Things You Should Know about Kashi Vishwanath
The India we see at Kashi Vishwanath and also at Kashi reflects the elaborate and ancient ritual tradition of Hinduism. It is a tradition of pilgrimage to scared places, bathing in sacred waters and honoring divine images. It is a tradition in which all of the senses are employed in the apprehension of the divine. Its shrines are heaped with fresh flowers and filled with the smell of incense, the chanting of prayers and the ringing of bells. It is a tradition that has and images God in a thousand ways, that has been adept in discovering the presence of the divine everywhere and in bringing every aspect of human life into the religious arena. It is a religious tradition that understands life and death as a religious whole.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located in Varanasi, the holiest existing place of Hindus, where at least once in life a Hindu is expected to do pilgrimage, and if possible, also pour the remains of cremated ancestors on the River Ganges. The temple is in Varanasi (erstwhile Kashi) the state of Uttar Pradesh, India.
The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganges, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The main deity is known by the name Vishwanatha or Vishweshwara meaning Ruler of the universe. The Kashi Vishwanath temple has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. The Gyanvapi Mosque, which is adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, is the original site of the temple before it was destroyed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. and a mosque built upon its ruins. The name of the mosque is Alamgiri Mosque but it is popularly known as Gyanvapi Mosque. The mosque shows evidence of original Hindu temple in its foundation, columns and rear. The old temple wall was also incorporated as part of the walls of the mosque. The deliberately retained remnants of the temple are described to be “a warning and an insult to Hindu feelings”.
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple was rebuilt in 1780 besides the mosque and the two structures have existed in harmony since then, separated by a barricade of iron staves and chicken wire. The Gyanvapi – the well of knowledge – is situated between the temple and the mosque. The well is believed by Hindus to be the location where the sacred Shiva linga icon of the temple was hidden, before the temple was razed by Aurangzeb.
The current structure of Kashi Vishwanath temple is built by the Maratha monarch, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780. The temple is also known as the Golden temple of Varanasi because the two domes of the temple are covered with gold. The gold used to cover the two domes was donated by the Punjab Kesari, the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who ruled the Punjab. Since 1983, the temple has been managed by the government of Uttar Pradesh. During the religious occasion of Shivratri, Kashi Naresh (King of Kashi) is the chief officiating priest and no other person or priest is allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum. It is only after he performs his religious functions that others are allowed to enter. 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 cm tall and 90 cm in circumference housed in a silver altar. There are small temples for Kaalbhairav, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and VirupakshGauri in the complex. There is a small well in the temple called the Jnana Vapi (the wisdom well) and it is believed that the Jytorlinga 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. The temple is widely recognized as one of the most important places of worship in Hindu religion and most of the leading Hindu saints, including AdiSankaracharya, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Goswami Tulsidas, Swami Dayananda Saraswati and Gurunanak have visited the site.
Due to the immense popularity and holiness of Kashi Vishwanath temple, hundreds of temples across the nation have been built in the same architectural style. Many legends record that the true devotee achieves freedom from death and sansakara by the worship of Shiva, Shiva’s devotees on death being directly taken to his abode on Mount Kailash by his messengers and not to Yama.
The Vishwanath temple opens daily at 2.30 A.M. for Mangala Aarti and between 3 to 4 A.M. ticket holders are permitted to join. The timing of general Darshan is from 4 to 11 A.M. The timing for midday Bhog Aarti is from11.30 to 12 A.M. Between 12 noon to 7 P.M., general devotees are free to have Darshan. From 7 to 8.30 P.M. the Sapta Rishi Aarati is held after which Darshan is possible again till 9 P.M. At 9 P.M. the Shringar/Bhog Aarati starts and after that Darshan is possible only from outside. Shayana Aarti starts at 10.30 P.M. and the temple closes at 11 P.M. Most of the offerings at the Kashi Vishwanath temple are given to poor.
The best time to visit Varanasi for a temple darshan is in the winter months, between October through March. The weather, though cold in December and January, suits travellers since most sightseeing is outdoors. If you are not looking to attend one of the aartis, then the best time to visit the temple is at 7 AM, to avoid long queues.