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Yet the story connected with its origin is wild enough. The author of the Káší-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 Mahádeva 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 Káść-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 Párvati into the water, on account of which cir
cumstance Mahadeva named the well Manikarniká. 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 Manikarņiká, 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 Charaṇa-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