Kashi and Ganga, each has a unique individual identity but they are also inextricably linked together. It’s as hard to imagine one without the other as it would be to think of Himalayas without snow.
So, it was only fitting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has focused on rejuvenating both of these together. In fact, the project for rejuvenation of Kashi has been running parallel with the project for cleaning the Ganga.
Under the Namami Gange program, a flagship scheme that aims at abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of the river, several sewage plants have been constructed, which has cut down on the pollutants being discharged in the river. The sewage plants have been set up all along Ganga in many states while the existing one at Kashi was upgraded with modern equipment.
At the same time, the ghats of Kashi have undergone a phenomenal transformation as a result of concerted effort to ensure there is no littering and garbage. The glittering lighting of Ghats, clean streets and crossings, paintings on the walls, and the construction of Kashi Vishwanath Dham have shown that Kashi is progressing while retaining its ancient spirit.
Ganga, that has a unique crescent shape at Kashi, has witnessed river surface cleaning for collection of floating solid waste from the surface of the Ghats and River. The disposal of the waste is being carried out at 11 locations.
Further, the Uttar Pradesh State Forest Department is implementing the expansion of conservation breeding program of freshwater turtles and Gharial at Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre, Lucknow. This is expected to help in revival and restoration of Gharials and turtles in the Ganga basin.
One of the major components of Ganga rejuvenation is ‘forestry interventions’ to enhance the productivity and diversity of the forests in head water areas and all along the river and its tributaries. The Forest Research Institute (FRI), Dehradun prepared a plan for afforestation of over 1.30 lakh hectares in the Ganga River bank states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal at an estimated cost of more than ₹2,000 crore. The project is designed to undertake work under Natural landscape, Agriculture landscape, Urban landscape and Conservation interventions.
Such was the state, particularly in and around the mandir, the area would remain cramped, bustling with crowds of devotees throughout the day, but infrastructure almost never improved.
The main purpose of the forestry interventions is to contribute towards holistic conservation of river Ganga, including improving the flow in the river (Aviralta) by adopting a multi-pronged approach throughout the pre-defined Ganga riverscape.
The mahima of Kashi is so powerful that despite being neglected and buried under chaos and squalor, it attracted millions of people. Imagine what it can do with a positive transformation!
It has taken a Bhagirath prayatna of its own kind to ensure a transformation.
The famously congested city of Kashi has been given a facelift with a ring road bypassing the city -- a long-standing demand of the residents. PM Modi laid the foundation stone of the Ring Road and Phase-1 was completed in November 2018. With this development, traffic movement across the city is easier, and roads have been decongested as a lot of heavy vehicular traffic gets diverted around the city.
As Ganga and Kashi always go together, so have the rejuvenation projects for both the river and the city. For instance, the façade improvement of the Dashashwamedh-Godaulia quarter and old Kashi-Raj mandir road among others, the development and beautification of Nadesar pond, restoration works on the Man Singh Observatory, the development of the Piplani katra kabir chaura to Assi ghat Heritage walk or the restoration and rejuvenation of kunds like Lat Bhairav, Durga Kund and Lakshmi Kund are a testament to the sound foresight and vision of the Central and the state governments.
Other culturally significant areas are being developed too. Under HRIDAY yojana, life stories of stalwarts from Kashi such as Sant Kabir, Goswami Tulsidas, Sant Ravidas, Munshi Premchand, Bhartendu Harishchandra and Jaishankar Prasad were brought to life through mural paintings. Wall paintings of Kabir Chaura crossing, which was named after Sant Kabir are a tribute to the life of the great Bhakti saint who lived in Varanasi. Murals of Assi ghat, one of the most iconic Ghats of Varanasi, tell stories about the refined culture of Varanasi.
The famous townhall building of Maidagin, where Mahatma Gandhi started the freedom movement in Varanasi is refurbished and looks like a newly built structure. Manikarnika Ghat, which is the famed gateway to ‘Moksha’ in Kashi, is cleaner now. Also, more facilities are brought in apart from the beautification from Moksh Dwar to Lagayat ghat on Manikarnika ghat.
The ancient city of Kashi also has Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its member of parliament (Varanasi). The PM, when inaugurating the project had remarked that the Vishwanath Dham was a project that he had been thinking about for a long time. “I have come to Kashi even before I was in active politics. Since then, I would think that one must do something for the Temple Complex. With the blessings of Bhole Baba, my dream has come true,” he said.
The project started with clearing space around the temple as part of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor project that started in 2018. This led to the recovery of many ancient temples which had been buried under constructions around them.
Centuries old ancient temples, earlier hidden, are now visible, they will be preserved and opened to public.
Another area of concern was a direct link between Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Ganga which has been now been resolved, and as result, the temple premises can be approached within minutes, without going around in the lanes.
The completion of project will give Kashi Vishwanath Temple complex a more spacious look and feel. Once situated in the congested space among the surrounding buildings, the temple complex will now have its area of own. A devout Shiva bhakt who takes a dip in the holy river every morning and pays tributes to Lord Shiva in the temple can now see the temple from the Ghats.
The connection between Ganga and Kashi has existed since time immemorial. However, somewhere in time, the picture of this connect had faded, being reduced to mere words and sentiments. PM Modi however, committed to his vision for India’s cultural rejuvenation, has worked to change it to reality. As the sanctity of Maa Ganga and Kashi are being restored, the world will once again look towards the two with reverence that they truly deserve.