« PreviousContinue »
stitute a climax of absurdity. But the Hindu is as solemn in the presence of the divine stick,-administering, as he imagines, divine justice,-as though it were the chief judge of the Sudder Adawlut, and is totally unconscious of the ludicrous position he occupies.
The worship of Dandpán illustrates, very instructively, the changes that have come over popular Hinduism even within a few centuries. Dandapáņi,--to give the uncorrupted Sanskrit word,-is, properly, the name of an attendant of Siva, and signifies 'staff in hand.' The true character of this personage has been forgotten; and his emblem has been elevated to the rank of a substantive deity.
But to return to Bhaironáth. The wall on either side of the door, leading into the enclosure, is decorated with paintings. On the right is a large figure of Bhaironáth or Bhairo (for he possesses both titles,) himself, depicted in a deep blue colour, approaching to black; and behind him is the figure of a dog, intended for him to ride on. The dog, too, is holy; and, in the neighbourhood of the temple, sweetmeat-sellers make small images of a dog in sugar, which the worshippers purchase and present to Bhaironáth, as an offering. On the left side of the doorway is a larger figure of a dog; and above it are ten small paintings, representing the ten avatars of Vishņu. The door itself is carved and embellished not inelegantly. On passing through into the quadrangle, I was struck with the confined position of the temple, which fills up a large portion of the entire area; so that from the quadrangle itself it is impossible to gain more than a very limited view of its upper part. The base of the tower is, on three sides, built of plain stone, terminating in a castellated parapet, from within which the beautifully-carved spire rises to a considerable height. The shaft is surrounded by an immense number of small domes, ascending, in successive series, up to the apex, which consists of a gilded dome.
The entrance to the temple is on the north side. In front of the shrine occupied by the idol is the porch, or, more properly, the belfry, in which four bells are súspended. This porch rests upon pillars, and is painted and decorated according to Hindu taste, and after the most approved models. A priest is seated to the right and left of the porch, with a rod of peacock's feathers by his side, with which he performs mesmeric passes over children, women, and other people, and thereby, it is believed, wards off from them imps and evil spirits who may seek to do them harm. He also keeps in a prominent position a cup made from a cocoa-nut shell, into which he expects a proper amount of coppers to be thrown, to pay for his mysterious operations. The threshold of the shrine is guarded by two idols, called, severally, Dwárpáleswar, which stand in niches, one on either side of the doorway. The trident, too, with prongs painted red,—the symbol of Bhaironáth's authority,--stands upright by the wall. The interior of the shrine consists of a small room; and on one side of it is a diminutive shrine, made entirely of copper, which is the habitation of the god Bhaironáth. The idol is of stone; but his face is of silver. He possesses four hands, and stands in a grotesque posture. His head is encinctured with garlands, which hang down in front; and a small oil lamp is kept burning near by. A priest sits close by and applies kundi, a kind of dun-coloured powder, to the foreheads of the worshippers. The shrine is surmounted by a dome, which, like the shrine, is of copper; and a bell is suspended in front. As both the god and his priests have a liking for ardent spirits, this is one of the offerings presented to him. Dogs are permitted to enter the interior of his temple, which is owing, doubtless, to the circumstance of his having selected a dog for riding on; but they are not permitted to enter other temples.
This building was erected, upwards of forty years ago, by Bájí Ráo, of Poonah, on the site of the old temple, a small edifice which was thrown down to make room for the new one. Outside the quadrangle, on the south side, is a shrine remarkable for the evident antiquity of some of the idols in it. One of these is a figure of Bhaironáth himself, now much defaced by the wear and tear of time. It is not improbable that this is the original Bhaironáth, which was discarded on account of its mutilated appearance, and in order to make room for the modernized deity. There are other images in this temple; among them, Mahadeva, Gaņeś, and Súrajnáráyan.
On the west side of the quadrangle, a few paces up a narrow court, is a shrine dedicated to Sítalá, or the goddess of small-pox. In it are seven figures in bass-relief, representing seven sisters; for this dreaded goddess is, in reality a seven-fold deity. She has four temples devoted to her worship in Benares.
A short distance east of Bhaironáth, and between it and Dandpán, is a temple sacred to Naugrah, or, the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rábu, and
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 Dandpán, 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 Pándav, whose names are celebrated in the Mahabharata.
No lover of the marvellous should pass through Benares without paying a visit to Maņikarņiká, 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 mạny, to be the most, or amongst the most, efficacious for bestowing salvation.