Category Archives: Sacred Cities

Vrindavan (Vrndavana)

India is a country with a varied and rich mythology. Vrindavan (aka Vrndavana) is located in Northern India around fifteen kilometres from Mathura and is considered to be one of the seven holiest cities for Hindus (Haberman, 272). The city features many sacred land and water features such as the Yamuna River, sacred groves (vanas), ponds (kundas) and ghats (holy steps leading down to a river) (Luthy, 4). It is also referred to as Vrindavan or Vrindivana city. The name Vrindavan is derived from ‘Vrinda’ which is another name for the sacred tulsi (i.e. basil) plant. It is one of the most holy cities within the Hindu tradition and is commonly known as the “The City of Temples” with allegedly five thousand in total.

Major religious routes within the forests of Vrindavan were first established in the sixteenth century based on the Sanksrit text Vraj Bhakti Vilasa written by Narayan Bhatt (Shah, 41). Bhatt is responsible for mapping out a large portion of the religious sites that are worshipped to this day. Bhatt more specifically mapped out the place-names found within the Puranas onto the physical terrain where these sites are found (Ghosh, 193) Pilgrimages are religious and cultural phenomena that are important features the Hindu religion. In the Hindu religion, a pilgrimage is referred to as a tirtha yatra and is a liminal process that establishes participation in the spiritual realm (Singh &Haigh, 783). A pilgrimage has been defined as a journey resulting from religious causes, externally to a holy site, and internally for spiritual purposes and internal understanding (Barber, 1). Today, pilgrimage is defined differently, as a traditional religious or modern secular journey (Collins-Kreiner, 440). For example, the Krsna Balrama Madir Temple, established in 1975 by His Divine Grace Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has now become Vrindavan’s most popular temple and has one of the highest standards of deity worship and cleanliness. It has become one of the most popular temples and Hare Krsna devotees can be found here throughout the year (Jacobsen, 143).

Vrindavan is one of the most important places of pilgrimage for devotees of Krsna as the city is well-known as the forested region where the deity Krsna grew up as a humble cowherd (go-pala). The city itself is said to be where Krsna spent his childhood and many say that he still resides within the city itself.  It is located in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh. The area of Vrindavan is described in the Puranas as the childhood home of the deity Krsna. This mythologized place was located geographically when the Bengali Saint Caitanya travelled there to rediscover Krsna’s childhood home where he then experienced visions of the deity in the uninhabited forest (jangala) which is now modern day Vrindavan (Ghosh, 194). Caitanya and his followers began to construct temples in the holy city that can still be found today. For example, the Madan Mohan Temple is the oldest temple in Vrndavan today and is closely associated with Caitanya.

Mathura (just outside of Vrindavan) is a little town and a major place of pilgrimage on the banks of the Yamuna River. It attracts about a half of a million pilgrims each year, especially during major festivals such as Krsna Janmastami, Holi, and Radhastami. These journeys are made to sacred places as an act of religious devotion (Nash, 101). Pilgrimage sites are places that people consider sacred and maintain their sanctity by visiting them regularly and relating them into their religious framework (Eck, 8). In India more than one hundred million people visit around two thousand major pilgrimage sites annually (Shinde, 449). During ritualized pilgrimages individuals travel to a sacred place and perform rituals considered necessary to appease the sacred object in that place. These ritual acts of worship acts by pilgrims (individual and collective) of worship and rituals are regarded as part of their normal their religious duties (Shinde, 450). Pilgrimages are crucial in the Hindu religion in order for an individual to engage all of the senses when to experiencing the sacred sites Vrindavan has to offer. The believer “sees” the sacred sights (temples, churches, relics, icons, monuments), he/she “hears” the sacred sounds (church and temple bells, drum beats, chanting, singing, the call to prayer), “touches” the sacred artifacts (icons, deities, texts), “eats” special food (such as consecrated food); and “smells” specific aromas (incense, fresh flowers) (Eck, 9). All of these experiences vary depending on the individual’s participation in the religious culture developed around the pilgrimage site itself (Shinde, 451).

Although there are thousands of temples erected within Vrindavan there are a few that stand out. Since the establishment in the fifteenth century, Vrindavan has continued to be a center for devotional pilgrimages dedicated to the deity Krsna. Vrindavan is a place for pilgrims to visit Krsna temples, participate in worship and rituals, listen to narration of stories from the religious epics of Krsna, and perform poetry, art, dance, song, and drama dedicated to Krsna’s glory (Shinde, 452). For example, these everyday rituals involve dressing the idol in finery and darshan, communal singing of hymns, and food offerings to the deity depending on the temple of worship. Today you can find a live video stream of the Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Mandir which has now become one of the most popular and visited temples in the world.

Vrindavan is also a major site for Vaisnava groups. For example, widows (mostly from Bengal) have been congregating in Vrindavan for years to live out the rest of their lives. In India, social mores inhibit women from remarrying and they are shunned because they are viewed as inauspicious. Nilakantha Braja (The Blue-necked God) written by Assamese writer Indira Goswami highlights the plights of the widows who reside in the sacred city by depicting the despicable and undignified life and death experiences of these women. Known as the Radheyshamis (widows who sing devotional songs in temples for a pittance) these widows sing bhajans (hymns) in order to accumulate money to survive (Bhushan, 138). Whether young or old, widowed women leave behind their colorful saris, jewelry, and even shave their heads if they are part of the more conservative Hindu traditions (Jamadar, Melkeri, & Holkar, 57). Although these women are not forced to die in ritual sati (burning themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre) they are still expected to mourn until their own deaths. Therefore, these women find refuge in Vrindavan where they lead miserable lives surviving by begging and singing hymns in praise of Gods (Pande, 209).

Today, the city of Vrindavan has become more of a tourist attraction than a pilgrimage site. Pilgrimages, themselves, are being transformed into mere sightseeing tours and can now be more accurately labeled as ‘religious tourism’ (Shinde, 184). Annually, Vrindavan receives more than six million visitors, who are no longer visiting strictly for religious reasons (Shinde, 448). Places that were once Hindu holy sites may be accessed with a simple search on Google where the best flight deals and top places to visit are a click away. However, some temples remain constant to modern Hindus such as the Banke-Bihari Temple which is considered to be the most popular shrine and is associated with Swami Haridas and Nimbarka. Another is Nidhi Van Temple where Krsna and Radha are said to come out after midnight and indulge in raas-leela (dance found in the Puranas) and then rest in the Rang Mahal Temple which is decorated daily for the two deities.

In conclusion, Vrindavan is gaining popularity due to its numerous temples. Construction and development are ongoing which includes temples, guest houses, and apartments. Simply wandering around Vrindavan allows one to see the vast beauty of the holy city and share vicariously in the myths of Krsna.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Barber, R. (1993) Pilgrimages. London: The Boydell Press.

Bhushan, Ravi. (2014) “Estranged Identity: The Problem of Hindu Widows in Indira Goswami’s Nilakantha Braja.” Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies 5 #2:138-141.

