Varanasi also known as, Benares or Banaras is an Indian city on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of the state capital, Lucknow. It is the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism, and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism.
Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the World. Varanasi is also known as the favourite city of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva as it has been mentioned in the Rigveda that this city in older times was known as Kashi or "Shiv ki Nagri".
The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi, and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the Ganges. The city has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years, and has a history that is older than most of the major world religions. The Benares Gharana form of Hindustani classical music was developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in Varanasi. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath, located near Varanasi.
The name Varanasi possibly originates from the names of the two rivers: Varuna, still flowing in Varanasi, and Asi, a small stream near Assi Ghat. The old city does lie on the north shores of Ganges River bounded by its two tributaries Varuna and Asi. Another speculation is that the city derives its name from the river Varuna, which was called Varanasi in olden times. This is generally disregarded by historians. Through the ages, Varanasi has been known by many names including Kāśī or Kashi (used by pilgrims dating from Buddha's days), Kāśikā (the shining one), Avimukta ("never forsaken" by Shiva), Ānandavana (the forest of bliss), and Rudravāsa (the place where Rudra/Śiva resides).
According to legend, Varanasi was founded by the God Shiva. The Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata are also stated to have visited the city in search of Shiva to atone for their sins of fratricide and Brāhmanahatya that they had committed during the climactic Kurukshetra war. It is regarded as one of seven holy cities which can provide Moksha.
Varanasi is well-connected by air, rail and road. One of the major factors in Varanasi's sustained existence as an inhabited city is its role as an established transportation hub between cities.
Varanasi is served by Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, which is approximately 26 km (16 mi) from the city centre in Babatpur. The airport inaugurated a new terminal in 2010, and it was granted international airport status on October 4, 2012. Air India, Buddha Air, Jet Airways, Jet Konnect, IndiGo, and SpiceJet operate flights from Varanasi to Delhi, Gaya, Kathmandu, Khajuraho, Sharjah, Lucknow, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kolkata.Over 330,000 passengers pass through the airport each year.
Varanasi's "Old City", the quarter near the banks of the Ganga river, has crowded narrow winding lanes flanked by road-side shops and scores of Hindu temples. As atmospheric as it is confusing, Varanasi's labyrinthine Old City has a rich culture, attracting many travellers and tourists. The main residential areas of Varanasi (especially for the middle and upper classes) are situated in regions far from the ghats; they are more spacious and less polluted.
Varanasi has an own culture of fine art and literature. Renowned Indian writers have lived in the city: Kabir, Ravidas and Tulsidas, who wrote much of his Ram Charit Manas here, Kulluka Bhatt, who wrote the best known commentary of Manusmṛti here in the 15th century, and Bharatendu Harishchandra. Later writers have included Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Sudama Pandey (Dhoomil) and Vidya Niwas Mishra. Several newspapers and journals are or were published in Varanasi such as Varanasi Chandroday and its successor Kashivartaprakashika, initially a fortnightly, which later became a weekly journal, first published on 1 June 1851.
On Mahashivaratri (February) – which is dedicated to Shiva – a procession of Shiva proceeds from the Mahamrityunjaya Temple to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Dhrupad Mela is a five-day musical festival devoted to dhrupad style held at Tulsi Ghat in February–March. The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple celebrates Hanuman Jayanti (March–April), the birthday of Hanuman with great fervour. A special puja, aarti, and a public procession is organized. Starting in 1923, the temple organizes a five-day classical music and dance concert festival titled Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh in this period, when iconic artists from all parts of India are invited to perform.