Varanasi is strategically located on the Delhi Kolkata route on the banks of the great River Ganges. Placed around 300 kms from the capital city of Uttar PradeshLucknow. Varanasi is one of the most ancient inhabited civilizations on the earth. It is based on the banks of tributaries of the Ganges, the Varuna and Asi rivers and hence gets the name of Varanasi.
Varanasi is one of the most ancient inhabited cities of the world is also the oldest living city of the world. Varanasi is considered to be India 's religious and spiritual hub and derives its name from the tributaries of the Ganges , Varuna and Asi that it is located on. Its original name Kashi comes from Kasha meaning the place of sacred light. The other name Benares might have been either a corruption of Varanasi by the British or from the Pali version of the word Varanasi to Baranasi to Benares . Famous author Mark Twain after visiting the city in the 19th century wrote, " Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together."
Varanasi in Uttar Pradeshis one of the most famous Hindu pilgrimage centers of India . Legend says that it was the dwelling place of Lord Shiva and therefore the devotees believe that a dip in the Ganges at Varanasi washes all their sins and helps them attain salvation. People from all over India come here at least once in a lifetime so that they can purify themselves. The age old people come here in the last days of their lives to die on the Ghats of Varanasi. They believe that such death would relieve them of the vicious circle of rebirth and they would attain the eternal salvation or Moksha. Varanasi is an amazing spiritual power for all ages. The old come here to die while the infants are brought here by their parents to take the first holy dip in the Ganges and worship the reigning deity, Lord Shiva. The newly wed come for the blessings of the Gods and the widows come here to lead a life devoted to the same God.
Varanasi finds a mention in the epics of Mahabharata and the ancient Hindu scriptures. Although the history of the city is lost in its antiquity, it has been glorified and described in the Skanda Purana as Kashi, written nearly 5000 years ago. Kashi since then has been a centre of education and knowledge. While the city is important for the Hindus it also gained importance when Buddha preached his first sermon in Saranath, just 10 kms away from Varanasi .
By the time the Chinese scholars such as Fa Xian and Xian Zhuang had visited Varanasi and written about its advanced and developed culture, the city had already grown into prominence all over India and into its neighbouring countries as the city of Temples, as the city of education and the as the city of spiritual bliss. It was renowned as the flourishing centre of religion, education and commerce by the 3rd century A.D.
The prosperity of this city of temples became an inevitable bone of contention for the local rulers and also attracted the Muslim rulers of the north. From the 11th century onwards it was looted and stripped many a times till the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Hence although it an ancient city it hardly has any ancient temples and most of the present ones standing were rebuilt by various Hindu rulers in the 18th century.
After accession by the British during the Raj and later after the Independence , Varanasi still retained its identity and remained a prominent city. With time the paths of salvation might have changed and definitions of purity may have been redefined.
But even today the city holds its unique charm with narrow by lanes and innumerous Ghats , with devotees performing their traditional rituals in the Ganges and the people flocking to this city to attain salvation.
Apart from the mornings on the Ghats and rituals at the temples, Varanasi is famous for producing the most beautiful and ethnic silk saris those are world famous. The beetle leaf, the Benarasi paan from the city is equally famous for its pungent taste yet soft structure.
Varanasi is a haunting city of dignified buildings, although many of them crumbling, glorified by myth and legend. An old eternal city sanctified by religion retaining its very special vitality.
A visit to Varanasi is experience of some kind. For some its self discovery, for others its salvation while for some it's just an ancient city and few unlucky ones who carry back nothing but only worst of the memories from the city.