Collins-Kreiner, N. (2010) “Researching pilgrimage: Continuity and transformations.” Annals of tourism research, 37(2): 440-456.

Eck, D. L. (1981) “Darsan: Seeing the divine image in India.” Chambersberg, PA: Anima Books: 8-9.

Ghosh, P. (2002) “Tales, tanks, and temples:the creation of a sacred center in seventeenth-century Bengal,” Asian Folklore, 61 #2:193-222.

Haberman, D. (1994) Journey through the Twelve Forests: An encounter with Krsna. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luthy, T. (2016) “Few people know that Krishna was the first environmentalist”. Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, power and the environment.

Jacobsen, K. A. (2015) “Book review: Modern Hindu Personalism: The History, Life, and Thought of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, written by Ferdinando Sardella.” Numen, 62(1): 143-146.

Jamadar, C., Melkeri, S. P., & Holkar, A. (2015) “Quality of Life among Widows”. #1: 57-68.

Mostafanezhad, M., Norum, R., Shelton, E. J., & Thompson-Carr, A. (2016) “Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, Power and the Environment”. Routledge: #2.

Pande, Rekha (2015) “Widows Of Vrindavan-Feminisation Of Old Age In India.” Pakistan Journal of Gender Studies Vol. 10: 209-223.

Shah, B. (2006) “The Pilgrimage of the Groves: Reconstructing the Meaning of a Sixteenth-Century Hindu Landscape”. Arnoldia: 39-41.

Shinde, K. A. (2015) “Religious tourism and religious tolerance: insights from pilgrimage sites in India.” Tourism Review, 70(3): 179-196.

Shinde, K. A. (2011) ““This is a religious environment”: Sacred space, environmental discourse, and environmental behavior at a Hindu pilgrimage site in India””. Space and Culture. 14: 448-463.

Shinde, K. A. (2008) “The environment of pilgrimage in the sacred site of Vrindavan, India.” PhD diss., Monash University: 449-451.

Shinde, K. A. (2007) “Case study 6: Visiting sacred sites in India: Religious tourism or pilgrimage.” Religious tourism and pilgrimage festivals management: An international perspective: 184-197.

Singh, R. P., & Haigh, M. J. (2015) “Hindu Pilgrimages: The Contemporary Scene.” The Changing World Religion Map: 783-801

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Banke-Bihari Temple

Bhagauata Purana

bhahjans

Chaintanya

dham

ghats

go-pala

Hare Krsna

Holi

jangala

Janmashtami

kundas

Krsna Balrama Madir Temple

Madan Mohan Temple

Mathura

Nimbarka

Nidhi Van

Nilakantha Braya

raas-leela

Radhahtami

Radheyshamis

Rang Mahal

sati

Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Madir Temple

Swami Haridas

tirtha yatra

tulsi

vaisnava

vanas

Vraj Bhakti Vilasa

Yamuna River

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.vrindavan-dham.com/vrindavana/ (Sri Vrindavan Dham, 2016).

http://daily.bhaskar.com/news/JM-a-secretive-place-in-vrindavan-where-radha-krishna-indulge-in-raas-leela-every-n-4874572-PHO.html?seq=5 (Daily Bhaskar, 2016).

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/mathura.asp (Hindu Website, 2016).

http://www.stephen-knapp.com/vrindavana_the_holy_land_of_lord_krishna.htm (Vrindavana: The Holy Land of Lord Krsna, 2009).

http://www.krishna.com/vrindavan (Krishna.com, 2016).

 

Article written by: Lindsay Tymchyna (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

 

 

Pattadakal Temples

In the Indian state of Karnataka lies the sacred village of Pattadakal, or Kisuvolal as it used to be called, and its 10 temples, constructed from the 6th to the 9th century. Pattadakal was once the place of anointment for the early Chalukya kings of Badami, and it served as their secondary capital. The Malaprabha river flows north near the old city (Annigeri 2). The people of India believe that rivers that flow north are sacred due to the fact that they are rare as most rivers in India flow to the east or the west. The surrounding mountains provided an abundant amount of sandstone to build the temples, and there are several lingas around the village that give a sense that it used to be a large place for Siva worship. Pattadakal is a marvellous masterpiece where the architectural styles of North and South India are blended (Annigeri 6). The influence between the mixing of the northern and southern styles resulted in a different adaptation of ideas. Unfortunately, tracing the development of the northern style is quite difficult as a large quantity of Nagara style temples were destroyed during periods of warfare. They are still distinguished by the tall, convex shape of the tower above the hall of the temples (Dallapiccola 1) . Architects such as Gunda and Revadi Ovajja graced Pattadakal with the construction of temples and sculptors such as Chengamma, Pullappan and Deva-arya decorated the temples with their magnificent sculptures (Annigeri 6).

The biggest of the temples at Pattadakal is the Virupaksha Temple (formerly known as Lokesvara). It was constructed between 733 and 745 CE by queen Lokamahadevi to celebrate the three victories of her husband and early Chalukya ruler, Vikramaditya II, over his rival, the Pallavas of Kanchipuram (Kadambi 266). Along with commemorating his victories, the temple also shows a sense of rajadharma (duties and obligations of a king) and moksadharma (liberation of the soul). The Virupaksha temple was modelled after the Kailasanatha temple (formerly known as the Rajasimhesvara temple) at Kanchi, the town that the king had just conquered. The Virupaksha temple was built by the architect Gunda along with others, such as Sarvasiddhi Achari and Baladeva in a Dravidian (South) style of architecture. The Virupaksha Temple has a nandi mantapa (open pavilion with roof) which Cummings argues is a shrine to the queen (as stated in Kadambi 267). Inside this pavilion resides a sculpture of Nandi (bull) in black stone (Annigeri 14). Her assumptions are proven by the two royal portraits on the temple. One of Lokamahadevi, which shows her standing on a lion throne while holding an elephant-staff in her left hand. The other picture is of the other wife of the king, Trailokyamahadevi. Coincidentally, these two queens were also sisters (Kadambi 267). The pillars of the great hall are covered in episodes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata (Annigeri 15). On the outer wall to the south, there are sculptures of Ravana killing Jatayu and Siva seated in Kailasa. On the north porch, there is an eight-armed Siva who is dancing on the demon Apasmarapurusha (Annigeri 20). Covering the rest of the outer walls are sculptures of Siva, Lakulisa, Nataraja, Lingodbhavamurti, Visnu with a conch and fruit, and more (Annigeri 20). On the ceiling of the eastern porch you can see the god Surya standing in a horse-drawn chariot, with seven horses and a lotus flower in each hand (Annigeri 15). In the shrine is the linga of Virupaksha that was worshipped (Annigeri 18).

