• About this Program
    • Program Overview
    • On Location in Varanasi
  • Academics
    • Semester Curriculum
    • Faculty
    • Credits, Grades, and Transcripts
  • Field Component
    • Culture in Practice
  • Calendar and Fees
    • Academic Calendar
    • Program Fees
  • Daily Life
    • Housing and Meals
  • Activities and Excursions
    • Off-Site Orientation
    • Local Field Visits
    • Excursions
  • Already Accepted?
    • Already Accepted?
  • Photos

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The City, the River, the Sacred

Program Overview

The Varanasi program allows students to examine the intersections between religious life, urban studies, and the environment in contemporary India. A challenging destination for U.S. undergraduates, Varanasi is a city that has stimulated scholarship on South Asia for hundreds of years. It offers boundless, rich opportunities for research, academic study, intercultural experience, and personal reflection. The program provides a structured, balanced blend of classroom and field-based learning, including a required language course and an individualized ‘culture in practice’ component.

Students may enroll for the fall or spring semester. All students are encouraged to consider spending an academic year in India, whether continuing in their current program to deepen their knowledge of Varanasi, or at a different Alliance program to broaden their understanding of India’s regional diversity. 

Meet our on-site staff members!


To be eligible for this program, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at an accredited U.S. institution.  No previous academic or language coursework is required.

Academic Structure

For a total of 15 credits per semester students take the following curriculum:

  • Core Course: Varanasi: City of Confluence
  • 'Culture in Practice' field component
  • Hindi or Urdu language
  • Two South Asian studies courses

Academic Year

All students are encouraged to consider a full academic year abroad with the Alliance, whether continuing in the same location or trying a new city (or even country!). Deepen your linguistic and cultural immersion and explore your internship or research interests further – and to help you do so, you will receive a $500 continuer’s discount, for any combination of programs, countries, or terms.

On Location in Varanasi

In Hindu mythology, the city is known as Kashi, a center for Hindu enlightenment, yoga, and learning, as well as the ideal final resting place for the devout Hindu. While the English name of Banaras still lingers, in Hindi and Urdu today it is Varanasi, a bustling city situated on the banks of India’s sacred river, the Ganges. Arguably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Varanasi is a dense, diverse urban center in a close symbiotic relationship with a river that can be simultaneously understood as pure and polluted.

Check out this interactive map of the Alliance's resources across Varanasi:

View Alliance On Location: Varanasi in a larger map.

Among the holiest of places for Hindus, it is also home to a vibrant Muslim population and is located only a few miles away from Sarnath where the Buddha preached his first sermon. Locally-produced silk saris are sought after across India for traditional weddings, while musicians continue to teach classical Indian gharana in the city of its origin. A window into the ancient, spiritual, and cultural past of India, Varanasi is an example of the ways in which the ancient and modern coexist.

The Varanasi program is based near Banaras Hindu University (BHU), one of India’s top research institutions. Founded in 1916, BHU has nearly 20,000 students, including 2,500 research scholars and 650 foreign students from across Asia and around the world. Many of the Alliance faculty members hold appointments within BHU’s various faculties and institutes.

Semester Curriculum

The semester curriculum consists of three required courses:

  1. Core Course: Varanasi: City of Confluence
  2. Hindi or Urdu Language
  3. 'Culture in Practice' field component

In addition, students choose two electives for a total of 15 semester credits. All courses involve a minimum of 44 contact hours.

Students interested in research may select Directed Research as an alternative to the Culture in Practice field component.  Pre-approval is required; please contact your Student Services Manager for more information. 

Required Courses

Click the hyperlinked course titles to view syllabi

SOCI 360 Varanasi: City of Confluence (required - 3 credits)

An interdisciplinary core course that explores the complex intersections of the city, the river, and the sacred that both define Varanasi and place it in the greater context of national and global environmental, urban, and religious currents. Various local field visits are also incorporated into this course.

HIND 100 Beginning Hindi (required - 3 credits)

Fundamentals of conversation and written Hindi for beginning students. Intermediate and advanced levels will be taught through individual tutorials.

