There are two ways to go to Kashi Vishwanath temple. One : Take a boat and go down to the ghat near the temple (Manikarnika ghat?), and walk up the steps. Two: Go by road. By majority vote, option two was chosen, as some of the co-pilgrims were elderly, and would find the ghat steps quite steep and strenuous to climb.
So we hired a few cycle rickshaws, and we left for Kashi Vishwanath!
One of my co-pilgrims, RK, wrote a nice note describing that evening and darshan. Here’s a selective and slightly edited cut-paste from that….
***start of rk’s note
“…The first surprise was the entrance to the lane (leading to the temple) from the main road — it was less than five feet in width! Lined with shops selling everything from puja items, trinkets, religious curios, mounds of brightly coloured powders etc. to bangles, cotton shawls, other clothes, toys and the like, it was a colour-blast on the senses because the harsh lighting made the bright hues seem even more garish, and yet the combination was strangely exhilarating because they were all for and leading to Lord Viswanath. The security was very heavy all around — no cellphones, cameras, ipods, not even pens, repeated full body checks, detailed checking of persons and purses and the milling Black Cats all over, and it is election time — strangely even during such a holy pilgrimage the maximum talk by pilgrims all around is about politics (elections) and cricket (IPL series going on).
Vishwanath: Literally, the Lord of the Universe!
The Kasi Viswanath Temple was a wonderful experience despite the huge crowds, and the relatively very small sanctum, as well as the fact that the Sivalinga is a few feet below ground level — so when you lean over to touch It, there are so many people almost on top of you that you fear you will fall in on top of the idol! And yet it is so great an experience not only because of the Glory of God but also because of the intense faith that is palpable verywhere. On the first visit, only the topmost part of the sivalinga was visible because the rest of It was submerged in milk and other offerings which each one is allowed to offer by himself as well as touch the idol and take away as prasadam the flowers/milk already there. Equally intense and fulfilling was the darsan of Lord Avimukteswara, where the Lord’s main and only purpose is the granting of Liberation. The priest makes you place your hands and head on top of the idol, and although all services come with an expectation of “dakshina” and there is overt pressure for it, one should and does get better with each experience, at offering what one can and praying, even while ignoring the insistent demands which no temple is free of.
There is an Annapurna Deity inside the Viswanath Mandir (not the main One Who is housed in a separate temple nearby) and here again one can touch Her Feet and pray. The unforgettable part of the temple was the Vyasa-peetha — a large, stone-sculpted throne upon which Bhagavatpada Himself sat and taught — and we are allowed to sit on it! Though it initially felt like blasphemy, it was indeed such an enduring inspiration and spiritual privilege that I sat there till the others finished a few more parts of the temple.
It was now quite dark and the walk through the narrow gullies to Visalakshi Amman temple was mostly in darkness because in the route which we took there were no shops lighting the way. I wondered how She had established such quiet and peace around Herself when Lord Viswanatha was almost all but smothered with people, shops, policemen and what not — a good lesson to learn from Her how to live in a life that will crowd you with materialism if given the slightest chance. The mystery seemed solved when we reached the small temple and the priest told us that She was originally installed by Bhagavatpada and because the idol had developed a flaw, a new One had been installed just about 20 years ago — by none other than Acharyal Himself (Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahaswamigal, the then Shankaracharya of Sringeri). She is a beautiful Deity pervading so much peace that She comes like a breath of fresh air after the high drama in the Kasi Viswanath Temple.
We then visited the renowned Annapoorna Temple — a brightly lit, very radiant, golden Deity of the Mother with Her trademark divine ladle in Her Hand which can bless one with everything from Annam (food) to Anandam (the Bliss which is Mukti). One of the main Deities in our home pooja is a 4″ idol of Annapoorneswari and another tiny One of Her too — it was a truly moving experience to see Her Whom we had daily worshipped at home in Her full original resplendence here. I was told later that She was also installed by Acharyal. ..
The sense of deep joy and gratitude at being able to gain darsan of these greatest of Deities in this holiest of cities accompanied us to bed as Day One came to such a fulfilling close…”
Oh the lanes of Banares are so wonderful! I felt like a fish in the Ganga. Absolutely at home! The general pulse of a zillion devotees energizes the air, and there is a wave of happiness everywhere. The city saheb in you disappears, and you become one more desi simple pilgrim, one molecule among a million….
Signing off this post with a picture taken at a shop, somewhere in the lanes, sometime during the above darshan journey…
****** To be continued ******