Benares (also known as Banaras, Kashi, Kasi and Varanasi (वाराणसी)) is a Hindu holy city on the banks of the river Ganga or Ganges in the modern north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Benaras has a unique culture, quite different from other places in the region. This culture has developed through thousands of years during which it has been one of the major cultural centres of northern India. The whole 'Benarasi' culture revolves around the river Ganga, which is the heart and soul of the city. Benaras has its own 'Gharanas' (style of music) in classical Indian music. Benaras has produced some of the most well known musicians, philosophers, poets, writers in Indian history. To name a few, Kabir, Munshi Prem Chandra, Pd. Ravi Shanker, Pd. Bismillah Khan were/are from Benaras. It even has its own dialect which is quite different from other dialects of the region. It has been a seat of knowledge from about 700 BCE onwards. Its universities attracted students from all over the then-known world.
The banks of Ganges in Varanasi
Hindu holy city
Benares is the site of the holy shrine of Lord Kasi Viswanatha (a form of Lord Shiva) and is one of the revered 12 Jyotirlingas of the Lord. These characteristics of Benares, along with its positional advantage of being on the banks of the Ganga, has given it a place at the forefront of the Hindu religion. Benares is considered the most sacred place for all Hindus, irrespective of denomination.
It is believed that bathing in the Ganga or dying in the holy city circumvents re-incarnation and hence provides a permanent place in the Swarg (Heaven), a belief that has encouraged the establishment of innumerable nearby geriatric homes and also the disposal of half burnt corpses into the river. This latter practice continues to cause an irrevocable damage to the river's ecology. The ministry of water resources has finally taken up the restoration of the Ganga in a big way by banning cremation on the city's ghats (ghats are the banks of a holy river, often, as at Benares, stepped to facilitate bathing).
The modern name Varanasi is derived from the twin tributaries of Ganga Varuna and Asi on whose shores the city stands.
Benaras has several small cottage industries, like saree (traditional Indian female attire), handwoven carpets, and handicrafts.
Indian Railways runs a major diesel locomotive factory in Benares.
Schools and Colleges