Kashyaam Vidhaatumamarairapi Divya Bhumou satirthalinga gananaarchana to na shakyaa, yaaneeha gupta vivartaani puraatanaani siddhhaani yojitakarah pranamaami tebhyaha/ ( The number of Holy Tirthas and Shiva Lingas in Kashipura worthy of worship is impossible to count even by Deva ganas. I can only sal ute the unending numericals of both explorable and unknowble features of this Unparalleled Siddha Peetha with folded hands and prostrations!) Padma Purana, Uttarakhanda. As per Skanda Purana, Kashi Khanda, Kashi is stated to be identified by twelve main Names: Kashi, Varanaasi, Avimukta, Anandkaanana, Mahashmashana, Rudraavaasa, Kaashika, Tapahsthali, Mukti Bhumi and Shri Shiva Puri/ Tripuraari Raajanagari. Skanda Purana describes Kashi Mahatmya in Kashi Khanda as follows: Bhumishthaapi na yatra Bhumi devatopyuchairathah syaapi yaa, Yaa baddhaa Bhuvi Muktidaasyuramritam yasyaam mritaa jantavah/ Yaa nityam Trijagat pavitra tatini teero Suraih sevyate, Saa Kaashi Tripuraariraaja nagari Paayaadapaayaajjagat/ (That which is on Earth itself but is even beyond Trilokas, that which is right under Swarga and even higher Lokas, yet still far superior and beyond the reach of Lokas and severed of the hardest shackles of Earth and of higher Lokas, that which is the bestower of moksha, that which is worshipped and served well by Ganga which in turn is served by Devas and that which is saved by Tripurari Maha Deva of the entire Universe and its Creation). Narada Purana delineates Kashi as follows: Vaaraanasi tu bhuvanatraya saara bhutaa Ramyaa nrinaam sugatidaa kila sevyamaanaa, Atraagataa vividhadyupkrita kaarinopi paapakshaye virajasah sumabnh prakaashaah/ ( Kashi is not only most enchanting but is famed alkl over the Trilokas. If worshipped properly, it bestows the path of Salvation for sure. Several sinners of far reaching consequences too are liberarted and attain celestial features). In Kasi khanda of Skanda Purana assures: Ananyaani Mukti kshetraani Kaashiprapti karaanicha, Kashim prapya vimucchyet naanyat Teertha kotibhih/ (There is no other Mukti Kshetra like Kasi among crores of other Tirthas, and attaining his Kshetra is a sure step to rid of all human blemishes and accomplish Fulfilment) Kadaa Kaashyaam gamishyaami kadaadrukshyaami Shankaram, Iti shruvaanah satatam Kashivaasa phalam labhet/ (What kind of fear is faced from ‘Samsara’ one one makes up a firm resolve is embedded in mind to worship Shankara in person!) Yeshaam hridi sadaivaaste Kaashitwaashi vishaamgadah, Samsaaraashivishavisham na teshashaam prabhavet kwachit/ (Whosoever pronounces the two words of Kashi and rejoices the musical sound would never ever have to listen to the discordant notes about the jarring sounds of Samsara).Shrutam karnaamritam yena Kashityaksharayugmakam, Na samaakarnayatyeva sa punarbhajaam kathaam/ (Even from far off distances, the sonorous sounds of ‘Kashi Kashi’ are heard and meditated upon, they need not exert much to find the path of Salvation).
The region intermediate to the two rivers viz.Varana and Asi is called ‘Varanaasi’, the outstanding Tirtha of Bharata Desha among the Seven Most Distinguished of Tirthas: Ayodhya Mathura Maya (Kankhal Haridwar) Kasi Kaanchi Avantika (Ujjain) Dwarika/ Now the famed statement is: Kashyam hi marananmuktih/ and this Statement draws lakhs of human beings from all over to stay at Kashi till their life’s termination, especially at the threshold of death. This Place is also renowned as the Vidya Peeth or the Seat of Learning and Kashi Vidwans are renowned all over. Kashi is also among the distinguished Dwadasha Shiva Linga Sthanas and the reputed Fifty One Shakti Peethas as Devi Vishalakshi at Manikarnika is the abode of Devi Sati’s right ‘Karnakundala’ or the Ear Ring fell at the Daksha Yajgnas destruction. Maha Kaala Bhairava Maha Deva had the unique honour of carrying the skull of Brahma’s fifth head as a begging bowl