Kashi – A Tower of Light and Shiva’s Luminous City
Sadhguru reveals the secrets of the most ancient city in the world – Kashi. He explains how the entire city was consecrated as a massive yantra to become a spiritual doorway for thousands of people who chose to live there.
1. Why Was Kashi Created?Sadhguru: The word “Kashi” literally means to be luminous, or more particularly, a tower of light. Mark Twain said that Kashi is older than legend. Nobody can ever decipher the date of this place. When Athens was not even thought of, Kashi was. When Rome did not even exist in people’s minds, Kashi was. When Egypt did not exist, Kashi was. It is that ancient, and it was built as an instrument in the form of a city, which brings a union between the “micro” and the “macro” – this little human being can have the phenomenal possibility of uniting with the cosmic reality and knowing the pleasure, ecstasy and beauty of becoming one with the cosmic nature.
There have been many such instruments in this country, but to create a city like this is a mad ambition – and they did it thousands of years ago. There were 72,000 shrines, the same as the number of nadis in the human body. The whole process is like a manifestation of a “mega human body” to make contact with a larger cosmic body. It is because of this that a whole tradition came up that if you go to Kashi, that is it. You do not want to leave the place because when you get connected to the cosmic nature, why would you want to go anywhere else?
Today, our idea of science has become the new iPhone. But if you want to look at it as science that is towards ultimate human wellbeing, this is it. You cannot do anything better than this. It is not a religion or a belief system. This is human ingenuity as to how to access the beyond. This is the most phenomenal effort ever made on the planet. There is no question about that.
2. The Science of Kashi
Sadhguru: The most important thing in human life is to know the limitations of your body. You were born yesterday and will be buried tomorrow. You only have today to live. This is the nature of existence. And before death comes, life needs to blossom. So across the country, we set up every possible mechanism that we could use for this purpose. There are many mechanisms like this. Unfortunately, most of them are broken, including Kashi which is largely disturbed, but the energetic part of it is still pretty alive. This is because when we consecrate spaces of this nature, including Dhyanalinga, the physical structure is always only a scaffolding. Generally, the legend says that Kashi is on the top of Shiva’s trishul or trident, not on the ground.
What I see in my experience is that the real structure of Kashi is approximately 33 feet above the ground. If we had any sense, we should not have built anything beyond 33 feet in height. But we have, because sense has always been a very scarce material in the world. And, by geometrical calculations, the energy structure could be up to 7200 feet. This is why they called it a “Tower of Light,” because those who had eyes to see, saw that it is a very tall structure. And it did not stop there, it gave you access to what is beyond. The idea is to achieve something that a human being could achieve within himself or herself, through an organized mechanism that comes from the distilled essence of thousands of years of realization of many people. If you have to realize things by yourself, it is like reinventing the wheel and unnecessarily going through a whole lot of painful processes. But if you have to realize through others’ knowing, then you must have humility.
This arrangement was done so that a lot of people could be transported. People came and set up all kinds of methods and mechanisms. At one time, there were over 26,000 shrines – each one of them had a method of its own as to how a human being can attain. These 26,000 shrines developed satellites and many angles of the temple became small shrines of their own – so the number went up to 72,000 shrines when this mechanism called Kashi was in full glory. This did not happen overnight. No one knows in which period the basic structure happened. They say that even Sunira, who is dated something like 40,000 years ago, came here looking for something. By then, it was already a flourishing city.
In terms of antiquity, no one knows exactly how old it is. Shiva wanted to come here because the city was so beautiful. Before he came, it was already a phenomenal city. Just a few years ago, they discovered three layers of temples that were all closed down for a long period of time. This means that the city sunk over a period of time and it was repeatedly rebuilt, one on top of the other. There are three to five layers of the city, because the earth recycles itself over a period of time.
