Legend has it that if you go to Varanasi and bathe in the river Ganges you receive liberation from your sins. Legend also has it that if you die in Varanasi you receive moksha, liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
Varanasi, India, the holy city of India, is said to be one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth. There's a famous quote by Mark Twain about Varanasi; he once wrote that "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together." Varanasi has had many names over the years. At one time it was called Benares, before that it was called Kashi, the city of light, and long before it became a hub of modern Hindu worship it was referred to as the forest of bliss.
An axis mundi is where the spiritual and the mundane intersect, where the vertical and the horizontal meet, where heaven and earth come together. Varanasi is considered to be such a place. Its Shiva's city, a city empowered by Lord Shiva himself. Legend has it that if you go to Varanasi and bathe in the river Ganges you receive liberation from your sins. Legend also has it that if you die in Varanasi you receive moksha, liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
Varanasi is a small city. But its thick. Most of the action is spread out over a few miles along the river. Boatmen, silk sellers, massage men, yogis, flower girls, bulls, goats, beggars, Brahmins, sadhus, touts and vendors of all kinds populate the massive stone ghats that make up the riverbank. The number of temples in Varanasi is uncountable. All the gods are found there. They may be honored in large temples like Kashi Vishwanatha or in small wall niches or improvised shrines.
If Shiva's city was about one thing it would be ritual; what the Hindus call puja. Every day in the city of light begins and ends the same. At sunrise the locals and the pilgrims and the tourists and the travelers gather on the banks of the river of heaven, the Ganges, to perform the day's opening rituals. At sunset the same eclectic group of people meet at Dasaswamedh Ghat to take part in an elaborate fire ritual known as Ganga Aarti.
Going to Varanasi is like taking a journey Into The Heart Of Shiva. Describing the Great God is impossible. He's beyond the mind. Describing Varanasi is nearly as difficult. In Shiva's city monkeys climb the walls of buildings as old as time while the smell of burning bodies drifts in the air. The ashes of the dead are swept into the same sacred river that the priests, pilgrims and devotees use for bathing.
Where the river of heaven flows in the forest of bliss of Shiva,
there is moksha guaranteed!