with which to receive Devi Annapurna at her door step daily to atone retributory penance for Brahma Hatya till he got rid of the sin’s effect in Pataala Loka and finally the begging bowl saga ended. The most significant ‘Ghats’ worthy of Bathing spread out all along the hallowed Ganga banks at Kashi are essentially five viz. Varana Sangama Ghat, Pancha Ganga Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Dashaaswamedha Ghat and Asisangama Ghat. Varana sangama Ghat snaana is significant especially on Bhadra Shukla Dwadasha, and worship at Vashishtheshwara and Rutishwara ShivaMandiras on the left side of the Varana River. Near Varana sangama are also there Chaturbhuja Keshava at the Vishnupadodaka tiretha and also Harihareshwara Shiva, besidesVedeshwara, Nakshatreshwara, and Sweta Dwipeshwara Maha Deva Mandiras. Pancha Ganga ghat is statedto be of the Sangama of Five Sacred Rivers viz. of Yamuna, Saraswati, Kirana and Dhutapaata in Gupta Swarupa or hidden forms as ‘Antarvahinis’ with main Ganga. This is called Vishnu Kanchi Tirtha or Bindu Madhava Tirtha where a Brahmana bhakta called Agnivindu gave Narayana Darshana and the latter directed the brahmana to stay there for good. Pancha Gangeshwara and Bindu Madhava Mandirs are signified for worship especially after Kartika month snaanas. Most significant is the Manikarnika Snaana at Veera Tirtha at Manikarnika Kund which is approachable by twenty one steps on all the four sides. Inside this Kund there is a Bhairava Kund Spring and is stated to be the most clean and Sacred. Veereshwara Shiva Puja is stated to be highly fulfilling. Dashashwamedha Ghat is another important Ghat which was the Unique Place where Lord Brahma performed Ten Ashwamedha Yagnas; bathing in this ghat is stated as special, especially on Jyeshtha Shukla Dashami; besides Dashashwameedheshwara Shiva, veneration to Shula Tankeshwara Shiva and Abhinava Vinayaka are stated to be extremely beneficial. Asi sangama ghat is the Sangama Tirtha of Asi river with main flow of Ganga which is stated as Haridwara Tirtha also reputed for Kartika snaanas especially on Krishna Paksha Shashthi. Besides these main Ghats, there are as many as 50-60 Ghats of varying prominence and reputation. Harishchandra Ghat or Smashana Ghat where Smashaneshwara Shiva the Over Lord of Death and Destruction as also the Bestower of Mangal or Auspiciousness is ever present. This Ghat represents Truthfulness and Extreme Faith the two major characteristics of Raja Satya Harischandra. Also there are Prahlad Ghat with Prahladeshwar Shiva Mandir, Trilochana Ghat called Trivishtupa Tirtha with Trilochana Shiva Mandir as also Uddanda Munda Vinayaka, Modakapriya Ganesha and Samhara Bhairava; Mahata Ghat with Naranarayana Mandira known for Pousha Purnima Snanas; Sankata ghat also called Yama Tirtha with Yameshwara Shiva Mandita; Lalitha Ghat known for Ashwiyuja Krishna Dwitiya worship at Lalita Devi Mandira popular with yatris from Nepal; ManMandira Ghat with Dalabhyeshwara, Someshwara, Setubandha Rameshwara and Sthula danta Vinayaka Mandiras in the name of Jaipur Raja Mansingh; Chousatti ghat with 64 Yogini Murtis and Bhadra Kaali Mandira; Mansarovara ghat, Kedar ghat, Hanuman Ghat and Ruru Bhairava nearby; Tulasi ghat in the memoryof Goswami Tulasi das where the latter breathed his last and so on.
