Temples are easy to find in Varanasi, a city where religion is a part of its daily existence for centuries. There are naga stones and fragments of idols propped up below trees, idols wait for puja on top of ghats, the corners of buildings have niches with a stone idol or a framed painting and most homes have an outside shrine by the front door to attract passersby.
Through the centuries some temples have gathered a greater sanctity and even have their own myths and legends. These shrines are on the itinerary of pilgrims and have old traditions of religious rituals and festivals.
Here we are listing the most popular temples but there are any more.
The most practical way to travel in Varanasi while looking for temple is by cycle rickshaw. The drivers know all the locations and they also move faster through the endless traffic jams and in crowded narrow lanes. They make excellent guides and know the best restaurant and shops.
This temple is dedicated to the consort of Shiva, Annapurna Bhavani. Unlike the warrior goddesses like Durga and Kali, Annapurna is all benign as the goddess of plenty. The temple stands in a nearby lane from the Kashi Vishwanath temple. It was built in 1725 by the Maratha chieftain Peshwa Baji Rao I. Just after Diwali they hold the Annakuta festival here.
Sakshi Vinayak temple
This Ganesh temple has the deity that is a sakshi, a god who bears witness that a pilgrim has performed all the rituals of his tirtha. Pilgrims visit this temple after their worship at the Kashi Vishwanath temple or after completing the yatras, so that their good deeds are noted down by Ganesh.
Barey Ganesh temple
This is the most popular Ganesh shrine among the locals and the god is called ‘barey’ or big by his devotees. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated here with great fanfare every September.
Kalbhairav is a fearsome aspect of Shiva and he is the kotwal or protector of the city. So the black stone image in the temple carries a club, called dandapani and is accompanied by a dog. It is Kalbhairav who decides if the atonement of a pilgrim is truly felt and allows only the genuine devotee to be freed of their sins.
This is the most popular devi temple dedicated to the warrior goddess Durga. With Kal Bhairava she is also the protector of Kashi. The temple has a big stepped pool beside it called Durga Kund where pilgrims bathe before doing puja. The present temple was built by Rani Bhavani, the queen of Natore in Bengal and has beautifully carved pillars and a many tiered shikhara.
This small temple has a giant shiva lingam over a metre high. It is said to be growing by the height of a sesame seed (til seed) every day. During the Maha Shivaratri festival the lingam is covered with a dramatic copper mask with five faces.
The priests of the city are called pandas. They can be extremely persistent and often harass pilgrims. Do be firm and refuse their services if you want to do your puja yourself. Shiva listens to everyone and it is not essential to hire pandas for any religious ritual.
Sankat Mochan temple
This temple dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman was built by Swami Tulsidas. It is one of the most popular temples in the city as Hanuman is said to solve a devotee’s problems. Religious discourses and readings from the Ramcharit manas are held regularly here.
This temple is a memorial to the Bhakti saint Kabir Das. It is located at Kabir Chaura where he lived and worked as a weaver. The temple has no idol and instead the poetry of Kabir is sung and recited to a nirguna or formless god.
Tulsi Manas temple
This twentieth century temple is dedicated to Tulsidas and his immortal epic Ramcharitmanas. The marble walls of the temple are inscribed with verses from the book. It also has a museum dedicated to Lord Ram.
Bharat Mata temple
This very unusual temple was built in 1936 during India’s freedom struggle and is dedicated to Mother India. So instead of the stone image of a deity it has a giant relief map of India engraved in marble.
Standing on top of Kedar Ghat this is a river temple that has a jyotirlingam. This temple is built in the architectural style of the south and has beautifully carved images of gods and goddesses.
Bindu Madhav temple
The original Bindu Madhav temple was a magnificent temple built during the reign of Emperor Akbar by Raja Man Singhof Amber. It was built on top of the Panchganga Ghat. It was destroyed and replaced by the Alamgir mosque by Aurangzeb. The present temple stands in a nearby lane and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This small temple is part of the Panchtirthi yatra.
This temple is dedicated to the mother goddess Devi as Vishalakshi, the ‘wide eyed’ deity. Devotees believe this is one of the fifty two devi peethas where the body parts of goddess Sati fell.
New Vishwanath temple
This twentieth century temple stands in the campus of the Benaras Hindu University and was inspired by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. At a time when the lower castes were not allowed into the Kashi Vishwanath temple he wanted a temple that welcomed the world to its precinct. A beautifully designed temple full of delicate carvings in marble, here people of all castes, religion and nationalities are welcomed. The daily religious ceremonies with music and the chanting of Sanskrit shlokas are based on the correct sacred texts and worth attending.