Varanasi is the spiritual capital of the country. It is the place where Hinduism grew and cherished since the dawn of civilization. People believe that Gods built this city for them to stay. As civilization flourished, people built several temples along the ghats of the river Ganges. Over the years, the small town of Banaras (Varanasi) stood with more than 2000 temples and religious structures. Today, it is not possible to explore all the 2000 temples of the land.
However, we have come up with the list of top 20 temples of the land, which is quite famous in terms of spiritual element, historic beauty, architectural factor, unique beliefs, and so on.
Main Deity : Lord Vishwanath (Lord Shiva)
Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located closer to the famous Dashashwamedh Ghat. Kashi Vishwanath Temple is credited as one of the oldest and most spiritual structures of the city. This temple is considered as one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples in the world. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its history. Apart from the spiritual factor and other beauties, this temple is famous for the large gold spire in the temple tower. It is said that if you wish upon seeing the golden spire, your wish will be granted. There is a well inside the temple, which is considered as the purest water source of Varanasi. It is said that when Emperor Aurangazed invaded the temple, the priest jumped into the well along with the main deity to safeguard it.
Main Deity : Kaal Bhairav (an aggressive representation of Lord Shiva)
The fiercest form of Lord Shiva is prayed as Kaal Bhairav. This is one of the oldest Shiva temples in the city, built in 17th century. This temple is considered as the guardian temple of the city. According to folklore, anyone planning to leave or enter Varanasi should seek permission from this deity. The deity is represented in the cruelest way possible with an angry look in face, and a garland around his neck, made with human skulls. The oil from the temple is said to cure many diseases, especially dog bites.
Main Deity : Goddess Durga
It is hard to miss this deep-red structure. The name of the temple comes from the rectangle pond (kund) near the temple. This temple is one of the oldest standing examples for Nagara architecture. This multi-tier structure was built in 18th century by Queen of Bengal. It is said that the deity in the temple appeared on its own. The best time to visit this temple is on Tuesdays, Durga Puja festival, Dusshera, and others.
Main Deity : Goddess Annapurana (an incarnation of Goddess Shakthi)
This deity is considered as the mother who serves food and nourishment to every living soul in the body. This temple was built in mid-18th century in Nagara architecture by Peshwa Baji Rao of Maratha reign. Locals donate grains and food items to the temple as a form of sacrifice. It is one of the very few temples in the world with more than one main deity. The deity made with brass is seen every day in the sanctum sanctorum. The gold idol is used only on Annakut, a day before Diwali.
Main Deity : Lord Hanuman, the Monkey God
This 16th century temple was built by saint and poet, Tulsidas. This temple is located closer to Assi River. This religious site is considered a sacred place holding the deity which helps to relieve the visitors from sorrows. The term Sankat Mochan means reliever of pain and sorrows. Tuesdays and Saturdays are the best time to visit this temple. You can find numerous monkeys in this temple and thus, it is called as the monkey temple of Varanasi. The deity is always decorated with marigold flowers. During auspicious days, the visitors are served besan ladoo (a delicacy). Feeding the monkeys in the temple is considered as an auspicious act among visitors.
Main Deity : Lord Shiva
This temple gets its name as Nepali Temple as it is a replica of Nepal’s Pashupatinath Temple. This temple was built in the 19th century by Rana Bahadur Shah, the then-exiled king of Nepal. This temple is built with stone and wood. You can find numerous terracotta structures in this temple. You can find iconic structures and sculptures like the ones found in temples in the Khajuraho group of monuments. Thus, Kanthwala temple is also called as Mini-Khajuraho. The wood used in the construction of this temple is believed to be resistant to termites.
Main Deity : Goddess Vishalakshi (form of Goddess Sati)
This shirne has a dark history. When Goddess Sati died in fire, Lord Shiva carried her body around the world. Lord Vishnu set his Chakra to destroy the body to give Lord Shiva, a closure. The Chakra struck the body and destroyed it into 51 pieces. These 51 pieces scattered around and at each point where a part fell, a Shakti Pith (temple) was erected. Manikarnika is the place where her earring fell. This temple stand in the site of the cremation ground, Manikarnika Ghat. This is one of the most powerful and sacred temples of the region.
Main Deity : none
This is the only religious structure in the world which is dedicated to a country. Bharat Mata Mandir is dedicated to Mother India. The only structure inside this temple is the large marble map with bevel features expressing landscape of the undivided India. This temple was built in 1939 by Babu Shiv Prasad, a freedom fighter. The temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. Best time to visit this temple is during any patriotic festival like Republic Day, Independence Day, Gandhi Jayanthi, and others.
Main Deity : Sankata Devi (a form of Lord Parvathi)
This is one of the sacred temples in Varanasi, famous among the womenfolk. The deity of the temple is represented with four arms riding on a fierce lion. The temple also holds statues for the nine planets of the solar system. The deity is said to relieve sorrows and pain from the lives of her devotees. According to legends, the Pandava brothers visited this temple during their exile. The best time to visit this temple is during Navratri festival.
