Have you visited the Holiest Hindu Temple in Varanasi? Probably Not.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Sexual iconography at the Pashupatinath Mahadev temple, Varanasi


Next time you visit Varanasi make sure you visit the holiest Hindu shrine in this ancient city.  No, I am not referring to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple , for whose darshan, you may have stood patiently in a long and disorderly, jostling and  sweaty queue,  in a dank , dirty lane.  Vishwanath temple is regarded as not only the holist pilgrim spots in Varanasi but also one of the holiest Hindu temples in the world.

However don’t be fooled by the prevailing Brahmanical view buttressed by tradition, the media and the rabble. In my view, there can be nothing ‘holy’ or at least nothing ‘Hindu’ about a temple that keeps away a certain class of  people. Ironically,  the temple epitomizes exactly what Hinduism isn’t.  ‘’Non-Hindus Not Allowed Inside ’’, a  sign that’s plastered  on its walls  flies in the face of  inclusiveness that Hinduism boasts of.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

The temple precincts are tranquil enough to meditate in, Varanasi.

All religions no matter how liberal, (in this fold I include Zen ) ultimately divide men. Such signs outside a Hindu temple are all the more bizarre because there is no such thing as ‘Hindus’ in the first place. And   Hinduism is, well, indefinable.  Its just one merry carnival which anyone can join (or leave) if they like and everyone, including  a Christian,  Muslim, Jew (or atheist) can call themselves Hindus if they wish.

I say next time,  because a visit to  this remarkable temple is on the itinerary of no  Varanasi visitor.  It called the Pashupatinath  Mahadev Temple and it lies ignored on the west bank of the putrid Ganga looking over one the lesser known ghats. Unlike the Kashi Vishwanath Temple,  its beautifully carved wooden doors are open to all, regardless of what religious identities one has  pigeonholed  oneself in.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Erotic sculptures  on the outer walls of the temple, Varanasi


It’s built in the manner of the Pashupatinath Temple in Katmandu. Its pagoda styled two- tier roof speak of Tibetan architecture but  in the general lay its  Hindu.

Unlike most Varanasi temples,   this temple is refreshingly clean. The priests here are neither grumpy nor pushy and you get a feeling that even the religious can have a sense of empathy and good cheer.

But its  inclusiveness is not just in the fact that it welcomes everyone –most Hindu temple do that- but that it incorporates the spirit of Hinduism like no other temple in Varanasi.  All aspects of life, including sex are celebrated in its beautifully carved wooden sculptures.  Nothing is condemned.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Pashupatinath temple in Varanasi.

The sexual iconography is  very frank,  if  somewhat overly  ambitious, (for instance there are   impossible acrobatic sex-positions in sculpture) but it harks back to an age when sex was celebrated and not condemned. It depicts the liberal ethos of Hinduism which existed then,  in contrast to the puritanical treatise of ritualistic dos and don’t its fallen into now.

Sexual eroticism in Hindu temples whether at  Khajuraho or Konark or in this temple in Varanasi, have always puzzled scholars. By themselves the sculptures signify nothing. But in the ambit of Hinduism they speak of a unique religion built on the principals of openness, of celebration and rejoicing of all aspects of life. Those principals of Hinduism sadly stand severely eroded today which is why pilgrimage to such temples is all the more important.

Depiction of erotic love on the walls of Kandaria Mahadeva temple, Khajuraho. (sanjay austa austa)

Depiction of erotic love on the walls of Kandaria Mahadeva temple, Khajuraho. 

3 Responses to “Have you visited the Holiest Hindu Temple in Varanasi? Probably Not.”

  1. Shreshth says:

    ” … there can be nothing ‘holy’ or at least nothing ‘Hindu’ about a temple that keeps away a certain class of people.” Can’t agree more with you, Sanjay. Great article!

  2. suraj maharjan says:

    that is not Tibetan architecture but in fact pure Nepalese architecture developed by inhabitants of Nepal who are called Newars.. later it got popular in tibet china japan and korea.. the nepalese artist and architecture Arniko travelled to tibet and then china and constructed buildings in similar way.. and it is called pagodaa design. 🙂

Leave a Reply