Varanasi , also known as Benares, Banaras or Kashi , is a city on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, North India, 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of the state capital, Lucknow, and 121 kilometres (75 mi) east of Allahabad. The spiritual capital of India, it is the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism. Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, which connects it to Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra, and Delhi, and is served by Varanasi Junction and Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport.
Varanasi also one of 72 districts in Uttar Pradesh, as per census 2011 there are total 8 blocks and 1329 villages in this district.
Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma“, at nearby Sarnath. The city’s religious importance continued to grow in the 8th century, when Adi Shankara established the worship of Shiva as an official sect of Varanasi. Despite the Muslim rule, Varanasi remained the centre of activity for Hindu intellectuals and theologians during the Middle Ages, which further contributed to its reputation as a cultural centre of religion and education. Tulsidas wrote his epic poem on Rama’s life called Ram Charit Manas in Varanasi. Several other major figures of the Bhakti movement were born in Varanasi, including Kabir and Ravidas. Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism. In the 16th century, Varanasi experienced a cultural revival under the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar who invested in the city, and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, though much of modern Varanasi was built during the 18th century, by the Maratha and Bhumihar kings. The kingdom of Benares was given official status by the Mughals in 1737, and continued as a dynasty-governed area until Indian independence in 1947. The city is governed by the Varanasi Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation) and is represented in the Parliament of India by the current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, who won the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 by a huge margin. Silk weaving, carpets and crafts and tourism employ a significant number of the local population, as do the Diesel Locomotive Works and Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited. Varanasi Hospital was established in 1964.
Varanasi has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years, and is closely associated with the Ganges. Hindus believe that death in the city will bring salvation, making it a major centre for pilgrimage. The city is known worldwide for its many ghats, embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions. Of particular note are the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat, the last two being where Hindus cremate their dead. The Ramnagar Fort, near the eastern bank of the Ganges, was built in the 18th century in the Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and scenic pavilions. Among the estimated 23,000 temples in Varanasi are Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva, the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, and the Durga Temple. The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi, and an essential part of all religious celebrations. An educational and musical centre, many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in the city, and it was the place where the Benares Gharana form of Hindustani classical music was developed. One of Asia’s largest residential universities is Banaras Hindu University (BHU). The Hindi-language nationalist newspaper, Aj, was first published in 1920.
Traditional etymology links “Varanasi” to the names of two Ganges tributaries forming the city’s borders: Varuna, still flowing in northern Varanasi, and Assi, today a small stream in the southern part of the city, near Assi Ghat. The old city is located on the north shores of the Ganges, bounded by Varuna and Assi.
In the Rigveda, an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, the city is referred to as Kāśī (Kashi) from the Sanskrit verbal root kaś- “to shine”, making Varanasi known as “City of Light”,the “luminous city as an eminent seat of learning”. The name was also used by pilgrims dating from Buddha‘s days.
Hindu religious texts use many epithets to refer to Varanasi, such as Kāśikā (Sanskrit: “the shining one”), Avimukta (Sanskrit: “never forsaken” by Shiva), Ānandavana (Sanskrit: the forest of bliss), and Rudravāsa (Sanskrit: the place where Rudra/Śiva resides)
According to legend, Varanasi was founded by the god Shiva. The Pandavas, the mythic heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, are said to have visited the city in search of Shiva to atone for their sin of fratricide and Brāhmanahatya that they had committed during the climactic Kurukshetra War. It is regarded as one of seven holy cities (Sapta Puri) which can provide Moksha; Ayodhyā, Mathurā, Gayā, Kāśi, Kañchi, Avantikā, and Dvāravatī are the seven cities known as the givers of liberation.
Archaeological evidence of the earliest known settlements around Varanasi in the Ganges valley suggest that they began in the 20th century BC, placing it among the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities according to Kenneth Fletcher. These archaeological remains suggest that the Varanasi area was populated by Vedic people. However, the oldest known text referencing the city, the Atharvaveda, which dates to approximately the same period, suggests that the area was populated by indigenous tribes. It is possible that archaeological evidence of these previous inhabitants has yet to be discovered. Recent excavations at Aktha and Ramnagar, two sites very near to Varanasi, show them to be from 1800 BC, suggesting Varanasi was also inhabited by this time.
Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha, Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma“, at nearby Sarnath. The celebrated Chinese traveller Xuanzang, also known as Hiuen Tsiang, who visited the city around 635 AD, attested that the city was a centre of religious and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) along the western bank of the Ganges. When Xuanzang, visited Varanasi in the 7th century, he named it “Polonisse” and wrote that the city had some 30 temples with about 30 monks. The city’s religious importance continued to grow in the 8th century, when Adi Shankara established the worship of Shiva as an official sect of Varanasi.
Varanasi remained the centre of activity for intellectuals and theologians during the Middle Ages, which further contributed to its reputation as a cultural centre of religion and education. Several major figures of the Bhakti movement were born in Varanasi, including Kabir who was born here in 1389, and Ravidas, a 15th-century socio-religious reformer, mystic, poet, traveller, and spiritual figure, who was born and lived in the city and employed in the tannery industry.
Modern history (1500 – present)
Numerous eminent scholars and preachers visited the city from across India and south Asia. Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism.
Varanasi experienced a Hindu cultural revival in the 16th century under the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar, who invested in the city and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. The Raja of Pune established the Annapurna Mandir, and the 200-metre (660 ft) Akbari Bridge was also completed during this period. The earliest tourists began arriving in the city during the 16th century. In 1665, the French traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier described the architectural beauty of the Vindu Madhava temple on the side of the Ganges. The road infrastructure was also improved during this period. It was extended from Kolkata to Peshawar by Emperor Sher Shah Suri; later during the British Raj it came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road. In 1656, Emperor Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of many temples and the building of mosques, causing the city to experience a temporary setback. However, after Aurangazeb’s death, most of India was ruled by a confederacy of pro-Hindu kings. Much of modern Varanasi was built during this time, especially during the 18th century by the Maratha and Bhumihar kings. The kings governing Varanasi continued to wield power and importance through much of the British Raj period, including the Maharaja of Benares, or Kashi Naresh.
The Kingdom of Benares was given official status by the Mughals in 1737, and continued as a dynasty-governed area until Indian independence in 1947, during the reign of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh. In the 18th century, Muhammad Shah ordered the construction of an observatory on the Ganges, attached to Man Mandir Ghat, designed to discover imperfections in the calendar in order to revise existing astronomical tables. Tourism in the city began to flourish in the 18th century. In 1791, under the rule of the British Governor-General Warren Hastings, Jonathan Duncan founded a Sanskrit College in Varanasi. In 1867, the establishment of the Varanasi Municipal Board led to significant improvements in the city’s infrastructure and basic amenities of health services, drinking water supply and sanitation .
In 1897, author Mark Twain, said of Varanasi, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramnagar as its capital but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself. The religious head, Kashi Naresh, has had his headquarters at the Ramnagar Fort since the 18th century, also a repository of the history of the kings of Varanasi, which is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges. The Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the local people and the chief cultural patron; some devout inhabitants consider him to be the incarnation of Shiva.
In 1857, the British Army committed a massacre of Indian troops and city residence during the early stages of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Annie Besant founded the Central Hindu College, which later became a foundation for the creation of Banaras Hindu University in 1916. Besant founded the Central Hindu College because she wanted to bring men of all religions together under the ideal of brotherhood in order to promote Indian cultural values and to remove ill-will among different sections of the Indian population.”
Varanasi was ceded to the Union of India in 1947, and Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh incorporated his territories into the United Provinces in 1949.
Varanasi is located at an elevation of 80.71 metres (264.8 ft) in the centre of the Ganges valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganges, averaging between 15 metres (50 ft) and 21 metres (70 ft) above the river. The city is the headquarters of Varanasi district. By road, Varanasi is located 797 kilometres (495 mi) south-east of New Delhi, 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of Lucknow, 121 kilometres (75 mi) east of Allahabad, and 63 kilometres (39 mi) south of Jaunpur. The “Varanasi Urban Agglomeration” – an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units – covers an area of 112.26 km 2 (approximately 43 mi²). Neighbourhoods of the city include Adampura, Anandbagh, Bachchhaon, Bangali Tola, Bhelpura, Bulanala, Chaitganj, Chaukaghat, Chowk, Dhupchandi, Dumraon, Gandhinagar, Gautam Nagar, Giri Nagar, Gopal Vihar, Guru Nanak Nagar, Jaitpura, Kail Garh, Khanna, Kotwali, Lanka Manduadih, Luxa, Maheshpur, Mahmoorganj, Maulvibagh, Nagwar, Naipokhari, Shivala, Siddhagiribagh, and Sigra.
