Art and Culture of Varanasi are two major aspects that impart this sacred city of salvation with a unique fabric and global repute. The city has been praised by the English author Mark Twain as a city ‘older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend’. The zigzag lane networks, thickly crowded streets; the huge conglomeration of temples give the city a bustling, clamorous look but at the backdrop of this entire clamor lies a rich culture that beautifully blends the spiritual & the physical. The cultural traditions of the city are classical in nature; are consecrated by religion and glorified by the legends.
The various facets of the art and culture of Varanasi include:
Varanasi’s Mythical Fabric
The history of Varanasi is enriched by a compelling train of mythological legacy. Varanasi was previously known by the name of Kashi and the word ‘Kashi’ has been coined from ‘Kashi’ which stands for ‘to shine’. This is believed to be the land that was sculpted by the lord of the Universe; Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati at the beginning of creation. This is that sacred land where the divine pair stood for the first time. In Vamana Purana, one of our ancient literary texts, ‘Varanasi’ has been glorified as that land which emerged between the two rivers-Assi and Varuna that ensued out of the body of the primeval being even before the ‘creation’ had come into existence. Thus, the city is steeped in mythical aura and that makes an inseparable part of its cultural fabric.
Varanasi’s Literary Traditions and Intellectual Background
Varanasi ever since has enjoyed the fame of being the ‘Sarva Vidya ki Rajdhani’ or the ‘capital of knowledge’. Many great intellectual figures and scholars were bred on this holy land. The city is dotted with some of the most prestigious colleges, universities, schools, Pathshalas and Madrasas and interestingly enough, in many of these educational institutions the age-old tradition of Guru-Shishya is still followed. The city’s thriving literary tradition comprises of literatures like newspapers, magazines, novels, poetry books, dialects, languages plus the libraries and this tradition continues in Varanasi even till date.
Varanasi’s Religious Traditions
Varanasi is home to many religious types, modes of worship, places of worship and religious institutions. The religious traditions of Varanasi are all-encompassing and that makes Varanasi a land of the Shaivas, Vaishnavas, Jain Tirthankaras, Buddha and great saint poets such as Tulsidas and Kabir. Many primitive cults of worship are still practiced in Varanasi and that is indeed one amazing thing.
Varanasi’s Music, Drama and Entertainment Traditions
Varanasi has seen remarkable growth of the three major cultural expressions; music, entertainment, and drama. These three cultural aspects or fine art forms are in fact synonymous to one another in the land of Varanasi. The Benarasi musical Gharanas are world renowned. Both instrumental, as well as vocal music has thrived on this holy land which also comes with its very own and unique dance traditions. Apart from this, the city boasts of a very rich folk music tradition, fests and fair, drama, Akharas and sports shows. All these features add to the cultural distinctness of the land.
Varanasi’s Craft Traditions
Varanasi’s craft tradition is defined by intricacies and ornate looks. Benarasi silk is perhaps the most elegant and gorgeous silk in the world. The artisans engaged in silk weaving are doing this across many generations and are thus highly adept in making the gorgeous designs out of Zari and silver threads upon the soft silk fabric. There’s a huge global demand for Varanasi’s silk craft. The craftsmen at Varanasi are also well known for crafting fascinating ornaments, copperware, brassware, toys, and figurines out of clay and wood.
Varanasi’s Socio-Cultural Traditions
The socio-cultural traits of Varanasi include various aspects such as linguistic pluralism, oral traditions, customs and casteism, professions and personality. Also, there are certain social practices that impart Varanasi’s socio-culture picture with a remarkable distinctness. Practices like the chewing of the Banarasi Paan, refreshing oneself with the Thandai or sporting a Gamcha in the typical style make an inseparable part of Varanasi’s social lifestyle
Varanasi’s Medical Traditions
The art of healing ailments is an ancient art being practiced in Varanasi since the times of Sushruta. Sushruta the great surgeon, as well as medical author, belonged to this holy city. His book Sushruta Samhita makes the foundation for the concept of surgery as a medical treatment. The city is also known enough for having developed the Panchkarma healing procedure plus many other authentic Ayurvedic treatments which function as a guiding light for the future generations.