Varanasi is situated on the banks of the river Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and is considered to be the most sacred place of pilgrimage for Hindus, irrespective of denomination, with more than a million pilgrims visiting the city each year.
Along the water’s edge cremations are performed at the burning ghats and it is also here, beside the holy waters of the river Ganges, that thousands of residents and pilgrims bathe, offering prayers to the elements and to their dead ancestors.
Varanasi is considered to be one of the oldest living cities in the world and is referred to by quite a few different names including, Banaras or Benares and Kash, a name first used three thousand years ago to describe the kingdom and the city where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha preached his first sermon.
The culture of Varanasi is deeply associated with the river Ganga and its religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious center in northern India for thousands of years. Varanasi has its own style of classical Hindustani music, and has produced prominent musicians, philosophers, poets, and writers in Indian history, including Tulsidas, Kabir, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Ustad Bismillah Khan. The city has its own dialect of Hindi. Varanasi is also the home of Banaras Hindu University. Link
The Ganges cleanses all sins and ensures a release from the Hindu cycle of rebirths: it’s an instant passport to heaven. Many elderly and ill people come to Varanasi to die, and old Sadhus (men who have given up their worldly possessions for a life of absolute religious devotion) congregate along the river banks.
The ancient city – it was ancient even when Buddha preached there in 530 BC – is home to over a million people. Mark Twain visited over a century ago and commented that Varanasi was ‘older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together’. Link