Varanasi, also commonly known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a district in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is situated on the banks of the River Ganges. It is regarded as a holy city by Buddhists and Jains, and is the holiest place in the world in Hinduism (and center of earth in Hindu Cosmology). It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest of India.
The pilgrim journeys are based on what is referred to as Puranic mythology and treatises - and there are up to 108 types of pilgrimage circuits depending on their association with different deities. Many of these pilgrimages have lost their specific identities and others have been transformed over time. Despite changes and the transformation of layers upon layers of history, at least 52 of these 108 different pilgrimages exist to varying degrees. Some of the pilgrimage routes represent the archetypal symbolism of Hinduism - as exemplified in the term “Kashi as Cosmo Gram”. One notable pilgrims’ route is still performed and described below.
The daily pilgrimage starts with a morning dip in the sacred River Ganga followed by a visit to worship at the famous Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The pilgrimage route takes in the following added temples: Jnanavapi Mandapa, Sri Annapurna, Dhundhiraja Ganesha, Sri Kashi Vishalakhi Temple and finally, the Sri Kal Bhairava. Visits to these sites demonstrate the rich and cultural heritage of Varanasi in this holiest of cities.
Religious tours can be visited between 06:00-17:00. If you have any special requirements, please let us know. We will do our best to assist you!
The tour is headed by our knowledgeable & eco-friendly English-speaking guide who will meet you at your hotel or guesthouse and accompany you to visit a few of the important ghats. You may wish to partake of an early morning dip. After that, visits to Sri Kashi Vishwanath (or the Golden) Temple, Jnanavapi Mandapa, the Sri Annapurna Temple, Dhundhiraja Ganesha, Sri Kashi Vishalakhi Temple and finally, the Sri Kal Bhairava Temple can follow. Time-permitting, you may also wish to visit other ancient temples, e.g. Ashramas & Mathas in the old part of Varanasi.
Please Note: Do not carry important & valuable goods on tour. Photographs are not allowed inside some of the temples & other sites (our guide will advise you well in advance where not to take pictures). Respectful attire (e.g. not shorts or plunging necklines) is recommended and may we remind you donations and temple tips or vehicle for pickup & drop-off are not included in the tour cost.
"Kashi" is a place of pilgrimage & known as the religious capital of India. People come here to visit temples & to feel the Spiritualism. It is therefore no wonder that wherever you turn, you come across a temple. Some are ancient, some recent, and the others fall somewhere in between. Some are architecturally beautiful; some have an interesting history, while the others attract you simply for their sanctity. It is practically impossible to make a complete list of the temples in Kashi, and we will not even try to make that attempt. We will, therefore stick to describing the most of the seen & unseen temples we have visited, and the temples we have heard of.
Kashi is known as the land of Shiva. Everything in Kashi not only revolves around the main temple of Vishwanath, as Shiva is known here, but He is also believed to be in control of everything that happens in this holy city. Normally, in Hindu mythology, the nine planets, or Navagrahas, who govern our actions, are independent, and perform their duty without interference from the Gods (a case of not even God interfering with nature and her rules). However, Kashi is a special city, an exception to this rule, where Shiva even governs the Navagrahas. MORE....
It is believed that Lord Shaneeshwara (Saturn) once came to catch Shiva for the period of 7 ½ years (what is commonly called Saade-saati), and found himself unable to enter the temple. He is believed to have stayed outside the temple, and hence the temple of Shaneeshwara outside the Vishwanath temple is much frequented by pilgrims who light oil lamps here, hoping to escape the clutch of Shani.
There are just too many legends to explain why Kashi is sacred, and why Shiva chose to reside here. I recently read an article where the writer explains in scientific terms, that in this area, the Ganges flows in a curve, in the northward direction. The curvature and the force of the river led to the formation of a natural amphitheatre, or natural steps in simpler terms. This probably attracted our forefathers to this place, who built Ghats where the steps had formed, to have a bath, and installed their patron deity, Shiva as the lord of this place. Therefore, in order to avoid the confusion, let us not discuss the legends and accept the fact that here, Shiva is called Vishwanath or Vishweshwar, the lord of the world.
