Art & Culture

Kashi – Mystic Sound from the land of Ganges

किसी रोज तुम गंगा बनना मै गंगा का घाट बनु 
तुम विश्वनाथ का मंदिर बनना मै उसका कपाट बनू
किसी रोज तुम महाशमशान की भूमी बनना मै किसी चित्ता की राख बनू 
तुम मेरी काशी बनना मै तुम्हरा विश्वनाथ बनू

                                                         -Rohit Ojha (A true Banarasi)

Benares- a city illuminated with diyas, gleaming with the sunrise on Ghats, worshipped for sacred Ganga, and popularly famous for ‘Kashi Vishwanath’! Benares or Kashi is one of the oldest living city in the world, carrying the essence of Lord Shiva, sacred river Ganga, the beauty of ‘Dev Dipawali’ on Dashashwamedh Ghat, the true meaning of mortality on Manikarnika Ghat, and music as the soul of its body; The city which wakes up from ‘Mandiro ki Ghantiya and Maszid ki Azan’, whose heart beats on the tap of Thumri and Khyal, is still the favourite of many musicians and singers.


Varanasi is a city, where you can feel the sound in everything; the sound in flowing water of ‘Ganga’, in ‘the chirping of birds’, in ‘the light of diyas’, in ‘the chants of mantras’, and in ‘the arti on ghats.’ The music is the inspiration energy for Benares that keeps it refreshing and spirited with each passing day. Every day you will feel that a divine energy is enlightening your soul in the form of soothing music.

Bhakti Movement :

Bhakti movement is considered as the first movement that enlightens the ‘jyoti’ of music in Benares. Popularly known as ‘The city of Gods’, Benaars has its musical origin in ‘Benaresi Gharana of Classical Indian Music’. The music in Benares is not new, it has its roots since the city was created by Lord Shiva.

bhakti movement

The Vaishnava Bhakti movement was the dominant movement in medieval times in Benares when Ravidas, Kabir Das, Meera, Tulsi Das, and Sur Das were the prevalent figures of music. Their music and ‘PADAS’ didn’t just create an aroma of devotion among people, in fact, it takes them on the verge of enlightenment.

Dhrupad Movement :

The ‘Dhrupad’ is the most ancient style of music that still resides in the heart of Benares in its original and true form. This style of music was mostly sung in temples by saints to connect their soul with the divine power and with due course of time the style received an honorable mention in royal patronage and gave a path to other forms of music, for instance, Chaturanga, Dhamar, and Hori.

With ‘Dhrupad’, the Indian classical music evolved other famous forms of music including ‘Asaveri’ ragam that belongs to Carnatic music. You will find about ‘Asaveri’ in the most ancient Sanskrit book on Musicology- ‘सङ्गीतरत्नाकर’ (Sangita-Ratnakara) written and composed by शार्ङ्गदेव ( Śārṅgadeva). The book is commonly known as ‘Ocean of Music and Dance’. ‘Asaveri’ had an immense impact on the Nirgun singers of Benares and they gave it an honorable mention in the history by their most famous ‘Asaveri’ song- ‘Ghunghat Ke Pat Khol’. Mark Twain once said:

“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”

Benares Gharana :

girija devi

If you talk about uniqueness, then Benares is unique in everything it holds; From world famous Banarasi paan to world-famous Banarasi silk, from Malaiyo to kachaudi-sabji, from thandai to Bhaang, and from Thumri to Kajri, Benares never misses to amaze people. The renowned and world famous ‘Benares Gharana’ singer- Girja Devi was famous for her Thumri presentations. She was an epitome of folk music and her gem box includes some of the most famous forms of folk music including Jhoola, Chaiti, and Kajri. She has also sung ‘Tappa’- a semi-classical vocal music that was popularized at the court of Mughal emperor ‘Muhammad Shah.’

Some of the famous exponents of Tappa were Gammu Khan, Shore Miyan, and Shade Khan. The folk music resides in the very heart of Benares city and that is the reason that you will still find women singing Dadra, Kajri, Tarana, Chaiti, Hori, Bhairavi, Ramayan, Bhajan, Krishna Prasang, and Ghato in villages. There are various music festivals that are still being celebrated in rural areas of Benares, for instance, Birha, Jhoola, Kajri, Gulab Bari, and Jhoomar. You can say that Benares is an ultimate representation of a true musical city in the light of the fact that in 2015 it has been chosen as the ‘CITY OF MUSIC’ by UNESCO and this was the proud moment for every Banarasi musician.

Every year, Benares gets immersed in the divine power of musical festival. These musical festivals not just transcend you into the transcendental world, it also, connects your soul with that utmost divine power that is controlling the entire universe.

Some of these major festivals are:

Dhrupad Festival:

The festival belongs to the Hindustani Classical Music and every year a lot of people gather on ‘Tulsi Ghat’ to enjoy this festival

Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh:

One of the most important musical festival that is celebrated in Sankat Mochan temple every year in the month of April. Singers, Musicians, and Dancers from all over the world participate in this festival. Many renowned musicians, singers, and dancers have participated in this festival. For instance, Rajan-Sajan Misra, Birju Maharaj, Jasraj, and Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali. This non-elitist musical festival takes place in the open area of the temple where everyone is welcomed, regardless of the fact, to which religion he or she belongs.

Some other notable musical festivals are Buddha Purnima, Shivratri, and Karthik Purnima. So, come! Immersed! And reach to a Transcendental world with the musical journey of Benaras!

Deepti Ratnam

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