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The spectacular puja ceremony at Varanasi

This page has not been updated since June 2014.

Buddhist, Hindu and Jain pilgrim site

One of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world Varanasi (also formerly known as Benaras) has holy significance for Buddhists, Hindus and Jains alike. Situated on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, India, and attracting some 1.5 million pilgrim visitors annually Varanasi is often referred to as ‘the religious capital of India’.

The burning ghat on the Ganges at Varanasi
For Hindus it is believed that Lord Shiva founded the city as one of seven ‘ksetra’ sites that permit moksha – the release from the cycle of rebirth – and the holy shrine of Kashi Vishwanath is one of the twelve sacred jyotirlingas. The bathing ghats on the River Ganges are a particular focus for Hindu pilgrims.

For Buddhists Varanasi is seen as the place where Buddhism was founded when Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon to disciples at Sarnath – one of the four holiest places in Buddhism.

As the birthplace of three of the twenty-four Jain Tirthankars or teachers as well as the location of the Digambar Jain Temple celebrating Parshvanath, the earliest Jain leader generally accepted as a historical figure who lived there around 800 BC, Varanasi has long been a pilgrimage site for Jains.

Varanasi city website

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Related information

Green pilgrimage network (GPN)
The vision is of pilgrims on all continents and the pilgrim cities that receive them, leaving a positive footprint on the Earth
GPN Handbooks & Leaflets
Downloadable leaflets and handbooks for greening pilgrimage aimed at different faith groups
The Hindu Declaration on Nature - Assisi 1986
The original Hindu Declaration on Nature was created in 1986, at a meeting held in Assisi by WWF-International. It stemmed from an idea by HRH the Prince Philip, at which five leaders of the five major world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – were invited to come and discuss how their faiths could help save the natural world.