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Varanasi, or Benaras, (also known as Kashi) is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi`s Prominence in Hindu mythology is virtually unrevealed. Mark Twain, the English author and literature, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Benaras, once wrote : "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together" . According to the 'Vamana Purana', the Varuna and the Assi rivers originated from the body of the primordial Person at the beginning of time itself. The tract of land lying between them is believed to be 'Varanasi', the holiest of all pilgrimages. The word 'Kashi' originated from the word 'Kas' which means to shine. Steeped in tradition and mythological legacy, Kashi is the 'original ground ' created by Shiva and Parvati, upon which they stood at the beginning of time. Varanasi is the microcosm of Hinduism, a city of traditional classical culture, glorified by myth and legend and sanctified by religion , it has always attracted a large number of pilgrims and worshippers from time immemorial. To be in Varanasi is an experience in itself an experience in self--discover an eternal oneness of the body and soul. To every visitor; Varanasi offers a breathtaking experience. The rays of the dawn shimmering across the Ganges, the high-banks, the temples and shrines along the banks bathed in a golden hue soul stirring hymns and mantras alongwith the fragrance of incense filling the air and the refreshing dip in the holy waters gently splashing at the Ghats. Varanasi -- the land where experience and discovery reach the ultimate bliss. Varanasi is also renowned for its rich tapestry of music, arts, crafts and education. Some of the world renowned exponents India has produced in these fields were schooled in Varanasi's cultural ethos. Luminaries apart, Varanasi abounds in the art of silk weaving, an exotic work of art which manifests itself in precious Banarasi Silk Sarees and Silk brocades which are cherished as collector's items across the world today.
Varanasi (also known as Benares, Banaras, Kashi and Kasi) is a Hindu holy city on the banks of the Ganges River in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The name "Varanasi" is derived from the twin tributaries of Ganga Varuna and Asi, on whose shores the city stands. The city has a unique culture, quite different from other places in the region, and is one of the major cultural centres of northern India. Just 12 km from Varanasi is Sarnath, an important Buddhist sacred site.
Varanasi is the site of the holy shrine of Lord Kasi Viswanatha (a form of Lord Shiva) and is one of the revered 12 Jyotirlingas (linga of light). Along with its positional advantage on the banks of the sacred Ganges River, this has given Varanasi a place at the forefront of the Hindu religion. Varanasi is considered the most sacred place for all Hindus, irrespective of denomination.
Hindus have long believed that bathing in the Ganges or dying in the holy city of Varanasi circumvents reincarnation and hence provides a permanent place in the Swarg (Heaven). This belief that has encouraged the establishment of innumerable nearby geriatric homes and also the disposal of half-burnt corpses into the river.
This latter practice continues to cause great damage to the river's ecology, but the ministry of water resources has finally taken up the restoration of the Ganga by banning cremation on the city's ghats (ghats are the banks of a holy river, stepped to facilitate bathing).