Why is Varanasi called the world’s oldest living city? Part (I)

I find that it seems that life in the ancient part of Varanasi city even today from sunrise till ten o’clock in the night is very much the same as it was Five thousand years ago.



The immense love of Hindus towards this city can be felt from this word “Mother Kashi” In ancient times, many litterateurs have described Kashi Nagar as mother.

Varanasi which is also known as Banaras and Kashi, had been recognized by many names in the past, many of its names are mentioned in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist texts, butVaranasi, Kashi and Banaras are by far the most popular names and are still in use.


The area between the confluence of two rivers (Varuna, Asi ) in the Ganges is known as Varanasi. The word Varanasi has originated from the combination of the names of these two rivers.


It is believed that Muhammad Ghaznavi attacked Varanasi around 1019 or 1022, during this time the king of Varanasi was Bannar.

Raja Bannar was killed in the battle against Muhammad Ghaznavi. But soon his son re-established his possession on Varanasi.
It is believed that Varanasi was renamed as “Banaras” after the King “Bannar”.
However strong evidence of this fact is not available, and so it is not possible to conclude anything on this subject.


The word Kashi is derived from the word Kas. The word Kas is synonymous with Prakash(Light)
It is believed that “light” here is analogous with knowledge, possibly this is the reason Varanasi is also called the City of Light.

Varanasi is located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and is situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges River. Varanasi has a history that stretches back thousands of years and is considered one of the holiest cities in Hinduism.

It is also called the cultural capital of India. And is also known as City of Temples, Mokshadahini, Mahasamsan, Shiva Nagari, City of Light, Capital of All Knowledge.

City of Temple:

Varanasi is also famous by the name of City of Temples. Construction of temples was banned during the reign Muslim rulers, but as soon as the Marathas and Sikhs became powerful, the temples were built on a massive scale, soon Varanasi regained its old reputation of the city of temples.

Varanasi has always been known as the city of salvation.

It is believed that a person who dies in Varanasi becomes free from the cycle of life.

Moksha: Freedom from bondage . Freedom from the process of taking birth and dying cyclically in the world. The Act of becoming free from this action is known as Moksha.


Samsaan: In Hindu religion, the place where the process of burning the dead body is performed, is called Samsaan.

There are two major Samsaans in Varanasi.

@ Manikarnika
@ Harishchandra

Many stories related to both these places have been settled in the public consciousness for thousands of years.

Shiva’s favorite city

According to Hindu scriptures, Varanasi has always been dear to Shiva and it is believed that the city of Varanasi rests on Shiva’s trident.

City of light

As soon as the oldest cities of the world are mentioned, the names of cities such as Jerusalem, Athens, Peking and Varanasi first emerge in the mind.

Without a doubt, these are the oldest cities on the planet.

From time to time, archaeologists have been discovering remains of old cities, some of which are considered to be older than Varanasi as well.

In India too, remains of the cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro (Indus Valley Civilization ) have been found, which are considered to be the remains of the oldest city’s till date. If that is the case, what is the reason that Varanasi has got the title of Oldest Living City for years ?

Note : Recent studies done by IIT Kharagpur and Archaeological Survey of India revealed that the Indus Valley Civilization is at least 8000 years old.

Then why is Banaras called the oldest living city? And what is the reason behind this belief.

First of all, I think it is necessary to clarify what is the difference between an ancient city and an ancient living city.

@ Many ancient cities whose remains have been excavated had been deserted. There is currently no human settlement of any kind at that place. Furthermore a lot of ancient cities have shifted from their original places over time. In contrast to this, the city of Varanasi is still present at the very same place where its used to be thousands of years ago.

There is also one more reason why Varanasi is known as the oldest living city in the world, this reason however is a bit philosophical.

@ According to many historians, the activities of daily life carried out in Varanasi by the people who live here are pretty much the same as they were thousands of years ago or at least a glimpse of the ancient lifestyle of people living here can be seen in what they do today and this has persisted for thousands of years. This is one such point that cannot be seen anywhere else in any ancient city.

To understand this better you will have to visit Varanasi. Banaras is a place not just to be seen or read about but also to be felt.

Even today in Varanasi, getting up early in the morning and bathing in the Ganges, then offering the holy water of the Ganges to Mahadev in an ancient temple, chanting the verses of ancient religious texts, is a tradition which has been going on for thousands of years and is still an integral part of people’s life.

I find that it seems that life in the ancient part of Varanasi city even today from sunrise till ten o’clock in the night is very much the same as it was Five thousand years ago.

I request you to understand the context in the above lines and by no means interpret the text above as trying to project Varanasi as a dead city or as a city trapped in ancient times.

Varanasi is a modern city preserving its thousands of years of traditions. This city is proud of its culture and traditions.
Reason being that it had fought for the protection of the culture and traditions, even in the most difficult times.

I don’t even know how many times foreign invaders had tried to destroy the Hindu tradition of this city, I don’t even know how many times the temples of the city were demolished and mosques were built on their debris, I don’t even know how many times efforts were made to silence the bells of the temples but Every time this city stood unconquered.

A stupa was build by Emperor Ashoka 2300 years ago at the place where Buddha gave his first sermon about 2600 years ago from today. Historians believe that this carving on the stupa was done during the Gupta dynasty. The Gupta dynasty ruled from 280 to 550 AD. A bell can be seen in the intricate carvings done during this time on the stupa.

The sound of temple bells when heard from a far off distance in the early morning (if one tries to listen it of course), gives a sense of pride, a feeling of victory in a struggle of thousands of years.

There is a belief that Varanasi is intact, indestructible, and if we try to look into the history of past five thousand years, this belief just seems to be more than true.

Author: nitinsingh

Postgraduate in International relations. Experience in writing in various journals, from BBC WORLD NEWS SERVICE to India's one of the oldest hindi daily. I like to write on international relations, religion, religious conflict. Social media has bridged the distance between writing and reading. Now writing is not just the expression of one's own thought, but also knowing the expression of people on various subject.

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