On Day 11, we are at Kashi.
We arrived in the city the previous evening. On the way, we crossed Prayagraj. The beautification of the city of where the three rivers meet has been done in a way which reflects the original glory of the place.
For seven decades, we have been kept out of touch with the very life force of the nation. But now, that seems to have changed. Now, the depiction of Ganga on the crocodile to beautify a pillar is not a taboo.
In fact, it should not have been a taboo in the first place. In no way does it impose any religious belief on anyone. It is a cultural symbol of our national life.
When we arrived at Kashi, we decided to take a walk to the nearby Ghat — Dasa-Ashwamedha Ghat. When we went there, it was midnight. The place was quiet, except for the occasional stirring of those sleeping around and the barking of stray dogs.
They seem to own the place and are mostly friendly. Dust and stench, however, fill the place. The beautification drive by Modi though seems to have started yielding results. There are huge paintings of Siva and Brahma (or is that Viswakarma?) and Nandi and so on, on the Ghat pillars. When we returned, it was quite late.
Next day, we went to have darshan at Kashi Viswanath temple. The main original temple had been destroyed by Aurangzeb. He seemed to have left a partial structure of the temple intact.
For any Siva devotee, that is a sight that would perpetually hurt. Leave the barbarous perversion of a late-medieval Mughal Hindu-hater. It is hard to understand how any decent self-respecting human being can use such a structure that humiliated a fellow human being, for prayers.
There should be something fundamentally wrong with such a mentality. As we enter Kashi, we can also see a Church at the very entrance to the path leading to the temple. Coming from Kanyakumari, with its aggressive near-majority Christian population, I know it is more than impossible to build a Hindu temple in a Christian dominated place.
Even building of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial had to undergo a struggle in which the highest authorities of the land had to intervene.
Yet here, on the way to the holiest and most sacred of Hindu temples, stands in an unashamed manner, a Church — not just a place of worship, which is tolerable, but also statement of intent to proselytize. One wonders whether a temple can be built similarly in the Vatican.
But this cannot happen in Jerusalem though. There, Christians and Muslims have been trying to appropriate the holy city for centuries. And under Israel, the city is open to all the three faiths.
But Israeli authorities ever have to be on alert against deceptive proselytizing activities by the missionaries.
It seems both Hindus and Jews, despite centuries of persecution, have become a bit too civilised for the proselytizing faiths.
After the worship, we obtained permission to look around the ‘Kashi Corridor’ that is underway. The residential occupations there had been hiding a lot of temples.
With the land acquisition (after paying the residents four times the value) and demolition, the authorities found these temples.
Karan says had there been the original temple and all these temples left intact, they would have certainly formed an impressive complex like the one at Khajuraho, but a very vibrant and living complex at that.
The vision of Modi is to bring Varanasi not just to its old glory but to even surpass it by adapting it to modern needs with all available help from current science and technology.
Easily said and written.
But it is only when you see Kashi does one realise what kind of ‘Bhagirathic’ task Modi has set upon himself, eventhough he is achieving it at ‘Hanumanic’ speed.
Fortunately, the Uttar Pradesh people have been wise enough to choose the Yogi government, which is in sync with the vision and the mission of our Prime Minister.
Some of the temples uncovered are phenomenal. They have been identifying these temples with the help of archaeologists as well as Kashi Kand of Skanda Purana.
For example, there is a temple uncovered from occupations. It is called Chandragupta Mandir — here the structure has been made in such a way as to make the first light ray of sun as well as the moon (on full moon day) fall on two Shivalingas placed opposite each other. In all these, Pujas have commenced.
In the afternoon, Amar and I go to Kedarnath Ghat.
In the 17th century, Sri Kumaragurupara Swamigal, who was an autistic child-turned- child prodigy from southern Tamil Nadu, came in his mid-years to Kashi.
After having been ridiculed by the guards of the Mughal governor at that time and stopped from meeting him (who most probably was Dara Shukoh), Swamigal sought the blessing of Saraswathi and learnt the language in one night.
Then, tradition says, he alighted on a lion and went to meet the governor.
The latter understood the greatness of the Guru and immediately granted him his wish to establish a Matha here.
Sri Kumaraguruparar also renovated the Kedarnath temple whose Shivalinga is said to be the only Swayambhu or self-generated Shivalinga in entire Kashi.
