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Air conditioning at the ticket office, escalators to the Ganges, reasonably clean toilets and plenty of space. A visit to the 18th century Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi does not fully confirm the stereotypes prevailing across India, such as filth and chaos, since a major renovation.
Is this a positive change? Opinions differ slightly on this subject. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has adopted Varanasi as his constituency, spoke about the development and New India at the temple’s reopening late last year. But some residents feel that this has happened at the expense of the character and history of the ancient city, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world.
“Look, there was a temple here,” says Ajay Sharma. It originated in the old part of Varanasi, which he calls by its historical name Kashi. Sharma tried unsuccessfully to stop the demolition of the small temples, he said, through the courts.
Now it is lost in an alley, which was completely opened on one side and behind the fence shows the new lands around the Kashi Vishwanath temple. Points behind the gate. “This is appalling: there is now a toilet there! Exactly where there was a small temple previously.”
With Sharma, we immersed ourselves in ancient Varanasi:
On the road in Varanasi: ‘It has the same effect as a thousand pilgrimages’
For Hindus, ancient Varanasi is one of the most sacred cities. The important Kashi Vishwanath Temple, built in the 18th century to worship Lord Shiva, is hidden in a labyrinth of alleys and not visible from the Ganges.
This is what happened to Modi, who has now opened the temple directly from the sacred river with a brand new pier and a wide staircase of pink sandstone. A large courtyard was also built around the temple, which could accommodate 75,000 worshipers at one time.
Hundreds of homes were destroyed
As a result, more than 300 homes were demolished. About 1,400 people, including shopkeepers and street vendors, had to make way. They were compensated, but they didn’t have much choice. Ancient temples were found hidden in many demolished houses. About forty of them have been preserved and incorporated into the new complex. Countless others had to make way.
Sharma shows pictures and videos on his phone of bulldozers and statues of God amid the rubble. “For people to move is one thing. They have another home. But where should the gods go? The gods live in those alleys, in those temples.”
He started a conversation with shop owner Raj Kumar Singh, who was allowed to stay but now overlooks the new toilet. He is also angry at the lost temples.
“Modi is just like Aurangzeb,” he says, referring to the 17th-century Muslim emperor who demolished many Hindu temples, including the original Shiva temple in Varanasi. Sharma nodded. “Many Hindus are outraged by this historical injustice, but why not these temples that were demolished right in front of their prime minister?”
Haji Subham Kumar does not know what was demolished for the project, but he thinks it turned out beautiful. He and his wife and two children make a pilgrimage for a few days in the holy city, about 250 kilometers from their hometown. They sit on the wide new staircase between the temple and the Ganges and look out over the river. “Look, we’re walking around barefoot here. It’s possible, it’s clean and smooth.”
Journalist Suresh Pratap sees something completely different when he looks at the pier, where the piers are still standing. “Here where we are now, the Ganges used to run,” Pratap says. “The river’s natural route has been cut off.” This is while, according to him, nothing new is allowed to be built in the river here.
Pratap wrote a book on the regeneration of the ancient city. It tells about the history of the city, transcending all difference GhatsStairs from town to the river for people who want to take a shower or boat. For him, this is basically what was lost with the renewal.
“Where the bulldozers came, there was a neighborhood called Lahori Tula. The name came from the first inhabitants of that neighborhood, who came from the now Pakistani city of Lahore. They arrived with the Sikh king Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who put the gold leaf donated into the temple. The inhabitants of today were in Most of their descendants. This is living history, which is now over. It has become invisible.”
But isn’t development necessary to steer the old city into the future with new amenities and accessibility, Moody says? Pratap shrugs his shoulders. “What is development? All this news? Those alleys I think contained the identity of the city. I loved that.”
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