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182 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY approachable. Few of them, however, are artistically interesting, except the Gyân-kûp. The famous well at Manikarnika, the starting-point of every pilgrim's round of ceremonies, has been already described. The Gyân-kûp, or well of knowledge, stands in the large quadrangle between the Golden Temple and the mosque of Aurangzib, which is built on the site of the old Vishweshwar temple. It is covered by a graceful Saracenic colonnade, erected in 1828 by the widow of Doulat Rao Scindhia of Gwalior. The colossal stone bull of Shiva, close by, is a very picturesque accessory, and the crowds of pilgrims always give much to observe and study. A Brahmin sits by the well with a ladle to give each pilgrim a sip of the water. The colonnade. is a favourite resting-place, and there you may often see pilgrims, who carry with them the image and symbols of their patron deity, arranging a little shrine on the floor and going through all the prescribed forms of paja.
The legend connected with this well is that once upon a time Benares was suffering from a great drought. No rain had fallen for twelve years, and the city was in a terrible plight. At last a Rishi, one of the great Hindu sages, or divinely-inspired prophets, grasping the trident of Shiva, thrust it into the earth at this spot. A spring of water immediately bubbled up, sufficient to relieve the misery of the whole city. Shiva, on hearing of the miracle, took up his abode in the well, and remains there to this day. Another legend, perhaps with more historical foundation, says that when the old temple of Vishweshwar was destroyed by Aurangzib, a priest took the idol and threw it down the well.
Not far from the temple of Bhaironath is the Well of Fate-Kal-kûp-in which a square hole is arranged over the trellis-work surrounding the well, so that at. noon the sun's rays strike on the water below. He who looks down in the well at this hour and cannot see his own shadow in the water is a doomed man, for he will surely die within six months, unless he can persuade Mahâ-kâl, “Great Fate", or Shiva, whose temple adjoins the well, to intervene with Yama, the god of death, on his behalf. The clocks of Benares are set by Madras time, which is some minutes behind the true local time, so the well is likely to be a source of much anxiety to ignorant pilgrims, and corresponding profit to the proprietors of the temple.
Another interesting well is the Nâg-kůân, in which a great snake is said to reside. Indian folk-lore is full of legends of the snake-king and the snake-peoplepowerful sorcerers who could assume human shape at will—who lived below the water in palaces glittering with gold and jewels. The Nâg-râja who lives in this well is propitiated by offerings of milk. Once a year, in the month of Sawan, a pilgrimage is made to the well, and Nâg-pâjâ, or worship of the snake-god, is performed by crowds of pilgrims. The well is approached by four flights of steep stone steps. In a niche placed in the wall over one of the sides is a shrine of the snake-god. The steps leading to the well were constructed or put in order about 150 years ago, but the well itself is doubtless of great antiquity.
THE PANCH-TIRTHI AND THE PILGRIMAGE OF THE PANCH
KÔSI ROAD—THE PILGRIMAGE OF THE SOUL
One of the spiritual aids which Benares is supposed to afford to Hindus is that it contains within its limits various shrines constituted by Brahminical authority as equal in sanctity to the most sacred places of Hindu pilgrimage, such as Allahabad, where the Jumna joins the Ganges; Kedarnath, in the Himalayas; or Rameswaram, in the extreme south. The pilgrim, therefore, without the toilsome journeys which the longer distances involve, can obtain all the merit and spiritual benefit he desires by visiting certain shrines in Benares, specially distinguished from the thousands it contains.
One of the pilgrimages is known as the Panch-tirth, from the five holy places the pilgrim must visit, namely, Asi Sangam, where the river Asi joins the Ganges, Dasâsamedh Ghất, the well at Manikarnika, Panchganga Ghât, and Barna Sangam, at the extreme north. He will thus have traversed the whole length of the ghâts from the south to the north.
But the most interesting and the most meritorious of all the pilgrimages is that of the Panch-kôsi road, the sacred road which limits the area of Benares on the land side. Throughout its length of about fifty miles, it is reckoned to be at a distance of panch-kos,