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Notable Temples of Varansi

Sumera (Durga) Temple, Ramanagar

Rana P.B. Singh

At a distance of about 2.5 km northeast of the Ramanagar fort, attached to Rama Bagh (Rama’s garden), there is a temple of goddess Sumera Devi (a form of Durga) whose construction was started by Balwant Singh and completed by his son Chet Singh in ca 1770. The temple, including the platform on which it rests, is about 30 m high. Each of its four sides, from the base to a height of over 10 m is crowded with elaborately carved figures in bas-reliefs. In some places these are broken but generally they are in good state of preservation. They are in 5 rows, 6 being in a row. In this way each side of the tower contains 30 figures, and the four sides in total 130. Sherring (1868: pp.169-170), in the late 19th century, expresses: “As no expense has been spared in the execution of this prodigious work, it may be regarded as fairly representing what Hindu genius, in modern times can accomplish in the art of sculpture”. The bas-reliefs illustrate stories of the Gods and trace a symbolic picture of the universe. At the bottom there are elephants — symbolically, water, fertility and matter. Above there are lions — fire, courage and spirit —, and two rows showing the Gods and their exploits. Right at the top, celestial nymphs surround the sages — the reconciliation of physical beauty and moral righteousness. Each panel can be used to illustrate a lesson, so that after a break lasting a thousand years, sculpture has returned to the educational role it had in cave temples like those of Ellora.

On the platform, facing three of the entrances of the temple are three figures in marble. At the south door, Nandi, the bull vehicle of Shiva, sits in a bending pose avoiding seeing Shiva’s love. Opposite the north door is Garuda, the birdman vehicle of Vishnu with wings. In front of the main entrance is the lion vehicle of Durga. The inner side consists of the marble idol of Durga (Sumera Devi), covered with gold; and to the right is her 5-headed husband Shiva. Nearby, in a niche in the wall, are idols of Krishna and his beloved Radha. Further east from here in a small shrine there is an image of Chhinnamasta, a fierce goddess associated with heroic Tantric religious practice. It is believed that a tantric sadhu established this shrine. Stairs built of stone surround the associated tank. The tank is square, and at each corner there is a temple. The king Chet Singh built this in 1780.


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