Main Deity : Lalita Gauriand
This is one of the historic temples of Varanasi. This temple was built by Rana Bahadur Shah of Nepal in 19th century. The temple is located very close to Nepali Temple. This goddess is associated with wealth and prosperity. The ghat near which the temple is located is named after the temple.
Main Deity : Lord Ram and Sita (Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi)
This temple is erected at the spot where poet Tulsidas wrote his famous Ramcharitmanas in 16th century. In 20th century, the temple was built to represent the beauty of his work. The temple is built mostly with white marble. The inner walls of the temple hold many verses and carvings from the epic. Today, this temple stands as a cultural destination rather than a religious site. The temple holds a large garden.
Main Deity : Lord Mahadev (Lord Shiva)
This Shiva temple is located in Daranagar. The term ‘Mrityunjay’ means forever. This God is said to possess the power to stop any untimely or unnatural death of his followers. The devotees visit this temple to pray to avoid accidents, mishaps, and others. The temple holds an ancient well inside the premises. This water in the well is said to possess miracle powers of healing.
Main Deity : Lord Tilbhandeshwar (Lord Shiva)
This is one of the few temples in which the deity is not man-made. It was a naturally occurred statue and the statue is known to grow a certain length every year. This temple’s rituals are conducted in a unique combination of Malayali (Kerala) and Benarasi (Varanasi) culture. Tourists visit this temple to see the growing deity.
Main Deity : Lord Vishwanath (Lord Shiva)
As mentioned before, the Kashi Vishwanath temple was repeatedly destroyed by invaders. Every time the temple was re-built, the structure of the temple was modified a little. People wanted to safeguard the original structure of the temple and decided to create a replica of Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The New Vishwanath Temple was built inside BHU (Banaras Hindu University) by Birla Groups. The temple is built almost-entirely with marble. The structure of the temple resembles Kashi Vishwanath Temple and this temple holds the record for having the world’s tallest temple tower. Unlike Kashi Vishwanath Temple, people of all religion, creed and caste can visit this temple.
Main Deity : Lord Ganesh (Elephant God)
The Dundi Raj Ganesh Temples is one of the oldest Ganesh Temples of the city. This temple is located closer to Kashi Vishwanath Temple. According to legends, Lord Shiva visited Earth and stayed in Varanasi. Following his father, Lord Ganesh also visited Varanasi and stayed with him for a brief period. Although it is quite hidden from the eyes of tourists, locals believe the deity to have the ability to ward off sorrows. Best time to visit the temple is during Ganesh Chaturthi.
Main Deity : Lord Krishna
ISKCON is a non-profit group focused on spreading the spirituality of Lord Krishna. The ISKON Temple of Varanasi is built entirely out of white marble in 1966. The temple is famous for many cultural and religious activities. Every Sunday afternoon or evening, a large feast is conducted. In the evenings of Sundays, many cultural activities and rituals take place inside the premises of this temple. This temple is located closer to BHU.
Main Deity : Lord Shiva
This is a unique temple in Varanasi. This temple was built right next to the Scindia Ghat. Over time, the temple’s weight pushed down the ghat into the river and the temple is now half submerged into the River Ganges. It is believed that at the given rate of submerge; the temple will soon be out of sight. Thus, tourists make it a point to visit this temple via boating during their trip to Varanasi before it is too late. It is said that the temple was built at the spot where Lord Agni (God of Fire) was born. It is a common belief that praying to the God from this ghat will provide a male offspring.
Main Deity : Veda Vyasa
This temple is dedicated to Veda Vyasa, the saint who wrote the Hindu Epic, Mahabharata. According to legends, Lord Shiva banished Vyasa from entering Varanasi because of his bad temper. Thus, he stayed back at the eastern bank of Ganga. A temple was erected closer to the banks of the River.
Main Deity : Kalasamhara Murti (Flame form of Lord Shiva)
According to legends, Lord Shiva saved a boy’s life from Yama, even after his lifetime on Earth was over. It is said that praying to the Shivlinga in this temple will provide healthier life. This temple is located in Kaithi region of Varanasi and the best time to visit this temple is during Mahashivratri.
Main Deity : Salasa Hanuman, Khatu Shyam, and Rani Sati Dadi
This temple is one of the few temples with more than one main deity. All the three deities are very famous local Gods of Rajasthan region. The temple is located closer to Tulsi Manas Temple. This temple is a famous site among pilgrims. It is a small yet beautiful temple of marble with modern styled carvings and ceiling decorations. This is one of the very few temples where photography is allowed. People visit this temple to meditate inside the hall of the temple. It is also one of the newest temples in Varanasi, built just 6 years ago.
Apart from these, there are numerous temples in and around Varanasi. If you are looking for Buddhism culture, visit Sarnath, which is just 10 km away from Varanasi. At Sarnath, you can find Chinese Temple, Tibetan Temple, and many other religious sites.