Varansi also commonly known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi is a city situated on the left bank of the River Ganga (Ganges) in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world
Varanasi is home to the Banaras Hindu University. Residents mainly speak Kashika Bhojpuri, which is closely related to the Hindi language. People often refer to Varanasi as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of lights", "the city of learning" and the "culture capital of India"
The name Varanasi, has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi for it lies with the confluence of Varuna with the Ganges being to its north and that of Assi and the Ganges to its south.
Hindus believe that bathing in Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its transmigrations. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati's earrings fell.
History of Varanasi
According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, around 5,000 years ago, thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda, Skanda Purana, Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, mention the city.
Varanasi is generally believed to be about 3,000 years old. Varanasi was a commercial and industrial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BCE), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveler, Xuanzang, attested that the city was a center of religious, educational, and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.
Places to Visit
Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats. Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas) stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi.
Many ghats are privately owned. The former Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi, Kasi) owns Shivala or Kali ghat.
Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies.
Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to " Vishwanath Temple", and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses in a yajna here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat "Agni Pooja" (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.
Two legends are associated with Manikarnika Ghat: According to one, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu dug a pit with his Chakra and filled it with his perspiration while performing various penances. While Lord Shiva was watching Lord Vishnu at that time, the latter's earring ("manikarnika") fell into the pit. According to the second legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of Ganga. Goddess Parvati's idea behind the fib was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnik Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings.
According to mythology, the owner of Manikarnika bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat. Hindu cremations customarily take place here, though a majority of dead bodies are taken for cremation to the Manikarnik Ghat.
Picturesque Scindia (Shinde) Ghat borders Manikarnik to the north, with its Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the river as a result of excessive weight of the ghat’s construction about 150 years ago. Above the ghat, several of Kashi’s most influential shrines are located within the tight maze of alleys of Siddha Kshetra (Field of Fulfillment). According to mythology, Agni, the Hindu God of Fire was born here. Hindu devotees propitiate at this place Vireshwara, the Lord of all heroes, for a son.
Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur built the Mana-Mandir Ghat in 1770, as well as the Yantra Mandir equipped with ornate window casings along with those at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, and Mathura. There is a fine stone balcony in the northern part of the ghat. Devotees pay homage here to the lingam of Someswar, the Lord of the Moon. Man Singh of Amber built Mana-Sarowar Ghat. Maharaja of Darbhanga built Darbhanga Ghat.
The late King of Nepal built Lalita Ghat in the northern region of Varanasi. It is the site of Ganga Keshav Temple, a wooden temple built in typical Kathmandu style, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple also has an image of Pashupateshwar, a manifestation of Lord Shiva.
Local festivals including musical parties and games regularly take place at the beautiful Assi Ghat which is at the end of the continuous line of ghats. It is a favorite site of painters and photographers.
Devout Jains visit Bachraj Ghat in particular because it has three Jain temples near the river's banks.
Tulsidas wrote Ramcharitmanas at Tulsi Ghat.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple, also called Golden Temple,  which in its present shape was built in 1780 by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, is located on the outskirts of the Ganga. This temple makes Varanasi a place of great religious importance to the Hindus, as Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha, the aforementioned Jyotirlinga of the Lord Shiva is enshrined here. It is said that a single view of Vishwanatha Jyotirlinga is considered to merit more than that of other jyotirlingas
Durga Temple, also nicknamed "Monkey temple," was built at some point of time in 18th century. The temple got the name 'Monkey temple' because of the presence of large number of monkeys in the temple. According to legends, the present statue of Goddess Durga was not made by man but appeared on its own in the temple. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit the Durga temple during Navratri and other auspicious occasions.
Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and is very popular with the local citizens. It is a place for many yearly religious as well as cultural festivals.
The new Vishwanath Temple, called Birla Mandir, mainly funded by Raja Birla of the Birla family of industrialists, was built as a replica of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Planned by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the temple is part of the Banaras Hindu University, and stands for national revival. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions.
Varanasi is a noted centre for silk weaving and brassware. Fine silks and brocaded fabrics, exquisite saris, brassware, jewellery, woodcraft, carpets, wall hangings, lamp shades and masks of Hindu and Buddhist deities are some of Varanasi's shopping attractions. The main
shopping areas include the Chowk, Godaulia, Vishwanath Lane, Lahurabir and Thatheri Bazaar.
Palate Tickers of Varanasi
- All milk items: lassi, Hot Rasgullas,Mishti Dahi,Chum Chum,Kala Jamun etc specially in the clay hundis.
- Local Kachorees.