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The Ghats The Temples Other Universities Excursions

The Temples

The temples of Varanasi are generally small, not more than a few hundred years old and do not have any great pretensions to beauty or architectural splendour. But some magic in them draws millions to their portals every year.

There are a variety of deities to solve every conceivable problem, and Varanasi's narrow galis (alleyways) are crowded with temples to these helpful gods and goddesses. Worshippers crowd these temples to seek the deity's favour and depart confident that their troubles will soon end.

In all, there are more than 200 temples in Varanasi. Some of the most important ones are:

The Temple of Vishwanath

Of all Varanasi's shrines, the most celebrated is the temple of Lord Vishwanath. The gleaming gold spires give it the name, Golden Temple.

The original temple, no trace of which exists any longer, is said to have been constructed more than 2000 years ago. It was razed to the ground by Qutb­ud-din Aibek who ransacked Varanasi in 1194. He built the Razia Mosque on the site of the Vishwanath temple. The temple was rebuilt in 1585 by Todar Mal, the Revenue Minister of Akbar's Court. The temple was destroyed again, this time by Aurangzeb, in 1669, and in its place he built a mosque, using materials salvaged from the second Vishwanath temple and named it after himself, as the Great Mosque of Aurangzeb. Remnants of Todar Mal's temple can be Seen near the sacred Gyan-Vapi (well of Knowledge) which is adjacent to the present temple of Vishwanath.

The Gyan-vapi is believed to contain in its depths the original Siva ling am (phallic symbol of Siva) of this temple. Legend maintains that Siva manifested himself in the form of a lingam at twelve holy cities in India, Varanasi being one of them. The lingams at those 12 places are jyotirlingas. The jyotirlingam of the original Vishwanath temple, it is believed, was hidden in this well by his devotees to protect it from the early Muslim invaders. The pavilion which shelters the sacred well was built by Rani Baija Bai of Gwalior in 1828.

When the Vishwanath temple rose again for a third time, it was due to the patronage of Rani.Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore, a brave woman well-known for her astute statesmanship. The present temple of Vishwanath, or, more correctly, Vishweshwar, is the one built by Ahilya Bai and dates only from 1776.

The temple occupies an area of 4.65 sq. m and is 15.5 m tall. When Ahilya Bai built the temple, the graceful spires and the dome over the main hall, shaped in the bulbous, inverted-lotus style of Muslim architecture, were plated with copper. In 1835, Ranjit Singh, the great Sikh Maharaja of Lahore, had the copper roof of the temple over-laid with gold. 820 kg of gold is estimated to have gone into the gilding of the temple-spires.

Non-Hindus are not allowed into the sanctum, but they may view the worship from the nearby Naubatkhana, which is the seat of the temple choir.

The main gate of the temple opens at 4 a. m. to the music of shehnai and tabla and closes at 11 at night after the ratri-shringar - the ritual decoration of the deity at night - is performed. The Lord is then left to slumber in solitude.

Less than quarter km from the temple of Vishwanath is a temple of Sakshi Vinayak built in 1770. Devotees generally visit this temple of Lord Ganesha before going to the bigger temple as Sakshi Vinayak is believed to maintain a record of the pilgrims who visit Lord Vishwanath.

 

Durga Temple

This temple to the angered form of Goddess Parvati, consort of Siva, is a favourite haunt of the monkeys of Varanasi.

The temple was built in the 18th century by Rani Bhawani of Natore. Natore, once part of undivided Bengal, is in East Pakistan. The temple is in typical Nagara, or North Indian style of architecture. The multi-tiered shikhara (spire) of the temple is formed by many small shikharas built one on top of another, tapering from a base of five to a single crowning shikhara, symbolising the belief that the five elements (air, water, earth, sky, and fire) have ultimately to merge in the Supreme God.

There is a tank nearby known as Durga-Kund.

The temple is not open to non-Hindus who may, however, view the worship from the roof top of a neighbouring house.

Tulsi Manas Temple

Dating only from 1964, this temple of white marble commemorates the place where Goswami Tulsidas, a great poet-saint of medieval times, composed and sang, in Avadhi (a dialect of Hindi), Sri Ramacharitamanas, the story of Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu.

 

The story goes that Tulsidas was ostracised for composing the story of the Lord in Avadhi when Sanskrit alone was considered the sacred language. The sacrilegious manuscript was thrown into the Ganga, but much to the consternation of the orthodox, who had vehemently condemned Tulsidas' Ramacharitamanas and declared it unfit to be read or regarded holy, the manuscript floated instead of sinking. And all had to agree that divine approval had been given.

 

This simple, white temple of Rama, set amidst lush greenery, exudes an aura of peace and creates an area of calm that sets it apart in the hustle and bustle that characterises the vigorous religious and secular activity which goes on in the crowded ghats and alleyways of Varanasi.

The walls of the temple are inscribed with verses and scenes from the Ramacharitamanas.

Sankat Mochan

This temple of Hanuman was built by Goswami Tulsidas. Set in a secluded area, it provides the right atmosphere for the religious sermons, recitations, and other functions which are held in the spacious courtyard of the temple. The fair which is held here every March/April is an important event in the Varanasi calendar and draws large crowds.

