Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Temple in Uttar Pradesh, India

Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Temple in Uttar Pradesh, India

This is the Golden spire of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Photo © Rick Horn

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Kashi Vishwanath Temple

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Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Photo by unknown
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is one of the most prominent Hindu temples of India which is located in the holy city of Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The primary deity of this temple is known as Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha which means “Ruler of the Universe”. Since the ancient city of Varanasi, with its 3,500 years of history, is also known by the name of Kashi, the temple is also referred to as the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
We find mentions of this temple in the Hindu scriptures since it is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas (Wikipedia Article) and the most revered temples of Lord Shiva in the entire country. This Jyotirlinga has a special religious significance for the Hindus and according to tradition, just one glimpse of the Jyotirlinga at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is equivalent to the darshan (Wikipedia Article) or sighting of all the other Jyotirlinhgas strewn all over the country. Standing on the Western Ghats (bank) of the Ganges River, the temple attracts thousands of devotees who come here every day. The original temple structure was destroyed by Aurangzeb who erected the Gyanvapi Mosque within the temple compound. The present temple was constructed by the Maratha King of Indore, Ahilya Bai Holkar, around the year 1780.

Myths and Legends

According to the Shiva Purana, once Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma, the supreme creator, had a debate regarding the nature of creation. Subsequently Shiva created the Jyotirlinga by creating an eternal pillar of radiance. Vishnu and Brahma traversed this pillar in order to find a way out but without any success. While Vishnu accepted his defeat, Brahma lied about finding a way out of the tunnel of light. It was then that Shiva transformed himself into another pillar of light and told Brahma that since he didn't speak the truth he would have no further place in any ceremony while Vishnu would be revered and worshiped by all till the end of time. Thus the Jyotirlinga shrines are the exact spots which Lord Shiva graced with his presence in the form of a fiery shaft of light. Out of the 64 Jyotirlingas of India, 12 are considered to be extremely holy where the primary deity worshiped is the lingam (Wikipedia Article) which represents the eternity of time and the infinite nature of Lord Shiva.

History

This temple has been mentioned in the Skanda Purana. The original temple was razed to the ground by Qutb-ud-din-Aibak, the army commander of Mohammad Ghori, around 1194 when the Hindu King of Kannauj was vanquished by his army. During the reign of Iltutmish, in the 13th century this temple was rebuilt by a Gujarati trader. The temple was destroyed once again during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi, the Delhi Sultan, in the late 15th and early 16th century. Nevertheless, during the reign of Akbar, this temple was once again reconstructed under the aegis of Raja Man Singh. However, orthodox Hindus of the time boycotted this temple since Raja Man Singh married off many members of his family to the Muslim Emperor, Akbar. The temple was further renovated by Raja Todar Mal with the help of Mughal funding in 1585.
In 1669 Aurangzeb demolished the temple to raise the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. One can note the remains of the temple in the columns at the rear end of the mosque. The temple as we see today was constructed by Ahilyabai Holkar, the daughter of Malhar Rao Holkar, the Maratha ruler. Many noble houses made considerable donations for the building and maintenance of this temple.

Cultural Importance

All important Hindu saints and mystics including Adi Shankaracharya, Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Gurunanak, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, are said to have visited this temple. It is said that Moksha or liberation can be attained by a visit to this temple and by taking a dip in the holy Ganges. This is why devotees from all over the country try to make at least one visit to this holy shrine in their lifetime. Being one of the oldest places of worship many, other temples of India are modeled on the structure of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Traditionally, a devotee should give up one desire after a visit to this temple which would bring him one step closer to the path or Moksha. Even in the last century, thousands of aged and ailing people used to flock to this temple to end their lives since Shiva himself is said to whisper the chants of salvation to the ear of his disciples and devotees who die there and are supposedly taken to the Mount Kailash which is the abode of the Lord by his messengers.

Architecture

This temple compound constitutes a number of small shrines which are situated in the narrow, but busy lane known as Vishwanatha Galli. The main deity of this temple is the Linga (Holy Phallus) which is black in color and measures about 60 cm in length and 90 cm in circumference. The Linga is placed on a silver platform. The main temple is like a quadrangle which is encompassed by smaller shrines of Gods other than Shiva which are dedicated to Vishnu, Kaalbhairav, Avimukteshwara, Virupaksha, Dhandapani, Sanishwara and Virupaksha. The small well in the north of the temple complex is known as Gyan Vapi or the “Well of Wisdom”. The Jyortilinga was said to have been hidden in this well during times of several Muslim invasions. According to legend, the main priest of this temple plunged into the well with the Jyotirlinga to prevent it from the onslaught of the invaders. The temple top has 3 distinct parts – the spire, a golden dome and another golden spire which bears a trident and a flag. The golden spire and dome of this temple is made out of pure gold which was contributed by Raja Ranjit Singh.

Other Information

Security arrangements around this temple are very tight and visitors are not allowed to carry cell phones, cameras, inflammable objects, cigarettes, lighters, metal objects etc. while visiting this temple. The temple attracts several thousands of worshipers from all over the country on the auspicious day of the Maha Shivaratri (Wikipedia Article) which is celebrated in the month of February or March when the entire population of Varanasi comes out on the streets to celebrate the event.

How to Reach There

Located in the heart of the city of Varanasi, one can enter this temple from the Vishwanath Gali. Varanasi is connected to all important Indian cities by road, rail and flights.

Similar Landmarks

Visitors to Varanasi should surely make a trip to the ruins of the Buddhist city of Sarnath where Buddha first preached the Dharma, and which is the birth place of the Buddhist Sangha. It is only 8 miles from the city of Varanasi and is a prominent pilgrimage spot for Buddhists from all over the world.

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Author: SubhasishMitra. Last updated: Dec 13, 2014

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