Sunday, March 20, 2016

Visiting Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi

'No leather items inside the temple including belt and wallet. Of course, no cameras and cell phones' - hotel staff had instructed us before visiting the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi(also called Banaras or Benares). So, I don’t have any photos of the temple, clicked by me. Just outside the hotel we stayed, we enquired a taxi guy to drop us to the Kashi temple. But the rent he said would charge was too high – Rs.400 for a journey of 5 kms and the year was 2013. We walked ahead to catch an auto rickshaw. The driver agreed to take us to the temple and drop us back to the hotel for Rs.200.

Getting Inside The Temple :- I was expecting a spectacular entrance to one of the most visited Hindu temples in the world. But when the auto guy dropped us in front of a petty shop, I was totally taken aback. He instructed us to go through the narrow alley passing through the row of shops and told to get hold of any Pandit(priest), who will get the Darshan(glimpse of the sanctum of the temple) done quickly! We followed his instructions to reach the entrance, which looked like of a small shrine. We removed our footwear and kept inside a shop nearby. Shop keeper asked us whether we wanted prashad(or prasada/prasadam in south India) to offer and milk for abhishek(or abhishekam) to Lord Vishwanath. We were surprised as in most south Indian temples, devotees are offered prasadam from the temple after darshan. Also, if we pay for the seva, prasadam will be provided at the temple itself. But it was different here, explained the shop keeper. We bought the prashad and milk for abhishek. After the security check, we were let inside the temple.

The Darshan :- Four of us stood in a long queue for the Darshan! Standing in the queue, one could immediately observe the gold plated  gopuram's of the temple. Sensing our unfamiliarity of the place, a pandit immediately approached us for getting the Darshan done quickly by charging around Rs.15 per head! We were surprised as there was no special entry queue for the Darshan and the price he was quoting was little. We were hesitant as we thought he would demand more money later. Looking at our faces, the guy said - bhay mat khao (don’t fear) and assured that he would not charge more. So, after contemplating for a while, we decided to go with him. He took us to the shrine, where people were standing in a queue to perform the abhishek(offering milk) to the shivling(or shivalingam). Pandit told us to join the queue midway. It was embarrassing thinking that we were cutting in line. But nobody was protesting. So, we made our move. An enclosure formed by metal grills surrounded the shivling of Kashi Vishwanath. People who had brought milk for abhishekam were pouring the milk over the shivling. A priest who stood within the enclosure was taking the packet of prashad  from the devotees. He would then touch it to the shivaling and return it back. He would also clean the enclosure of the offered items simultaneously. Right after the darshan of shivaling, we offered our prayers to Mata Annapoorna, the mother goddess. Shrine of Mata Annapoorna is located just besides the sanctum of Lord Vishwanath.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi
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Holy Well : Then, we saw the holy well, which is considered holier than the Lingam which is worshipped inside the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. But why? Because of the original Shivaling of the temple is inside the well. How is that possible? Pandit explained to us : Previously, Kashi Vishwanath temple was located on the site, where Gyanvapi Mosque stood now, which is next to the present temple. When Mughal ruler Aurangzeb destroyed the original temple, the priest of the temple then said to have put the Shivaling into the temple well. Aurangzeb built Gyanvapi Mosque on the site of destroyed temple. So, the well where the original Shivaling is said to have located is considered holier than the sanctum of the present temple. So, the pandit asked us to circumambulate the holy well.

Being a Brahmin :- Then the pandit took us to one priest, who after blessing demanded money and told us that donating to a Brahmin is a good karma and donor will earn Punya! We were dejected by the attitude of this priest, so we told him that one among us is a Brahmin to irk him! Then the priest got irritated and said in Hindi, are aap braahman hoke braahman ko daan nahi dete? (You being Brahmin, why don’t you donate to Brahmin?) We gave some nominal amount. Then, the pandit took us to one more priest who sat on a high rise, which was covered with a cloth under which one could see currency notes of thousand and five hundred rupees flowing out! Now, it was his turn to ask for money. But this priest was polite. So, we could get away with nominal amount again quickly without arguments. Also, we paid the pandit who took us inside the temple Rs.200, which was more than what he asked from us. More so, because he did not agitate us like other priests and said aap ke man me jitna aata hai utna deejiye(Give me how much ever you feel like giving). We were eager to get out after seeing the attitude of priests and them placing importance on one’s caste. I believe, willingness to donate money to anybody, should come from a person’s heart and one cannot force anybody to donate. Also, caste cannot be the reason for one’s greatness but the deeds!

Gyanvapi Mosque, Armed Guards and Kannada :- While exiting from the temple, one has to pass besides the Gyanvapi Mosque around which thick metal grills make the barricade. It is guarded by armed guards. We were talking in Kannada while on our way out. We were totally surprised when one of the guards asked in Kannada - Yaav Ooru? (from which place are you from). We replied and exchanged pleasantries.

With that we had ticked off visiting one of the holiest temples of Sanatana Dharma. Frankly speaking, I had a mixed experience visiting the place! But Varanasi had more positive things to offer in the coming hours!

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  1. I was thinking Kashi Vishwanath temple is an age old temple which is untouched for a long long time... Is the Ganga pooja place also changed over time? I believe the ritual must have been existed for a long long time...

  2. I don't know much about Ganga Pooja's history... I believe it also must be an ancient tradition

  3. Nice informative post Raveesh. The monetary demands from the priests is a nuisance in many holy shrines esp. in north India. It somehow annuls the charm and satisfaction of the visiting the place. Btw, curious to know what all you have in sanathana dharma checklist ?

  4. Thanks Sandeep! You are right about monetary demands by priests and the negative vibes created due to them. Reg the checklist of places of Sanathana Dharma it is a long list in which places get added more often :) Next may be four peetha's established by Shankaracharya in four directions of India :) But I believe visiting Kashi will be on bucket list of most followers of Sanatana Dharma - what say? :)

  5. Happy to read about Kashi Vishwanatha, the place which I have not visited.I agree with ur views regarding donation and caste biased priests.I am curious to know about the different ghats where dead bodies burn day and night as our friend late Murari Ballal used to say..if u want to get rid of fear of death u must visit kashi ghats.

    1. Thanks Amina for your comments and insights on Kashi



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