The Kasi: Where Varuna & Asi Merges

Kaushal Kishore | January 8, 2013
Downtown the newly developed Kumbh Nagar, there is a beautiful place on the bank of Ganga. The city of Benares was on the banks of Varuna and Asi in the history. Last year, I saw Baba Naganath and Swami Sanand on the satyagraha for the Ganga. The demand of the Ganga Mukti Andolan is to restore a pure, untouched and dam free river as the olden time Ganga throughout the Indian subcontinent. The satyagraha still continues somewhere on the bank of the river. Meanwhile I saw some old pages about the Varuna and Asi.

The Varuna river is a minor tributary of the Ganga, which is named after the god Varuna, the god of water. The Varuna rises from Melhum at Phulpur in Allahabad district at 25°27′N, 82°18′E. It flows eas-to-southeast for 106 kilometres via Bhadohi, Mirzapur, Jaunpur, and enters Varanasi in order to finally merge in the Ganga at Sarai Mohana.

The rivulet that borders the city of Varanasi at its south and joins the Ganga at Asi Ghat is known as Assi or Asi river. The name Varanasi itself is interpreted to be derived from combination of ‘Varuna’ and ‘Asi’ on the name of rivers. There are numerous references to the Asi Ghat in the early literature of the Hindus. It was at the Asi Ghat where the famous Indian poet saint, Tulsi Das had written the much-celebrated Ramacharitmanas. Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of Ganga and Varuna, and other of Ganga and Asi that always remained a rivulet rather than a river. The distance between these two confluences is around 2.5 miles. The Hindus regard a round trip between these two places as a religious ritual, which ends with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple, and is called Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a five mile journey).
There are references of Asi Ghat in Matsya Purana, Agni Purana, Kurma Purana and Padma Purana. According to legend, Goddess Durga had thrown her sword after slaying the demon Shumbha–Nishumbha. The place where the sword had fallen resulted in a big stream known as the Asi river. Asi Ghat is located at the confluence of the river Ganga and Asi.

The city is regarded as holy by the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is one of the oldest living cities of the world, continually inhabited by people generation after generation. According to the Padma Puran, the Varuna and the Asi are two holy rivers, and between them is a holy land and there is no other place more excellent on earth, according to ancient texts. Varanasi is situated between the Varuna, which flows into the Ganga on the north and the Asi, which joins the Ganga on the south. In the Rig Veda, the city was referred to as Kasi or Kashi, which means ‘the luminous one’.
Varanasi is an ancient name, found in both the Buddhist Jataka tales as well as the Hindu epics. Benares or Banaras is the most widely used name of the city, which seems to be the corrupted version that comes from its Pali roots. This is the most ancient city of the world. The well-known American writer Mark Twain wrote in Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World about the city, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

Several poetic adjectives such as ‘the city of temples’, ‘the holy city of India’, ‘the religious capital of India’, ‘the city of light’, ‘the city of learning’, ‘the culture capital of India’, etc. are used to describe Varanasi. This holy city has produced many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers and musicians. The Buddha delivered his first sermon at Sarnath near Kashi, and Ayurveda, which is the science of medicine is said to have originated in Varanasi.
Long ago, Varuna was recognised as the lifeline of Varanasi. The pure and medicinal propreties of the water nourished various types of herbs on its banks and the river maintained the water level of the city. The farmers of this area were dependant on its water for drinking, irrigation and cattle purposes. In the present scenario, the situation has changed drastically—the Varuna is one of the most polluted rivers of India, which is regularly ailing and becoming a garbage tank day-by-day.

There are nearly a hundred ghats (steps leading towards the waterway) in Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies. Dashashwamedh Ghat is located near the Vishwanath Temple, which is one of the most spectacular ghats. The Manikarnika Ghat is another place associated with certain legends.

Kaushal Kishore is the author of The Holy Ganga

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