3. The Legend of Shiva Living at Kashi
Sadhguru: The legend of Kashi goes by the fundamental that Shiva himself lived here. This is his winter place. He lived as an ascetic in the upper regions of the Himalayas, but when he got married to a princess, compromises had to be made. And being a graceful man, he decided he would move to the plains, as Kashi was the most fabulously built city at the time.
There is a beautiful story. Shiva left Kashi because of some political reasons. The gods were afraid that Kashi would lose its reverberence if it was not properly managed, so they asked Divodasa to become the king. But he set a condition, “If I have to become the king, Shiva has to leave, because with him around, me being a king is not going to work. People will gather around him.” So Shiva, along with Parvati, left to Mount Mandara, but he did not want to stay there. He wanted to come back to Kashi, so he first sent messengers. They went and they just loved the city so much, they did not go back.
Then Shiva sent 64 celestial women. He said, “Somehow corrupt the king. Once we find some fault in him, we can send him packing and I’ll come back.” They came and they entrenched themselves all over the society, wanting to corrupt it. But they loved the place so much they forgot the mission and settled down.
Then he sent Surya Deva. He also came – all the Aditya temples in Kashi are for him – he loved it so much that he did not go back. Surya Deva was so ashamed and scared that he could not fulfill Shiva’s mission because his love for the city was greater than his commitment to the mission, so he turned south, tilted to one side and settled down.
Then Shiva sent Brahma. Brahma himself came and loved it, and he did not go back. Then Shiva said, “I cannot trust any of these people,” and he sent two of his most trusted ganas. Both of them came – they could not forget Shiva, they are his people – but they loved the place so much and thought, “This is the only place Shiva should live, not Mount Mandara.” Then they became dwarapalakas of this city.
Shiva sent two more, Ganesha and another, who came and took charge of the city. They started preparing the city, guarding the city, and they said, “Anyway Shiva has to come, there is no point in going back.” Then Divodasa was tempted with mukti. He did not fall for any kind of corruption, but he was tempted with mukti and he took it. Then Shiva came back.
These are all stories to tell you how much people longed to be here, not because of pleasure, but because of the possibility that the city offered. The city was not just a dwelling place; it was a mechanism to go beyond all limitations. It was a mechanism for this tiny little organism to connect with the larger organism of the cosmos.
4. Why Is Kashi Called Varanasi?
Sadhguru: Varanasi, Banaras or Kashi – it has many names. This is the oldest city on the planet. However far human memory goes, they talk about a great city called Varanasi that was built between two rivers of Varuna and Asi.
5. Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Sadhguru: There was a time in this country when people believed that if you just enter this city you will be liberated, because it was such a powerful space. Above all, the heart of the city was Vishwanath. The temple was destroyed a long time ago, but it is supposed to have been consecrated by Adiyogi himself. In the last few centuries, particularly in the last six to seven centuries, Kashi was razed to the ground three times over. There were 26,000 shrines in Kashi, but today there are only 3,000 because they were all systematically pulled down during invasions. Kashi Vishwanath temple, which is the core of Kashi must have been the most phenomenal place for it to draw people from across the world. It is a misfortune that we were not alive when it was in full glory. It was pulled down three times and they built it back three times, in whichever way possible.
Then, when Aurangzeb came, he saw that if you pull it down, these guys will build it back, because this is not a religion run by one leadership somewhere; this is something that lives in everyone's homes and hearts. It is not something that is campaigned; it is a connection that people made. It is not driven by a belief but by a phenomenal experience and connection with the rest of the existence. When he saw this, he decided to build a mosque in the core of the Kashi Vishwanath temple. He demolished the whole temple but left a small portion of the temple as a warning and a lesson for the people of this culture that you cannot correct what has been done to the temple. This is where the Kashi Vishwanath linga is right now; it is outside the temple area. It used to be at the Vishweshwara sanctum. Now that is the center of the mosque, which is covering the whole central area, north to south.
