Varanasi, aka: Varanashi, Vārāṇasī, Vārāṇasi; 13 Definition(s)


Varanasi means something in Buddhism, Pali, Hinduism, Sanskrit, Jainism, Prakrit, the history of ancient India, Marathi. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

In Hinduism

Shaivism (Shaiva philosophy)

1) Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी):—The name for a ‘sacred site’ associated with the group of eight deities (mātṛ) born from Śaśinī, according to the Kubjikāmata-tantra. Śaśinī is the third of the Eight Mahāmātṛs, residing within the Mātṛcakra (third of the five cakras) and represents the moon.

2) Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी):—Sanskrit name for one of the twenty-four sacred sites of the Sūryamaṇḍala, the first maṇḍala of the Khecarīcakra, according to the kubjikāmata-tantra. The Khecarīcakra is the fifth and final cakra located just above the head. Each one of these holy sites (pītha) is presided over by a particular Khecarī (‘sky-goddess’). This Vārāṇasī-pītha is connected with the goddess Ūrdhvakeśī.

(Source): Wisdom Library: Kubjikāmata-tantra

1) Vārāṇasi (वाराणसि) is a Sanskrit word referring to one of the sixty-eight places hosting a svāyambhuvaliṅga, one of the most sacred of liṅgas according to the Śaivāgamas. The presiding deity residing over the liṅga in this place (Vārāṇasi) is named Mahādeva. The list of sixty-eight svāyambhuvaliṅgas is found in the commentary of the Jirṇoddhāra-daśaka by Nigamajñānadeva. The word liṅga refers to a symbol used in the worship of Śiva and is used thoughout Śaiva literature, such as the sacred Āgamas.

2) Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी) is the name of a sacred site (pīṭha) to be assigned to the heart (hṛdaya) during the pīṭhavidhi (‘ritual of sacred sites’) according to the Tantrāloka chapter 29. This chapter of the Tantrāloka by Abhinavagupta expounds details regarding the Kula initiation ritual. Kula or Kaula is a specific tradition within Śaivism, closely related to Siddhānta and Śaktism. In the Jñānārṇava-tantra it is also mentioned as a pīṭha and is also called Kolvagiri.

(Source): Wisdom Library: Śaivism
Shaivism book cover
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Shaiva (शैव, śaiva) or Shaivism (śaivism) represents a tradition of Hinduism worshiping Shiva as the supreme being. Closely related to Shaktism, Shaiva literature includes a range of scriptures, including Tantras, while the root of this tradition may be traced back to the ancient Vedas.

Kathā (narrative stories)

There is a city named Vārāṇasī, which is the dwelling-place of Siva, inhabited by holy beings, and thus resembles the plateau of Mount Kailāsa. The River Ganges, ever full of water, flows near it, and appears as if it were the necklace ever resting on its neck. (See Book XII called “Śaśāṅkavatī”, under the first story of the Vetālapañcaviṃśati)

(Source): The ocean of story. vol. 6
Kathā book cover
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Kathās (कथा) are special kind of Sanskrit literature: they are a kind of a mix between Itihāsa (historical legends) and Mahākāvya (epic poetry). Some Kathās reflect socio-political instructions for the King while others remind the reader of the historical deeds of the Gods, sages and heroes.


Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी).—Kāśī: sacred to Hari;1 fit for Śrāddha offering, and sacred to Lalitā;2 the capital of Divodāsa devastated by the Rākṣasa Kṣemaka, resulting in the change of capital to Gomatī. The abode of Śiva and Umā after their marriage, and hence the name Avimuktam Kṣetram;3 the goddess enshrined here is Viśālākṣī: a place of pilgrimage;4 capital of Rudraśṛeṇya of the Yadu race: city where Mārkaṇḍeya lived.5 Lord became Kṣetrapāla: the Yakṣa Harikeśa performed penance here;6 the place of Yogis and Siddhas: death here is release from rebirth;7 a siddha kṣetra where Śiva and His consort live all the three yugas and make Avimuktam gṛham in Kaliyuga;8 avatār of Lāngali at, in the 22nd dvāpara;9 cursed by Nikumbha to become deserted for 1,000 years;10 burnt down by Kṛṣṇa.11

