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 Annapurna mandir 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 a 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.
Annie Besant [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. Rivers are central to our culture and civilization. People's survival, religious believes, Peoples' life, dignity spirituality and civilization are linked to them. I suggest, the government should consider handing over the management of rivers to the department of culture. 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) organized on August 09, 2014 at the Moolgadi Kabirchaura Math[xviii],Kabirchaura, Varanasi,India. Convention passed follows declaration:
· It is well known that the musicians belonging to Banaras Gharana within the classical music with chanting hymens for Hindus Gods and Goddess. At the same time, they use instruments like Afghanistan made Sarod and Shahanai and Sitar brought form Iran, which is a symbol of pluralism. There is a need to be efforts at the government level to keep alive this rich tradition of classical music. Let there be a mega “Hindustani musical institution” to help enrich tradition of Banaras Gharana. This will facilitate students from the country and abroad pursuing education in music as well as growth in culture centric tourism.
· Banaras has close relationship with Indian religious and cultural moorings as this city has embraced - Hindu, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Jews, Bahai, Jainism, Sikhism, tradition of Saint, Sufisim etc. It is imperative to keep this pluralistic religious culture alive and make people aware to collectively fight communal forces and sectarian thinking. This will embolden Banaras’s tradition of collectivity.
· Banaras is a great center of pluralistic and inclusive culture and this center has remained as “Heritage of Ganga riverside civilization” this will make people not only from India but also from rest of the world learn to live in social harmony, understanding and brotherhood. They will also feel the importance of living together notwithstanding internal contradictions and intolerance. Which is why the history, prominent signposts and collective culture of Banaras city - which is known as a city of faith, believes and debates - be declared as “Heritage”.
· Let the Gangaji and its 15 hundred tributaries be allowed to flow cleanly without any interruption. This will go a long way to save riverside ancient civilization and culture.
· Rivers are great centers of our culture and civilization. They are interwoven with people’s livelihood, religious faiths, spiritualism, dignity, life and civilization. Therefore, the Indian government should bring the rivers under the department of culture.
· There is an urgent need of drinking water and veterinary doctors to take care of Lord Shiva’s pet bull “Nandi”.
· Let the old Banaras city be given a facelift of a heritage city on the lines of Singapore and new city be developed elsewhere like any other modern city.
· The unique art and heritage of Banaras city must be preserve. For example, the art of weaving (Banarasi Sari Udyog), wooden carvings, artisan, making of crowns of gods and goddess need to be encouraged through higher provisioning in the budget. The artists and artisans involved in such activities should be included in various welfare schemes.
· Banaras is famous for making of badges for various military, Para military and police forces of the world. Shri Krishna’s copper swing is made here. Muslim artisans make clothes, crown, and garlands for Hindu deities. The government must come out with effective schemes to save, preserve and resurrect such fine art and cultural heritage.
· Let the schools, Madarsa and other educational institutions in Banaras have courses on Banaras’s pluralistic and inclusive cultural history. This will pave the way for the posterity to preserve the unique culture of Banaras with awe and respect.
· A list of all tourist places, cultural centers be prepared and the included in tourism list. The historically significant places in the city should be brought under tourism and culture department so that more and more tourists can know about Banaras’s ancient and rich history. They include the birth place of Kabeer i.e mool gadee kabeer math, dayee kangoora mosque, observatory of Man Singh, library of Karmikal, Majar of Maulana Alvi, Nagari Pracharini sabha, House of Munshi Prem chand, Mosque of Dhaurhara, Jain tirthankar place, Chauhatta lal khan makbara, many tanks and ponds etc.
· The museum under the department of culture should be proactive in preserving the ancient and rich history, its related important historical facts, books, documents.
· There government must be construct shelter homes, dwelling houses for homeless, poor city denizens, old age people and helpless women.
· The government must bring economically weaker boatman community, weavers, extremely deprive Musahars and their children in key welfare scheme for their re settlement so that they can be brought to the mainstream development.
· The government must demolish encroachment in an around in heritage side of Banaras like historical institutions, library, tanks, ponds and preserve them for posterity.
· The Indian government immediately should ratify the UNCAT and enact law against torture.
· All religions are against slavery. So is also Banaras’s tradition. Therefore all kinds of slavery such as Bonded labour, trafficking etc must be rooted out forthwith.
9 August, 2014
Kabir Chaura Math moolgadi, Varanasi, India.