In the heart of the city, the center of the cosmic mandala, is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Benaras or Varanasi is the one of the holiest places and the center of earth in Hindu cosmology. It is an important pilgrimage site where people pour the remains (ashes) of cremated ancestors on the River Ganges, for liberation of their souls.
The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganges, and enshrines one of the twelve sacred Jyotirlingas of Shiva, making it one of the holiest of Shiva temples. The Jyotirlingas are sacred sites of worship of Lord Shiva where Lord Shiva appeared as a shaft of light and where Lord Shiva’s divine presence is alive eternally. The main deity of the temple is known by the name of “Vishwanatha” or “Vishweshwara”, meaning the ruler of the universe. The temple town that is the oldest living city in the world, with 3500 years of documented history, is also called Kashi and hence the temple is popularly known as the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Due to its 15.5m high golden spire, the temple is also called the Golden Temple.
The temple complex consists of a series of smaller shrines, located in a small lane called the “Vishwanatha Gali”, near the River Ganga. The main deity at the shrine is the Shiva linga, which is 60 cm tall and 90 cm in circumference, housed in a silver altar. There are temples for Kalabhairava, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Shanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri in the complex. There is a small well in the temple called the Jnana Vapi (the wisdom well). Historical accounts say that upon invasion by the Moghul king Aurangzeb on 2nd September, 1669, the main priests of the temple jumped into the well with the Shiva linga in order to protect the Jyotirlinga from the invaders and remained in jala samadhi. When the Jyotirlinga was discovered again after centuries, even the lamp was burning at the altar and the flowers were fresh!