at Chet Gang, the pastime from Ramayana in which Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana, comes to entice Rama and then Lakshmana is held in mid-Oct. (4) Ganga Mahotsav in Prabodhini Ekadasi to Kartik Purnima in the month of Oct-Nov. (5) Dev Deepawali on Kartik Purnima is celebrated to commemorate Lord Siva's victory over the demon Tripurasura. It is also known as Tripurotsav or Tripura Purnima. Dev Deepawali is of special significance to the city of Varanasi as the banks of the river Ganges are illuminated with millions of diyas to mark the festival. The entire sight is stunning! Many foreign tourists come to Varanasi especially to attend these festivals. This presents a wonderful opportunity to introduce and preach Krishna Consciousness to foreign and local masses.
Varanasi is well connected by direct flights from Delhi, Kolkata and other parts of India. Varanasi is also well connected by rail and road to the rest of India.
Places to visit in and around Varanasi:
1. Sri Bindu Madhav Temple
2. Lord Caitanya’s resting place
3. Tapana Misra's house
4. Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple
5. Ganges River front ghats
6. ISKCON Varanasi
7. ISKCON Preaching Centre at BHU (Banaras Hindu University)
8. Sri Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple9. Sarnath
1. Sri Bindu Madhav Temple
Sri Bindu Madhav Temple is situated on the banks of Pancanada ghat. It is one of the five main ghats in Varanasi. Beneath this ghat, the Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Kirana and Dhutapapa rivers meet. This temple hosts the most merciful and charismatic deity of Lord Sri Bindu Madhav. When Lord Caitanya was in Varanasi, He chanted and danced before Sri Bindu Madhav performing Harinama Sankirtana.
Outside the main entrance there are murti’s of Garuda, the carrier of Lord Visnu and Hanuman Ji, the eternal servitor of Lord Ramacandra. Inside the temple, there is a hallway and at the far end is the charismatic Lord Sri Bindu Madhav. One can get close to the altar to have the darshan and also speak to the pujari. On the side wall there is a murti of the sage Shri Agni Bindu.
Darshan timings are 4:30AM to 1PM and 4PM to 8:30PM. The pastime of how Lord Bindu Madhav manifested to fulfil the desire of His great devotee Agni Bindu and the directions to reach this temple are described above.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Mayavadi Sannyasis