Kashi is considered as the most important of the seven moksha-giving cities. It is also called Devnagri. Hence, it is considered auspicious to die in Kashi. This ancient city is mentioned in many Purans, especially Skand Puran.
Once, Shivji, in a fit of anger, beheaded Brahma’s head. Instead of falling down, the head stuck to Shivji’s hand. Since then he became known as Kapali. Shivji then visited many tirths to be purified from the sin of killing a Brahmin. When he reached Kashi, the head fell off. This spot is known as Kapalmochan. Mochan means freedom, mukti. Shivji then requested Vishnu for permission to live here permanently. This brought tears in Vishnu’s eyes. The place where these tear drops fell, is known as Bindu Sarovar. Bindu means drop. When he shook his head, an earring fell off. Therefore this place is known as Manikarnika ghat.
Shivji himself consecrated a Jyotirling here and named it Avimukteshar. Today this exact spot is known as Kashivishwanath Mahadev. Since the city lies between two rivers – Varna and Asi, it is also known as Varanasi. And the name Banaras is derived from King Banar, who built it.
Unfortunately after the arrival of Muslim rulers, Kashi was destroyed many times. During the first attack, the Jyotirling leapt by itself into a deep well. The well was then known as Gnauvapi. In 1669 Aurangzeb, the last Mogul ruler destroyed the mandir and built a mosque just next to the mandir.
After he left, devotees re-consecrated Shivji, thus saving the mandir. Maharani Ahalyabai of Indore rebuilt the mandir. The lion of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had the shikhar (pinnacle) plated with gold; in the early 19th century.
About 51 ghats have been built on the banks of the Ganga for pilgrims to perform cremation rites and bathing. Some of these include: Manasmandir, Vedhshala, Suvarnamandir, Bharatkala bhuvan, Durgakund, Dashashwamedh ghat and Gaughat.
Many famous poets and sadhus of the bhakti tradition lived here, such as Kabir, Raidas and Tulsidas. At the age of eleven, Bhagwan Swaminarayan, as Ghanshyam, defeated pundits in Gaumath and established the truth of the Vishishtadvait philosophy. This amazed the pundits and the king of Kashi.