Varanasi Street Art – celebrating the essence of Banaras

The smoke from his chillum rose high and then merged with the fumes from the aarti. Right next to it, was the Kathak dancer performing a chakkar  - all to the tune of tabla. I felt the essence of Banaras through these moments - all captured in the magnificent Varanasi street art.   

Visiting one of the oldest cities in the world turned out to be quite an experience. It was not just for the heritage and culture that I saw through the city, especially Varanasi ghats. What pleasantly surprised me were the ancient yet colorful walls of the city. The vibrant street art of Varanasi has not only infused life into these old walls but has managed to bring alive various elements that are truly the essence of Banaras. The wall art in Varanasi makes a perfect cultural tour of this city and that is what you will experience through this post of mine.

Varanasi street art reflecting the spirit of the city
Varanasi street art reflecting the spirit of the city

My Varanasi street art tour reminded me a little of the Penang street art in Malaysia. I recall the wonder when I saw how the street graffiti in the heritage town of Georgetown had made it younger. The street art of Varanasi had the same effect and a little more. These wall paintings in Varanasi are a perfect introduction to the city. If you have never been to Varanasi, here is your initiation. And if you have been there, this Varanasi wall art tour is going to make you fall in love with the place.

A little about Varanasi

Varanasi was formerly known as Banaras or Kashi. Believed to be the home of Lord Shiva, the roots of this city can be traced back to 800 BC. It isn’t just holy for the Hindus but also, for the Buddhists. They say that Lord Buddha himself came to the city in the 500s CE. Lord Parshvanath – the 23rd Tirthankara of Jains was born here and Guru Nanak Dev is said to have spent some time here too. This should tell you how important this city is as a pilgrimage center.

Ghats of Varanasi
Ghats of Varanasi

The city has a long history of invasions but has withstood all of them. It was the princely state of Banaras during British rule and later merged with the rest of India. Even today, millions of people visit the city to seek blessings, visit one of the 12 jyotirlingas at Kashi Vishwanath temple and take a holy dip in Ganga. A lot of them even stay behind to spend their old age here as there is a belief that if you die in Varanasi, your soul is released from all its worldly binds.

What is the best way to reach Varanasi?

Varanasi has its own airport with daily connections to Mumbai, Delhi and other major cities in India. The schedule and airfare from Mumbai to Varanasi as well as other cities is easily available online. Varanasi has its own railway station too with as good connectivity as its airport.

You can also do a road trip from Delhi via the Agra-Lucknow expressway to get to Varanasi. The route goes as below –
Delhi – Agra – Lucknow – Prayagraj – Mirzapur – Varanasi
It takes 14 hours to cover around 860 km. The road conditions are pretty good.

Where can I stay in Varanasi?

Varanasi has hotels and guest house catering to all possible budgets. You will find a lot of these Varanasi hotels by the ghats, making it really convenient to explore the cultural hub of the city. However, note that this area is quite busy at all times of the day.

Another suggestion would be to find a hotel in the Cantonement area. This is where I had stayed at the Ramada. The area is a little away but is quite peaceful and safe.

Exploring Varanasi Street Art

All that history and culture that I mentioned, in brief, is what you see depicted through the wall art in Varanasi. This is why I say that the essence of Varanasi is captured in these paintings. It is a perfect induction for those visiting Banaras for the first time. Besides all that is Banarasi, the Varanasi street art also showcases a little bit of India. Check it all out in this virtual tour.

Paintings depicting ancient legends & roots of Varanasi

Nataraj - the dancing form of Lord Shiva depicted on the walls of Varanasi
Nataraj – the dancing form of Lord Shiva depicted on the walls of Varanasi

Lord Shiva’s abode and the faith in the jyotirlinga is one of the most prominent themes of Varanasi street art. You will find various scenes from Shiva Purana painted across the city. You will also, find various scenes from Buddhism and Jainism. The deep faith that permeates this holy city is evident through these paintings.

