Benares (also known as Banaras, Kashi, Kasi and Varanasi) is a Hindu holy city on the banks of the river Ganga or Ganges in the modern north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It has been a seat of knowledge from about 700 BC onwards. Its universities attracted students from all over the then-known world.
Benares is the site of the holy shrine of Lord Kasi Viswanatha (a form of Lord Shiva); this, along with its positional advantage of being on the banks of the Ganga, has given it a place at the forefront of the Hindu religion. It is believed that bathing in the Ganga or dying in the holy city circumvents re-incarnation and hence provides a permanent place in the Swarg (Heaven), a belief that has encouraged the establishment of innumerable nearby geriatric homes and also the disposal of half burnt corpses into the river. This latter practice continues to cause an irrevocable damage to the river's ecology. One other major contaminator of the river is Kanpur's leather industry. The ministry of water resources has finally taken up the restoration of the Ganga in a big way by banning cremation on the city's ghats (ghats are the banks of a holy river, often, as at Benares, stepped to facilitate bathing) and closing down a few of the tanneries of Kanpur, which do not conform to the national standards.
Benares is also the home of the Banaras Hindu University, one of the most prestigious in the country. Pandit Madan Mohan Malvya, a renowned educationist, was the founder.