Temple architecture

Exclusive: Kashi Vishwanath temple gets a makeover

Between the endless pyres marking the end of mortal frailties and the embrace of a creator transcending all ends and beginnings, there is a path that connects the spiritual and the temporal.

This is the corridor of the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the most visible manifestation of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham project initiated in 2018. The passage offers unlimited access to the mandir from the Ganges, a river that would have been brought back to Earth and tamed by the Lord. Shiva. .

In Kashi (also known as Varanasi), the holiest city in Hinduism, Lord Shiva resides as Vishwanath or Lord of the World. The name of the city means the one that emits infinite light towards the world. It is a city which, according to ancient texts like the Shiv Puran, will survive the end of the world.

The temple itself was not the original place of residence of the shivling, the abstract representation of his ruling deity. It has been placed in at least five other locations, according to experts. From the end of the tenth century, the temple and the city faced a relentless onslaught of foreign attacks. Its current form – a central spire (shikhar) flanked by two smaller ones – was built by Marathi queen Ahilyabai Holkar in 1780. The only significant addition after this was in 1839, when two arrows were gilded with gold. gold donated by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. Its most imposing neighbor is the Gyanvapi Mosque, the foundations of which were laid by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the second half of the 17th century.

The Ganges river lies to the east of the temple complex, which can also be accessed from three other sides. The corridor, which is in its final stages of completion, is intended to accommodate pilgrims coming by water. They will descend to the ghat which is between Manikarnika and Lalita ghats, climb the ghat, enter via a footbridge and cross a distance of about 400m through hilly terrain. There will also be escalators for those who need them.

The project covers just over five hectares, 70 percent of which is green space. Its religious significance lies in the opportunity it gives people to be in a sacred space for long hours, unlike what was possible until now.

To carve this space, houses around the temple had to be acquired and demolished. Deepak Agarwal, Varanasi’s divisional commissioner, said the original plan called for the acquisition of 197 properties (including those owned by individuals and trusts), but that number surpassed 300 in final plans. This resulted in 1,400 entities to be rehabilitated. Agarwal heads the Special Development Council of Shri Kashi Vishwanath, the development authority overseeing the project. He said the process centers on constant dialogue, with even Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath stepping in when the going gets tough.

The subsequent acquisition and rehabilitation and / or relocation was complicated by the fact that some properties did not have legally defined owners. And, some owners have chosen to close their doors to the government.

“As difficult as it was, we never stopped moving, working on different aspects simultaneously. Our success can be measured by the fact that there is not a single case in court today, ”Agarwal said.

The pilgrimage to this shrine, surrounded by narrow galis (pathways), had been an unpleasant experience over the years. In addition to the physical challenge of moving in a tight space and problems with sanitation and hygiene, the temple as it stood until recently was only a few feet between the inner sanctum and the boundaries marked by the ‘man. A visit at any time would therefore only entail a few moments with the deity, after perhaps hours of jostling in the queues. The restored complex has a large ambulatory arcade (cast in Chunar stone) around the sanctuary. From the river to the temple are public facilities, an auditorium, a mumukshu bhavan (where the terminally ill and the elderly await death in prayers), a gallery, a museum, and a Vedic center among other structures.

Shrikant Mishra, the chief priest of Kashi Vishwanath temple said that the temple is unlike any other in the world as it is located in the capital of Lord Shiva. In Kashi, Shiva meets in his forms of teacher and king. This unity of dualities is reflected in an expression often used in the city, “Ka Raja, Ka Guru” (roughly: what is the difference between a leader and a teacher).

The temple is Shiva’s court where he reigns in consultation with his ministers. These king’s ministers include the gods Tarkeshwar and Bhuvneshwar, whose shrines adjoin the main temple. Kashi’s lofty pedestal is both physical and symbolic. In Vedic Sanatan Dharma, it is not built on an earthly earth, but on the middle branch of a trident. It has equivalents in seven other cities around the world (including Ayodhya and Ujjain) that offer paths to salvation, but the belief is that all of these paths would lead souls to Kashi for final liberation.

The shivling here resides with his female counterpart Annapurna, who decides how pilgrims’ prayers are to be answered. It is therefore also an important seat of divine feminine power.

The project, which will be dedicated to the faithful on December 13, was designed by HCP Design, Planning and Management Private Limited, based in Ahmedabad. HCP Managing Director Bimal Patel’s list of major projects includes the Central Vista redevelopment project in Delhi.

Patel said the most astonishing discovery when starting the project was how the “insensibly” temples in the houses – which were acquired – had been treated. “In many cases, shikhars (arrows) had been used as architectural props,” he said.

It was the imagined destruction of the idols in these temples that prompted a section to protest the project. These idols will however find a place in a gallery on the way to the corridor where they will be worshiped as before.

These disapprovals grouped under the banner of Mandir Bachao Andolan (Save the Temple movement) were reported in a book called Udta Banaras by a former journalist Suresh Pratap. “People were crying outside their homes as they were demolished,” he said. “The brother turned against his brother. While one tried to delay the process, another was given a contract (by the administration) to carry out the demolition.

For the creators of the project, however, it shows how the present can be sculpted without disrespecting the past. Patel said: “Our respect for heritage should not prevent us from making a transformation with respect and sensitivity”.

Only in this spirit can the ages coexist, as Kashi’s favorite deity symbolizes.