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The Bengali population of Benares.—The popular Temple of Kedareswar.
-Legend of Kedár. — Mansarwar Tank and surrounding Temples.-
THE Bengalis inhabiting Benares form a considerable community. They reside, for the most part, by themselves, in a quarter of the city called the Bengali Tolá, and are noted chiefly for the superior education which many of them have received, in comparison with the Hindustani portion of the population. Not a few among them are more or less acquainted with the English language, and pride themselves on this circumstance, and on the various kinds of knowledge which, through its instrumentality, they have acquired. In their social habits, however, many of this class are not much, I fear, in advance of their neighbours; although, I rejoice to be able to say, there is reason to believe that some have made considerable progress in such matters, of late years. Being more enlightened than Hindus generally, it is strange that, in many respects, their inner domestic life is scarcely better than theirs. Some of them are beginning to educate their wives and daughters, and are anxious for their intellectual improvement. Yet the uneducated portion of the Bengali community adhere to the customs of Hindu society just as rigidly as other inhabitants of the city, cling with equal pertinacity to caste, and exhibit the same blind and senseless attachment to idolworship. A great difference is observable amongst Bengalis, however; and numbers of them are utterly unsound in the faith of Hinduism; for their understandings, having been strongly affected by their English studies, have become sufficiently cleared to perceive the foolishness of idolatry. These occupy the position of great social and religious reformers, and are engaged in a very important work, which is none other than the entire regeneration of native society. I look upon this class of Bengalis, together with the educated Parsees, as in the van of national improvement and progress.
The Bengali Tolá, with its neighbourhood, is bestrewn with shrines and deities, which seem to be as numerous here, or nearly so, as in that quarter of the city occupied by the temple of Bisheśwar. But the temple most frequented by the Bengalis, and which holds the position of a cathedral or chief ecclesiastical edifice in this district of the city, is the temple of Kedareswar, or, as it is called, with equal propriety, Kedárnáth. This is a large building, rising from the banks of the Ganges, from which a fine stone ghát descends to the bed of the river. It stands in the middle of a spacious court, at the four corners of which are four temples crowned with domes. The verandah running round the inner side of the enclosure contains several small shrines and a numerous collection of idols. Most of these latter are of a diminutive size, but not all; for two figures in brass, covered over with cloth, so far as I could judge, appeared to be of imposing dimensions. They stand in a cage-like looking place; but why they are so concealed from the public gaze by the wrappings about them, it is hard to say. Perhaps it is in order to protect them from the dust and filth of the enclosure, or because they have not been, as yet, properly consecrated and transformed into deities worthy of worship, by means of certain ceremonies prescribed by the sacred books and performed by the Brahmans, which, as is fondly asserted, are capable of producing such an astounding and impossible result. The principal temple in the centre of the quadrangle, like the temples at each of its corners, is surmounted by a dome. Its outer walls, as high as the ceiling of the court, and, indeed, all the walls of the court and passages, and the pillars of the inner verandah, are painted red and white, the former colour predominating. The entrance to the temple itself is on its eastern side, from which a broad path leads down to the Ganges. Two black stone statues in bass-relief, six feet in height, stand on either side of the doorway, and are supposed to guard the approach to the inner chamber. The figures are exceedingly well executed, and have a striking and lifelike appearance. Each has four hands, and, in form and posture, is the exact counterpart of the other. In one hand they hold a trident, in the second a club, in the third a flower, while the fourth is empty, and is raised for the purpose of attracting attention, one finger being extended as though expressive of prohibition or warning. The meaning of this peculiar position of the finger is, I understand, as if these doorkeepers stopped the worshipper, wishing to cross the threshold into the sacred chamber where the idol dwells, and addressed him as follows :—“Wait a little, and, when you get permission from the god, then you may enter.” This may explain the circumstance, that the door of the temple is, for a certain time in the day, kept closed, and the worshippers have to remain outside until it is thrown open again, when they are allowed to enter.
Between the statues is a door leading into the interior of the shrine, and to its outer framework sixtyseven small lamps are attached, which are lighted up with oil every evening. Within the temple is the god Kedáreśwar, who is represented simply by a stone, the emblem of Siva; for Kedareswar is, strictly speaking, only another name for this divinity. Kedár is, properly, no name of a person, but of a place in the Himalayas. Siva, it is believed, resided there; and hence is called Kedáreśwar or Kedárnáth, 'Lord of Kedár. Yet, in Benares, there is a tradition, that Kedár was a devout Brahman, who, in company with the Muni Vasishtha, visited a mountain forming part of the Himalaya range, where he died. At his death, it is said, Siva endowed him with the attributes of deity, and allowed him to be worshipped in conjunction with himself, and through the same symbol. Appearing to Vasishtha in a dream, he said he would comply with any request he might make; whereupon Vasishţha requested that he would take up his residence in Benares. Such is the origin of the temple here, as given in the Káśćkhanda. There is a temple dedicated to Kedáreśwar near the famous temple of Harináth, on Mount Hima
chal, to which so many pilgrims yearly resort, besides that in Benares.
Other idols are also associated with the presiding divinity here, such as Lakshmínáráyan, Bhaironáth, Gaņeś, and Annpúrņá. Upon the wall of the passage leading to the ghát is a long inscription, in Bengali and Hindi characters, setting forth the glory and excellency of Kedáreśwar. Just within the passage, and near to the threshold, I observed a man, of respectable appearance, lying prostrate on the ground across the path. He had thrown himself there, as an act of homage to the idol. The outer enclosure of the temple is frequented by large numbers of poor persons, who sit by the side of the passages, in a row, spreading out their laps, or pieces of cloth, or extending their hands for food and money. In this respect, the Kedáreśwar shrine reminds one very much of the temple of Annpúrņá, where crowds of beggars are to be seen. The ghát descends from the eastern wall of the temple. Upon its staircase are several small shrines; and, at its base, is a well, in the shape of a parallelogram, containing water. This well is called Gaurí-kund; and its water is famous for the imaginary virtue of removing three kinds of fever.
To the west of Kedárnáth temple, at the distance of about one-third of a mile, is Mansarwar, which consists of a deep tank and a large collection of shrines all around it. These shrines are not fewer than fifty in number, each containing one idol, at least; and several, a great many. One of the most considerable is dedicated to the brothers Rám and Lakshman. In a niche in the enclosure of this temple is an idol of