Annapurna Temple

Annapurna is the Goddess of Happiness and Prosperity. Legend relates that Annapurna was sent to earth by Vishweswar to see to it that the inhabitants of Varanasi never went hungry. Anna means 'food' in Sanskrit, and puma means 'filled completely'.

This temple to the goddess was built by the Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao I in 1725. The shrines in this temple are dedicated to Ganesh, Gaurishankar (Siva), Hanuman and Surya (Sun-God).

The Nepalese Temple

Built in true Nepalese style, with the characteristic sloping double roof, this Hindu temple is dedicated to Siva. It was built in 1800 by Rajendra Veer Vikram Shah, a king of Nepal. This accounts for the temple's unusual architectural style. Its style is not the only Nepalese aspect of the temple, the tiles, the wood carvings that are lessons in erotica and all other material used in its construction were brought from Nepal. Vikram Shah even sent artisans from Nepal to Varanasi to build the temple. The end result is bewitching.

Lolark Kund Temple

This is the most important of the 12 temples of Aditya (Sun-God) in Varanasi. Aditya is believed to ~revent, and cure, leprosy. Sterile women believe that a daily dip in the waters of the large tank attached to the temple will also cure their malady.

Varahi Devi Temple

The sanctum of Varahi Devi, which is underground, is accessible only to the temple-priest who attends to the deity, bathing, dressing and adorning Her and performing the daily pooja (ritual). Devotees may view the goddess through an opening in the floor above the sanctum. The temple is open to devotees for only two hours every morning.

Kashi Karawat Temple of Siva

The lingam of this temple is located in a dry well. For some unknown reason, a karawat (axe) is placed beside the lingam. There are several stories of devotees who chopped their heads off with the karawat in moments of fanatic devotional zeal, believing such sacrifices would take them directly to heaven. People are no longer allowed to descend the well. They may drop a small piece of lighted camphor into the well and, thus, worship the Lord.

Bharat Mata Temple

A unique temple dedicated to Mother India. The presiding 'deity' of this temple is a relief map of India, engraved on a marble slab. By avoiding the use of customary idols and images that go into the making of a Hindu shrine, this temple stresses the oneness of religion and seeks to foster unity among the different communities of India.

The temple was conceived and built by the nationalist Shiv Prasad Gupta and Durga Prasad Khatri, a leading numismatist and antiquarian. It was opened by Mahatma Gandhi is 1936, during the difficult days of India's struggle for Independence.

New Vishwanath Temple

Built in 1966 to replicate the temple of Vishwanath destroyed by Aurangzeb, this temple was planned by Madan Mohan Malaviya, a great nationalist and founder of the Banaras Hindu University. The Birlas, wealthy industrialists, undertook the task of building the temple, which is one of the tallest in India, its shikara (spire) rivalling the Qutb Minar (the famous tower in Delhi which is 73 m in height).

This temple of Siva welcomes all, whatever their caste, creed or religion, for it seeks to fulfill Pandit Malviya's desire to introduce a sort of neo-Hinduism that would be free from the prejudices of caste, creed and colour.

The sanctum has a lingam, and verses from Hindu scriptures are inscribed on the temple walls.

Other Temples

Among the other temples of Banaras are the 10th century Kardameshwar temple of Siva, in Kandura village near the Banaras Hindu University, the only surviving temple dating from the pre-Muslim period; the Adi Vishweshwar temple built by Maharaja Jai Singh I of Rajasthan; the Tibhandeshwar Mahadev Temple with a lingam 1.37 m high and 4.57 m in circumference, which is reputed to grow to the measure of one tiI (oilseed) yearly. Apart from these, there are several temples of the following deities: Mrityunjaya Mahadev, Trilochan Mahadev, Bara Ganesh, Bindu Mahadev, Narayan, Gopal, Chausatti Oevi and Sankatha Oevi, along with nine temples dedicated to Ourga and Gauri, eight to Bhairav, fifty six to Ganesh, and twelve to the Sun-god and several Jain temples. Among the Jain temples i3 the Shri Parasvnatha temple which is identified as the birth place of the 23rd Jain Thirthankara.

The Mosques...

Both the Alamgir and Gyanvapi mosques, the most important of Varanasi's mosques, are built over, with the ruins of Hindu temples that were destroyed by Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals.

Alamgir Mosque

Originally a Vishnu temple built by Beni Madhav Rao Scindia, a Maratha chieftain of the 17th century, this was destroyed by Aurangzeb just a few decades after it was built. The mosque is popularly known as Beni Madhav ka Oarera after the builder of the original temple. The lower portions of the mO"'4ue and the enclosure walls retain their Hindu design. The rest of the mosque is in Mughal style.

The Gyanvapi Mosque

Built over the ruins of Raja Todar Mal's temple of Vishwanath, it is known as the Great Mosque of Aurangzeb. Material salvaged from the original temple has been used at random in this mosque, making it a curious blend of Hindu and Muslim architectural styles. The fountain and rear of the mosque reveal some specimens of Hindu art; the beautiful columns in front of the temple were also part of Vishwanath temple. The striking feature of the mosque, however, is its towering minaret, 71 m tall.

Kedareswar Temple

It is situated on the Kedarghat and is second only to that of Vishwanath in importance. It is managed in the orthodox South Indian manner, and on the full moon day of the Krithika a great festival is held here, when the devotees take out a procession of a well-decorated image of Lord Kartikeya, the destroyer of demon Tarakasura.