Page images
PDF
EPUB

Ketu. The first seven give, in Hindi, their names to the seven days of the week, beginning with Sunday. The Naugrah, in popular estimation, is a very formidable collection of deities. It is customary for the Hindus to commence every important religious ceremony, as, for instance, that of marriage, with the worship of them ; for, unless they be propitiated, they may vitiate the entire ceremony. The idols are placed, in the temple, in three rows, three being in each row. The temple remains closed all the day long, but is opened every morning, when a priest comes and peforms pújá, that is, worships the idols and presents the necessary offerings. This is the only temple dedicated to Naugrah in Benares. Naugrah is a corruption of the Sanskrit Nava-graha, the nine planets.

Proceeding down this narrow street, and passing under an archway to the left, you come to the temple of Daņdpán, already partially described. Here is, also, a famous well called Kál-kúp, or the Well of Fate. Over the trellis-work of the outer wall of the building is a square hole, which is so situated, in relation to the sun, that, at twelve o'clock, its rays, passing through the hole, impinge upon the water in the well below. At this hour of the day the well is visited by persons wishing to search into the secrets of the Future: and woe be to the man who is unable to trace the shadow of himself in the fatal water; for his doom, it is believed, is certainly and irrevocably fixed, and within six months from that instant he will inevitably die. The general ignorance respecting the explanation of this daily phenomenon does not speak much for the scientific knowledge of the Hindus, or even

for their common sense. Under the same roof is an image of Mahákál, or Great Fate. This god virtually bestows salvation on his worshippers ; for, on their departure from the world, he spreads over them the ægis of his protection, and prohibits Kál or Evil Destiny from conveying them to the regions of hell. Here, likewise, are the figures of the five brothers, or Pánch Páņdav, whose names are celebrated in the Mahabharata.

No lover of the marvellous should pass through Benares without paying a visit to Manikarniká, the famous well of Hindu mythology. It is the first place sought after by the thousands of pilgrims flocking yearly to the holy city, who are drawn towards it by a mysterious and irresistible fascination. Its fetid water is regarded as a healing balm, which will, infallibly, wash away all the sins of the soul, and make it pure and holy. There is no sin so heinous or abominable, but, in popular estimation, it is here instantly effaced. Even for the crime of murder it can, it is said, procure forgiveness. No wonder, therefore, that conscience-stricken sinners should rush to this well from all quarters, and, deluding themselves by its reputed sanctity, should, by the easy process of washing in its foulness, seek to atone, in one minute, for the crimes and sins of a life-time. Yet it is appalling to think that the human soul, thus conscious of its guilt, and perhaps, in many instances, in agony respecting it, and anxious for pardon, and for reconciliation with God, should be so cruelly mocked and deceived. Of all places of pilgrimage throughout Hindostan, this well is held, by many, to be the most, or amongst the most, efficacious for bestowing salvation.

Yet the story connected with its origin is wild enough. The author of the Káśí-khanda, not in jest, as some might suppose, but gravely and soberly, furnishes the following account of the matter :

“The god Vishņu,” he says, “ dug this well with his discus, and, in lieu of water, filled it with the perspiration from his own body, and gave it the name of Chakra-pushkariņí. He then proceeded to its north side, and began to practise asceticism. In the meantime, the god Mahadeva arrived, and, looking into the well, beheld in it the beauty of a hundred millions of suns, with which he was so enraptured, that he at once broke out into loud praises of Vishņu, and, in his joy, declared that whatever gift he might ask of him he would grant. Gratified at the offer, Vishņu replied that his request was that Mahadeva should always reside with him. Mahadeva, hearing this, felt greatly flattered by it, and his body shook with delight. From the violence of the motion, an ear-ring called Manikarņaka fell from his ear into the well. From this circumstance, Mahadeva gave the well the name of Manikarņiká. Among the epithets applied to it are those of Muktikshetra, “seat of liberation, and Púrņaśubhakaran', complete source of felicity.' Mahadeva further decreed that it should be the chief and the most efficacious among places of pilgrimages."

Such is the tale as found in the Kási-khanda; but there is another version current among the people. It is reported that Mahadeva and his wife Párvatí were one day seated by the well, when, accidentally, a jewel fell from the ear of Párvatí into the water, on account of which cir

cumstance Mahadeva named the well Maņikarņiká. Mr. Prinsep, in his “Views of Benares,” makes the following remarks on this subject :-“After Kashi had been created by the united will of Iswur and Párbati, the two incorporated energies of the formless and quality-less Bruhm, the active pair determined to give their paradise the benefit of an inhabitant; and Poorooshotama (the supreme male, Vishnoo,) became manifest. Shiva gave him instructions how to behave himself, and left him to his own meditations ; whereupon, as a first exploit, with his chakra or discus he dug the tank denominated, from its origin, the Chakr-pushkarni. He then engaged in the usual course of austerity, at the sight of which Shiva shook his head in astonishment, and one of his earrings fell; whence the name of the ghat Manikarnika (jewel of the ear). Vishnoo upon this spot also obtained, as a boon from Mahadeo, the privilege which Kashi enjoys, of giving mookti or emancipation to all objects, especially those who bestow gifts, erect lingas, and do not commit suicide within the holy precincts.”

A series of stone steps on each of the four sides of the well leads down to the water. The seven lowermost steps are said to be without a joining, and to belong to the original well as built by divine hands; and, although the singular fact of several joinings being visible is, to the uninitiated, a slight difficulty in the way of such an assertion, yet the Hindus, brushing aside such a trivial circumstance, readily accept the explanation given by the Brahmans, that the joinings are only superficial, and do not penetrate through the stones. Upon the stairs, in a niche on the north side, is a figure of Vishņu; and, at the

mouth of the well, on the west side, is a row of sixteen diminutive altars, on which pilgrims present offerings to their ancestors. The water of the well is very shallow, being not more than two or three feet in depth. It is insufferably foul, and the effluvium from it impregnates the air for some distance around. The worshipper, descending into the water, laves his head and body with the vile liquid, and, at the same time, utters certain phrases appointed for the ceremony.

Directly in front of Maņikarņiká, and between it and the Ganges, is the temple of Tárakeswar, or “the Lord Táraka.” When a Hindu dies, and this god is propitiated, he breathes into his ear, they say, a charm or mantra of such efficacy that it delivers him from the misery of the future, and secures for him happiness and joy. The idol is in a kind of cistern, which is kept filled with water offered in sacrifice; and, consequently, the deity is invisible. In the rainy season, the swollen river flows beyond this temple, which, for several months, stands immersed in the stream. Its foundations are thereby undermined, and the blocks of stone of which it is composed incline to separate from one another.

The upper part of the tower has been entirely removed, in order to lessen the weight resting upon the base of the building.

Upon the Manikarniká ghát or stairs, on higher ground than that occupied by the Tárakeswar temple, is a large round slab, called Charaņa-páduká, projecting slightly from the pavement; and in the middle of it stands a stone pedestal, the top of which is inlaid with marble. In the centre of the marble are two small flat

« PreviousContinue »