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Guru Nanak visited Varanasi for Maha Shivaratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism.
In the 16th century, Varanasi experienced a cultural revival under the Mughal emperor Akbar who patronised the city, and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, though much of modern Varanasi was built during the 18th century, by the Maratha and Brahmin kings.
At the time of the 2011 census, there were a total of 8 blocks and 1329 villages in this district.
Main languages of Varanasi are Banarasi, Bhojpuri and Awadhi.
2014 excavations found artefacts dating to 800 BCE and finds at Aktha and Ramnagar, two sites very near to Varanasi, show them to be from 1800 BCE, supporting the view that the Varanasi area was inhabited by this time.
The celebrated Chinese traveller Xuanzang, also known as Hiuen Tsiang, who visited the city around 635 CE, attested that the city was a centre of religious and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) along the western bank of the Ganges.
In the Rigveda, an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, the city is referred to as Kāśī (Kashi) from the Sanskrit verbal root kaś- "to shine", making Varanasi known as "City of Light", There happened a fight between the two supreme gods, Brahma and Shiva, and the succeeding combat resulted in one of the five heads of Brahma being torn off by Shiva.
It was a custom of the time that the victor carried the slain adversary’s head in his hand and let it hang down from his hand as an act of ignominy and a sign of his own bravery. Shiva thus dishonored Brahma's head, and kept it with him at all times.
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.
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.
Tulsidas wrote his epic poem on Rama's life called Ram Charit Manas in Varanasi.
Several other major figures of the Bhakti movement were born in Varanasi, including Kabir and Ravidas.