The origin of this post lies in a comment on another post of mine: “I wonder what Varanasi would look like if it wasn’t destroyed so many times by kings and Mughals”. History tells us that Varanasi, the oldest living city of the world, has been destroyed several times in the past. It was there even before the Buddha, whose first sermon was witnessed by Saarnath, was born. Kasi was where Adi Sankaracharya had realized the true nature of brahma.
I have read in several histories of the city that the primordial nucleus of the city was up north, towards Rajghat plateau. The city moved and spread towards its present dense southern orientation in course of around two millenia. The ghats and palaces on them are of very recent origin. The Maratha ascendancy saw the construction of pukka ghats along the bank of Gangaji, and various temples and palaces that rose in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, long after the last strong Mughal King was dead.
For centuries the city remained between Ganga’s confluences with Varuna and Assi: a river and a stream. Then, it spread beyond Assi nullah. The biggest and the most famous university of the city is in the newly constructed part of the city, although it is not new by any definition of the word. The university celebrated its centenary in 2013. Yet, it’s over two hundred years younger than the core of the city. The new parts of the city are radiating away from the core towards Lohta, Shivpur, Rajghat and beyond, and towards the villages across the highway around Narottampur. In contrast to the stone city of the yore, the modern Kasi is made of concrete and metal.
The past avatars had risen over the ruins of temples and the city, and the damage was caused by outsiders. The new one feeds over what may be called the corpses of relatively young buildings and temples.
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