The name Varanasi is derived from the two tributaries of Ganges, Varuna and Asi. Apart from being one of the most important places of pilgrimages, the city is also known for its heritage in music, art, culture, religion and literature. It is believed that the individual who takes his final breath in Old Varanasi will most likely accomplish salvation. Considered as “Mahashamshana” or “the huge crematorium ground”; bodies of the departed are brought here from far-off places at Manikarnika Ghat.
According to Hindu legend, Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva. During a fight between Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, one of Lord Brahma’s five heads was torn off by Shiva. Lord Shiva kept Lord Brahma’s head with him at all the time. When he came to the city of Varanasi, the hanging head of Brahma dropped from Shiva’s hand and disappeared in the ground. Varanasi is therefore considered as an extremely holy site.
In the Rigveda, the city is referred to as Kāśī (Kashi) from the Sanskrit verbal root kaś- “to shine”, making Varanasi known as “The City of Light”, the “luminous city as an eminent seat of learning”. The name was also used by pilgrims dating from Buddha’s days.
As per Hinduism, Varanasi is more than 5,000 years old and is considered the oldest city in the world, though evidence of habitation only goes back about 3,000 years, according to the BBC. This more modest date indicates Varanasi is among many ancient cities to appear around the first millennium B.C., and it is still the oldest city in India and is considered the holiest city in the world to Hindus.