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Popularly known as ‘Banaras’, ‘Benares’ or ‘Kashi’ and much venerated by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists as a most sacred city on the earth, Varanasi; nestled on the banks of the holy river Ganga (Ganges) is a municipal corporation and the district headquarter of Varanasi District in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Celebrated as the oldest civic of the country, Varanasi is also one of the earliest and continuously inhabited cities of the world. Referred to as ‘the religious capital of India’, ‘the city of learning’, ‘the city of temples’ and ‘the city of lights’, Varanasi has always been regarded as the most blessed and sacrosanct vicinity in the universe over the centuries. As stated in the aforementioned verse, Kashi (Varanasi) along with other six cities is a ‘Moksha Dayika Nagari’ i.e. a town that will lead you to eternal salvation. It is strongly believed amongst the Hindus that if you die at Kashi or if the mortal remains of a human being are immersed in the sacred river Ganga at Varanasi, you surely attain the state of ‘Moksha’. Even bathing in the Ganga at the Ghats of Kashi is affirmed to be very pious and it is said that as you dip in the waters of Ganga, all your sins are washed away.
Apart from this, Varanasi is also one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva located in India; ‘Varanasyam cha Vishweshwam’. Revered as the most sacred shrine of Hinduism, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Varanasi is a place where Lord Shiva eternally resides. Visiting Varanasi, the holy abode of Lord Shiva at least once in a life time is believed to be extremely auspicious and lucky by every Hindu. Varanasi is metaphorically called a melting pot of life and death where living is believed to be equally fortunate as dying. Mark Twain was right about Varanasi when he said,
“Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, And looks twice as old as all of them put together”.
The name ‘Varanasi’ is supposed to have derived from the names of two rivers Varuna and Assi, the tributaries of the river Ganga. According to another opinion, the river Varuna was known by the name Varanasi in olden days from which the city received its name. Over the ages, the moksha dayika city Varanasi has been known by several appellations viz. Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi. The city Varanasi is cited in Rigveda as ‘Kashi’ which means ‘the illuminated one’ or ‘the city of lights’. This refers to the status of Varanasi as a pivot of learning, literature and culture. Varanasi finds citations in a number of Hindu scriptures such as Rigveda, Purana, Ramayana, and Mahabharata and so on. In Skanda Purana, the glory of Varanasi or Kashi is described in 15,000 verses of Kasi Khanda where in, Lord Shiva himself proclaimed in one of the verses