Book Excerpt: The Story of Gyaanavapi — Wisdom Well Of Kashi, Dug By Ishaana

Swarajya Staff

Jun 11, 2024, 11:07 AM | Updated Jun 14, 2024, 05:58 PM IST

The cover of Kashi: The Valiant History of a Sacred Geography.
The cover of Kashi: The Valiant History of a Sacred Geography.
  • Here is the origin story of Gyaanavapi, the wisdom well of Kashi.
  • Kashi: The Valiant History of a Sacred Geography. Aditi Banerjee. Ocaam (an imprint of BluOne Ink). Pages 340. Rs 393.

    Agastya Muni requested Skanda to narrate to him the greatness of the Gyaanoda Tirtha. Thus unfolds the origin story of Gyaanavapi, merely hearing which cleanses one of all transgressions.

    Gyaanavapi is literally the wisdom well of Kashi, dug by Ishaana, a manifestation of Shiva, using the trishula. Traditionally, devotees on the path of their tirtha yatra to Kashi would start and end their journey with a sip of water from this well. It is a deep well, ten feet in diameter, and situated near the mosque built by Aurangzeb after destroying the earlier Vishvanatha Temple.

    In Satya Yuga, Ishaana, an embodiment of Rudra’s formidable aspect, was wandering across the world. This was at a time when there was no rain and so no rivers or other freshwater bodies were to be found. Water for drinking and bathing did not exist, nor was it needed. Water could only be found in the salty seas. This was a time when people roamed across the world as nomads.

    Once, Ishaana reached Anandakandana, the forest of bliss, situated within Kashi. He entered the grove, the lustre from the pure rays of his blazing trishula illuminating the entire forest. There, he saw the Vishveshvara Linga, which had manifested earlier during the intense rivalry between Brahma and Vishnu. Adorned by flowers and ceaselessly venerated by Devas and rishis, the linga was covered with flowers and received the incessant mellifluous melodies of the gandharvas. Naga women waved lamps set with luminous gems before the linga.

    Upon beholding the linga, Ishaana was moved to bathe the linga with vessels brimming with cool, pure water. With his trishula, Ishaana swiftly dug a deep pit. This pit was situated to the south of Vishveshvara, very near to the linga. Immediately, colossal columns of water, ten times the size of Earth itself, surged forth, inundating the mortal world from all sides.

    With these ice-cold waters, Ishaana ritualistically cleansed the Vishveshvara Linga. The waters sparkled like the minds of virtuous people, azure like the sky, radiant like moonlight. Their sanctity and purity equalled that of the names of Shiva. Their fragrance was incredible, surpassing the allure of lotuses, captivating all.

    These waters were more pleasing to Shiva than even the tender touch of Parvati. They held a more profound purifying essence than the final bath after a yajna. Ishaana continued to bathe the Vishveshvara Linga one thousand times through pitchers that poured forth thousands of streams of nectarine water onto the Linga.

    Shiva’s heart brimmed with delight as he spoke to Ishaana. He said,

    Ishaana humbly requested that this tirtha, where he had excavated the well, be named after Shiva.

    In the divine form of Vishveshvara, Shiva replied, ‘This tirtha surpasses all the tirthas situated within the three worlds. Those who contemplate the essence of words say that Shiva signifies knowledge in the form of wisdom. Due to my powers, that knowledge has merged into the waters with which you bathed me. Therefore, this tirtha has become renowned in all the three worlds as Gyaanoda. The mere sight of this Linga grants absolution from all sins.

    ‘Listen to my words carefully. By merely touching the Gyaanoda Tirtha one gains the merits of an Ashvamedha Yajna, and that of a Rajasuya and an Ashvamedha Yajna by rinsing the mouth with these waters.’

    Shiva continued to describe the powers and blessings bestowed by the Gyaanoda Tirtha. He explained,

    Shiva further explained that this tirtha was variously known as Shiva Tirtha, the resplendent Gyaana Tirtha, the Taraka Tirtha, and certainly Moksha Tirtha—the tirtha that grants moksha.

    He concluded, ‘Multitudes of sins shall dissolve by remembering Gyaanoda. By visiting it, touching it, bathing in it, and drinking its waters, a state of purity is instilled within a person. Malevolent spirits, dakinis, shakinis, evil planets, epileptic fits, recurring fevers—all these are subdued by seeing the waters of this Shiva Tirtha.’

    Shiva further promised that he, in the form of Gyaana, having assumed this liquid manifestation, would destroy jadya—meaning sluggishness or ignorance—and impart knowledge. Shiva then vanished. Ishaana considered himself fully blessed, drank the waters of the tirtha that he had dug up, and acquired the great knowledge that led him to the realization of Brahman.

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