Being located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India, the land is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil. Varanasi is located between the Ganges confluences with two rivers: the Varuna and the Assi stream. The distance between the two confluences is around 2 miles (4 km), and serves as a sacred journeying route for Hindus, which culminates with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple.
How to Get There
Varanasi is well connected by plane, train, and bus. The trains and buses are dirty and overcrowded.
1 Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport (Varanasi Airport). Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport (IATA: VNS) is located 25km northwest of the city center. A taxi to/from the airport takes an hour and costs ₹750, while a tuk-tuk/auto-rickshaw can take twice as long and costs ₹500. Allow extra time due to traffic. Air India, JetKonnect, SpiceJet, and IndiGo all operate regular flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Khajuraho and Visakhapatnam. There are flights to Sharjah on Air India Express, to Kathmandu on Buddha Air and to Bangkok on Thai Airways. Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport on Wikipedia Q3276974 on Wikidata edit
There are multiple daily services to cities including Delhi (13 hours), Agra (13 hours), Lucknow (7 hours), Mumbai, and Kolkata.
Varanasi is served by three major railway stations:
2 Varanasi Junction (IR station code : BSB). The trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹100 in a tuk-tuk. Varanasi Junction railway station on Wikipedia Q3544938 on Wikidata edit
3 Manduadih Railway Station. The trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹100 in a tuk-tuk. Manduadih railway station on Wikipedia Q6748220 on Wikidata edit
4 Mughal Sarai Junction. Mughal Sarai Junction (IR station code : MGS) is about 20km east of the city – the trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹500 in a taxi. Mughalsarai Junction railway station on Wikipedia Q6932166 on Wikidata edit
Here is a list of useful trains to reach Varanasi:
Train Number Train Name You may board at You may alight at
12424 Rajdhani Express New Delhi Mughal Sarai Junction
12436 Rajdhani Express New Delhi, Lucknow Varanasi Junction
12560 Shivganga Express New Delhi Varanasi Junction
12165 Lokmanya Tilak (T) – Varanasi Express Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai) Varanasi Junction
12336 Lokmanya Tilak (T) – Bhagalpur Express Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai) Mughal Sarai Junction
12333 Vibhuti Express Howrah (Kolkata) Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction
12307 Howrah-Jodhpur Express Howrah (Kolkata) Mughal Sarai Junction
12669 Ganga Kaveri Express Chennai Central Varanasi Junction
12295 Sangamitra Express Bangalore City, Chennai Central Mughal Sarai Junction
17091 Secunderabad-Patna Express Secunderabad (Hyderabad) Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction
14854 Marudhar Express Jaipur, Agra Fort Varanasi Junction
14864 Marudhar Express Jaipur, Agra Fort Varanasi Junction
Also see Rail travel in India
The bus station in Varanasi is located just east of the Varanasi Junction train station. A tuk-tuk from the bus station to the Ganges area costs ₹100.
New Vishwanath Temple
Potatos and Puri, the Indian fried bread
Arriving from Nepal
Buses are available from major cities in Nepal to the border city of Sunauli. From the Sunauli bus station, take a rickshaw (200 NPR) to the border crossing, get your passport stamped on the Nepali side then walk through the border. After 100m of walking through no-man’s land, you will find the Indian immigration office hidden away on the left hand side of the road. After going through Indian immigration, walk 300m and find the bus stop on the right hand side. From there, take the government bus to Gorakhpur, not the private lines which are far less comfortable and stop everywhere. The bus trip between the border and Gorakhpur takes 4 hours and costs ₹60. To reach Varanasi from Gorakhpur, you can either take a train from the Gorakhpur Junction train station (5-7 trains per day, 5.5-7 hour journey, ₹200-800 cost) or a bus (hourly, 8+ hour journey, ₹130 cost).
Arriving from other cities in India
There are buses run by state government from Lucknow (8 hours, ₹160), Gorakhpur (8+ hours, ₹130), Khajuraho (12 hours, ₹250), Kanpur (9 hours – ₹195), Faizabad (7 hours, ₹105), Bodhgaya (7 hours, ₹250) and Allahabad (3 hours – ₹107 for AC, ₹60 w/o AC).
