Kashi Vishwanath Temple : The Heart of Varanasi

Kashi Vishwanath Temple, A majestic abode of Lord Shiva in the narrow lanes with a history of centuries of destruction and construction reminds the cycle of time, which Shiva represents, and more than that the firm belief of devotees in Lord Vishwanath.

Spire & dome made of Gold & the jyotirlinga of Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Without a doubt, it’s the heart, soul & breath of the people of Kashi and the center point of a “Khaati Banarasi’s life as for them –

माता च पार्वती देवी पिता देवो महेश्वरः ।
बान्धवाः शिवभक्ताश्च स्वदेशो भुवनत्रयम् ॥

Goddess Parvati (Annapurna) and Lord Shiva (Kashi Vishwanath) are their parents, Shiva devotees are their brothers, and the entire cosmos is their country. (Source – Annapurna Strotam by Shankaracharya)

So the philosophy of Kashi goes much beyond the “वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम” – the world is a family.

The story of Vishwanath Shivling

Let’s first understand the mythological aspect of “Kashi Vishwanath” and that starts with the first confrontation among the Trideva which took at the very same place – “Kashi”.

Brahma was showing his greatness over his creation, and Vishnu was boasting about his capability to sustain life but they forgot that the universe runs on a cycle of birth and death …so who controls that?

A huge pillar of light appeared which was shining with the brightness of millions of stars. A voice echoed and asked lord Brahma and Vishnu to find the ends of this pillar of light. The one, who will find the end, will be awarded supremacy.

Both of them started their search but never found the answer to their quest even after millions of years. Finally, both surrendered and from there the concept of Shivlingam especially the “Jyotirlingam – the radiant shine of The Almighty Shiva” emerges as the representation of Shiva.

Bhramaa & Vishnu praying Shiva Jyotiling

This led to the establishment of twelve Jyotirlinga in the Indian subcontinent over a period of time. Kashi Vishwanath is the most primal, the center of Shaiva Philosophy among these. The same legend leads to the Vedic word Kashi – which means “to shine” making Varanasi a City of light.

Shiva loved this new abode after the Kailash and made a promise to never leave this place making it “Avimukta Kshetra”(never forsaken by Shiva).

The divine place developed into “Ananadavana- the forest of bliss” with beautiful forests and ponds laden with lotus flowers and finally as “Mahasamshan”, where Shiva promised Lord Vishnu that he will give moksha to the dead by whispering the Taraka mantra in his /her ears.

With a descent of Ganga on Earth and a surprised turn of her toward Kashi made this very place the only, where She flows as Uttarvahini (toward North). And with this Kashi Vishwanath became the only Jyotirlinga on the bank of Ganga.  

The Kashi Vishwanath temple flourished as a prominent center of Shaiva worship in the Vedic, Puranic age with Kashi becoming the major center of art, knowledge, religion, and business during this time period.

After the late 10th century with the invasion of Arabs and Turks, the region became disturbed with frequent loot, and plunder, and the history of the temple became a saga of construction & destruction with every invasion of land. 

In 1669 CE Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb destroyed the temple completely with the construction of a mosque on the same site, which became famous as the “Gyanvapi Mosque”.

Aurangzeb Kashi Vishwanath destruction proof
A document stating the demolition of the Viswanath Temple, Varanasi – August 1669 A.D (Source: National Archives)

Reconstruction of Kashi Vishwanath Temple

In 1780, after a struggle of nearly seven centuries came to an end and the golden era of Kashi Vishwanath temple started when Ahilyabai Holker, the daughter-in-law of Malhar Rao Holker constructed the new temple adjacent to the mosque. The construction of the temple was completed in 1834.

In 1785 British general Warren Hastings ordered Nawab Ibrahim Ali Khan to construct a “Naubat Khana” at the south gate of the temple. In 1839, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire donated 1 ton of gold from the plating of 51 feet 51-foot-high dome of the temple.

The temple complex didn’t witness much change till 2008, after which major expansion of the temple took place with the inclusion of Tarakeshwara Mahadev temple (3250 Sq. meter) and Bhuwaneshwara Mahadev (2852Sq. foot) in the east direction of old complex.

