The ancient name of Varanasi is Kashi, which means ‘the luminous one’ or ‘city of the light’. It derived its name from ‘Kasha’ which actually means ‘brightness’. The brightness is referred to the glow emitting from the Shiva, who is established here in the form of Linga “The Pillar of light”. The new name Varanasi is also a derivative, the city is located on the banks of two tributaries of Ganges, Varuna, and Assi which meet here, hence the name Varanasi. Varanasi has approximately 1000 big and small temples and it is also known as “City of temples”. A visit to the important temples of Varanasi is must during the trip to understand the soul of the city.
It is the city of Lord Shiva, he is considered the ruler of the city from the beginning of time. That’s why there are Lord Shiva’s temples in Varanasi’s every corner. Most temples in Varanasi allow foreign tourists also.
Here is my list of must visit temples of Varanasi
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
It is not only the main temple in Varanasi but it is one of the most prominent Hindu temples in India. The name”Vishwanath” means ruler of the Universe, the literal meaning of “Vishwa” is universe & Nath means excellent.
It is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. Kashi Vishwanath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is worshipped here in the form of linga. Lord Shiva is represented as a fiery column of light in Jyotirlinga temples and hence no idol is worshipped.
Shiva lingam represents the beginningless and endless pillar, thus symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva. Shiva lingam established in the main sanctum of the temple is 60 cm tall and 90 cm in circumference. It is housed in a silver altar with narrow passage around it from where devotees can pay their respect to Lord Shiva.
Kashi Vishwanath temple is believed to be here since ancient time and has mentioned in Puranas. The temple was destroyed and rebuilt several times. It was last destroyed by Aurangjeb in 1669 and he constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque at its place.
The present-day temple was constructed adjacent to the mosque in 1780 by Ahilya Bai Holkar. Over the years different structures were built around the temple. The most prominent of them are low-roofed colonnade with over 40 pillars in the Gyan Vapi precinct and a 7 feet tall statue of Nandi bull gifted by the king of Nepal. The Gyanvapi Well inside the temple is a very important place to visit and it is believed that the priest jumped into well with Shivalingam when Aurangjeb’s army attacked. Later on, many other temples were built around Kashi Vishwanath temple in the Gallis (Lane) leading to the Ghat.
in 1835 Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab donated 1 tonne of gold to cover the domes of the temple. In 1841 the Bhosales of Nagpur donated silver to the temple which is used inside the temple.
The 3 domes of the temple are covered with gold and that’s why people call it Golden temple of Kashi. The temple receives 3,000 visitors on normal days but the number of devotees increases on Mondays. On special occasions, this number will go up to 1,000,00.
Kashi Vishwanath temple timing
Temple opens at 03.00 AM in the morning remain opened till 11.00 PM but it closed in between for special aartis and rituals. These aarti’s and rituals can be booked online on this website.
Kashi Vishwanath temple darshan tickets and aarti timing
Mangala Aarti – 03.00 – 04.00 AM
Booking cost: 350 INR
This is the first Aarti of the day and offered every day before sunrise. This is one of the major attractions of Kashi Vishwanath Temple because by attending this aarti a devotee is allowed to offer prayers near the lingam. The railing and all the floral offerings are not present at the time of this aarti so Shiva lingam can be seen properly. An elaborate Abhishekam (Cleaning and decoration of lingam) is done during this aarti and afterward, Prasad is distributed.
Bhog Aarti -11.15 AM to 12.20 PM
Booking cost: 180 INR
This aarti is performed to offer the meal (Bhog) to Lord Shiva amidst chanting of mantras.
Sandhya Aarti – 07.00 PM to 08.15 PM
Booking cost: 180 INR
The seven Shastri/Pandit/Purohit/Priest each belonging to a different Gotra (caste) perform the Aarti simultaneously. So this aarti is called as “The Sapta Rishi Aarti”, this aarti is dating back to more than 750 years.
Shringar Aarti – 09.00 to 10.15 PM
Booking cost: 180 INR
During this aarti night meal is offered to Lord Shiva and lingam is again decorated with flowers. During this Aarti, devotees are not allowed to come in proximity of Shiva lingam and they have to stand outside. The whole ritual performed with the sound of ringing bells and blowing of the conch (Shankh).
Shayan Aarti – 10.30 to 11.00 PM
This aarti is performed before the sleeping of god and no booking required for this.
Important things to know before visiting Kashi Vishwanath Temple
* Due to tight security mobile phones, camera, belts with metal buckle, leather belts & bags, cigarettes, lighters are not allowed inside the temple.
** Only small bags are allowed inside the temple.
* You can carry offerings like water, milk, flowers, leaves, fruits or sweets inside the temple but a security check is done on these and only small portions are allowed inside.
** As the temple premise is small so they allow people inside the temple in small groups of 20 at one time.
* Inside the main sanctum, you have to enter from one door and exit from another door.
** The shops selling offering have lockers and you can keep your stuff with them.
* The temple is under control of the UP government.
** If a physically challenged person wanted to visit the temple then there is an arrangement of wheelchairs and stretchers also. But you have to contact the temple administration in advance for this.
IMPORTANT: During my visit, they were allowing foreigners inside the temple as two of Europeans went to the temple from my hostel. Though I read on the internet that they don’t allow foreigners inside. Do check because rules keep on changing from time to time.
