Benares State

Benares State
काशी नरेशों
बनारस रियासत
Kingdom of Kashi in ancient history
Princely state of the British Raj after 1775
Flag Coat of arms
Benares State in the Imperial Gazetteer of India
  Established TBD
  Accession to the Union of India 1948
  1892 2,266 km2 (875 sq mi)
  1892 115,773 
Density 51.1 /km2  (132.3 /sq mi)
Today part of India
Palace of the Maharaja, Ramnagar
Maharaja of Benares with his courtiers in the 1870s.
An alternate flag of Benares State.[1]

Benares or Banaras State (Hindi: बनारस रियासत) was a princely state in what is today India during the British Raj. On 15 October 1948 Benares' last ruler signed the accession to the Indian Union.[2]

Its roots go back to the Kingdom of Kashi, which was an independent Brahmin - (Bhumihar Brahmin) state until 1194. It became a British territory in 1775, and a state in 1911. It is the site of Ramnagar Fort and its museum, which are the repository of the history of the kings of Varanasi and, since the 18th century, has been the home of the Kashi Naresh.[3] Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Varanasi.[3] He is a religious leader and the people of Varanasi consider him an incarnation of Lord Shiva.[3] He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[3] The ruling family claims descent from the God Shiva and benefits greatly from pilgrimages to Benares.


Kashi Naresh

Main article: Narayan dynasty

The predecessor state was the Kingdom of Kashi whose origins are very ancient. The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is believed to be a descendent of Lord Shiva. Still, during the religious occasion of Shivratri, the Kashi Naresh is the chief officiating priest and no other priest is allowed entry into the garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum. Only after he performs his religious offerings may anyone else be allowed to enter.

Princely State

The earliest rulers of the latter princely state of Benares were zamindaris for the Awadh (Oudh) province of the Mughal Empire. As the Mughal suzerainty weakened, the Benares zamindari estate became Banaras State, thus the rulers they regained control of their territories and declared themselves Maharajas of Benares between 1739 and 1760.[4] The region eventually ceded by the Nawab of Oudh to the British Raj in 1775, who recognized Benares as a family dominion. Benares became a state in 1911.[5] It was given the privilege of 13-gun salute.

Most of the area currently known as Varanasi was acquired by Mansa Ram, a zamindar of Utaria. Balwant Singh, the ruler of Utaria in 1737, took over the territories of Jaunpur, Varanasi and Chunar in 1740 from the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah of Delhi. The Kingdom of Benaras started in this way during the Mughal dynasty. Other places under the kingship of Kashi Naresh were Chandauli, Gyanpur, Chakia, Latifshah, Mirzapur, Nandeshwar, Mint House and Vindhyachal.

With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the Bhumihar Brahmins under the leadership of Kashi Naresh strengthened their sway in the area south of Avadh and in the fertile rice growing areas of Benares, Jaunpur, Gorakhpur, Basti, Deoria, Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Ballia and Bihar and on the fringes of Bengal.[6] The strong clan organisation on which they rested, brought success to the lesser Hindu princes.[6] There were as many as 100,000 men backing the power of the Benares rajas in what later became the districts of Benares, Gorakhpur and Azamgarh.[6] This proved a decisive advantage when the dynasty faced a rival and the nominal suzerain, the Nawab of Oudh, in the 1750s and the 1760s.[6] An exhausting guerrilla war, waged by the Benares ruler against the Oudh camp, using his troops, forced the Nawab to withdraw his main force.[6]

Throne of Raja of Benaras, at National Museum, Delhi.


