Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
The Durga Temples are a pair of very famous shrines in Varanasi. One, the Durga Mandir, dates from the 16th century and is considered to be one of the three most important shrines in the city. The other is the Durga Kund, which while less important is by far the more easily recognized. The Durga Kund is located close to the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, while the Durga Mandir located towards the southern end of the long string of the city’s ghats and is also the closest of the three to the Ganges River. Both of these temples are among the most visited in the city.
In Hinduism, Durga is the most popular manifestation of the goddess Shakti who is in term the most important of the female deities. She is the wife and counterpart of Lord Shiva, and with him the mother/creator of many other deities including Brahma and Vishnu. She is celebrated as the champion who defeated a demon horde led by Mahishasura.
By the 1500s, Varanasi had already been the most important pilgrimage destination in India for millennia, and there were many shrines to Durga, but it city was well past its prime. This all changed thanks to Akbar, the Mughal emperor, who despite being a Muslim ruler made an effort to revitalize this critical Hindu city.
Among his projects was the construction of new temples, and the restoration of other existing buildings. One of the temples completed in the early 16th century was the Durga Mandir, which has been one of Varanasi’s most popular shrines ever since. Unfortunately, much of the city was subsequently destroyed by Akbar’s less open-minded great grandson, Aurangzeb.
Varanasi experienced a second renaissance during the 18th century, and many of its temples and other buildings that are currently standing date from this time. One of the major new temples to be built in this era was the Durga Kund, also dedicated to the goddess Durga. This became a lynchpin of the city’s new sites, and helped lead a great resurgence in pilgrimage and tourism to the city. Together the two Durga Temples are among the most visited places in Varanasi.
The Durga Mandir is the older and more sacred of the two major Durga Temples in Varanasi. Completed in the 16th century, its towering dome/spire stands out above the surrounding neighborhood buildings. Intricately carved designs, especially depictions of scenes from Hindu mythology, cover almost every inch of the temple’s exterior.
The Durga Kund is the newer and less sacred of the two temples, but much more easily recognized and probably the more visited of the two. A much larger building, this temple complex is famous for its blood-red color, the color of Durga. Almost the entire temple is red, from its outer walls to the top of its main spire, with only a few bits of white trim here and there. Although there is some carved decoration around the features such as the doorframes and columns, the work is not nearly as extensive or as intricate as on the Durga Mandir.
The Durga Mandir is located in the southern part of Varanasi clse to the west bank of the Ganges River and the riverside ghats; while the Durga Kund is located closer to the city center just north of Banaras Hindu University. As of this writing no visitor information was available for these temples. Web: www.up-tourism.com/varanasi (official tourism website of Varanasi).
By some counts there are over twenty thousand temples, shrines and ghats in Varanasi. The other major ones are the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva; the Sankat Mochan Temple, dedicated to Lord Hanuman; and the Tilbhandeshwar Temple, one of the cities oldest temples. Other important temples include the New Vishwanath Temple, the Annapurna Temple, the Bharat Mata Temple, the Kala Bhaironath Temple and the Tulsi Manas Mandir Temple.