Varanasi, also Banaras or Benares, India, a city in Uttar Pradesh state. It is on the Ganges River in northern India, about 240 miles (390 km) south of the Nepalese border. Varanasi is at the point where the Ganges is considered holiest by Hindus. Millions of pilgrims visit the city each year. Many elderly Hindus reside there, believing that those who die in the city attain immediate salvation. Nearby is the holy city of Sarnath, where Buddha first preached.
Varanasi has more than 1,500 temples and thousands of religious statues and shrines. Most of the riverbank is lined with ghats—stone steps where pilgrims can reach the water for ritualistic bathing. Two of these ghats are sites where cremations are performed.
Varanasi produces many handicraft items, including jewelry, brasswork, and lacquered wares. There are also modern manufacturing industries. Banaras Hindu University is here.
Varanasi, originally called Kasi, was known as early as 800 B.C. For some 1,500 years it was a Hindu center of learning and a Buddhist monastic site. The Muslim conquest, about 1200 A.D., brought centuries of decline and the destruction of virtually all ancient temples. Present-day Hindu temples date mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries. There are also many mosques.