Location: Varanasi, India
Belief: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism
Varanasi is a place of Hindu pilgrimage around the Ganges River, and is sacred to both Hindus and Jains. There are thought to be 23,000 temples and dozens of mosques in the area.
Varanasi, thought to have been inhabited for thousands of years, has a long and distinguished history. It is referred to in the Hindu Rig Veda scriptures by its ancient name of Kashi. Varanasi is also considered to be the city where Shiva, the god of destruction, lived.
According to Jain tradition, Varanasi is also the birthplace of four of the Jain Tirthankaras – saviours or spiritual teachers. Buddha (as) gave his first sermon about the Four Noble Truths here in 528 BCE. Guru Nanak is recorded to have visited in 1507 CE and successive Mughal emperors built and destroyed temples here. Hence, Varanasi holds great importance to followers of a number of religions.
The author Mark Twain, in describing Benares (another name for Varanasi) said ‘Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.’
Nowadays, millions of Hindu and Jain pilgrims visit Varanasi every year from around the world to perform ritual ablutions in the river at the many ghats (embankments leading into the river). Hindus also believe that a blessed death here leads to salvation.