Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats, steps leading to the banks of River Ganges. Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas) stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. The former Kashi Naresh owns Shivala or Kali ghat. Morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular visitors attraction.
Varanasi (Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋaːˈraːɳəsi] ( listen)), also Benares, Banaras (Banāras[bəˈnaːrəs] ( listen)) or Kashi (Kāśī[ˈkaːʃi] ( listen)), is a city on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres (200 mi) southeast of the state capital, Lucknow. It is holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism and Jainism. Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India.
Many of its temples were plundered and destroyed by Mohammad Ghauri in the 12th century. The temples and religious institutions in the city now are of 18th century vintage.
The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi, and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the Ganges. The city has been a cultural center of North India for several thousand years, and has a history that is older than most of the major world religions. The Benares Gharana form of Hindustani classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in Varanasi. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi.