Kashi is an ancient city, “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend” as American writer Mark Twain described it. Sage Vyasa had compiled the Vedas sitting on the banks of river Ganga in this holy city. The Pandava brothers had visited this city founded by Lord Shiva. Skand Purana gives elaborate description of this holy city. From Buddha, to Shankara to Guru Nanak – every spiritual leader had his footprints etched on its sacred soil.
The Vishwanath temple is utmost sacred, a “Jyotirlinga” Lord Shiva in the form of a radiant light – considered by millions as a “crossing place” – Tirtha – “between this world and the ‘far shore’ of the transcendent Brahman” as eminent American scholar Diana Eck puts it.
The temple had witnessed destruction repeatedly during the iconoclastic invasions of Muhammad Ghori, Sikandar Lodhi and finally Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s destruction also saw a mosque rising over the ruins of the ancient temple.
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Like a sphinx, the temple had bounced back to life after every demolition. Raja Man Singh and Raja Todar Mal, the two generals in Akbar’s court, were credited with rebuilding the temple towards the end of the 15th century. After Aurangzeb’s destruction, Maharaja Malhar Rao Holkar, the ruler of Indore and Maharaja of Jaipur had attempted to restore it unsuccessfully in the middle of the 18th century. Finally, Malhar Rao’s daughter-in-law and the famed ruler of Indore, Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar had succeeded in rebuilding the temple next to the mosque in 1780.
Since then, this magnificent temple has been serving the seekers uninterruptedly.
People of all faiths, from world over, come to Kashi seeking spiritual bliss. Famed poet Ghalib was there proclaiming that Kashi was “the Kaaba of Hindustan”.
“Ibadat khana e naqoosian ast – hama na kaaba e Hindustan ast”
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(This is a place of worship where people make music from conch shells; This truly is the Kaaba of Hindustan), he said.
Allama Iqbal had found in Ganga the pride of our civilisational caravan.
“Ai aab rooy e Ganga, woh din hain yaad tujhko, utra tere kinare jub karavaan hamara?”
(O Ganga, our very pride is bound with you; Do you remember our caravan,
which rested on your banks forever?), he wrote.
Who can forget the soothing tunes of Ustad Bismillah Khan’s mesmerising shehnai in the temple precincts!
Medieval Islamic iconoclasm had subjected many temples to vandalism. Most sacred among them were in Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya. Ayodhya temple was handed back through a judicial process recently, where a magnificent temple is coming up. Demands for restoration of the remaining two also come up consistently from Hindus.
Like the Holocaust-deniers in the West, there are iconoclasm-deniers in India too. Historian K N Panikkar had come up with the whitewashed narrative that Aurangzeb’s destruction of Vishwanath temple had “political motives”, while B N Pande peddled the bizarre theory that Aurangzeb had done it out of rage because …….