Varanasi (From Varuna Ghat to Assi Ghat, hence the name Varanasi) was known as Banaras. Varanasi has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years, and is closely associated with the Ganges.
Some hindus believe that death in the city will bring salvation, making it a major centre for pilgrimage. Sikhs believe fake rituals and beliefs will bring nothing.
Buddha is said to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, 'The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma', at nearby Sarnath. Unfortunately, Buddhism was all but driven out of India by the old order.
Several major figures of the Bhakti movement were born near or in Varanasi, including Bhagat Kabir who was born here in 1389, and Bhagat Ravidas, a 15th-century socio-religious reformer, mystic, poet, traveller, and spiritual figure, who was born and lived in the city and employed in the tannery industry.
There are 3 Historic Sikh Gurdwaras in Varanasi.
Gurdwara Sri Guru Ka Bagh Varanasi commemorates the visit by Guru Nanak to Varanasi at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The occasion was the Sivaratri of 1563 Bk, which fell in February 1507. Guru Nanak held religious discourses with brahmin scholars and sadhus of different denominations.
Guru Nanak's apparel, which was neither of a householder nor of a hermit, attracted notice. One of the leading Pandits, Chatur Das, came and began to question him, "What faith do you profess? You carry no shaligram (the hindu stone or fossilized shell), nor do you wear the necklace of Tulsi (holy basil). You have no rosary and no mark of white clay upon your forehead. What devotion you have attached yourself to?"
Guru Nanak asked Mardana to play the rebeck and recited the shadbad, "Let God's Name be the shaligram thou adorest and good deeds the basil wreath round thy neck. Seek divine grace and let this be thy raft's anchor. Why waste thy time watering barren land and plastering walls built on sand ? Let good deeds be the string of vessels to draw whaler from the well and pull your mind to the wheel. Distill the nectar and irrigate with it the land. Then wilt thou be owned by the Gardener."
Chatur Das was proud of his learning and invited the Guru to stay in Varanasi and master the various branches of knowledge. Guru Nanak said that for Chatur Das only one word was of real meaning and knowledge and that was the God's Name. Guru Nanak said Chatur Das would be truly learned when he remembered God and engaged himself in the service of others. The bagh (garden) where this conversation took place is no longer in existence. However, Gurdwara Sri Guru Ka Bagh marks the site.
After Gorakhmata, the Guru took southerly route and passing through Gola, Ayudhya and Prayag (Allahabad), reached Banaras, also called Varanasi.
With the coming of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji into the city of Banaras the whole atmosphere was divinely inspired. Sikhs from all parts of the country flocked to have a glimpse of the Guru who camped here for a fortnight. Guru Tegh Bahadur entered the city on his white horse named Sri Dhar, a gift of his muslim friend Saiffuddin of Bahadurgarh. Guru Tegh Bahadur was adorned in a dark brown dress, in Rajput style. This dress is still preserved there in the Gurdwara.
The construction of the present building was inaugurated on 23rd November 1969, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Guru Nanak's birth. The vast rectangular diwan hall has an elegant little porch at the entrance and a 5 metre wide gallery at mid-height on three sides. There are 14 small rooms for use as office and residence for staff and Sikhs. One of these rooms in the building houses a library named after Guru Nanak. In an adjacent complex is a girls college called Guru Nanak Khalsa Balika Inter College, Guru Bagh. The management of the Gurdwara is in the hands of a local committee.
The present building of the Gurdwara located along Sri Guru Nanak Marg (or street) was constructed during early 1970s. The sanctum is at one end of a rectangular hall with a wide gallery at mid-height on three sides on the interior, and a porch in front of the doors on the opposite side of the sanctum. A few rooms near the entrance to the one-acre compound of the Gurdwara are available for pilgrims' staying overnight.
Gurdwara Sri Choti Sangat Sahib Varanasi is located in a privately owned house in a narrow lane named Bhuteshwar Gali branching off Dashashvamedh Road. It is said to be the congregation spot of a smaller Sikh community (choti sangat) which too was visited by Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur and Sri Guru Gobind Singh. It is a serial like building with two floors of rooms around a square compound.
The rooms are rented out to different lodgers. The Gurdwara is in a room on the first floor maintained by a Nirmala Sadhu. There is also a hand-written copy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji here which is dated Phagun 1833 (February-March 1777).
