Just as Kashi is the microcosm of the whole of India’s sacred geography, so is Kedara a microcosm of Kashi (Fig. 6.2). The Kedara mythology refers to the “original” site of Manikarnika Ghat here. It calls Gauri Kunda on the ghat steps “Adi Manikarnika”, the “first” Manikarnika, and thus it is glorified as the greatest of Kashi’s bathing tirthas. Kedareshvara is one among the 12 Jyotira (“light manifested”) lingams of Shiva, and manifested in Varanasi as a microcosm. Says Lord Shiva: “It is known as the ‘field’ (Kedara) where the crop of liberation grows. Therefore, that place became famous as Kedara, both in Kashi and in the mountains” (Kashi Kedara Mahatmya, 29.28). Kedara Nath is the patron deity of the southern sacred segment of the city called Kedara Khanda. Kedara remains primarily a temple for the devoted residents of this area, and for pilgrims Kedara remains primarily a temple for the devoted residents of this area, and for pilgrims from Bengal or the South who stay in the pilgrim guesthouses of the area.
The merit of Kedareshvara is fully eulogized in the KKh (77.1-14, i.e. full chapter). Its area described in the KKm (3.61-63) is as follows : in the east up to mid-stream of the Ganga, in the southeast about half-krosha (1.76 km), in the south up to Lolarka Kunda, in the southwest up to Sankhudhara Tirtha, in the west Vaidyanatha, in the northwest Lakshmi Kunda, in the north Shulatankeshvara, and in the northeast about half-krosha (1.76 km) in mid-stream of the Ganga.
Kashi’s Kedara is the anchoring temple of the southern sector of the city, called Kedara Khanda. It is one of the most popular and venerable temples of southern Kashi. Unlike Omkara and Vishvanatha, Kedara is a river temple, sitting at the top of an impressive ghat high above the water’s edge on the long hill which is supported by the third prong of Shiva’s imaginary trident; thus, Kedara is considered as patron deity of the southern sacred segment (Kedara Kshetra). Close to the riverside doorway, inlaid in marble, is the passage from the Kashi Kedara Mahatmya quoted earlier: ‘Kedara is so called because it is the “field” where the crop of liberation grows’.
That Kedara is older than Vishveshvara as is widely assumed is affirmed to some extent by the early Puranas, since Kedara is mentioned very early in the Puranic mythology and Visheshvara is mentioned quite late. Additionally, it is believed that Kedara survived the great destruction of Aurangzeb in the late 17th century, which further implies that the present temple of Kedara is actually older than the present temple of Vishvanatha.
Entering Kedara Temple by either the street or river entrance, one comes into a dark interior court. Around the outer walls is a multitude of tiny shrines, most of them separately established Shiva lingams. In the center of the court is the interior temple, within which are still more subsidiary shrines: those of Shiva’s goddess consort and his retainers. Finally, one reaches the door of the inner sanctum, guarded by Shiva’s bull, Nandin. The lingam of Kedara contained within this dark chamber is not an ordinary lingam, but rather a lumpish outcropping of rock with a white line through it. According to tradition, this was not established by human hands, but was an unusual “self-manifest” appearance of Lord Shiva. It is commonly believed that during CE 1668-1670, when under the order of bigoted Mughal king Aurangzeb, most of the important temples were razed and replaced by mosques, the temple of Kedara was untouched. By this narration, people perceive this as the oldest surfing temple in Varanasi.
At the ghat one first meets the Gauri Kunda, a small water pool containing a wonderful image of Gauri (Parvati) in the eastern wall. Climbing up the steep steps, at the platform is a shrine of Tarakeshvara lingam. Kedara is a river temple, sitting at the top of an impressive ghat high above the water’s edge on the long hill that is supported by the third prong of Shiva’s symbolic trident. The temple is a large building, rising from the banks to which a fine stone ghat descends to the bed of the river Ganga. It stands in the middle of a spacious court, at the four corners of which are four temples crowned with domes. The veranda running round the inner side of the enclosure contains several small shrines and numerous collections of idols. Pilgrims take a holy bath in the Ganga and carry brass pots of holy water while climbing up the broad and steep steps in order to offer it in worship to Kedareshvara.
Entering Kedara Temple by either the street or river entrance, one comes into a dark interior court. Around the outer wall is a multitude of tiny shrines, most of them separately established Shiva lingams. In the centre of the court is the interior temple, within which are still more subsidiary shrines: those of Shiva’s goddess consort and his retainers. Finally, one reaches the door of the inner sanctum, guarded by Shiva’s bull, Nandi. The lingam of Kedara contained within this dark chamber is not an ordinary lingam, but rather a shapeless outcropping of rock with a white line through it. According to tradition, this was not established by human hands, but is an unusual “self-manifest” lingam.
Mondays are always special to the worship of Shiva, here and elsewhere in Kashi. The two most important days of visitation and rituals in this temple are the full moon day (Purnima) of Shravana, and the marriage day of Shiva, which falls on the 14th day of dark fortnight (wanning) of Phalguna (February-March). Especially during the sacred monsoon month of Shravana (July-August), the ghat is thronged with bathers on Monday mornings, and the doorways of the temple are jammed with those who seek the glimpse of Kedara. After bathing, the women, with their spouted brass pots of Ganga water, take special care to offer water, flowers, and Shiva’s sacred bilva leaves to each of the subsidiary lingams in the tiny shrines which flank the steps of the wide ghat.
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