The land of Varanasi (Kashi) has been the famous pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages. The holy city is situated on the banks of the river Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Ganges in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals. Often referred to as Benares, Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. It is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati.
The name Kasi (another name for Varanasi) is mentioned in the Rig-Veda. It is often also referred to as "city of temples and learning". Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightenment at Sarnath, just 10 km away from Varanasi. Knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts has all flourished here for centuries.
Vaishnavism and Shaivism have co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously. Jainism is also a part of the different religions followed here. Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar therefore it is a famous pilgrimage centre for the Jains. With a number of temples, Mrs. Annie Besant chose Varanasi as the home for her 'Theosophical Society'. Being a prosperous city, the place was invaded by many muslim rulers therefore the muslim influence is also present here.
The Benares Hindu University, the biggest University in Asia built by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya is also situated in Varanasi. Ayurveda is said to be originated at Varanasi and is believed to be the basis of modern medical sciences. Varanasi is also famous for its trade and commerce, especially for the finest silks and gold and silver brocades, since the early days.
Varanasi has also been a great center of learning for ages. Varanasi is associated with promotion of spiritualism, mysticism, Sanskrit, yoga and Hindi language. Aptly called as the cultural capital of India, Varanasi has provided the right platform for all cultural activities to flourish. Varanasi has its own style of classical Hindustani music, and has produced prominent musicians, philosophers, poets, and writers in Indian history, including Kabir, Prem Chand, Tulsi Das, the famous saint-poet who wrote Ram Charit Manas, Jaishankar Prasad, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Ustad Bismillah Khan. The language spoken in the city is Bhojpuri, a dialect of Hindi.
The history of Varanasi is very old but it however lives in the form of old manuscripts and the folk traditions but most importantly through its people.