There is a saying in Tamil " Kanchi Kamakshi, Kasi Visalakshi". But this is not known in Kasi. The Visalakshi temple is near Viswanath temple. You have to enquire around. Then they may ask "do you mean the Nattukottchetti temple? This is the local name as the temple was constructed by the Nattukottai Chettiars. A small temple in typical Tamil Nadu style. The temple seems to have existed for long as it is mentioned in Sherry's book.
This is an ancient temple. Not well known to the pilgrims. This was built in the 5th century A.D and reconsecrated and a grand temple built by Raja Man Singh of Amber in the 16th century. This occupied the highest point in Kasi and was visible for miles around. The temple was destroyed by Aurangazeb in 1682 and a mosque was built in its place.
A new temple was built by the Raja of Aundh (Satara, Maharashtra) in the 19th century. This temple is popular among the Vaishnavites of South India.
This temple is at one of the ends of Varanasi called the Pancha Ganga ghat. A very steep climb from the Ganga river. I have not been able to get there by road.
This temple was constructed by a Bengali Maharani in the 18th century. The name of the Maharani is not known. This is in the typical north Indian Nagara style. It is stained red with ocher and has a multi layered spire (shikhara) consisting of five segments symbolizing the five elements and supported by finely carved columns. This is a beautiful temple with a Beautiful MAA.
This temple was known as the monkey temple because of the presence of a large number of monkeys there. But the monkeys have disappeared. Talking about monkeys I remember the time when Tirupati temple was full of monkeys. I remember my younger brother was attacked by one (may be he was making faces at them).
There is a tank near the Durga temple known as Durga Kund. This is older than the temple and mentioned in old books.
Sankata Mochan Hanuman temple:
This is a modern temple without any historical significance. However now they are claiming that it was established by Tulsidas the author of the Ram Charith Manas (Tulsi Ramayana). It is a very popular temple. It is a fairly large complex unlike the other Kasi temples. There is also a Tulsi Manas Temple: A modern concrete temple in memory of Tulsidas.
Viswanath Temple, Banares Hindu University:
The foundation stone of this temple was laid in 1931. It took along time to complete the construction. This is said to be a replica of the original Kasi Viswanth temple. Worth visiting. You can see a photograph of the temple here.
Bharat Mata Mandir:
A temple dedicated to Mother India. No idols. Only a big relief map of India. The map has been carved out of white marble. It is situated in Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus.
I will round off the temples of Kasi with two important temples.
Dhundi Ganapathy temple:
This temple is on the way to the Viswanath temple. It is a hole in the wall temple. Though it looks like roadside temple, it is actually one of the important ones. It is very near the place where the security check is done. You should come back after the security check and worship here. This is Ganesa with three eyes.
Sakshi Vinayaka Temple:
This small temple is not far from the Annapurna temple. It is a small temple and now it is in the middle of a shopping complex. It is customary to visit this temple after visiting the Viswanath and Annapurna temples. Sakshi Vinayaka is the witness to your pilgrimage.
This belief is similar to the Chandikeswara sannidhi in Siva temples of Tamil Nadu. He is supposed to keep a track of your pilgrimage to the temple. Chandikeswara is the person responsible for maintaining all the accounts of a Shiva temple. Chandikeswara was a great SivaBhaktha. And everybody snaps their fingers at this deity/devotee because they're supposed to be marking their attendance
The Ghats of Varanasi.
Though there are hundreds of temples in Varanasi, none of the old temples are existing. But what remains from the ancient days are the Ghats.
A Ghat is series of steps going down to a river or a tank.
You must take two boat trips one early in the morning before Sunrise and one in the night preferably on Purnima day along the river to view all the ghats. These Ghats represent the history of Hinduism. Many of them have historical and spiritual significance.
The most important Ghat is the
"The great cremation ground" (Mahasmasana)
The name Manikarnika (Jeweled Earring) comes from the legend of Siva dropping his ear ring here during the Thandava dance. Another Legend has it that Vishnu dug a well with his chakra, and the sweat created during his meditation filled the well. Shiva shook his head and his jeweled earring fell into the pit, hence the name Manikarnika.
Tradition has it that those that die at Benares and get cremated at the Manikarnika ghat, get liberated from the cycle of life and death.
You can recite The Shiva Thandava Stotram here. It is supposed to be written by King Ravana who was one of the greatest Shiva Bhakthas. There is also a stotram called Manikarnikashtakam which is attributed to Adi Sankara.
There is well nearby called Manikarnika Kund which according to mythology, predates the arrival of the Ganges has its source deep in the Himalayas . It is said to have been dug by Lord Vishnu at the time of creation with his disc.
I will never forget the day when early in the morning before sunrise I took my bath in the Manikarnika Kund and participated in an Yagna conducted facing the burning pyres of Manikarnika Ghat.
You can get the details of all the Ghats of Varanasi here.
You can see the photographs of Manikarnika Ghat here.
Harish Chandra Ghat
This ghat is name after King Harish Chandra. This is one of the two cremation ghats, and some times referred as Adi Manikarnika. You remember the climax of the Harischandra story in the cremation ground. There is an electric crematorium here now. However traditional funerals of wood fire continue.
The ancient name of this ghats was Rameswaram ghat. Nothing great, but of lot of importance to Tamil Brahmins as the Brahmins who perform the ceremonies for ancestors stay in and around this ghat. Kanchi Madam has a branch here. They have also erected a Kamakshi temple. There is a Veda Patashala founded by a Tamil Brahmin Professor of Banares Hindu University.
This ghat is near the Hanuman ghat. At the top there is a Shiva (Kedareswara) temple. You enter the temple and you will immediately be back in a Tamil Nadu temple. The reason is very obvious. This temple is attached to the Kumaraswamy madam. In late Sixteenth century Kumaraswamy, a Tamil Saivite founded the madam. Now this is part of the Tirupparanthall (Tiruvaippadi) math. Fairly large temple unlike the other
The ghat here is kept very clean and it is good to take a bath here and have Dharshan of Kedareswar. The Nayanmars were very much devoted to Shiva at Kedarnath. One of them wrote a poem called Kedarappan Pathikam. It is displayed prominently in the Shiva temple at Kedarnath. Most of Tamil Nadu are Shaivites. Other than the Veera Shaivas, Shivism is now almost exclusively Tamil.
This is an ancient ghat and the busiest ghat. According to the mythology, Lord Brahma performed the ten-horses sacrifice (dasa-asvamedha) at this site. The historical sources infer that at this site the Hindu dynasty of the second century, the Bhara Siva Nagas had performed ten-horses sacrifice here. It is in the heart of the town with broad roads leading to it.
To be continued