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Notable Temples of Varansi

Tilabhandeshvara Temple

Rana P.B. Singh & Pravin S. Rana
Tilabhandeshvara Temple (with courtesy of Niels Gutschow, 2006).
Tilabhandeshvara Temple (with courtesy of Niels Gutschow, 2006).

Close to Bengali Tola Intermediate College, at a distance of ca 200 m on the lane in Ausanganj exists a temple and monastery founded by Shankaracharya in ca CE 716. This is the biggest of the three huge Shiva lingams in Varanasi and is known as Jagrata (“awakened one”). Its circumference measures 4.6 m and height about 1.4 m (Fig. 6.3). A sculpted bull lies crouching in the veranda opposite the lingam. The main temple is raised to a considerable height above the street in the neighbourhood. On both sides of the entrance to the temple are small shrines, containing a number of images. The well in the temple compound is believed to have enshrined the Subhandeshvara Shiva lingam. In the basement there is a big stone statue of Sani (Saturn). Tilabhandeshvara is so called because, as believed by devotees, the lingam daily increases in size to the extent of one tila, a seed of sesame from which oil is extracted.

On the second platform, lower than that on which the Tilabhandeshvara temple stands (cf. Fig. 6.4), is a fig tree, resting upon which is a large mutilated statue. Its head is 0.60 m in height and 0.30 m in breadth; and its body is of proportionate size. People believe that this is the image of Birabhadra, a famous attendant of Shiva. Many images are placed around him. There is a nima (margosa, Azadirachta indica) tree a few paces off, at the foot of which reclines the eight-handed goddess Asthabhuja, and close to her is a collection of nine deities. A bull in the lower enclosure bears marks of the ancient past, and it is said that formerly this bull stood in front of Tilabhandeshvara. The niches on the outer face of the sanctum have been added to house a couple of votive lingams and replicas of both Rameshvara and Kala Bhairava. Within the context of popular Bhairava Yatra, this form is eulogized as Tirna or Tilabhanda Bhairava.

The square sanctum of 5 by 5 metres in plan is accessible through the main door facing east, while a second entrance from the opposite site is mainly used by the priest and his attendants who help decorate the lingam for the night, especially every Monday, the day dedicated to Shiva.  Located on a small mound the sanctum was originally only provided with an open arcade as a circumambulatory path. By the end of the 19th century, a large platform was added to the east on a substructure, four metres high. Around a courtyard in the west and along an access lane from the south buildings were added to the needs of a matha that is presided over by Mahantha Shri Dharananda Giri Maharaj. Construction activities continued, that resulted into a new gate in 2003. All officiants are from South India. A connection that finds expression in a small temple that enshrines Avannar. Originally a village god in Tamilnadu, the deity became identified with Subhrahmanya, and Skanda­ Kartikeya, who has witnessed a wide dissemination and finally also reached Varanasi (Gutschow, 2006: p. 197).


Gutschow, Niels 2006. Benares: The Sacred Landscape of Varanasi. Stuttgart/ London: Edition Axel Menges.

Havell, Ernest Binfield 1905. Benares, the Sacred City. Blackie & Sons Ltd, London. Thaper Spink & Co., Calcutta (reprinted, 1968) and Pilgrims Book House, Varanasi (reprinted, 1999).

KR, Kāśī Rahasya (an appendix to the Brahmavaivarta Purana), 1957. Gurumaṇḍala Granthamalaya, No. XIV, vol. III, Calcutta. Dt. ca CE 16th century. Ref. 26 chapters.

Lannoy, Richard 2002. Benares Seen From Within. Bath UK: Callisto Books, & Varanasi: Indica Books, & Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Singh, Pratibha 2004. Śiva-Kāśi: Paurāṇic Paripekṣya aur Vartmān Saṅdarbh (Śiva-Kashi: Paurāṇic Background and Present Context). Vishvavidyalaya Prakashan, Varanasi. [in Hindi].

Singh, Rana P.B. 2009. Banaras: Making of India’s Heritage City. (Planet Earth & Cultural Understanding, Series Pub. 3). Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne U.K.

Singh, Rana P.B. 2009. Banaras, India’s Heritage City: Geography, History, & Bibliography.     [including Bibliography of 1276 sources, Hindu Festivals, 2006-15]. Pilgrimage and Cosmology Series: 8. Indica Books, Varanasi.

Singh, Rana P.B. and Rana, Pravin S. 2002. Banaras Region. A Spiritual and Cultural Guide. Pilgrimage & Cosmology Series: 1. Indica Books, Varanasi. 2nd ed. 2006; pp. 161-174.

Singh, Rana P.B. 2002. Towards the Pilgrimage Archetype. The Panchakroshi Yatra of Banaras. Pilgrimage & Cosmology Series: 3. Indica Books, Varanasi. 2nd Ed. 2011.

Sukul, Kuberanāth 1977 (Samvata 2034). Vārānasī Vaibhava. (The Glory of Varanasi). Rastrabhasha Parishad, Patna. [in Hindi].

Yadav, Subhash C. [collated, ed.] 2010. Kardameśvara Temple, Kandava, Varanasi. Lucknow: U.P. State Archaeology Department.

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