Varanasi also known as Banaras and Kashi, is thought by many to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, and certainly all agree that the area has been inhabited for more than 2,000 years. It is located on the left bank of the Ganges River and is one of the seven scared cities of the Hindus.
Legendary tradition attributed the city’s founding to Shiva and it is believed that living there for a period of time and bathing in the Ganges, and/or dying there, in what is considered Shiva’s hometown, releases one from the circle of rebirths.
By the beginning of the first millennium BC, the city had become a center for Sanskrit learning, banking, commercial trade and asceticism. It was already an important center of religious learning when the Gautama Buddha (6th century BC) came there to preach his first sermon at nearby Sarnath.
During this period, the Kingdom of Kashi was one of 16 kingdoms to emerge from the ascendant Aryan tribes.
In the late 17th century, with the dissolution of the Mughal empire, Varanasi became the seat of an independent Hindu kingdom. It lasted until British annexation in 1794.
The city was further developed to the south and west, masonry bridges were built over the Varan and Asi rivers, streets were broadened and the first census was taken in 1827 to 1828.
In 1949, the district of Varanasi assumed its current form when the Raja of Varanasi ceded his independent Varanasi State to the new Indian nation-state.
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