The Kashi Vishwanath corridor that we walked along was seventy five meters wide, and at least several hundred meters long. Flanked by shops, museums, tourist amenities and walkways, the corridor was also decorated by several interesting statues including those of Adi Shankaracharya, the proponent of Advaita Vedanta and the architect of modern Hinduism as we know it today, Maharani Ahalya Bai Holkar, the Maratha queen of Malwa who rebuilt the Vishwanath temple adjacent to the Gyanvapi Mosque in 1770CE, and of Bharata Mata, the personification of Mother India as a woman, mother and deity.
This corridor, paved with red sandstones (from the same quarry, some whispered, from where the stones for the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort were sourced), led up to a huge gateway with heavy wooden doors embellished with brass, through which we were ushered into a quadrangular space at the center of which stood the 18th century temple with gold plated domes (the gold plating having been done later, in the 19th century). Another path, or walkway, ran around this quadrangular area which was used by the devotees for the pradakshina, or the ritual clockwise perambulation around the sacred shrine, and the deity that resides within.
As KG guided us to a spot where we could take off our footwear before entering the temple, I noticed that there were several policemen stationed inside the temple complex for maintaining law and order as well as for guiding the devotees. These policemen were unarmed, bare feet, and wore no headgear, and all of them had had their foreheads smeared by white sandalwood paste, the typical horizontal Shaiva tilaka. They were also, unexpectedly, very polite, well behaved, and cooperative; a trifle spiritual even, if I may say so.
Maybe it was the effect of the place, I thought.
We removed our footwear, and joined the short queue of devotees just outside the garbha griha, or sanctum sanctorum of the temple. I held the hands of the girls, as I started to murmur the Shiva Tandava Stotram, the invocation to Shiva, the residing deity, composed by Ravana, the asura king of Lanka. One by one all of us were ushered in to the presence of the deity (a small piece of stone, a lingam, in the floor of the temple), our foreheads were smeared with sandalwood paste, and then we were guided out as quickly as we went in. Soon we were back at the place where we had removed our footwear.
The December sun shone gently warming us, and a cool breeze blew through the temple complex, drying the cool sandal paste on our foreheads. While we were wearing our footwear, I looked around the complex, trying to register how much the place had changed in the last few years.
And then I saw it, or them, or ‘those things’………
To be continued……..
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