Sacred Geometry of India’s Holy City, Varanasi: Kashi as Cosmogram

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[103-94]. Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of India’s Holy City, Varanasi: Kashi as Cosmogram. National Geographical Journal of India (N.G.S.I., Varanasi. ISSN: 0027 9374/ 0944), vol. 40: pp. 189 216; >> also: Singh, Rana P.B., ed. 1994: The Spirit & Power of Place. Human Environment and Sacrality. Varanasi: National Geographical Society India, Pub. 41. ISBN: 81 86187 41 3.

Rana P.B. Singh at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, UP 221005, India
Rana P.B. Singh
  • Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, UP 221005, India
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Abstract and Figures

In the Oriental world sacred schemata (cosmogram) and related myths are basic concern in the evolution of holy centres. The city of Varanasi represents a complex mix of the cosmocised structure and local sacrality, and has grown without the support of sacred kingship. There exist fifty-six pilgrimage circuits, of which five are the most popular ‘and make the web of the cosmogram. All the pilgrimage circuits and related shrines and sacred spots symbolically represent some aspects of the man-cosmos relationship. The ultimate synthesis of cityscape represents integration of macro-, meso-and micro-cosmos at different levels. At micro level temple itself represents the cosmos. However, due to drastic demolition of temples during Muslim rule the basic structure has been lost. In a course of time these structures have been rebuilt and mythologies set to revive the ancient glories and mystic power. That is how the structure and network of sacred geometries became so complex that it is not easy to investigate. After all the tradition of pilgrimage and religious activities always continued and maintained. This helps to explain the complicated web of Kashi as Cosmogram. Key words. Cosmogram, cosmogony, holy city, framing, order and pattern, sacrality, sacred geometry.
The basic frame of the Cosmogram.
The basic frame of the Cosmogram.
. Kashi: Pilgrimage Journey and the Cosmogonic Integrity
. Kashi: Pilgrimage Journey and the Cosmogonic Integrity
. Varanasi : Jyotira Lingas, Light-Manifested Forms of Shiva
. Varanasi : Jyotira Lingas, Light-Manifested Forms of Shiva
Kashi Mandala. Sacred Yatras: Directional Deities
Kashi Mandala. Sacred Yatras: Directional Deities
Ruined portion of the old Vishveshvara temple, back part of present Jnanavapi Mosque (after Prinsep, 1832).
Ruined portion of the old Vishveshvara temple, back part of present Jnanavapi Mosque (after Prinsep, 1832).
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 189
[103-94]. Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of India’s Holy City, Varanasi: Kashi as
Cosmogram. National Geographical Journal of India (N.G.S.I., Varanasi. ISSN:
0027-9374/ 0944), vol. 40: pp. 189-216; >> also: Singh, Rana P.B., ed. 1994: The
Spirit & Power of Place. Human Environment and Sacrality. Varanasi: National
Geographical Society India, Pub. 41. ISBN: 81-86187-41-3. >>> [Reprinted with
revision and slightly reduced version in, Malville, J.M. and Gujral, L. (eds.) 1999,
Ancient Cities, Ancient Skies. Aryan Publ. for IGNCA, New Delhi: pp. 59-80].
Sacred Geometry of India’s Holy City, Varanasi:
Kashi as Cosmogram
Rana P.B. Singh
Professor of Cultural Geography & Heritage Studies, Banaras Hindu University,
Varanasi, UP 221005. India. Email:
Abstract. In the Oriental world sacred schemata (cosmogram) and related myths are basic
concern in the evolution of holy centres. The city of Varanasi represents a complex mix of the
cosmocised structure and local sacrality, and has grown without the support of sacred kingship.
There exist fifty-six pilgrimage circuits, of which five are the most popular ‘and make the web
of the cosmogram. All the pilgrimage circuits and related shrines and sacred spots symbolically
represent some aspects of the man-cosmos relationship. The ultimate synthesis of cityscape
represents integration of macro-, meso- and micro- cosmos at different levels. At micro level
temple itself represents the cosmos. However, due to drastic demolition of temples during
Muslim rule the basic structure has been lost. In a course of time these structures have been
re-built and mythologies set to revive the ancient glories and mystic power. That is how the
structure and network of sacred geometries became so complex that it is not easy to investigate.
After all the tradition of pilgrimage and religious activities always continued and maintained.
This helps to explain the complicated web of Kashi as Cosmogram.
Key words. Cosmogram, cosmogony, holy city, framing, order and pattern, sacrality, sacred
1. Introduction and Outlook
In the Oriental world the idea of ancient city had grown in the psychic purview of
physico-cultural and economic processes in the dimension of space and time leading to form an
ordered territorial organisation. The study of growth and organisation of this sense of
territoriality involves at least three basic issues: man and activities shaping the cityscape, man
and space relation and interaction, and the mechanism linking human mind and the
environment through cognitive processes – ultimately they emerge to develop a cosmogram.
Cosmogram is the magico-spatial design, which combines macro-, meso-, and micro-
cosmos at an order and level of unity. This way it serves to explain and experience the integral
relationship between Man and Cosmos, and the central point represents the life-breath of the
earth (see Fig. 1). The number 108, in itself a numerical cosmogram, has a cosmogonic scope
related to the constellations (lunar asterism, 27) and the rhythm of human condition or
cardinality (8). It thus defines cardinality, centrality and circulation (see Singh, 1993a: 245).
The basic frame of cosmogram consists of three parts: a circle (light), a square (water), and a
triangle (wind). In numerical context the square denominates 9 points (planets), the circle 4
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 190
points (directions) and triangle 3 axes (mythic realms). Their integration (9 x 4 x 3) comes to
108; this structural plan in totality symbolises a cosmogram (Fig. l).
Fig. 1. The basic frame of the Cosmogram.
In Oriental World the principles and processes of city planning and landscape formation
were at once unable in a substantive manner to provide inhabitants a harmony contained within
spatially limited, marginally productive habitats, where spiritual territorial human constructs
were transformed on the earth’s surface to search the place of man in the cosmos (Singh, 1990:
2). Although true to a limited extent today, in the pre-industrial cities of the world, cosmology
and city planning were often inseparable. In fact, “Metaphysical ideology based on
cosmological principles was once a dominant force shaping the cultural landscape” (Nemeth,
1987: 3). This was man’s revelation for a “rediscovery of the dialectic nature of wholeness” in
the realm of humanness, where “nature, cosmos, and humanity form a whole and that whole
means holy” (Buttimer, 1989: 263).
If the idea of architecture is to be used as “planned human construction”, the designing of
a city is essentially a specific transformation of human creativity, often interpreted in the
context of signs and symbols and the invisible meaning preserved there. The presentation of
wholeness – the representation of cosmos – leads to form a sacred geometry referring to the
spiritual and archetypal dimensions of pattern/relationship, order/sequences and temporality/
changes. This frame forms a harmonic and sensual bondage between man and his habitat, the
city. In Oriental World, “sacred schemata and meaning are most important ones, and cities in
those cultures can be understood only in such terms” (Rapoport, 1990: 28). Denny (1991: ix)
also described the sacred city in terms of cosmology, “A city can be sacralised by the laying out
of its plan according to the cosmology of the region, thus uniting realm and ruler in a pattern of
sacred kingship.” Yet there are many ceremonial centres that possess potent qualities of cosmic
orientation without sacred kingship or an intentional foundation ideology. However, they are
considered as the most sacred centres. Varanasi is one of the most potent and well-accepted
sacred cities in the latter context.
