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VARANASI, India (RNS) — Even now, with the courtyard of his 600-year-old home reduced to a heap of debris, Ram Nath carries a pitcher of holy water from the River Ganges every day to perform his rites to the Hindu god Shiva.
“For generations, we ritually purified our Shiva deities before daybreak,” says Nath, 68, pointing to the ruins of the house’s sanctum, where he performs puja.
Nath - Courtyard - Landscape - Hundreds - Structures
Above Nath’s courtyard looms a ravaged landscape where hundreds of other ancient structures have been destroyed by the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP government to make way for an $85 million Kashi Vishwanath Temple Corridor.
The 300-meter-long corridor is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “dream project” of connecting the eighteenth-century Kashi Vishwanath Temple, a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva, to the steps leading to the banks of the Ganges.
Plans - Changes - Controversy - Varanasi—a - Hindu
But the plans have brought major changes and controversy to Varanasi—a prime Hindu pilgrimage center, one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. Also known as Kashi, Varanasi has always been defined by its maze of narrow alleyways, palaces, heritage homes and centuries-old temples.
Many city residents see the project as a blow to Hindu spirituality, while devotees across the world who come here to seek moksha, or transcendence, are enraged.
Temple - Precincts - Auditorium - Museum - Wellness
The refurbished temple precincts will include an auditorium, museum, wellness centers, boutiques and expanded 50-foot-wide pathways, according to Vishal Singh, CEO of the Kashi Vishwanath Special Area Development Board.
“The rationale behind the project is to decongest Varanasi and have state-of-the-art facilities,” said Singh.
Modi - Varanasi - Cornerstone - Corridor - March
When Modi came to Varanasi to lay the cornerstone for the corridor in early March, he declared it “the beginning of the liberation of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham,” using the Hindi word for a key pilgrimage site.
The prime minister explained that Lord Shiva was feeling “suffocated” due to the lack of space around the Vishwanath temple.
But in rebooting Varanasi...
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