The rulers of the state carried the title "Maharaja Bahadur" from 1859 onwards.[7]


Maharaja Bahadurs

History of Ramnagar

The residential palace of the Naresh is the Ramnagar Fort at Ramnagar near Varanasi, which is next to the river Ganges.[8]

The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century.[9] It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions.[9]

On January 28, 1983, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust, with the late Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then Kashi Naresh, as President, and an executive committee with the Divisional Commissioner as Chairman.[10]

Ram Leela at Ramnagar

When the Dussehra festivities are inaugurated with a colourful pageant, the Kashi Naresh rides an elephant at the head of the procession.[11] Then, resplendent in silk and brocade, he inaugurates the month-long folk theatre of Ramlila at Ramnagar.[11]

The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Ramcharitmanas, the version of the Ramayana written by Tulsidas.[11] The plays, sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[11] On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[11] Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition of staging the Ramleela at Ramnagar in the mid-nineteenth century.[11]

Over a million pilgrims arrive annually for the vast processions and performances organized by the Kashi Naresh.[12]

All India Kashi Raj Trust

Serious work on the Puranas began when the All India Kashiraj Trust was formed under the patronage and guidance of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, the Maharaja of Kashi, which, in addition to producing critical editions of the Puranas, also published the journal Puranam.[13]

Saraswati Bhawan at Ramnagar Fort

A rare collection of manuscripts, especially religious writings, is housed in Saraswati Bhawan. It includes a precious handwritten manuscript by Goswami Tulsidas.[14] There are also many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style, with beautifully designed covers.[14]

Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar

According to a popular Puranic story, when Vyasa failed to receive alms in Varanasi, he put a curse on the city.[14] Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa was so pleased with the alms he received that he forgot his curse.[14] However, because of Vyasa's bad temper Shiva banished him from Varanasi.[14] Resolving to remain nearby, Vyasa took up residence on the other side of the Ganges, where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.[14]

Vyasa-Kasi location and significance: Vyasa Kasi, the name by which it is called by the people on pilgrimage to Kasi, through ages, is located near Ramnagar. A temple for Sage Vyasa is located here facing Kasi on the opposite side of the river Ganga. The temple is at a distance of 19 km by road from Kasi. Once upon a time the whole area was covered by a forest of Badari trees. ( Badari is called 'Bel’ or ‘ber’ in Hindi and 'Jujube’ in English). Badari is a thorny bush- like tree which gives small sweet and sour fruits. Since Vyasa lived among the Badari trees, he was also called ‘Baadarayana’ (a person who moved among the badari bushes). People who go on pilgrimage to Kasi will not fail to visit Vyasa Kasi. They travel through boats that ply on the river. But when once they reach Vyasa-Kasi, they finish their tour of the place very quickly and return to Kasi before sunset.Nobody makes a night halt at this place. Sage Vyasa who had to live in this forest along with his disciples some 2000–2500 years ago, is also called by other names such as – Veda Vyasa, Krishna Dwaipayana, Paarasarya(son of Rishi Parasara) and Satyavateya(son of mother Satyavati). He had to live there as he was banished from the city of Kasi by Lord Viswanath, the reigning deity of Kasi. An interesting episode is narrated in this regard in the’ Kasi-Khanda’ of ‘Skanda Purana’. The details of the episode regarding the banishment of Sage Vyasa from Kashi are as follows. Sage Vyasa who is also called Vyasa Maha muni was a great scholar of his times. He is credited to have gathered a group of scholars and classified the Vedas, which were lying as a Conglomeration of Richas ( mantras) of different categories. He classified all these mantras into four different Vedas. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu (who is also called Lord Narayana). He used to travel from one hermitage to the other, along with his 10,000 disciples, when he travelled from one pace of worship to the other.

During one of his journeys, it so happened that Vyasa was travelling through the famous Naimisharanya. At that time a group of great sages were discussing about various religious and theological issues. When Vyasa, along with his 10,000 disciples entered the conference, he enquired what they were discussing about. The sages gave due respect to him and told him that they were discussing about the relative merits of worshipping Lord Vishnu and Lord Maheswara. They said that according to some, Lord Vishnu is more amenable to worship (of his devotees) than Lord Shiva. But according to the majority Lord Viswanatha (Lord Shiva) is the only God who can be pleased easily. They asked Vyasa Muni to express his opinion on the subject. Vyasa Muni who was a staunch devotee of Lord Narayana (Lord Vishnu) raised his right hand and told them –“Please listen to me carefully. Lord Vishnu is the only God who has been hailed as the supreme deity in the Vedas, the epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the eighteen Puranas. He is the only God who is at the root of Creation, sustenance and destruction. So he alone is competent to award salvation. It is not Lord Shiva or any other God". All the sages were surprised after listening to the above statement. They replied, “Great scholar, you know everything. But we will appreciate your statement, if you could kindly make the above declaration in front of Lord Visweswara, the presiding deity of Kasi and the scholars of Kasi. Sage Vyasa agreed to do so and asked everybody to follow him to Kasi.