Describing the sacred structure of cities, Meyer (1991: 149, 157, 170) proposes two
groups: (1) the cosmocised sacred city, which records orientation in space and its alignment
with the geometry of the universe, where the cosmic axes cross in the centre of the city, and (2)
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 191
the holy city of local sacrality, recording religious meaning and organising space according to a
sacred model like pilgrimage routes and associated shrines. Varanasi (Banaras), in Meyer’s
scheme, does not fit fully as the city of the first group because it has no records of sacred
kingship. In theological context, Varanasi developed originally as a sacred city and later
became a holy city. Varanasi is what it is because of pilgrimage circuits, the interlinking
shrines and temples and the manifestive powers imposed therein at different degrees. Kashi is a
cosmogram. The ancient name of the city-territory is Kashi, i.e., Kashya eti Kashi. Where the
light of cosmos concentrates and illuminates in circular territory is known as Kashi. This idea is
eulogised in the Puranic literature describing the limits and boundaries of the city. Eck (1982:
5) has rightly remarked that Varanasi “has rarely been an important political centre, and the rise
and fall of kings through its long history have had no role in the take of the city’s sanctity told
by its own people…. It is not the events of its long history that make it significant to Hindus;
rather it has such a long history… because it is significant to Hindus.”
In contrast to its historical role as political centre and sacred kingship, Varanasi records
the longest period of human settlements, at least since about the 10th century BCE and
continued until now. Its uniqueness lies in the spatial alignments and structure that developed
“without the world of control”, i.e., outside the normal boundaries of spatial religious
boundaries or code of conduct which govern society. It is accessible to everybody without the
sense of affiliation to a caste or outcaste. One may experience this sense at the time of
pilgrimage journeys, when all normal distinctions are equalised.
The various routes of pilgrimage journeys never form the identical geometric shape in
Varanasi. However, Hindu religious geomancers and cartographers cosmocised the
irregularities into a geometric plan of circularity, and sometimes in combination of other forms,
leading to a cosmogram.
The city of Varanasi reflects all the basic criteria for cultural and natural heritage and
preserves the political, cultural and didactic meanings as suggested in the scheme of
UNESCO’s World Heritage City (see Singh, 1993b: 299-300). Here attempt has been made to
present a comparative view of some of the basic dimensions of sacred plans and structures,
orientation to directions and geometric outline, supporting to form a cosmogram [for details of
shrines, taxonomic frame and performances, see Singh, 1993b: 40-60].
One has to remember that “culture is what makes humans human” (Rapoport 1993:12).
The sensory modalities promote behavioural, psychic setting in the spatial and temporal
organisation of cultural landscape as exemplified by the existing traditions of pilgrimage
circuits in Varanasi. The comparative study of the cosmogram and pilgrimage system reflects
that the organisation and symbolism evolved in the past are still preserved and practised by the
devotees and pilgrims. If traditions are lost, our identity will be in danger!
2. From Macrocosmos to Mesocosmos
In most of the old cultures, religion was an essential part of the symbolic nature of city
planning and of the individual structures within cities, in which the analogy of human body has
been accepted as a representation of the universe. The manifestation of a transcendental
element (called hierophany by Eliade) may be translated into a parallelism between the
macrocosmos (cosmos/ heaven) and the microcosmos (temple/ human body). In between these
two polarities one can also perceive mediating spatial sacred space of the large-scale natural
world and the built-up environment, called the mesocosmos (the earth). The archetypal frame of
Varanasi may be considered as a mesocosmos mediating between the macrocosmos of the
universe and the microcosmos of the individual unit (Singh, 1993a: 240). This is the basic
notion of a city’s cosmogram.
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 192
Fig. 2. Varanasi: The 4-Pilgrimage circuits.
Fig. 3. Geomantic Map of Kashi Mandala.
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 193
According to the Manasara, a 10th century CE text of Hindu architecture, the layout of
the Hindu city is based on the “Cosmic cross”, the cardinal points of which are the comers of
the universe. Thus the whole city is a celestial city, a cosmogram (Singh, 1988: 444-445). The
developed form of the cosmic cross is not evident in Varanasi. However, its irregular pattern
exists, and pilgrims still follow the route. This is an indication of the perception of reality. Says
Wheatley (1969: 9), “Only the sacred was ‘real’, and the purely secular – if it could be said to
exist at all – could never be more than trivial”. To maintain a harmonious relationship in the
universe, Hindus construct temporary or permanent representations of a significant part or the
whole of cosmos, referred to as “axis mundiby Eliade (cf. 1959: 36-55). In Varanasi, the axis
mundi is the Jnanavapi Kupa (‘Well of the Wisdom’), where the liquid form of the patron deity
Shiva dug up the earth by his trident and offered the water to another of his forms,
Avimukteshvara (the most ancient form of Shiva in Varanasi; see Singh, 1994b: 219-20). That
is how Shiva promised to take up his abode in the well and reside there forever. Shiva’s
pseudonym Ishvara (ish + cara) itself identifies his identity at the centre of the cosmos (ish)
from where He controls the rhythm of cosmos (cara). He represents the highest divine being
and ultimately the worldless absolute. After a passage of time by demolition of temples by the
Muslim rulers (especially during 12th and 17th centuries), the shrine of Avimukteshvara lost its
identity, and its mystic power transferred to Vishveshvara/ Vishvanatha (known as Golden
Temple in the West). Presently, pilgrims perform initiation and completion rites at this site,
together with Jnanavapi Kupa.
Fig. 4. Kashi Mandala. Sacred Yatras: Directional Deities
Varanasi contains many sacred territories defined in different contexts. Among them, five
are the most popular as eulogised in mythological literature (Fig. 2). All have irregular shapes,
except the outer one, which runs as a circle; however its pilgrimage is no more practised at least
since last fifty years. In theory, the four inner sacred journey routes meet at the point of axis
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 194
mundi, Jnanavapi, while the outer circle covers up all the rest and meets in the west at Dehli
Vinayaka, the gate to the cosmic territory, Kashi. Dehli means “gate” where Ganesha
(“elephant-headed god,” the son of Shiva), as Vinayaka, provides relief from all the obstacles
and also gives wisdom.
The five sacred journeys represent the five gross elements of Hindu cosmogony,
respectively as sky/ether, earth, air, water, and fire (Fig. 3). In the human body, these elements
symbolise the head, legs, face, blood, and heart, respectively. This spiritual homology of the
sacred territories further shows the interlinking relationship between human beings and the
cosmos, occurring in a strong state of connection to the sacred, where “one sees one’s own
soul” (Singh, 1993a: 240-42). Jnanavapi, conceptualised as the axis mundi of the cosmos in the
mesocosmic sphere, is outside mundane space and time, even though it is a visible site on the
earth as well (Singh, 1997a).