Note that many streets are too narrow to be reached by cycle-rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, and car and therefore, you may have to walk a bit to reach your destination.
By foot is the only way to see the waterfront and the ghats – but be ready to be hot, sweaty, and lost – locals are usually happy to point you in the right direction. The names of ghats and signs pointing to restaurants and hotels are often painted on the walls in Roman letters. For better orientation, walk into any book store and pick up a small guide/map book that will have the list of all the ghats and their historical background.
Walking Tours are operated by many companies, with the cheapest being the daily tours operated by Stops Hostel (₹100 plus transportation, 3 hours). Walking tours are a great way to see some of the harder-to-find sights such as the Flower Market and Ayurvedic Herb Market.
By cycle-rickshaw and auto-rickshaw
The chaotic streets of Varanasi are sometimes too much to handle by foot. Therefore, it will often be convenient to travel by cycle rickshaw or auto-rickshaw. A short journey of a few kilometers should cost under ₹50, while a longer journey within the city, such as between the ghats and the train station, will cost ₹100. Further journeys, such as to Sarnath (10km), cost ₹200 each way by auto-rickshaw.
There is a pre-paid auto-rickshaw stand at the Varanasi Junction (Cantt) train station.
By car or taxi
While taxis and cars-for-hire do exist, traffic makes them impractical.
Bicycle rental is available from many vendors. Inquire at your hotel.
Varanasi is not a city with distinct tourist destinations; the experience is in watching the spectacle of life and death on the river and meandering through the alleys of the old city.
Ghats and the River Ganges
While the use of ghats for cremation is well known, they are also used to give last rites to those who do not need cleansing by fire to purify their soul, including young children and pregnant women. Instead, their bodies are wrapped in cloth, weighted with stones and deposited into the Ganges. However, it is fairly common for the ropes to give way, resulting in putrefying corpses washing up on the east shore across from the city. Steer clear if squeamish.
The River Ganga is a sacred river for the Hindus and you will see traditional rituals and bathing occurring at all times of the day. On the Eastern banks, the River Ganga is flanked by a 300m wide sand belt, beyond which lies a green belt, a protected area reserved for turtle breeding. The western crescent-shaped bank of the River Ganga is flanked by a continuous stretch of 84 ghats, or series of steps leading down to the river, stretching for 6.8km. These ghats were built by Hindu kings who wanted to die along the Ganges, and they built lofty palaces along the river, most of which are now hotels, to spend their final days. You can walk along the river and see all of the ghats, but the best option for viewing the ghats is to charter a boat and see them from the river.
Hindus consider it auspicious to die in Varanasi, so some ghats are known as burning ghats, where over 200+ corpses per day are cremated in full view before their ashes are eased into the Ganga.
Some of the most popular ghats, from north to south:
1 Panchganga Ghat. the meeting of the five rivers.
2 Manikarnika Ghat. the main cremation ghat; a must-see, but remain quiet and never take photographs (note: scams are plentiful here; see the “Staying Safe” section).
3 Dasaswamedh Ghat. known as the ‘main’ ghat, this is the site of the large evening aarti ceremony
4 Rana Ghat. The ghat is located on the banks of Ganga which helps people to do religious ceremony without any difficulty.
5 Kedar Ghat. brightly painted in stripes and busy with bathers, very photogenic.
6 Narad Ghat. the ghat on which bathing with spouse is not advised because the myth of contention. edit
7 Harishchandra Ghat. the cremation place where Raja Harishchandra did the last rituals of his son. edit
Hanuman Ghat. It was previously known as Ramesvaram Ghat and located at holy spot known as Juna Akhara in Varanasi. People believe that the Ghat was constructed by Lord Rama and hence it is dedicated to his favorite disciple, Lord Hanuman.
Shivala Ghat. The ghat is constructed by King Balwant Singh and it played important role during Middle Ages. It comes under western part of Varanasi and as name suggests disciples connect it with Lord Shiva.
