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Divinity, and is the occupant of a niche in the wall. In front of the entrance to the temple is a high diwat or lamp-stand, on the sides of which a number of small oil-lamps are placed, on certain occasions, in honour of Divodás. In the centre of this court is Dharm-kúp, one of the famous sacred wells of Benares. Its mouth is begirt partly by a wall and partly by five small shrines standing side by side; and the entrance to the enclosure thus made is by a door opening through the wall on the eastern side. This enclosure is of narrow dimensions, yet contains several objects of interest. Close by the door is an enormous stone emblem of Mahadeva, four feet in height, fixed firmly in the ground. Each of the five shrines has a chamber or stall, in which several idols are deposited, one of which contains a representation of S'iva as Panchmukhi,—that is, the 'five-faced god. In another, I counted as many as sixteen images; and my attention was arrested by a number of time-worn stone figures imbedded in the boundary wall. No one could furnish
any reliable information respecting these interesting objects; but it was suggested that they were figures of the goddess Sítalá or Small-poz. The well has a palisade round its mouth, and is very deep; and it is worthy of remark, that the reservoir below, holding the water, is not circular, as is usual, but quadrangular.
Dharm-kúp, the name of this well, from dharm, religion, and kúp, well, is, I am disposed to think, not of Hindu, but of Buddhist, origin. Dharma or Dhammothe former being Sanskrit, the latter Pali constitutes one of the three grand divisions of the Buddhist faith; and, in the Pali writings, Buddha himself is often spoken of as Dhammo. In the time of Asoka, the common term employed to denote this religion was Dhammo, which is found inscribed on Buddhist monuments reared by him and standing to the present day. In the passage leading to the court, is a temple dedicated to Dharmeswar, or Lord Dharma,—that is, the deity who personifies dharm. If Dharm be regarded as the Buddhist creed, then this appellation would refer to the supposed divine head of such creed, or Buddha. This entire Mahalla or ward of the city is called Dharm-kúp, thereby showing, that, in all likelihood, the well is as ancient as the Mahalla itself. The antiquity of the well, therefore, is placed beyond all doubt; and its connexion with Buddhism, at some period of its history, is invested with some probability. We do not forget that the term dharma, meaning virtue, merit, justice, duty, piety, and many other things, is in constant use among Hindus ; but still, perhaps, it has hardly that strong and distinctive signification of a system of religion, of a national faith, which it had with the Buddhists in India in former times.
Returning to the street, a few steps bring us to a temple inhabited by the goddess Višalákshí, literally, 'the large-eyed,” an epithet of Párvatí, Siva's wife,-whose crowned head only is visible, the rest of her person being covered with a yellow cloth. A short distance from this spot is Mír Ghát, leading down to the river. The ghát is narrow, but strongly made; and its stairs are placed at convenient intervals for persons ascending and descending them, so as to induce as little fatigue as possible by the exercise. In passing down the ghát, you are attracted by a row of shrines on the left, embellished in strong glaring colours; and, at one angle of the ghát, a temple is seen on the right-hand side, filling up the corner in that direction, on arriving at which you come in sight of the river. It is dedicated to RádháKrishna, that is, to Krishņá and his wife, who are standing side by side. They are both completely dressed; Krishṇa has tinsel drapery about him, and presents a somewhat rakish appearance. He is playing on a flute; yet is, nevertheless, holding in each hand a marigold and a rose-not artificial, but natural flowers. The temple contains a number of small paintings, a red idol of Gaņeś, and a tiny shrine in white marble, which cost the sum of one hundred rupees, or ten pounds.
The Nág Kúán or Serpent's Well is situated in a ward of the city called after the name of the well, or Nág Kúán Mahalla, which adjoins the Ausán Ganj Mahalla. This well bears marks of considerable antiquity; and, from the circumstance of an extensive district of Benares being designated by its name, there is no doubt that it must be regarded as one of the oldest historical places the present city possesses. The construction of this well was, probably, nearly, if not quite, coeval with the building of the Mahalla or ward itself, which, we may imagine, was described as that part of the city containing the well—the well being the most important and noticeable object there: and so, gradually, the inhabitants associated the Mahalla with the well, and called them by the same name. The ward is in the north-western part of the city, at some distance from the Ganges. The quarter lying to the east of this ward, that is, between it and the Ganges, is, as I have already remarked, in all likelihood, the oldest portion of the present city; and, therefore, the Nág Kúán ward would have been, originally, in its suburbs. It is even possible that one of the first places built in these suburbs, and frequented by the people, was this well, and that its existence was one of the reasons, perhaps the chief, for the settling of a population in its neighbourhood. No person in Benares can tell when the well was made; but there is a reference to its existence in the Kásikhanda.
Steep stone stairs, in the form of a square, lead down to the well; and a broad wall of good masonry, six or seven feet thick, surrounds them at their summit, rising to the height of four or five feet above the ground. Each of the four series of stairs has an entrance of its own. Their junction below forms a small square, in the centre of which is the well. Descending twelve stone steps, you reach the water, which is stagnant and foul. Beneath the water is a sheet of iron, which constitutes the door leading to a still lower well, which, perhaps, may be the old well in its original state. The stairs, I suspect, are not of great date. On the inside of those to the east is an inscription, to the effect, that, in 1825 Samvat, or nearly one hundred years ago, a Raja extensively repaired the well. It is possible he may have built the stairs then. Many of the slabs of stone of which they are composed display carvings on their external surface, some of which bear unmistakeable marks of considerable antiquity. These slabs were, doubtless, taken from dilapidated buildings in the neighbourhood. A thorough examination of them, especially of the more ancient among them, would, I am satisfied, not be unproductive of interesting results. The wall was also repaired by Mr. Prinsep about thirty years ago.
At this well the Nág or Serpent is worshipped. In a niche in the wall of one of the stairs is a figure representing three serpents; and, on the floor, is an emblem of Mahadeva in stone, with a snake crawling up it. The well is visited, for religious purposes, only once in the year, namely, on the 24th and 25th days of the month Sáwan, when immense numbers of persons come to it, on pilgrimage, from all parts of the city. The women come on the first day, and the men, on the second. They offer sacrifices both to the well and to Nágeswar, or the Serpent-god.
Near the wall of the stairs, on the south side, stands . a large peepul tree; and at the foot of it are several old mutilated images, one of which has extensive carvings upon it. There is, also, a small low temple close by, containing figures of Hanuman and other deities. Outside the door of the temple are two strange antique idols, in bass-relief. One has, apparently, four legs, and is graced with a nimbus. The other is in an erect posture, with a chatr or umbrella over its head. I have grave doubts respecting the Hindu origin of these idols and of some of the mutilated images referred to above.
In the adjoining Mahalla of Jaitpurá, a short distance from the Serpent's Well, is the temple of Bages