Who are these gentlemen posing in front of an ancient looking building? And what is that building? They are Vivek and Ganesh. No, they are not my old friends or acquaintances. I met them for the first time when I went visiting that place. That brings us to the second question: what is that building? They had told me, those gentlemen, that one could google “Gurudham” and obtain information regarding the same. So, I googled it. They had mentioned the name of Mrinalini Bangroo as the brain behind the project, and there were a couple of pages providing information on her too. The gentlemen in the images above had already told me that their organization was behind similar work in Udaipur and Jaipur.
Google took me to pages on The Times of India (timesofindia.indiatimes.com) website and Jnana Pravaha website from where I found some information on the temple. Raja Jai Narayan Ghoshal had it constructed c.1814. There’s a huge compound of a secondary school bearing his name at Ramapura in Varanasi. He was a philanthropist, and with will and means to leave his name behind him, after him. So we remember the Raja at the completion of two hundred years from the year of the temple’s construction because of what he left behind for the Banarsis.
The first time somebody had mentioned the temple in my presence was a couple of years ago. Professor Mahapatra had called it unique; the only one of its kind, as far as its being the abode of guru is concerned. I had thought of going to the place myself, but couldn’t. Then my friend Dr. A. P. Singh sent me a couple of photographs that gave a fair view of the complex and I could postpone actually visiting it. In my penultimate trip to my city I could manage to reach the temple, but the gates were closed. Finally, in my last trip, when I was passing through the street facing the temple, I saw the gates open and some construction activities going on.
How could I miss such a chance? Although I had some official sort of work to do, I went in and there I met Vivek. He is from Delhi-NCR, just like the firm he represents. He was happy to know that I cared for the temple and was interested in what they were doing to save it. I was happy to know that finally, at least one heritage structure of Varanasi will not go to ruins. Wait. Let’s not conclude so fast. I was happy about the positivity of the very thought that the flow of destructive change could be, will be, stopped at least in one instance in my city. I was happy to see the application part of urballaghology, and to find a possible cure to my urballaghophobia: victory over change at last.
Some well meaning persons had tried their hands at the repair work in the compound earlier too. The traces can be seen, alas! even today. Look at the incongruity of the bricks and cementing material of the original temple wall and that of the brick and cement used to repair later in the image to the left above. A similar incongruity can be seen betweeb the whole entrance sealed with brick and cement and the doorway with blue wooden doors in the image to the right. Vivek had told me that lakheria bricks were used in the original construction, and gara, a mixture of slacked lime, jaggery and surkhi, was used to bind the bricks together.
Surkhi (burnt bricks powder) and coarse sand can be seen in heaps in the image below to the right. To the left can be seen water and slacked lime tubs. Sand and surkhi are converted into a gluey gruel when mixed in the lime solution. I was also shown jaggery and urad daal soaked in water inside a low-ceiling room of the compound. They are added to the mixture to make the whole cementing material hold the bricks strongly. I personally know of several neighbourhoods that are over a century old with houses constructed of the same material. The temple complex itself is two centuries old. So, the construction made with this material lasts really very long for sure.
There is an added advantage when brick and gara are used in construction, especially in areas with climate like that of Varanasi: it acts as an insulator against the extremes of the temperature, especially in summer. It binds not only brick but also stone very well. The proof is in the centuries old houses of Varanasi. Stone is a central structural component of the houses in Varanasi. How can one imagine Varanasi without those stately stone gateways, arches, jharokhas, corbels and parapets?
So, they are using the material that was used in the original construction, or, when it’s not possible, as is the case of lakheria bricks, they are using something that at least looks like the original, instead of the prominent patchy eyesores plastered on the same building everywhere. The old and rotten wooden lintels will be replaced with new ones, as is the standard practice in such buildings. Stone components of the temple are a different matter. The colour of older stone and that of the new slabs may not be the same, as is seen in many other cases in the same city. That makes the new work appear patchy. Still, I hope they get this element right too.
The one thing that they can never reclaim from the jaws of time is the old expanse and grandeur of the compound and its buildings that has been engulfed and converted into a petrol pump and a big jewellery shop. I was informed that people have built houses and shops on the land of the temple’s compound. The old naubat khana gates have now been sealed with bricks etc. because the area right behind it has been converted into Aishwarya.
On the side facing the naubat khana gates is an Indian Oil petrol pump (there are two more in the vicinity, one by Barhar Kothi and the other opposite what used to be Gunjan Talkies once).
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