Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga, and is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, making it the holiest of Shiva temples.
It has been destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in several Islamic invasions of India. It was last demolished by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor who then carried out an un-Islamic act of constructing a mosque on the site where the demolished temple was situated.
Adi Sankaracharya (788-820 AD)reached this temple when he was 11 years old after his completion of his studies with Govinda Bhagavathpadar for 3 years. Acharya conducted regular discourses on advaitha sidhantha, upanishads and Gita from this holy place. Acharya Bhagavathpadar used to daily visit the temple along with the temples of Annapoorneshwari, Acharya has created many of his famous works such as Manisha panchakam, Kashi Panchakam, Annapoorneswari sthothram, etc at Kashi. Acharya had darsanam of Siva and Annapoorneswari at Kashi and was guided by Lord Siva in his subsequent creations and efforts to spread Advaitha Sidhantha across the length and breadth of India.
Hindus believe that their soul will reach Siva or receive Mukthi or get liberated from the ocean of births and deaths by death at Kashi, where Siva is believed to offer Taraka mantra to each of the departed soul. There are lot of devotees staying in Kashi with this sole intention of getting Moksha.
The current existing Kashi Vishwanath temple has been built on an adjacent site by the Maratha ruler, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780, and not on the original site where a functioning mosque today stands. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the first Sikh Maharaja, had donated 1 ton gold for the new temple’s dome.
In 1983, the management of this temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh. It is still under government management.
During the religious occasion of Shivratri, The “Kashi Naresh” (King of Kashi) is designated chief officiating priest. The original Gyanvapi Kashi Visvanath temple is mentioned in the ancient Puranas including in the Kashi Khanda (section) of Skanda [Subramanya/Kartikeya] Purana.
The original Gyanvapi Kashi Vishwanath temple was destroyed by the army despatched by Mohammed Ghori in 1194 AD, when it had defeated the Raja of Kannauj. In 1192 AD, Ghori had been crowned as Emperor in Delhi after defeating Prithviraj Chauhan.
The temple was rebuilt by a Gujarati merchant during the reign of Delhi’s Sultan (1211-1266AD). It was demolished again during the rule of either Hussain Shah Sharqi (1447-1458) or Sikandar Lodhi (1489-1517).
Raja Man Singh of Jaipur thereafter built the temple during Mughal Emperor Akbar’s rule, but some Hindus boycotted it. Raja Todar Mal further renovated the temple with Akbar’s funding at its original site in 1585.
In 1669 AD, the Gyanvapi Temple was again destroyed because of a firman issued by Emperor Aurangzeb and to ensure it was not rebuilt, as it was on earlier occasions, he got constructed the present “Gyanvapi” Mosque in its place thereby, in, according to Syed Shahabuddin, violation of Islamic law as stated in the Hadith, which states it is haram to build on usurped sites [such as of religious sites of other faiths].
The remains of the erstwhile temple were used for mosque construction which can be seen in the foundation of the mosque, the columns, and a chamber at the rear part of the mosque visible as part of the temple.
In 1742, the Maratha ruler Malhar Rao Holkar made a plan to demolish the mosque and reconstruct the temple again at the site. However, his plan did not materialise, partially because of intervention by the Nawab of Awadh, who had been given the control of the territory.
Around 1750, the then Maharaja of Jaipur commissioned a survey of the land around the site, with the objective of purchasing land to rebuild the Kashi Vishwanath temple. However, his plan to rebuild the temple did not materialise.
In 1780, Malhar Rao’s daughter-in-law, Ahilyabai Holkar constructed the present temple adjacent to the mosque as a temporary measure. That is what is seen when Hindus go for darshan to Varanasi.
FAITH OF HINDUS
As per the Shiva Purana, once Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and Vishnu (the Hindu God of Preservation) had an argument about who was supreme. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga, to determine who was mightier. Vishnu took the form of Varaha and sought out the bottom while Brahma took the form of a swan to fly to the pillar’s top.
The jyotirlinga shrines, thus, are places where Shiva appeared as fiery column of light. There are 64 forms of Shiva, not to be confused with Jyotirlingas. Thus Jyotirlinga being a matter of faith, it cannot be questioned just as the belief that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Israel or Prophet Mohammed ascending upward to Heaven on a horseback from a rock where Al Aqsa Mosque is situated. There is no scientific proof of the beliefs, but they are a matter of faith.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located in Vishwanath Gali of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. The Temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, or Jyotirlingams, the holiest of Shiva Temples. The main deity is known by the names Shri Vishwanath and Vishweshwara literally meaning Lord of the Universe. Varanasi city was called Kushi in ancient times, and hence the temple is popularly called Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The etymology of the name Vishveshvara is Vishva: Universe, Ishvara: lord of the universe.