Fig. 5. Varanasi : Avimukta Yatra circuit
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 195
The outermost sacred circuit (Chaurashikroshi Yatra), symbolising the shadow of
cosmic light, is defined with reference to the shrine of Madhyameshvara as the centre and Dehli
Vinayaka as the radial point, at a distance of 5 kroshas (equal to 11 miles/ 17.6 km). Its
circumference identifies the cosmic territory called Kashi Mandala (Fig. 4). In each of the eight
directions exist 12 power-goddesses (Shaktis), one energy-goddess (Durga), one of her male
partners (Bhairava), 3 local assistant demigods (Vetalas), and one directional deity (Dikapala).
Their total number reaches 144 (for the full list see Singh, 1993b: 40-41).
The second circuit (Panchakroshi) covers a distance of 88.5 km (25 kroshas), where
there are 108 shrines. This journey was referred to in a text of the 12th century CE. However,
the details are given in a 16th century text. This is the most popular pilgrimage journey
completed within 5 days (four, or five night halts; for details see Singh, 1991b).
The third sacred circuit delimits the city territory according to various myths, called
Nagara Pradakshina. The route covers a distance of 25 km and links 72 sacred shrines and
spots. Commonly, the pilgrims complete this journey in two days while halting at Pashapani
Vinayaka (no. 36).
The fourth sacred circuit refers to the zone “Never Forsaken” by Shiva (Avimukta).
According to a myth of the Skanda Purana (16.25-35), Surya (Sun) advised Shiva to live in this
area forever, hence the name avimukta. The centre of this territory is the shrine of
Avimuktesbvara, from where the circular route moves at the radial distance of about 2 km.
However, it never crosses the Ganga river. Rather, the route follows the left bank of the river
(Fig. 5a). The three shrines making the reference points, lying on the raised mound, from south
to north are: Tripurantakeshvara (no. 21), Valmikeshvara (no. 27) and Omkareshvara (no. 32).
These three mound shrines are also symbolised as the three edges of Shiva’s Trident (Trishula).
The processional route from no. 52 (Maheshvara) moves in a complex spiral form, turning four
times before finally reaching Avimukteshvara (see Fig. 5b).
The fifth circuit, the inner sanctum sanctorum (Antargriha), moves seven times around
the temple of Vishveshvara (Fig. 6a). It symbolises the cosmic integrity, i.e., 7 chakras (spinal
energy zones, or plexuses) and 8 cardinal directions. This is how Shiva protects his territory in
the same way as Kashi protects his own body. The seven-round spiral symbolises the
understanding of reality, both physically and transcendentally, and reminds the pilgrims that the
resort of the patron deity Shiva is everywhere but the circumference nowhere (Fig. 6b). In
terms of hermeneutic philosophy, this may be seen as the essence of the archetypal “circle that
never closes.” Such spiral structure is the result of the process of gnomonic growth, of which
the square and its gnomon can be considered the archetypal form (Lawlor, 1982: 66).
The eight conjunction points on the outer circuit are controlled by the eight forms of
Bhairava (Shiva’s fierce form looking after the “Time” and “Death” in cardinal directions), of
which three are across the Ganga in the right side (see Figs. 2 and 4). The remaining five are at
the left side of the sacred circuit and refer to the five halting places on, the Panchakroshi route.
This idea is comparable to the shrinking universe, or the practice of adjustment-and-abstraction
in Hindu religious practices.
The number of sacred sites and shrines along the five pilgrimage circuits symbolises the
cosmogonic integrity. The symbolic cosmic number and their products can explain this (cf.
Table 1). The total number of all shrines comes to 468, which in itself forms a parallel to the
product of 9 planets x 13 months (including an intercalary month) x 4 directions, or mythical
parts of a day. It is also a product of 12 zodiacs x 13 months x 3 mythic realms. The symbolic
forms and numbers characterising the shrines and sacred circuit have emerged to form an
established order (a frame of evolving cosmogram) through the binding of faith and belief
system (see Singh, 1993a: 247-49).
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 196
Table 1. Kashi: Pilgrimage Journey and the Cosmogonic Integrity
Sacred segment/
route of Pilgrimage
1. Macro-
2. Meso-
3. Micro-
3 realms/ 2
parts of a day
on the
= 1 x 2 x 3
1. Chaurashikroshi 9 8 2 144
2. Panchakroshi 9 4 3 108
3. Nagar Pradakshina 9 4 2 72
4. Avimukta 9 4 2 72
5. Antargriha 9 4 2 72
Fig. 6. Varanasi : Vishveshvara Antargriha Yatra circuit
This system is further developed in the arrangement of 56 Ganesha/ Vinayaka shrines.
Vinayaka protects the dwellers or visitors to this city from obstacles at eight cardinal directions
in all the seven layers of the realm between earth and heaven (symbolically representing seven
layers of the atmosphere). They serve as lokapala, the directional guardians of the universe and
residents at all the cardinal junctions. The number and location of 56 Vinayakas can be
represented in a spatio-cosmological model showing the eight directions, seven layers, three
sacred segments of Varanasi and the interlinking routes of pilgrimage journeys in spiral form
(Fig. 7). The sequential arrangement of 56 Vinayakas, is arranged in a model as described in
the mythologies and followed by the pilgrims performing the sacred journey. The arrangement
symbolises the concept of universe within universe, i.e., interconnecting macrocosmos,
mesocosmos, and microcosmos (see Singh, 1995a, 1995b). This can be experienced and
revealed only by eternal sense, soul – a subject beyond the bodily experience; it is the
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 197
complement of spiritual experience which some of the pilgrims receive, of course there is no
language for expressing the ultimate nature of revelation and eternal experience.
3. From Microcosmos to Microcosmos
The use of the symbolism of the human body reveals another level of meaning of the
microcosm. This was vividly described in the Vastu Vidya, the science of architecture. Though
it was already an accepted branch of knowledge in Vedic times, this structure was interpreted in
a religious context, especially with the symbolism implicit in it and canonisation of forms. By
the principle of existence which forces to assume and retain a certain form has been set in
order, the basic form of which has been Vastu-Purusha Mandala – a phenomenal structural
plan, which can be explained by the Vedic sacrificial rite. The spiral form symbolises
movement, the cyclic movement of time. This is how the circumambulation is performed. A
round altar symbolises the terrestrial world, and a square in it, the celestial (cf. Volwahsen,
1969: 44).
