Mark Twain said that "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition… "
Origin of Varanasi is closely linked with origin of Ganga. The city had been the center of civilization and higher education for more than 3000 years. It is said that Varanasi was the first spot created by Lord Shiva. When Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva dueled, Lord Shiva tore off one of the heads of Lord Brahma. He held the torn head as a symbol of victory and walked through the earth. When he reached Varanasi, the head dropped from his hand and disappeared into the ground. Thereby removing sins from Lord Shiva. Thus, the land is considered as a holy spot where sins of the current and previous births can be washed away. In Mahabharatha, Pandavas went in search for Lord Shiva in Varanasi to wash off their sin committed during the epic war.
The above stated stories are linked with mythology. Archaeological findings have dug deep to 2000 BC. Varanasi was a bustling urban settlement during this period. With the river flowing through it, the land flourished. Vedic people lived in this city and many rituals were a part of their life. The birth of Vedas is also dated to this period.
By 500 BC, numerous rulers who ruled Benaras built many temples. In 528 BC, Lord Buddha visited Sarnath to give his first sermon. In 600 AD, HiueTsiang visited this city and named it as Polonisse. In his works, he stated that the city had just 30 temples and about 30 monks.
In 1st century, Benaras was the capital of Gahadavala dynasty. Roads were established throughout the city and in the following centuries, many notable figures moved to Benaras to establish their religious thoughts. In 8th century, Adi Shankara visited Varanasi and made it a center of Lord Shiva worship. In 13th century, Kabir was born here.
By the beginning of 16th century, Sikhism started to spread in Varanasi. Guru Nanak Dev visited the city and started to spread his religious thoughts. By the end of 16th century, Varanasi well into the hands of Mughal emperors. Akbar built many temples for Hindu gods here.
The earliest tourism incidence in the city started in 16th century. The Grand Trunk Road was laid to assist visitors from distant places. In the middle of 17th century, Varanasi was under the control of Aurangazeb who destroyed umerous temples and built mosques. After the death of the king, new structures were built when are now seen in the skyline of the city.
Tourism flourished in 18th century and a Sanskrit college was built which attracted many scholars to the land.
In the beginning of 19th century, Varanasi became a state with Ramnagar as the capital. The last king of Varanasi, Kashi Naresh, occupied the fort of Ramnagar. After independence, Varanasi was incorporated into the united provinces of 1949. For more information you can also read our Complete Travel Guide of Spiritual City Varanasi