The Temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva Temples in India. The main deity is known by the names Shri Vishwanath and Vishweshwara literally meaning ‘Lord of the Universe’.
Varanasi city was also known as Kashi in ancient timem, and hence the Temple is popularly known as ‘Kashi Vishwanath Temple’. The etymology of the name Vishveshvara is Vishva: Universe & Ishvara: Lord, one who has dominion.
The Temple has been referred to in Hindu scriptures since time immemorial as a central part of worship in the Shaiva Philosophy. It was destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in Indian history. The last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. The current structure was built on an adjacent site by the Maratha ruler, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the first Sikh Maharaja, donated 1 ton Gold for flaming the Temple’s Dome.
Since 1983, the temple has been managed by the government of Uttar Pradesh.
As per the Hindu scripture Shiva Purana, once Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and Vishnu (the Hindu God of Preservation) had an argument about who was Supreme. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the Jyotirlinga. to determine who was mightier.
Vishnu took the form of Varaha and sought out the bottom while Brahma took the form of a Swan to fly to the pillar’s top. Brahma out of arrogance lied that he had found out the end, offering a Ketaki flower as witness. Vishnu modestly confessed being unable to find the end. Shiva cursed Brahma that he would never be worshipped, and Vishnu for his honesty would be worshiped for all eternity.
The Jyotirlinga is an ancient symbol representing the Supreme Formless (Nirguna) reality at the core of creation, out of which the form (Saguna) of Shiva appears. The Jyothirlinga shrines, thus are places where Shiva appeared as a fiery column of light.
There are 64 forms of Shiva, not to be confused with Jyotirlingas. Each of the twelve Jyotirlinga sites take the name of the presiding deity, each considered a different manifestation of Shiva. At all these sites, the primary image is Lingam representing the beginningless and endless Stambha pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva.
The twelve Jyothirlinga are Somnath in Gujarat, Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh, Mahakaleswar at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh, Kedarnath in Himalayas, Bhimashankar in Maharashtra, Viswanath at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Triambakeshwar in Maharashtra, Vaidyanath Jyotirlinga, Deogarh in Jharkhand, Nageswar at Dwarka in Gujarat, Rameshwar at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Grishneshwar at Aurangabad in Maharashtra
Cultural Events :
Phalgun Shukla Ekadashi is celebrated as Rangabhari Ekadashi i.e. Ekadashi of colors. The temple complex echoes with dozens of Damroos (Indian drums). This tradition has been continued for over 200 years. On Basant Panchami Baba’s Tilak is performed, Shivaratri marriage and Rangbhari Ekadashi marks Devi Parvati leaving with Shiva. These traditions have been carried out by the erstwhile Mahant family of the temple for over a century.
The temple complex consists of a series of smaller shrines, located in a small lane called the Vishwanatha Galli, near the Ganges river. The Linga of the main deity at the shrine is 60 centimetres (24 in) tall and 90 centimetres (35 in) in circumference placed on a silver altar. The main temple is quadrangle in shape and is surrounded by shrines of other gods.
There are small temples for Kaalbhairav, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri in the temple complex. There is a small well in the temple known as ‘Jnana Vapi’ (The Wisdom Well).
According to the scriptures, the structure of the temple consists of a Sabha Griha or Congregation Hall leading to the inner Garbha Griha or Sanctum Sanctorum. The venerable Jyotirlinga is a dark brown colored stone which is enshrined in the Sanctum, placed on a silver platform. Structure of the Mandir consists of three parts. The first is a spire on the Mandir of Lord Vishwanath or Mahadeva. The second is gold dome, and the third is the gold spire atop Lord Vishwanath carrying a flag and a trident.
The Kashi Vishwanath temple receives around 3,000 visitors every day. On certain occasions, the numbers reach 1,000,000 and even more.
Importance of the temple :
Located on the banks of the holy river Ganges, Varanasi is regarded among the holiest of the Hindu cities. The Kashi Vishwanath temple is widely recognized as one of the most important places of worship in the Hindu religion. Inside the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the Jyotirlinga of Shiva, Vishveshvara or Vishvanath. The Vishveshvara Jyotirlinga has a very special and unique significance in the spiritual history of India.
Many leading saints, including Adi Sankaracharya, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda have visited this holy shrine in Indian history. A visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganges in the holy city of Kashi is one of many methods believed by devout Hindus to lead one on a path to Moksha (Final Liberation). Thus, Hindus from all over the world try to visit the place at least once in their lifetime.
There is also a tradition that one should give up at least one desire after a pilgrimage to this temple. And the pilgrimage would also include a visit to the Shiva temple at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu in Southern India, where people take water of the Ganges from Kashi to offer prayers at the temple in Rameshwaram, and bring back sand from Rameshwaram temple.
There is a popular Hindu belief that Shiva himself blows the Mantra of salvation into the ears of people who die naturally at Kashi Vishwanath temple.