Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in 1666 had taken refuge in the ancient city of Benares after his miraculous escape from captivity. He was most distressed on seeing the fear in the eyes of Hindus who had suffered immensely in the hands of the Mughals. Even though Raje desired to rebuild Kashi after the horrific desecration in 1669, it did not happen in his time.
By the end of the 17th century, a sizeable number of Maharashtrian Brahmins began to settle here. They revived the revered Gurukul system of education. It was after 1680 that the Marathas emerged as the biggest patrons of the holy cities of Prayag, Benares and Gaya displacing the Rajputs who had largely come under the firm grip of the Mughals.
The Marathas’ nationalist approach of Hindavi Swarajya infused the much-needed passion, religious fervour and courage in Hindus and this was seen especially in Banaras in the 18th century.
The Marathas took it upon themselves to restore the historical city to its former glory. Bathing ghats, dharmashalas, schools, maths, wells and others were built by the Peshwas, Maratha Generals and devotees.
Shrimant Peshwa Baji Rao I oversaw the construction of Manikarnika and Dashashwamedha Ghats and the residential quarters for the priests and sevaks. The temples of Vishwanatha, Trilochan Mahadev, Maa Annapurna, Sakshi Vinayaka and Kala Bhairava were built under the Marathas.
Punyashlok Ahilyabai Holkar built the present Vishwanatha Temple in 1775 – 76. With temples, ghats and maths slowly being built, the age-old Hindu educational system received an impetus drawing the attention of the British. The grandeur of the Kashi Vishwanathji Temple and the formidable reputation of Punyashlok Ahilyabai Holkar as a generous and devout Hindu spread far and wide.
Several local rulers wished to contribute to its splendour. An ornate gateway and a 24-bayed pavilion with fluted columns and lobed arched brackets protecting the sacred Jnanavapi was constructed by Maharani Baiza Bai of Gwalior in 1828. Embossed gold sheets covering the spires and dome were added by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839.
The Holkars and Scindias are credited with the construction of huge stone bathing ghats, temples, schools and colleges for Vedic education and residences for Brahmins. Benares saw a massive influx of Marathas by the end of the 18th century to mid-19th century.
Modern Banaras is essentially a creation of the Marathas who expressed their infinite gratitude to the divine city and its residents for sheltering Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the true and rightful emperor of Akhanda Bharat and saviour of Hindus.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about History of Banaras is taken from archives