There are altogether 12 Jyothirlingas of Lord Shiva scattered all over India and one amongst them is Vishweshwar or Vishwanatha located at Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is said that a mere glimpse of Vishweshwar Jyothirlinga is enough for gaining a soul-cleansing experience which can lead a devotee to the path of Spiritual Knowledge and Devotion (Bhakti). A single darshan of Vishweshwar Jyothirlinga is more virtuous than the darshan of other 11 Jyothirlingas combined.
Inside the temple, the black-stoned Linga is placed right onto the middle of the floor in a square shaped silver altar. Looking at Kashi, the place where the Vishweshwar Jyothirlinga is located, it seems that both the place and the Linga are almost are inseparable. Unfortunately, the original place where the Vishweshwar Jyothirlinga was first installed is shrouded in mystery. There is also a looming controversy over the self-manifested Linga of Lord Shiva inside the temple. One section of tradition opines that an Avimukteshvara Linga, located at the courtyard of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is in fact the originally self-emanated one.
As per Indian mythology, the earth was submerged under water i.e. Pralaya when Lord Shiva upheld Kashi with his Trident (Trishul). Thousands of people come to visit Vishwanath and other temples at Kashi. Praying to Lord Shiva with full devotion helps one fulfill all his mental and spiritual desires. It is believed that those who take their last breath at Kashi attain liberation (moksha) by gaining Tarak Mantra from Lord Shiva. Shiva himself has given the Muktidayak JyotirLinga and has promised his devotees to stay here forever.
Kashi or modern Varanasi has found its mention in many ancient epics including Mahabharata, Ramayana, and relevant Puranas. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple has been revered as the spiritual abode of Lord Shiva himself. Archeologists have maintained that the place has been in existence since the times of Buddha around 3000 years ago. In Hindu Theology, the temple is revered as the central part of Shaiva philosophy. The temple has resisted political and religious atrocities at various historical stages. The temple was originally located at its adjacent side where Gyanvapi Mosque is currently situated.
A group of scholars have maintained that since the temple has gone through various demolitions and renovations, it is inappropriate to tell whether the temple is as old as the establishment of the town of Kashi. It can be traced from modern history that the temple had always been at the receiving end of the looters and attackers including Turks, Rohila, Maratha, and Turks.
During 13th Century Vishwanath Temple was demolished by Bakhtiyar Khilji and the temple was later rebuilt. Mughal emperor Aurengzeb built a mosque in the place of the temple and the ancient idol of Lord Vishweshwar is located in Gnana-Vapi. If one checks the western wall of the mosque, there are evident temple remnants of intricate art work. It is worth mentioning that under the aegis of all the preceding rulers especially the British and the Marathas; the town of Kashi was extremely well developed.
The latest Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built by Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in the year 1777 after she dreamt of Lord Shiva himself commanding her to build a temple from a short distance to the original one. The temple is also known as Golden Temple after Lahore’s Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated 800-kilogram Gold-plating for the adornment of its towers. The domes of the temple were covered by gold donated by Punjab Kesari Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. A huge bell which hung in the temple was donated by the Nepal King and the third dome was later given with golden plating by the Ministry of Culture and Religious affairs of the U.P. Government which on January 28, 1983 took over the management of the temple.
Indian mythology refers to Kashi (present Varanasi) as follows.
‘Kashi ke kan-kan me Bhagwan Shiva vyapt hain’
(Lord Shiva lives in every sand and grain of Varanasi)
As per a popular legend, Nirgun Shiva with his own powers created Panchkoshi where Lord Vishnu resided. Pleased with Lord Vishnu’s devotion for him, Lord Shiva originated several water springs. At the same time, the delighted Vishnu’s gemstone fell from his ear and the place began to be known as Manikarnika. When Lord Shiva ordained Lord Brahma to create this world he had created Panchkoshi city and established the saviour Muktidayak JyotirLinga, the place which Lord Shiva himself can never leave. The place was supposed to end only during the Pralay, i.e. the final destruction of the world. Thus Kashi was kept safe and secure by Lord Shiva with his own Trident hence it is named avimukta kshetra. The Avimukteshwar Linga located in Kashi helps people attain salvation here.
At Panchakoshi, every conceivable sin is destroyed and the place is called the vehicle of Moksha (liberation), Samyugha. Panchkoshi is home to Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesha, it is both Sarwaguna and Tamoguna from inside and outside respectively.
Vishwanath Temple is an architectural marvel and many subsidiary shrines are surrounded by Lord Vishwanath. Jnana Vapi is situated exactly to the north of the main temple. Actually, there are three temples in the row one after another i.e. Avimukta Vinayaka, Virupakshi Gauri and Vishnu. Nilakantheshvar temple is a cluster of 5 Lingas preserved in a temple. Shanishchara and Virupaksha are placed above Avimukteshvara Vinayaka. There is an ongoing controversy over whether Avimukteshvara or Vishwanath is the original Jyothirlinga at the temple. The interior of the temple is not too spacious though it offers an ambience ideal for Shiva worship. The temple of Ma Annapurna Devi resides adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Mahashivratri – On the 6th night of the Phalgun (Feb-March) every year this festival is celebrated with great pomp and show.
Rangbhari Ekadashi/Aamlaki Ekadashi – Devotees perform fasting along with Dvadasi, once in Phalguna month (Feb-March)
Annakoot – The festival commemorates Lord Krishna’s childhood. The rituals include offering worship, prayers, Aarti, numerous sweets and 56 bhogs before the Lord.
Makar Sankranti – Popularly celebrated on 14th January every year in almost all parts of India and in all Hindu Temples.
Shravan Maah (Month) – Shravan is the most auspicious month of the Hindu calendar, dedicated to Shiva worship.