18 July 2014: Varanasi, one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world is known also as Banaras or Kashi and incorporates the different school of thoughts, religions which makes it the centre of attraction among people across the globe.
One side it is known as the prominent city for followers of Hindu religion and on the other hand it is known also as the place where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon[i] (dhamma chakkra parivartan) in 528 BC. It is one of the holy cities of Jainism, and one of the epicentres of the Bhakti movement (a current dating back to Hindu medieval times very close to Sufi Islam, ed.) Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikhism, visited Varanasi in 1507 and was inspired by the city. The three Tirthankars[ii] of Jain religion were also born at this place. Thus Varanasi holds equally high place among followers of Hindu and other religions.
Varanasi has been the birthplace and work place for Sant Kabir[iii], Sant Raidas[iv] and Sen Nai, opposing sectarian thinking, communalism and casteism. They established the dignity of labour with spiritualism. Maulana Alvi brought here the world famous Banarsi silk artisan saree work that now has a Bollywood celebrity as its brand ambassador. Banaras has been home to several great personalities from the field of art, culture, music and literature.
A poet-saint, reformer and philosopher Tulsidas[v]’ doctrine has been described as an assimilation and reconciliation of the diverse tenets and cultures of Hinduism taught reconciliation. Munshi Premchand[vi], an Indian writer famous for his modern Hindustani literature was famous for both his Hindi and Urdu writings. Great author Bhartendu Harishchandra, Jai Shankar Prasad, Dr Shyam Sunderdas and Acharya Ramchandra Shukla have had Baranas as their home.
The city has had four Bharat Ratna (the highest civilian award of the Republic of India)[vii] recipients too. The Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan[viii], Lal Bahadur Shastri[ix] the second prime minister of India, Pt Ravi Shankar[x] the renowned Sitar player and Bhagwan Das[xi] an Indian Theosophist who was allied with the Hindustani Culture Society and was active in opposing rioting as a form of protest. For a time he served in the Central Legislative Assembly of British India. As an advocate for national freedom from the British rule, he was often in danger of reprisals from the Colonial government. He was the fourth recipient of India’s highest civilian award. He established the Kashi Vidyapeeth in association with Mahatma Gandhi.
In the 16th century, Varanasi experienced a cultural revival under the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar who invested in the city, and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. The Raja of Poona established the Annapurnamandir and the 200 metres (660 ft) Akbari Bridge was also completed during this period. The earliest tourists began arriving in the city during the 16th century. In 1665, the French traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier described the architectural beauty of the Vindu Madhava temple on the side of the Ganges. The road infrastructure was also improved during this period and extended from Kolkata to Peshawar by Emperor Sher Shah Suri; later during the British Raj it came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road.
Anie Basent[xii] the prominent British socialist, theosophist, women’s rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self-rule was active in city and Theosophical Society of India. In April 1911, Besant met Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya[xiii] and they decided to unite their forces and work for a common Hindu University at Varanasi. The Banaras Hindu University started functioning in October 1917 with the Central Hindu College as its first constituent college.
There is something special about the Banaras Gharana[xiv] of music that is based upon Indian classical instruments quoting Hindu Gods and Deities and it also incorporates the Sarod[xv] from Afghanistan, Shehnai[xvi] and Sitar[xvii] from Persian culture with the same pride as they do for the Indian instruments.
Reconciling various branches of Indian philosophy from Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Bahai, Jainism, Sikhism, Sufism, and Jew all have an equal connect in this ancient city that believes Varanasi as a centre for pluralism and inclusive cultural based on reconciliation and diversity. This has been the heritage of pluralism and inclusive culture based on civilization of River Ganga.
People across the world can learn on how to live and make co-existence meaningful even as there are differences among people yet they live in harmony as inclusive culture based on diversity and pluralism. It is therefore necessary that Varanasi or Banaras be given status of a Living HERITAGE CITY of inclusive and plural culture. It is necessary that the city of faith, belief, indigenous wisdom and logic be declared a heritage city. It is required that the water in the city should be Ganga Jal (water) and not Ganda (dirty) Jal. Sand (Bul) the favourite animal of Lord Shiv be given dignity/honour in the city and provide health support to them by trained veterinarian.
It is necessary that the old city be conserved as heritage as done in Singapore and the new city be developed with expansion plans for future in sight. The artisans of the city be given means of livelihood. Weaving, toy making, zardoji be promoted and helped grow. It is noticeable that police and military badges of various countries are made in Varanasi. Dress of Hindu Gods and Deities are made by Muslims in Varanasi. The history of pluralism, inclusive culture based on reconciliation be taught to young students in the schools. This is not important just for the sake of the past but for the very fact that in India and South Asia, there is a need to end communal/sectarian thinking based on caste and to bring “positive conflict resolution” that shall be the manner to develop complete concept of citizen in the region.
This shall help to put an end to torture and large scale organised violence arising out of casteism, sectarian thinking and communal fascism.
It is in this very context that a BANARAS SAMMELAN (Banaras Convention) has been called upon on August 9, 2014 at the Moolgadi Kabirchaura Math[xviii],Kabirchaura, Varanasi,India at 11 am. The programme shall start with the Panchnaad by Pt Vikash Maharaj[xix] (renowned Sarod player) and Pt Prabhash Maharaj (Tabla player).
You are cordially invited as a distinguished guest for the programme as an ambassador of inclusive and plural culture.