Almost simultaneously, the Mallikarjuna temple (formerly known as Trailokesvara) was built in around 740 CE by his younger queen Trailokyamahadevi, who was also the sister of the main queen (Annigeri 25).  It was built to celebrate the victories against Kanchi, just like her sister’s temple. The two temples are very close in architecture and some of the sculptures are in identical locations on the temple (Annigeri 25). There are two Saiva Dvaraplas at the entrance to the hall and  an image of Visnu riding Garuda is on the door frame. Even with the depiction of Visnu, it can still be concluded that the temple is dedicated to Siva (Annigeri 26). The stories that are told along the walls are that of the domestic life, clothing and religious practices of the early Chalukyan era. The great victories of Krsna are depicted along the pillars of the great hall. These include Krsna holding up a mountain, killing the demons Kesi, who was in the form of a horse, and killing Kharasura who was in the disguise as a donkey (Annigeri 28). In the shrine lies a linga with a large lotus flower carved in the wall over the linga, and sculptures of Siva and Parvati all over the ceiling of the shrine (Annigeri 30).

The temple of Sangamesvara (originally known as Vijayesvara) was built by King Vijayaditya to praise the god Vijayesvara (Siva) (Annigeri 34).  There is no date on the inscription but since the King Vijayaditya reigned from 696-733 CE, we can assume it was built during that time period (Bolar 38). On the pillars in the hall are several inscriptions relating to the building of the temple. The first one speaks of how “peggade-Poleyachchi of Mahadevigeri gave 51 gadyanas for the making of this pillar” (Bolar 38). The second one explains that the pillar was donated by an individual named “Vidyasiva” (Bolar 38). The third pillar  tells how “a courtesan of this temple named Chalabbe, donated 3 pillars to the temple” (Bolar 38). The fourth pillar says that Motibodamma donated two pillars sculpted by the sculptor Paka (Bolar 38). There is an inscribed slab standing in the hall belonging to King Kirtivarma II of the Calukyas of Badami dated 754 CE which states that Jnanasivacarya granted land as a provision “for the studies of those who attend the rites of the god” (Bolar 101). The architecture of the temple is quite plain and does not have any of the great sculptures on its walls. There are big sculptures of Visnu, Varaha, Siva with Nandi and Gajasurantaka on the outside of the walls that were never finished due to some unforeseen reason (Annigeri 34). What the temple lacks in design, it makes up for in size as it has three shrines, a walkway around the main shrine and the great hall. What was once worshiped in the shrine is now a broken linga (Annigeri 34).

The Kasivisvesvara Temple was built in the Nagara (northern) style of architecture using sand-stone blocks in the 8th century CE (Annigeri 31). Interestingly enough, there happens to be miniature temples sculpted into the outer wall in a Dravidian or South Indian style of architecture in an attempt to combine the two types of work (Annigeri 32). The temple is divided into two different parts, the hall or mantapa, and the shrine and the ante-chamber or sukanasi. In the shrine there is a black stone linga in the centre (Annigeri 32). On the ceiling of the mantapa is depicted Siva, Parvati with a child in her arms, Nandi, four hybrid creatures, swans and dwarfish garland carriers (Annigeri 33). On the pillars, many stories from the Bhagavata and Sivapuranas are told. One of these such stories is the wedding scene of Siva and Parvati, where other gods have attended (Annigeri 33).

To the left and a few yards away, lies the Galaganatha Temple with its very tall structure. Having been built in the North Indian style (Nagara) in the 8th century CE, it is quite different from the Virupaksha, Mallikarjuna and Sangamesvara which are all built in the South Indian style (Dravidian) (Annigeri 37). In the shrine is a linga in black stone and a sculpture of Nataraja on the door. With age, the wall to the south has been destroyed, but it was possible to conclude their method of constructing walls, which was to lay them on each other without any cementing agent (Annigeri 38). Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this temple is the sculpture of Siva as Andhakasura. The sculpture has eight hands, one with a sword, one with a trident in the body of a demon, one with a shield, and another with a trident, and the rest placed in different poses (Annigeri 39).

The Jambulinga Temple is very small now and has no ceiling. There was once a bigger hall, but it is now in ruins. There once was sculpture of Siva and Visnu, but time has worn them down. It seems to have been built around the same time as the Galaganatha Temple (Annigeri 39).

The Chandrasekhara Temple is quite plain and has been dated to around 750 CE (Annigeri 37). It has a preserved Dvarapalas on the side of the door with a visible trident-like decoration behind his head.

The Kadasiddhesvara Temple has seen better days. It is almost impossible to determine to which god or goddess the temple was dedicated. The only evidence we have is Harihara with four hands carrying an axe, a conch and cloth on the outer wall and, an image of Siva with a serpent and a trident and Parvati and Nandi on the door frame (Annigeri 40). Again, the hall has no roof and there is a Dvarapala who stands on both sides of the door. The other gods depicted around the temple are Brahma, Visnu, Ganga, Yamuna and Ardhanarisvara (Annigeri 40).

The temple of Papanatha is situated only a few yards from the river Malaprabha. It is accepted that it was constructed at around 680 CE (Annigeri 41). This temple does not reflect the advanced architecture of the Virupaksha temple and has very weird proportions. The temple is 90ft. in length but has a very short vertical structure. The improper spacing in the temple has convinced scholars that the temple was built in the early stages of the art of temple building. Contrary to that, the inscription states that the same sculptors that worked on the Virupaksha temple worked on Papanatha, so we are led to believe that the temple could not have been built more than 30-40 years before Virupaksha (Annigeri 41). The temple was not originally dedicated to Siva this time, but dedicated to Visnu or Surya. Scholars have come to his conclusion because there is a image of Surya on the west outer wall, and the image of Nandi was placed in the hall at a later date, after the temple was constructed. But there are some scholars who say that the temple was still dedicated to Siva from the start (Annigeri 42). Even though the temple is one of the oldest, it is still decorated with images of couples and gods and stories of the ages.

The Old Jain Temple, built in the 9th century CE, consists of a second shrine on top of the main shrine that houses two Jaina sculptures. The temple is very simple with a few exceptions like the makaratorana on the doorframe of the shrine door (Annigeri 47). There is a single inscription on a pillar that tells the story of how Jnanasivacharya came from his home in the north of India to live in the Sangamesvara temple. This illustrates the religious ties between North India and Karnataka during the period of the Calukyas of Badami (Annigeri 48).

The temples at Pattadakal, depict a wide assortment of deities in the Hindu pantheon. The site at Pattadakal shows a great amount of history in its walls and tells a great story that has been solidified with the hard work of the architects and sculptors that made the temples possible. The combination of the Dravidian and the Nagara style of architecture is distinctive. Present generations can view the style advancements in temple building as they developed from the oldest temple to the newest. In 1987, Pattadakal was included in the list of World Heritage Sites. Today, for a small entrance fee, an individual can enter the grounds of the temples to look around or to give worship to the deities. The temples have become a very popular tourist destination.

 

References

Annigeri, A. (1961) A Guide to the Pattadakal Temples. Dharwad: Kannada Research Institute.

Bolar, Varija (2010) Temples of Karnataka: An Epigraphical Study (from the earliest to 1050 A.D.). New Delhi: Roadworthy Publications (P) Ltd.

Dallapiccola, Anna (2002) Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. London: Thames & Hudson.

