India // Uttar Pradesh //

The Golden Temple and around

Accessed from Vishwanatha Mandir Lane to the north of Vishwanatha Gali, but closed to non-Hindus, the Vishwanatha Mandir temple complex, also called Visheshwara (the “Lord of All”), is popularly known as the Golden Temple, due to the gold plating on its massive spire. Because it is largely hidden behind walls, non-Hindus have to make do with glimpses of it from adjacent buildings. Vishwanatha’s history has been fraught. Sacked by successive Muslim rulers, it was repeatedly rebuilt and destroyed; in 1785, Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore built the temple that stands today. Its simple white domes tower over the Jnana Vapi (“Wisdom Well”), immediately north, housed in an open-arcaded hall built in 1828, where Shiva cooled his lingam after the construction of Vishwanatha.

Adjacent to the temple, guarded by armed police to protect it from Hindu fanatics, stands the Jnana Vapi Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Aurangzeb. Close by, the temple of Annapurna Bhavani is dedicated to Shakti, the divine female energy. Manifest in many forms, including the awesome Kali and Durga with their weapons and gruesome garlands of skulls, she’s seen here as the provider of sustenance and carries a cooking pot. Nearby is a stunning image, faced in silver against a black surround, of Shani or Saturn. Slightly north, across the main road, the thirteenth-century Razia’s Mosque stands atop the ruins of a still earlier Vishwanatha temple that was destroyed under the Sultanate.