Along with Kedarnath, there is also a Meenakshi shrine inside, where a female priestess provides the prasad.
The kind of nation building work that the Matha has done even as late as in 1948 is astonishing.
Establishing hospitals for TB patients, providing money for services in the name of Mahatma Gandhi for both Harijan upliftment as well as providing food for the needy, funding various scholarly programmes in the universities in Tamil-like scholarships as well as creating hostel infrastructure and establishing veterinary hospitals in the villages are some of them. Today, the Matha is less than a pale shadow of its glorious self.
Everywhere around me in Kashi I see illustrious contributors to its sacredness glorified. From Adi Sankara to Bismillah Khan and rightly so.
It is nice to see every great soul from every part of India glorified in the new beautification drive of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In these, Sri Kumaraguruparar is conspicuous by his absence. The Matha here is a veritable spiritual embassy of Tamil people and it proclaims the oneness and inseparable nature of Tamil with Sanatana Dharma.
The great saint, Thirugnana Sambandar, visualised Vedic Dharma as a river and Tamil Saivaite tradition as a Ghat in it.
Kumaragurupara Swamigal created a physical manifestation of that deep truth.
Narendra Modi will endear himself to all and make a great contribution to Tamils by giving importance to Kumaragurupara Swamigal and making the Matha function efficiently, in addition to disseminating Saiva Dharma and contributing to nation building, as it was originally intended.
As against this, a visit to Nagarathaar Chhatram was a pleasant surprise. They have a very well maintained Siva temple where worship happens evidently in tune with Agamic traditions.
They also take care of the pilgrims who come to Kashi superbly. The entire Chhatram is filled with the fragrance of the sacredness of Kashi.
One only wishes that the Kedarnath temple maintenance as well as that of Sri Kumaraswamy Matha be handed over to the Nagarathaar community so that the temple and Matha do basic justice to their existence.
Nagarathaar also supplies everyday Sandal paste used for the Abisheka of Kashi Viswanatha and Kashi Visalakshi.
In the evening, our team has an appointment for an interaction with Sri Vishal Singh, the CEO of the Kashi Viswanath Corridor project.
He is so unassuming and forthright. He is the one who is implementing the vision of both the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister at ground zero — facing all problems, imaginable and unimaginable.
I remember a deliberate piece of fake news circulating which said that Modi was demolishing temples in Kashi — and this news was gladly recycled by both the Left and the looney Right.
The truth is exactly the opposite. Evacuating more than 450 families and 4,000 people is not a simple or happy job.
Yet today. those families are happy, Vishal Singh informs us.
“Today, I have in those 450 families evacuated 450 friends. But for their contribution, we could not have achieved what we achieved,” he says in utmost humility.
He is clearly aware of all the problems that Kashi has as a pilgrim centre — neglected for seven decades.
On special occasions, 500,000 people gather here, making it difficult even to stand, he points out.
Then, he unveils his plan to change all that. It is as holistic as it is ambitious.
Kashi is the Mukti Keshtra where people come to die. Dying here is considered as liberating oneself from the cycles of birth and death. Usually, these people, who are expecting their final dissolution here, live in shanties.
The project envisions respectful dwelling places for them with medical facilities for a comfortable life.
As we come out and head for Ganga Aarti, we look around us. The crowd — honking, still spitting on the roads and moving fast each other in huge crowds — is a bit difficult to negotiate, but we also see among all the chaos a great vision taking shape which will soon make Kashi the hidden dynamo of India’s national life, thus taking its rightful place in the world map of spiritual powerhouses.
There is one more thing I would love to see at Kashi — a Vijaya Sthamba for Sanathan Dharma — a victory pillar for Dharma eternal where touching the feet of Chandala, Adi Sankara experienced Advaita of all — embracing love and oneness.
The event should be available in the form of sculptures, memorabilia, calendar art, and Manisha Panchakam should reverberate in the place and around.
That, I pray to Kashi Viswanatha, should happen in the near future.
With this, Kashipath 2019 comes to an end. The impact of the pilgrimage again through history, culture and spirituality, architectural grandeur and reemerging national identity shall remain forever with us.
Thanks to our trip partner, Savaari Car Rentals: Easy to book a cab service in Varanasi with reliable service.
You can read the other Kashipath articles here.
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