Kadambi, Hemanth (2015) “Cathleen Cummings, “Decoding a Hindu Temple: Royalty and Religion in the Iconographic Program of the Virupaksha Temple”, Pattadakal”. South Asian Studies, Vol. 31, No.2: 266-268.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The caves of Badami

Temples of Aihole

The Calukyas of Badami

Temples at Mahakuta

 

Websites Related to the Temples of Pattadakal

http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/pattadakal.html 

http://portal.unesco.org/geography/en/files/10641/12282854465ASI_Dharwad.pdf/ASI%2BDharwad.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattadakal

 

Article written by: Rebecca Scott (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Cidambaram Temple

Cidambaram Temple, also known as the Thillai Natarajah Temple is a sixteen hectare temple complex (Smith 4) located in the center of the city of Cidambaram in Tamil Nadu in south-eastern India, and was built and expanded between the 10th and 14th centuries. The official name of the temple is Sabhanayaka (Lord of the Hall) temple (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). This temple venerates Siva as Nataraja (Lord of Dance) in Sanskrit or Thillai Koothan in Tamil (Spencer).

The temple is famous for the veneration a 3 foot tall bronze statue of Siva (Srinivasan 433) in a dancing position and the local myth that inspired the depiction and the worship of Siva in that form in Cidambaram. The statue is meant to be used as an utsava murti (processional image) in festivals (Cush, Robinson, and York 366), but is usually located in an inner gold-roofed sanctum called the Cit-Sabha or Hall of Consciousness (Srinivasan 433, Smith 5). Siva is also represented in the form of a traditional lingam, and in the form of an empty alcove representing akasa (ether, space, or sky) and transcendence (Srinivasan 433). It is said that the Cit-Sabha embodies Siva as well (Ferro-Luzzi 516). Other deities worshipped at the temple include Sivakamasundari, Ganesa, and Visnu among other deities connected with Siva. The depictions of each deity can be found in alcoves and ambulatories around the edges of the temple.

This temple is one of five temples in south India dedicated to Siva which each represent elements and the supposed geographic locations where Siva has appeared and performed miracles. These temples collectively are called the Panca Bhuta Sthalam, (Spencer 233, Isaac 16, Dey 49) and Cidambaram temple represents the element of akasa.

 

Temple History

The Nataraja temple at Cidambaram was built in the 10th century during the reign of Cola ruler Vira Cola Raja and is among some of the oldest temples in south India (Sullivan 58). Cidambaram temple has been the center for the worship of Siva in a dancing form since the seventh century (Smith 1), however the depiction of Siva as Nataraja was popularized by the Saiva Siddhanta school of orthodox bhakti Saivites sometime later (Cush, Robinson, and York 799).

Cola rulers through the 10th to the 13th centuries considered Siva, especially as Nataraja, to be their family deity and sponsored massive expansions of the Cidambaram temple complex and other Saivite temple complexes in south India. Along with the level of temple construction and renovation, they also made efforts to increase the scale and organization of worship at these temples (Davis 16). Vikrama and his military minister Naralokaviran are credited with renovating and adorning the Cidambaram temple, as well as sponsoring and developing services and facilities to encourage patronage and worship such as grand festivals, lit processional walkways, ocean pavilions, etc. with the goal to secure the Cidambaram Nataraja temple as the capital of Saivite worship in south India (Davis 19).

Cidambaram temple is sometimes simply referred to as “the temple”, and the entire city is sometimes referred to as a temple in literature (Spencer 240). Historically in the Saivite temple culture throughout south India, the main keepers and collectors of information were travelling saint-poets called nayanmars (Spencer 234), who were advocates of bhakti (devotionalism), and whose Tamil (Sullivan 195) devotional hymns are still sung today (Sullivan 211). However, there were multiple schools of thought in place in the area in medieval times who each would have a variation on thought and their own canon. For example, the accepted canon for Saiva Siddhanta philosophy was the Agamas (Srinivasan 432). Numerous nayanmars are remembered and venerated at the temple, and their poems have been passed down orally through generations. Recently, the process has begun of writing the poems and stories down for posterity. The veneration of priests, saints, and poets at Cidambaram is hierarchical with more well-known figures such as Umapati Sivacarya who wrote the poem Kuncitanghristava or “The Hymn of Praise to Nataraja’s Curved Foot” (Ferro-Luzzi 515) being remembered and praised more often than lesser saints which included women and Dalits (Spencer 235). The lineages of Saivite saints, priests, and teachers is hard to decipher because of a patchy record and an initiatory re-naming tradition (Davis 9).

 

Temple Mythology

Cidambaram is considered the center of the universe (Smith 2), as well as the place where Siva first performed the anandatandava, or dance of bliss (Srinivasan 432, Smith 1), in the presence of his consort Sivakamasundari, and three sages who were awaiting his arrival in Cidambaram while worshipping a lingam (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). Cidambaram is said to be the sky temple in the series of five temples in south India which represent elemental forms of Siva, the Panca Bhuta Sthalam (Dey 49). Each temple in this collection of temples is said to have a connected story of Siva appearing at that location in the presence of devotees to perform a miracle in a new form. At Cidambaram the miracle was the anandatandava and the form that Siva assumed was that of Nataraja or Lord of Dance (Smith 1). The traditional lingam which would usually stand in the inner sanctum of the temple, the Cit-Sabha, is replaced in this temple by a bronze statue of Siva performing the dance (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). The representation of the figure of Siva performing the anandatandava is steeped in symbolism.

The speed of the dance is said to determine whether it will be creative or destructive, with a slower pace being creative and a faster pace being destructive (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). Siva as Nataraja is depicted with 4 hands, each having a specific meaning. The hand raised up in the abhaya-mudra (Cush, Robinson, and York 799) represents refuge, while the downward-pointing hand represents escape from samsara shown by the surrounding ring of fire (Cush, Robinson, and York 160). The other two hands hold a drum used for keeping time while dancing and a ball of fire, which each represent creation and destruction; fire can be creative in a Vedic sense by creating favor from the gods and the drum can be interpreted as destructive by marking the passage of time (Smith 1, Cush, Robinson, and York 160, Sullivan 148). In the 14th century in Cidambaram, the priest Umapati Sivacarya devoted a poem to the depiction of Siva in anandatandava entitled Kuncitanghristava, “The Hymn of Praise to Nataraja’s Curved Foot” (Ferro-Luzzi 515), the foot on the statue of Siva as Nataraja is said to grant anugraha (blessing) and salvation (Ferro-Luzzi 516). Siva’s other foot steps on a smaller person or demon named Apasmarapurusa in Sanskrit or Muyalaka in Tamil (Nayagam 120) which represents ignorance (Smith 1).

 

Temple Structure

The style of southern Indian temples is distinct from northern Indian temples. In the southern style, the gopuram (main towers) are raised high above the gates of the temple and set into the walls that encircle the inner sanctuaries, the walls are usually highly decorated and ornate (Sullivan 227). Cidambaram temple is one of the largest in south India, with the gopurams measured at 49 meters high (Sullivan 58).