Kashi or Benares has been ruled by various great kings, some distinguished ones, and some not so famous. It even passed through a phase of being ruled over by the Buddhists. But the ancient temples, which saw so many rulers come and go, could not survive the onslaught of the Mughals. The temples were destroyed, not once, but a number of times by various Mughal invaders, leaving no trace of what the original temples might have looked like.
The temple, as it stands today, owes its existence to the Queen of Indore, Rani AhilyaBai Holkar. It was she who, seeing the sorry state of affairs here, not only provided the funds, but also made all the arrangements for building the temple. She was certainly a great woman, much ahead of her time, who took up the task of restoring to their glory, many of the ancient temples of India, which had suffered at the hands of plundering monarchs. The temple of Somnath is another such temple. Among the other temples which she helped build are the ones at Dwaraka, Triambakeshwar, and Parali Vaidyanat
The present temple stands beside a mosque that had been built by Aurangzeb over the ruins of the original temple. The sacred idol, the Shiva lingam, had been hidden in a well, hoping to prevent its destruction. This well, now known as the Gyaana Vapi (well of knowledge) stands in an area between the temple and the mosque.
Kashi twice-the first time as a 12 year old, and again recently, almost 20 years later. On my first visit, I remember seeing the well and being told its story when we were circumambulating the temple. This time however, there was some construction work going on (they are renovating the temple and the area around it), and we were unable to circumambulate the temple, and hence could not see the well.
Though Kashi is a place of great sanctity, it is also infamous for the Pandas, or a class of priests, who charge exorbitant amounts of money. If u talk to anyone who has visited Kashi, you will be sure to hear tales of how they have been overcharged and been taken for a ride by these people. The same goes for the temple too. However, the temple administration is now making efforts to remedy the situation. The first step it has taken in this direction is the creation of its own website. This site has been well organized, with complete details about the temple, as well as the pujas conducted, the timings of the different Aarthis, and the charges for the various offerings. Best of all, it is possible to book pujas on the net well in advance, and arrange whether you want the puja to be performed in your presence, in which case the ticket allows you an entry into the temple bypassing the long queue, or in your absence, in which case, the Prasad is sent to you by post. This is a good system, and must be appreciated. Of course, at this point of time, this doesn’t entirely bypass the earlier system of paying money to the priests. These days, there are a number of people who book for the pujas, and one often gets relegated to the back row from where we can hardly get a glimpse of what is going on. A little extra from your wallet goes a long way in getting you a prime position to watch the puja.
There are 2 Aartis at the temple- the Saptharishi Aarthi in the evening, and the early morning Mangalaarti.
The Saptharishi Aarthi is the aarti performed by 7 priests, each belonging to a different Gotram, performing the aarti to the lingam simultaneously. It is believed that every evening, the Saptarishis, the seven great sages come to perform aarti to the lord, and hence this puja is conducted every evening at 7 PM. This is followed by the Shringar Aarthi and finally the Shayan Aarti, when the Lord is put to sleep. We attended only the saptarishis aarthi, but if you do, pay for the Shringar Aarti and stay for the Shayan aarti as well, which is free. Seeing these Aartis is an experience which must not be missed. No words to describe the atmosphere during the final aarthi.
The early morning Mangalaarti, where the Lord is woken up is at 3AM every morning. It is, no doubt, not an easy thing to be up and ready at the temple by 2:45AM, especially on a holiday, but this is one puja which is worth the effort! First, you will get to see the Lord, as he was during the night (Nirmalya Darshan). Then, all the garlands and flowers are removed, and we get to see the original lingam in all its majesty (again, not an easy thing to see, as it is usually covered with flowers, water and bilva leaves). Then, Abhishekam is performed to the lingam followed by decoration with flowers. Again, this decoration is removed, and we get the Prasad, and finally each and everyone present is allowed to go near the lingam and offer prayers.
