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temple architecture. It was commenced by Raja Chết Singh in the last half of the eighteenth century, and finished about 1850. Chết Singh also constructed a fine bathing tank at Ramnagar, which is frequented by large crowds in the month of Magh (JanuaryFebruary). Vedavyâs, the reputed compiler of the Vedas, is said to have appointed Ramnagar to be a place of pilgrimage in that month, so that those who performed it might be relieved of the penalty of being re-incarnated as asses, which they would otherwise incur if they happened to die on this side of the river.
The palace of the Maharaja of Benares, an imposing pile of buildings on the river bank, is also at Ramnagar. It contains a fine library, including a splendidly illustrated copy of the Râmâyana, and a very interesting collection of old Indian paintings.
Some of the Benares temples, though architecturally unimportant, are interesting as illustrating the ideas of Hindu mythology and popular superstitions. One at Manikarnika, next to the women's bathing ghất, named Tarakeshwar, is so called from the belief that to worshippers at this shrine Shiva will whisper in their ear while dying a mantram, called Tarâk, which will secure admission into his paradise. Another called Barahan Devi, near Man-Mandil ghât, is resorted to by those who have swellings in the hands or feet. The temple of Briddhkâl is supposed to have been granted by Shiva the virtue of curing all kinds of diseases, and of prolonging life. Sukreswar, near the Golden Temple, is believed to bestow beautiful sons on those who worship at the shrine.
Bhaironath, whose chief temple is not far from the town-hall, is the kotwal, or spiritual magistrate of
Benares. He exercises jurisdiction over the whole of the district within the limits of the Panch-kôsi road, and is supposed to act as defender of the Hindu faith and to keep away evil spirits. His vahan, or vehicle, is a dog; for this reason dogs, which are excluded from other temples, are admitted into his.
His weapon is a huge club, which receives worship as well as his own image. The officiating priest is armed with a rod of peacock's feathers, with which he punishes the worshippers for the offences they have committed, and at the same time absolves them. There are very interesting copper or silver masks of Bhaironath sometimes to be found in Benares. An unfinished, but very expressive one, suggestive of an Egyptian mummy, is here illustrated.
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Ganesha, the son of Shiva, has many temples in the city. Being the god of wisdom, he is the especial patron of school-boys and authors. He is invoked by merchants before all business transactions. He is also the keeper of roads and the protector of households. In the latter capacity his vehicle is a ratan association of ideas which would not commend itself to modern plague specialists. There are several popular legends to account for this deity and his extravagant appearance.
One is that, while Shiva was away from home, Parvati, his wife, took a bath, and to guard her apartments from intruders, fashioned Ganêsha from the scurf of her body and placed him at the door. Shiva, returning, was angry at being opposed by the unknown doorkeeper, and cut off Ganêsha's head. Parvati was indignant at her husband's violence, and refused to be pacified. Shiva then gave orders to his attendants to search for a living creature that slept with its head towards the north, to cut off its head, and to fit it upon Ganesha's body. The first creature they found was an elephant. So Ganesha goes to this day with an elephant's head. The same story is given as an explanation why Hindus should not sleep with the head towards the north.
This sad misadventure apparently did not teach caution to the god of wisdom, for on a subsequent occasion he lost a tusk in trying to oppose the entrance of another visitor, Parashu-Râma, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, into Shiva's abode. He is known on this account as Eka-danta, "the one-tusked”.
The Hindu pilgrim holds in high veneration the sacred wells of Benares, but until recently their in
conceivable foulness, caused by the decay of floral offerings constantly thrown into them, rendered them anything but attractive to Europeans. In the last few years a great deal has been done for the sanitation of Benares, both by the municipality and by the exertions of a private society founded in honour of Queen Victoria's jubilee, so that most of the wells are now 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 půjá.
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.