Fig. 7. Kashi Mandala: 56 Vinayakas and 3 Khandas
The ground plan of the temple itself is a mandala, representing an “image of the laws
governing the cosmos, to which men are just as subject as is the earth on which they built”
(ibid: 44). The circumambulation symbolises the cosmic journey and its cognition. According
to the Vastushastras (manuals on architecture), the basic cosmogram (Vastu-Purusha Mandala)
for a surface plan can be drawn in 32 ways; the simplest one consists of a square, which may be
divided into 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81, 100 and so on up to 1,024 squares. The size chosen for
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 198
these drawings is immaterial. The most common number chosen was 81, Ekashiti Pada (9 x 9
grids, Padas). The Brihat Samhita indicates that 81 squares was the proper foundation for
cities, palaces, and houses, while that containing 64 squares was appropriate for temples.
According to the Matsya Purana (253.21), a 9th century text, the city plan needs to be
developed in this form with the allocation of space to various divinities. Brahma (the Creator)
is said to preside over nine squares in the centre, forming an open quadrangle. The placement
of divinities is according to their status and importance in Hindu ritual practices. The eight
cardinal directions are controlled by the territorial deities as watch guards. This plan represents
the symbolic merger of body, space and cosmos. The city of Madurai in south India may be
cited as an example. In Varanasi such a mandala system no longer exists. It is obvious that “In
every Hindu city, the most accessible demonstration of the merging of macrocosm and
microcosm is the temple” (Malville, 1994: 172). In fact, “in both a cosmology and a
cosmogony, the temple provides a map of the universe as it exists today and a representation of
those creative, cosmogonic processes which have led and are continuing to lead to its
production” (Malville, 1992: 25). During 12th -17th centuries of Muslim rule, most of the
temples of Varanasi were demolished. That is how the basic structural plan lost its identity.
Later, when the situation became peaceful, the temple was rebuilt at a different site.
4. Vishveshvara/ Vishvanatha Temple
Fig. 8. Ruined portion of the old Vishveshvara temple, back part of present Jnanavapi
Mosque (after Prinsep, 1832).
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 199
The most popular and mythologically eulogised Shiva linga is Vishveshvara, known as
Vishvanatha (the patron deity of Varanasi). Between CE 1194 and 1670, this temple was
probably pulled down at least three times. The Tristhalisetu of Narayanabhatta (ca. 1585)
describes the glory of this temple. It is believed that he built the temple in the late 16th century,
which was torn down by the Mughal king Aurangzeb in CE 1669. It appears from the
description in this text that during the greater part of his life, there was no regular temple of
Vishvanatha at Varanasi (Altekar 1937). After demolishing the temple, Aurangzeb had built a
mosque there. However, part of the back portion was left as a warning and an insult to Hindu
feelings (Fig. 8).
The ground plan of the ancient temple of Vishveshvara was reconstructed by James
Prinsep in 1831 (Fig. 9). The main temple was square; each side being 108 ft (32.92 m) divided
into 27 grids (padas) in one dimension. In reality, of course, only 26 grids exist, and an additive
was adjusted to make the cosmogram real in numerical symbology. Regarding the square plan,
Malville (1992: 25) comments, “The square protects the interior and may also represent the
ecliptic, the cyclic pathway taken by the sun as it measures out time.” The main shrine lying in
the centre was also in a square of 64 (8 x 8) grids, each grid was 16 sq. ft (1.49 sq. m). This is a
form of manduka mandala, at the centre of which was the main linga, Shiva’s symbol lying in
an ornamental reservoir. “Its corners are at the same time the corners of the external outline of
the cell” (Volwahsen, 1969: 52).
Adjoining the central sanctuary, there were four ante-chambers (mandapas)
corresponding to Jnana (wisdom), Mukti (liberation), Shringara (decoration), and Aishvarya
(glory), respectively symbolizing the east, south, west and north (see Altekar 1937). Each of the
mandapas had an area of 16 x 16 ft (16 grids). The inner sanctuary represented the first circular
form, while the four cardinal mandapas represent the second circle and cardinality. At the third
level in the rest of the four cardinal directions, existed four ancillary shrines, each with an area
of 9 grids (12 x 12 ft) corresponding to Tarakeshvara (SE), Dandapani (SW), Ganesha (NW)
and Bhairava (NE). The whole temple in complete form must have been a picturesque group of
nine spires. The height diminished from the centre outward in the ratio of 16, 8, and 6, as may
be inferred from the ground plan (Fig. 10). This way, the grid-mandala consisting respectively
of 64, 16, and 9, together reflect the sacred geometry. The four main directional grids of 16
each had emerged into 64 at the centre. In addition to ancillary mandapa, closely also existed
eight more 9-grid chambers; thus their number reached 12. This is comparable to 9 x 12 = 108.
In total, calculated this way:
[(16 x 4) + 64 + {(9 x 4) + (9 x 8)}],
The final number of open-chambers comes to 236. The triple circle symbol was formed on the
basis of a framework and grid consisting of essentially the representation of the three mythic
realms, symbolising the power of Shiva as the controller of the three realms, i.e., earth,
atmosphere, and heaven.
In Indian classical calculations pertaining to construction of a temple and its
characteristics, the integer was taken as the base and the remainder as the means of decision.
Strictly speaking a ‘doctrine of remainder’ was followed (see Volwahsen, 1969: 50-51).
Following that principle, the Vishveshvara temple may also be placed on that scale (Table 2).
The temple was built on a navaratna plan, i.e., nine spires altogether including the
highest central one (128 ft/ 39m). The corner spires were about 48 ft/ 14.6 m high and those
over the mandapas were 64 ft/ 19.5 m (Verma, 1971-84: 201). The main ground plan recorded
a series of 676 grids, padas (26 x 26), of which each grid was 4 ft x 4 ft. In addition, at each of
the four corner extensions, there were six such grids. Furthermore, seven grids were also at the
four directional parts. Thus in total, the number reached 728. With a minor adjustment of 1, the
number reached 729, symbolising the product of 27 x 27 (lunar asterisms), i.e., meeting of
macro and micro cosmos, a cosmogram.
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 200
Table 2. Geometrical properties and related characteristics
Remainder Se. Attribute Dimension
No. Refers to
1. Yoni (direction) (temple width x 3) / 8 4 West
2. Vyasa (planet) (width x 9) / 10; 2 Moon
3. Nakshatra(lunar asterism) (length x 8) /27; 0 Jyestha
4. Aya (zodiac, or month) (length x 8) /12; 0 Aries, or Chaitra
5. Vara (the day) (circumference x 9) / 7; 3 Tuesday
6. Tithi (time) (circumference x 9) / 30 18 the 3rd of the Light-half
7. Varna (caste group and
(length x width x 9) / 4; 0 Brahmin, colour White
Fig. 9. Plan of the ancient Vishvesvara Temple
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 201
Fig. 10. Plan of the ancient Vishvesvara Temple: Orientation and alignment
The ancient plan of the Vishveshvara temple can also be tested in the light of geometric
structure. There existed three basic circles which were homologous to the three phases of life
(birth, flourishing, and death- and-rebirth), further corresponding to the three mythic realms
(lokas), viz. earth, sky, and heaven, and three stages of time (kala) – time past, present, and
future. The triplication of the geometric form further merges into square pattern. Remarks
Maxwell (1991: 286): “Triplication of such a continuum-symbol merely presents three aspects
of the same eternal process. In such a beginningless and endless system, geometrically defined
space proper to the system itself (as distinct from borrowed constructs) is bound to be cyclical
and the definitions are bound to be generated naturally rather than imposed.”
