Varanasi, also called Banaras, Benares, and Kashi, is a sacred city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (pictured left: Varanasi, black; Uttar Pradesh, red). Its name comes from the Varuna and Assi Rivers, which form the traditional boundaries of the city. For centuries, Varanasi has been a destination for spiritual seekers. Perched along a section of the Ganges River that runs from south to north, Varanasi is considered the special city of Lord Shiva, and those who die within its limits achieve salvation, released from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. Countless pilgrims come to walk on the ghats (the steps leading down to the river) and bathe in the holy water. Two of these ghats are dedicated to cremation, and the holy flame used for this ceremony is never allowed to go out. Its other religious sites include many temples, most importantly the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, as well as many non-Hindu sites like Sufi and Jain shrines and Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first teaching.
Varanasi has also long been a capital of culture and scholarship. Its vibrant classical Hindustani music scene hosts many large festivals throughout the year, including the annual Dhrupad Mela, which has revived interest in the Dhrupad style of music, and Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh, which regularly draws top-level artists who play for only nominal fees. In addition to music, Varanasi has a rich tradition of art and literature and has long been a center of studies in Sanskrit, Ayurveda, and Vedic astrology. Banaras Hindu University (BHU) is one of the oldest, largest, and highest-ranked universities in the nation, particularly known for its Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and its Institute of Agricultural Sciences.
If you want to learn more about Varanasi, take a look at the resources below. And if possible, come for a visit!