Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest living cities, is rightly called the religious capital of India. This holy city is located in the southeastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. It rests on the left bank of the holy river Ganga (Ganges) and is one of the seven sacred spots for Hindus. Every devout Hindu hopes to visit the city at least once in a lifetime, take a holy dip at the Ghats of the Ganga (the famous steps leading down to the water), walk the pious Panchakosi road that bounds the city, and, if God wills, die here in old age.
Varanasi has been destroyed four times by Muslim invaders between 11th to 17th centuries but it has been re-built. In Varanasi, there are over 3000 Hindu temples, 1400 mosques, 12 churches, 3 Jain temples, 9 Buddhist temples and 3 Sikh temples.
Varanasi is denoted by various names. The different names express the various powers and attributes of the city and reveal the dimensions of its sacred authority. All the names occur frequently in the Sanskrit religious books of Hinduism such as Vedas, Upanishads, Mahatyams, Purans etc. The different names of Varanasi are Varanasi, Kashi, Banaras/Benares, Avimukta, Anandvan, Rudravasa, Mahasmashana.
Kashi: The word Kashi is taken from Atharva Ved which means ‘concentration of cosmic light’. Kashi gives Moksha (liberation) to everybody. Kashi is originated from name of Kasha who was the seventh king of Kashi. Hindu Devotees of the city called it Kashi because the rays of the sun in the morning spread across the river.
Banaras/Benares: This city is denoted by Banaras or Banarasi by Buddhist literature. Pali version became more popular in the time of Muslim ruler and British ruler. This city was popular by Banaras. One meaning of Banaras is also popular as: Banaras = Bana (readymade) Ras (Juice), thus Banarase means a place where readymade juice of life is always available.
Avimukta: According to the literature, Lord Shiva said “I never forsake it”. That’s why this great place is known as Avimukta (‘never forsaken’).
Anandvan: Lord Shiva explains: “My lings are everywhere there, like little sprouts arisen out of sheer enjoyment” (mentioned in Kashi Rahasya). Thus it is known as forest of enjoyment (Anand+Van=Anandvan).
Rudravasa: This city is known as Rudravasa because Lord Shiva lives here and protects it.
Mahasmashana, the ground of great cremation: The whole city is the ground of cremation which controller is Lord Shiva. The word Mahasmashana is explained as: Maha (great), Sma (dead body), and Shan (final rest). All the five gross elements (earth, water, air, fire and sky) live here like corpses. At present there, are two cremation ghats (Harishchandra ghat, Manikarnika ghat) in Varanasi. More than 50,000 dead bodies are cremated here in a year. People come here from all other parts of India to get salvation.