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Notable Temples of Varansi

Kardameshvara Temple and its Sacredscapes

Rana P.B. Singh & Pravin S. Rana
Panchakroshi Yatra Circuit: Kardameshvara
Panchakroshi Yatra Circuit: Kardameshvara

On the Panchakroshi Yatra (PY) route, the first night halt is at village Kandwa, where the pilgrims first visit to the main temple of Kardameśvara, followed with five other auxiliary shrines and sacred sites (numbering 22 to 27 in the sequence of Panchakroshi Yatra). The Kardameshvara Shiva lingam is said to be installed by sage Kardama ‘Prajapati’, who was one of the progenitors of life and assumed to be son of Brahma, and the father of the founder of Samkhya philosophy Kapila of late Vedic period, ca the 6th century BCE. This image is inscribed in a thick red stone (shilapatta) and placed at a corner outside of the main structure; this is similar to that of several such identical images on the Panchakroshi route denoting other sages of the local folk tradition. At the fifth night halt, Kapiladhara lying about 12km northeast from Kardameshvara, together with other temples, images, and shrines, there also exists an image of Kapila. The linear axis linking these two sites, associated with father (Kardama) and son (Kapila) delineate the western axis of the main sacred city, while eastern edge is demarcated by the Ganga river.

Picturesquely situated on the bank of a rectangular water-pool, the sandstone Kardameshvara temple is laid out on a square plan with shallow projections on each side. The shikhara tower that rises above the sanctuary exhibits a characteristic gently curved profile; this is echoed in the clusters of model tower elements on four sides. A shallow columned porch precedes the sanctuary doorway. While all these features are typical of temple architecture in north India during the 10th-11th centuries, we notice on closer inspection that only portions of the structure are authentic: namely, the foundation course and bottom mouldings of the plinth, and the sanctuary doorway and porch columns. The Kardameshvara was evidently dismantled at some date and then rebuilt according to the original scheme as understood in later times, making use of whatever original blocks were still available, including damaged sculpted panels displayed on and near the temple itself.

The Kardameshvara lingam is unusually more inclined towards flatness and the vulva is a separate part, perhaps indicating its primordial image and may be the one of the earliest forms. Some suggests that this lingam represents the highest state of communion of the male and female power. At the edge of the vulva, the copper cover shows flames or lotus petals, numbering 108. The temple is predominated by Shiva images, nevertheless it consists of images of Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha, Surya and even Jain image. Archaeological evidences indicate the tradition of building temples in Banaras since at least from the Gupta period, CE 4th – 6th centuries.

In the inner sanctum are images of Ganesha, Parvati and Hanuman, considered to be later additions. According to the Kashi Rahasya, KR (10.29) the worship of Kardameshvara is to be performed by offering five grains, i.e. barley, paddy rice, wheat, mung (green lentils), urd (black lentils) as well as white sesame (Gengnagel 2011: 39), ad adding bilva (Aegle marmelos, wood apple) leaves and holy basil (tulasi, Ocimum tenuiflorum sanctum). However, the majority of pilgrims offer the paddy rice, bilva leaves, hemp flower dhatura (Datura stramonium) and the holy water of Ganga. Before this ceremony one has to take bath in the Kardama Kunda/Tirtha and vision to Kardama Kupa.

There are images of mother Parvati, Ganesha and Hanuman in the inner sanctum of the temple. Somehow the divine house of Panchayatana (Surya, Ganesha, Parvati, Vishnu and Shiva) is not conceived here; of course, these images are existing in the outer walls or nearby attached shrine of Virupaksha.  Outside but still close to the temple is a wrestling site where every morning villagers practice the Indian style of wrestling. In an attached shrine there is an image of Hanuman, considered to be a form of Shiva’s power.

According to ritual instruction, offering a mixture of seven grain, including the un-husked rice is prescribed. The notion of seven grains (e.g. wheat, barley, small and big millets, varieties of lentils, raw-rice) symbolises the seven archetypal number referring to the seven days in the week and seven sheaths (chakras) in the body. That’s how the seven grains together make a channel for linking human body (micro-cosmos) to the divine image (meso-cosmos), and ultimately through rituals one can perceive and receive the deeper feeling of the celestial energy (macro-cosmos).

In the southern wall the Uma Maheshvara pose of Shiva in the three niches shows the divine couple’s love and are comparable to images in Khajuraho, while Yogeshvara form at the base of the triangle represents Shiva as the lord of Yoga. Being dominance of Shaivism, various forms of Shiva are shown, including in the yoga-posture, cosmic dancer, Andhakari-Gajantaka/ Andhakasuramardana, Maheshvara (Har-Gauri), and Ardhanarishvara (‘androgen’).  In the western wall the trinity of Hindu pantheon is shown by the images of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma – all are depicted with their carriers, respectively the Garuda (Bird-man), Nandi (bull) and Hamsa (swan).  Shiva is shown as divine dancer (Nateshvara) who wants to complete the cosmic cycle by making disorder; this dance is called as tandava, the dance pose among the 108 that completes the cycle of cosmic rhythm; here the rosary is imbalanced, showing disorder. At the beginning of the new cosmic cycle, or for the ordered running of rhythms and seasons Shiva performs a blissful dance, called lasya. The image of Vishnu in the niche shows him as the “Vishva Purusha”, the supreme overseer of the cosmos represented by the images of divinities all around Him. The uniqueness of the temple is “the absence of Ashtadikpalas (guardians of the eight directions) figures on the temple corner walls which was an indispensable feature of north Indian temples.

