History of Banaras – Part I

Banaras, the golden city of knowledge, wisdom, spirituality and Advaita, has from the ancient times been considered to be one of the most sacrosanct places of Akhanda Bharat. This glorious city has a rich history that can be traced back to the time of creation.

 

Archaeological excavations have uncovered rare artefacts from the Vedic Period that testify the prosperity of the township. The Rajghat mounds in particular have been extremely informative following the discovery of a number of clay seals that can be dated to 800 – 200 BCE.

 

The fragments of houses, lanes and drainage channels found shows a remarkable understanding of planning. It is clear that this city from the time of the Kushanas to the beginning of the Gupta period was a prominent centre for arts, literature and architecture.

 

The Gupta Period, famously known as Bharat’s Golden Age, was a time of progress, religious fervour and spiritual potency. Various interpretations of Advaita led to the rise of Shaktism, Skanda, Vaishnavism, village and folk gods and goddesses.

 

Several remnants of the Gupta period are seen in and around Banaras, especially on the Panchakroshi Yatra. Their stunning sculptures and architectural elements adorn the walls of the resurrected temples.

 

Banaras was well and truly established as the greatest city of Akhanda Bharat during the reign of the Guptas. Innumerable dharamsalas, halls, bathing ghats, gardens, palatial houses for merchants and dwellings for the commoners were built during this period. Banaras was largely rectangular in plan with large arterial roads running from north to south, parallel to the Ganga River while narrow lanes with residential buildings ran from both north to south and east to west.

 

Another significant development during the Gupta Period is that it was recognised as the most sacred place on earth dotted with Shiva Lingas, temples of great antiquity, bathing ghats and the Ganges. Banaras became the centre for the revival of Advaita and Hinduism.

 

In the 7th century, Maharaja Harshavardhana of the Vardhana dynasty had established Thanesar as their capital. His contribution to the growth and maintenance of this city has been documented in his own records. Wells, houses, gardens, residential quarters for Buddhist monks, Buddhist shrines and schools also sprung up in and around this city.

 

It has been described to be a bustling township with dense forest cover on three sides with the Ganga flowing on the fourth. The 8th century saw the city expanding southwards towards the Dashashwamedh Ghat road.

 

Sages, saints, yogis and tapasvis made their way to this holy city and founded several hermitages. They would impart knowledge of the Shastras and perform rites and rituals prescribed in the Hindu scriptures for the benefit of the universe.

 

The arrival of Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya marked the revival of Advaita and uprooted Buddhism from this soil. The discourses of Adi Shankara were recorded assiduously by his devotees and explained in simple terms to the locals. Thousands wished to understand the Shastras and eagerly awaited his dissemination of the important Hindu treatises.

 

Adi Shankara is credited with the religious and spiritual growth of this city that was seen till the 12th century.

 

Written by Lakshmi Subramanian

 

* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)

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