The four cardinal chambers were in between the two outer circles in the angular space of
37°, thus 37 x 4 = 148°. The four directional chambers were in the angular space of 53°, thus
53 x 4 = 212°. This way, finally, they cover all of the degrees of a circle, 360°. This exercise of
correspondence suggests that the temple was planned on the basis of a network, angular space
and associated grids; of course this is merely a geometrical formalisation. The structure of
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 202
triplication has a close association with Shiva: three eyes, trident, controller of the three realms,
and several such symmetrical triads. Stella Kramrisch’s (1946: 23) remark is appealing in this
context: “The Indian temple, an exuberant growth of seemingly haphazard and numberless
forms … never loses control over its extravagant wealth…. It visualises the cosmic force which
creates innumerable forms, and these are one whole, and without the least of them the universal
harmony would lack completeness.” This intuitive understanding is confirmed by the sacred
plan of the ancient Vishveshvara temple (Fig. 10). In fact, the temple was the real
representation of Purusha (“Supernal Man”), and also was a mnemonic for a number of
cosmological concepts (cf. Malville 1991: 123).
Fig. 11. Old Vishveshvara temple area, & Aurangazeb mosque.
The temple of Vishveshvara symbolises the fire pillar connecting heaven and earth, and
the nearby holy well of Jnanavapi is the source of primordial water. The area around the
present mosque of Aurangzeb (known as Jnanavapi mosque) was the path of circumambulation
(pradakshina) around the old Vishveshvara temple. There were many ancillary shrines on the
temple walls that lost their identity after its conversion into a mosque. Puranic mythology also
describes Jnanavapi to the south of Vishveshvara. After demolition of this temple, a mosque
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 203
was erected there (see Fig. 11). Later in late 18th century, Queen Ahilyabai Holkar built a new
temple of Vishveshvara in the southern vicinity.
5. Other Shiva Lingas
In various temples of Varanasi one finds special forms of lingas associated with sacred
geometry and cosmic connotation. A few examples may be cited. The Bayalisha-Lingi Linga at
Kapiladhara on the Panchakroshi route (see Fig. 12) represents the total form of Shri Yantra’s
triangles. Shri Yantra is drawn from nine triangles, four pointed downward and five upward,
thus forming 42 (6 x 7) triangular fragments around a central triangle (see Singh, 1991:
Fig. 12. Bayalisha-Lingi Shiva Linga
There is probably no other set of triangles that interlock with such integrational
perfection. This is also represented as a symbol of life, both universal and individual. In other
ways, the seven sheaths (chakras) and six directions (including above and below) together
make 42. Shiva is described as the greatest yogi who in all the junction of space, time and
energy cycles reveals the cosmos. According to the Kashi Khanda (73), Shiva controls the three
realms (heaven, earth, and the netherworld) as a Yogi by His manifestive power of two layers
of sheaths (seven up from navel base, and seven down), i.e., 14. This way, 3 x 14 becomes a
total of 42. There are 42 different lingas at various places in Varanasi. However, all of them are
represented in one structure at Kapiladhara (for list, see Singh, 1987b: 506). In this way, 42
represent the super-state of consciousness where macro and micro cosmos meet.
6. Dvadasheshvara Linga
By the process of spatial transposition, all twelve Jyotira (light-manifestive lingas of
Shiva) located in different places in India including the one at Varanasi, i.e., Vishveshvara (cf.
Table 3), are re-established in Varanasi (cf. Fig. 13a, b). The spatial pattern of Jyotira lingas
makes Varanasi a microcosmic or mini-India. Pilgrims perform sacred journeys and auspicious
sights to these lingas on special days. This way, pilgrims feel that they have acquired the merit
of auspicious sight to all the lingas. At another level, a special linga of Dvadasheshvara in the
early 19th century CE temple, known as Panchakroshi temple (house no. CK 5/ 33 Gola Gali,
Bhikharidas Lane, Chauk), carries twelve miniature jyotira lingas made of crystal, at one base.
These lingas are sequentially coded, and Vishveshvara (no. 9) lies at the centre (Fig. 13c). The
three-level spatial affinity and replication may be compared to the idea of emergence and
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 204
replication from macro (India-level) to meso (Varanasi city-level) and micro (Dvadasheshvara)
cosmic representation. The number 12 represents the annual rhythm of space and time.
Fig. 13. Jyotira Lingas : (A) India, (B) Varanasi, (C) Dvadasheshvara.
Shiva linga is also represented with the human face (mukha), numbering from one to five,
and symbolising various states and roles of Shiva from Ishvara (the Supreme Lord) to
Pancamukha, the controller of the five basic organic matters. Several other interpretations of
cosmicised numbers related to different forms of divinities like Durgas (9), Chandis (9),
Matrikas (9), Gauris (9), Bhairavas (16), Rishi-lingas (7), Vishnu (8), Suryas (12), etc., may
also be explained in this context (cf. Singh, 1987b; Singh and Malville, 1995).
7. The Gurudham Temple
The temple as cosmogram is clearly exemplified by Gurudham temple where symbolism
of space, cosmo-magical form and body forms a web of Tantric mandala. This was built by Jai
Narayan Ghoshal in CE 1814. The temple compound covers an area of 4.86 ha. The seven
body-sheaths (chakras) are fully represented in its basic spatial plan (see Figs. 14, 15). In this
temple, 4 microcosmic view of the seven most holy centres (puris) of India, and stages of
meditation are spatially represented. Similar temples in India are at Bansbaria (Hamseshvari),
near Chidambaram (Satya Jnana) and Prayaga/ Allahabad (Hamsa Tirtha in Jhunsi).