When the linga was removed and thrown out, they wanted to throw it in a place where you could not find it. We do not know whether they just threw it out or broke it and then threw it out. Some people say that there are two pieces, and out of their emotion and love, people tried to put it together. And there is a story that there is a well called Gyanvapi. Gyanvapi means a well of knowledge. They say that people hid and preserved the linga in this well, so that it will not be completely destroyed. And after things settled down, they brought it out and established it outside on the southern corner somewhere. I do not even know if it is the same linga. People would want to replace it to keep people's faith going, otherwise people would psychologically break that it is gone. Someone might have replaced it, or maybe they really did preserve it. Maybe it was broken and they put it back together, or they made a new linga. We do not know.
6. Saptarishi Arati
Sadhguru: When we went to Kashi, I was amazed to see a certain process they did in the Vishwanath temple in the evening. This process is about the Saptarishis, the first seven disciples of Shiva the Adiyogi. When the Saptarishis were asked to go out and teach, as they were leaving, they asked him, “When we are away from you, how do we worship you, how do we access you?” So he gave them a process and said, “Wherever you are, you do this, I am there with you.” That has been kept up till today in the Vishwanath temple. This is called as the Saptarishi Arati. It is an elaborate system. The people who are doing it now do not know anything about it, but they are just keeping the process up.
It is like using a cellphone – you do not really know how it works, but you just learn to use it and it works for you. Like this, these people do not know the technology of it, but they know how to make it happen. They just kept the system as it is, and they did this process in the evening for about one-and-a-half hours. They built stacks and stacks of energy. I was just sitting there and I could not believe these priests are doing this. I would have never imagined they would be able to do this. I know what it takes to do it, but not like this. To do that in Isha, we have to do a lot of things because we do not have a process like that. We build people into that kind of situation and build a heap of energy so that everyone can experience this. These priests know nothing about their own energy or what can be done, but they have stuck to the process and built such a phenomenon there. It was absolutely fantastic.
Watch what happened when Sadhguru invited the Kashi Vishwanath priests to perform the powerful Saptarishi Arati at Yogeshwar Linga in the presence of Adiyogi at Isha Yoga Center, Coimbatore.
7. Vishwanathashtakam by Sounds of Isha
Listen to this mesmerizing offering of Vishwanathashtakam by Sounds of Isha.
8. Kashi Krama with Sadhguru
Kashi Krama is a sojourn through the sacred city of Kashi conducted by Isha Sacred Walks. The participants visit spiritually significant spaces and have the rare privilege of a special satsang with Sadhguru in Kashi as part of the sojourn.
9. Kashi Karvat
Sadhguru: As long as you are in pursuit of liberation, what you do and how you do it is not important. As long as your basic intention is dissolution, it does not matter how you do it. There is a certain temple in Kashi where if you want to attain, they had a timber saw, which is called karvat in the local language. Even now, the linga is called Karvat linga. People traveled from long distances, and they wanted karvat, that is, they wanted to be sawed into two pieces in the temple in front of the linga. This linga was made for that purpose. They used the saw to cut a human being from the top of the head. Initially, this was done only to cut to a certain point to open up the sahasrar. It was done carefully by people who know what to do so that life is liberated. Clearly separating two dimensions of who you are, and liberating you from within. Do not try it now! It has been banned for some time. I am just trying to tell you the extent to which they were willing to go because that is how significant mukti was considered to be – you must attain in this life.
There are many sages and saints who have referred to Kashi Karvat, for example Mirabai and Surdas. Mirabai threatens Krishna, "If you don't come, I will go to Kashi Karvat." She is threatening him, "If you don't appear for me, I am going to go and cut myself with a saw." During the British era they banned it, but still people were going and falling on the saw. Then they removed the saw. It is said that the saw is in some British museum right now.
10. Panchakroshi Yatra
The Panchakroshi Yatra is one of the most significant pada yatras done by pilgrims around the sacred Kashi Mandala.
Along this route, there are 108 shrines, to which pilgrims travel by foot. There are five major villages, where pilgrims can rest and stay overnight. Even today, choultries built by kings a few hundred years ago are still intact.
