The 18th century Kashi Vishwanath temple, one of India's most famous pilgrim spots, is all set for a golden makeover, the area around it cleaned and widened and smaller shrines around it beautified.
While the complete gold plating of the sanctum sanctorum's dome has been approved by the board of trustees, the Uttar Pradesh government has undertaken a programme to clear the surroundings of the temple, which has one of the 12 Shiva Jyotirlingas (stone icon of Lord Shiva).
Confirming this, Naveneet Sehgal, secretary of Dharmarth Karya, the state government department which oversees religious works, sites and events, said an architect from Varanasi has been roped in to work on ways to decongest the temple surroundings and explore possibilities of a wider route towards it.
This had been necessitated by the requirements of the devout as also to cater to any emergency situation that might arise, Sehgal said.
Nine buildings and complexes have been identified along the route that the state government proposes to acquire and demolish to make way for a wider path. While three building owners have agreed to the proposal, talks are on for "the acquisition to materialise".
Officials say that this could take a long time, but the start on the makeover was significant in itself as no efforts had been made so far in this direction.
The existing temple structure, destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, was built by the Maratha monarch, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780, has half of its sandstone dome covered with gold.
The Sri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir Nyas Parishad - the government-managed trust that runs the temple since 1983 - has also set the ball rolling for "complete gold plating" of the temple dome. "The trust has a lot of gold and we plan to seek donations to further add to it," said Onkar Shastri, a temple priest.
Other than the gold plating of the dome, temple tower's bottom portion and the towers of Sri Bhuwaneshwar, Sri Tarakeshwar and Sri Dhandapani temples will also be gold plated. It is estimated that 19 kg of gold and 4,000 kg of copper would be required for the project.
The trust plans to later beautify the small temples for Kaalbhairav, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri in the complex.
In addition, the government is also working on a project that would make 'darshan' of the Shivaling - 60 cm tall and 90 cm in circumference, housed in a silver altar - on the lines of that at Vaishno Devi and Tirupati.
"For some projects, we have set timelines of a month, while others are over a long term," Sehgal told IANS.