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 205
Table 3. Varanasi : Jyotira Lingas, Light-Manifested Forms of Shiva
Se The Linga Original place
in India Location in Varanasi,
House No. Latitude,
N X° Y’ Longitude,
E X° Y’
1 Someshvara Somnath,
Someshvara, near the Man
Mandir Ghat, D 16 / 34
25 18.498 83 00.636
2 Mallikarjuna Shrishail,
Andhra Pradesh
Tripurantakeshvara, Sigra
(Sivapurva) Tila, D 59 / 95
25 18.505 82 59.261
3 Mahakaleshvara Ujjain, Madhya
Mahamritunjaya, K 52 / 39
25 19.361 83 00.911
4 Omkareshvara Mandhata,
Pathanitola, A 33 / 23
25 19.539 83 01.355
5 Vaidyanath Deoghar, Bihar Vaidyanatheshvara,
Kamachha, B 37 / 1
25 18.171 82 59.411
6 Bhimashankara Pune,
Bhimeshvara, Kashikarvat,
CK 32 / 12
25 18.662 83 00.638
7 Rameshvara Rameshvaram,
Tamil Nadu
Rameshvara, Rama Kund,
D 54 / 45; (at 4 sites more)
25 18.565 82 59.826
8 Nageshvara Near Dvaraka,
Nageshvara, Bhonshala
Ghat, CK 2 / 1
25 18.822 83 00.921
9 Vishveshvara Varanasi itself Vishvanatha-Ji, Jnanavapi,
CK 35 / 19
25 18.637 83 00.594
10 Tryambakeshvara Nasik,
Baradeo, D 38 / 21
25 18.599 83 00.392
11 Kedareshvara Chamoli (U.P.),
in Himalaya
Kedareshvara, Kedar Ghat,
B 6 / 102
25 17.985 83 00.425
12 Ghushmeshvara Ellora,
Ghushrinishvara, in
Kamachha, B 21 / 123
25 18.216 82 59.556
(The latitudes and longitudes are based on GPS values, using GPS Garmin 12X, © Rana P.B. Singh)
(Source: Singh, 1987b: 503, 504-505)
Fig. 14. Gurudham Temple, Varanasi: Spatial plan and symbolism
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 206
Fig. 15. Gurudham Temple, Varanasi: A sketch view
The temple is perceived as the preserver of light, reflecting the highest state of Guru and
the ways of meditation. The basic structure is octagonal in form, containing a gate symbolising
seven of the most holy sites bestowing salvation (puris), and the last one, the gate of Guru
himself. These eight gates also refer to eight directions. Further, a sense of divine and mystic
belief is also imposed like Shaivism (Avanti, Kashi), Vaishnavism (Ayodhya, Mathura, Puri),
and both together (Kanchi), and Shakta/ Tantric (Maya/ Haridvara). These three groups can be
identified with three schools of Hinduism. The Guru is separate from them, as he is the superb
integration of these. With his guidance, one can attain that state of divine bliss. Moreover,
number eight can be compared with various divine forms, like eight Bhairavas, eight Devis,
eight Candis, etc.
In the inner sanctum of the temple, on a thousand-petal lotus, Guru’s icon is established
along with the icon of his divine energy: both are made of mixture of eight metals (ashta
dhatu). The lotus expresses a twofold symbolism of exoteric and esoteric. It symbolises a
symmetrical and spatial emanation of ‘the one’, like the root-word, Om. The lotus, in the widest
sense, denotes creation generated from the primordial seed of the cosmic waters; the Taittiriya
Samhita (Sv.1, 3c) says that “the lotus is the earth itself on those same waters.” According to
another text, the lotus is the symbol of the plane of spiritual unity, revealing itself in the centre
of the mysterious space (akasha) in the depth of the heart (Chandogya Upanishad 7.3.1).
The conception of Guru in this temple is a symbol of Brahman, a Supreme One, who has
at once a manifested and a non-manifested aspect. In one way, He encompasses the whole
universe, and in other way reflects the concept of pantheism: the One differentiates into Many,
and in their togetherness the Many constitute a Whole (Rudhyar, 1983: 31-32). Says Rudhyar
(ibid.: 43): “Wholeness is in every whole, but it also is in what are inadequately called the
‘parts’ of a whole.” In fact, “there are no parts, only wholes – a hierarchy of wholes – that is, of
organised fields of activity and consciousness having a limited span of existence” (ibid.).
Following the analogy that “temple in itself is a body”, the plexus system of kundalini, as
described in the Yoga system, can be compared to the Gurudham temple. Each spot from lower
to higher (seven layers) is symbolised by lotus petals, i.e., 4, 6, 10, 12, 16, 2 and 1000. A
meditator has to follow the system in this sequence with the aim of reaching the highest state.
Only then can he receive blessing from the Guru through touching his feet, as shown in the
spatial plan of the temple (Fig. 14).
Presently the condition of the temple is very bad, mostly due to negligence, illegal
occupancy of open space, and encroachment by the nearby settlers and colonisers. This temple
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 207
will soon be out of the scene from the cityscape, and only the memory and remnants of such a
great heritage will remain in stories.
8. City as Cosmogram: Images of Kashi
We are surrounded not by sense objects but by images that are invisible to everybody
else. The symbolic expression of place, the set of symbols that gives the people of a culture
orientation in space and time, is pervasive in Hindu culture. We find in Hinduism that places
like special sites or natural sceneries, rivers, mountains, grounds, sacred buildings and sacred
cities replicate the form and process of the cosmos. In fact, a passion for placement is basic to
Hindu thought. Sacred place as “storied place” is eulogised in Hindu mythology, or oral epics,
with divine connotation – there intersects myth and terra firma.
Fig. 16. Kashi: The Symbolic Forms
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 208
In the Vedic literature, Varanasi has, of course, not received much attention. However, in
the Puranic literature and treatises, its glory has been vividly stated. The concept of image is
described with various names like Kashi (The “Luminous”), Avimukta (The “NeverForsaken”
by Lord Shiva), Anadavana (The “Forest of Bliss”), and Rudravasa (The Dwelling place of
Shiva). The mahatmya (glorification) literature describes its various forms, shapes, territories,
and associated sacred numbers. Among such symbols, the description of varying symbolic
forms of Kashi/ Varanasi in mythical time is unique in spatial exposition (cf. Singh, 1988b:
3-5). The Nagara Khanda of the Skanda Purana (ref. the Kashi Rahasya, SB Tika, p. 119)
describes the territorial form of the sacred city as it was in the four mythic eras (yugas in Hindi
cosmology). Accordingly, the shape of Kashi was like a Trident (trishula) in Krita/ Satya (an
era of 1,728,000 years), a Disc (cakra), in Treta (1,296,000 years), Chariot (ratha) in Dvapara
(864,000 years), and a Conch-shell (shankha) in Kali (432,000 years). These four forms clearly
indicate the peopling, and territorial demarcation through the sites of various shrines (Fig. 16).
The three forks of trident are represented by the three basic segmentary Shiva lingas, i.e.,
Omkareshvara in the north, Vishveshvara in the centre, and Kedareshvara in the south. These
three lingas refer to the areas around them that were settled in ancient times and also are the
patron deities of their respective segments (khandas). Metaphorically, it is said that Kashi lies
upon the trident of Shiva.
The disc-form was developed in Treta and corresponds to the Caurashikroshi Yatra as a
circle with Madhyameshvara at the centre and Dehli Vinayaka (i.e., gate to the cosmic circle,
controlled by Ganesha as guardian) as the radial point. It covers a circumambulatory
circumference of 184 miles/ 296 km, and symbolises the circumambulation of the cosmos.
However, this journey is now rarely performed. At the four cardinal points, there exist four
Bhairava shrines. Bhairava is perceived as the terrifying form of Shiva who controls kala (time
and death). He is also known as Kala Bhairava.
The form of a chariot (in Dvapara) may be explained with the location of seven forms of
Shiva lingas as referred to in the text: Gokarneshvara, Shulatankeshvara, Manikarnikeshvara
and Bharabhuteshvara as the four wheels of the chariot on which Vishveshvara is sitting, and
Madhyameshvara and Omkareshvara as the driving horses, with the Ganga river as the path.
