Page images


THE Pisách-Mochan Tank. Legend of the goblin Pisách. - The

Festival of Lotá-Bhantá, or the Egg-plant.—The Gháts and Temple of Pisách-Mochan.-Súraj-Kund or Tank of the Sun.— The Hom or Burnt Sacrifice.-The god Ashtang-Bhairo.-Temple of Dhruveswar or the Pole Star.

In the outskirts of the city, on its western side, is a large square tank or reservoir, called Piśách-Mochan, built in a regular manner, with gháts or stone stairs leading down to the water. On the bank, towards the road, are several temples, containing a great many images of various deities. Piśách-Mochan is a noted place of pilgrimage among the Hindus. All pilgrims coming to Benares must visit it; and all the residents in the city must bathe in its waters at least once a year. These waters are considered to have a peculiar efficacy in ensuring deliverance from the power of demons and all kinds of evil spirits, in preventing horrible dreams, or destroying their bad effect, and in removing sickness. The word Piśách means ghoul or bad spirit, and Mochan, release or deliverance. The history of this sacred place is said to be as follows. On one occasion, a very powerful demon had the temerity to approach the holy enclosure in which Benares is situated. He was, however, stopped, at the Panchkosí road, by the deities stationed there. But, although they contended bravely with him, yet, being stronger than they, he overcame them, and, crossing the road, entered the enclosure. He then pursued his course, until he reached the spot where the. PisachMochan tank is now situated, and would have effected an entrance into the holy city itself, had not Bhaironath, the koțwal or deified Chief Magistrate of the place, met him there. An encounter immediately commenced between these two worthies, which ended in the magistrate cutting off the head of the common enemy. Having performed this act of valour, Bhaironath conveyed the head to his royal master, Bisheśwar, and stated all the circumstances of the conflict. But the demon, though overcome and bodiless, had lost neither his life nor his tongue ; and, therefore, he implored Bisheśwar not to banish him from the city, but to allow him to reside on the spot where he was decapitated. He also had the boldness to request, in addition, that all pilgrims proceeding to the city of Gayá should be directed first to visit him. To this the king gave his consent, but stated that he should allow no other evil spirit to visit Benares, and that he, the demon, was to take care that none ever did so.

Such is the quaint story which the Hindus believe respecting this place. The great ugly head of the demon, carved in stone, is seen on the top of the ghát by the side of one of the temples. All pilgrims, too, proceeding to Gayá, pay honour to this Piśách; and in case any, travelling from distant parts of the country, should, from ignorance or other causes, reach Gayá without having first come to Piśách-Mochan, in Benares, they are immediately questioned on the matter. To obviate the necessity of their travelling to Benares, and then returning to Gayá, another Piśách-Mochan has been erected in the latter place, as representative of that in Benares, where they may perform pújá or religious rites, and thus, after the payment of the prescribed fees to the priests (a sine qua non), acquire the full stock of merit which would have accrued to them had they really visited the Piśách in Benares.

In addition to several small melás or festivals, a very large one is held every year at Piśách-Mochan. This melá is called Loţá-Bhaņțá, from the singular custom which prevails, on that occasion, of grinding the vegetable called bhaạtá, or egg-plant, and mixing it with flour, forming it into cakes, which are eaten at the melá. The tank is a square, with gháts or stairs on the four sides. A portion of the ghát, to the east, was erected, about eighty years ago, by Gopál Dás Sáhu; and the remaining portion, and also a temple on the bank, by a Hindu lady, named Mirch Bai, about the same time. The ghát and wall, to the west, date from the same period; the former, together with the tower rising above it, having been erected by a Hindu, Balwant Rao Bákirá, and the latter, by a Mohammedan, Mirza Khurram Shah, of Delhi. The ghát to the north was built more than a hundred years ago, by Raja Muralidhar; and that to the south, which bears upon it the marks of age, partly by Raja Siva Sambar, some three hundred years ago, and partly by Binaik Rao, a few years since.

On the eastern bank of the tank, occupying a prominent position, are two temples, one of which is a modern structure, and was built by Nakku Misr, a servant of the Government; and the other is that erected by Mirch Bai, already spoken of. The latter only presents features of interest. The foundations of this temple are raised some distance above the level of the neighbouring street. Its roof is flat; and, in the centre of it, a peepul and a banyan tree have fixed their roots, while their trunks rise up high into the air. On all the four sides of the temple are small shrines or niches, containing a great collection of idols. Here is Siva; next to him, the hideous head of the demon Piśách-Mochan; and, beyond it, the four-handed god Vishộu, holding in one hand a conch, in another a lotos, in a third a club, and in a fourth a discus, while a garland of lotoses hangs from his neck. Next to him is his wife Lakshmi, who has an image of the Sun on her left; beyond which is the figure of a Brahman, in stone. Then comes a shrine in which is a large red idol representing the Monkeygod Hanumán. All these are on one side of the temple; and immediately round the corner to the east is a curious figure of the god Gaņeś, who, instead of one elephant's trunk, which he commonly possesses, has, in this case, five. All the remaining sides are similarly decorated with deities, with the exception of the west side facing the tank, which has fewer in number than the rest. Away from the temple itself, but resting upon the raised pedestal on which the temple stands, is one of those curious stones reprosenting a multitude of tiny shrines, found in various places in Benares.

Súraj-kund is a large tank situated on the south-west side of the city, and originally consisted of twelve wells dedicated to the Sun. Two of the wells are still traceable beneath the surface of the water. A temple is above the tank; and on the same side are stairs leading down to the water. A few paces distant is a temple to the Sun, called, by the natives, Súraj-Náráyan, which was erected by the Raja of Kotah-bundi, who is the owner of the land in this neighbourhood. On the floor of the temple is a large round flat stone, of ancient appearance, which is worshipped as the solar deity. The day for the special worship of the Sun is Itwar or Sunday. A small building stands detached from the temple, and, in a hole in its floor, the ceremony of the hom is performed, which consists in certain offerings consumed by fire. Wood is first placed over the hole, upon which the offerings are scattered, and are then burnt to ashes. While the sacrifice is going on, it is customary for a Pandit to read portions of the Súrya-puráņa, or the Puráņa inscribed to the Sun. This shrine is also called Sámbádit, from Aditya, the Sun, and Sámba, son of Jámbavati, a wife of Krishņa. Tradition states, that one day this youth committed a very serious offence, for which his father pronounced a curse upon him, so that he became a leper. Whereupon his mother pleaded with Krishṇa for him; and, at length, the god said, that, if he proceeded to Benares and practised asceticism, if he built a tank and bathed in its waters, and if he made an image of the Sun and worshipped it, he should be healed of his disease. All this he is reported to have done; and, the

« PreviousContinue »