Also read about Somnath – The first Jyotirlinga in Gujarat
Kashi Vishwanath Corridor
When I visited there were narrow alleyways around the temple. There were several small shops, temples, and house around Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Now the government has started a new project named Kashi Vishwanath corridor. In this project, they will beautify the neighborhood and making an open passage from temple to Manikarnika Ghat.
For this project government had shifted the residents and shopkeepers of surrounding areas. Shops and houses in the alleyways are demolished for this project. According to some reports, local people are very upset about this move because they have no choice but to leave their houses.
Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple
Tulsidas, who was the author of Ramcharitmanas had a vision of Lord Hanuman at this place. He established the temple of Hanuman in the 14th century at this place and named it Sankat Mochan Hanuman means “reliever from troubles”.
The statue of Hanuman is placed in a small open shaped sanctum but there is lots of open area around it. There are a few bigger buildings in the temple premise. The idol of Hanuman is covered with Kesari Sindoor and it is facing the idol of Rama, who he worshipped selflessly. This is the unique feature of this temple.
There are shops inside the temple compound and they sell Ladoo for prasad. Inside the temple compound, I saw monkeys jumping and running around on roofs and ground area. Thankfully these playful monkeys were not snatching the food packets from devotees like as I saw in Jakkhu temple in Shimla.
The temple remains crowded on Tuesday and Saturday when a large number of devotees visit it for worship.
Camera and mobile phones are not allowed inside the temple after the 2006 bomb blast. They have lockers at the gate where I kept my bag before going inside the temple compound. There were few foreigners in our group and they were also allowed inside the temple.
Baba Kaal Bhairav Mandir
This temple is dedicated to the fierce form of Lord Shiva. The face of the idol of Kaal Bhairav is made of silver and the rest of his body is covered with cloth. He is wearing a garland of skulls, has a trident, and sitting on a dog.
The word “Kaal” means both “death” and “fate”. It is believed that even death is afraid of Kaal Bhairav. Kaal Bhairav is also known as “Kotwal” of Kashi, which means Chief police officer. It is believed that a visit to Varanasi is incomplete without visiting this temple. Kaal Bhairav believed to remove the sins of his disciples and protect them from all problems.
Baba Kaal Bhairav temple is 1.5 Km from famous Kashi Vishwanath temple. It is situated in a narrow lane. The main sanctum is small with barely some space for visitors to get close to the idol. There is a small corridor around the temple and everything in the temple compound is quite vibrantly colors.
Bags with camera and mobiles are allowed inside the temple but photography is not encouraged.
Shri Durga Temple
This is the most popular temple of Goddess in Varanasi. It is believed the idol of goddess appeared itself and was not established by any human being. It is also believed there was a temple at this place in ancient days which was demolished during Aurangjeb’s attack. The present-day temple was built in the 18th century by a Bengali queen.
Temple is situated adjacent to a pond, which is known as Durga Kund. The temple is painted in vibrant red color matching with the favorite color of Goddess Durga.
Durga Devi Mandir is only 750 meter from Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple.
Shri Satya Narayan Tulsi Manas Mandir
It is believed that at this place Tulsidas, composed and sang Sri Ramacharita manas. It is one of the holiest scripture in Hinduism. The name of the temple came from the Tulsidas.
The temple is beautifully made with marble and looks grand. The couplets of Ramacharitmanas are engraved on the walls of the temple.
As the name suggests, this temple is dedicated to three gods (Tridev means Three gods). It is a new temple with no historical records. Temple is beautiful and interesting in design.
This is an interesting temple and situated 450 meters from Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple.
Bharat Mata Mandir
This temple is not a religious temple. It is more of a social temple where a map of undivided India is carved on marble. This map depicts rivers, mountains, and oceans up to the scale. Bharat Mata Mandir has a marble statue of Bharat Mata (Goddess India), it was an important symbol during the freedom struggle of India.
Bharat Mata Mandir is located on the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith campus. Father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi inaugurated this temple in 1936.
This temple is located on Lalita Ghat of Ganga river. The temple is made of terracotta, stone, and wood. It was constructed by King of Nepal at the beginning of 19th Century. The temple architecture is similar to temple structures found in Bhaktapur and Patan in Nepal.
The temple is also dedicated to Lord Shiva and also known as Pashupatinath Mahadev Mandir (Based on Pashupatinath temple of Kathmandu). Local people also call it Kanthwala temple because wood is one of the main material used in the temple. (Kanth means wood and Wala means made of)
Ratneshwar Mahadev temple
This temple is situated at Manikarnika Ghat. The Garb Grah (Inner sanctum) of this temple remain submerged in water throughout the year except for few summer months when water of Ganga goes down.
It is located in the bank of Ganga and due to its weight temple is partially submerged in water. But there are several interesting stories associated with the submersion of this temple.
It is one of the most photographed temples in Varanasi.
Also read about the Ghats of Varanssi on Ganga river
I advise to do visit these temples of Varanasi in two walking tours as per maps given below.
Maps of Varanasi temples
Map 1 (Kashi Vishwanath temple, Kaal Bhairav, Nepali Temple, Ratneshwar Mahadev & Bharat Mata)
Map 2 (Shri Durga temple, Sankat Mochan Hanuman, Shei satyanarayan Tulsi Manas & Tridev temple)
These are some of the popular Hindu temples in Varanasi. Though there are many more temple in Varanasi. Other then these Sarnath near Varanasi has many beautiful Buddhist temples.
Also read about A day trip to Sarnath from Varanasi