The most outstanding Mandir of Varanasi indeed is of Vishwanatha, decorated with Swarana kalasha or of gold vessel atop the Mandir, dedicated by King Ranjit Singh known as Panjab Kesari. The Sabha Madapa or the outside region of the Most Hallowed ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ or the ‘Garbha Sthaana’ of Vishweshrara Jyotir Linga are the surrounding Sacred Pratimas of Soubhagya Gauri and Ganesha, Avimukteshwara, Dandapaaneshwara, Satya Narayana, Shaneshchareshwara Maha Deva and a big sized bell. As ShriVishwanatha is the Over Lord, the attendant Devas are the Minister Hareshwara, Kathaavaachaka Brahmeshwara, Kotwal Bhairava, Dhanaadhksha or Treasurer Tarakeshwara, Dandapaani, Bhandari Veereshwara, Adhikari Dhundiraja, and several Prajapalakas. All the devotees are allowed to perform ‘abhisheka’ of the Jyotir Linga Swarupa of Vishweshwara with Ganga, and Panchamritas. To the Vayavya or North East of the Vishwanadha Mkandira are some hundred fifty Shiva Lingas headed by Dharma -rajeshwara. Moda Vinayaka, Pramoda Vinayaka, Sumukha Vinayaka and Gana Natha Vinayaka Murtis- all comprising the ‘Sabha’. Jnaanavaapi Kupa: The Mughal King Aurangjeb who plundered and partly destroyed the original Mandir at Kashi pulled out and threw away the original Vishweshwara Linga and subsequently the original Linga was consecrated once again and restored in the new Mandir; the traces of the original Mandir over which a Masjid was built are still noticed. It is that well from which the Original Linga was restored which continues to be revered and the water from it is still consumed by the Yatris as Sacred. There is a seven feet Nandi facing the Original Linga still unscathed intact. Akshaya Vata: As one proceeds from the Main Mandir Gate is the Shanaishwar Mandir to the immediate left and the face of the Lord is made of Silver but has no body but duly clothed and to adjacent to that is a Vata Vriksha or Banyan Tree called Akshaya Vata which is worthy of worshipping on Mondays. Annapurneshwari Mandir is not far from the Main Mandir of Lord Vishwanath in which Goddess Annapurneshwari is seated on a silver throne facing the Deities of Kubera, Surya, Ganesha, Vishnu and Hanuman, besides Yantreshwar Linga as also the Murtis of Gangavatarana, Lakshmi Narayana, Shri Rama in his company and so on. Samishthi Kumkumaadi Pujas are conducted especially by Suvasinis and Friday Pujas are indeed of significance. Chaitra Shukla Navami and Ashviyuja Shukla Ashtami are stated to be of paramount importance. Dundi Raja Ganeshwara near Annapurna Mandira is worshipped specially on Magha Shukla Chaturthi. Kala Bhairava Mandir has Bhairavanatha with Chaturbhuja is seated on a black Dog on a silver platform which is specially worshipped on KartikaKrishna Ashtami, Margaseersha Krishna Ashtami and Chaturdashi, as also on all Sundays. Durgaji is at Durga kund and Durga Mandir near Asisagama ghat and Pushkar Tirtha and the Mandir has Durga, Shiva, Vinayak and the nearby Kukkuteshwara Maha Deva and Chanda Bhairava Murtis. Kruttikeshwara Linga is some one and half feet high in the Mandir near Alamgiri Masjid near Vriddha Kaal Lane and there itself Mrityunjaya Mandir and of Manidwipeshwar Shiva. Dhupa Chandi and Vikatadwija Vinayaka Mandirs are near Chitrakut sarovar. Kapala mochan Kunda and Mandir near Bakaiya Kund in Jalaali gaon have a seven feet copper pillor called as Lot Bhirava or Kaala Bhirava. Tilabhandeshwara near Bengali Tola School with a four feet high Linga Murti and nearby there is a Kedareshwar Mandir too which attracts large crowds on Mondays and especially on Shiva Ratris. Indeed, Kashi has Mandirs in every Lane and Bylane. It is estimated however that the prominent Idols are some 51 Lingas, 12 Adityas, 56 Vinayakas, 8 Bhairavas, 9 Durgas, 13 Nrisimhas, 16 Keshavas, and so on. Kurma Purana while describing Varanasi Mahatmya quotes Veda Vyasa showing to his desciples about the five famed Lingas viz. Krittivasa Linga, Kapardeshwara Linga, Omkareshwara Linga, Madhymesh- wara Linga, and of course Vishweshwara Linga and explained the legendary background of these: Krittivasa Linga was signified as a Daitya who assumed the form of an elephant who used to kill Brahmana devotees in Shiva’s meditation and as Shiva was about to kill the Daitya, the latter made a request that Shiva might please wear his skin and since then Shiva is called Krittivasa.Kapardeshwara Linga has the background that a Brahmana named Shankhukarna engaged in Shiva