Varanasi, also known as Banaras (or Benares or Benaras), or Kashi (or Kasi) is a city in the northern part of India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It is a famous and very holy city for Hindus. It is said to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities. It is situated at the bank of the river Ganges.
The official name of Varanasi is not a modern one. It is possibly based on the fact that the city lies between where the Varuna River, to the north, and the river Assi, to the south, flow into the river Ganga. The name Varanasi was spelt Baranasi in Pali, which gave birth to the name Banaras. The different spellings such as Benares and Benaras were in active use during the British regime in India, but these forms of the name are now lost. Banaras is still widely used.
Another theory about the origin of the name suggests that the river Varuna itself was called Varanasi in the old times, thus the name of the city. This is generally disregarded by historians though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so.
Through the ages Varanasi was also known variously as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya and Kasi. In literature and scripture, the city is often referred to poetically as Kasi or Kashi, "the luminous", an allusion to the city's historical status as a centre of learning, literature, and culture. Kasikanda described the glory of the city in 15000 verses in the Skanda Purana, in which Lord Shiva says,
The three worlds form one city of mine and Kasi is my royal palace therein.
The city is very commonly referred to as "city of temples", "holy city of India", "religious capital of India", "city of lights", and "city of learning". It is also called the "cultural capital of India".
Varanasi is located near the banks of Ganga.
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- Ministry of Tourism, Government of India (March, 2007). Varanasi - Explore India Millennium Year. Press release. Retrieved on 2007-03-05.