AVIMUKTA : THE NEVER FORSAKEN
In one Purānic māhātmya, Shiva says, “Because I never forsake it, nor do I let it go, this great place is therefore known as Avimukta.”
Avimukta means “not let loose,” and in this context it means the city “Never Forsaken” by Lord Shiva.
According to the city’s mythology, this was the place where the linga of Shiva was first established and worshiped on earth as the symbol of the Lord’s perpetual presence. It is said that even in the pralaya, the periodic universal destruction, Shiva never lets go of Kāshī, but holds the city up above the floodwaters on his trident.
“Oh silent sages, even in the time of the pralaya that land is never let loose by Shiva and Pārvatī. Therefore it is called ‘Avimukta.’ ” The name Avimukta is often used to emphasize the fact that people should never leave this place. Visitors say of many a place of pilgrimage or retreat that it is so lovely or peaceful one should settle and stay forever. In Avimukta this is taken quite seriously, making this city unique among places of pilgrimage. The “Never Forsaken” is not a place the true pilgrim should merely visit, although many pilgrims do just that. Rather, it is a place one should come to live. Those pilgrims who come to live are called Kāshīvāsīs, the “dwellers in Kāshī,” who have come to live out their lives here until they die.
Every Banāras householder knows a tale or two of some unfortunate friend or relation who lived for years in Vārānasī, only to die on a chance trip to Calcutta or on family business in Allahabad. The most conservative say it is best not to leave at all, even to go to the Banāras Hindu University hospital, less than one hundred feet beyond the limit of sacred Kāshī to the south. Some take a vow never to leave, a vow called kshetra sannyāsa. Dozens of injunctions in the Purānic māhātmyas urge the pilgrim to think twice before leaving Avimukta. With Death holding out the ultimate spiritual promise of liberation, who of sane mind would leave? Who but a fool would cast away a priceless ruby to snatch up a piece of glass? Indeed, it is said, having gained this holy ground one should smash one’s feet with a stone to make certain that the priceless treasure of Kāshī is not negligently lost!