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Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi

Varanasi, also known as Benaras and Kashi, is a major city in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Situated on the banks of the holy river Ganga, the city has great religious significance for the Hindus. Varanasi is home to Kashi Vishwanath Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It enshrines one of the twelve Jyotirlingams of Shiva. It is said that this temple was rebuilt several times. The latest structure standing here dates back to the 18th century. Thousands of Pilgrims converge here to perform an abhishekam to the sacred Jyotirlingam, with water from the Ganga.

Beside its religious significance, the temple is also an architectural marvel. The magnificent edifice offers a breathtaking view to the onlooker. It is said that once Lord Shiva came in the dream of Rani Ahalya Bai Holkar of Indore. She, being a devotee of Lord Shiva, got the current temple built in 1777.

Vishwanath Khanda, also referred to as the Old City is located at the heart of Varanasi, between Dashashwamedha Ghat and Godaulia to the south and west and Manikarnika Ghat on the river to the north. The whole area rewards exploration, with numerous shrines and lingams tucked into every corner, and is buzzing with the activity of pilgrims, pandas and stalls selling offerings to the devotees.

Approached through a maze of narrow alleys and the Vishwanath Gali (or Lane), the temple complex of Vishwanath or Visheshwara, the "Lord of All", is popularly known as the Golden Temple, due to the massive gold plating on its shikhara (spire). Inside the compound, which is hidden behind a wall, and entered through an unassuming doorway, is one of India's most important shivalingams, made of smooth black stone and seated in a solid silver plinth. The shrines of the wrathful protectors Mahakala and Dandapani, and the lingam of Avimukteshvara are also situated within the temple complex.

Pilgrims offer their sankalpa or statement of intent here, before commencing the Panchatirthi Yatra. Slightly north, across the main road, the thirteenth-century Razia's Mosque stands atop the ruins of a still earlier Vishwanatha temple.

Varanasi is said to be the point at which the first jyotirlinga, the fiery pillar of light by which Shiva manifested his supremacy over other gods, broke through the earth's crust and flared towards the heavens. More than the Ghats and even the Ganga, the Shivalinga installed in the temple remain the devotional focus of Varanasi.