The walls of the Cidambaram temple have been decorated with depictions of 108 Bharata Natyam (traditional Indian dance) poses (Cush, Robinson, and York 160). This style of classical dance is said to have originated in the surrounding area of Tamil Nadu and especially within Saivite temple culture (Tiruvalluvar 1201), and the temple also boasts a large performing arts hall shaped like a chariot called the Nrtta Sabha (Sullivan 58).

The Cidambaram temple is also set apart by the golden roof of the Cit-Sabha, extensive processional routes, and lamped walkways all added on by Cola rulers (Davis 19). Cit-Sabha, the innermost hall or sanctum of the temple contains three alcoves, the main alcove contains the three foot tall bronze statue of Siva Nataraja, with the other two alcoves containing the stone lingam usually representative of Siva and an empty space representative of Siva as the element akasa (Srinivasan 433). Several shrines to other deities are featured in the temple, most of whom have some connection to Siva in Hindu literature (Sullivan 58). All of the elemental Saivite temples are built in the same southern style but differ in their decorations and size.

 

Festivals

The main festival at temples dedicated to Siva is Mahasivaratri (Great Night of Siva) or simply Sivaratri (Sullivan 211). This festival is held yearly on the thirteenth night and fourteenth day in the dark half of Phalguna, the month that takes place in February to March in the Gregorian calendar (Sullivan 130). The festival is widely popular and devotees of many different deities attend. The festival consists of a night vigil at the temple which involves devotional hymns, darsana (auspicious viewing) of images of Siva either in statue or lingam form and highly decorated (Sullivan 130), and puja offerings which include sandalwood paste, flower petals, bilva and bel leaves, milk, curd, ghee, honey, rose water, and vermillion paste (Dwivedi 30, Sullivan 130). A drink made of cannabis, milk, and almonds is also said to be consumed at this festival (Dwivedi 30). The second day of the festival is a celebratory day reserved for feasting rather than solemn worship (Sullivan 130). The Mahasivaratri has many origin stories including Parvati venerating a lingam in Siva’s absence, a hunter accidentally venerating a lingam when out in the wilderness, and the gods Brahma and Visnu finding a pillar of fire which is revealed to be Siva in a different form (Dwivedi 72).

Other festivals include occasional processional temple festivals called mahotsava or brahmotsava in Sanskrit and tiruvila in Tamil. These festivals can last up to two weeks and involve the use of utsava murti (processional images) of deities used in festivals and temple rites (Cush, Robinson, and York 366). The icons are dressed in finery like silk, flowers, and gold ornaments and led down the streets either on the shoulders of followers, or pulled in chariots by devotees holding hemp ropes. There are also animals and musicians involved in these parades, which stop occasionally along the procession to allow people to view the gods and make offerings to them which is seen as very auspicious (Davis 15). Bronze figures and accompanying inscriptions show that this form of festival worship has been taking place in south India since at least the 9th century (Davis 16).

This festival takes place in Cidambaram as well with the obvious addition of the Nataraja statue. Other differences in the Cidambaram mahotsavas are the length and scale of the festival which is always very long, around fifteen days, and features two parades each day with the deities riding on different vahanas (vehicles). This culminates in the ratha-yatra where the deities are paraded on chariots which are much like individual moving shrines (Davis 15). At the beginning of any festival period devoted primarily to Siva, the temple flag is raised with the image of a bull on it which represents Siva’s vahana Nandi (Davis 30). Another practice which sets Cidambaram apart is the practice of applying a black balm to the statues, priests, servants, and lay people in hierarchical order if the festival is venerating Nataraja (Davis 51).

 

Staff and Important Persons

Important persons connected to the temple include the Saiva Siddhanta school of orthodox bhakti Saivites who popularized the veneration of Siva as Nataraja, as well as the other numerous lesser-known philosophical schools which helped inform the literature in medieval south India (Cush, Robinson, and York 799). Also of great importance were the travelling saint-poets called nayanmars (Spencer 234), whose Tamil devotional Saivite hymns recorded the mythology and chronology of the area and whose stories were passed down orally and are still told and sung today creating a rich illustration of the history of the area (Sullivan 211). Some of these poets became priests or teachers or gained fame from their writing which creates a useful image of the social landscape of the time.

The temple staff at Cidambaram are called diksitars because they undergo the initiatory process of diksa. This process involves numerous rites to be performed at different prescribed times before the initiate is accepted. The nitya-karman are the daily rites and show Saivite piety if they are done on one’s own behalf (atmartha), this category includes the nityapuja (veneration of a lingam), nityahoma (a small fire sacrifice), and suryapuja (sun worship). Daily rituals need to be completed before other rituals, they are the prerequisites. Naimittikarman, or occasional rites include pavitrosava and damanotsava and they are the prerequisites for the last set of rituals. The last set of rituals, on completion, marks the initiation of a diksitar as part of the Saivite community and released of earthly bondage. These rituals are therefore held in high regard as transformative. The initiate is consecrated as either a sadhakadiksa (mantra-adept), or as an acaryadiksa (priest) through a series of upanayana-like rituals including a mock cremation on the receiving of a special mantra (Davis 7).

 

References

Aghorasiva (1157) A Priest’s Guide to the Great Festival. Translation and notes by Richard H. Davis (2010) New York: Oxford University Press.

Cush, Denise, and Catherine Robinson, and Michael York (2008) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Dey, Nando L. (1979) The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval India. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Dwivedi, Anil K. (2007) Encyclopedia of Indian Customs & Rituals. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.

Ferro-Luzzi, Gabriella E. (1996) “Reviewed Work: The Dance of Siva. Religion, Art and Poetry in South India by David Smith” East and West 46:515–17. Accessed February 5, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29757302.

Isaac, Eric (1960) “Religion, Landscape, and Space” Landscape 9:14-18.

Nayagam, X.S. Thani (1970). Tamil Culture and Civilization. London: Asia Publishing House.

Smith, David (1996) The Dance of Siva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spencer, George W. (1970) “The Sacred Geography of the Tamil Shaivite Hymns.” Numen 17:232–44. Accessed February 5, 2016. doi:10.2307/3269705.

Srinivasan, Sharada (2004) “Shiva as ‘cosmic dancer’: On Pallava origins for the Nataraja bronze.” World Archaeology 36:432-450. Accessed February 5, 2016. doi:10.1080/1468936042000282726821.

Sullivan, Bruce M. (1997) Historical Dictionary of Hinduism. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

Tiruvalluvar (2000). The Handbook of Tamil Culture and Heritage. Chicago: International Tamil Language Foundation.

