The Reunion XXIX – Jyotirlinga: The Pillar of Light

Next morning when we woke, I felt light-headed and happy. No, it wasn’t just the drink we had last night, it was something else. Yesterday, I had exorcised the ghosts of my past, made my peace with God, bowed my head in acceptance and vowed to start afresh. I could feel the bitterness of the past receding, leaving a sweet melancholy in its place. I was seeing the world with new eyes today. Also, the talk with Rahul Joshi had been rejuvenating and inspiring, letting me see people with different eyes. All in all, it had been an immensely emotionally satisfying day; healing the wounds of the past, providing balm to my aching heart, hope to my weary soul. I was ready and excited to face today.

Today would be no less exciting, I was sure. We were going to visit Kashi Vishwanath and later take a boat ride in the Ganga, Mother Ganga, a deity to millions of Hindus. This was another event I had been looking forward to; I had hoped this would complete my healing process, help me with my communion with God. 

Kashi Vishwanath, literally translated as ‘Lord of the World who resides in Kashi’, was a very ancient Shiva temple of Varanasi, dating since before time itself. The temple was one of the twelve ‘Jyotirlingas’ in India. ‘Jyotirlinga’, literally translated meant ‘Pillar of light’ or ‘Radiant manifestation of Shiva’. Whenever I thought of ‘Jyotirlingas’ or ‘Pillars of Light’, I was always reminded of the ‘Pillars of Creation’ discovered by the astronomers of NASA a few decades back through the Hubble telescope. In the late 20th century, and then again more recently, the telescope had sent back images of a nebula in the shape of three pillars. The nebula had been named the ‘Eagle nebula’ and the pillars had been christened ‘Pillars of Creation’ since these condensations of cosmic matter and heated gases were producing stars, the eternal foundry of life. Hence, the learned people discovering them had named them, aptly, the ‘Pillars of Creation’. 

The reference to pillars of creation can be found in various religious texts, including Hinduism and Christianity. ‘Shiva Purana’ states that creation manifested itself as a pillar of fire which had no end. Even Vishnu and Brahma, the self-born Gods, could not fathom its ends. This ‘pillar of fire’ was Shiva or Rudra, the primordial deity manifested as material matter. It is interesting to note, in this context, that one of the pillars in the Eagle nebula, is four light years long. Thus, the readers can understand my excitement when I woke that morning when we would be visiting our own ‘Pillar of Creation’ in Varanasi, the immortal city. 

The city itself is supposed to have been founded by Shiva, the primordial deity, the creator of creation, the creator of time, and birth, and death. The city is variously known as Varanasi or Kashi or Kashika or Avimukta. Varanasi means the piece of land lying between the rivers Varuna and Assi, on the western and northern bank of the river Ganga. Kashi or Kashika means ‘the city of light’; the references to light are numerous in Hindu mythology! Avimukta means a city which is never deserted by Shiva, or where Shiva always resides. 

Kashi Vishwanath is the temple dedicated to Shiva in the holy city of Kashi, one of the holiest places of the Hindus. Kashi is also one of the seven ‘Sapta Puri’ or ‘Seven Cities’. These seven cities are the holiest pilgrimage sites of the ancient Hindus – Ayodhya, Kashi, Mathura, Haridwar, Ujjain, Kanchipuram, and Dwarka. Each of these cities is dedicated to either Shiva or Vishnu or the Mother Goddess. Also, these seven cities are ‘nitya tirthas’ or eternal pilgrimages, naturally endowed with spiritual powers. These cities confer ‘moksha’ or liberation from the cycle of birth and death, upon the devotees who die here. Such is the importance of the city of Varansi and the temple established therein, the Kashi Vishwanath or Vishveshwar temple, the temple of the God of all Creation. 

Thus, it is no surprise that millions of devotees flock to this holiest of holy Hindu temple every year.

The temple itself, however, has seen good days and bad days through the millenia. Starting the 12th century to as recently as the 17th century, the temple has been demolished by invaders and religious bigots several times and has been rebuilt every time by devotee kings or commoners. The last such demolition was ordered by Aurangzeb, the fanatic Mughal ruler of Delhi, in the year 1669 CE. The temple was demolished, and a mosque built from its rubble in the same place where the temple had stood, on its very foundations – the holy site known to all Hindus as Gyanvapi. The Gyanvapi has, since then, not been vacated and a mosque still stands on one of the holiest sites of the Hindus in India. A temple, dedicated to Shiva was built adjacent to the mosque, in the year 1780CE by the Maratha ruler Ahalya Bai Holkar of Indore. This is the structure which stands to this day and is worshipped by the Hindu devotee as Kashi Vishwanath while the original site of Gyanvapi still remains occupied by a mosque, a daily reminder to millions of Hindus of the injustice and cruelty meted out to them centuries ago.

However, I will not digress from the story here. The story is mine and that of the Reunion, rather than of Varanasi or the Gyanvapi temple. However, the two are inextricably linked, us and Varanasi, and hence can there be a telling of ‘our’ story without even a mention of Vishveshwar or the Ganges? No. But I must come back to the present time, to the telling of my story, and that of others, as it unfolded that last day of our Reunion in the year 2019.

To be continued………………………………….

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