HIND 200 Intermediate Hindi (required - 3 credits)

Fundamentals of conversation and written Hindi for intermediate students.

URDU 100 Beginning Urdu (required - 3 credits)

Fundamentals of conversation and written Urdu for beginning students. Intermediate and advanced levels will be taught through individual tutorials.

CLTR 280 Culture in Practice (required - 3 credits)
Music & DanceYoga & Yoga Theory / Artisanal Apprenticeship

This field-based component provides the rare opportunity for students to go into the local community and study under master teachers (or gurus). Students will choose from three options - music and dance, yoga and yoga philosophy, or artisanal apprenticeships - and spend the semester examining the history and theories behind them as well as learning the skill or trade first-hand. More information about this component is currently available on our Culture in Practice page.


Not all electives may be offered in a given semester depending on enrollment and faculty availability.  Students are encouraged to identify alternative electives when they complete their Course Preference Form. 

GEND 320 Studies in Gender (elective - 3 credits)

This course introduces students to salient discourses and local practices in Indian society from a gender perspective. This course aims to further students’ understanding of gender in contemporary India through the concepts and frameworks of socio-cultural understanding. The course will explore the diversity of social practices and complexities of gender relations in different social groups. The course will also highlight key cultural and structural issues, and includes in its scope, invisibility and marginalization of women in the economic, legal and cultural areas. It will also focus on counter responses in the form of activism and social movements. Case studies from diverse areas will supplement the conceptual analysis. 

RELG 350 Living Religious Traditions in India (elective - 3 credits)

This course aims to expose students to the religious diversity of India and thus enhance their understanding of the diverse and composite character of Indian culture and its people.  The course focuses on the study of the history, texts, beliefs, and practices pertaining to the main religious traditions of India (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism), while also exploring the socio-political implication of religious beliefs and customs. In the context and backdrop of religion, students will also examine encounters between tradition and modernity.  The course gives students the opportunity to develop an academic understanding of the festivals, rituals and artistic presentations that may be observed during the semester in Varanasi.

PEAC 380 Peace and Conflict Studies (elective - 3 credits)

Peace and conflict studies have taken on an important role in South Asia studies in the last decades of 20th century. This course will offer an excellent opportunity for students and practitioners from diverse fields concerned with peace, security and community development. This course will analyze the links between conflicts, security and development in the theoretical framework keeping special focus on the Indian experience against the wider context of South Asia. Selected lectures will also focus on Varanasi, a representative site of contestation and cooperation for inter-civilizational dialogue and communal peace. This course will provide students focused lens through which understand conflict situations. 

DIRR 380 Directed Research (alternative field component- 3 credits)

Students who choose to pursue directed research as their field component are paired with a faculty member appropriate to their academic area of interest, provided with a choice of topics and are expected to produce a formal research paper. Research students have regular meetings with their Faculty Advisor to discuss the formation and execution of their research plans. 





Dr. Sanat Kumar SharmaSOCI 360: Varanasi: City of Confluence

Prof. Anita Singh, GEND 320: Studies in Gender

Dr. Dinesh K. OjhaRELG 350: Living Religious Traditions in India

Dr. Manoj MishraPEAC 380: Peace and Conflict Studies: The Indian Experience 

Prof. Binit Mishra, HIND 100: Beginning Hindi

Dr. Salman Raghib, URDU 100: Beginning Urdu

Dr. Yogesh Kumar Bhatt and Mrs. Geeta Yogesh Bhatt, CLTR 380: Culture in Practice - Yoga and Yoga Theory

Throughout the semester guest lectures may be provided by UNESCO Chairholder, Professor, and Coordinator of Banaras Hindu Unversity's Malaviya Centre for Peace Research (MCPR), Dr. Priyankar Upadhyaya, and Director of Banaras Hindu University's Center for the Study of Nepal, Dr. Anjoo Sharan Upadhyaya


Credits, Grades, and Transcripts

A study abroad experience is first and foremost an academic experience. All Alliance for Global Education courses have undergone a faculty review and approval process, and are transcripted by an accredited U.S. university. All Alliance programs from Summer 2014 and beyond receive transcripts issued by Butler University.   For all Alliance programs through Spring 2014, transcripts were issued by Arcadia University.

