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The city has derived its name and fame from renowned saint Goraksha Nath. He is  popularly known as Gorakhnath, a guru in the Nath Yogi Sampradaya,  who came here in 9th century AD. This was the time when the region was ruled by Deopal, king of West Bengal (810-850AD) and  the yogi started practicing austerities on the spot where the famous temple named after him stands. It is believed that during that time  the river Rapti was flowing through the  center of the city following the path to Ramgarh lake. During epic period, the region covered the present district of Gorakhpur, known as karapatha which formed part of the kingdom of Kosala, an important center of Aryan culture and civilization.


In the initial stage the city was originated in the North-central part of the present city near the  present Gorakhnath temple. The present purana Gorakhpur, Madhopur and Jatepur are the oldest settled Mohallas of the city which ruminants are still found in the respective areas. According to tradition the tharu king,  Man Sen or Madan Singh (900-950 AD) ruled over Gorakhpur city and the adjoining areas. They established themselves in the east of the Gorakhpur city and constructed a fort which was called Domingarh . By the time of Akbar, Gorakhpur had become a large town .The Gorakhpur got its extension in southern part around Urdu Bazar, Mian Bazar and became the head quarter of Gorakhpur Sirkar in the Subah of Awadh till British arrival. In about 1650 AD, Basant Singh built a fort on the bank of Rapti in Basantpur Mohalla and established his stronghold. After that, Aurangzeb and his son Muazzam visited the city and established a new Mohallah Mazumnabad. In 1801, Sadat Ali Khan, the Nawab of Awadh handed over the city to British who made it the district headquarter and the original civil station was established in Captainganj  Mohalla which is at present known as civil lines area. Gorakhpur became military station in 1810 and a cantonment was established in the east of city. Some of the East India Company’s troops were brought here from Faizabad and shortly some officers started shifting from Captanganj to settle in cantonment area.


On September 7, 1869 the city was raised to the status of a Municipality and in 1891 it became the headquarter of division of its name.  After introduction of railway in 1884, a wide space of north and N.E part of the then city near railway station, railway colonies like  Baulia, Dairy and Bichhia colonies were developed and on the some space railway offices and railway loco workshops were constructed because city became the Head Quarter of North Eastern Railway. In 1982, the city acquired the status of  Municipal Corporation


At present, city is developing and expanding very fast in two directions - the east and North & North- East because in south and west direction there is  limited scope of development due to River Rapti in west and depression and water logging area in south.