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The History of Varanasi (Banaras)



The original name of Varanasi was 'Kashi'

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The original name of Varanasi was 'Kashi,' derived from the word 'Kasha,' meaning brightness. It is also known variously as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana and Ramya.

How Varanasi Got Its Name

The present name Varanasi has its origin in the two tributaries of the Ganges - Varuna and Asi, which flank its northern and southern borders. Banaras or Benaras, as it is popularly known, is only a corruption of the name Varanasi.

Explore More: Varanasi Facts & Figures for Tourists

Early History of Varanasi

Historians have now ascertained that the Aryans first settled in the middle Ganges valley and by the second millennium BC, Varanasi became the nucleus of Aryan religion and philosophy. The city also flourished as a commercial and industrial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, ivory works, perfumery and sculptures.

In the 6th century BC, Varanasi became the capital of the kingdom of Kashi. During this time Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon at Sarnath, just 10 km away from Varanasi. Being a center of religious, educational, cultural and artistic activities, Kashi drew many learned men from around the world; the celebrated Chinese traveler Hsüan Tsang, is one of them, who visited India around AD 635.

Varanasi Under the Muslims

From 1194, Varanasi went into a destructive phase for three centuries under the Muslim rule. The temples were destroyed and the scholars had to leave. In the 16th century, with the tolerant emperor Akbar's accession to the Mughal throne, some religious respite was restored to the city. All that disappeared again in the late 17th century when the tyrannical Mughal ruler Aurangzeb came to power.

Recent History

The 18th century again brought back the lost glory to Varanasi. It became an independent kingdom, with Ramnagar as its capital, when the British declared it a new Indian state in 1910. After India's independence in 1947, Varanasi became part of the state of Uttar Pradesh.

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