. In 1780, Malhar Rao’s daughter-in-law Ahilyabai Holkar constructed the present temple adjacent to the mosque. In 1828, Baiza Bai, widow of the Maratha ruler Daulat Rao Scindhia of Gwalior State, built a low-roofed colonnade with over 40 pillars in the Gyan Vapi precinct. During 1833–1840 CE, the boundary of Gyanvapi Well, the ghats and other nearby temples were constructed. Many noble families from various ancestral kingdoms of the Indian subcontinent and their prior establishments make generous contributions for the operations of the temple. A 7-foot high stone statue of Nandi bull, gifted by the Rana Bahadur Shah of Nepal sometime between 1800 to 1804, it lies to the east of the colonnade. In 1835, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire, donated 1 tonne of gold for plating the temple’s dome. In 1841, Raghuji Bhonsle III of Nagpur donated silver to the temple.
The temple was managed by a hereditary group of pandas or mahants. After the death of Mahant Devi Dutt, a dispute arose among his successors. In 1900, his brother-in-law Pandit Visheshwar Dayal Tewari filed a lawsuit, which resulted in him being declared the head priest.
As per the Shiva Purana, once Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and Vishnu (the Hindu God of Preservation) had an argument about who was supreme. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga. to determine who was mightier Vishnu took the form of Varaha and sought out the bottom while Brahma took the form of a swan to fly to the pillar’s top. Brahma out of arrogance lied that he had found out the end, offering a katuki flower as witness. Vishnu modestly confessed to being unable to find the bottom. Shiva then took the form of the wrathful Bhairava, cut off Brahma’s lying fifth head, and cursed Brahma that he would not be worshipped. Vishnu for his honesty would be worshiped as equal to Shiva with his own temples for all eternity. The jyotirlinga is an ancient axis mundi symbol representing the supreme formless (nirguna) reality at the core of creation, out of which the form (saguna) of Shiva appears. The jyothirlinga shrines, thus are places where Shiva appeared as a fiery column of light. There are 64 forms of Shiva, not to be confused with Jyotirlingas. Each of the twelve jyotirlinga sites take the name of the presiding deity – each considered different manifestation of Shiva. At all these sites, the primary image is lingam representing the beginningless and endless Stambha pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva. The twelve jyothirlinga are Somnath in Gujarat, Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh, Mahakaleswar at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh, Kedarnath in Himalayas, Bhimashankar in Maharashtra, Viswanath at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Triambakeshwar in Maharashtra, Vaidyanath Jyotirlinga, Deogarh in Deoghar, Jharkhand, Nageswar at Dwarka in Gujarat, Rameshwar at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Grishneshwar at Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
The Manikarnika Ghat on the banks of Ganges near to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is considered as a Shakti Peetha, a revered place of worship for the Shaktism sect. The Daksha Yaga, a Shaivite literature is considered as an important literature which is the story about the origin of Shakti Peethas.
The original holy well—Gyanvapi is in between the temple and Gyanvapi Mosque
The temple complex consists of a series of smaller shrines, located in a small lane called the Vishwanatha Galli, near the river. The linga of the main deity at the shrine is 60 centimetres (24 in) tall and 90 centimetres (35 in) in circumference housed in a silver altar.The main temple is quadrangle and is surrounded by shrines of other gods. There are small temples for Kaalbhairav, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri in the complex. There is a small well in the temple called the Jnana Vapi also spelled as Gyaan vapi (the wisdom well). The Jnana Vapi well sites to the north of the main temple and during the invasion by the Mughals the Jyotirlinga was hidden in the well to protect it at the time of invasion. It is said that the main priest of the temple jumped in the well with the Shiv Ling in order to protect the Jyotirlinga from invaders.
According to the structure of the temple, there is a Sabha Griha or Congregation Hall leading to the inner Garbha Griha or Sanctum Sanctorum. The venerable Jyotirlinga is a dark brown colored stone which is enshrined in the Sanctum, placed on a silver platform. Structure of the Mandir is composed of three parts. The first compromises a spire on the Mandir of Lord Vishwanath or Mahadeva. The second is gold dome and the third is the gold spire atop Lord Vishwanath carrying a flag and a trident.
The Kashi Vishwanath temple receives around 3,000 visitors every day. On certain occasions, the numbers reach 1,000,000 and more. Noteworthy about the temple is 15.5-metre-high gold spire and gold dome. There are three domes each made up of pure gold, supplied by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1835.
Many leading saints, including Adi Sankaracharya, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Bamakhyapa, Goswami Tulsidas, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sathya Sai Baba, Yogiji Maharaj, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Mahant Swami Maharaj and Gurunanak have visited the site. A visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganges is one of many methods believed to lead one on a path to Moksha (liberation). Thus, Hindus from all over the world try to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. There is also a tradition that one should give up at least one desire after a pilgrimage the temple, and the pilgrimage would also include a visit to the temple at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu in Southern India, where people take water samples of the Ganges to perform prayer at the temple and bring back sand from near that temple. Because of the immense popularity and holiness of Kashi Vishwanath temple, hundreds of temples across India have been built in the same architectural style. Many legends record that the true devotee achieves freedom from death and saṃsāra by the worship of Shiva. There is a popular belief that Shiva himself blows the Taraka mantra of salvation into the ears of people who die naturally at Kashi.
A view of the Ghats in Varanasi from the Ganges.