Ramnagar Fort was built in Ramnagar, Varanasi in the Uttar Pradesh state of India. It is a 17th century fort and palace situated on the eastern bank of the Ganges River. The fort, still impressive in its magnificence despite minor crumbling, has been the ancestral home of the royal Maharajas of Banaras or Kashi Naresh since the 18th century. The Kashi Naresh, or king of Kashi, also known as Banaras or Varanasi, is given much honor and respect because he is believed to be an incarnation of the Lord Shiva, the Hindu Supreme God. He is an important part of all religious rituals and also the chief cultural patron. To this day, the fort-palace is used as the residence of the royal family members. The present king who resides in the Fort is Anant Narayan Singh.
Ramnagar Fort was marvelously built by Maharaja Balwant Singh using creamy red Chunar sandstone and precious marble. It was constructed in Munghal-style, using a blend of Islamic and Indian architecture characterized by picturesque pavilions, carved balconies, and open courtyards. Watching the sun set over the River of Ganges from Ramnagar Fort is considered a wondrous experience.
The Ramnagar Fort houses the Ved Vyasa Temple, built in honor of Ved Vyasa, who penned Mashabharata, the great Indian epic. According to legend, Ved Vyasa briefly settled here.
The fort also has a museum which displays a Royal collection of antique clocks, ivory sculptures, vintage cars, bejeweled sedan chairs, and an armory of swords and guns. Also on display are the gold-plated howdahs and royal palanquins, both of which were ancient royal carriages used to transport Indians of nobility. An astrological clock that hangs on the giant walls of the fort displays facts about celestial bodies such as the sun, moon, and stars.
The Durbar Hall, the famous hall for public audience, is the fort’s most important structure. It is where the king holds his informal meetings with the public. Its magnificent appearance is a result of the subtle blend of Indian and Islamic architectural styles and the exquisite use of the decorative patterns of marble.
Ramnagar Fort also houses a Saraswati Bhawan, a non-profit religious organization established for the purpose of preserving ancient Buddhist yogic tradition. The Saraswati Bhawan at the fort safeguards a rare collection of religious manuscripts, including a priceless handwritten copy of Goswami Tulsidas’s “The Ramcharitmanasa”, which is read with great veneration in all Hindi homes of Northern India. Books illustrated with intricate Munghal miniature paintings and bound by attractive covers can also be found here.
The fort is well-known all over India for its grand and extravagant festival, Dussehra. This is marked by the annual celebration of the Rameela, the month-long drama festival held at the back streets of the fort. This dramatic presentation re-enacts the life of the Hindu deity, Lord Ram, and his ten-day battle with Ravan who kidnapped his wife Sita – as narrated in the religious Hindu epic, Ramayana. During this festival, the whole of Ramnagar is transformed into a stage in which the Ramayana’s different scenes are depicted. This festival also involves a variety of antique shows wherein royal items such as vintage cars, ivory artwork, and royal palanquins are exhibited.
Ramnagar has currently become a favorite site for filming Indian movies, mainly because of the statuesque Ramnagar Fort overlooking the Ganges. The popular movie Chokher Bali was filmed here.
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Ramnagar Fort is one of the most important monuments in Varanasi. Being the residence of the royal family, it is very well maintained. Tourist movement however, is limited to the Ved Vyasa Temple and the Museum and precludes visits to the royal residence. The attraction of Ramnagar Fort is largely attributed but not limited to its history, architecture, and religious significance. The richness, artistry, and beauty of the structures couple with the gaiety with which the people celebrate their festivals are equally compelling and captivating.