Food is one of the basic necessities of life, and it is no wonder that we say ‘Annam Brahma’, food is God. It is the mother who provides food for the child, and it is again no wonder that we pray to the goddess Parvati as Annapurna, the one who gives us food. It is believed that Parvati gave Alms to Shiva, and she is depicted with a bowl in one hand and ladle in the other, serving food to Shiva, standing in front of her, with his begging bowl in His hand. The most popular temple of Annapurna is at Kashi "Annapurna Devi Temple). There are two other temples of Annapurna, one in Kerala, and one in Gujarat. To read about the legend of Annapurna, and her other temples in India. MORE....
The temple of Annapurna at Kashi is right next to the Vishwanath temple. This temple is attached to the Annapurna Mutt. A highlight of this temple is that every year, the day before Diwali, a golden idol of Annapurna is opened for darshan. This idol can be seen only on that one day, and it is indeed a great sight! Annapurna sits in the middle with her trademark bowl and ladle. On her left is Lakshmi (Sridevi- the goddess of wealth) and on her right is Bhudevi (the goddess of the earth). All these idols are of pure Gold, and are beautiful to look at. In front of them stands Shiva, made of silver, asking for alms. I was fortunate enough to visit Kashi during Diwali when I was a child, and the image of the Golden Annapurna is etched on my mind. It is a great wish of mine to go back once more and feast my eyes on that wonderful sight, but that is in Her hands alone!
In the sanctum of the temple, the idol of the goddess is a small one, which is always decorated in a sari when open for darshan. A silver mask covers her face, and little else can be seen. All the idols of Annapurna available show her in a sitting position, and we naturally assumed that that was how she was in this temple. However, we were in for a pleasant surprise. We had arranged for Abhishekam at the temple, and were allowed into the sanctum to perform the Abhishekam ourselves. It was then that we realized that the idol of Annapurna is made of black stone, quite small, and she is in the standing position. The image is simple, holding only the bowl and ladle, with practically no decorations at all. But goodness, she is so beautiful! The smile on her face is so charming, so real, it almost seems She is standing in front of us!
For the information of devotees who would like to perform the Abhishekam, tickets are available at the temple office for Rs.750/-. This amount is subject to change, and it would be better if one made enquiries at the temple office. The mutt and the local priests there have come to some sort of an arrangement where the Guruji of the mutt performs the puja on certain days and on certain days, the puja is performed by the local priests. There is a board put up outside the main sanctum informing people about who is performing the puja that day. The day the mutt is in charge, it is a simple matter to pay money at the office and arrange for the Abhishekam. On the other days, the amount is subject to the number of people wanting to perform the Abhishekam and the amount they are willing to pay! Please check details in advance so that you can be prepared. The Abhishekam is performed at 10:30AM every morning, but there again, there is an inevitable delay, so be patient, and you will be rewarded. It is worth a wait!
Another specialty of this temple is that food is served to all devotees….food is too simple a term for what is virtually a feast. Free coupons are available at the temple office and the food is served in a hall behind the temple. It is believed that the goddess takes her food only after making sure that all her devotees have had their fill. Try to partake of this Prasad at least once during your stay in Kashi. It is also a tradition to perform some service before taking food here. So many devotees take their turn in serving a few devotees before starting to eat. This was a wonderful experience in itself, and a practice that must be encouraged.
Dedicated to Lord Kaal Bhairav, who is known as the 'Kotwal of Varanasi', it is said that without his permission no one can stay in Kashi. Bhairav is considered a fearsome manifestation of Shiva who wears a garland of skulls and carries a club of peacock feathers. The name Kaal Bhairav means both Death and Fate. Even Death, it is said, is afraid of Kaal Bhairav. MORE....
