There is little in the world to compare with the splendour of Benaras seen from the river at dawn. The rays of the early-morning sun spread across the river and strike the high-banked face of the city. The temples and shrines, ashrams and pavilions that stretch along the river for over 7 kms look golden in the early morning. Long flights of stone called ghats, reaching like roots into the river, bring thousands of worshippers down to the river to bathe at dawn.
Along the river there are over eighty bathing ghats reaching from Asi ghat in the sounth to Adi Keshava in the north. Some are quiet neighbourhood ghats, while others are crowded with pilgrims from all over India. Also along the river are hundreds of temples, most of them dedicated to Lord Shiva, who according to tradition makes this city his permanent earthly home. Along with the temples there are the Ashrams such as Mata Anandmayi Ashram and Nepali Ashram built on the top of the ghat steps.
They continue a tradition of spiritual education for which Kashi has long been famous. At dawn, students of all ages practice yoga or meditation on the steps by the river. Finally there are riverside cremation grounds at Harishchandra Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat. For over 2500 years this city has attracted pilgrims and seekers from all over India. Sages such Buddha and Mahavira have come here to teach. Young men have come to study the Vedas with the city’s great pundits. Householders have come on pilgrimage, some to bring ashes of a deceased parent to commit to the River Ganges.
Sanyasis who have left the household stage of life behind, have come to gather in the monasteries and ashrams of Kashi. Widows too have come to Benaras, out of piety or out of misery, to take refuge in its temples and to live on the alms of the faithful. And the very old or very ill have come to Kashi to live out their final days until they die. In the narrow lanes at the top of these steps moves the unceasing earthly drama of death and life. Lanes going to Manikarnika Ghat, the cremation ground, are always busy with locals doing their business, pilgrims, shops, cows and people carrying dead bodies.
Apart from all these beauty of Varanasi, the city has been facing some serious problems. A few big social issues are as follows:
- pollution in the mother river the Ganga
- huge migration of people from Bihar state and other nearby districts
- increasing traffic load but no development in the basic infrastructure
- increasing level of pollution
- impact of Coca-Cola on local farmers
- impact of Chinese silk on local weavers
- human trafficking for several reasons including for sex work and child labor
- lack of good education system
- lack of jobs even for well trained and educated people
- increase in poverty
- lack of greenery
- lack of rain for the past few years
- corruption in each and every government sector offices
- Varanasi has faced three terrorist attacks which means that terrorists have a base here in Varanasi also.
Even after all these problems we are still one of the best cities of India because of our culture and we are all working on bringing the beauty of this magnificent city back. We all know that it will take sometime but the hope is always there.