Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located in Varanasi, the Holiest existing Place of Hindus, where at least once in life a Hindu is expected to do pilgrimage, and if possible, also pour the remains of cremated ancestors on the River Ganges. It is in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganges, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The main deity is known by the name Vishwanatha or Vishweshwara meaning the Ruler of the universe. The temple town claims to be the oldest living city in the World, with 3500 years of documented history is also called Kashi and hence the temple is popularly called as Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
The temple has been referred to in Hindu theology for a very long time and as a central part of worship in the Shaiva philosophy. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. The Gyanvapi Mosque is adjacent to the temple. The current structure was built by the Maratha monarch, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780. Since 1983, the temple is being managed by Govt. of Uttar Pradesh. During the religious occasion of Shivratri, Kashi Naresh (King of Kashi) is the chief officiating priest and no other person or priest is allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum. It is only after he performs his religious functions that others are allowed to enter.
A Shiva temple has been mentioned in Puranas including Kashi Khanda (section) of Skanda Purana. In 490 AD, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built. In 11th Century AD, Hari Chandra constructed a temple. Muhammad Ghori destroyed it along with other temples of Varanasi during his raid in 1194. Reconstruction of the temple started soon after. This was demolished by Qutb-ud-din Aibak. After Aibak's death the temple was again rebuilt by many Hindu emperors. In 1351 it was destroyed again by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. The temple was rebuilt in 1585 by Todar Mal, the Revenue Minister of Akbar's Court. Aurangzeb ordered its demolition in 1669 and constructed Gyanvapi Mosque, which still exists alongside the temple. Traces of the old temple can be seen behind the mosque. It is said that the Shiv-Linga was thrown in the well and the original Shiv-linga now resides there. The current temple was built by Ahilya Bai Holkar, the Hindu Maratha queen of Malwa kingdom, in 1780. Many noble families from various ancestral kingdoms (states) of India and their prior establishments, make generous contributions for operations of the temple.
The Temple Structure:
The temple complex consists of a series of smaller shrines, located in a small lane called the Vishwanatha Galli, near the river. The linga of the main deity at the shrine is 60 cm tall and 90 cm in circumference housed in a silver altar. There are small temples for Kaalbhairav, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri in the complex. There is a small well in the temple called the Jnana Vapi (the wisdom well) and it is believed that the Jytorlinga was hidden in the well to protect it at the time of invasion. It is said that the main priest of the temple jumped in the well with the Shiv Ling in order to protect the (Jyoti-r) Ling from invaders. The Kashi Vishwanath temple receives around 3000 visitors every day. At certain occasions, the numbers reach 100,000.
Importance Of The Temple:
The temple is widely recognized as one of the most important places of worship in Hindu religion and most of the leading Hindu saints, including Adi Sankaracharya, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Goswami Tulsidas, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Gurunanak have visited this site. A visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganges is one of many methods believed to lead one on a path to Moksha. Thus, people from all over the nation, try to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. There is also a tradition that one should give up at least one desire after a pilgrimage the temple, and the pilgrimage would also include a visit to the temple at Rameswaram in South India, where people take the water samples of the Ganges to perform prayer at the temple and bring back the sand from near that temple.
Due to the immense popularity and holiness of this temple, hundreds of temples across the nation have been built with the same style and architecture. Many legends establish that the true devotee achieves freedom from death and samsara by worship of Shiva. Shiva's devotees on death are directly taken to Mount Kailash by his messengers to his abode and not to Yama. The superiority of Shiva and his victory over his own nature - Shiva is himself identified with death - is also ascertained. There is a popular belief that Shiva himself blows the mantra of salvation into the ears of people who choose to end their lives at the Vishwanath temple.
In Popular Culture:
In Sid Meier's Civilization IV, the Kashi Vishwanath temple is a religious complex that can be built by a Great Prophet, thus establishing a holy shrine in the Hindu holy city.