Linga Puja encountered a Pishacha who confessed before killing the Brahmana that he was too a Brahmana before becoming a Pishacha but never did Atithi Puja and never did a good turn in life excepting that he touched a Shiva Linga in imagination and regretted his past misdeeds while dying. Shankhukarna pitied the Pishacha and advised to bathe in a pond near by and touch the Shiva Linga which he was worshipping. The Pishacha did so and flew in a vimana in celestial form and since then the Pond came to be called Pishacha Tirtha! Veda Vyasa explained to his students that outstanding Vidwans explained the Panchaardha’ as Pashupati in view of his qualities as Ateetatwa or Bliss-Shanti or Harmony and Equanimity-Vidya or Parama Jnaana- Pratishtha or Unique Fame- and Nivritti or Detachment leading to Liberation. Thus Parama Shiva is the Omkara Swarupa or the Embodiment of Effulgence hence Omkareshwara Linga is another meaning of Nyasa/ Unification of Self with Supreme! Madhyameshwara Linga on the banks of Mandakini an extension of Ganga which was worshipped by Lord Krishna of Dwapara Yuga performed Pashupata Vrata to this very Linga and stayed there for a year by shaving his head, applying ash and wearing Rudraaksha and finally achieved Shambhu darshana. Finally Veda Vyasa along with his followers performed ganga snaana and Vishweshwara Lingaabhisheka. As he settled at Kasi for good performing abhisheka thrice a day along with Sishyas by taking Bhiksha or charity, one day he did not recieve bhiksha for all, he cursed Kashi vaasis to create daily vighnas or obstacles and Devi Annapurna appeared and asked him and his sishyas to get daily bhiksha but asked him to perform worship to Vishwashwara only on Chaturthis and Ashtamis. Further, Veda Vyasa enlightened his followers about several Punya Tirthas attached to the banks of Ganga such as Vishwarupa Tirtha, Taaa Tirtha, Akasha Tirtha, Gauri Tirtha, Prajapatya Tirtha, Swarga dwaara, Jambukeshwara, Jnaana Tirtha, Yama Tirtha, Agni Tirtha, and Brahma Tirtha. Suta Muni who narrated Kurma Purana to the congregation of Rishis provided an account of Phala Shruti of Varanasi Maha Tirtha concludes: Yah pathedavimuktasya Mahatmyam shrunuyaadapi, Shravayeda vaa Dwijam shaantaan sopi yaati paraam gatim/ Shraaddevaa Devaivike kaarye raatraavahaani vaa dwijaa, Nadinaam chaiva teereshu Devataanaataneshu cha/ Snaatwaa samahita manaa damhamaatsarya varjitaah, Japedisham namaskutya sa yaati Paramam gatim/ (Whosoever would read, hear or narrate about the Avimukta / Varanasi Kshetra would definitely secure Maha Punya; once a person takes bath and is engaged in, Pitru/ Deva Karyas, in the day or night, on the banks of Ganda ir in Mandirs, devoid of dambha or self-pride and Matsara or narrow mindedness and sincerely meditate Maha Deva is indeed qualified for ‘Parama Gati’ or the Path of Supreme). Among the most prominent Yatra Place surrounding Kashi is Saarnath hardly 5-6 km by road where the world renowned Buddhist Pilgrimage Point where Lord Buddha had his foremost Upadesha or ‘Initiation’ and Dharma Chakra was launched. The Places worthy of visit are Ahoka’s Square Faced Pillor, Bhagavan Buddha Mandir which is stated to be the foremost Mandir ever, Dhameka stupa, Choukhandi Stupa, Sarnarnath Museum, Jai Mandir, Mulaganedha kuti and Naveen Vihar. Muhammd Ghori took away the Golden Buddha Idol and destroyed innumerable Pieces of Art and Crafts and the left over valuables are now retained in the Museum. Followers of Maha Vir Jains consider their prime Place of worship as Saarnath as their ‘Atishaya Kshetra’ and continue to retain valuable Scripts here. Shreyamsa Nath is stated to have been born and meditated at this Sacred Place where there is a Jain Mandir of immense repute with his Pratima and a memorial Pillar. The nearby Chandravati is also the reputed Jain Tirtha where Jainacharya Chandra Pabhu was born and lived here.