Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 13:27:17

The Kashi effect

By Nilabh Krishna
Updated: December 23, 2021 6:30 am

All eyes were on Varanasi on 13th of December  with Prime    Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the first of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham project in his constituency. The government had said that the national coverage of this event will be monumental. Fifty-five high-definition cameras, four jimmy jibs and one huge drone will follow the prime minister to the ancient city so that the visuals of the programme are telecast across the country. Modi’s push for this project comes only a few months before the key Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2022.

It is said that Kashi is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with a history of lived occupation going back over 5,000 years. The whole city presided over by Shiva as the Lord of the Universe, is in fact a mandala, a Yantra, a potent and powerful spiritual engine designed to shift the consciousness of not only its inhabitants, but also pilgrims who flock to it from all over India and the world.

The holy city is a microcosm not only of India but of the cosmos itself. Its sacred geography is surcharged with one primary purpose, its energy-body dedicated to one overwhelming aim. Moksha. Freedom. Emancipation. Liberation. This is why dying in Kashi is said to confer freedom from the cycle of life and death. The sacred Ganges turns north here, which means it takes you back to your source, which is the Self. For, we are all nothing but Shiva, nothing but pure consciousness, beyond space, time, birth, decay, and death. We are embodied, no doubt, but we are also timeless and infinite, forever one with the Divine. That is why Varanasi is the eternal city.


The leviathan project

For anyone who has ever been to Varanasi, the cramped lanes of the place are perhaps pretty familiar. But this current project plans to make things easier and more comfortable for pilgrims visiting the city.

Rs 399 crore: Media reports claimed that the project cost Rs 399 crore. This is the cost of the first phase of the project that PM Modi inaugurated recently. The reports quoted Uttar Pradesh tourism minister Neelkanth Tiwari as saying, “It is not only taking forward the dignity of Kashi but also creating a possibility of the boom in the religious tourism of Varanasi. The tourism sector is expected to grow insignificantly.”

Rs 800 crore: This is the total estimated cost of the project that the prime minister launched in March 2019, according to an another report.

50-feet wide: The corridor is going to increase near the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and connect with two ghats of the River Ganga. This will transform the area of the temple and pilgrims will no longer need to walk through cramped lanes, often causing crowds, to reach the temple.

5000 hectares:  Prime Minister Modi’s dream project is built on an area of 5000 hectares and seeks to decongest the area for a better experience for pilgrims. The earlier premises were limited to just around 3,000 square feet, PTI reported.

23 buildings: This is the number of buildings that were inaugurated. This includes several facilities for pilgrims, including ‘yatri suvidha kendras’, a tourist facilitation centre, vedic kendra, mumukshu bhavan, bhogshala, city museum, viewing gallery, food court among others. An auspicious time has been chosen on Monday for the inauguration.

300 properties acquired: Media reports quoted a statement from the government as saying, “The project involved purchase and acquisitions of more than 300 properties around Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Prime Minister’s vision to take everyone along was the principle based on which mutual negotiations were done for these acquisitions.”

1,400 people rehabilitated: The statement from the government said that it amicably rehabilitated around 1,400 shopkeepers, tenants and homeowners.

Since coming to centre in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken up various redevelopment initiatives and projects which hold national importance. However, Modi has also played a significant role in removing the stamp of the foreign rule which the country has to endure for centuries. He very well understands the pain a simple man of the country feels, when he is made fun of for going to temple or wearing a tikka.  He is aware of the role played by sacred Hindu temples in the long and sustained civilizational struggle.  Since being re-elected to power in 2019, PM Narendra Modi has played an important role in the renovation and rejuvenation of several temples across the country.

Right from the Nehru rule ‘development’ in India meant distancing oneself from Hindu culture. Pilgrimage centres were given the bare minimum attention. On the other hand, ‘secular’ attractions like the memorial museums and samadhis of certain political leaders became centres of attention. Yet, the temple towns, which were becoming increasingly dirty, continued to contribute more to ‘tourism’ than all the new ‘secular’ tourist destinations.

It is in this context the Narendra Modi phenomenon happened, says Arvindan Neelkandan, a senior journalist with He says “the return of attention to temples with the reassertion of Hindu identity and power—from the Maratha age through the freedom movement and Somnath reconstruction is a continuous process. What PM Modi accomplished on 13 December 2021 at Kashi should be seen as as one of the highlights of this historic and civilisational movement.

In an earlier age, not too long ago, traditional Hindu temples were neglected while industrial units were hailed as the ‘temples’ of India. This was an attempt to create a false binary between Hindu religiousness and the very necessary economic and social progress of India.

Without naming, PM Modi gave a strong rebuke to that ignorance of the Nehruvian consensus today. He said:

Today’s new India is not only constructing the temple at Ayodhya but also constructing Medical Colleges in every district. Today’s new India is not only renovating Kashi Vishwanath Dham but also building pukka houses for our poor. Today’s India not only beautifies the Somnath temple but is also laying optical fibres in the sea. Today’s India is not only renovating the Baba Kedarnath temple but is excelling in the space projects.

What PM Modi has done through this statement is that he has embraced both the need for employing technology to bring happiness to the masses along with the cultural and spiritual values of those very people.”

After centuries of colonisation and subjugation, there is so much at stake in India’s ongoing renaissance that exceeds and transcends immediate political losses and gains.

This is exactly what Narendra Modi demonstrated at the inauguration of the revamped Vishwanath temple complex and corridor to the Ganga on that auspicious day. This extraordinary project, completed in a record time of just over two years, recreates the historic shrine precinct of the ancient and timeless city of  Banaras.

Kashi, the eternal city once, becomes the guiding light for the renewed development of India, a development true to the heart and core of India. Aurangzeb destroyed the Kashi Vishwanath temple in 1669. Ahilyabai Holkar, the great Maratha queen, rebuilt it in 1780. Maharaja Ranjit Singh gilded the dome in 1835 with a tonne of gold. Many other  Hindu rulers, including the Maharajas of Rajasthan and Nepal, tried to protect and restore this shrine. But now, it is Narendra Modi who has exceeded what any of them could accomplish. This is a sign of resurgent India, economically vibrant and culturally at ease with its identity.

By Nilabh Krishna

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