Rightly described as one of the most colourful and fascinating places on earth, Varanasi is a delight for culture and history lovers. From mythical stories to age-old beliefs, everything is compulsorily kept alive in the oldest continuously inhabited city. For anyone who plans on taking a temple trip, Varanasi can be the place with endless options on the itinerary. Here are the top few.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
To be able to visit Kashi Vishwanath Temple once in a lifetime is the ultimate pilgrimage for a Hindu. It is dedicated to Vishveswara – Shiva as lord of the universe. Destroyed a number of times since it was built; its present avatar is ascribed to Ahilya Bai in 1780. The temple is one of the 12 jyotirlingams of India and can be reached by a narrow lane off Meer Ghat. Two other important temples on the same street are dedicated to Annapurneshwari and Shani.
The Sankat Mochan Temple, dedicated to Lord Hanuman, is believed to have been built by Tulsidas, the creator of Ramcharitamanas. Tuesdays and Saturdays are especially crowded with Ram-bhakts who arrive here to hear parts of this epic poem recited at the temple.
Tulsi Manas Mandir
Resplendent in white marble, the Tulsi Manas Mandir is not as old as some other temples, but is certainly among the most popular. Dedicated to Lord Rama, it was built in 1964, supposedly on the spot where Tulsidas wrote the Ramcharitamanas. Well-manicured gardens welcome you into a maze of white walls engraved with verses of the poem.
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This 18th-century temple lies south of the city, away from the ghats. Inside the temple is a small sanctum with a colourful idol of the Devi, riding a tiger. The energy of the temple is palpable. This is also known as the ‘monkey temple’ owing to the number of simians who surround it. The temple is especially vibrant during the Navratras.
Kal Bhairav Temple
The ‘kotwal’ or keeper of the city, Kal Bhairav, commands a significant position in the story of Varanasi. This temple dedicated to him lies away from the main circuit near the ghats. A sanctum with an orange door houses a much revered metal idol of the deity. In fact there are a total of eight Bhairav temples in Varanasi, which are said to be the protectors of Kashi Vishwanath. Of these, the Batuk Bhairav Temple is the most unique. Here, Bhairav is worshipped as a child and offerings range from liquor to chocolate to meat. The idol is flanked by sculptures of dogs.
Nepali Mandir (Kathwala Temple)
Built by the king of Nepal in the mid-1800s and located on Lalita Ghat, this temple features a blend of intricate woodwork and red hued concrete. It also houses a widows’ ashram, but visitors are not encouraged unless they’ve come to make a donation. A small Nandi statue sits outside the main sanctum, which houses the Pashupathinath Mahadev lingam.