Since the visit of Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, certainly since the time of Bhai Gurdas, a Sikh sangat had been in existence in Varanasi. Gurdwara Sri Badi Sangat Sahib Varanasi - The Gurdwara in Nichi Bagh area is the oldest and most important sangat at Benaras judging from old hukamnamas and other relics possessed by it. At the time of Guru Tegh Bahdur's visit in 1666, the Sangat was headed by Bhai Jawehri Lal, the masand.
The Guru stayed in a house belonging to Bhai Kalyan Mal (who was over 100 years of age) for several months. Guru Ji visited after hearing the prayers of Bhai Kalyan who could not travel and asked for darshan of Guru Ji. It is the site of this house which is occupied by the Gurdwara Bari Sangat now. Bhai Gurbakhsh, the masand at Jaunpur, came with his sangat to offer obeisance. Bhai Gurbakhsh a practised musician, pleased the Guru with his melodious kirtan. Bhai Gurbakhsh was given a mrdang (a drum) as a mark of Guru Ji's appreciation and blessing.
The present three-storey building, replaced the one constructed by Maharaja Narinder Singh of Patiala in 1854, was constructed during the 1950s. The sanctum is at one end of a spacious high-ceilinged, rectangular hall on the ground floor. All around the interior of the hall is a wide gallery and a number of cupboards for use by Sikhs. Within the congregation hall there are two more Gurdwaras - a small room called Tap Asthan represents the location where Guru Tegh Bahadur sat in solitary meditation, and a narrow well called Baoli Ganga Pargat (lit. well making the Ganges manifest).
There is a popular legend related to the latter. It is said that one morning as Guru Tegh Bahadur was meditating in the Tap Asthan, Bhai Kalyan Mal invited him to a dip in the holy Ganges. The Guru remarked, God's name is the holiest of all. Rather than a worshipper seeking holiness in the waters of Ganges, the Ganges would come to be blessed by the bhakias touch. Seeing Kalyan Mal puzzled by his utterance, the Guru asked him to lift a nearby stone. As soon as Kalyan Mal did so, a spring of river-water appeared. This spring is the present Baoli Ganga Pargat.
Two very old pairs of shoes, one once worn by Guru Tegh Bahadur and the other by the young Gobind Rai, The hukamnamas, seventeen in number are kept separately in the office of the committee that manages this Gurdwara.
Some Sikh artifacts are preserved in the Gurdwara, two cloaks (cholas) and a pair of shoes belonging to the Guru Tegh Bahadur are displayed in glass cupboards. The shoes have since decayed with only the soles left. Guru Gobind Singh also visited this Gurdwara in 1670 when as a child he was being escorted from Patna to the Punjab. A pair of his shoes are also preserved. The Bari Sangat at Varanasi remained an important Sikh centre. Seventeen hukamnamas of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh and Mata Sahib Devan addressed to the Sangat are preserved in the Gurdwara.
The river Ganga that has been loaded with pollutants at every inch while the Inidian Govt is formulating policies to clean it, the water of the holy river is pure and drinkable at Gurdwara Sri Badi Sangat Sahib Varanasi in the Baoli Ganga Pargat. The narrow well present at the Gurdwara Badi Sangat in Nichi Bagh is believed that through the grace of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, the stream of holy water of the river Ganga appeared at the place.
'The water well is situated near the sanctum in the main hall of the Gurdwara since 1666 when Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib arrived the city to meet one of his follower. However, the well is not just a source of ground waters, it provides water from the river Ganga, as it is written in our holy book,' claimed Sardar Mahendra Singh, Manager of the Gurdwara appointed by Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee.
The stream appeared is still preserved in the form of a narrow well and the devotees drink its water as nectar. 'The water is pure and drinkable without any pollutants. Moreover, by the blessings of Guru Ji, the curative properties also existed in it. Thus, the followers come and have it for the sake of their good health.'
Recalling the history of the water well, Mahendra said, 'During the seven-month and 13-day long trip of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib to Varanasi, he stayed at the resident of Bhai Kalyan Mal, the site of the present Gurdwara Bari Sangat. One day he was getting ready for meditation, when Bhai Kalyan Mal came and asked him to go for a holy dip in the river Ganga on the occasion of eclipse. In reply, Guruji said that the river existed here only and asked to remove a stone on the floor. A flow of holy water came out and he took bath. After this, the water level goes down and the place is preserved as Baoli Ganga Pargat till the date.'
Having length and width of three feet each, the water well is deep inside and remains filled with water round the year, informed the manager. A Sikh in the Gurdwara said, 'I used this water for all the sacred ceremonies held at my place as holy water of river Ganga. It is pure, drinkable and also contains divinity.
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