Kashi Vishwanath is a beautiful Hindu temple that is also known as the "twelfth Jyotirlinga." It's located in the lanes of Varanasi, one of India's holiest cities and many pilgrims visit this temple daily. The people who worship at this temple have gone through many ups and downs. In fact, it has moved throughout India in the last thousand years.
The Kashi Vishwanath temple is mentioned in the Kashi Khand of the Skanda Purana which talks about all the tirthas.
Despite the many travelers who have visited the city of Kashi, not one mentions the Avi Mukteshwar temple nor where it is located. One of the holiest cities in India, it faced many attacks by invaders. The first recorded attack happened in 1194 CE - Muhammad Ghori destroyed a large part of the city and moved the Avimukteshwar temple closer to where it was originally built.
At the turn of the 16th CE, there were attacks by Sikandar Lodhi on the temple. The temple was rebuilt by both Hindu kings and pilgrims every year. Finally, Aurangzeb destroyed the temple and built a mosque called Gyanvapi over its ruins. The priest jumped into the Gyanvapi well with a Shivalingam to protect it.
The temple that we see now was rebuilt in 1780 CE by Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Malwa. Many Rajput and Maratha kings attempted to rebuild the temple but only a few succeeded. Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated tons of gold for the temple's outer structure, called Shikhara, in 1835 CE. Many other kings also contributed with silver, murtis, or land around the temple.
In the 1930s, Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya built a new Kashi Vishwanath Temple on the BHU Campus with the generous support of the Birla family. It was completed in the 1960s and today it's one of the tallest Shikharas among all Hindu temples worldwide.
In 2021, the present government built a Kashi Vishwanath Corridor connecting the temple directly to the ghats of Ganga. Earlier you had to travel uphill on a difficult trail to reach the temple, but now you can easily walk through a wide and easy-to-travel corridor.
Varanasi's Kashi Vishwanath Gali is full of colorful vendors selling all sorts of puja items, popular souvenirs, and more. It's a narrow lane that travels to Annapurna and then the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The temple is smaller than you might imagine, but it still retains its beauty and majesty.
You enter through the silver-paneled doors into the premises that have many temples. You can recognize the Vishwanath temple from the crowds it attracts as well as from the golden Shikhara. The Shiva Lingam is mounted on a silver Yoni in the Garbhagriha. The temple follows the north Indian Nagara style of architecture, primarily on its Shikharas.
There is an open mandap outside the Garbhagriha, where you can perform your darshan.
There are five main Artis that are performed at the temple:
The morning Mangla Arti is a way to wake up Baba Vishwanath. Only after this ritual will visitors be able to enjoy the evening and viewing hours. The early morning ritual includes a prayer for the well-being of our universe and it consists of 16 items (collectively called Shodashopachara), among which is an Arti service with chanting and prayers.
Mangala Arti is quite popular with visitors, pilgrims, and people of Kashi. Most tour guides would take you to the Mangala Arti early in the morning. You can also do a live darshan from the official website of the temple.
When you visit in the early morning, you can take in the views of many temples as they're chanting throughout the day. There's even a ton in the vicinity of this temple.
While praying, it is suggested that one makes a Bhog or prasad offering in order to receive blessings from a Hindu deity such as Vishnu. Bhog is offered at the time of Vara, Tithi, or the lunar date in an attempt for these rules to be followed properly. Prasad is given to all present during the Arti ceremony and provides those in attendance with food. Those who are not present in person may give food directly to Dandi Swamis via postal service.
This performance has roots in the ancient Vedic texts and is meant to be sung. In the past, distinguished kings would hire Brahmins to take care of this Arti on their behalf.
This Arti is performed around 9 PM and lasts around 5 hours. This Arti originally originated in ancient India and has different forms of worship based on which deity the Arti is used for. Its main specialty is that Shiva, one of the central gods, is considered the ruler of Kashi, and he's named Kashipuradhishwara.
The Arti of the day is concluded by the time that the Baba is put to sleep and all doors of the temple are closed. Usually, after 11 PM, about 40-50 Kashi residents gather in the mandapa and sing. During this time, there's a crescendo as 40-50 Kashi residents sing. Not many visitors are present during this time so you see a temple that's not too crowded while also witnessing tremendous devotion among those who reside in Kashi.
Kashi Khand mentions that a longer pilgrimage should include performing Tarpana for ancestors and visiting temples of all deities, including Vishnu and Ganesha.
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