Wall art in Varanasi representing Buddhism
Wall art in Varanasi representing Buddhism
Street art in Varanasi showcasing the heritage ghats
Street art in Varanasi showcasing the heritage ghats

The ghats of Varanasi themselves, are heritage landmarks of this city and these too, have been beautifully captured through these paintings.

Cultural wall art in Varanasi

The Assi Ghat Ganga aarti - one of the key attractions of Varanasi
The Assi Ghat Ganga aarti – one of the key attractions of Varanasi

The Ganga aarti of Varanasi is one ritual that almost every visitor witnesses here. The evergreen morning aarti on Assi Ghat and the evening one on Dashashwamedh ghat are almost always house-full. The synchronized moves to the chanting of the ancient mantras are not too difficult to spot on the walls of Varanasi.

The aarti painted on the walls of Banaras
The aarti painted on the walls of Banaras
The age-old custom of chillum that prevails in Varanasi
The age-old custom of chillum that prevails in Varanasi

Holy men sitting in a circle and passing around a clay chillum is a very common sight along the Varanasi ghats. It is one of the oldest traditions in Varanasi – an ode to Lord Shiva. This too is another common capture on the walls.

Varanasi wall art showcasing the music & dance scenes of Banaras

The Banaras gharana of Kathak and music represented by this Varanasi wall art
The Banaras gharana of Kathak and music represented by this Varanasi wall art

Nataraja – the Lord of Dance is none other Lord Shiva. So, it is not unusual that one of the famous school of Indian music and dance – Banaras has its roots here. I am sure you will spot plenty of Varanasi street art with Kathak dancers in various poses.

Street art of Varanasi on the various tribal arts of India

Warli art on the walls of Banaras
Warli art on the walls of Banaras

Have you heard of tribal arts like Gond art, Madhubani, or Warli art? These heritage arts are proudly displayed in the form of paintings on the Varanasi ghats as well as other walls of the city. Here are some of my captures

Gond art painted on the walls of Kashi
Gond art painted on the walls of Kashi
Varanasi wall graffiti portraying Gond art
Varanasi wall graffiti portraying Gond art
Another one of Gond art
Another one of Gond art

3D corners and innovative wall art scenes in Varanasi

Quite like the street art in Penang, there are some corners that are beautifully enhanced with graffiti. Some of them even, have props attached to the graffiti, giving the art a very 3D feel.

Wall art around the doors and windows
Wall art around the doors and windows
Madhubani art around the windows and doors
Madhubani art around the windows and doors
Props used on the Varanasi street art
Props used on the Varanasi street art

Miscellaneous wall art in Varanasi

Possibly a scene from the battle of Jhansi
Possibly a scene from the battle of Jhansi

Varanasi street art is not restricted to these themes. You will find plenty of other interesting scenes that you will find through the city. A few contemporary ones, a scene from history, a slice of life and current trends too. A few of them even convey social messages like cleanliness and the need to vote.

Where can you see Varanasi street art?

Paintings of Varanasi ghats
Paintings of Varanasi ghats

Practically everywhere! Right from the time you arrive in the city – Varanasi airport, bus stand or the railway station, you will find these colorful canvases everywhere. However, if you want to do a tour, just walk along the ghats. You will find many more themes to these paintings of Varanasi ghats. The other area that I personally, enjoyed was the Kachahari Chauraha (Law office area) where every wall, door and even water tanks are vibrantly colored with the spirit of Varanasi.

Water tanks with graffiti in Varanasi
Water tanks with graffiti in Varanasi

I hope you have had a good induction to one of the oldest cities of the world through its street art scene. Pin this and share the essence of Varanasi around.

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1 thought on “Varanasi Street Art – celebrating the essence of Banaras”

  1. I remember getting a glimpse of the street art during my last visit to Benaras about 6-7 years ago. I didn’t know that there’s so much of street art there. It so good to see stories being told using such an art form especially in worlds oldest inhabited cities. Loved the post Amiji. Saving it for my next trip!

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