In the northern wall there is an image of Mahishasuramardini, the form of goddess who killed the buffalo-demon; this is one of the very popular depictions of puranic story and also described in the Hindu Tantras. Nearby to it, Śiva is shown as killer of the demon Andhaka (‘blind’), called Andhakasuramardan Shiva, or Andhakari-Gajantaka – the demon who was born as unwanted child of Shiva and had finally killed by him. A similar image of huge size is in the museum at Sarnath. The image represents Śiva spearing his adversary, Tripura or Andhaka on his trident that he holds with one left and one right hand. There are also images of Kishna’s brother Balarama and his wife Revati. Balarama carries plough on his shoulder, and Revati carries a water pot; thus, together they represent the farming culture. The image of sage Kardama  in the posture of meditation is in the large niche outside the door of the temple. On the right, on the side-wall, is also a statue of Devahuti Mata, mother of Kapila; locally people call her a ‘ganikā’ (female assistant). At the main doorways, at both sides are river goddesses; perhaps representing the Ganga and the Yamuna and assisting divinities, of course dilapidated and unclear.

On the platform in the west, close to the water pool, is a stone slab containing two human figures. Sitting in the right is the Guru or a Yogi performing meditation in appropriately manner using rosary in one of his hands and the holy book in the other hand. Next to him, in the left, is the disciple (shisya), engaged in preparation of bhang, the cannabis intoxicant. These two figures show the dual views of life, called yoga (spiritual pleasure) and bhoga (worldly enjoyment). Lannoy (2002: 189) describes this statue as symbol of lifeworld in Banaras, what is referred as masti; he said “Masti is not cynical, it doesn’t send up the serious side of sanctity, but in a way that is inimitably Hindu, it makes sure there is always room in religious matters for a sense of humour. Masti is genial and tolerant in its commitment to a carefree way of life”.

There are five sacred spots and shrines, associated to Kardameshvara’s territory; and described below:

Kardama Kunda/ Tirtha (no. 23 on the PY-route)

Here pilgrims sprinkle water on themselves from the Kardama Kunda, a majestic rectangular water pool. In mid-18th century Queen Rani Bhavani (1716-1795) of Nator Estate (Bengal) constructed this massive pond at the old site in ca 1751-1757. After the death of her husband King Ramakant Rai (1699-1748), the Queen controlled the estate, however adopted life like a religious lady. That is how she performed a pilgrimage to Banaras and stayed there during 1752-1758. During her six years of stay the Queen has patronised constructions of many water pools (kundas), including the four on the Panchakroshi route at Kandwa, Bhimachandi, Sonatalab, and Kapiladhara, and renovations and construction of several temples. She has also built water pools at Lata Bhairava, Omkareshvara, Matsyodari (Machchhodari) and Kurukshetra. There are six auxiliary holy sites and shrines around the main temple Kardameshvara.

Kardama Kupa (no. 24 on PY-route)

From the main temple towards Virupaksha is the holy deep round well, Kardama Kupa, protected by small roofing, of which water is used in oblation. Devout Hindus see their reflection in the water of this well and narrates that their life is safe.

Somanatheshvara (no. 25 on the PY-route)

After a short walk, in the right-hand side in an old flat-shaped room exists the image of Somanatheshvara, the Shiva representing his form at Somanath in Gujarat, western India. The stone inscription at the footstep reads that “Referring to the Kashi Rahasya (KR, chapter 10), in the Panchakroshi pilgrimage, salute to the Somanatheshvara. By the inspiration of Dvarakanatha Dubey, a disciple of Goraji, a resident of Bundi, in Samvata 1948 (CE 1891) this is built”. The same inscription is found at Yaksheshvara (no. 43 on the PY-route).

Virupaksha Linga (no. 26 on the PY-route)

About 20m south of the Nilakantheshvara is the Virupaksha Lingam in a small open shrine with a roof, referring to one of Shiva’s assistants (gana). On the western part of the platform there is a panel consisting of images of Fish, Tortoise, Boar, Man-Lion, and Dwarf, the Five avataras (incarnations) of Vishnu. Weathering and carelessness have damaged the images badly, however by careful watching one can understand. In the eastern part of this structure lies the image of Surya, a representative of master craft of the Gahadavala period, where Surya is shown as representative of Vishnu.

Nilakantheshvara (no. 27 on the PY-route)

This image represents the puranic story of Shiva who drunk the blue-poison that came from churning the ocean by gods and demons. By his meditative power Shiva blocked the flow of poison in his throat which resulted to make his throat blue, thus the name Nilakantheshvara. According to the folk tradition after marriage the family provides a miniature decorative cot with pieces of cloths and hangs inside the temple. Villagers believe that the mother goddess, Parvati will come to meet Shiva in the late night and take rest on the cot provided, thus they together bless the newly married couple for prosperity and happy married life.

Pilgrims take shelter for the first night in any of the ten dharmashalas lining the eastern side of compound  These are maintained by religious trusts, and there is no charge to stay at them. All dharmashalas are on the left-hand side, since this is the profane space use for daily activities of life. A dharmashala mostly consists of a single storey with a terrace roof built around a courtyard. The street side of a dharmashala usually has only one entrance, sometimes decorated, and several platforms for pilgrimage activities. In the centre there is a square platform on which there is often a small shrine. During stay in night pilgrims sing religious songs and hear katha (stories from the religious texts) narrated by the local priest sitting at the raised platform there. Rituals include fire-sacrifice, feeding Brahmins, and offerings to ancestors who provide relief from the debts of divine beings, and parents (Kashi Rahasya, 10.31). After completing worship in the temples and shrines, pilgrims take shelter in the dharmashala where they prepare the evening food. Later, pilgrims listen to religious stories from mythological texts narrated by the local priests.



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© National Museum Institute, 
New Delhi, 2021
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