How Modi is destroying the identity of Varanasi, one temple at a time

Many in the historic city are numb with shock over the construction of the Kashi Vishwanath-Ganga corridor. They call the ruling government and Modi, who represents Varanasi in the Lok Sabha, Dharma Vyaparis (religion traders) instead of Dharma Adhikaris (religion upholders).

varanasi temples
Varanasi: Almost 187 houses and bhavans have been demolished and more 90 will be razed to make way for the Kashi Vishwanath corridor which will link the river Ganga to the historic Kashi Vishwanath temple. What the Modi government believes will make the pilgrimage swifter and distraction free.
Many in Varanasi wear a solemn look as demolition equipment has descended on the temple town and is razing historic structures at breakneck speed. It is fitting for some as the Kashi Vishwanath temple houses Lord Shiva, the god of destruction.
“Says Rajendra Tiwari, the former mahant of the Kashi Vishwanath temple, “Every part of the country is represented across these Ganga ghats. Where we are sitting is Lahori Tola, where people from Lahore came and settled. Then there are areas where the Bengalis settled, the South Indians, the Marathis.” They are changing the “vaastu” of the place, he says. “Yeh dharam adhikari nahin, dharam vypari hein (They don’t serve religion, they trade in religion),” reported The Indian Express.
The project has effectively wiped out some of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, such as Lahori Tola. “The first to settle here migrated from Lahore during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who had donated the gold that adorns the temple’s dome. Today, their sixth-generation descendants find themselves uprooted — quite suddenly,” reported The Hindu.
“We no longer call this place Lahori Tola, we call it Swargiya (Late) Lahori Tola. It has been wiped out by an earthquake — Modi earthquake,” says Ajay Kapoor, a resident, in the report.
“They have always voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party, but now their anger against Mr. Modi is palpable. “Why should he care? By demolishing 300 houses, he will lose not even 10,000 votes. But Banaras is defined by its galis (narrow lanes), and by creating this corridor, he is robbing Banaras of its very identity,” Kapoor said in the report.
The construction is happening under the aegis of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust. “The “Chief Executive Officer” of the Kashi Vishwanath Trust, Vishal Singh has his office in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Complex. At 4 pm on a Wednesday, an assortment of anxious visitors is waiting for him. One claims RSS ideologue K N Govindacharya came the other day, and “saw the destruction and wept,” the report added.
This is the first big infrastructure project in modern Varanasi. The Rs. 600-crore pet initiative of the Yogi Adityanath government aims to transform 43,636 sq m of it by clearing a pathway between the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the ghats on the Ganga. At the end of it, a pilgrim standing anywhere between Lalita and Manikarnika Ghats would have a direct line of sight to the gold-crusted temple and the adjoining Gyanvapi mosque.
Buying Varanasi’s alleys, neighbourhood and crushing its soul
A team inspects, negotiates with the house owner, pays them “double the circle rate” and then the demolition begins.
“The government speaks of circle rate in square metre terms, they say, while the market for buying a house is calculated as per square feet. Others say there is no uniformity on the compensation amount, and that in some cases, false cases had been slapped on people to make them agree to lesser rates,” the report said.
Dismissing these concerns, Singh says that in their shoes, he wouldn’t have hesitated, “if compensated well”. He also claims that some of the demolished houses were nothing but encroachments. “A Shivaling has been discovered while demolishing the floor of a house, so what do you call that? For me, it is an encroachment on the faith of an idol… (We found) toilets in temples; shops and bedrooms within temples,” the report said.
Many said that it was a direct attack on the Hindu culture.
Many Hindu idols were found dumped in debris and have caused animosity and hurt sentiments across the local community.
the emergence of old temples from many of the demolished structures has further strengthened the argument of supporters, and the government, that they had been constructed illegally over temples and that it was about time they were removed.
“Change is always turbulent,” says Vishal Singh, the young bureaucrat who, as the CEO of the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust, is executing the project with an iron hand, “but if you tell me change can’t happen, I won’t buy that,” the report by The Hindu said.
So exactly whose brainchild is the project? “It would be very difficult for me to pinpoint,” says Mr. Singh. “All I can tell you is that the plan was conceived in 2007. I would even say that the idea dates back to 1916 when Mahatma Gandhi visited the temple and was appalled by the filth and congestion around it. [Mr. Modi] has only provided a fillip to the project,” the report added.
Muslims ask if the mosque will also be considered for a spruce up
A short distance away, near Kabir Chora Hospital, S M Yasin, the joint secretary of the Anjuman Intizamia Masajid (AIM), the custodians of the Gyanvapi mosque, admits the Muslim community is watching the corridor with tension while reiterating that they are not against development, as reported by The India Express.
Yasin and a social activist, Ishteyaque Ahmed, talk of how one night in October, a part of the wall that separates the Gyanvapi mosque from the Kashi Vishwanath temple was broken by the labourers. Within minutes, the Muslim community gathered. “They wanted to test how angry we were,” says Yasin, adding that the District Magistrate acted promptly to restore the wall.
Ishteyaque Ahmed says the premise of the project is suspicious. Pointing out that the mosque too is heritage property, built in the 1600s, he says, “This is one of those rare cities in which we don’t get a feeling that someone is a Hindu or Muslim. The corridor is a good project if pilgrims’ experience is enhanced. But if you are highlighting its heritage value for visitors, why not consider sprucing up the mosque as well?” the report added.
In a lane near the project site, restaurant owner Samtha discusses the demolitions with a man who has brought her supplies. “If only the Hindus were united, we would not have let this happen. Look at how the Muslim community responded,” the man says, talking of the October incident the report said.
Sheela Tiwari at the Goenka Library also wishes people had shown more “unity”. “Once people started selling their houses, then on my own I could not do anything.”
Congress members staged a walkout from the Uttar Pradesh Assembly on Thursday, December 20, alleging demolition of temples in Varanasi for the Kashi Vishwanath corridor and “throwing away” of Lord Shiva statues by the state government.
“The BJP government is playing with the sentiments of 125 crore people by demolishing temples. Yogi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi should express regret and seek pardon from them,” a Congress Legislature Party leader, Ajay Kumar Lallu, told reporters.
Recently, tensions were high as over 126 Shivling sculptures were found strewn in debris just 5 kms away from the construction site at a community dumping ground in Assi Ghat.
Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati’s disciple Swami Avimukteshwaranand, who rushed to the spot along with his disciples alleged that the debris and Shivlings proved that temples and idols of the deities were being destroyed for the project.
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Cultural heritage destroyed in the name of development, countless Shivlings found in Varanasi drains



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