While in most cases students who have received approval from their home institution to study on an Alliance program can be assured of credits transferring, it is a student’s responsibility to work with their study abroad or academic advisor and home school faculty or academic departments to ensure credit transfer for specific courses.  

Credits and Accreditation

Credits granted for Alliance courses are identified in course listings on the Curriculum page for each program, and appear on the official transcript issued at the completion of a student's term. Credit is issued in U.S. semester hours, ensuring that students continue to make progress toward their degrees and verifying the full-time course load they completed while abroad.

All Alliance courses have been reviewed and approved by Butler University’s Undergraduate Academic Programs Committee. Butler University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Programs approved by the Butler University College of Business—which include the Alliance’s International Business Program in Shanghai—are accredited by AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.


Students receive a letter grade on a scale from A to F for every course they take while enrolled on an Alliance program. Withdrawals (W) may be granted due to exceptional circumstances. Although policies at students' home institutions may differ, the Alliance does not permit students to take courses on a credit/no credit or pass/fail basis. Student grades are determined by criteria set forth in course syllabi.  

The grading scale used in determining letter grades for Alliance courses is as follows:


At the conclusion of a program, an official transcript is sent to the participant's home school, with an unofficial copy forwarded to the participant. 

Because timelines for final evaluation may vary due to respective program calendars or administrative structures of partner universities abroad, transcripts may take longer to issue than they do at U.S. institutions. While the timeline varies by program, a general timeline for issuing transcripts is:

  • Fall programs - transcript issued in late February
  • Spring and Summer programs - transcript issued in late September

Transcripts are not released for students with an outstanding balance of program fees or other charge incurred while on the program. Students enrolling in consecutive terms with the Alliance do not receive their first term transcript until their second term fees are paid in full.

Students in Alliance programs from Summer 2014 and beyond can request additional transcripts of their transcripts online at any time from Butler University's online transcript ordering service provided by the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization serving the higher education community. 

Students in Alliance programs through Spring 2014 can request additional copies of transcripts online or in writing at any time from the Arcadia University Registrar's Office.

If you have a question about the transcripting process or timeline, please feel free to contact your Student Services Manager.

Culture in Practice

The Culture in Practice component provides students with the rare opportunity to study under master teachers in the local community. Students must select one option out of the three listed below:

  1. Music and Dance
  2. Yoga and Yoga Theory
  3. Artisanal Apprenticeship

Regardless of their component choice, students will spend a third of their time in a classroom setting with their peers. Weekly lectures will provide the academic framework in which students learn about the theory and history of their Culture in Practice choice.  The remaining two-thirds of the class will be spent ‘in practice’, focusing on a specific aspect of the category chosen. Here, students will study their respective art or discipline first-hand through one-on-one or small group lessons with their teachers (gurus). Regular assessments will be jointly conducted by the professor and the teacher throughout the semester. One, out of the three Culture in Practice components offered, is required (3 credits).

Music and Dance

CLTR 280: Music and Dance

Varanasi boasts a longstanding tradition of music that is still vibrant in the city today. Despite the widespread popularity of Bollywood, Indian classical music has continued to play a prominent role in the socio-cultural life of the city. The active performing arts community in Varanasi has a strong legacy in classical Indian music, and was home to legendary figures like Pandit Shanto Prasad (tabla) and Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar).

Music students will be introduced to North Indian classical music and dance through the Indian method of learning. One-on-one practice with gurus will allow students to develop their personal skill. Lectures for music and dance students are led by scholars of Indian performing arts, providing a historical and theoretical foundation for the student’s experience. Students may choose from instruments such as tabla or sitar, Khyal classical singing, or Kathak dance.

