Kashi - Holiest of Holies

Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famed temples in the ancient city of Varanasi. The main deity of Lord Shiva in the temple attracts pilgrims from around the world. The deity here is considered the 12th jyotirlinga, a sacred artifact that represents Shiva. Located along the western bank of the Ganga, the temple is one of the most powerful of temples in the holy city.

Varanasi is also known as Kashi or Banaras. Kashi is the oldest city of the world in history and known as the city of Lord Shiva. The temple is also popularly known as the ‘Golden Temple’ due to the gold plating works on its domes. Kashi is the place for moksha or salvation for Hindus as a darshan at the temple and a bath in the Ganga River is believed to lead one on the path to liberation. Thus, Hindus from all over the world try to visit the place at least once in their lifetime.

The temple was constructed by Hari Chandra in the 11th century and was rebuilt several times. The original temple was destroyed by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb who built the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. However the new structure was made by Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780. The lingam of the main deity at the shrine is 60 cm tall, 90 cm in circumference and housed in a silver altar.

A well in the temple premises known as ‘Jnana Vapi,’ or ‘wisdom well’ was where the Jyotirlinga was hidden when marauders from other lands raided the city and the temple. There are a number of small temples such as the Kaalbhairav, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka and Virupaksh Gauri housed in the temple premises.

Since its construction, the temple has been upgraded and embellished with grants from benefactors. In 1785, the local collector Mohammad Ibrahim Khan constructed the Naubatkhana in front of the temple. The ruler of Punjab Maharaja Ranjeet Singh in 1839 donated 1 tonne of gold for plating the temple’s domes. In 1983, the temple became the property of the Uttar Pradesh Government and the third dome was gold plated by the State’s Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs.

The temple is inside the crowded Vishwanath gali or small lane near the Daswamedh ghat. The lane is narrow and wet, with shops on either side of the route selling items of common interest including puja samagri like flowers, fruits, sweets, foodstuff, apparel etc.

The best time to visit the temple is early in the morning before 7 a.m. if you want to avoid standing in long queues. The aartis held at this temple are a top favourite attraction for worshippers. On the festival of Shivaratri, Lord Shiva’s birthday, there are more than a 10,00,000-strong crowd of pilgrims attending the celebrations. There are 5 aartis daily, starting from the Mangala aarti (3 AM to 4 AM), Bhog aarti (11:15 AM to 12:20 PM), Sandhya aarti (7 PM to 8:15 PM), Shringar aarti (9 PM to 10:15 PM) and Shayan Aarti (10:30 PM to 11 PM).

The temple opens daily at 2:30 AM. Ticket holders are permitted to attend Mangala aarti. From 4 AM to 11 AM, general darshan is allowed. Devotees can have darshan from 12 noon to 7 PM and from 8:30 PM to 9 PM. After 9 PM, darshan is only from outside. The temple closes at 11 PM. Most of the prasad, milk, clothes and other offerings are donated to the needy.

Only Hindus are allowed in the temple. Foreigners can view the temple from a balcony opposite the temple premises. Mobile phones, cameras, leather wallets and belts, matchboxes, agarbattis, and bags are not allowed inside the temple premises. Lockers are available near the security gate at shops where you can buy the samagri and deposit your footwear, all at a charge.

According to the Shiva Purana, Brahma (God of Creation) and Vishnu (God of Harmony) had an argument in terms of supremacy of creation. To test them, Lord Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga. Vishnu and Brahma went their ways to find the end of the light. On their return, Brahma lied that he had found out the end while Vishnu conceded defeat. Shiva appeared as a second pillar of light and cursed Brahma that he would have no place in ceremonies while Vishnu would be worshiped till the end of eternity.

The jyotirlinga is the supreme reality out of which Lord Shiva partly appears. Jyothirlinga shrines are places where Lord Shiva appeared as a fiery column of light. Each of the 12 jyothirlinga sites take the name of the presiding deity, each considered a different manifestation of the Lord. At all these sites, the primary image is the lingam representing the beginningless and endless Stambha or pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Lord Shiva.

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