0ne of the holiest places for the Hindus is Kashi. It is also known as Varanasi because two lines of the Ganga, Varun and Asi, flow by it.
Along the banks of the river Ganga there are a number of beautiful ghats or bathing places, where people take holy dips.
The city has more than 1500 temples, including Buddhist shrines. The chief deity of the city is Visweswar, another name for Shiva. His abode is the famous Viswanath temple.
We do not know for certain who initiated the worship of Shiva at Varanasi. But during the reign of King Dibodas, in the age of the Puranas, Visweswar once got disgusted with the king and retired to Mount Mandar. The god, of course, missed his home town, but he did not wish to return as long as Dibodas ruled the city.
Visweswar sent his spirit-servants to remove Dibodas. But they did not dare come face-to-face with the king and passed their time living near Manikarnika Ghat. Visweswar then sent the Sun God. He too failed to oust Dibodas. Many more came, but none returned. They were happy to stay on at Varanasi. Such was the charm of the city!
Visweswar had thought that after his departure the town would be reduced to misery. But it continued to be prosperous and happy. This was possible because King Dibodas was a man of great virtue. His good fortune, which was the result of his good deeds and sublime thoughts, was shared by his subjects.
After some time, Ganesha came to see Dibodas. He came in the guise of an astrologer. He impressed the king by his power to recall events that had occurred in the past and predict the events to come. The king was eager to attain salvation and enquired of the disguised god how to realise it. Ganesha told him that a Brahmin would soon come down from the north and would give him the clue to attain salvation.
In the meantime, Visweswar sent Vishnu to King Dibodas. Vishnu came as a Brahmin, and since he came from the north, Dibodas asked him to show him the way to salvadon. Vishnu told the king to seek the grace of Shiva. That inspired king Dibodas to build a new temple for Shiva. The self-exiled Shiva, pleased at last, returned to his old familiar city.
The temple of Visweswar is neither very high nor very big, but its crown is covered with gold. The present temple was built by Ahalyabai, the celebrated queen of Indore. Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Punjab, contributed the gold that covers the crown.
Varanasi has always been a must for Hindu pilgrims. To have a glimpse of Visweswar brings one great peace and serenity. To die at Kashi means attaining salvation.
Varanasi has been visited by great prophets and saints through the ages. Among them were Buddha, Sharnkara, Ramanuja, Kabir, Nanak, Tulsidas and Sri Chaitanya Dev.