Varanasi has produced five Bharat Ratnas.
Varanasi erupted in joy when the announcement of Bharat Ratna being conferred on Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya was made a week ago. One of the oldest cities of India, on the banks of the Ganga, Varanasi is also known as the capital of knowledge, a city that has produced five Bharat Ratnas.
This journey began in 1955 when the award was bestowed on Dr Bhagwan Dass, philosopher and educationist, born in Varanasi in 1869. He is widely known as the founder of Kashi Vidyapeeth, one of the oldest universities in the state. What many do not know is his role in setting up the Benaras Hindu University, with Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, who too would go on to receive the same honour more than 50 years later.
His great grandson, Sameer Kant, says, "He was a visionary, authored several books on education. The Benaras Hindu University library has an entire section in his name."
Next up on the illustrious list is India's second Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who coined the iconic 'Jai Jawan Jai Kisan' slogan.
In 1999, another Benaras boy, sitar exponent Pandit Ravi Shankar was awarded the title. He is credited with taking Hindustani classical music to the world.
Two years later in 2001, another musical genius, Ustad Bismillah Khan got the honour. Though Khan was not born in Varanasi, the shehnai maestro made the narrows lanes of the city his home from a very young age. Nine years after his death, the strains of his Shehnai still continue to resound in the city.
Two other Bharat Ratna awardees, born in South India, were closely associated with the city. Dr S Radhakrishnan who was Vice Chancellor of Benaras Hindu University for nine years, going on to become India's second President. Bharat Ratna awardee scientist Dr CNR Rao received his Masters in Chemistry from Banaras Hindu University.
The latest to join this list is the University's founder, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. While he was born about 150 kilometres away from Varanasi, in the city of Allahabad, for the people of the city he is one of their own. His biggest legacy to the city was the establishment of the Banaras Hindu University in 1916, one of the largest in the country. He spearheaded the institution from 1919 to 1939 as its Vice Chancellor. His association with the city continued when he died in the city in 1946.
Girish Chandra Tripathi, the current Vice Chancellor of Benaras Hindu University says the city had always been India's cultural capital. "All the markers of a society - be it education, science, politics or music, were in ancient Kashi and remain till today, thus preserving its rich legacy."
A rich legacy which has stood the test of time.