One of the most interesting temples in Varanasi, you will find a door guarded by Bhairav's mount, the dog, through which there is a fine courtyard. In the centre of the courtyard, there is the main shrine of Bhairav. His silver face, garlanded with flowers, can be seen through the doorway of inner sanctum, while the rest of the idol said to be holding a trident, seated upon a dog, is hidden behind a cloth drapery.
This temple was a spiritual centre in Kashi for many centuries for the most severe of Shiva ascetics. Today, the temple is no longer the exclusive domain of such extremist yogis and is patronized by ordinary householders for his protective blessings. An important temple of Varanasi, it is much revered by those who live under its influence in the surrounding Kotwalpuri section of the city.
Long time back several great sages sitting a top of Sumeru Parbat (Mountain) desired to know from lord Brahmaas to who was indestructible & supreme. Lord Brahma proclaimed himselfto be that superior person. On hearing this Yagyeshwar (Lord Vishnu) reprimanded Lord Brahma for his hasty & audacious utterances.
Both of them went to four Vedas to asked the same question. Rig Veda replied that the omnipotent deity who controls all liivng beings, named Rudra is supreme.Yajur Veda replied that He, whom we worship through various Yagnas (Yagam) and other such rigorous rituals, is none other than Shiva, who is supreme. Sam Veda stated that the respected figure who is worshipped by various Yogis and that person who controls the entire world is none other than Trayambakam. Finally Artha Veda said, all human beings can see the Lord through Bhakti Marg and such a deity who can remove all the worries of human being is indeed Shankar. In a nut shell, all the four Vedas proclaimed that Lord Shiva the ultimate being.
Both Lord Brahma and Yagya Narayan started laughing in disbelief. Shortly, Lord Shiva appeared as a powerful divine light in the midst. Lord Brahma stared at that Being furiously with his fifth head. Lord Shiva immediately created one living being & stated that he (that new being) will be king of Kaal and will be known asKaal Bhairav. Lord Shiva further stated Kaal Bhairav will always be in Kashi, removing all sins of the devotees and therefore, he will be known as Paap Bhakshak.
Meanwhile, Lord Brahma's fifth head was still burning with fury and Kaal Bhairav plucked that head (just as we pluck flowers from the garden). Immediately all the people present there started singing praises of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva directed Bhairav to go around various places but Brahma Hatya Dosh (affliction on account of hurting a Brahmin) will always follow him. Lord Shiva created a dangerous & feirce looking female figure named Brahma Hatya and asked her to follow Kaal Bhairav wherever he went.
Kaal Bhairav, with Brahma's head in his hand, started going around various places in the world, took bathe in the various Teerths, worshipped various Lords, nevertheless saw the Brahma Hatya was following him all along. He could not get rid of that affliction.
Finally, Kall Bhairav reached the Moksha Puri, Kashi. The moment Kaal Bhairav entered Kashi, Brahma Hatya started shouting screaming and finally disappeared into the netherworld. The head of Brahma, (Kapaal) fell at a place which was called Kapal Mochan and there was a Teerth which was later called Kapal Mochan Teerth. Then onward Kaal Bhairav stationed himself permanentely in Kashi, giving shelter to all bis devotees. Those living in or visiting Kashi, must worship Kaal Bhairav and he grants protection to all his devotees.
Ashtami day (eighth day after poornima) in the month of Margashirsha is an important day for worshipping Kaal Bhairav. Besides, Sundays, Tuesdays, Ashtami and Chaturdashi days are very important for worshipping Kaal Bhairav. A person who circumabulates Lord Kaal Bhairav eight times will be absolved of all the sins committed by him. A devotee who worships Kaal Bhairav for six months will attend all types of Siddhi (Kashi Khand Chapter 31).
Old timers in Kashi believe whenever residents of Kashi leave the city for short journeys, they worship Kaal Bhairav (taking his permission) and on return back to Kashi, they again worship Kaal Bhairav.