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Varanasi (Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋaːˈraːɳəsi] (listen)), also known as Benares, or Banaras (IAST: Banāras [bəˈnaːrəs] (listen)), is a city on the banks of the river Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, India, 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of the state capital, Lucknow, and 121 kilometres (75 mi) east of Allahabad. A major religious hub in India, it is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism and Ravidassia. Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, and is served by Varanasi Junction railway station and Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport.
Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BCE when he gave his first sermon, "The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma", at nearby Sarnath. The city's religious importance continued to grow in the 8th century, when Adi Shankara established the worship of Shiva as an official sect of Varanasi.