8 Tulsi Ghat. site of the large water purification plant.
9 Assi Ghat. a popular place to stay, with many hotels, restaurants, and internet cafes.
New Vishvanath Temple at BHU
10 Alamagir Mosque. Overlooking Panchganga Ghat, it’s a great place for a bird’s eye view of the area.
11 Bharat Mata Temple. The Bharat Mata temple at Varanasi is the only temple dedicated to Mother India. It is located in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus. The Bharat Mata temple was built by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupt and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. The statute of Bharat Mata is built in marble and is a model of undivided India, depicting the mountains, plains and oceans. The most peculiar thing about the Bharat Mata Temple is that instead of the customary gods and goddesses, it houses a relief map of India, carved out of marble.
12 Durga Temple. Built in 18th century, Durga temple is made as a tribute to Goddess Durga. It is also referred as ‘monkey temple’ and one of the well know temples in Varanasi.
13 Gauri Matha Temple. The devi at this temple is supposed to be the sister of the lord Kashi Vishwanath. Its a tradition to visit her just before you leave Kashi. You buy sea shells at this place and offer them to the God saying that the virtues of donating the shells goes to her while you keep the virtues of having visited the holy shrines in Kashi and bathing in the ganges. The trip to Kashi is expected to yield results only after completing this custom.
14 Kaal Bhairav Temple. is the temple for Kaal Bhairav – a dreadful form of Lord Shiva symbolizing death. Its a tradition to buy black threads (costs about ₹15 per 50 threads as of Sep 2009), keep it in the shrine and then wear it on the arm, wrist or around the neck as a protection against evil forces.
15 Nepali Hindu Temple. A small golden temple, built in Nepali architecture, near Lalita Ghat.
16 Sarnath. It is believed that in Sarnath Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples after getting enlightenment. There is also a Museum in Sarnath. The exact location is also known as Deer Park. Sarnath is 13 km from Varanasi and is very peaceful. Several Asian countries have built Buddhist temples there following their own ancient architectural traditions.
17 Shri Kashi Vishwanth Temple (The Golden Temple). Security is tight making entrance difficult and sometimes completely off limits to foreigners. No bags, cellphones or pens are allowed. They can be deposited in the shops by the temple entrance. The temple was destroyed multiple times by Mughal invaders and was re-constructed by Hindu kings who followed them.
18 Tulsi Manas Temple. Located near very popular Durga temple, this marvelous temple is dedicated to lord Rama. Tulsi Manas temple was established during 1964 in the form of white marble structure.
19 Banaras Hindu University. a very green and peaceful campus. Few actually know that this University was built during Indian freedom struggle and is known as Oxford of the East. This is the largest residential university of Asia, having approx. 124 independent departments. You can also visit Bharat Kala Bhavan, a museum of Art and Archeology inside the university. There is also a huge white marbled temple called Vishwanath Temple which was built by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of the university.
20 Chunar Fort (15km southwest of Varanasi). A 2,000+ year old fort.
Kriti Gallery, Raman Niwas, Mahmoor Ganj (opposite All India Radio Station), ☎ +91 9839058007. 11AM-6PM. A place to interact with contemporary art in the city of Varanasi.
21 Man Mandir Observatory. This observatory has instruments such as sun dial to measure the eclipse, time and other similar kind of elements.
22 Ramnagar Fort (Located on the eastern bank of the river, opposite Tulsi Ghat). The fort of the King of Kashi. Built in 1750 in the Mughal style.
Best Time to Visit
Varanasi experiences a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cwa) with large variations between summer and winter temperatures. The dry summer starts in April and lasts until June, followed by the monsoon season from July to October. The temperature ranges between 22 and 46 °C (72 and 115 °F) in the summers. Winters in Varanasi see very large diurnal variations, with warm days and downright cold nights. Cold waves from the Himalayan region cause temperatures to dip across the city in the winter from December to February and temperatures below 5 °C (41 °F) are not uncommon. The average annual rainfall is 1,110 mm (44 in). Fog is common in the winters, while hot dry winds, called loo, blow in the summers. In recent years, the water level of the Ganges has decreased significantly; upstream dams, unregulated water extraction, and dwindling glacial sources due to global warming may be to blame.
|[hide]Climate data for Varanasi Airport (1971–2000)|
|Record high °C (°F)||32.3
|Average high °C (°F)||23.0
|Average low °C (°F)||9.2
|Record low °C (°F)||0.3
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||19.0
|Average rainy days||1.6||1.7||1.0||0.6||1.2||5.4||13.9||13.1||10.0||1.8||0.6||0.5||51.5|