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TEUPLE of the Maharaja of Benares at Rámnagar. - Raja Cheit Singh's
Tank--Virtue of Pilgrimage to the Rámnagar side of Benares.Temple of Vedavyás. — The Panch-kosi Road or Sacred Boundary of Benares.—Pilgrimage of the Panch-kosi.—Sanitary condition of * Benares. - Improvements suggested.
At a distance of a mile from the Fort of Rámnagar, the residence of the Maharaja of Benares, is a handsome temple, situated on the eastern side of a capacious tank. Its foundations were laid, and the finest portions of its tower was erected, about one hundred years ago, by Raja Cheit Singh ; but it was completed by the present Raja. The temple, including the platform on which it rests, is fully one hundred feet high. Each of its four sides, from the base to a height of thirtyfive or forty feet, is crowded with elaborately-carved
figures, in bass-relief. These are, in some places, broken, · but, generally speaking, are in a good state of preservation. They are in five rows, six being in a row; so that each side of the tower contains thirty figures, and the four sides, one hundred and twenty. As no expense has been spared in the execution of this prodigious work, it may be regarded as fairly representing what Hindu genius, in modern times, can accomplish in the art of sculpture, and should be visited and studied as such. The lowermost row is filled with elephants, and the next, in succession, with lions, each of which stands on two small elephants. The lions have very spare bodies, and, in this and other respects, are grotesquely made ; showing that the sculptors had no living model before them, and drew liberally on their own imaginations. The three upper rows exhibit divers figures of deities, incarnations, and other sacred objects. The three goddesses of the Ganges, the Jumna, and the Saraswatí have, each, a separate niche. Krishna, too, has his place; but he is not alone, for two of his favourite gopis or milk-maids are close by. Indra (the king of the gods), Brahmá, Vishņu, and Mahadeva or Siva (the three deities of the Hindu triad), Kuber (the god of wealth), Bhairo (the Divine Magistrate of Benares), the hero Rám and his wife Sítá, Hanumán (the monkey-god), Gaņeś, Baldeo (brother of Krishna), etc., are, each, honoured with a statue. Here, too, is Vayu, or the wind; Súrya, or the sun; Agni, o: fire; and Chandramá, or the moon; the latter having rays of glory darting from her head, and being seated in a carriage drawn by two deer. A number of sacred personages, Rishis, are also represented, such as Nárad and Gajendramoksh, and, likewise, the thousand-armed. Arjuna or Kártavírya, whom Paraśuráma fought and killed. In the centre of the uppermost row, on the south side, is a figure of the goddess Durga, wife of Mahadeva; and, in a similar position, on the east side, is a figure of the bloody goddess Mahákálí, who thirsts continually for human victims. In a niche on the north side a strange feat of Krishna is depicted. This versatile deity, it is said, on one occasion diverted
the homage and adoration due to Indra to himself, at which Indra became exceedingly indignant, and determined to punish the worshippers of Krishịa who had so dishonoured him and defrauded him of his rights. Gathering together the clouds of heaven, he commenced pouring down upon the earth a prodigious flood of water, with the object of drowning the people; but Krishņa, lifting up the mountain Gorardhan, held it over the country like an umbrella, balanced on his little finger, so that, over an extent of one hundred and sixty miles, no rain fell, and the people were preserved in safety. In the sculpture, Krishna is seen standing with his hand held up, supporting the mountain on the extremity of his little finger, while cattle are grazing in perfect security underneath. .
On each of the four sides of the tower are two gilded faces, surrounded by a halo, one above the other, emblematic of the Sun; and, on the apex of the tower, is a circular, filat, gilded object, intended to serve the purpose of a glory to the head of Durga in the shrine below. On the platform facing three of the entrances to the temple are three figures in marble, one of which, namely, that opposite the south door, consists of a Nandi, or bull, designed for the service of Mahadeva. A second is opposite the north door, and is a Garud, a being in the form of a man, with wings behind the shoulders. The countenance is pleasing, and has been executed with much taste. The statue is surrounded by an iron palisade tipped with small brass knobs.
In front of the main entrance is the third figure, which is that of a lion, intended as the Váhan or riding animal of Durgá. Over the entrance itself are peacocks, in bass-relief, standing with their heads towards each other. The door is not large, but is ribbed and massive, and is covered with brass; so that, viewing it from the front, it has the appearance of being made entirely of that metal.
The interior of the temple, like most Hindu shrines, is confined and gloomy. Directly opposite the door stands the goddess Durga. Her body is of marble, covered with gold, and is arrayed in a yellow dress partially concealed by a scarf. The image is in a small shrine, in front of which is a table; and on the table lie various vessels used at the hour of sacrifice. It is over this table, and before the face of the idol, that the sacred fire is waved. To the left is another table, of smaller dimensions, which, when I saw it, was completely covered with white blossoms of flowers. Near by, in a niche in the wall, are two idols, representing Krishṇa and his wife Rádhá. To the right of Durga is her five-headed husband Siva.
The tank and a garden in the neighbourhood were also the work of Raja Cheit Singh. The former is surrounded by a spacious ghát, the stairs of which are built of stone. On occasion of the natives of Benares proceeding on pilgrimage to this spot, they are accustomed to bathe in the tank; and sometimes large crowds may be seen assembled on the stairs. But so extensive are the ghiats, that hundreds of persons might dress and undress upon them, without incommoding one another. The tank is a square, at each corner of which
is a temple. The pilgrims who come to bathe, therefore, pass and repass at least one temple.
The object of the pilgrimage to Rámnagar is somewhat amusing. It is said that Vedavyás, the compiler of the Vedas, once paid a visit to Rámnagar, intending to proceed to Benares; but, on reaching this place, and beholding the city in the distance, his soul was so ravished with delight, that he did not desire to enter the city itself. Remaining at Ramnagar, he signalized his visit by the institution of a pilgrimage, which should conduce to the welfare of its inhabitants and of all others in danger of future degradation. The sanctity of Rámnagar, it appears, was never equal to that of Benares; and, while all persons who died in the latter place, perforce, it is believed, obtained, after death, happiness and heaven, all those, on the contrary, who died in the former, had the misfortune to enter upon another life in the degraded and miserable condition of an ass. It was, consequently, the custom, report says, in the age of Vedavyás, and is still, for persons residing on the Rámnagar side of the river, which is called maga, when taken seriously ill, to repair to the Benares side, in order, if death should come, to die there, and so escape an asinine condition in the next birth. Vedavyás, however, taking pity on the maga land, established at Rámnagar a tirth or place of pilgrimage, to be honoured in the month of Mágh (JanuaryFebruary), promising, that whoever attended it should be delivered from the danger of becoming an ass after death. Not only do the people of Rámnagar perform this pilgrimage, but great multitudes from Benares,