Benares is a city on the banks of the river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh. It is known as the spiritual capital of India and is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism. Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, "The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma" at nearby Sarnath. Benares remained the centre of activity for intellectuals and theologians during the Middle Ages, which further contributed to its reputation as a cultural centre of religion and education. Guru Nanak Dev visited Benares for Shivratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism.
Tulsidas wrote his epic poem on Rama's life called Ram Charit Manas in Benares. Several other major figures of the Bhakti movement were born in Benares, including Kabir and Ravidas. In the 16th century, Benares experienced a cultural revival under the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar who invested in the city and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, though much of modern Benares was built during the 18th century by the Maratha and Bhumihar kings. The kingdom of Benares was given official status by the Mughals in 1737 and continued as a dynasty-governed area until Indian independence in 1947.
Benares is now known as Varanasi. Traditional etymology links "Varanasi" to the names of two Ganges tributaries forming the city's borders; Varuna, still flowing in northern Varanasi and Assi, today a small stream in the southern part of the city near Assi Ghat. The old city is located on the north shores of the Ganges, bounded by Varuna and Assi.
Benares has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years and is closely associated with the river Ganga. The city is known for its many ghats; embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims bathe and perform rituals. The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main and probably the oldest ghat of Benares located on the Ganges, close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
The city is a major centre for arts and design. It is a producer of silks, brocades, carpet weaving, wooden toys, bangles made of glass, ivory work, perfumes, artistic brass and copperware and a variety of handicrafts. Silk weaving is the dominant industry in Benares, there are nearly half a million people working as weavers, dyers, sari finishers and salespersons. Weaving is typically done within the household. It is known throughout India for its production of very fine silk and Banarasi saris, brocades with gold and silver thread work which are often used for weddings and special occasions. The silk weaving industry has recently been threatened by the rise of power looms and computer-generated designs and by competition from Chinese silk imports.
Benares is also an educational and musical centre, many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in the city and it was the place where the Benares Gharana form of Hindustani classical music was developed.