Ganga (the Ganges), the spiritual capital of India- Varanasi is known by several names like Benaras ( as local people call it), Kashi ( desrived from 'Kashika' meaning the shining one referring to the light of Lord Shiva), Avimukta (meaning never forsaken by Lord Shiva), Rudaravasa (meaning abode of Lord Shiva) and Anandavana (meaning forest of bliss). Varanasi is one of the holiest of the pilgrimages of the Hindus. Being on the banks of the Ganges, the most sacred and venerated river in India, Varanasi becomes all the more pious spiritual centre among religious Hindus. Its name Varanasi is derived from its being on the confluence of two rivers- Varuna and Asi. Though Varanasi is the world's oldest living city but its oldest monument is not older than 300 years because of inimically destructive invasions of Muslims. Varanasi is a prominent business and trade centre as well since the ancient times.
Varanasi is a district of North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The languages spoken in Varanasi are Hindi, Bhojpuri & English. The
best time to visit & experience ethereal spiritualism and all pervasive religiosity of Varanasi is from October to March. Colours of vibrant culture of Varanasi can be observed in the festivals like Ram Navami, Dussera, Deepawali, Holi, Hanuman Jayanti, Chhath etc. In addition to various monuments, ghats, Banarsi saree, handicrafts, carpets, narrow alleys, Hindu culture etc are must-see in Varanasi. Ghats of Varanasi along the western bank of the Ganges are special as these epitomize various aspects of Hindu way of life. Watch out people having early morning bath followed by ablutions, puja by Brahmin priests, people practicing meditation & yoga, cremation process on Manikarnika ghat and Harshchandra ghat, people consulting the astrologers under their palm leaf parasols, buy offerings for rituals, trades selling silk apparels and brassware etc.
Temples in Varanasi are highly venerated. One of the famous temples of Varanasi, Durga temple (the place is popularly said as Durga Kund) is dedicated to Goddess Durga, a deity of female power. The Durga temple is built in traditional and conventional North Indian temple architecture style- the 'nagara' style. The Durga temple of Varanasi is characteristically built with an ornate shikhara, consisting of five segments symbolizing 'panchmahabhutas' (five fundamental elements which give birth to life and universe) and supported by finely carved columns. Non-Hindus are admitted to the courtyard but not the inner sanctum. Vishwanath Temple of Benares Hindu University (BHU) was built by a prominent industrialist family of Birlas. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the founder of Benares Hindu University, planned for a majestic temple at that place to spread moral values and entwine ethos of Indian value systems with modern education. Unlike many other temples in Varanasi, this temple is open to all irrespective of caste or creed. Bharat Mata Temple is symbolic in many ways. First and foremost, its very name echoes the cultural ethos of Hindu Indians who treat India as mother and deity. Bharat Mata Temple (Mother India Temple), inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, has huge relief in marble displaying Indian subcontinent and Tibet with depiction of prominent mountains, rivers and the holy 'tirthas' (pilgrimage centers). Tulsi Manas Temple, Varanasi, was built by the Birlas in 1964. Tulsi Manas Temple is adjacent to Durga temple. The Tulsi Manas temple has been built at the same place where great poet and seer Tulsidas resided and wrote one of the greatest epics of human-kind- the 'Ramcharit Manas'. Built in white marble and dedicated to Lord Rama, the Tulsi Manas Temple, has engraved the verses and scenes from Ramcharit Manas on its walls.
Located 10 kms from Varanasi, Sarnath is one of the four pilgrimages of the Buddhists. It was Sarnath where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon and declared the birth of a different 'dharma' (religion)- Buddhism. From Sarnath, the 'dharmachakra pravartan' commenced. In around 234 BC, Emperor Ashoka, a great follower of Buddhism, built a grand stupa- Dharmarajika Stupa, here. Later on Sarnath developed as a prominent Buddhist centre with a grand monastery. Between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD, several Buddhist structures were built here in Sarnath. The Muslim invaders in medieval period ransacked and destroyed it. But an inquisitive traveler may still experience the rich past in the remnants of monastery, Dhamekh stupa, Dharmarajika stupa and Emperor Ashoka's pillar. Also, visit Sarnath museum. Sarnath museum also has the figures and the sculptures from the Mauryan, Kushana and Gupta periods discovered during the excavations at Sarnath.
Ramnagar Fort, built in 17th century, is home to Maharaja of Benares and lies opposite to Assi Ghat of Varanasi.