 

Related Topics

  • Bhakti
  • Diksa
  • Bharata Natyam
  • Saivitism
  • Viasnavism
  • Cola Dynasy
  • Tamil Poetry
  • Poet-saints
  • South Indian Architecture
  • Processional Festivals

 

Related Websites

http://www.chidambaramnataraja.org/

http://templenet.com/Tamilnadu/panchabhoota.html

http://www.religiousportal.com/Pancha_Bhoota_Temples.html

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/39328

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/south-asia/hindu-art/a/shiva-as-lord-of-the-dance-nataraja

Article written by: Katherine Christianson (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

Kanchipuram (City of a Thousand Temples)

The city of Kanchipuram is located in the state of Tamil Nadu on the banks of the Vegavathi River, thirty-one miles from the city of Madras (Schellinger 435). It is known as Siva Visnu Kanchi, or simply as Kanchi (Schellinger 435). In the Hindu culture, there are seven cities that are held as sacred, Kanchipuram being one of them. Although the city has earned the name “The City of a Thousand Temples,” it does not actually have a thousand temples located within the city. The city does however have a sizeable amount of religious sites and monuments that are used for worship. Centuries of Indian history can be seen when one travels to this holy city. Kanchipuram was established by the Pallava Dynasty and was named the capital of their empire (Schellinger 435).  After the reign of the Pallava Dynasty the history of this city is very vague. It was controlled by many other dynasties none of which lasted any substantial amount of years.

During the reign of Asoka (who was an adamant supporter of Buddhism and actively worked to spread the religion throughout India), the city fell under the control of his empire and had Buddhist stupas built within it. Records of various pilgrimages suggest that the Buddha himself may have visited Kanchipuram, which explains the flourishing of the Buddhist tradition within the city, however, there are many other reasons for the city’s popularity that are based on fact and not on religious speculation. The first king to rule over Kanchipuram was Sivaskandavarman, who ruled in the middle of the third century BCE (Schellinger 436). His status as the first king of Kanchipuram has been disputed, though there is a certain mythological story of how a man named Virakurcha married the daughter of a naga (a serpentine type creature) and became the first king of the Pallava Dynasty (Schellinger 435). This story is purely mythological but still raises the question about Sivaskandavarman really being the first king. During the Pallava Dynasty, temple building in India turned from using wood as a primary source for building temples, to stone, a material that is much stronger and adds greater strength to the structure – this is why the temples in Kanchipuram have withstood weathering for centuries (Schellinger 437). Education grew during the Pallava Dynasty, particularly in the religious studies of Buddhism and Hinduism; Kanchipuram now has several colleges affiliated with the University of Madras (Schellinger 438). Over the centuries temples dedicated to Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism have been constructed by the followers of these religions (Schellinger 436). The fame Kanchipuram has gained as a holy city is undoubtedly due to the fact that it has been the site for visits from great spiritual teachers and the many magnificent temples that have been constructed to various gods and goddesses. Another factor is the religious teachings and enhanced sense of spirituality that one gains from venturing into the city, which is a major factor in the pilgrimages that the people of India make to Kanchipuram.

Kanchipuram has some of India’s most beautiful temples; one such temple is the Kanchi Kailasanathar temple. The emperor Rajasimha of the Pallava Dynasty is credited with commissioning the temples’ construction from 685 to 705 CE and dedicating it to the God Siva (Hudson 50), although there are other gods for whom the temple is also dedicated. It is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram and is famous for its architecture. An example of the famed architecture is one of the depictions of the god Siva carved into the temple as a begging ascetic on the south wall (Hudson 51), other carvings accompany this one and tell various stories that relate to Siva. This great temple was built in the 8th century by the architect Rajasimha and his son Mehendra (Dobbie 111), and is surrounded by smaller shrines. It is dedicated to the gods Visnu, Siva, Devi, Surya, Ganapathi and Kartikey, and its name means “Lord of the Cosmic Mountain” (Narasimha 96).  Another temple situated in the northern part of Kanchipuram is Ekambareswarar, which is the largest temple in the city and one of the main tourist attractions. It is dedicated to the god Siva; the temple is one of five major monuments built specifically to worship the god, each temple representing a different element (Ninan 132).  The legend behind this temple and one of the main reasons for its popularity is the story of Parvati. The legend states that Parvati, who was a companion of Siva, was praying underneath the temple’s mango tree, In order to test her faith and dedication, Siva set her on fire. Even while on fire, Parvati continued to pray and passed Siva’s test. She then constructed a Siva Linga (a mark used to worship Siva) out of sand to unite herself with Siva and the god came to be known as Ekambareswarar or “Lord of the Mango Trees” (Ayyar 71-72). There are many other legends pertaining to how this temple became one of the most revered places to worship Siva and a place of peace and spirituality but this is just one such example.

The Vaikuntha Perumal is the second imperial city built by Nandivarman II Pallavamalla, who was one of the emperors of the Pallava Dynasty (Hudson 52). It has many architectural marvels such as the massive vimana or towered sanctuary that rises above the temple and is said to be the place that the god of the temple dwells (Hudson 52). This structure has carvings depicting the establishment and history of the Pallava Dynasty, from its founding to the construction of the Vaikuntha Perumal (Hudson 52). Inside, a huge carving of Visnu is depicted as a god king and is facing west. On the outside of the temple there are three other sculptures facing the remaining cardinal directions (Hudson 53).

Rituals and ceremonies are a part of daily life in Kanchipuram. Various temples, sometimes share the same rituals. For example, a ritual performed at the Ekamra temple is also performed at the Varadaraja temple. The ceremony features priests of the temple making offerings to Varadaraja five times a day (Hudson 58). Yet, before the offerings are made, the Brahmins (priests) must summon Visnu’s presence within the temple through the uttering of mantras (Hudson 58). This praying to Visnu essentially wakes up the god and sets into motion all other rituals that are to take place that day. Along with the daily rituals and ceremonies are festivals that take place throughout the year. Festivals are conducted according to solstices and equinoxes. They are timed to coordinate with a day in the life of a god, where the winter solstice is the sunrise and the summer solstice is the sunset (Hudson 60). The year is also divided into different sections of months in which various festivals are to be performed. The beginning of the year, January, is a time to be thankful for the sun and a time to renew friendships (Hudson 61). The end of a year is called Margali and is from December to January and is the time of the year for meditation at the temples of Kanchipuram and reflection on the new knowledge one has gained throughout the year (Hudson 62).

Kanchipuram silk weavers are credited with producing the finest saris not just in South East Asia but also in the entire world. One factor that sets Kanchi saris above other saris is the silk that these garments are made from. Hand-woven, they are designed for auspiciousness. This means that the saris are meant to bring good fortune and happiness to the women who wear them and is directly related to the auspiciousness of events and persons the wearer may encounter (Kawlra 62); this quality of the saris gives them a religious appeal to their buyers. Also considered a part of the stages of life for women, various designs and patterns of the cloth can indicate the women’s different statuses – for instance, whether or not they are married (Kwalra 62). The makers of the clothing are called Padma Saliyars, and along with being skillfully trained in the art of weaving, they also have to have great knowledge of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness. The weavers also conduct their lives and work with good practice so as to heighten their own auspiciousness and allow them to transfer this into their weaving (Kwalra 64). The weavers of raasi saris consult constellations in an effort to remain in accordance with the cosmos and avoid inauspiciousness. Failure to avoid weaving during certain times of the year is said to result in “bad luck” for anybody involved in its selling, weaving or even wearing (Kwalra 64). The shop that produces the saris is regarded as an auspicious shop and purchases made there have to follow an almost ritualistic transaction. This means that when a customer purchases from the shop the sari has to be exchanged in front of the shop deity and wrapped in white cloth to ensure purity and auspiciousness (Kwalra 65). This concept of auspiciousness is not a factual reason for the saris’ high value; a more concrete reason is likely the quality of the product and its importance in religious rituals and wedding ceremonies that take place within the city.