  • 1) Bhāgavata-purāṇa VII. 14. 31; X. 66. 40.
  • 2) Brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa III. 13. 101; IV. 44. 93.
  • 3) Ib. III. 67. 26-62.
  • 4) Matsya-purāṇa 13. 26; 22. 7.
  • 5) Ib. 43. 11; 103. 13.
  • 6) Ib. 180. 1-5, 15 and 54.
  • 7) Ib. 180. 72-79.
  • 8) Vāyu-purāṇa 77. 93; 92. 27, 58-59; 99. 315.
  • 9) Ib. 23. 198.
  • 10) 92. 23-28.
  • 11) Viṣṇu-purāṇa V. 34. 3, 39-41.
(Source): Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: The Purana Index
Purāṇa book cover
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The Purāṇas (पुराण, purana) refers to Sanskrit literature preserving ancient India’s vast cultural history, including historical legends, religious ceremonies, various arts and sciences. The eighteen mahāpurāṇas total over 400,000 ślokas (metrical couplets) and date to at least several centuries BCE.

Śāktism (Śākta philosophy)

Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी) is the name of a Śāktapīṭha mentioned in the Kulārṇavatantra. The Kulārṇava-tantra is an important 11th century work for the Kaula school of Śāktism. It refers to eighteen such Śākta-pīṭhas (eg. Vārāṇasī) which is defined as a sacred sanctuary of Devī located here on earth. According to legend, there are in total fifty-one such sanctuaries (pīṭha) on earth, created from the corresponding parts of Devī’s body,

(Source): Wisdom Library: Śāktism
Śāktism book cover
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Śākta (शाक्त, shakta) or Śāktism (shaktism) represents a tradition of Hinduism where the Goddess (Devī) is revered and worshipped. Śākta literature includes a range of scriptures, including various tantras, although its roots may be traced back to the Vedas.

Kāvya (poetry)

Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी) is the name a locality mentioned in Rājaśekhara’s 10th-century Kāvyamīmāṃsā.—Benaras, situated in state of Uttara-Pradesa.

(Source): Shodhganga: The Kavyamimamsa of Rajasekhara
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Kāvya (काव्य) refers to Sanskrit poetry, a popular ancient Indian tradition of literature. There have been many Sanskrit poets over the ages, hailing from ancient India and beyond. This topic includes mahākāvya, or ‘epic poetry’ and nāṭya, or ‘dramatic poetry’.

General definition (in Hinduism)

Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी).–One of the oldest and most famous places of pilgrimage in India; also known as Kāśī and Benares.

(Source): Wisdom Library: Hinduism

In Buddhism

Mahayana (major branch of Buddhism)

Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी) or Kāśi, on the central Ganges, the actual Benares. – It was at Benares in the Deer Park that the Buddha preached his first sermon, the Dharmacakrapravartanasūtra. He returned there several times afterwards (cf. Vinaya, I, p. 189, 216, 289; Saṃyutta, I, p. 105; V, p. 406; Aṅguttara, I, p. 110, 279; III, p. 392, 300). There he converted Yasa and many outstanding people (Vinaya, I, p. 15).

(Source): Wisdom Library: Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra
Mahayana book cover
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Mahayana (महायान, mahāyāna) is a major branch of Buddhism focusing on the path of a Bodhisattva (spiritual aspirants/ enlightened beings). Extant literature is vast and primarely composed in the Sanskrit language. There are many sūtras of which some of the earliest are the various Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.

