Varanasi Again – 47: The story of the shifting temple

‘You know’, I started, ‘long ago there were two very sacred shrines to Shiva or Shankara in Kashi, the city of light.’

Vandita, and Vatsala listened in rapt attention.

‘Actually,’ I corrected myself, ‘there were many throughout the city. But the most sacred, the most revered were the two shrines of Shiva where he was worshipped as Vishveshwara, Lord of the world, and Avimukteshwara, one who never leaves. You people, of course, do know the other names of Shankara, don’t you?’

‘Yes, yes,’ the girls said in unison, and then started reeling off the names of ShivaMahadeva, Shankara, Tryambaka, Ramesh, Ishaan, Gangaadhara, Rudra, Somanath, Mallikarjuna, Mahakaal, Baidyanaath, Neelkanth, Bhutanath……’

I was laughing loudly now, happy that the girls knew so much. The three of us attracted strange looks from the passersby, but we did not care, we were having fun.

‘Yes,’ I continued, ‘these are all the names of Shiva in his different forms, according to different legends.’

‘So the ancient temple of Vishveshwara, or Vishwanath as we know it today, was situated at a different site. When the slave dynasty came to power in Delhi, Qutub-ud-din-Aibak ordered the demolition of the temple to Vishweshawara in Kashi because he believed it was his sacred duty to bring all infidels in the fold of the one true religion, to show light to the ignorant people of the world.’

I could hear the girls sigh, but chose to ignore it and continued the story.

‘The demolition was violently opposed, and there was a great strife in the city, and lots of violence and bloodshed, but the shrine was finally demolished. Due to the brutality of the expedition, the site lay in ruins for several decades; no one dared to try and rebuild the temple or relocate it to a new site.’

‘When Aibak’s daughter, Razia Sultana ascended the throne in Delhi, she ordered the building of a mosque over the ruins of Vishweshwara to commemorate her coronation, using the foundations of the old temple, and the remnants of its ruins as building blocks. The mosque was, and still is, called the Razia Sultana mosque. The site was thus lost forever to the devotees of Shankara.’

‘Later however, when the rule in Delhi changed from the slave dynasty to the Mughals, the local people of Kashi thought of rebuilding the temple at a new site. This new site already had a shrine to Shiva called the Avimukteshwara. The new temple, thus, was raised in the premises of the Avimukteshwara shrine. This temple, along with the Avimukteshwara complex was also demolished thrice, the last time by Aurangzeb, the most bigoted of the Mughals. He also built a mosque over the ruins of the shrine, where it still stands today. This is the Gyanvapi mosque named after the holy site of Gyanvapi, the well of wisdom that we saw close to the temple today.’

‘However, the devotees of Shiva were also persistent, and they rebuilt the temple adjacent to the mosque – which is the temple that you visited today. So you see, the temple to Vishwanath, or Vishweshawara, has moved around quite a few times.’

‘And that is why the statue of Nandi, the bull, that you see, faces away from the shrine when it actually should face the temple, the garbha griha of the temple. This is because he is still facing the site of the old temple, the ancient site of the garbha griha of Vishweshwara shrine, where the Gyanvapi mosque stands now.’

I paused. The girls were still looking at me, unblinkingly, when I began again…..

To be continued……..

Check out these Amazon Bestsellers from the author –

The Battle of Panchavati and Other Stories from Indian Scriptures
Daffodils: A Bouquet of Short Stories

By Divya Narain

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

4 comments

  1. The write up is so interesting! I am grateful to this Govt for supporting our cultural heritage and I am so proud of it! Looking forward to visit Kashi Vishwanath 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done dr Divya, doing so much research in this field. Now the truth will come out after survey. Let’s look forwards when court and govt will move forward to reconstruct magnificent Lord Shiv Temples in its original place.
    I remember Modi ji ne kaha tha mujhe Maa Ganga ne Bulaya hai.

    Liked by 1 person

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