Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are seeing the spiritual India at the Shitala Temple in Varanasi, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Located on Shitala Ghat on the southern part of Dasaswamedh Ghat, the Shitala Temple or 'Shitala Mata Mandir' is one of the most visited temples in Varanasi and the temple is sacred to Goddess Shitala. The structure of the temple is red in color and within the complex of this renowned sacred site in Varanasi, there is also a shrine of Goddess Santhosi.
Located on Shitala Ghat on the southern part of Dasaswamedh Ghat, the Shitala Temple or 'Shitala Mata Mandir' is one of the most visited temples in Varanasi and the temple is sacred to Goddess Shitala. The structure of the temple is red in color and within the complex of this renowned sacred site in Varanasi, there is also a shrine of Goddess Santhosi.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on March 21, 2024

Shitala Temple in Varanasi

Varanasi, also known as the 'Spiritual capital of India', is a city that is steeped in history and culture. It is a place where ancient traditions and rituals are still practiced and where spirituality is deeply ingrained in the daily lives of its inhabitants. One of the unique features of this vibrant city is the abundance of cow statues that can be found in almost every street and corner. Every day, thousands of devotees come to offer their homage to the deity. A visit to this popular Hindu temple in Varanasi is said to fulfill the wishes of devotees.

Are cows sacred animals in India?

Cows have always held a special significance in Indian culture and are considered to be sacred animals in Hinduism.

Wealth, strength and motherly love
In Varanasi, cows are given the utmost respect and are considered to be a symbol of wealth, strength and motherly love. This belief is reflected in the numerous cow statues that can be found all across the city. The cow statues in Varanasi come in various shapes, sizes and forms, each with its own story and significance. Some of the statues are simple and unadorned, while others are intricately crafted and adorned with jewels and bells and they can be found in public parks, temples and even on the streets, making them an integral part of the city's landscape.

One of the most famous cow statues in Varanasi is the one located at the entrance of the Gyan Vapi Mosque. This statue is believed to have been placed there by Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, to appease the Hindus after the destruction of the original Kashi Vishwanath Temple. This statue has become a symbol of religious harmony and is visited by people of all faiths. Another popular cow statue in Varanasi is the one at the Sheetla Mandir.

This temple is featured as Best in Travel 2024 by the photographer and the temple is dedicated to Goddess Sheetla, who is known to protect her devotees from diseases and illnesses. The cow statue here is adorned with colorful cloth and bangles, as it is believed that the cow is a representation of the goddess herself. Apart from these, there are many other cow statues scattered throughout the city, each with its own significance. Some are believed to have healing powers, while others are worshipped for prosperity and good luck. These statues not only hold religious significance but also serve as a reminder of the importance of compassion and kindness towards all living beings.

"The cow statues in Varanasi not only hold religious and cultural significance but also play a vital role in the city's economy. Many artisans and craftsmen make a living by creating these beautiful statues, which are then sold to tourists and devotees. The statues are also an attraction for visitors, who are fascinated by the unique cultural aspect of the city. However, the significance and symbolism of these cow statues have not gone unnoticed by the local authorities"

Heritage structures in Varanasi
The municipal corporation of Varanasi has taken several measures to preserve and protect these statues. They have been declared as heritage structures and are regularly maintained and cleaned. This has not only helped in preserving these statues but has also added to the charm of the city. In conclusion, the cow statues in Varanasi are not just pieces of art, but a significant part of the city's cultural and religious identity.

Varanasi, also known as 'Kashi' or 'Benaras', is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in India, Varanasi is situated on the banks of the holy Ganges River. It is considered to be one of the 7 sacred cities in Hinduism and is a major spiritual destination for people from all over the world. The spiritual significance of Varanasi can be traced back to ancient Hindu scriptures, where it is mentioned as a place of liberation and the ultimate destination for attaining spiritual enlightenment. According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was created by Lord Shiva himself and is considered as his eternal abode. It is also believed that the holy Ganges River flows through Varanasi to purify the souls of the departed and grant them salvation.

For centuries, Varanasi has been a hub of spiritual and philosophical teachings, attracting sages, saints and spiritual seekers from different parts of the world. The city has been a center for learning various forms of yoga, meditation and other spiritual practices. The famous spiritual text, the 'Bhagavad Gita', is said to have been written in Varanasi. One of the most mesmerizing aspects of Varanasi is its 'Ghats', which are a series of steps leading down to the Ganges River. These 'Ghats' are not just mere structures but hold immense spiritual significance for the people. The most famous among them is the Dasaswamedh Ghat, where the daily 'Ganga Aarti', which is a river worship ceremony takes place, attracting thousands of devotees every day. This ancient ritual is a sight to behold, with priests offering prayers and performing intricate rituals to the chanting of mantras and the sound of bells and drums.

Unique history and significance
Apart from the 'Ghats', Varanasi is home to numerous temples, each with its unique history and significance. The famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is visited by hordes of devotees every day. The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, dedicated to Lord Hanuman, is known for its unique black-stone idol of the deity and is believed to fulfill the wishes of its devotees. Varanasi is not just a city of temples but also a city of spiritual learning. The Benaras Hindu University, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in India, was founded in Varanasi in 1916. It has been a center for education, research and teaching of various spiritual and traditional Indian disciplines, including yoga, Ayurveda and Sanskrit. For the spiritually inclined, a visit to Varanasi is incomplete without experiencing the magic of its ancient bazaars. The narrow lanes of the city are filled with shops selling traditional handicrafts, textiles and religious items.

Spiritual tourism in Varanasi
One can also find various ashrams and meditation centers offering different spiritual courses and retreats. There is a strong belief among the people of Varanasi that death in the city leads to salvation and it is a common sight to see cremation ceremonies taking place on the 'Ghats' and the ashes being scattered into the sacred river. The city has numerous cremation grounds and it is believed that dying here breaks the cycle of birth and death.

In recent years, Varanasi has also become a popular destination for spiritual tourism. People from different countries and backgrounds come to experience the city's spiritual energy and immerse themselves in its culture and traditions.

"Varanasi holds a special place in the hearts of Hindus and spiritual seekers and its significance goes far beyond its ancient structures and rituals. It is a city that awakens the soul and offers a glimpse into the spiritual essence of India. It is a city that truly encapsulates the essence of spiritualism and is a must-visit for anyone seeking a deeper connection with their inner self"

See this video about the Shitala Temple in Varanasi made by Apan Banaras.

"- India, with its rich cultural diversity and deep-rooted spirituality, is a haven for seekers of ancient wisdom and cultural enthusiasts. As a traveler set upon unraveling the secrets and marvels of this incredible country, my journey brought me closer to the soul-stirring Hindu temples that dot its landscape. These sacred abodes offered me a captivating glimpse into the heart of India's religious customs and beliefs, leaving an indelible impact on my spiritual quest and the cow symbolize the deep-rooted beliefs and traditions that have been passed down for generations. These statues not only add to the aesthetic appeal of the city but also serve as a reminder of the peaceful coexistence of different cultures and religions. So, the next time you visit Varanasi, do not miss the opportunity to admire and appreciate these beautiful cow statues that hold such immense significance in the city's culture", the Photographer says.

"- No traveler should miss the mesmerizing experience that awaits in Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India. Renowned for its 'Ghats' that are steps leading to the riverbank, this sacred city offers a unique perspective into the Hindu way of life. At sunrise, as I embarked on a boat ride along the holy Ganges River, I witnessed a procession of devotees filling the air with melodious chants and the fragrance of incense", the Photographer says again.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a cow statue in Varanasi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.