Varanasi existed even during Gautama Buddha's era, which means it is at least three thousand years old. It was then a centre for architectural activities. In the twelfth century, it came under Delhi's Islamic rule and the Mughal emperor destroyed the temple and built a mosque, which is the cause for unrest till today. In the 18th century, it came under the rule of a Hindu feudal lord and was revived as the sacred place of Hindus. Now it is the religious and cultural hometown of ten lakh people.
The Hindu architecture of Varanasi was destroyed under the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. There are two mosques built on the banks of river Ganges by the Aurangzeb. The smaller mosque built on the site of a temple, is in the Mughal style. The larger mosque was built with material from the famous Vishwanath Temple, after it was destroyed, a fact that is still a sore point with Hindus. It has stucco painting on it. The height of its minaret is seventy meters from the riverbank and it acts as a good landmark. Located at the top of the very steep steps leading to Panchganga Ghat, the mosque was even more visible and clearly symbolised a powerful Muslim presence in this holiest of all Hindu cities when its very tall minarets still stood. The finely rendered stucco, stone and polychrome work suggests a patron of superior taste and enormous wealth.
Architecture of the Temples of Varanasi
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built in the year 1780 is an important religious centre of the Hindus. The Durga temple of Varanasi was constructed in the 18th century. The architecture of the temples is in the Nagara style of architecture of North India. The Sankat Mochan Temple is noteworthy for its outstanding architecture which is a perfect blend of old and the new. The architecture of the New Vishwanath Temple which was constructed in 1956 is the replica of the old Kashi Vishwanath temple. Most of the present architectural buildings of Varanasi were constructed during the 17th century.
Architecture of the Ghats of Varanasi
What brings hoards of people to this place is the anonymous collection of buildings in a row and the Ghats which are stepped terraces on the banks of the Ganga River that weave a religious spell. The banks of a river are considered sacred and terraces or steps are built there. These steps that lead into the river are called Ghats. The ghats are must-see architectural sites. The ghats line the Ganges River as immense staircases that build from the edge of the river to the sky. In Varanasi, the Ghats stretch for three kilometers or more and each section has its own name. The most important Ghat of Varanasi is the Dasashwamedh Ghat. Constructed by Peshwa Balaji Rao, it is one of the most holy bathing ghats of the Ganges. The sight of people worshipping sunrise while bathing at dawn, is altogether an unforgettable experience.
There are also cremation places at the top of the Ghats. The southern end has the Assi Ghat which leads to many ghats, ending in the Adikeshva Ghat in the north. Nearby is the Tulsi Ghat where Goswami Tulsidas lived till his death. Harishchandra Ghat is the cremation ghat where dead bodies are burnt day and night. Another cremation ghat is the Mani Karnika Ghat which is very old. It is a belief that only lucky people die in Varanasi.
Other Architectural sites at Varanasi
The Ram Nagar Fort of Varanasi is a Rajput architectural creation. The 17th century fort runs parallel to the river and has temples and palaces surrounded by courtyards with guards, guarding it. The palace facing the main courtyard is a blend of corbelled brackets and Mughal style arches. It reminds one of Akbar's styles of construction. The side along the river has an entrance gate, allowing access to those who arrive by boat. The exterior walls are built with grand bricks. The interior has intricate ivory carvings, displays of clothes and remnants of the Maharaja of Benaras transport department.
Sarnath is another site near Varanasi which is famous for its ancient architecture as it has the old Dhamekh Stupa refurbished by Emperor Ashoka and also the Ashoka Column with the four lions atop it (India's National Emblem) at the Sarnath Archaeological Survey of India Museum.
Varanasi is, thus, a home for Hindu religious architecture. The Muslim architectural creations are also very captivating. With a rich mythological past, Varanasi is noteworthy for the grandeur of its architecture.