The direction of movement towards north metaphorically indicates the search for Shiva’s abode
in the north (i.e., Kailasha), and also the search for the radiant spot on the cosmic path.
The present form (in Kaliyuga) is comparable to a conch-shell. Including the above six
lingas (as in Dvapara), Vighnaraja Vinayaka in the north-west, Shaileshvara in the north along
the Varana river, Kedareshvara in the south-east, and Lolarka in the south, it makes the shape
of a conch-shell.
The description of the above four symbolic forms of Kashi is comparable to territorial
strategy that establishes different degrees of access to people, things, and relationships to the
scales of space, time, and faith. In all four forms, the Ganga river is the base. According to
another description, the two water channels, which delimit the territorial extent of the city in
the north and south, can be compared to arteries of Shiva’s mythical body. In the language of
yoga, the rivers Asi and Varana, respectively, symbolise ida and pingala, and the third artery
interlinking the Ganga to the Matsyodari, or the Brahmanala is referred to as sushumna (cf.
Kashi Khanda 5.25-26; 33.167). The various holy sites are said to correspond to the parts of the
body of Shiva, as he himself said, ‘Kashi is my body’ (ibid.: 55.44).
According to another description in the Kashi Khanda (33.167-172), the city of Varanasi
is Shiva’s body, whose different parts are represented by the selective 18 lingas. The number
18 symbolises the 18 branches of knowledge, including the four Vedas, six parts of the Vedic
divisions, and the rest of the branches. In this way, the city itself is the symbol of total
knowledge. The visitation and performance of rituals at these sites provide the total knowledge.
However, even by visiting a single linga of Puraneshvara (Krittivasheshvara), one can receive
the similar merit (cf. Kashi Khanda 33.132), as this linga symbolises all the 18 lingas at
another level (see Fig. 17).
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 209
Fig. 17. Krittivasheshvara linga as Shiva’s body. Symbolically consisting of 18 Shiva lingas,
that is how it shows Kashi as Shiva’s body: 1 Omkareshyara, 2 Shrutishvara, 3
Mahadeva, 4 Trilochaneshvara, 5 Bharabhuteshvara, 6 Gokarneshvara, 7 Vireshyara,
8 Chandreshvara, 9 Aviinukteshvara, 10 Dharnieshvara, 11 Madhyameshvara, 12
Jyestheshvara, 13 Vishveshyara, 14 Manikarnikeshvara, 15 Karpadishvara, 16
Kaleshvara, . 17 Kedareshyara, 18 Shukreshvara. (cf. KKh 33.167-172).
Following an oral tradition, the city also symbolises Vishnu’s body. The Panchatirthis
(the five most sacred Ghats among the total 84 along the Ganga) symbolises the microcosmic
body of Vishnu. Asi is the head, Dashashvamedha is the chest, Manikarnika is the navel,
Panchaganga is the thighs, and Adi Keshava is the feet (Singh, 1994b: 217). This reminds us
that Vishnu first placed his holy feet in Varanasi; that is why the area along the Ganga river is
Vishnu’s body (Singh, 1996: 95). The Kashi Khanda (84.114) says that “Having bathed in the
five tirthas, a person never again receives a body of five-elements. Rather, he becomes the
five-faced Shiva in Kashi.” These myths refer to the close interdependency between
Vaishnavite and Shaivite traditions; according to myth, Shiva and Vishnu are the one integral
identity in Kashi (ibid.: 50.144).
Kashi is compared to a woman (Kashi Khanda 7.66) ‘whose two beautiful eyes are
Lolarka (in the south) and Adi Keshava (in the north), whose two arms are the Varana (in the
north) and the Asi river (in the south). That is how the territory between the two rivers and two
divine spots merges into a divine energy represented in the form of a woman. At the next level,
there are two shrines of the ‘City as Goddess.’ The small shrine of Kashi Devi at Lalita Ghat is
eulogised as the giver of relief from all the sins and the cycle of transmigration (cf. Kashi
Rahasya 17.29). Similar description is also narrated for Varanasi Devi, whose shrine lies in the
Trilochan temple (cf. Kashi Khanda 33.127). However, sometimes the city itself is referred to
as the mother goddess (cf. Kashi Khanda 30.71).
The city is endowed with a special sense of immortality. The myth mentions that even
during the cosmic dissolution, the city stands upon Shiva’s trident like a lotus (Kashi Khanda
44.29). The Kashi Rahasya (2.89) says:
What is that divine fight reflecting over water in arc,
Which even during cosmic flood seen as it was! (Kashi).
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 210
Moreover (ibid.: 2.95),
As an umbrella in the sky there lies divine light,
Whose rays come on the earth and make the Kashi bright.
9. Yupa
There still exists a sacrificial post known as Yupa Sarovara in the form of a stone pillar
(yupa, or stambba), about 16m in height and about 2m in diameter, along the Panchakroshi
route (near Sarang Talab; Fig. 18). The yupa symbolises the central post of the universe, the
axis mundi. It also represents the full Man, divided into fourteen parts: seven parts above the
navel, and the same number below. In this way, the pillar integrates the seven sheaths of
Cosmic Man and the earthly man; it shows the mesocosm. According to folk legends, this is
related to the mythic story of Karna, the son of the Sun-god, born from virgin mother of
Pandavas, Kunti. This pillar represents archetypal separation of heaven and earth, and probably
as the gnomon, it was erected and used to cast measured shadows. Now this site, like other
sun-shrines and sacred spots, is in ruins; the stone there is quiet at the corner of a pond (see
Malville, 1985: 220).
Fig. 18. Yupa Image, Yupa Sarovara.
10. Concluding Remarks
Following the axiom that ‘reality is not external; reality exists in the human mind, and
nowhere else’, the sacred geometry of Varanasi can be understood as a result of the state of
consciousness where cosmic mystery be perceived through the symbolic expression and
experiences. Without imperial system of growth the city has evolved its own cosmogram. The
complex structure of the city expresses how puranic myths and the spatial dimension of
sacrality can interact with each other and finally result to a synthesis of the holy and cosmic.
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 211
Gutschow (1993: 170) has rightly stated that “The idea of a spatial mandala did not precede the
town on the contrary, the mandala mirrors in already existing world; it represents, somehow,
the “real” image of an otherwise confusing reality. It gives order to the unordered “natural”
topography of a spatial setting”. In fact, the idea of the mandala conveys the Hindu notion of
cosmic order (ibid. : 172).
The spiritual sense of sacred geometry can furnish information, a background, but it
cannot provide a compass. Myth supplies this compass and also helps to discover how to orient
the spiritual map of this city. However the modern man has lost his sensual skill to orient the
map in this direction. Nevertheless the idea of expanding universe can he clearly explained by
these cosmo-magico models. From inside to outer side the universe territory expands, however
the intensity of its mystic power decreases. This inverse relationship shows the idea of
expanding universe.
