Varanasi is a city of temples – everywhere you go – be it a ghat, a by-lane or a street – you will find not one but many temples. As a city that is considered one of the holiest cities of India and a major pilgrimage spot, this comes as no surprise.
As a visitor on a tour of Varanasi, you will find that there are temples dedicated to many different gods of Hinduism – right from Vishnu and Shiva to Goddess Parvati in their many incarnations. Each temple has a story or a legend behind it.
There is even a temple dedicated to Bharat Mata – India, our motherland!
While you will find interesting temples in every nook and corner, here are the temples in Varanasi that you just must visit on your tour.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple:
The most important temple of Varanasi, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple draws visitors from the moment it opens and until it closes, throughout the year and across all seasons. The Maha Shivratri festival in particular is a major attraction here and devotees throng the temple by thousands at that time.
The best time to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is early morning or late at night. At all other times it is very crowded with devotees and owing to security reasons and the rush, you will get only a few seconds of darshan before being ushered out by the security personnel.
The reason behind the temple’s immense popularity is its location in Kashi / Varanasi compounded by its position as one of the 12 Jyotirlingams of Lord Shiva. It is said that a visit to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi followed by a holy dip in the River Ganges is one of the many ways of gaining salvation from birth and death.
It is also believed that a visit to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Varanasi is best followed up with a visit to the Rameshwaram Temple at Rameshwar for the completion of a major pilgrimage tour. Water from the Ganges at Varanasi should be offered at the Rameshwaram temple and the sand from the Rameshwaram temple vicinity should be brought back to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Varanasi for the pilgrimage tour to be complete.
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple in itself is very beautiful with golden spires and domes, a silver base for the Shiv linga, and a 7-feet high statue of Nandi Bill. Smaller shrines devoted to other devas surround the main temple and there is a small, ancient well – the Gyanvapi on one side.
It is believed that the Gyanvapi Well served as a sanctuary when the temple was attacked and demolished by invaders – a priest jumped into the well with the Shiva lingam in hand. The temple has been demolished and reconstructed multiple times, the current structure was commissioned in 1780 by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, the daughter in law of Maratha ruler Malhar Rao.
New Vishwanath Temple
Another temple of Varanasi that is as famous as the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the New Vishwanath Temple. Named as such because it was built much later, in the mid 20th Century, the New Vishwanath Temple is a much-visited temple, due to its dedication to Lord Shiva, its picturesque settings, exquisite architecture, and a location within the Banaras Hindu University.
The temple’s reconstruction was last undertaken by the famed Birla industrial family and hence, the New Vishwanath Temple, is also known as the Birla Temple of Varanasi. Like all the other Birla Temples across India, the New Vishwanath Birla temple in Varanasi too is made of white marble, is dedicated to all religions, and has verses from the Bhagvad Gita along with its illustrations engraved on the marble walls.
Beautiful green grounds leading to the temple enhance the serenity of the temple. A visit to the temple’s upper-floor is all you need to enjoy a wonderful view of the surrounding grounds and the area beyond.
There are nine temples within the main temple complex, with idols depicting the presiding deity Lord Shiva, as well as other Gods & Goddesses including Lakshmi Narayan ji, Goddess Durga, Nataraj, Hanuman ji, Saraswathi ji, Lord Ganesha, Parvathi ji & Panchamukhi Mahadeva.
The New Vishwanath Temple opens early in the morning at 2:30 AM for Mangala aarti and closes at 11:00 PM. In-between, various slots are available for ticketed and open darshan.
Bharat Mata Temple
The only temple in the world to be devoted to Mother India, the Bharat Mata Temple is indeed unique in just about all aspects. Do visit the temple; you will not find any statues of any Hindu God or Goddess – only a huge marble engraved map of India – undivided and in its original state.
The Himalayas and other mountain ranges have been depicted beautifully in the map, along with the rivers and other natural wonders of India. A picture of Bharat Mata is depicted beautifully.
Tulsi Manas Temple
Another famous temple of Varanasi is the Tulsi Manas Temple, a beautiful temple dedicated to the renowned Hindi poet and philosopher, Goswami Tulsi Das, who translated and wrote the Ramcharitmanas.
Before the writing of Ramcharitmanas, only the learned pandits could read the Valmiki Ramayana as it was written in Sanskrit. Ordinary people were unable to read it as Sanskrit was unknown to them.
Goswami Tulsidas sought to erase this divide and wrote the Ramcharitmanas in the Awadhi dialect of Hindi, thereby, making it easier for the common man to read the Epic Ramayana. Furthermore, it was Goswami Tulsidas who elevated Rama from a great king to a divine God in his epic.
All these factors and the fact that a major part of the Ramcharitmanas was written in Varanasi all contribute to make the Tulsi Manas Temple in Varanasi even greater significant.
Made of white marble, the two-storeyed Tulsi Manas Temple in Varanasi has Lord Rama as a presiding deity. Throughout the temple, one can find illustrations and figurines depicting scenes from the Ramcharitmanas and even verses inscribed on the walls.
Lush green surroundings further enhance the overall serenity of this temple.
Like with all other temples of Varanasi, Durga Temple also has a legend associated with it and the legend behind this temple’s origins is far more interesting than the others.
It is said that years ago, at a time when kings and swayamvars were very much prevalent, the king of Varanasi – the Kashi Naresh arranged for a swayamvar for his daughter. However, before the swayamvar could take place, he got to know that his daughter already had a love interest in the vanvasi prince Sudarshan.
Being the doting father he was, he got his daughter married to Sudarshan. The princes and kings who had already received invitations to the swayamvar felt insulted at this and went to war with Kashi Naresh. To help his new father-in-law, Sudarshan prayed to Goddess Durga and she assisted them in defeating the angry kings and princes.
After the victory, Kashi Naresh prayed to Goddess Durga to always protect the city of Kashi and a temple dedicated to her was constructed.
It is believed that the idol currently worshipped at the Durga Temple of Varanasi appeared on its own at a small pond adjacent to the main temple. The pond is thus known as the Durga Kund and ghats have been created on four sides of the pond to enable devotees to cleanse themselves of all sins by taking a dip in its holy waters – this is done mainly during Navratri.
The Durga Temple of Varanasi is painted red in colour in keeping with the colour of Goddess Durga’s red saree and association with power. Several shikharas were co-joined together to form the main shikhara of the temple; elaborately carves sculptures adorn the interiors.
A heavy presence of monkeys is often seen here, so exercise caution with valuables, shiny stuff and eatables. They can be snatched away and never be seen again.
Tucked away from plain sight, the Nepali Temple is a hidden jewel of Varanasi – it is so well hidden that few locals know about it, despite its location on the banks of the Ganges River.
Built by the King of Nepal during his exile, this Nepali Temple is actually owned by the Nepal Government along with its adjacent lands. It is modelled after the famous Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal and is built with termite-resistant wood, terracotta and stone in true Nepali style.
Like the Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal, this Nepali Temple in Varanasi too is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It also has Khajuraho style sculptures. Other features of the Nepali Temple include a Terrace which offers panoramic views of the Ganges River.
There is an entry fee for foreign nationals.
Sankat Mochan Temple
Located on the outskirts of the older city precincts, the Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman. It is the only known temple to have the deity of Lord Hanuman facing the shrine of Lord Rama, whom Hanuman ji worshipped fervently.
Explosions in the past have resulted in high security arrangements in the temple. Be prepared to keep your mobiles and cameras in the lockers located outside the temple.