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A Nandi that’s facing the wall

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In 2012-13, Kumbh was organised at Prayagraj (named Allahabad back then, though it was always Prayagraj before Mughals came to India). After taking the holy dip at the Sangam, I proceeded to Varanasi to take blessings of one of the most prominent Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva i.e. Kashi Vishwanath located on the banks of river Ganga.

I reached Benaras quite late in the evening. When I asked the locals there, I got to know that the temple would still be open, but it was going to be closed down for the day very soon. I ran towards the temple and after crossing many puzzlery streets, I finally managed to reach one of the entrances of the temple. There was no queue and only very few people. I took blessings of Lord Shiva and considered myself lucky that I could have such wonderful darshan of Shivalinga at the otherwise crowded time of Kumbh. I decided to visit the temple in morning and take blessings of Lord Shiva once again before leaving Benaras and with this thought in my mind I left to visit the ghats.

I reached the hotel after visiting the ghats at around 4AM. I took a nap for a couple of hours before heading towards the temple. I was wearing our old traditional attire- a dhoti and a gamcha. When I reached the temple I found out that the entrance which I had used to get inside last night had been closed due to a huge crowd and then there was a long queue at the main entrance of the temple.

Flowing with the queue I reached the temple’s main entrance. As soon as I reached, I noticed something unusual. An old sculpture of Nandi was there but the queue was going ahead of that and Nandi was facing a wall. I couldn’t understand why this was so because I knew that in Shiva temples Nandi always faced towards the Shivalinga. When I asked about it from the people around me, I got to know that the wall Nandi was facing towards was actually a mosque’s wall. With a puzzled head filled with questions, I couldn’t step ahead. I approached one of the CRPF personnel present there and expressed him the dilemma I was in and he told me that the temple we worship today is not the actual Kashi Vishwanath temple. Rather, the original temple had been demolished and a mosque i.e., Gyanvapi Masjid, was built over its pillars.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple

This fact was utterly shocking for me as never in my dreams I could have imagined someone doing that. This was really disheartening and painful for me. What could someone achieve by doing this! What could motivate someone to do something like this! And who did this! After returning to Delhi I began my research with all these questions. With all the research and studies done, I found that it was the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who gave orders to demolish Kashi Vishwanath temple in 1669. And the strange fact was that he believed along with lakhs of his supporters that he was doing that in service of Islam and he would be rewarded with Jannat (heaven) for this act. Not just Kashi Vishwanath temple, he demolished thousands of other Hindu temples and forced lakhs of people to convert to Islam. Aurangzeb didn’t demolish just the temple, he also demolished each and every Sanskrit learning centre in the Kashi. He demolished the very essence of Kashi. The temples and ghats we see today were built by the Marathas much later.

Gyanvapi Mosque, sketched as Temple of Vishveshvurin 1834 by James Prinsep

In 1742, the Maratha peshwa, Baji Rao I, tried to rebuild Kashi Vishwanath on the original space. When he marched with his army towards Kashi, Nawab Safdarjung rounded up all the Brahmins of Kashi and warned Baji Rao to stop his attempt to save the Brahmins from massacre and the Maratha king went back.

There was no Kashi Vishwanath temple for more than 100 years. Later in 1775, Ahalyabai Holkar built a new structure adjacent to Gyanvapi Mosque which we now worship as Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

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