As one travels in a clockwise direction on the Panchakroshi route, all the temples are located on the right side of the road, marking the outer limit of the Panchakroshi sphere.
The Panchakroshi Yatra begins with a dip in river Ganga at Manikarnika Ghat. The first major temple on this route is the Aadhikarmadheshwar temple. The Linga here was consecrated by Sage Karmadeshwar.
In the Kashi Khanda Purana, it is said that yakshas and ganas always lived on the trees and near water bodies. On this route, their shrines have also been placed in the same way.
The second temple on the route is the Bhimachandi mandir. This Durga temple is said to have been established by a Gandharva who worshipped Devi here. She is said to protect all devotees who seek her grace as her own child, blessing them with health and wellbeing.
The third is Dehali Vinayak temple. This temple is directly in line with the Kashi Vishwanath temple, marking the halfway mark of the yatra. It is said that before entering Kashi, Lord Rama meditated here.
The fourth is the Rameshwaram temple. This temple is said to be a replica of the Rameshwaram temple in southern India. It is situated on the banks of the river Varuna, and marks the northernmost point of the yatra.
It says in the scriptures, that all the lingas of the Kashi Mandala fall under forty-two kinds. In the Kapiladhara temple, all forty-two kinds are there in a single form. The Pasapani Vinayaka and Kapiladhara temples mark the end of the Panchakroshi Yatra.
11. Kala Bhairava
Sadhguru: Bhairava is one who takes you beyond fear. Kala Bhairava is the fear of time – not the fear of death – because time is the basis of fear. If you had limitless amount of time, it wouldn’t matter, isn’t it? If you are free from the fear of time, you are absolutely free from fear.
Kala Bhairava is a deadly form of Shiva. It was guaranteed that if you come to Kashi, whatever kind of a lousy creature you have been all your life, you will attain to mukti. So all the lousy creatures started coming because they lived badly, and they want to die gloriously, so he said, “There needs to be some check.” Shiva took the form of Kala Bhairava to conduct what is called Bhairavi Yatana. That means when the moment of death comes, for all that you have been, your many lifetimes play out in a moment with great intensity, and whatever pleasures and pains that need to happen to you, will all happen. What would have spread over many lifetimes will happen to you in a microsecond but with the kind of intensity that you cannot hold. Yatana means ultimate suffering. It is something that happens to you in hell, but he will make it happen to you here.
When you want to do that kind of a job, you need a right kind of costume. Shiva put on the right kind of costume and became Kala Bhairava to create Bhairavi Yatana for you. He creates such phenomenal pain that you have not imagined possible, but just for a moment so that after that, nothing of the past remains in you.
12. Kala Bhairava Temples in Kashi
The eight Kala Bhairava temples are located in eight cardinal directions of Kashi, protecting the whole Mandala. These are: Unmat Bhairava, Krodhana Bhairava, Kapala Bhairava, Asitanga Bhairava, Chanda Bhairava, Ruru Bhairava, Bhishana Bhairava and Samhara Bhairava.
In the Kashi Khanda Purana, the Kashi Kshetra is said to be standing upon Shiva's trishul – and three main temples form the three main points of the trident. These three main temples act as the fulcrum for the mandala. They are: Omkareshwara in the north, Vishweshwara in the middle and Kedareshwara in the south. Each temple forms their own khanda, or sphere of influence.
13. Significance of Kashi Rituals
Sadhguru: Kashi is full of rituals. It was the center of rituals. There is nothing as sure-fire as doing something internally – that is the best way to do it. Once you have been initiated into a spiritual process, that is what you should depend on. But these rituals were for the public. They do not know how to do anything with themselves, but they know enough that something needs to be done with them. When that is the case, an instrument like Kashi, and the complex rituals that came along with the instrument, are very useful because it handles people en masse.