Yoga and Yoga Theory

CLTR 280: Yoga and Yoga Theory

The Hindu spiritual destination, Varanasi is home to hundreds of shrines and temples and remains the center for Hindu enlightenment, yoga, and learning. An integral part of Hinduism, yoga has been practiced in India for centuries as a way of freeing the mind, body, and spirit. For these reasons Varanasi provides yoga students with a wealth of context and opportunities for profound experiential learning. Students will have classroom lectures with their Yoga professor two times per week to study both the religious and theoretical foundations of Yoga. Students will then meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings with their teacher to practice Yoga.

Artisanal Apprenticeship

CLTR 280: Artisanal Apprenticeship

Varanasi, long known as a center for silk, has attracted many of the world’s finest luxury brands to its doorstep. The artisanal apprenticeship provides an opportunity to study local crafts and trades of significant importance to the local economy in Varanasi. During weekly courses students learn about the history and importance of trades, such as silk weaving and ceramics, and venture into the artisan communities throughout the city accompanied by a professor. In private classes with teachers, students enjoy hands on learning using looms and pottery wheels to better understand the level of skill and artistry in existence in Varanasi today.

Academic Calendar

Program dates roughly follow the U.S. academic calendar.

  • Fall semester begins in mid-August and concludes in mid-December
  • Spring semester begins in mid-January and concludes in mid-May
  • No summer session is offered in Varanasi

Semester Structure

The 16–17 week semester begins with an off-site orientation. Students are acclimated to their new environment through introductory sessions on Indian culture and program policies, training on health and safety, and excursions into the surrounding area. Upon arrival in Varanasi, students are given more in-depth orientation to their new home and hosts before beginning their coursework. Excursions during the semester may include field visits to locations such as Kolkata (Calcutta), Lucknow, Agra, and various hill stations in the Himalayas. The semester concludes with a final two-day seminar where research is presented and discussed, and students are prepared for their return home.

Given the program’s busy academic schedule, weekly local activities and excursions, and field study trips, the Alliance STRONGLY DISCOURAGES students from hosting visitors until the end of the semester. Please encourage family and/or friends to visit AFTER the program has ended. Students should make their travel plans accordingly.

2015 Spring Semester Calendar

18 January 2015          Flight departure from U.S.
19 January 2015          Arrival in Delhi***
20 January 2015          Orientation begins
23 January 2015          Group flight to Varanasi - Orientation continues
09 May 2015               Closing Ceremony
10 May 2015                Return flight to Delhi and U.S. (after 5:oo pm)

2015 Fall Semester Calendar

23 August 2015           Flight departure from U.S.
24 August 2015           Arrival in Delhi
25 August 2015           Orientation begins
28 August 2015           Group flight to Varanasi - Orientation continues
12 December 2015      Closing Ceremony
13 December 2015      Return flight to Delhi and U.S. (after 5:oo pm)

*** Students should consult the Accepted Students Section for the designated Arrival Window. Students arriving within the window will be met by Alliance staff at the airport. 

Program Fees

Fall 2015 Program $ 16,900
Spring 2015 Program  $ 16,780

What’s Included

The program price includes tuition and fees, housing, most meals, pre-departure materials, student visa authorizations, orientation, organized activities, field study trips, course materials, the services of a full-time staff, and medical/evacuation insurance.

The program price does not include airfare to India, passport and consular visa fees, independent travel, and other items not mentioned as included.

Our breakdown of fall 2015 program fees and spring 2015 program fees includes an itemized list of additional expenses that students will encounter while abroad.

Housing and Meals

The Varanasi program emphasizes cultural immersion, experiential learning opportunities, and extensive interaction with local residents in the host context. All housing arrangements are associated with an Indian host, and students should be prepared to share a room with another Alliance student. Students will take most meals in their homes and at the program center, though there may be days when students will be required to eat out on their own.

Off-Site Orientation

In addition to sessions on health and safety, academics, and cultural adjustment conducted at the start of the program, students will be exposed to the modernity of Delhi, India's burgeoning capital city. While in Delhi, students will visit some of the city's most famous landmarks, such as the Red Fort and Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, and Humayun's Tomb and Qutab Minar in New Delhi.  Students will experience the unique collision of the ancient, the colonial, and the modern, in a city that continues to redefine itself as a significant global player and one that will present a stark contrast to the traditional setting of Varanasi, where orientation concludes.

