Situated on the western bank of the sacrosanct Ganga River in Varanasi is the grand temple of Kashi Vishwanath. As the name suggests, this ancient temple is dedicated to Vishwanatha or Vishweshwara meaning ‘Ruler of the Universe’ and is the first and only Jyotirlinga located on the banks of the Ganges.
Varanasi also known as Banaras or Benares or Kashi derives its name from Lord Shiva. This majestic abode is renowned for its spiritual potency and bloody history. Legend has it that the Supreme Being manifested as a ‘Pillar of Light’ that was beginningless and endless. Lord Vishnu took the form of Lord Varaha and went down to search for the root of this fiery radiance while Lord Brahma sat on his hamsa and went upwards but failed to find the end of this astounding brilliance.
Lord Vishnu became disappointed and accepted that there was One who was above him and sought forgiveness. Lord Brahma tried to deceive the Supreme Being by using the ketaki flower as a witness, only to draw the ire of the Supreme Being. Kala Bhairava manifested from this divine light and beheaded the five-headed Brahma and incurred the deadly Brahmahatya dosha for chopping off a head of the saintly Brahma and began his journey for absolution that took him to Kashi where finally, the head that had been stuck to his hand fell off. The details of this holy shrine have been described in the Kashi Khanda of Skanda Purana.
This temple was frequently looted, desecrated and destroyed by Muslim invaders from the 11th century. Several attempts were made to restore this temple to its former glory, only to fall victim to the next Muslim invader. However, none was more cruel and intolerant as Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb passed the controversial order on 9 April 1669 that gave his men the right to demolish all schools and temples of Hindus and to use any means necessary to put down their religious teachings and practices. The invaders organized a massive attack on Hindus whom they called as ‘infidels’ in all their dominions. Aurangzeb who was known for his religious intolerance and penchant for persecuting Hindus demanded periodical reports of the actual results. This order excluded Hindus from holding public offices and organizing fairs, festivals and religious ceremonies and imposed a fine on them for their religious affinity.
The horrific desecration of the sacred shrine of Shree Kashi Vishwanath on 4 September 1669 and the construction of a mosque on its site greatly angered Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and signalled that the peace between the Mughals and the Marathas was at an end. Maharaj did not fail to remonstrate strongly and publicly against the mistaken policy of the invader. The sacrosanct Keshav Rai Temple at Mathura suffered a similar fate.
Aurangzeb hated the very name of Lord Krishna and the prevailing worship of the Lord at Mathura so much so that he changed its name to Islamabad. Ahmedabad and Ujjain were also dealt with in the same manner. An order to enforce Islam across all regions of the Mughals was issued. The festivals of Diwali and Holi were ruthlessly suppressed.
Aurangzeb’s condemnable religious policy did not soften with age or experience. His outburst of fanaticism designed to dazzle Mahomedan orthodoxy was looked upon as an abomination by devout Hindus who were affronted by the mindless destruction of the ancient temple at Benares.
The Marathas did a commendable job to restore temples, improve the bathing ghats and build halls in Kashi. The Peshwas, Malhar Rao Holkar, Punyashlok Ahilyabai Holkar, Baiza Bai and Maharaja Ranjit Singh among others are credited with the reconstruction of the ghats and temples.
There is an old well near the temple known as Jnana Vapi. The temple complex has the main temple and small shrines dedicated to Lakshmi Narayana, Lord Ganesha, Lord Neelkanteshwara, Lord Avimukteshwara Mahadev, Ekadashi Mahadev, Gauri Mata, an idol of Punyashlok Ahilyabai Holkar, Lord Kapileshwara, Maa Annapurna, Lord Bhairava and others.
The three domes namely Dandapani, Vaikunta and Kailasha are gold plated. The sanctum sanctorum is designed on the basis of the Sri Yantra and therefore, this place is also deemed to be a Shakti Peeta. There are four gates to the main shrine.
One must visit the temple to truly understand and experience the divine energy. It is impossible to translate the glory of this revered place into a brief article, for its history is rich, interesting and inspiring.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)