With the current Vishwanath corridor project, the major expansion of the temple is taking place.

Development plan of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor

Temple Structure

The temple complex is 3600 Sq. feet large with the main temple, group of small shrines and three entry gates in south ( most prominent), north, west direction.

(Plan of Ancient Vishwanath temple and elevation of present temple by James Princep)   

After entering from the southern gate:

On the left – Temple of Lakshmi Narayana, Virupaksha Vinayaka is present with Neelkantheswara on the left and Sanichhara Mahadev on the right of the parikrama path.

On the right – Avimukteshwara Mahadev, Avimukt Vinayaka, Ekadashi Mahadev, and Gauri are present.

In the northwest corner of the complex – the idol of Aahilyabai Holker is present along with Vighneswara Ganesh, Nikumbheswara, and Kapileswara.

The corridor in the north is for Brahmins, who perform the “Rudri path” and has Kubereshwar Mahadev at the eastern end of it.

In the Northeast corner – Shringar Gauri / Annapurna are present along with Bhairava and Vyaseshwara Mahadev.

The center complex consists of three domes named Dandapani, Vaikunth, and Kailasha (Vaikuntha and Kailasha are gold plated and well decorated) with the Temple of Dandpani-in the left, Vaikuntheswara- in the middle, and the Kashi Vishwanath to the right.

The Main Sanctum, the Kashi Vishwanath is beautifully decorated with marble sculptures and houses Lord Vishwanath in the Ishana (northeast) direction which makes it very auspicious.

The construction of the main sanctum was done on Shree Yantra and as per belief here Goddess Parvati also presents on the left of Mahadev in the linga (Ardh Nari Nareshwar) making Kashi Vishwanath a Shakti Peetha too. The main sanctum has four gates named Shanti, Kala, Pratistha, and Nrivyitti, which are very significant as per Tantra Texts.

The responsibility of the temple was carried away by the Mehant Family till 28 January 1983, after which it was taken over by the Government and a committee of nominated members (Nyasa Parishad) headed by Kashi Naresh took the responsibility of the temple.

Vishwanath Temple Aarti Timings

The daily temple puja routine consists of five major aarti rituals: 

Mangala Aarti – 2:45 AM – 3:45 AM, the Most auspicious one performed by 4 Brahmins who wake up Lord with Rudri Path.

Bhoga Aarti – 11:30 A.M to 12:30 P.M, 

Saptrishi Aarti – Evening, 07:00 to 08:00 by 7 Priests, who represent the Seven Sages- Kashyap, Atri, Vasistha, Vishwamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni, and Bharadwaj.  These Brahmins sing shlokas from Samveda. 

(Saptrishi Aarti of Kashi Vishwanath: Painting by Nishant)

This aarti is one of the oldest rituals at the temple and specifically done by certain families of Brahmins since the generation. 

Saptrishi Aarti at Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Shringar Aarti– 08:00 P.M to 09:00 PM

The most specific one includes Vedic rituals for worshiping the Lord as King of Kashi.

Shayan Aarti– 10:30 PM to 11:00 PM 

The last aarti of the day is done in the Bhajan (devotional song) by the devotees.

Sri Kashi Nattukottai Nagar Chetram makes the arrangements for daily aarti at the temple. You can easily witness them carrying sacred materials of aarti on their heads in a beautiful musical procession at least 30 minutes before the aarti. 

Other significant festivals are the month of Sawan, Mahashivratri, Rangbhari Ekadashi, Annakuta(the next day of Deepawali), and Dev Deepawali.

(Rangbhari  Ekadashi, picture by Unnati Sharma)

Nearby Temples

  • Sakshi Vinayaka
  • Dhoondiraj Ganesh
  • Yaksha Vinayak
  • Annapurna temple
  • Akshaya Vat
  • Gyan Vapi
  • Kalratri temple
  • Shani temple
  • Kashi Karvat temple
  • Dharm Koop
  • Vishalakshi temple
  • Badrinath temple
  • Varahi temple

Nearby Ghats

  • Dashaswamegh Ghat
  • Meer Ghat
  • Tripura Bhairavi Ghat
  • Lalita Ghat
  • Manikarnika Ghat

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