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Origin stories of City names – Varanasi

Written by Roobaroo Team

Have you ever wondered why your city is named so? Language provides some great insights into cultures, likewise understanding the origin of a city’s name often sheds light on some key attribute of the city. So we’ve decided to cover the origin stories behind the names of the cities where we organize our walking tours and immersive travel experiences. This will by no means be an exact list – there are often more than 1 name origin story, especially in a country like India so much in love with stories, and being comfortable with multiple truths! And since each of these stories reveal more of the city’s character – we will let the different stories co-exist in the articles 🙂


Let’s start with the cradle of Indian civilization and thought. Varanasi has been the apple of India’s eye for ~3,000 years! And like most cherished kids, it has more than 1 name – highlighting its very many attributes.

1. Varanasi – The city is situated between the rivers Varuna in the North and Assi in the South. Hence the name, Varanasi! This is also the official name as per the government of India records.


2. Banaras – Composed of 2 Hindi words – ‘Bana’ meaning ready-made and ‘Ras’ meaning juice. Banaras is the place where the juices of life – be it Spirituality, Food, Music, Arts, Bhaang, Paan, Random musings – are all set ready, for the savvy to come and relish! For obvious reasons, this is the most popular name with the locals and lovers of the city. It’s the same name that was anglicized by the British into “Benares” that became the official name during the British rule.

3. Kashi – This is the most ancient name of the city (features in Mahabharat as well) and springs from the Sanskrit word ‘Kash’ meaning light. Kashi is supposed to be the City of light – where Shiva revealed himself in his original lingam form – as a pillar of light transcending the 3 worlds, forming the axis of the universe. The underlying symbolism is also that of Varanasi being the center of enlightenment and learning. Several intellectual accomplishments of India can be traced to Varanasi – a compilation of Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, formulation of Sanskrit Grammar by Panini, the discovery of surgery techniques by Sushruta, preaching the first sermon by Buddha, Kabir, Tulsidas, and countless other luminaries – everything happened here! Even today, the city boasts of 5 universities. And perhaps most importantly, the city’s design, its multi-ethnic fabric, carefree lifestyle – all facilitate learning for the seeker, paving the way to Moksha 🙂


4. Anandvan – The forest of bliss, because of the splendid and bountiful forest which, for the longest time in the city’s history, occupied the relatively low lying Southern half even as the city developed on the higher Northern half which would be unaffected by the annual floods of Ganga. The presence of the serene forest next to a thriving city was a major draw for the intellectuals. Anandvana thus turned Varanasi into Kashi, and eventually Banaras 🙂

5. Avimukteshwara – The city never forsook by Shiv (one of whose names is Avi)

So which one is your favorite name?

And which city would you like us to cover next? Let us know in the comments 🙂

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