Local Field Visits

The program calendar is filled with numerous activities in and around Varanasi. Activities vary according to the season, religious and secular holidays, and cultural and academic events in the area. A list of possible activities is included below. Please keep in mind that all activities are subject to change.

Activities In Varanasi May Include: 

  • Visit to Hindu temples such as Kal Bhairav (terrific manifestation of Shiva and protector of Varanasi), New Vishvanath temple, Durga temple, Nepali temple (reproduction of Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu), and Baba Kinaram Ashram
  • Boat rides along the Ganges at sunrise or in the evening to watch Ganga Aarti (worship of Ganges River) at the Dasashvamedh ghat and during Dev Diwali (a famous festival during which all of the ghats are decorated with lights)
  • Visit to Bharat Mata temple inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, where a huge map carved in marble depicts an undivided India (Indian subcontinent and Tibetan plateau), said to be perfectly to scale both vertically and horizontally with mountains, rivers and the holy tirthas (pilgrimage centers) all clearly visible
  • Visit to Krishnamurti Foundation at Rajghat
  • Visit to the Alamgir mosque at Panchganga Ghat

​Activities Around Varanasi May Include:

  • Visit the Ramnagar Fort and enjoy Ramlila (an enactment of Ramayana) during Navaratri festival (October-November)
  • Visit Sarnath's deer park, the location of Buddha’s first sermon and the site of Tibetan University
  • Visit villages on the outskirts of Varanasi
  • Visit waterfalls in Mirzapur and Chandouli districts


Kolkata, Darjeeling and the Himalayas

One week of the semester is set aside for an extended field visit to Kolkata and Kurseong in West Bengal that develops the program’s academic themes of the City, the River, the Sacred in a different cultural, linguistic, and geographical context.

Students follow the river Ganges from Varanasi to Kolkata, where the river meets the sea. From the Kali Ghat temple, where students witness devotion to Kali — goddess of destruction and patron of the city of Kolkata—to the missions of Rama Krishna and Mother Teresa, students explore the many aspects of religious expression in Kolkata. Also a literary, intellectual, and artistic center of India, Kolkata’s role at the forefront of India’s intellectual life and independence movement in the early 20th century is brought to life by a visit to the house of the famous poet and author, Rabindranath Tagore. Visits to the Victoria Memorial, Prinsep Ghat and the Coffee House near Presidency University recall Kolkata’s heritage as the colonial capital of the British Empire. A bustling modern-day Indian metropolis, Kolkata pulses with an energy all its own—a blend of past lustre and present optimism, politics, innovation, music, and culture.

From Kolkata, students continue their travels through West Bengal into the eastern Himalayan foothills. Against a backdrop of steep mountains, temples, and tea plantations, the threads of historical and contemporary migration intertwine in the town of Kurseong. Popular during the Raj for its temperate climate, British officers and their families used to retreat to Kurseong in the summer to escape the heat of Kolkata. The Tibetan refugees that populate this hill station today are part of the contemporary Tibetan diaspora, which students learn more about at the Tibetan Refugees’ Self-Help Centre. Blending economies of the tea plantations and the contemplative traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Kurseong offers students a lens into an India that is distinct from other dimensions they have encountered in their semester thus far.

Students return to Varanasi for their last month of study, with an expanded understanding and awareness of India’s geography, history and demographics.

What Students Have to Say: 

"We first spent a few days in Kolkata where we explored this bumping city, toured Tagore’s house, the Queen Victoria Memorial and played in the colorful Holi festival on a roof! We went to the Kali ghat and said namasté to Ganga-Ji, seeing her miles away from Varanasi just reinforced her grandeur and sanctity not only in Varanasi but in all the places through which she flows throughout India...

We then hopped on a plane to Koersong (I really will never know how to spell that) and drove for hours up the windy foothills, through the mist and clouds to break through and see an absolutely stunning world."

- Allie Barteldt (Elon University) 

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