At present with the impact of Westernisation and materialism modem man is trying to
substitute the mythological and cosmological orientation of cities which was so important in
the ancient past, by new mythologies of technocracy where distance of harmonic relationship
between Man and Cosmos is increasing. Of course, the solution is not so easy! Nevertheless,
the historical background to cosmic layout of habitat would certainly provide some lessons to
seriously keep in mind making balance in the future.
When and how the sacred geometry took the shape in evolving cosmicised structure of
this without support of imperial power is still an issue to be searched and re-searched. Parallel
to James’ view, with the unconscious effect, the cosmicised frame became as much a part of
Varanasi’s personality – in all its mystic power and radiance (cf. James, cited by Mumford,
1961: 68).
Acknowledgements: This paper was initially inspired by the writings of Prof. John McKim
Malville (Professor of Astrophysics, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA). He was kind
enough to send many of his publications on sacred geometry, and also has suggested the
guidelines. I express my personal gratitude to him. Prof. Jeffrey F. Mayer (USA) has also been
kind to send his publications on cosmograms related to Beijing, which helped me to proceed in
the right direction. As usual, most of the field studies I have performed together with my
academic partner and friend, Dr. Niels Gutschow; Niels is always a source of inspiration and a
constructive critic for me.
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und Umwelt, ed. Werner Kreisel. AGGR / U-Forschung, Bd. 1. Alono edition herodot,
Aachen (FRG): 439-454.
. 1988b. The Image of Varanasi: Sacrality and perceptual world. National Geographical
Journal of India, 34 (1): 1-32.
. 1990. Religion, Culture and City: Interrelations and Interactions. A Paper Presented in the
Nepal-German Symposium on “From Town to City and Beyond. “ Kathmandu, 14-17 Oct.
10 pp. + 2 figs.
. 1993a. Cosmic layout of Hindus’ Sacred City, Varanasi (Benares). Architecture &
Behaviour (Lausanne, Switzerland), 9 (2): 239-249.
. 1993b. Ed. Banaras (Varanasi): Cosmic Order, Sacred City and Hindu Traditions. Tara
Book Agency, Varanasi.
. 1993c. Cosmos, Theos, Anthropos: An Inner Vision of Sacred Ecology in Hinduism.
National Geographical Journal of India, 39: 113-130; also in Environmental Ethics:
Discourses & Cultural Traditions, ed. Rana P. B. Singh. National Geographical Society
of India, Pub. 40, Varanasi.
. 1994. Water symbolism and sacred landscape in Hinduism: A study of Benares. Erdkunde
(Bonn, Germany), Band 48 (3), September: 210-227.
. 1996. The Ganga River and the spirit of sustainability in Hinduism: A study of Banaras
(Varanasi). In, Dialogues with the Living Earth. New Ideas on the Spirit of Place, eds.
James and Roberta Swans. Quest Books, Wheaton, IL, USA : pp. 86-107.
Singh, Rana P.B. and Malville, John McKim 1995. Cosmic order and Cityscape of Varanasi
(Kashi): The Sun images and cultural astronomy. National Geogr. Jl. of India, Vol. 41
(1), March : pp. 69-88. Reprinted: Ancient Cities, Ancient Skies, eds. J. M. Malville and
L. Gujral, 2000. Aryan Publ. for IGNCA, New Delhi : pp. 81-98.
Vatsyayan, Kapila 1991. Ed. Concepts of Space: Ancient and Modern. IGNCA, and Abhinav
Pub., Delhi.
Singh, Rana P.B. 1994. Sacred Geometry of Varanasi. Nat. Geog.Jl. India, 40: 189-216. 213
Verma, T.P. 1971-84. The Temples of Banaras. Bharati (Bulletin of the College of Indology,
BHU, Varanasi), No. 15: 194-205 + 6 plates.
Volwahsen, Andreas 1969. Living Architecture: Indien. Oxford & IBH Co., Calcutta. English
Trans. Anne E. Keep.
Wheatley, Paul 1969. City as Symbol. H. K. Lewis & Co., London.
For details and fully elaborated discussion, see:
# Singh, Rana P.B. 2009. Banaras: Making of India’s Heritage City. Foreword: Prof. Niels
Gutschow (Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany). Planet Earth & Cultural
Understanding Series, Pub. 3. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne
U.K. [A4 29 x 21cm, xvi + 409pp., 60 tables, 123 figs.] Pb, ISBN (10): 1-4438-1321-4,
ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-1321-1. Price: £64.99/ $99.99.
For bibliography and history, see:
# Singh, Rana P.B. 2009. Banaras, India’s Heritage City: Geography, History, &
Bibliography. [including Bibliography of 1276 sources, Hindu Festivals, 2006-15].
Pilgrimage and Cosmology Series: 8. Indica Books, Varanasi. [A5 22x 15cm, 458pp.,
13 tables, 32 figs., 7 appendices]. ISBN: 81-86569-85-5. Price: Rs 795.oo/ US$ 30.
The Author
Contact & Corresponding Address:
Prof. Rana P.B. Singh
Professor of Cultural Geography & Heritage Studies,
# New F – 7, Jodhpur Colony; Banaras Hindu University,
Varanasi, UP 221005. INDIA
Tel: (+091)-542-2575-843. Cell/ Mobile: 0-9838 119474
§ Rana P.B. Singh [b. 15-XII- 1950], MA, PhD, JFF, FAAI, has been involved in studying,
performing and promoting the heritage planning and spiritual tourism in the Varanasi region for
the last over three decades as promoter, collaborator and organiser. On these topics he has
given lectures and seminars at various centres in Australia, Austria, Belgium, China PR,
Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand,
Norway, Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, USA (& Hawaii),
USSR. His publications include over two hundred research papers and thirty eight books and
two regional guidebooks for cultural tourism, like Banaras (Varanasi), Cosmic Order, Sacred
City, Hindu Traditions (1993), Environmental Ethics (1993), The Spirit and Power of Place
(1994), Banaras Region: A Spiritual & Cultural Guide (2002/ 2009, with P.S. Rana), Towards
pilgrimage Archetypes: Panchakroshi Yatra of Kashi (2002), Where the Buddha Walked (2003/
2010), The Cultural Landscape and the Lifeworld: The Literary Images of Banaras (2004),
Banaras, the City Revealed (2005, with George Michell), Banaras, the Heritage City:
Geography, History, Bibliography (2009), and the eight books under ‘Planet Earth & Cultural
Understanding Series’:  five from Cambridge Scholars Publishing UK: Uprooting
Geographic Thoughts in India (2009), Geographical Thoughts in India: Snapshots and Vision
for the 21st Century (2009), Cosmic Order & Cultural Astronomy (2009), Banaras, Making of
India’s Heritage City (2009), Sacred Geography of Goddesses in South Asia (2010), and 
three from Shubhi Publications (New Delhi): Heritagescapes and Cultural Landscapes (2011),
Sacredscapes and Pilgrimage Systems (2011), Holy Places and Pilgrimages: Essays on India
(2011); and Indo-Kyosei Global Ordering: Gandhi’s Vision, Harmonious Coexistence, &
Ecospirituality (2011. RCKP, Toyo University, Japan).