People visit Varanasi for all possible reasons. No matter what is our reason to visit Varanasi, we all want to bring back a piece of it as souvenirs from the city. Here are some of our recommendations on Varanasi Souvenirs.
Banarasi Silk Saris – Favorite of Varanasi Souvenirs
Silk Saris from Banaras is a no-brainer. Silk Saris from Varanasi is a woman’s dream come true. Even someone like me who hardly wears Saris has a Banarasi Sari just to say I have it. If you visit Varanasi, you have to buy a Silk Sari for yourself, your wife, mother, sister or friends.
You can buy silk Saris anywhere in the city. Close to ghats of Ganga, you will have many people approaching you to take you to authentic silk sari shops. My recommendation – go to Peeli Kothi area of Varanasi, see the Saris being woven by weavers there, and buy directly from them. It is not easy to walk on those streets, the choices may not be as many, but you would admire the skill and hard work of the weavers of Varanasi.
Next best place to pick up Banarasi Silk Saris is wholesale shops in Thatheri Bazaar. Again, you need to walk in the narrow lanes, some of them are so narrow that even rickshaws cannot enter them. Here you would get wide choice & better rates. However, most people would not interested if you want just a piece or two. Most of these shops are in old Kothis, so be prepared to go up and down to see different types of Saris.
Do you know Banarasi Saris have a GI, which means they can be manufactured only in Varanasi?
Ganga Jal or the Holy Water of Ganga
Believe it or not, Ganga Jal is the biggest export from Varanasi. As you walk towards the ghats you would see heaps of plastic cans of all sizes for sale. Most devotees would fill these and take it back with them. You could also pick it up in small copper cans that are sealed to avoid any leakage. In fact, these small cans are designed as perfect souvenirs to carry from Kashi.
In case you are thinking, how unclean the river is and how can you take this polluted water home. I had the same question. Looked at the water in these cans, and at least visually it looked clean. I spoke to the shopkeepers selling them and they said they go to the middle of the river to fill these cans. The mid-stream water is clean. Take your call based on your instinct.
This is a hidden craft of Varanasi that not many people know of. Minakari work on precious metals like gold and silver, primarily silver happens in western India – Rajasthan & Gujarat. However, the Gulabi Minakari or the Mina work in pink color is done only in Varanasi. You have to go into the bylanes near Gai Ghat to find the craftsmen doing this work.
This is a craft on which you can splurge, a necklace can cost anywhere from 10 Lakhs onwards. However, if you are a mild spender like me, you can buy small boxes made with Gulabi Minakari work on them. There are small animals that look lovely in this work, especially birds like peacocks or intricately decorated elephants.
I bought small Jhumkis or earrings with Gulabi Minakari on silver.
Wooden Toys as Varanasi souvenirs
You may not know that some lanes of Varanasi are full of wooden toy makers. Khojwa is one such area where you can meet the wood crafters. They typically make sets of birds and animals in bright colors. Yo also find human figurines. For bulk gifting, there are key chains and pencils with curious caps.
I picked up a Russian doll kind of re-creation of the Shiva family. It has a box made in the form of Shiva, when you open it, out comes a box with Parvati painted on it, then Kartik and finally Ganesha.
You can find these wooden toys anywhere in the city. I found some lovely ones even at the Varanasi airport.
To read more about wooden lacquer work in Varanasi read this link.
Now we know the two Pedhas that dominate the north and south India respectively – Mathura Pedha and Dharwad Pedha. It seems Banaras has a way of making things its own. In Varanasi, you get Lal Pedha or red Pedha – a slightly more roasted version of the other two Pedhas. Loaded with ghee and sometimes dry fruits, it has a crunchy taste to it.
You can pick up this Pedha near the famous Hanuman temple – Sankat Mochan. You can also try the sweet shops in Kachori Gali closer to Gadauliya.
This is a perfect Varanasi souvenir to take for gluttons around you.
Shivalinga – In Crystal & In Stone
Every time I visit Varanasi, I am asked by family and friends to pick up a Sphatik or Crystal Shivalinga. These are transparent white Shivalingas carved out of crystal, used for worship in homes. Many people keep it in their bags for good luck.
These Shivalingas can be found in the Vishwanath Gali – the lane leading to the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple, You can get them from a few mm tall to few inches tall, the price is directly proportional to the size. The small ones come as low as Rs 100/-
You can also buy the ones made of stone.
This is a quintessential Varanasi Souvenir to pick, for Kashi is all about Shiva.
The Rudraksha is the textured seed of Rudraksha tree. Rudraksha literally means the tear of Rudra and earlier form of Shiva. This is the most popular organic jewelry that our saints have worn from time immemorial. For Hindus, this is a very sacred seed and is worn with a lot of devotion. We would never wear them in toilets or any place considered unclean.
Just thread the rustic seeds and wear them. Though the tree really does not grow in and around Varanasi, this is the best place to pick up a Rudraksha mala. You get them in all sizes and varieties. The 108 bead mala or string with Panch Mukhi Rudraksha is the most commonly used Mala or string.
If you are wondering what is Panch-Mukhi – well the Rudraksha seeds with 5 faces are called Panch Mukhi. You get them from 1-10 sided versions, and some of them are rare. This is one of those Varanasi souvenirs that everyone can use – easy to carry or wear.
There are also Mund Malas i.e. Mala made out of skulls. Skulls are significant for Tantrik sects. The ones you get in and around ghats are fake skulls. But, I would be surprised if you find the real skulls as well somewhere. I found some in Bhutan long time back.
There are coins with two famous temples of Varanasi engraved on either side. A nice memento from the city of Vishwanath.
Do you know Banaras has the world’s largest manufacturing unit of glass beads? On my last trip to Varanasi, I visited the Banaras beads factory and I was stunned to see so much of beautiful colored glass on multiple floors. The ones made with hand were simply beautiful. A true example of made in India. The manufacturing unit is not open to the public but you can definitely buy the product.
You can buy artificial jewelry made using glass beads in most souvenir shops on Varanasi.
Banaras is home to many musicians be it Ravi Shankar or Ustad Bismillah Khan or Girija Devi. Even today, you can walk into lanes where every evening music is played for the connoisseurs. No wonder you can see a lot of musical instrument shops in Varanasi. While it difficult to carry most big instruments like Veena and Sitar. You can buy Flutes of any size you like from Varanasi. It is one of those souvenirs that would inspire to be rooted in the music of the city.
If you walk around the ghats of Ganga you would see many Sadhus wearing a white or yellow cloth with Ram Nam written on them. This is called Ram Nami or Ramnami Cloth. You also get Kurtas or stoles with the same print.
I picked up one just like that. It seems a nice design that belongs to the spirituality of the place without any patents or trademarks.
Stone Carved Curios
One of the crafts clusters of Varanasi nurtures the stone carving tradition of the region. Do you know the stone for most of the pillars of Ashoka came from Chunar near Varanasi? Not many of us know that the place has a long-standing stone carving tradition.
You can pick up various animals carved in stone, or perforated boxes perfect to keep the aromatherapy products.
I found the shops for stone souvenirs near Sarnath more than the main city.
Varanasi is home to many Indian Publishers, especially for books on Indology and Hindi Books.
Every time I have traveled to Varanasi, I have enjoyed spending time at these traditional bookstores and come back with a bag full of books.
So, which one of these Varanasi Souvenirs is your favorite pick?
Do you have a suggestion to add to this list? – Let us know and we will add.