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SACRED WELLS

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Not far from the temple of Bhaironath is the Well of Fate-Kâl-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 vho 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-kûân, 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. 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.

In a CHAPTER X

THE PANCH-TIRTII AND THE PILGRIMAGE OF THE PANCHKÔSI 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 Ghât, 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,

PANCH-KOSI PILGRIMAGE

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or five kôs,1 from Manikarnika well. It is believed by the Hindus to be of great antiquity, and I see no reason to doubt this, though Sherring discredits the tradition. It is possible that the alignment of the road may have varied from time to time, but the practice of circumambulating a shrine, or other holy place, is one of the most ancient of religious observances, and it is interesting to note that the recent Tibet expedition found crowds of Buddhist pilgrims circumambulating the sacred city of Lhasa.

The pilgrimage of the Panch-kòsi road is now one which every Hindu inhabitant of Benares is enjoined to make, especially every third year, in the intercalary month which regulates the Hindu lunar calendar. The merit ascribed to this pilgrimage is immense. All the sins which have been committed within the limits of the city can be expiated by the proper fulfilment of the rules of the journey, for along this road the pilgrims circumambulate all that is holy in the holiest of cities. Manikarnika is the starting-point. They must walk on foot without shoes, except in the case of the sick or infirm, taking with them only necessary food, without luxuries of any kind. They must refrain from quarrelling or using bad language. They must not give or receive food or water, nor take any gift from anyone. But as human nature is the same all the world over, the wealthier pilgrims often find means to soften the austerities of the journey by arranging with members of their own family, who are not making the pilgrimage, to meet them at the different halting-places with food and other comforts. Whatever we may think of the special virtues attri.

1 A kôs is about two miles.

(B 488 )

2 C

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