Back in the olden days, India was called 'Sone ki Chidiya', not only because of its massive wealth and gold reserves but also because of its rich intellectual, cultural and spiritual legacy. Ancient India's lavish heritage and vast knowledge in every field ranging from Dance, Music, Astronomy, Astrology, Yoga, Ayurveda, Physics, Mathematics and Architecture was unparalleled, resulting in our nation respectfully being given the title of 'Vishwaguru'. These extraordinary traditions of philosophical significance had roots in the Vedas and were a major contributing factor in building a strong foundation and shaping the identity of 'Bharatvarsh'. No other country in the world could match up to the collective wisdom that the Indian subcontinent was privy to.
Any conversation about the cultural and spiritual legacy of our great nation would be incomplete without the mention of it's temples. It is important to understand that temple tradition has been deeply ingrained in Indian history, culture and religion. In ancient India, temple architecture of very high standards was developed in almost all regions. Every Temple was unique and one of a kind. The distinct architecture and style of temple construction in different parts was a result of geographical, climatic, ethnic, racial, historical and linguistic diversities. The sheer magnificence of a temple would make it the focal point, around which human life thrived. It's presence signified a landmark around which ancient art, community celebrations, and the economy flourished. Temples in India have always had a major impact on society. Community kitchens, education & health were some of the many services offered by Temple authorities to bind the community together and to instill good values in our future generations.
When we talk of temples, the first name that comes to mind is Varanasi, also known as Kashi or Banaras. This epicentre of Hindu religion has always been a major hub for pilgrims from across the country. Located on the banks of the holy river Ganga, it is believed to be the oldest city on Earth, founded by Lord Shiva. For the Hindus, it is in this sacred city that Goddess Shakti resides as Annapurna, Lord Vishnu resides as Bindu Madhav and Lord Shiva resides as Kashi Vishwanath. Infact, Kashi is known to be Lord Shiva’s favourite abode on earth. Also, Kashi was the place where Tulsi Das composed the evergreen Hanuman Chalisa and Ramcharitmanas. Home to 33 crore gods and goddesses, Varanasi has been the ultimate pilgrimage destination for the Hindus. The morning rituals, the temple bells, the dip in the holy Ganga and the most divine Ganga aarti at the famous Varanasi ghats make this city very special. Comprising of as many as 2000 temples, Varanasi was ancient India's melting pot of beliefs, culture & tradition. As many as five million Hindus frequent the ghats every year. It is believed that the one who is graced to die here will attain 'moksha' - salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
Varanasi is equally fortunate to be represented by a 'Karmayogi' who will leave no stone unturned in reviving the fortunes and lost glory of the city which truly reflects the soul and spirit of India
Besides being the trade centre of South Asia in ancient times, well known for its opulent silks and brocades, Varanasi has also been a city of learning through the ages. It was considered the prime centre for art, music, craft, education & culture with a history like none other. The greatest minds in the country came from Kashi. It is believed that in Varanasi, along with the rising sun every morning, there also ascends within us, true realisation and knowledge. Warmly called the 'Subah-e-Banaras', mornings are indeed a very special time in this city.
Varanasi is also known as the 'The City of Temples'. Some of the most famous temples of Varanasi include the Kashi Vishvanath Temple, Sankat Mochan Temple, Durga Temple, Kal Bhairav Temple and Mrityunjaya Temple. According to a popular belief, most of these temples date back to the medieval era. About 13 kms North-East of Varanasi lies Sarnath. It is one of the top four Buddhist shrines in the world. It is here that Lord Buddha gave his first sermon around 528 BC, after being enlightened.
Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Project will connect the main
temple with three of Varanasi's prominent ghats and will change the entire face of the Temple complex
It is believed that Kashi stands on the trishul of Shiva. There are three temples in Varanasi which are considered the three specific points of the trishul on which it stands. They are Aumkareshwara temple in the North, Vishweshwara temple in the middle and Kedareshwara temple in the South.
Another extremely fascinating fact is the science and geometry behind the layout of Varanasi. It is believed that Lord Shiva himself established a powerful Mandala (a sacred circular geometric pattern) in Kashi, by sanctifying 108 shrines with unique qualities, in a specific pattern. The meticulous placement of these shrines was geometrically so perfect, that when mantras were recited in these shrines in tandem, it led to an amplification of positive energy. This phenomenal positive energy became the aura of the city that attracted people towards itself from across the world.
The science and geometry behind the layout of Varanasi
and the meticulous placement of shrines leads to an amplification of positive energy
Kashi Vishwanath temple is the heartbeat of Varanasi. Just like the ancient city, the revered temple is so old that it even has a mention in the 'Skanda Purana'. It is the first of the twelve 'Jyotirlingas' of Lord Shiva that are located in different parts of the country. According to the Puranas, Lord Shiva himself appeared when the very first 'Shiva Jyotirling' emanated from the earth in Kashi and flared straight into the sky. This is why Varanasi is also known as “the City of Light”. It is believed that every sin is eliminated after seeing, worshiping and chanting the names of these 'Jyotirlingas'.
The Kashi Vishwanath temple complex consists of a series of smaller shrines. The main temple is an architectural masterpiece. It is in this main temple that the sanctum holds the linga which is set in an alter made of pure silver. About 800 kg of gold donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh has been used to cap the spire of the temple, hence it is also known as the 'Golden Temple'. Witness to several Mughal invasions, this temple was destroyed and rebuilt several times before Aurangzeb destroyed it yet again in 1669 CE and built the Gyanvapi Mosque in its place. Finally in 1780, the Maratha Queen Ahilyabai Holkar rebuilt and restored it, 111 years after its destruction by Aurangzeb. Inspite of the temple being destroyed many times, none could harm the 'Jyothirlinga' and Kashi Vishwanath temple has retained its glory and power.
Unfortunately, successive governments in Uttar Pradesh did not give Varanasi the attention and due respect that it deserves. Neither was the preservation of its rich heritage given a thought, nor did the authorities care to provide even the basic infrastructure. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located in the congested bylanes of old Kashi, with no direct link to the Ganga. Apart from the absence of the link, it is also surrounded by hundreds of old houses which hide the temple between concrete structures. Cleaning of the Ganga, badly maintained roads, claustrophobic bylanes, unmanageable traffic, poor hygiene - were some of the many important issues that were completely ignored. The negligence of the holiest Hindu city in the world had been nothing short of criminal.
Finally, after years of neglect by civic and state authorities, the Narendra Modi led BJP government and the Uttar Pradesh government led by Yogi Adityanath are now working hand in hand to develop Varanasi. The city is now represented in parliament by none other than the Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi himself. Under PM Narendra Modi's representation, the ancient city of Varanasi is going through a major transformation at breakneck speed. The Heritage city is all set to become a Smart city. From development of river banks to expansion of infrastructure, from India's first inland waterway terminal to upgradation of rail services, a lot is being done for Varanasi. One of the most important projects undertaken by the govt is the revival of the soul of Varanasi - The Kashi Vishwanath Dham.
Shri Kashi Vishwanath Dham project work has led to the re-discovery of more than 40 major temples, which have great historic and religious significance as per Kashi Khand of Skand Puran, hidden under residential and commercial encroachments. These smaller temples are now being restored and conserved for the grand temple to attain it's lost glory. Since 2018, Yogi Adityanath led Uttar Pradesh government has already cleared 45,000 square feet of land surrounding the temple, to make way for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream Project, the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Project. The corridor will connect the Kashi Vishwanath temple with three of Varanasi's prominent ghats - Lalita Ghat, Jalasena Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat, leading straight up to the holy river Ganga. Upon completion, the corridor will change the entire face of the Temple complex. Besides decongesting the entire area and restoring the ghats, it will also give pilgrims access to amenities such as a state-of-the-art Cultural Centre, a unique Vedic Kendra, shopping emporiums, a Library, hygienic food and clean drinking water - all facilities made available in the most beautiful ambience. Upon completion, the temple premises will be able to accommodate two lakh people, the earlier capacity being only five thousand. Kashi Vishwanath Dham is expected to be completed by August 2021. Varanasi is known all over the world for its religious and cultural significance. It is India's window to the world in showcasing our rich heritage, traditions and Hindu beliefs. To preserve, protect and promote this city becomes the duty of every Indian.
Kashi Vishwanath Corridor
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while filing his nomination from Varanasi in 2014 had beautifully described his candidature as the homecoming of a child to his mother - ‘‘न मुझे कसी ने भेजा है, न मैं यहाँ आयाँ, मुझे तो माँ गँगा ने बुलाया है’’, he had said. He considered the opportunity of representing Varanasi in the Parliament as his good fortune. And may I add, Varanasi is equally fortunate to be represented by the 'Karmayogi' who will leave no stone unturned in reviving the fortunes and lost glory of the city which truly reflects the soul and spirit of India!