Prime Minister Narendra Modi will dedicate to the people on Monday the ambitious Kashi Vishwanath Corridor in the heart of Varanasi, a mega project that is expected to boost tourism in the ancient city in a big way.
The inauguration of the state-of-the-art infrastructure surrounding the historic Kashi Vishwanath Temple near the iconic Dashashwamedh Ghat comes ahead of the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh early next year.
The gateways and other structures have been built with stones and other material using traditional craftsmanship.
There is a palpable excitement among majority of the residents of the temple town and domestic tourists flocking the holy shrine of the Hindus in the run-up to the high-profile event, in view of which the police security in Varanasi has been stepped up.
From saints and seers to shopkeeper and hotel owners, there is a smile on people's faces as they await the inauguration day with visible excitement.
In a statement, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said Modi will visit the temple at around 1 pm and inaugurate phase one of Shri Kashi Vishwanath Dham, constructed at a cost of around Rs 339 crore, after offering prayers.
It was Modi's vision for a long time to facilitate pilgrims and devotees of Lord Shiva as they had to encounter congested streets and surroundings with poor upkeep while they went about the age-old custom of taking dip in the holy river, collecting its water and offering it at the temple.
"To realise this vision, Shri Kashi Vishwanath Dham was conceptualised as a project to create an easily accessible pathway to connect Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple to the banks of the river Ganga," it said.
The prime minister took a keen and active interest at all stages of the project.
Regular briefings, reviews and monitoring was done by him as he constantly gave inputs and insights to improve the project and make it more accessible for pilgrims, including the disabled, it added.
A total of 23 buildings will be inaugurated in the phase one of the project.
They will provide a variety of facilities to pilgrims, including 'yatri suvidha kendras', tourist facilitation crntre, vedic kendra, mumukshu bhavan, bhogshala, city museum, viewing gallery, food court among others.
The project involved purchase and acquisition of more than 300 properties around the temple.
Modi's vision to take everyone along was the principle based on which mutual negotiations were done for these acquisitions, it said, noting that around 1,400 shopkeepers, tenants and homeowners were rehabilitated amicably.
The scale of the project was such it is now spread over a massive area of about five lakh square feet, whereas earlier premises were limited to just around 3000 square feet. Despite the Covid pandemic, the work on the project has been completed on schedule, the PMO noted.
Posters have been put up on ornate lampposts in streets, near the iconic temple -- one of the 12 Jyotirlingas -- hailing Modi for "realising the vision of this project".
The current structure of the temple was constructed by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar around 1780, and in the 19th century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had got it crowned with a golden 'shikhar'.
According to the website of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust, the famous religious site is also known as 'Golden Temple'. In many old maps, this name can be seen mentioned.
The city, the parliamentary constituency of Modi since 2014, has been decorated ahead of the mega event -- 'Divya Kashi, Bhavya Kashi' -- and the residents of the temple town eagerly await the arrival of the prime minister.
Facades of buildings located on streets leading to the shrine have been painted in uniform light pink colour, and many buildings have been illuminated. Many hotels located near Godowlia Chowk have also been lit been lit up by their owners to celebrate the occasion.
Senior BJP leaders earlier had announced that Varanasi will host a month-long cultural exercise following the inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham, and all BJP chief ministers and deputy CMs will attend the ceremony which will be broadcast live from over 51,000 places nationwide.
After laying the foundation stone of the corridor, Modi had said the project would be a model for "protection and preservation" of temples and a combination of modern technology with ancient faith.
He had also said this project would become a model for similar projects elsewhere and give a new global identity to Kashi.
The project had also drawn criticism from various heritage experts as a large number of old buildings were demolished to make way for the corridor that also provides a direct link from the temple to Ganga River.
Early December, the architect of the project, Bimal Patel, had said the original structure of the temple had not been tampered with while developing the site, adding, apart from beautifying the area, tourist facilities have been enhanced.
"The project includes the construction of Temple Chowk, Varanasi city gallery, museum, multipurpose auditoriums, hall, devotee facilitation centre, public convenience, salvation home, Godowlia Gate, Bhogshala, shelter for priests and sevadars, spiritual book space, and others," Patel had said in a statement issued by the Uttar Pradesh government.
About 70 per cent of the 5.50 lakh sq ft area of the project have been kept for green cover, he said, adding, "We worked towards fulfilling the prime minister's vision of reorganising the temple premises to restore its grandeur."
Varanasi Divisional Commissioner Deepak Agarwal had earlier said that 40 ancient temples were found following the demolition of buildings around the main temple. These centuries-old temples, which were earlier hidden, are now visible. They will be preserved and opened to the public.