Updated: Jul 11
Vishweshwar (Vishwanath) Jyotirlinga is located in the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple in the ancient city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. This city, regarded as the holiest city for Hindus, is believed to have been built by Lord Shiva himself. Here are the legends and recent developments related to this glorious city and its Jyotirlinga.
The Kashi Vishwanath (Vishweshwar) Temple stands on the bank of River Ganga in Varanasi, a city famous internationally for its rich culture, history and heritage. This city in the state of Uttar Pradesh was known as Kashi in the olden times and has been continually inhabited for the past 3500 years, at least. Varanasi is home to the Vishweshwar Jyotirlinga as well as a Shakti Peeth. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple has been demolished many times through the centuries, most recently in 1669 by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. He constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque complex over the ruins of the temple, reusing many structures of the temple. The present edifice of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built by the noble Maratha Queen, Ahilya Bai Holkar, who built and restored hundreds of temples throughout India in the 18th century.
The Kashi Vishwanath temple built by Ahilya Bai was constructed on a site next to the mosque. Thus, many temple elements still remain on the mosque premises. There is a statue of Nandi facing the mosque, where the Jyotirlinga was installed in the original temple in olden times. At present, the Vishweshwar Jyotirlinga is situated in a corner of the complex, not in the centre like in other temples. Some people believe that the fountain inside the mosque is built on a demolished Shivalinga, with sacred icons on the walls showing that it was a shrine of Lord Shiva. The temple, however, undeterred by its history of repeated destruction and restoration in the past millennium, continues to be the holiest Hindu pilgrimage. The story of the origin of this Jyotirlinga and temple are related to the story of creation itself.
According to the Rudra Koti Samhita of the Shiva Purana, the eternal, formless supreme Sadashiva, wanted to split himself in two. In the material manifestation, Lord Shiva then appeared in two forms: the male form was called Shiva and the female form, Shakti. Shiva and Shakti, in their unseen forms, created Purusha (Vishnu) and Prakriti (the manifestations of the world). Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti instructed Purusha and Prakriti to meditate, so that from their penance, a beautiful creation would emerge and expand.
Purusha and Prakriti set out to meditate but looked around and found no place to meditate. They asked, “Lord, there is no suitable place to carry out our penance. How will we obey your command?” The eternal Lord Shiva created a city, five kroshas (an Indian unit of measurement of distance, equal to three km) wide and long, in his own sacred form and established it near Purusha in the expanse of the sky or space. Purusha, who is himself Vishnu, started meditating on Lord Shiva in this city to create the universe.
As time passed, streams of sweat in the form of pure water emanated from Sri Hari’s body, because of his toil. The pure white water filled the space and shrouded everything in it, so that nothing was visible anymore. Lord Vishnu himself was surprised to see this and shook his head, wondering about it. A jewel stone fell from his ear and the place where it fell is known as Manikarni, which became a holy centre. As the holy water expanded to nearly submerge the Panchkroshi, Lord Shiva supported it on his trishool (trident).
After these efforts, Lord Vishnu rested there with his consort, Prakriti. With the blessing of Lord Shiva, a lotus appeared from the navel of Vishnu, and gave rise to Brahma. Brahma, on the instructions of Lord Shiva, created the universe of 14 worlds, from the cosmic egg. Lord Shiva wondered, “How will the living beings of the universe, who are bound to karma (actions) and the cycles of karma, attain me?” With this thought, Lord Shiva liberated Panchakroshi on the earth and established himself as the Abhimuktalinga there. Shiva picked up Kashi with his trident and put it on earth, thus forming the city that we now know as Varanasi.
It is said in the Shiva Purana that when a day of Brahma passes, and the world is destroyed (pralaya), Kashi city is protected by Lord Shiva on this trident, and remains untouched. As creation resumes, Shiva sets down Kashi on earth again. The word Kashi came from the fact that it destroys our karma and the cycle of rebirth. Since then, the Abhimukteshwar Linga has always been present in Kashi, offering salvation to everyone who visits it. Panchakroshi continues to be a holy centre and a sacred route of many revered temples in Varanasi.
Restoration of the glorious city of Varanasi is an ongoing project aimed at improving the spiritual and cultural experience of devotees, pilgrims, and tourists. In 2021, a mega corridor, named the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Corridor, was built, connecting Kashi Vishwanath temple to Lalita Ghat (riverfront structure with broad steps) on the bank of River Ganga. Walking down the corridor lined by buildings named after the 12 Jyotirlingas, we also cross Manikarnika Ghat, one of the holiest cremation grounds for Hindus, a reminder of our mortality and the cycle of life.
A statue of Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar has also been installed on the corridor. During the construction of the corridor, dozens of ancient temples have been rediscovered and restored. A rare 18th-century statue of Goddess Maa Annapurna Devi, which was stolen more than a hundred years ago was found in Canada recently and has been reacquired by the government of India and reinstated in a temple in the corridor.
An interesting folklore related to the shivalinga in the temple explains how the shivalinga came to be established in a corner instead of the centre. Originally, two shivalingas were installed, one in the centre for Shiva, and another one at a little distance for Durga, as a deity of the Shakti Peeth. When the worship for the establishment (sthapana puja) was being conducted, the shivalinga would keep sliding towards the other linga. The shivalinga was repositioned many times, but it would slide away each time. Finally, the people gave up and left it as it was and left for the day, after the worship was over. Next day, when the people arrived at the room, they saw that the 2 lingas had merged, creating a shivalinga with a groove in the middle, signifying the Ardhanarishvara form of the Lord. It was the Lord’s wish to be with his consort, and that is why the shivalinga is in the corner of the deity room of the temple.