In Jainism

General definition (in Jainism)

Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी) is a town in Kāśī, watered by the Ganges. Two rivers, Varuṇā (Varṇā) and Asi, join the Ganges here; hence it is named Vārāṇasī. Also known as Vārāṇasīnagarī. Here were born two Brahmin brothers Jayaghoṣa and Vijayaghoṣa, who were versed in the four Vedas. They took to asceticism and attained salvation. Here lived an old merchant named Bhadrasena whose wife was Nandā and daughter, Nandaśrī. Nandaśrī retired from the world and received initiation. Two ascetics, Dharmaghoṣa and Dharmayaśa, spent the nights here during the rains.

Vārāṇasī is divided into four parts:—

  1. Deva-vārāṇasī.—Here is the temple of Viśvanātha wherein are to be seen twenty-four Jinapaṭṭas.
  2. Rājadhānī-vārāṇasī.—Here live the Yavanas now.
  3. Madana-vārāṇasī,
  4. Vijaya-vārāṇasī.
(Source): Sum Jaina Canonical Sutras (vividhatirthakalpa)

Vārāṇasī (वाराणसी) is the name of a village visited by Mahāvīra during his eleventh year of spiritual-exertion.—Moving from Vraja village to Ālambhiyā, Śvetāmbikā, Sāvatthī, Kauśāmbī, Rājagṛha, Vārāṇasī, Mithilā, etc, the Lord arrived at Vaiśālī. Outside the city at the Baladeva temple in the Samara garden, accepting four-months fast, he became meditative and completed the rainy season halt there.

Vārāṇasī was also visited by Mahāvīra during his 6th Year as Kevalī.—Completing his monsoon stay at Vāṇijyagrāma the Lord proceeded to Vārāṇasī and stayed at ‘Koṣṭhaka-caitya’. There he gave a sermon to the people present, inspired by which the father of Cullinī, his wife Śyāmā and Surādeva and his wife Dhanyā became votaries.

(Source): HereNow4u: Lord Śrī Mahāvīra
General definition book cover
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Jainism is an Indian religion of Dharma whose doctrine revolves around harmlessness (ahimsa) towards every living being. The two major branches (Digambara and Svetambara) of Jainism stimulate self-control (or, shramana, ‘self-reliance’) and spiritual development through a path of peace for the soul to progess to the ultimate goal.

India history and geogprahy

Vārāṇasī is the name of a village mentioned in the “Panhāle plates of Vikramāditya”. Accordingly, “who lives at the holy (town of) Vārāṇasī and has his body sanctified by seeing, bathing in and drinking (the water of) the Gaṅgā, for the purpose of the observance of the six (religious) duties, for the performance of bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, agnihotra and so forth”.

These copper plates (mentioning Vārāṇasī) were found at Panhāle in the Dāpolī-tālukā of the Ratnāgiri District. It records a grant made by Aparāditya for the spiritual welfare of his son, the prince (Kumāra) Vikramāditya. It was made by Aparāditya on the occasion of a lunar eclipse, on Monday, the 15th tithi of the bright fortnight of Āśvina in the expired Śaka year 1061.

(Source): What is India: Inscriptions of the Śilāhāras
India history book cover
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The history of India traces the identification of countries, villages, towns and other regions of India, as well as royal dynasties, rulers, tribes, local festivities and traditions and regional languages. Ancient India enjoyed religious freedom and encourages the path of Dharma, a concept common to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

Languages of India and abroad

Marathi-English dictionary

vārāṇasī (वाराणसी).—f S (varaṇā & asī Names of two rivulets running by the city, the one on the north, the other on the south.) A name for Benares.

(Source): DDSA: The Molesworth Marathi and English Dictionary

vārāṇasī (वाराणसी).—f A name for Benares.

(Source): DDSA: The Aryabhusan school dictionary, Marathi-English
context information

Marathi is an Indo-European language having over 70 million native speakers people in (predominantly) Maharashtra India. Marathi, like many other Indo-Aryan languages, evolved from early forms of Prakrit, which itself is a subset of Sanskrit, one of the most ancient languages of the world.

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