The city of Kanchipuram is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and spiritual cities in India. Its history is permeated in mythology and mysticism and can inspire a sense of wonder in the visitor or researcher. The large number of temples offers an interesting view into the Hindu religion and its practices. They have been the sites of many pilgrimages for the ascetic traveler and the aspiring scholar. Famous religious figures have been said to have traveled to the city and worshipped there. This has added to the fame of Kanchipuram, as well as its revered status as a “sacred city.” Depictions of various gods and the beautiful architecture of the city shed light on a not-so-distant Hindu past that has influenced many religious followers. The rituals and ceremonies that are daily occurrences in Kanchipuram give the city a sacred appeal to the outsider. Along with a very prominent religious appeal, some of the residents profit from the production of the city’s famed saris and offer potential auspiciousness for the person that owns one. Kanchipuram will undoubtedly remain a place where worship and spiritual teaching of the Hindu religion can occur and will hold its place as one of the most sacred cities in India.
References and Further Recommended Reading

Ayyar P.V. Jagadisa (1993) South Indian Shrines: Illustrated. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Dobbie, Aline (2006) India: The Elephants Blessing. Cambridgeshire: Melrose Book Press Limited.

Gopal, Madan (1990) India through the ages. K.S. Gautam, (ed). Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

Hudson, D. Dennis, and Stratton Hawley John (2010) Krishna’s Mandala: Bhagavata Religion and Beyond. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Kawlra, Aarti (2005) Kanchipuram Sari: Design for Auspiciousness. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Narasimha Rao, P.V.L (2008) Kanchipuram: Land of Legends, Saints and Temples. New Delhi: Readworthy Publications.

Ninan, M.M. (2008) The Development of Hinduism. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Padman, Kaimal (2005) Learning to See the Goddess Once Again: Male and Female in Balance at the Kailāsanāth Temple in Kāñcīpuram. Oxford University Press

Schellinger, Paul E (1996) International dictionary of historic places: Asia and Oceania. Singapore: Toppan Co.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Siva

Visnu

Asurya

5 sacred cities

Tamil Nadu

Ascetics

Auspiciousness

Inauspiciousness

Naga

Dharma

Cosmos

Siva Linga

Buddhism

Jainism

Sari

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.kanchi.tn.nic.in/

http://www.sudarshansilk.com

http://www.kanchi-project.sai.uni-heidelberg.de/

http://www.kanchi.nic.in/temples.htm

http://www.kanchikamakshi.com/

http://www.transindiatravels.com/tamil-nadu/kanchipuram/tourist-places-to-visit-in-kanchipuram

 

Article Written By: Josh Prefontaine (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Culture in Banaras

Banaras is known as one of the oldest, and most sacred holy cities in the world. Most scholars date Banaras to be approximately three thousand years old, while others have dated important structures in Banaras to the eight century BC (Justice 15). This holy city is most widely known as Banaras, but has many names representing its different cultural aspects. The oldest name is Kashi, which is most commonly said to be a derivation from the Sanskrit root kash, “to shine, to look brilliant, or beautiful” (Eck 26). Banaras is also known as the City of Light, which has many different connotations, one of which is that the light implies enlightenment, for it is said that to die in Banaras is to attain enlightenment or liberation. Another name, which is said to be the official name by its residents, is Varanasi, which comes from the names of the two rivers that flow by it. From this name came the Pali version, Banarasi, which eventually became anglicized as Banaras or Benares in British and Muslim India (Eck 26).

Geographically, Banaras only occupies a strip of land along the banks of the Ganges approximately three miles long, but has millions visiting the holy site annually, making it an extremely densely populated area. It is situated on the west side of the Ganges where the Varana (on the north) and Asi (on the south) rivers join. The river flows north to south at this location, back towards its source in the Himalayas, placing Banaras in a very auspicious location. Banaras’ location near the Ganges also makes it an incredibly beautiful site, especially while the sun rises over the river at dawn. It was this incredible beauty that captivated Siva’s imagination and drew him to Banaras to make it his home (Eck 95). Other relations the city has to Siva is that the area is roughly shaped like the crescent moon that is placed over Siva’s head, and in the cosmological frame the city lies on the Trident of Siva [On the cosmological frame, see Singh and Rana (2002)].

While many famous cities around the world are known for their incredible architecture, Banaras is not what you would call architecturally interesting with its narrow lanes and dilapidated buildings. To most observers the most attractive buildings are the few palaces that were built by past princes. During the Ganges’ flooding season the basements of these palaces are flooded and many pilgrims will come there to bathe in the Ganges’ water before death. There are eighty-four ghats (stairs leading into the water) in Banaras forming a symbolic chain of holy sites (Singh and Rana 85). Some of the more popular ghats include Asi, Dasasvamedha, Adi Kesava, Pancaganga, and Manikarnika that are visited during the Pancatirthi pilgrimage to the “Five Tirthas”, or five crossing places (Eck 220). Manikarnika is one of the more visited ghats in Banaras, placed at the center of the city’s riverfront. In Banaras it is said that Manikarnika is the place of the earth’s creation and destruction, hence this ghat is used for cremation and to perform the proper death rituals and thus attain moksa [For more on cremation ghats, see Parry (1994)]. Besides ghats, there are also thousands of Hindu temples, and innumerable smaller shrines, nearly all dedicated to Siva, while the others are dedicated to family deities (kula-devatas) or personal deities (ista-devatas) (Eck 94). Along with the multiple Hindu temples, you can also find many Muslim mosques. While the majority of the population of Banaras is Hindu, it is a multicultural and multireligious city with a small percentage of its population being Muslim.

Another title that Banaras has come to achieve is “Rudravasa: The City of Siva” (Eck 31). The worship of Siva is predominant in Banaras culture. Siva has been the principal deity of Banaras since the first half of the seventh century, most likely earlier, but also shares the city with the whole pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses (Eck 146). It is a belief to many who live in Banaras that the Divine, or the pantheon of gods, can be visualized in Siva (Eck 41). Similarly, the sacred river, the Ganges, can be visualized as a “prototype for other sacred waters,” and Banaras can be seen as encompassing all other pilgrimage places in India (Eck 40). Many making a pilgrimage to Banaras are on the verge of death because there is a belief that if they die in the city they will undergo a final release and union with Shiva (Lannoy 143). It is here that they will be liberated from samsara, the cycle of birth and rebirth, and attain moksa.

Hindus believe there are three fundamental states of the cosmos, each represented or controlled by a god, forming a sort of Trinity known as the Trimurti (Singh and Rana 61). Brahma is “the creator”, Visnu is “the preserver”, while Siva is “the destroyer” (Singh and Rana 61). Siva being seen as this element of death or endings fits accordingly with the idea of Banaras being a place of death. It is a place to move out of the human realm and leave one’s physical body. Pilgrims at Banaras believe that Siva is Mahadeva, the great god, or Isvara, the Self, and he represents all the powers of the Trimurti (Havell 39).

