Varanasi Again – 3: The axis mundi

Ghats of Varanasi

Varanasi – the piece of land between the rivers Varuna, and Assi, is the land chosen by the Mahadeva, the primordial ascetic Shankara, to be his abode. He resides here as Avimukteshvara, on the request of Martanda, the Sun God. It is through his inspiration that generations of pious travellers, pilgrims, scholars, kings, courtiers, sages, and ascetics have made Kashi their home. They have developed the sacred geometry of the eternal city in such a way that it reflects the cosmos, and the movement of its celestial bodies. In this, the holiest of holy cities of the Hindus, there are several internal pilgrimages, inside the city, with the natural boundaries delineated by the three rivers – Varuna to north, Assi to south, and Ganga to the east.

These pilgrimages trace concentric circles in the city, the circles linking the temples, and minor and major pilgrimages. At the confluence of all these pilgrimages lies a well….the ‘Gyanvapi Kupa’ – the well of wisdom. It is this well which is ‘THE’ meridian, the prime meridian, the axis mundi, of the city, and the world. It is this well which Shiva dug up with his trident, in his incarnation as Ishvara, and used its waters to anoint the Avimukteshvara Jyotirlinga – the pillar of light, known in our times as the Vishveshvara or the Vishwanath – the Kashi Vishwanath. The shrine and the well are equally sacred to the pious, to the discerning pilgrim.

It is at this axis that I stand in the dead of the night, with the temple looming behind me, the Gyanvapi Kupa, the sacred well, a short distance from the shrine, and the Ganga lapping the stone steps of the Lalita ghat. But why am I here, I still wonder, as I look at the dark form which is slowly emerging from the luminescent waters of the sacred river.

Have I come here of my own volition, or have I been summoned? Is there such a thing as ‘my own volition’? Haven’t all of us been summoned, in one way or another? The questions ricochet inside my mind, as I stand still, looking intently at the figure looming in the distance……

Shivoham – I am Shiva!

By Divya Narain

Additional Professor in Plastic Surgery, doting father, loving husband, newbie author. Love travel and literature. Love reading religion, politics and history!

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