The Kashi Corridor: India’s spiritual, cultural elevation

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a gathering during the inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor, in Varanasi. ANI

One of the various acts for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be remembered in history is the restoration of the grandeur of the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi. The move is aimed at linking the past with the present and building a solid foundation for an average Indian to be proud of his culture and tradition, as the country marches gloriously into the age of Information Technology.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi showers petals on the workers involved in the construction work of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor, at its inauguration, in Varanasi on December 13. (ANI )

Hailed as the spiritual capital of India and dedicated to Lord Shiva’s adoration as the Lord of the world (Vishwanath), the glory of Kashi as one of the oldest surviving cities in the world was reclaimed by Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780. History says that this city was ravaged due to persistent attacks by invaders. But it continued its existence in line with the timelessness associated with Lord Shiva.

It is the city where reason ends and faith dominates. Even the most agnostic gets impressed by the grandeur and old civilizational links the city provides. Hindus prefer to immerse the ashes of those who die in the river Ganges in the hope that the soul would find its place at the feet of the creator. As per the Hindu belief system, the purpose of this human form of life is to overcome the cycle of birth and death and find salvation (Moksha). A visit to the Kashi Vishwanath temple makes that possible.

While inaugurating the corridor on 13 December, the Prime Minister provided his concept of modern India and its links to a rich cultural past. “Today’s India not only beautifies the Somnath temple but is also laying thousands of kms of optical fibre in the sea. Today’s India is not only renovating the Baba Kedarnath temple but is preparing to send Indians to space. Today’s India is not only building a temple of Lord Shri Ram in Ayodhya, but is also building a medical college in every district. Today’s India is not only giving a grand look to Baba Vishwanath Dham but is also building crores of pucca houses for the poor,” he said.

It appears that Modi was chosen by the Divine for this pious task. One may recall that when he first came to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi, he had said he was called by Mother Ganga to come to the city. He had given the people the vision of developing the city on the pattern of holy cities in other countries of the world and making it the centre of tourist attraction.

While laying the foundation of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor that links the river Ganga to the ancient temple, the Prime Minister had said on 8 March 2019 that Lord Vishwanath must have willed that the glory of the city was restored. Nothing can happen without His wishes, he said. In less than three years, the stupendous task was completed, and not to forget the devastating pandemic that wreaked havoc on the country.

The hard taskmaster that he is, PM Modi kept monitoring the progress of the corridor and ensured that nothing came in the way of the massive renovation that cost Rs 339 crore. The most difficult task was acquiring land from people who were residing there and the residential structures blocked the artery to the temple. People cooperated and the administration showed patience.

In a country where land disputes take so much time to get resolved, achieving people’s cooperation was not an easy task. As it is said, when God wills everything falls in place. The earlier premises were spread over 3,000 square feet which now is spread over 5 lakh square feet. People can approach the shrine both through the road route and through the river route and the facilities are friendly to the old and the disabled as well.

Hundreds of workers stayed and worked there for years to make this dream possible. This explains why the Prime Minister lunched with them rather than the elites of the town. He has always acknowledged the role played by those who work at the lowest rung. Such high spiritual aspirations bring humility. One may recall that in February 2019, Modi had washed the feet of sanitation workers (mostly Dalits) who had worked to keep the Kumbh Mela clean. And unlike the Queen of England, he was not wearing gloves while doing so.

These gestures showed that there is a man who would go to any step to keep the society united. Such gestures are important in a society that is fraught with social inequalities. Those who claim their positions to the virtue of their high-births cannot appreciate the dignity of labour. From giving free food to the poor to providing them amenities for a dignified living, Modi has been doing it all.

This holy town has been attracting tourists from all across the globe. But the amenities that the cities provided fell much shorter than expectations. You cannot showcase unhealthy practices and spirituality at the same time. Now tourists find it easier. The airport has been modernised and the arterial road connecting it to the city adds to the contemporary look.

The city must cater to all kinds of tourists. The rich ones as well as the budget tourists. As the footfalls of tourists increase, this will add to economic activities such as lodging, food, transport, banking, mobile services, cruises on the river. Those who come to understand the belief system of the Hindus often visit the Manikarnika ghat where the dead are given the last rites. It is believed that those who are getting a funeral here overcome the cycle of birth and death.

Modi’s vision has been to revive these cities so that they regain their importance and become the reason for the visit of tourists. Most foreign tourists come to India to witness its sculpture, temples, and other spiritual dimensions. Most Indian visitors are religious tourists and they visit these towns for their religious significance. The hassle of reaching the shrines through the lanes and by-lanes and jostling with others in the long queue to have a glimpse of the deity only to be shoved away in seconds leave them exasperated.

Modi’s Kashi model can become a model to develop other temple cities as well. India lives by faith. Even outsiders have come here to derive strength from its spirituality to become successful in their professional lives. Examples are global business leaders like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg . It is not without reason that Mathura Lok Sabha member and cine actor Hema Malini has demanded a similar facelifting of the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple at Mathura.

The Mughals came and destroyed temples to show the supremacy of their faith. The British came and made fun of Indian culture and the form of worship of the Hindus. Those who tried to get deep into the significance of cultural symbols realised that it was difficult to break India without breaking these symbols of cultural unity. Lord Macaulay came and tried to demolish India by creating brown babus.

Nehru too was shaped in the same mould. He tried to impose bland ideas of western secularism without realising the secularism was inherent in the spirituality of India. He opposed President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad’s inaugurating the restoration of the Somnath temple. These temples are cultural centres of values that define humanity.

You can make money for yourself and your family and buy worldly things but you cannot buy immortality by these acquisitions. At the end of the day when the sinews of your body refuse to listen to your command, you would try to figure out what was the fret all about. Then you would turn to temple or spirituality. But if you are spiritual from the beginning and find solace in a visit to such places, your life would be more meaningful.

But all such visits must provide a link with the past: How Kings and civilizations have perished, and how a day will come to mark the end of the beginning. India is nothing without its spiritual heritage. It is here that his people thank him for showcasing the past glory without losing the path and vision for modern existence.

The writer is the author of ‘Narendra Modi: the GameChanger’. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates. The views expressed are personal.

PM Modi’s Kashi model can become a model to develop other temple cities as well. India lives by faith. Even outsiders have come here to derive strength from its spirituality to become successful in their professional lives. Examples are global business leaders like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg . It is not without reason that Mathura Lok Sabha member and cine actor Hema Malini has demanded a similar facelifting of the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple at Mathura.