Left to Right, Top to Bottom:Manikarnika Ghat, Munshi Ghat, Temple on Ganges river bank, Man performing morning rituals in the Ganges, Ganges river bank, Aurangzeb Mosque, Incense aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Chet Singh Ghat, Busy Varanasi street at night, Buey in market
Varanasi is also one of 72 districts in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. At the time of the 2011 census, there were a total of 8 blocks and 1329 villages in this district. The main languages of Varanasi are the Awadhi and Bhojpuri dialects of Hindi-Urdu.
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 BCE 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. During the Muslim rule through Middle Ages, the city continued as an important centre of Hindu devotion, pilgrimage, mysticism and poetry which further contributed to its reputation as a centre of cultural importance and religious 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 visited Varanasi for Maha Shivaratri 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 Mughal emperorAkbar who patronised 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 Brahmin 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. 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 and the Hindu genealogy registers at Varanasi are kept here.
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").