I used to pass the entrance of the temple and through the gali on nearly daily basis but I never suspected that there would be such a huge temple in an apparently constricted space that’s in no way unique to Tara Pith in Varanasi. I have seen spacious inner courtyards with rectangular gardens in them, e.g. Agrasen Mahajani Vidyalaya building at Chaukhambha and Kymarswami Mutt beside Kedareshwar Temple. The front courtyard has arched passageways supported on columns that lead to the two side courtyards of the temples of Ma Vishalakshi and Ma Kali. Another passage by the courtyard at the right hand leads to Tara Temple.
The gates were closed when I reached the compound. A gentleman, probably from the family of the caretakers, was cleaning the courtyard and passageway at the entrance (only one entrance is functional, the other entrances from the gali are kept locked nowadays). The walls of the whole compound were freshly painted with ochre – the colour of renunciation, ergo, symbolising holiness – and white. The columns and multi-globulated arches looked strangely Bengali and Rajasthani.
“Those who know” is the term generally used for those with inside information about the past and present of a place. Their names are lost in amorphous haze. Well, not in this case, because this time, “those who know” happen to be my uncle (Babla Mama) and grandmother (Nani). So, they told me that Rani Rashmoni had the temple constructed. They also told me a story about the temple and its past. Their story had a point, and another story in it. It was about the platform upon which the idol of Ma Tara rests. Before we proceed, I must direct the reader to the P.S. Please go there and then come back.
Before going into the story let me share what I came to know through my search with the key word “Rani Rashmoni”. She was born in 1793 and lived up to 1861. She’s called “Lokmata” the mother of the people. There’s a mission bearing her name. A Bangla movie of 1955 bears her name too. She was a real hero (ine). The span through which she remained at the helm of her zamindari was also the period of the rise of the power of the East India Company in India. She was the original Iron Lady. At least that’s what I gather from her biography. She had the courage to stand firmly against the East India Company and twist their metaphorical arms more than once to get what she saw as good for her sons: her people, as she was the lokmata. It’s the story of such personalities that pass on to become legends and her legend transcended both geographical and temporal boundaries.
The Government of India issued a postage stamp in 1994, to commemorate her bicentennial year. She will always be remembered for having Dakshineshwar Kali Temple constructed, and for her courage and balance of the spiritual with the meterial.
A couple of pages on her that I liked are:
After having read about her, now I know that her legend that I received in Banaras is definitely false. Yet, it lives on, and with each re-telling, breathes one more time. The story that I was told had a defiant queen denying some Englishman her daughter’s hand. As they come storming into her palace, she, a devotee of Ma Tara, orders her men to bury her daughter alive, construct a platform and establish the Mother’s idol over the platform. Her command was obeyed and the kanya’s form was fused into that of the goddess. The story was embedded into the minds of “those who knew”, and then was told and re-told. The legend of the Rani and her temple in Kashi (although none of the pages I read mentions any such temple) lived and grew.
When it reached me, it had an addendum. I was told that in the olden times the sanctum of Ma Tara was illuminated with the light of one lamp only. In those olden days, only the brave heart would go there and there was only one person who could act as the priest in the Mother’s temple. He was partially mad. Other than him, whosoever tried to worship he as her priest would either turn mad or die a painful death. After electricity bulbs were introduced, the place is now open to all who wish to go there. So, inducted in the lore of fear, nay terror, I entered the compound.
Well, during my journey between the three sanctums, the only fear that lingered in my mind was that I’d be forbidden to take pictures. So, I clicked quickly and when no one was looking. In fact, the whole compound was deserted while I roamed and clicked, yet the fear did not leave me until I had left the compound and entered the gali. More about that fear later.
A word about the defacement in the name of reconstruction of heritage buildings in Banaras here: I marked that the portions where stone had broken beyond repair, they had erected brick and cement walls, like ugly patches on a beautiful Banarsi Sari.
P.S. Sri Rama Murthy corrected my error by mentioning that the temple was constructed by Rani Bhavani. He is right. And here’s the evidence:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.