Varanasi Again – 48: The curious case of the missing deity

‘Thus, you see, Nandi the bull is still facing its deity, even though the temple is no more there,’ I said.

‘But shouldn’t the statue of Nandi also have been moved, now that the location of the temple has changed?’, the children asked.

I smiled, ready to spring one more surprise on my unsuspecting listeners.

‘No, the Nandi is faithful to its deity. The temple has moved, but the deity who resided in the Gyanvapi shrine, did not move.’

‘What?’, came the collective question. ‘Is the deity, the lingam still there? Inside the Gyanvapi?’

I laughed at their reaction, and then continued…..

‘We don’t know.’ And then a strategic pause……I could feel the curiosity gnawing the children inwardly….their eyes revealed as much…..

‘You see,’ I resumed, ‘whenever a temple was destroyed, there was great turmoil, several hundreds and thousands of people were slaughtered. Most of those who laid down their lives protecting the temple were laymen, common devotees, unarmed men and women and children, who just came in the way of the rampaging forces.’

‘One set of people who always, always suffered due to this attack on the temples were the purohits, the priests of the temple. They were the ones in charge of the upkeep, the well-being of the deity, and they, over a period of time, were invariably the ones who developed a deep sense of attachment to the stone idol, the deity. The chief priests, invariably, were always slaughtered since they refused to leave the temple premises, refused to leave the side of their deity, and surrendered themselves to their fate, to the will of their stone deity. ‘

‘In case of the Vishweshwara shrine, we do not know what happened when the temple was first demolished and the Razia Sultana mosque built over it. Later, when the Vishweshwara temple was moved to the premises of the Avimukteshwara shrine near the Gyanvapi kupa, the lingam was again installed in these new premises. However, this complex, consisting of the shrine of Avimukteshwara, Vishweshwara, and other ancillary deities, was once more raided and razed to the ground several times over the centuries. The last time it was done, during the time of Aurangzeb, we do not know what happened to the lingam, the stone deity. All we know for sure is that when the new temple was built adjacent to the mosque, a new lingam was installed in the garbha griha, since the old one remained untraceable, it had disappeared, so to say.’

‘Legend has it, that the old lingam still resides inside the mosque, in its basement, where Nandi the bull faces. But we do not know for sure. There is also another version which says that the chief priest, the purohit, to save the idol from desecration, jumped with the idol into the gyanvapi kupa and himself perished trying to save the idol. The old lingam thus, according to this legend, resides inside this well of wisdom inside the premises of the new Kashi Vishwanath dham.’

‘Maybe we will never know what happened to the deity, how the idol disappeared, and what cost some people may have had to bear to try to keep the deity safe……’

I paused, we had almost reached the edge of the water now, by the Lalita ghat, where our boat waited, anchored to the floating platform built of plastic pontoons. The children were quiet, as was Vaishali, immersed in their own private thoughts…..

‘There! I have laid it bare,’ I thought. ‘Now it is up to them to seek the truth…..’

To be continued……..

Check out these Amazon Bestsellers from the author –

The Battle of Panchavati and Other Stories from Indian Scripture
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!

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