The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Kasi

BY: SUN STAFF - 23.10 2019

King Harishchandra and his family arrive at the Ganges in Kasi
Paithan School, Karnataka, 19th c.

A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 74.

The last mention of Kasi (Varanasi) found in Jaiva Dharma is in chapter twenty, in a discussion between Vijaya-kumara and the Babaji, Prema-dasa. Vijaya-kumara inquired if living at Sri Navadvipa is purifying only because it is by the Ganges, or is there another reason? To this, the Babaji replied:

"Ah! Living within the thirty two mile area of Sri Navadvipa is exactly like living in Sri Vrndavana. This is especially true for Sri Mayapura. Seven holy cities are famous for granting liberation. They are: Ayodhya, Mathura, Mayapura, Varanasi, Kanci, Avantipura, and Dvaraka. Of them, Mayapura is the most important. Sri Mahaprabhu brought the spiritual world of Svetadvipa to Mayapura."

In the Navadvipa-dhama Mahatmya there is a passage which instructs as to the corresponding presence of Kasi in Navadvipa itself. This is described in Audarya Dhama by Srimad Padmalochan dasa, in the chapter on Godruma Dvipa:

"Starting to the west of Bilva paksa, Mandakini river comes and surrounds Nadia. At Suvarna Vihar, the Alakananda river leaves the Mandakini. On the eastern bank of the Alkananda is the Hari Hara Ksetra. It is predicted that in the future a wonderful Deity will be found in the forest here. (The Deity is being worshipped.)

On the western bank is situated Kasi (Mahavaranasi), the above of Lord Siva, where his followers worship him along with his consort. This Kasi is superior to the other Kasi, because here Lord Siva is always dancing and uttering the name of Lord Gauranga, begging his followers to accept Gaura Bhakti."

That liberation for which sannyasis live in Kasi for thousands of years, which is attained by the process of jnana, is achieved here by those who simply say the name of Gauranga and lift their feet and dance. Thus this place is called Mahavaranasi, for here there is no fear of death."

Being one of the most ancient dhams on the Earth planet, Kasi has many names associated with various divine pastimes that unfolded there. For example, in Srimad-Bhagavatam 1:7:18 is the story of how it got the name "Lolarka": "There was a demon by the name Vidyunmali who was gifted with a glowing golden airplane which traveled to the back of the sun, and night disappeared because of the glowing effulgence of this plane. Thus the sun-god became angry, and with his virulent rays he melted the plane. This enraged Lord Siva. Lord Siva then attacked the sun-god, who fled away and at last fell down at Kasi (Varanasi), and the place became famous as Lolarka."

The ancient Kingdom of Kashi is known as the first of the sixteen Great States of Jambudvipa, whose rulers were topmost among Bharat's ancient kingdoms. The Kingdom of Kashi was located in the region around Varanasi (modern Banaras), and the capital was at Varanasi. The ancient city was bounded by the rivers Varuna and Asi in the north and south, from which Varanasi gets its name. Before the time of Buddha, Kashi was the most powerful of the sixteen mahajanapadas.

Several Jatakas bear witness to the superiority of its capital over other cities of India, and speak highly of its prosperity and opulence. The Jatakas are a class of Buddhist texts which describe a former birth of Gautama Buddha. They speak of a long rivalry between Kashi and Kosala, Anga and Magadha, as these four ancient kingdoms struggled for supremacy. King Brihadratha of Kashi had conquered Kosala, but Kashi was later incorporated back into Kosala by King Kansa.

The Kashis, along with the Kosalas and Videhans are mentioned in various Vedic texts, and appear to have been closely allied with one another. The Matsya Purana and Alberuni refer to Kashi as Kausika and Kaushaka, respectively. All other ancient texts give the name Kashi.

The Kingdom of Kashi was founded by Khsetravridha, the son of Ayus of the Somavansa dynasty of Pratishthana. It lost independence in 1194 A.D. and was eventually ceded by the Nawab of Oudh (Awadh) to the British Raj in 1775, who recognized Benares as a family dominion.

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) of the Royal House of Varanasi (Benares) is believed to be a descendent of Lord Shiva. During Shivratri, the Kashi is the chief officiating priest, and no other priest is allowed entry into the sanctum sanctorum until he has completed his religious offerings.

According to orthodox Brahminical tradition, no one has seen a Kashi Naresh eat food, and none of the kings in this royal line have travelled abroad. The royal palace is currently at Ramnagar Fort near Varanasi, next to the Ganges.

The Puranas narrate a story in which Vyasa failed to receive alms in Varanasi, and put a curse on the city. Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa became so pleased with the alms he received there that he forgot his curse. However, because of Vyasa's bad temper Shiva banished him from Varanasi. Resolving to remain nearby, Vyasa then took up residence on the other side of the Ganges. That place is still worshipped, as the Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar.