Eleven-- Kashi Vishvanath Jyotir Lingam
Kashi Vishvanath is one of the most famous Shiva temples located in Varanasi or Benares. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga and is considered to be the holiest of Shiva temples. The main deity is called Vishvanatha or Vishveshvara -meaning Ruler of The Universe.
Benares is the oldest city of the World, for it is believed that it stands upon the first land that ever emerged from the primeval waters.Orthodox Hindus believe that to die in Benares is to attain instant salvation. It is the Mecca and Jerusalem of India and her Rome and Athens all rolled into one.
Since the holy place is situated between the two rivers Varana and Asi, the city is called Varanasi.
It is also one of the Sakthi-Peethas. Out of the various parts of Sati that were scattered it is said that the left hand had fallen in Benares and it is believed Goddess Visalkshi represents that Shakti Peetha.
The temple has been destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in history. The last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. The present structure was built on an adjacent site by Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1789. Two domes of the temple are covered by gold donated by Ranjit Singh but the third dome remained uncovered. The U.P. Government took a keen interest in the gold plating of the third dome of the temple.
During the religious occasion of Shivaratri, Kashi Naresh the King of Kashi is the chief officiating priest and no other person or priest is allowed to enter the temple's sanctum sanctorum. It is only after he performs his religious functions that others are allowed to enter. As per Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati on Mahashivaratri and Gauna was performed on Rangbhari Ekadashi.
The temple has been mentioned in the Skanda Purana. The original Vishwanath temple was destroyed by the army of Qutb-ud-din Aibak in 1194 . The temple was rebuilt by a Gujarati merchant during the reign of Delhi's Sultan Iltutmish ---1211-1266 . It was demolished again during 1447-1458. Raja Man Singh built the temple during Akbar's 's rule . Raja Todar Mal further re-built in 1585.
A 7-feet high stone statue of Nandi, gifted by the Raja of Nepal is in the east of the colonnade.
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.
The venerable linga is made up of black coloured stone, and is enshrined in the sanctum, placed on a silver platform.
The main temple is quadrangle and is surrounded by shrines of other gods. There are small temples for Kalabhairava , Dhandapani, Vishnu, Avimukteshwara, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri in the complex.
Structure of the temple is composed of three parts. The first compromises a spire on the temple of Lord Vishwanath or Mahadeva. The second is gold dome and the third is the gold spire atop the Vishwanath carrying a flag and a trident. In the year 1785 a Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the then Collector Mohd. Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings.
There is a well in the campus of the temple called Jnana Vapi or wisdom well. There is a history behind the well. It is considered that the Jyotirlinga was concealed in the well in order to get protection from incursion. The main saint of the temple jumped in to the well with the Jyotirlinga to protect it from the intruders.
Many leading saints, including Adi Sankara, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Vivekananda ,Guru Nanak have visited the temple, Visit to the temple after a bath in the river Ganges is one of many methods believed to lead one on a path to Moksha.
Shri Vishwanatha Temple is situated amidst the crowded lanes of Varanasi on the banks of the rive Ganga. The temple can be approached from a lane called Vishwanatha lane.