Siva is almost always connected with the tradition of yoga, and is represented and associated with phallic worship in the form of a linga (Lannoy 139). As one enters into Banaras, a first observance would be the multitude of lingas in the city found under and around every corner. It is a common saying among the residents of Banaras that “The very stones of Kashi are Siva” (Eck 110). A linga, meaning “phallus” and “emblem”, is a rounded vertical shaft of stone implanted in a circular base (Eck 103). This is a symbol of Siva’s reproductive and creative power. One may point out that the linga is also a way for Siva to be represented in bisexual form, with the erect shaft representing the male Siva, and the seat in which it is placed personifying the female half of Siva known as Sakti. While Banaras is most well known for being a place of pilgrimage and worship of Siva, it is also a place of education and art industry.

Banaras is home to three universities with one of them being a Sanskrit university. At any one time in the city you may also find many researchers among the pilgrims studying the culture and the “microcosm” that Banaras is (Justice 19). Indian life, customs, and popular beliefs are what some would say strained and concentrated in this city, making it a popular place for anyone studying anthropology, language (especially Sanskrit), or religious studies. Some famous sages, such as the Buddha, Mahavir, and Sankara, have come to Banaras to teach as well (Eck 4). Besides the educational aspect of the city, there is also a strong art industry found in Banaras. The city is well known for the weaving of silks, brocades, and saris, as well as metal work. The manufacturing of brass and copper idols, lamps, sacrificial utensils, and all sorts of native cooking drinking vessels, is a popular art form in the city (Havell 49-50).

Festivals and performances in the city are another prominent part of the culture in Banaras as well as an attracting force for visitors. Nearly every day in Banaras some kind of festival is taking place (whether it is Hindu or Muslim), with some of them lasting longer than one day. Many of the rituals and ceremonies (daily and seasonal, individual and public) have remained outwardly similar for the nearly three thousand years Banaras has said to be in existence (Lannoy 27). Nearly all the fairs and festivals in Banaras are religious with different cultural and social perspectives. The festivals serve as a means to gather for rejoicing, public worship, and cultural interaction. It is through these festivals that Hindus and other religious sects in the city have grown together just by attending each other’s popular religious festivals. The festivals also serve as a growth of community within their own religion as the role of the srota (hearer) in these festivities is more active than passive (Freitag 37). Popular forms of festivals are katha (oral explanation of a story) and Vedic chanting mainly organized and put on by the Banaras Sanskrit University [For further reading on Manaskatha festivals, see Freitag (1989)].

The yearly cycle in Hindu is divided into 12 months, similar, but not the same as the months known in the West. Each year will begin in the middle of the month, for example, Chaitra is the month beginning in the middle of March, and ending in the middle of April (Eck 258). As well, an extra month is added into the Hindu calendar whenever it is needed to match the solar calendar. During the month of Sravana (July/August), as well as Mondays, is when there is a special focus on Siva; hence it is a spectacular time in Banaras (Eck 262). For each month a specific holy city is mythologized as the sacred abode, or puri, where festivals and religious ceremonies are to be performed. In Banaras, all the puris are established making the city known as the “city of all seasons” (Singh and Rana 68). While many festivals are held annually in Banaras, the more popular festivals are Divali (Festival of Lights), Ram Lila, Sivaratri, Holi, and the Nakkatayya festivals [For a list of all Hindu festivals, and explanations of many, see Singh and Rana (2002)]. During many of these festivals there are retelling of the epics (the Ramayana and Mahabharata), or reenactments of parts of the stories such as during the Rama Lila and Nakkatayya. These festivals are celebrated in Asvina (September/October), and they reenact different parts of the story of the Ramayana. Other festivals are mainly ceremonial where the major component is bathing in the Ganges River. The largest bathing festival is Karttika Purnima, which is celebrated in October/November (Karttika). Other smaller ceremonies take place in the Ganges for couples who are recently married, celebrating anniversaries, anyone who has recovered from an illness, or many other reasons (Havell 59). Many of the festivals include grand decorations and offerings. Sivaratri, celebrated in February/March (Phalguna), is a festival celebrating the marriage of Siva to Parvati. All of Siva’s temples are majestically decorated in sringara and celebrations are held where Ganges water and red powder is sprinkled on the Siva linga. The Divali festival, or festival of lamps and lights, is another that greatly relies on the use of decorations. Rows of oil lamps and candles are put out in the streets or on the Ganges, and clay images of Ganesa and Laksmi are sold. In festivals such as the Holi festival (also known as the Festival of Colors), offerings of flowers, dry colored powders, and sweets are given to the participants and the temples (Singh and Rana 70-77).

Culture in Banaras has remained relatively similar since its existence as far as scholars can see. This is quite an accomplishment for the holy city, as many other cities of other religious merit have become quite secularized. There is some evidence of Banaras becoming more materialistic, and although it is deemed as one of the holiest cities it does have a portion of the population who live there to attract tourists, and devout pilgrims, and make money off them. While this is true, Banaras still contains its main aspects of the worship of Siva, religious festivals, and rituals in the Ganges, and will remain a highly religion-centered culture.

REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED FURTHER READINGS

Bhardwaj, Surinder M. (2003) Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India: a study in cultural geography. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers

Eck, Diana L (1983) Banaras: city of light. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Freitag, Sandria B. (ed) (1989) Culture and power in Banaras: community, performance, and environment, 1800-1980. Berkeley: University of California Press

Havell, E. B. (2000) Benares, the sacred city: sketches of Hindu life and religion. New Delhi: Book Faith India

Justice, Christopher (1997) Dying the good death: the pilgrimage to die in India’s Holy

City. Shakti Nagar: Sri Satguru Publications

Lannoy, Richard (2002) Benares: a world within a world: the microcosm of Kashi, yesterday and today. Varanasi: Indica Books

Morinis, Alan E. (1984) Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: A Case Study of West Bengal. New Delhi: Oxford University Press

Parry, Jonathan P. (1994) Death in Banaras. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University

Press

Sen, Rajani R. (1912) The Holy City: Benares. Gurgaon, India: Shubhi Publications

Singh, Rana P.B. and Pravin S. Rana (2002) Banaras region: a spiritual & cultural guide. Varanasi, India: Indica Books

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Bhagavad-Gita

Phallic worship

The Ramayana

The Mahabharata

Ghat

Trimurti

Siva

Ganesa

Laskmi

Moksa

Puri

Ruti

Ganges Valley

Samskaras

Divali

Ram Lila

Shivaratri

Holi

Nakkatayya

Yoga

Sanskrit University

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.sacredsites.com/asia/india/banaras.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/deities.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varanasi

http://www.indiantemples.com/Ganga/varanasi.html

http://www.hinduism.co.za/siva.htm

Article written by Katie Lohues (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.