When dusk sets in and the moon rises, She starts Her day, protecting Kashi in the tranquility of the night. So goes the story behind the Goddess of the night (Ratri Devata) who is the protector and Kshetra Paalika of Kashi.
Mayee Mayee, he called out to Her, first gently and then stressing on each syllable as he kept calling her Mayee again and again. The priest was addressing a small form of the Goddess on the top floor of the temple before he was about to enter the sanctum in the basement where he was going to bathe, clothe and adorn the idol of the Goddess. He was asking her what clothes, jewels and flowers She wants today and how he should take care of Her and that he would decorate the idol accordingly. As we entered the gates of the temple this was the first thing we encountered. More devotees flocked in to see a glimpse of this morning ritual and addressed Her as Mayee.
Mayee, Mayee – addressing her as a ‘Mother’ was to linger on for several days together post our visit to the Varahi Devi Temple, the temple of the Goddess who is the protector of Kashi or Varanasi or Benaras as it is called.
With the head of a sow, having a female form neck down, Varahi is considered as the Shakti (feminine energy) of Varaha, the boar incarnation of the god Vishnu. While many places in the south and east of India have temples dedicated to Varahi Devi, the Goddess here is the protector of Kashi. A friend of ours mentioned that this is one temple we must visit on our journey to Kashi. Located within a walking distance from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, this can be accessed both from the Tripura Bhairavi ghat as well as the Dasaswamedh ghat. Sometimes the Google location can be misleading and hence you might need to take some help from the locals. When we reached there, to our surprise, this temple is open only from 5.30 am to 8.30 am. This rekindled more curiosity within us and we reached there the next morning for a darshan. A few small steps and a bright red door written Adishakti Varahi Devi led us to the temple premises. Since it was early morning, we were the first few waiting for the main door to open. Locals crowded the place as it was a daily ritual to begin their day by worshipping Her in the morning before they set out for their daily tasks.
The main idol of Varahi Devi is in the basement of the temple. The energy of the Goddess is believed to be extremely powerful, as per traditions only the priest is allowed to be in the basement shrine. When we were called in for the darshan, we could get a glimpse of Her face through one hole in the upper part of the basement, and that of the feet through another hole. Though it was just for a brief moment that we could see Her, the upsurge in the energy we experienced was profound. The intoxicated feeling that was to linger for long, cannot be explained in words. There were devotees and several curious visitors who looked spell bound by what they saw a while ago. Some offered garlands of various flowers especially hibiscus and the assigned priest offers these flowers & decorates the deity in the morning. As the basement has a very limited capacity, we were asked to move to the temple premises on top. We found a space in a small corner outside the temple and meditated there for a while.
While we were about to leave, we found some interesting things happening around. Two sadhus were seen building a fire pit, almost ready to start a havan (ritual of pouring offerings to the fire). On further probing, we came to understand that Varahi Devi is a form worshipped by tantric practitioners and as per the Tantric rites, Varahi should be worshipped after sunset or before sunrise. Another priest was sitting outside offering theerth- holy water and Prasad. Quite detached in his approach, he did mention a few things about the Devi. Varahi is a ratri devata (night goddess) and the protector of Kashi. She is sometimes called Dhruma Varahi (dark Varahi) and Dhumavati (goddess of darkness). The Devi here is worshipped as Patala Bhairavi. Many people come to seek/solve their legal matters too and hence she is known as the Goddess of Justice in Kashi. They also mentioned as to how when one of the priests did not make the offerings properly, they felt a slap landing right on their face. It was as if the Devi is unhappy. To many, especially according to the locals worshipping Devi, several miraculous events have occurred in their lives.
During our interactions with the locals, we came to know that Varahi Devi takes care of Kashi in the night and hence after the morning rituals, she retires to rest for the day until the sun sets. Kaalbhairav takes over this duty during the day. So here is Maayee Varahi not only bringing justice to her devotees but also protecting the mystical city of Kashi.
We happened to hear a small story from the local flower seller outside the temple as we left. She spoke of how her daughter due to some health problems went into a coma and the doctors said that it might be difficult to save her. After losing hope on medical interventions, she pleaded to the Devi and her daughter recovered in no time. She believes that this is Mother Varahi’s grace. Today her daughter has recovered completely and is pursuing higher education. She was in tears as she recollected the hard times but still put up a smile as she exclaimed how she made a garland of 108 hibiscus flowers for Devi. Draped in a red saree as she proudly displayed the garland she made, we saw the Goddess in her. Indeed, the Devi is within us. Be it a devout or skeptic, one cannot dismiss the phenomena that is Shakti.