Varanasi, also called Benares or Kashi, is one of the most sacred Hindu cities in India, situated in Uttar Pradesh on the West bank of the Ganges, 4036 sq km in area. It derives its name from two rivers, the Varuna in the North of the city and the Assi, in the south.
Varanasi is said to combine the virtues of all Hindu pilgrimage centers in the country and it is believed that anyone dying within the area bounded by the Panch Koshi road attains salvation. It is the aspiration of every devout Hindu to go on a pilgrimage here at least once in a lifetime, and each year well over a million pilgrims visit it. Many are brought here after death to be cremated, and ashes strewn in the Ganges. Cremation and performance of funeral rites is indeed the busiest activity in Varanasi.
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Durga Kund, and temples of Annapoorna and Kal Bhairava are a few among the major places of worship. The existing temples date back to the recent past as Muslim invaders destroyed the architectural wealth of the city in ancient and medieval times.
Varanasi has also been a center of education, art and craft. Since 6th century BC it has attracted scholars and philosophers from all over India including Adi Shankaracharya, who laid the foundations of modern
Hinduism; Patanjali, the Sanskrit grammarian; Acharya Ramanuja, the theologian; and Mahavir and Buddha, the great religious reformers. Sarnath, where Buddha got his enlightenment, is 10 km from Varanasi. Hieun Tsang, the Chinese traveler, came here in the 7th century.
The city is also famous for lovely silk brocades of intricate and colorful weaves. Its paan, a betel leaf wrapped over a mixture of arecanut, cardamom and lime, which many Indians chew habitually, is also well-known. A special variety of mango in Varanasi is also much sought after.
At an altitude of 80 m above sea level, the temperatures range from 5 to 43oC. Located 128 km from Allahabad and 320 km from Lucknow, Varanasi is well-linked by air, rail and road.