Varanasi, one of world's oldest living cities, can also be termed as the spiritual epicenter of India. Also known as Banaras or Benaras, this holy city is located in the southeastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. It rests on the left bank of the holy river Ganga (Ganges), and is one of the seven sacred spots for ancient Indian tradition (Sanatana dharma). In the impersonal, universal landscape of the tradition and the culture that Varanasi represents, the names of sages or saints or traditions or even avatars are just secondary and personal additions. Behind all of them, whether it is the shiva or the Buddha; or Parsanath or Kabir; or a Thomas Daniel or a mark Twain, stands the ancient bedrock of the flow of an ancient impersonal civilization. Varanasi is an expression of that bedrock – that flow and that is her samskriti. To be in Varanasi it is just a humble immersion into that depths of that eternal impersonal, which is personified in various forms and expressions, of which Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism are just a few of many and many! This represents the deeper cognitive and cosmic level of Varanasi.
However, at the personal, ritual level, there is a landscape on the surface that some first visitor discovers. Say, for every devout Hindu there is a hope to visit the city at least once in a lifetime, take a holy dip at the famous 'Ghats' of the Ganga, walk the pious Panchakosi road that bounds the city, and, if God wills, die here in old age.
The place also has an intimate connection with a host of legendary figures and mythical characters, who are said to have actually lived here like King Divodasa and Harishchandra. The holy epic poem Shri Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidas was also written here. All this makes Varanasi a significantly holy place.
The Ghats of Varanasi lend an added uniqueness to the various cultural festivals celebrated in this holy city, which is just not ritualistic or religious but deeply seasonal and cosmic representing the turnings of death and resurrection. The eternal ‘non-linear’ is the life-line of Varanasi, which is her deepest culture and samskriti juxtaposing death and immortality; or decay and renewals. It's great to visit Varanasi during these festivals. Some of the major festivals celebrated in a way of its own in this sacred city, are the Ganga Festival, Kartik Purnima, Bharat Milap, Ram Lila,Hanuman Jayanti, Mahashivratri, Rath Yatra, Dussehra and Diwali.
The former name of the city, 'Kashi' signifies that it is a 'site of spiritual luminance.' Indeed it is! Not only is Varanasi a place for pilgrimage, it is also a great center of learning, and a place known for its heritage in music, literature, art and craft. It is a cherished name in the art of silk weaving. The Banarasi silk sarees and brocades are prized all over the world. The classical musical styles or 'gharanas' are woven into the lifestyle of the people and are accompanied by musical instruments that are manufactured in Varanasi. Many religious texts and theosophical treatises have been written here. It is also the seat of one of India's biggest universities, the Banaras Hindu University.