14. Ganga Arati
Sadhguru: Water is an important element of your survival. Seventy percent of your body is just water. One day if you don’t get water to drink, water will naturally become God, isn’t it? So we recognize the water that is flowing in the river as the source of our survival.
The Ganga Arati is traditionally performed every evening at the time of sunset on the banks of the river in Kashi. It is a beautiful atmosphere that you can enjoy, and a powerful process if you allow it to be. The most fundamental aspect of Yoga is known as Bhuta Shuddhi, which is about working towards creating a certain freedom from the five elements, because creation is just the mischief of the five elements. In Bhuta Shuddhi, there is a whole lot of sadhana with every aspect – with earth, wind, fire, water and space. We not only bow down to the five elements so that they function well for us, we also learn mechanisms to make them function well. Only if these five elements are in cohesive function will you have a proper body and a proper life.
15. Sadhguru’s Poems on Kashi
A tower of light of immeasurable height
The cosmic reach of the blessed city drew
men of all kinds. Craftsmen and tradesmen
scholars and priests, merchants and mendicants
builders and boatsmen. Seekers of every kind
flocked to suck at the teat of eternity.
Mother Ganga took an odd turn to embrace
this sacred space. Even ensnared the Great Lord
Shambho by its charm.
The great Kashi lost in the folds of human memory
Now left graceless by the invading hordes
and the callous kind who administer bereft of
the sacred touch, but of greed and indolence
of the worst sort.
May blessed Kashi rise again
And touch one and all with its
Domes and towers of stone and metal
Palaces and parliaments for pleasure and
purpose. Schools and temples for pursuits
of here and beyond, all these and more
make a city that people build.
But a city with a tower of light
and cremation ghats that burn eternally
with only aspiration to dissolve.
Where Death is sacred beyond life.
A city built for Death and Dissolution
where life happens with
the knowledge that there is no tomorrow.
A tower of light that lights up
not only all that there IS, but also
That which is Not – Shiva
16. Manikarnika Ghat Story
Sadhguru: There are stories behind how Manikarnika Ghat came to be. Parvati dropped her earring by Shiva's instruction. Vishnu, being chivalrous, wanted to pick it up, but it went into the earth. So he used his discus to dig the place. He dug and dug and dug. He started sweating so much that the pit filled up with his own sweat, but he could not find Parvati's earring because as he dug, it went deeper and deeper. Shiva said to Vishnu, “Okay, the whole city is mine. But you keep this place because you put your sweat into this.” So that became Manikarnika.
17. Manikarnika Ghat Cremation
Question: There is a saying that if you get cremated at Manikarnika Ghat, you will get enlightened. Is it so?
Sadhguru: Do not misunderstand the marketing for the reality! It is not all marketing, but there is always a product and then there is marketing. Sometimes in a society, marketing becomes bigger than the product. This is happening everywhere in the world.
You are mistaking an orientation for a goal. When we say that you must be cremated in Manikarnika, it means that you must spend the last part of your life in Kashi. That is the orientation. Living in Kashi means that you are not oriented towards your family, some other pleasure, or the same emotional stuff. You are oriented towards your inner wellbeing. We are talking about a Kashi where there is energetic help, but apart from that there were people of phenomenal capabilities, knowing and understanding who could assist you so that you can leave in the most graceful manner.
Question: It is also said that the day there is no cremation in Manikarnika Ghat, the world will end. Is this true?
Sadhguru: Well, if nobody dies, the world will come to an end, won't it? Every day someone has to die – it is part of the process. Gautama the Buddha set it up like this – when a woman came to him and said, "Please save my dead boy," he said, "Go and get mustard seeds from a home which has not seen death." She went all over in her grief and then she realized that someone dies in every home. If a time comes in the world when nobody dies, this definitely means that the world is coming to an end. People must die, because people are being born.
