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|Kashi Vishwanath Temple and ghat. hubpages.com|
The city of Varanasi or Kashi is located at the confluence of the rivers Varana and Asi with the mighty Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The Ganga takes the shape of a bow in this area. The name Kashi owes its origin to the Kasha tribes who inhabited the surrounding land. The city of Varanasi finds mention in the great Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Kashi town is considered as the oldest living city as cited by ancient Sanskrit literature for its 3500 year history. Kashi Viswanatha temple is the foremost holiest temple in India and every day tens of thousands of pilgrims arrive here to worship the presiding deity and to perform ''Thithi'' or Shartham in memory of their fore fathers. The first Jyotirlinga is said to have appeared out of the earth's crust here and flared towards heavens in the form of a huge column of Agni (fire) as Shiva manifested his supremacy. The famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built here and it remains a center of Saivaitism - people who follow the cosmic dancer Shiva. Vishwanatha or Vishweshwara means the ruler of the Universe.
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A large proportion of Hindus believe that a pilgrimage to Kashi Vishwanath Temple (where after the traditional puja, the pilgrim collects the water from the holy Ganges to be used in the puja in Rameshwaram Temple in Tamil Nadu) is a must and part of the Samskara - meaning sacraments observed by the Hindu from the birth to the cremation ground (from Garbhadana - conception to Antyeshti - the last rites). If you want to quit the Samsara Bandha or Bandham in pursuit of worldly pleasure from a family bond or commitments, Kashi is the right place to start with. Lord Shiva - the all mighty and all pervasive power, will free one from the continuous cycle of births and deaths (reincarnation) and you can enter the Moksha (heaven) or attain Mukti (Salvation). Therefore, there will be no birth hereon and you will be as free as a bird without committing yourself to Samsara Bandham.
|Kashi Vishwanath TempleUP in 1915.en wikipedia. org|
The tradition has it the Hindus believe in 4 goals that are part and parcel of mankind - pursuit of Artha - Wealth and Power; Kama - Cardinal pleasure; Dharma - Righteousness; Moksha - Eventual liberation of the Atma (soul) from the continuous cycle of lives (samsara) - birth and death, ever to live in eternal peace. In the above, the first two are transitory, not permanent.
In the past centuries ago, the Hindu kings carefully followed Agama Sastras to build the rich temples. The presiding deities were invariably made up of gold lavishly adorned with precious stones and diamond studded jewelry. Such practices invited trouble. At that point of time, Muslim invaders, scenting hoards of gold in Hindu temples raided them and took almost all the wealth for their war expenses, military raids, etc. Many of the Hindu temples from 1194 AD to 1669 AD razed to the ground by the Muslim invaders from NW were later rebuilt by the Hindu kings. Early records point out that the original Vishwanath temple was raided and destroyed by the army of Qutb-ud-din Aibak in 1194 CE, when he defeated the Raja of Kannauj as a commander of Mohammad Ghori. It was Raja Todar Mal who further re-built the temple with Akbar's funding at its original site in 1585.
The Kasi Viswanatha temple was again destroyed in 1669 by Aurangzeb, the most treacherous Mogul ruler of Delhi (who killed his own brothers, imprisoned his sick father) and remnants of it can be seen behind the Gyanvapi mosque. During the reign of Mogul ruler Akbar, the present temple was built by Ahalya Bai of Indore in 1776 and is situated on the premises of Banaras Hindu University and managed by the Birlas. The unique Sivalinga, 60 cm tall and 90 cm in circumference, is made of black stone and is housed in an altar made of silver. The unique features are gold plated sanctum, 15.5 metre high gold spire and gold dome. There are three domes each made up of pure gold!! The temple (Shri Vishwanath Mandir) was finally completed in 1966
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Kasi Vishwanatha temple has several smaller shrines along Vishwanatha Galli near the Ganga River are dedicated to Vishnu, Vinayaka, Saniswar, Kaalbhairav and other Gods. Pooja protocol begins with Mangal Arti at 3 am to 4 am and at noon Bhog Arti is done. Sapta Rishi Aarti is done from 7 am to 8.30 pm. Maha Shivratri is celebrated, as in other Shiva temples across India, on a grand scale each year witnessed by thousands of pilgrims.
According to the Hindu philosophy, the very name Kashi is synonymous with Moksha or salvation and, it is believed, taking a dip in the holy Ganges is said to cleanse the soul and absolve one of all his sins and it is a way to pay obeisance to Pithroos - forefathers. Tradition holds that a devotee must give up desires, and pursuit of cheap worldly pleasures after a pilgrimage to Kashi.
Along the banks of the Ganges, there are eighty four bathing ghats and several Therthakundas/ Therthakindams that are believed to be here since the time of the Vedas. Varanasi Ganga Ghat, Kedar Ghat, Tulsi Ghat, Mansarovar Ghat, Panchaganga Ghat, Harish Chandra Ghat are some of the well-known ghats. Great saints such as Adi Sankara of Kaladi, Kerala, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Goswami Tulsidas, Swami Dayananda Saraswati and Gurunanak considered it the holiest among holy temple.
Varanasi is well connected to the rest of the country by train and road. The Varanasi railway station is an important rail junction and connects to major cities across India.