Page images
PDF
EPUB

.61

CHAPTER IV.

Temple of Bhaironáth, the god-magistrate of Benares.—Dandpán, or the

Deified Staff. — Temple of the Planets. – Kál-Kúp, or Well of Fate. -Image of Mahákál, or Great Fate. — The Manikarniká Well and Ghát. — Legends respecting the Well. — Temple of Tárakeswar.

- Sindhia Ghat and the Raja of Nagpore's Ghat. — Temple of Briddhkál.—Shrines of Márkandeswar and Dakshes war.–Legend of Raja Daksh.—Temples of Alpmriteswar and Ratneswar.

res

The temple of Bhaironáth is situated upwards of a mile to the north of the temple of Bisheswar. The god of this shrine, as already described, is, in public estimation, the deified kotwal, or police-magistrate, of Benares and its suburbs, as far as the Pánch-kosí road, within the circuit of which, under the orders of his royal master Bisheśwar, he exercises divine authority over both gods and men. He is bound to keep the city free from evil spirits and evil persons, and, should be find any such within its sacred precincts, to expel them forthwith. As it is through his care and energy that its inhabitants, and all others who may conceive the vain design of ending their days at this hallowed spot, eventually, it is supposed, obtain salvation, it is of the utmost importance that he should perform the functions of his high office wisely and well. It is a natural result, therefore, of his possessing such vast authority, that, for the execution of his orders, he should have deemed it right to arm

himself with a truncheon. And this is no figment of the imagination, but a veritable cudgel, of enormous thickness; not, indeed, of wood, but, what is more terrible, of stone. It is called Dandpán, from danda, a stick, and, in common belief, is nothing less than divine. Whether from a desire to enjoy as much tranquillity as possible, or from the universal Hindu custom to shift anxiety and trouble from one shoulder to another, I cannot say, but Bhairo has considerately issued his commands to it, to beat any person who may be found working mischief, and, having done so, has resigned himself to a life of ease. So that, in fact, this intelligent stick is, de facto, the divine magistrate of the city. It may seem strange, however, that the temple in which Daņdpán is deposited is not that of Bhaironáth, but is another, situated a short distance off. The stone representing this singular deity is about four feet in height, and is specially worshipped, every Tuesday and Sunday, by a great many people. It is set up on end, the upper extremity receiving, occasionally, the adjunct of a silver mask or face; but, when our wondering eyes beheld it, there was only the bare stone visible, with a garland depending from the upper extremity. In front of the stick, three bells were hanging; and, on one side, a priest sat, with a rod in his hand, made of peacock’s feathers, with which, in the name of Dandpán, he gently tapped the worshippers, and thereby vicariously inflicted punishment upon them for the offences of which they were guilty. In this temple are other remarkable objects, which will be presently referred to. The worship of Dandpán, and the function attributed to this extraordinary divinity, con

еге

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 Daņdpán illustrates, very instructively, the changes that have come over popular Hinduism even within a few centuries. Daņdapáņi,--to give the uncorrupted Sanskrit word,-js, 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 suspended. 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, Dwárpáleśwar, 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

a

а

[ocr errors]

TPI

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 Daņdpán, is a temple sacred to Naugrah, or, the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Ráhu, and

« PreviousContinue »