18. Kashi Aghoris
Question: There are Aghoris in Kashi who do bizarre things with dead bodies or experiment with various other things. People abhor them…
Sadhguru: People have probably not visited the scientific laboratories, biological laboratories, where they are doing absolutely bizarre things with various creatures. All that is done with the intention of wellbeing. Once in a way something useful comes out, but the rest of the time, we are only doing bizarre things in the laboratories. Even if you study biology in high school, you are cutting open frogs and looking into this and that. It is quite bizarre. But all of us have done it and are continuing to do it, as if that is the only way to learn.
There is still prana in the dead body. If you go to Manikarnika and Harischandra Ghat where dead bodies are cremated, Aghoris will be sitting there, watching. They ask everyone who comes, “How old is this person? How did he die?” That is why some people who do not want that to be known are covering the body with plastic sheets so people cannot see. If someone asks them, “How old is the person?” they will not reply. But the Aghoris want to know. They want that kind of person who is young, who was vibrant life and died for some reason. Once the body begins to burn, the prana has to exit immediately. The Aghoris want to make use of the life energy that is released and do some work with themselves there. Now people will not give it to them, because they do not want their dear ones to be used like this. So these people will grab the body and run!
They want to use part of the life. They want to use the energy that is released from the dead body from cremation. They do not want to do this to a live person, because it will lead to human sacrifice. So they are waiting for the dead to come. If you do not know the science of that, you cannot just think it is all bizarre. Yes, it is an extreme way of doing things. It is not for everyone. It is something that should be done without coming to the notice of a society. But unfortunately, there is population everywhere today. There was a time when the Aghoris would be here, and there was hardly anyone else around, so they would do what they want to do for their growth and wellbeing.
Question: But if you talk about science, I can say, “Those monkeys have been used, but ultimately we got some medicines.” But what has an Aghori given to the world that we should give them a sanction to do these things which a human being does not find palatable?
Sadhguru: What is beneficial to a society and what is not changes at different times in history. Whatever we are talking of science as creating great benefits, is only contextual now. It is already beginning to happen that all the environmentalists are trying to block every scientific thing, because people are beginning to understand in the name of development, we are completely destroying the very source of our wellbeing.
In the society, what is true today will be looked down upon tomorrow; what is great today will be thought of as the most horrible thing day after tomorrow. This will anyway happen in the social structure. You are made to believe that this is it and tomorrow your next generation will stand up and say, “What you did is the most idiotic thing.”
Aghoris are not getting involved in the context of the society. They are only involved in the ultimate nature of their being. They do not care what the society thinks so they always stayed away from society. But today society has occupied just everything. They have no place to be. They are not causing harm to anyone. Have you heard of any Aghori attacking anyone? No. He is doing something with himself. People are taking drugs, drinking themselves to death, smoking and blowing it in your face. Aghoris are not doing any of those things. They are in remote places, doing their own thing, with themselves, not with someone else.
They want to evolve to a place where what is most abhorrent for you, they befriend. Because the moment you like or dislike something, you have divided the existence. And once you have divided the existence, you cannot embrace it. They are going with whatever you would not be able to stand because they want to take away what they like and do not like; everything is same to them. This is a way of embracing the universe. It may not be for you and me, but it works for someone. I am not against anything that works. If it works, it is fine with me.
19. How to Experience Kashi
Question: If someone comes to Kashi, what is a must one should experience here?
Sadhguru: The must is to come a little bit prepared. If you are travelling to Kashi, at least for three months, get initiated into some simple meditative process. Meditate for some time. Make yourself a little more sensitive and come. Leave all your beliefs at home and come. Do not believe anything.
20. Restore Kashi
Sadhguru: Kashi is a fantastic place. We have to restore this once again to its full glory because never before have humans dared to create something as magnificent and as profound as Kashi on this planet. But unfortunately, it has taken the beating of time and invasions, and much has been damaged. It is time to restore this and put this back. This is not religion. This is our responsibility. If we are concerned about human wellbeing, the methods and the mechanics and the tools which were created for human wellbeing must be restored.