Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.
If we look at the archaeological evidence, remains from the year 1200 BCE have been found here.
Historians have now ascertained that the Aryans first settled in the Ganges valley and by the second millennium BC, Varanasi became the nucleus of Aryan religion and philosophy. The city also flourished as a commercial and industrial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, ivory works, perfumery, and sculptures.
While there are also indications that this city could be living since 3000 BCE, or even older. Banaras has seen the Vedic religion flourishing from its own eyes. References to Kashi is frequently found in ancient Hindu scriptures such as Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas.
In the 6th century BC, Varanasi became the capital of the kingdom of Kashi. During this time Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon at Sarnath, just 10 km away from Varanasi. Being a center of religious, educational, cultural and artistic activities, Kashi drew many learned men from around the world; the celebrated Chinese traveler Hsüan Tsang is one of them, who visited India around AD 635. The city was referred to in Buddhist texts in abundance. The ship of Buddhism first sailed in 528 BCE.
Kashi was among the sixteen Mahajanpadas (refers to the sixteen kingdoms and oligarchic republics) of sixth to fourth centuries BC, and Varanasi was its Capital.
According to the famous Chinese traveler Hiouen Thsang (Xuanzang), who traveled to Banaras in 635 CE, described Banaras as a rich and prosperous place.
Muslim kings and emperors loved Banaras. Loved for attacking, looting, and demolishing, unfortunately; especially the Hindu buildings. Qutb-ud-din Aibak in the year 1194, Feroz Shah Tuglaq in 1376, and Sikander Lodi in 1496 destroyed every old temple in Banaras, including the Kashi Vishvanath temple. For centuries Banaras lived in the era of declination and suppression and lost thousands of its temples.
In the year 1556, Akbar of the Mughal Dynasty became the emperor. Despite belonging to a Muslim dynasty, Emperor Akbar was secular. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was particularly fierce against Hinduism; and during his reign, Banaras again experienced major blows. From 1194, Varanasi went into a destructive phase for three centuries under the Muslim rule. The temples were destroyed and the scholars had to leave. In the 16th century, with the tolerant emperor Akbar's accession to the Mughal throne, some religious respite was restored to the city. All that disappeared again in the late 17th century when the tyrannical Mughal ruler Aurangzeb came to power.
Keeping a hold on the regions began to become more difficult since many Hindu landlords began standing against the Muslim rule. To address this problem, the establishment of a Hindu king who would pay allegiance to the emperor was decided. It resulted in the dynasty of rulers of ‘the Benares State’ that lasted till the independence from the British rule.
The 18th century again brought back the lost glory to Varanasi. It became an independent kingdom, with Ramnagar as its capital, when the British declared it a new Indian state in 1910. After India's independence in 1947, Varanasi became part of the state of Uttar Pradesh.