The grand old city, Varanasi, is mentioned as Kashi, even in the Atharva Veda (अथर्ववेद), one of India's oldest scriptures. The word Varanasi comes from the Varuna and, Asi, the two tributaries of the Ganga between which the city is situated. The spiritual capital of India- Varanasi is known by several names like Banaras (बनारस - as local people call it), Kashi (काशी - derived from 'Kashika' meaning the shining one referring to the light of Lord Shiva), Avimukta (अविमुक्त - meaning never forsaken by Lord Shiva), Rudravasa (रुद्रवास - meaning abode of Lord Shiva) and Anandavana (अनंदवन - meaning forest of bliss). The city of Varanasi, steeped in divinity, is one inextricable maze of small streets and alleyways, hiding in disorderly array no less than two thousand temples and shrines. Domes, minarets, pinnacles and towers (शिखर), derelict 18th century palaces dominate the sacred left bank of the river. The streets are noisy, colour is rife. The air hangs heavy, constantly in vibration to the clang of temple gongs and bells. For all its profuse variety of sacred spots, Varanasi is in reality one big shrine, the shrine of Lord Shiva. This cult is probably the oldest form of worship known to man. It was practised in the Indus valley thousands of years ago. Though Varanasi is the world's oldest living city but its oldest monument is not older than four hundred years because of inimically destructive invasions of Muslims. Varanasi is a prominent business and trade centre as well since the ancient times.
Varanasi, the cultural capital of India, is centre of religious tourism in India. Kashi Vishwanath is one of the twelve most revered Shiva temples (Dwadash Jyotilrlinga). Sarnath, at the outskirt of Benares, is one of the four most sanctimonious Buddhist pilgrimages. Ganga, Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh ghat , morning boat ride on the Ganga in the morning, cremation ghat of Manikarnika, Subah-e-Benares at Assi ghat, lively narrow alleys, traditional lifestyle etc attract tourists from all across the globe. Details regarding top things to do, shopping, religious rituals, temples, ghats, institutions, forts, palaces, mosques, lifestyle, best time to visit, transportation mode to reach Varanasi etc will serve as excellent travel guide of Varanasi.
Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon in this city. According to the Jain tradition, the founder of the faith, Parsvanath, was the son of a king of Kashi. Varanasi is the seat of Lord Shiva. Its greatest attraction is the Vishwanath Temple. The city goes festive during the Dussehra or the Durga Puja in September-October. Ram Leela is carried out throughout the city’s landscape during Dussehra. Episodes from the Ramayana are presented through plays and dances in Ram Leela, for the Dussehra celebrates Ram's victory over Ravan. On the Vijaya Dashami, the tenth and concluding day of the period of the Puja, a procession is taken out, actors enacting the main characters from the epic. On the Buddha Purnima, the full-moon day in May, a large fair is held at Sarnath. Varanasi is connected by air with the major cities and by rail and road with many more.
Varanasi reflects the image of the whole of India representing various deities of different places from all over the country. The ancient texts have described the importance of different religious places which have been identified and located in Varanasi. There may be hardly any God or Goddess of the Hindus which have not been enshrined in this city. The four dhams (धाम -holy places) situated in the four cardinal directions of the country, i.e., Jagannath Puri in the east, Dwarka in the west, Badrinath in the north and Rameshwaram in the south have been re-established here. Ram Ghat represents the Jagannath Puri Temple, Shankhudhar-Dwarka Temple, Matha Ghat-Badrinarayan Temple and Mir Ghat-Rameshwaram Temple. Other important representations are Kedarnath Temple (Kedareshwar Mahadev Temple) at Kedar Ghat, Triveni (Prayagraj / Allahabad) at Prayaga Ghat; Sun Temple of Konark at Lolarak Kund; Pushkar (Ajmer) at Pushkar Kund (tank), Nagwa; Mansarovar at Mansarovar Kund (tank) near the same ghat; Kamakhya Devi (Assam) at Kamakhya Temple, Kamachchha; Awadha (Ayodhya) at Awadha, Sonarpura; Jagannath Temple of Orissa at Jagannath Temple, Assi; Kurukshetra (Haryana) at Kurukshetra, Ravindrapuri; Neelakanth Temple (near Kathmandu in Nepal) at Neelkanth Mahadeva of the same locality; Pashupatinath (Nepal) at Pashupatishvara Mahadev at Nepali Ghat, Narmada Tirtha at Chausatthi Ghat; Godavari Tirtha at Gautam Kund, Godaulia, Janaki Kunda of Ayodhya at Sita Kunda, Luxa Road; Panchpandava Temple at Gyanmadhava; Gokarna (Karnataka) at Gokarneshvara in Kajeepura; Varuna Tirtha (where the Indus falls into Arabian sea) at Varuna Panchnad (at the confluence of Chenab at Sutlej) at Panchnad (पंचनद), now Panchganga Ghat; Somnath Temple (Gujarat) at Someshvara, Man Mandir Ghat; Vaaman Tirtha (Gujarat) at Vaaman Temple to the south of Raj Ghat near Ganga; Lalit Tirtha at Lalita Ghat, etc. This spatial character of representations of different religio-ritual sites in Varanasi reflects the cultural and national integration. Probably it was due to this fact that such an attitude binds the people to migrate here from different parts of India to enable them for enjoying the bliss of religio-cultural activities and associations.