"Kashi is the whole world they say. Everything on earth that is powerful and auspicious is here, in this microcosm. All of the sacred places of India and all of her sacred waters are here. All of the Gods reside here, attracted by the brilliance of City of Light. All of the eight directions of compass originated here, receiving jurisdiction over the sectors of the universe. And all of time is here, for the lords of the heavenly bodies which govern time are grounded in Kashi. - Diana Eck, Banaras: City of Light

Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest living cities, is rightly called the religious capital of India. This holy city is located in the southeastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. It rests on the left bank of the holy river Ganga (Ganges) and is one of the seven sacred spots for Hindus. Every devout Hindu hopes to visit the city at least once in a lifetime, take a holy dip at the Ghats of the Ganga (the famous steps leading down to the water), walk the pious Panchakosi road that bounds the city, and, if God wills, die here in old age.

Varanasi has been destroyed four times by Muslim invaders between 11th to 17th centuries but it has been re-built. In Varanasi, there are over 3000 Hindu temples, 1400 mosques, 12 churches, 3 Jain temples, 9 Buddhist temples and 3 Sikh temples.

Varanasi is denoted by various names. The different names express the various powers and attributes of the city and reveal the dimensions of its sacred authority. All the names occur frequently in the Sanskrit religious books of Hinduism such as Vedas, Upanishads, Mahatyams, Purans etc. The different names of Varanasi are Varanasi, Kashi, Banaras/Benares, Avimukta, Anandvan, Rudravasa, Mahasmashana.

Varanasi: This city is called Varanasi (Varuna + Assi) because it is lying between Varuna River (north side) and Assi River (now just narrowed to water stream in south side). It is believed that Varuna and Assi originate from the left and the right legs of Lord Vishnu lying at Allahabad (Prayag) and both the rivers originate from his legs to guard the entrance of evil. No evil power can reside between this area and this is the reason that Tulsi Das selected Varanasi to reside and compose the Epic Ram Charit Manas (One of the religious books of the Hindus).
 

Kashi: The word Kashi is taken from Atharva Ved which means ‘concentration of cosmic light’. Kashi gives Moksha (liberation) to everybody. Kashi is originated from name of Kasha who was the seventh king of Kashi. Hindu Devotees of the city called it Kashi because the rays of the sun in the morning spread across the river.

Banaras/Benares: This city is denoted by Banaras or Banarasi by Buddhist literature. Pali version became more popular in the time of Muslim ruler and British ruler. This city was popular by Banaras. One meaning of Banaras is also popular as: Banaras = Bana (readymade) Ras (Juice), thus Banarase means a place where readymade juice of life is always available.

Avimukta: According to the literature, Lord Shiva said “I never forsake it”. That’s why this great place is known as Avimukta (‘never forsaken’).

Anandvan: Lord Shiva explains: “My lings are everywhere there, like little sprouts arisen out of sheer enjoyment” (mentioned in Kashi Rahasya). Thus it is known as forest of enjoyment (Anand+Van=Anandvan).

Rudravasa: This city is known as Rudravasa because Lord Shiva lives here and protects it.

Mahasmashana, the ground of great cremation: The whole city is the ground of cremation which controller is Lord Shiva. The word Mahasmashana is explained as: Maha (great), Sma (dead body), and Shan (final rest). All the five gross elements (earth, water, air, fire and sky) live here like corpses. At present there, are two cremation ghats (Harishchandra ghat, Manikarnika ghat) in Varanasi. More than 50,000 dead bodies are cremated here in a year. People come here from all other parts of India to get salvation.