The capital of Kāsi-janapada. It was one of the four places of pilgrimage for the Buddhists - the others being Kapilavatthu, Buddhagayā and Kusināra - because it was at, the Migadāya in Isipatana near Bārānasī that the Buddha preached his first sermon to the Pañcavaggiyā D.ii.141. This was the spot at which all Buddhas set in motion the Wheel of the Law (Dhamma-cakka). It is the custom of Buddhas to travel by air from the Bodhi-tree to the scene of their first sermon, a distance of eighteen leagues MA.i.388; Bu.A.242, etc., but the present Buddha did all the journey on foot in order to be able to meet on the way the Ajīvaka Upaka.
Benares was an important centre of trade and industry. There was direct trade between there and Sāvatthi (DhA.iii.429), the road passing through Bhaddiya Vin.i.189, and between there and Takkasilā DhA.i.123. It was the custom for enthusiastic young men of Benares to go to the university at Takkasilā E.g., J.ii.4; DhA.i.250, but there seem to have been educational institutions at Benares also, some of which were older than even those of Takkasilā (KhA.198; see also DhA.iii.445, where Susīma, Sankha’s son, goes from Takkasilā to Benares for purposes of study).
From Verañjā to Benares there seem to have been two routes: one rather circuitous, passing through Soreyya, and the other direct, crossing the Ganges at Payāgatittha. From Benares the road continued to Vesāli Sp.i.201. On the road from Benares to Rājagaha was Andhakavinda Vin.i.220. There seems to have been friendly intercourse between the chieftains of Benares and the kings of Magadha, as shown by the fact that Bimbisāra sent his own physician, Jīvaka, to attend to the son of the Treasurer of Benares Vin.i.275. The distance from Kosambī to Benares was thirty leagues by river MA.ii.929.
The extent of the city of Benares, including its suburbs, at the time when it was the capital of an independent kingdom, is often stated E.g., J.iv.377; J.vi.160; MA.ii.608 to have been twelve leagues. The names of several kings are mentioned in the Jātakas, among them being those of Anga, Uggasena, Udaya, Kikī, Dhanañjaya, Mahāsīlava, Vissasena, and Samyama. (The SNA. on the Khaggavisāna Sutta contains the names of several kings of Benares who renounced the world and became Pacceka Buddhas).
The name which occurs most frequently, however, is that of Brahmadatta, which seems to have been the dynastic name of the Benares kings. In the Mahāgovinda Sutta, the foundation of Bārānasī is attributed to Mahāgovinda, its first king being Dhatarattha, contemporary of Renu D.ii.235. The Ceylon Chronicles MT. 127,129,130 mention the names of others who reigned in Benares - e.g., Duppasaha and sixty of his descendants; Asoka, son of Samankara, and eighty four thousand of his descendants; also sixteen kings, ancestors of Okkāka. The city itself had been known by different names at different periods; thus, in the time of the Udaya Jātaka it was called Surundhana; in that of the Sutasoma, Sudassana; in that of the Sonananda, Brahmavaddhana; in that of the Khandahāla, Pupphavatī; in that of the Yuvañjaya, Rammanagara J.iv.119f; and in that of the Sankha, Molinī J.iv.15. It was also called Kāsinagara and Kāsipura E.g., J.v.54; J.vi.165; DhA.i.87, being the capital of Kāsi. The Bhojājāniya Jātaka J.i.178 says that ‘all the kings around coveted the kingdom of Benares.’ In the Brahāchatta Jātaka J.iii.116, the king of Benares is mentioned as having captured the whole of Kosala. At the time of the Buddha, however, Benares had lost its great political importance. Kosala was already the paramount power in India, and several successful invasions of Kāsi by the Kosalans under their kings Vanka, Dabbasena and Kamsa, are referred to. The final conquest would seem to be ascribed to Kamsa because the epithet Bārānasīggha (conqueror of Benares) is an established addition to his name J.ii.403.
Later, when Ajātasattu succeeded in establishing his sway over Kos.