Sage Vyasa reached the holy city of Kasi along with his disciples and many sages of the forest. He took his holy bath in the river Ganga and directly went to the temple of Lord Bindu Madhava (Lord Vishnu) and worshipped him as the Lord who has 1000 heads and who is the giver of happiness to all. Afterwards he entertained the Lord with songs, and dance accompanied by musical instruments. Then he raised his right hand and declared that Lord Madhava is the only God who is competent to grant Salvation to human beings.As he was making the above declaration his hand became numb and remained stationery in the same position and he lost his voice too. Lord Madhava appeared before him immediately and admonished him, “Dear Vyasa, you have made a great blunder. Don’t you know that there is only one Supreme lord of the Universe, and nobody else? I became a ‘’Chakri’ and the husband of Goddess Lakshmi only by the grace of Lord Shiva? Please worship Lord Shiva if you want to live peacefully and attain Salvation”. Then Vyasa signalled to Lord Madhava to touch his throat which had stopped producing any sound. Lord Bindu Madhava helped him in regaining his voice and restoring the movement of his hand. Then sage Vyasa started taking bath daily in the holy river Ganga, and reciting hymns to the effect that 'Lingeswara’ is the only Lord and ‘ Manikarnika, is the best of the Ghats in Kasi (Kasi Khandam-Chapter-95). He spent a few days teaching his disciples about the great power of Lord Shiva. One day Lord Shiva wanted to test the devotion of Vyasa and his love of the city of Kasi. He asked his wife Annapurna, who was also called Visalakshi during those days, to ensure that sage Vyasa and his disciples do not get any alms from the households of Varanasi. Goddess Annapurna entered the heart of every house-wife and ensured that sage Vyasa or his disciples are not given any alms under one excuse or other. So Vyasa and his disciples had to remain hungry for the whole day. Same thing happened during the second day also. Sage Vyasa was surprised that he and his students could not receive even a morsel of food for two days continuously in the sacred city of Kasi, whereas the disciples of other sages are getting plenty of food. He sent his disciples to find out whether anybody was stopping the housewives from giving alms to them. They went out and made enquiries but found that nobody was stopping the women from giving alms.

Sage Vyasa came to the conclusion that the citizens of Kasi had deliberately insulted him and thereby neglected their Dharma as natives of a holy pilgrim center. He became mad with rage and he said, “This holy city of Kasi is the center of all branches of knowledge, it is the house of the Goddess of wealth and prosperity and it is the place where every resident is assured of Salvation after death. That is why perhaps these people have become proud and arrogant.” Saying these words Vyasa began to curse the residents of Kasi, “These people of Kasi should be deprived of all Knowledge for three generations, they should be deprived of wealth and riches for three generations, and also they should be deprived of Salvation for three generations”. After delivering the above curse the great Sage again went out with his disciples seeking alms. But he did not get any alms on the third day also. So he threw down the begging bowl so fast that it broke down into several pieces. After that he began to return to his hermitage feeling helpless. While Sage Vyasa was returning to his hermitage along with his students, an elderly housewife, with a bright golden face and wide eyes appeared from a house nearby. She called out for the sage and requested him to come near her. When the great sage approached her, she told him, “Great sage, my husband is very old. He does not take any food until he feeds a guest every day. But unfortunately no guest has arrived to-day to our house, asking for food. He is sitting hungry in the house. Could you please accept my invitation and come as a guest to our house?" Sage Vyasa was surprised very much and told the elderly woman, “Mother, nobody in Kasi cared to look at our faces to-day. I am happy that you have invited me to your house for lunch. But I am not alone, and I cannot eat without providing food for my ten thousand disciples. They are also starving for the last two days.” Then the old lady asked Vyasa to come with all of his disciples without any delay. Sage Vyasa and his students arrived at her house happily, washed their hands and feet and sat for lunch. They could not control their pleasure after looking at various dishes served before them an ate to their stomachs full. After finishing their lunch they washed their hands and feet, blessed the old lady and her husband and stated their journey back to the hermitage.

When sage Vyasa was about to leave the house of the old lady, She asked him to wait and clear certain doubts that were lurking in the mind of her husband, regarding the general code of conduct. The first question she asked was about the main duty of the resident of a pilgrim-center. Vyasa replied, “Mother what answer can I give you, I am an ignorant man. You know the answer, but since you have asked me I am giving this reply, “The most sacred dharma or duty is to provide sufficient food to a hungry man and receive his blessings after satisfying him with food”. The lady replied- If that is the most important Dharma, I am following it to the best of my ability”. Then she asked him, “My husband would also like to know about the duties or Dharmas of a human being in general. “Then Vyasa replied that the generally accepted code of conduct for a gentle man is as follows-1.To speak without hurting the feelings of others,2. Not to feel jealous at the progress of others,3. To think well before you act, 4.To wish for the development of the place where you live, and which has provided food and shelter to you.

After listening to these answers the husband of the old woman asked Sage Vyasa, “out of the four qualities you have mentioned, Can you tell me how many qualities do you possess?” Sage Vyasa was astonished to listen to the question asked by the old man. The old man continued his admonition in a sarcastic manner, “You are the fittest person to speak about these Dharmas.You are a great man because you implement whatever you say”. The old man continued his tirade. “You did not get any alms because of your misfortune. It is not the fault of the residents. You cursed them unnecessarily”. Lord Shiva told Vyasa,“This is my Capital. Curses given by people like you won’t work here. An intolerant and angry man is not fit to live in ‘a center of Salvation' like Kasi. So get out of this city immediately. Also remember that whoever thinks ill of this city will become a Rudra Pishacha (a demon who feeds on the remains of the dead bodies from a cremation ground).

Sage Vyasa began to tremble with fear and fell at the feet of Lord Viswanath and his consort Mother Annapurna. Then he looked at Mother Annapurna and entreated the Great Mother of the Universe, “Dear Mother, I am an orphan and an ignorant fellow. I am seeking your protection. Please protect me from this great curse delivered by Lord Viswanath.I can't live if I am asked to leave Kasi. Please see that I am permitted to enter Kasi at least on every Ashtami day(eight days after the new moon day) and also on every’ Shiva Ratri’day.The great merciful mother looked at her husband and accorded necessary permission to sage Vyasa. Sage Vyasa left the city immediately. He crossed over to the other side of the river Ganges. There he established his Ashram in a forest of thorny bushes which are called Badari trees. It seems that he spent the rest of his life always looking towards Kashi and accusing himself for his foolish acts. The place where sage Vyasa settled after his departure from Kasi, was called Vyasa Kasi. Now there is a small temple which reminds the people that Sage Vyasa lived at this place long time ago.[15][16][17]

See also


  1. Benares - Royalark
  2. Benares Princely State
  3. 1 2 3 4 Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. p. 216. ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5.
  4. Bayly, C. A. (19 May 1988). Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870. CUP Archive. pp. 17–. ISBN 978-0-521-31054-3.
  5. Benares (Princely State) Archived February 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. - A Document about Maharajas of Varanasi
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Bayly, Christopher Alan (1983). Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870. Cambridge University Press. p. 489 (at p 18). ISBN 978-0-521-31054-3.
  7. States before 1947
  8. A review of Varanasi
  9. 1 2 Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. p. 216. ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5.
  10. Official website of Varanasi
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. pp. 216 (at p 126). ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5.
  12. Banham, Martin (1995). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (second ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 1247. ISBN 978-0-521-43437-9.
  13. Mittal, Sushil (2004). The Hindu World. Routledge. p. 657. ISBN 978-0-415-21527-5.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. pp. 216 (at p 129). ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5.
  15. Temple at Ramnagar
  16. Skanda Purana
  17. Kasi Khandamu by the Telugu Poet Srinatha

External links

Coordinates: 25°16′55″N 82°57′23″E / 25.282°N 82.9563°E / 25.282; 82.9563

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