Monday, January 7, 2013

Benares/Varanasi Monkey Temple India

LE VOYAGE DU PRINCE DE GALLES -- VISITE DE PRINCE AU TEMPLE DES SINGES, A BENARES.  L'ILLUSTRATION, an antique, illustrated newspaper, published in France in 1876.


Durga temple, also known as the "monkey temple" is one of the important temples of Varanasi. This temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga. The Durga temple was built in the eighteenth century. A Bengali Maharani built the Durga temple in Nagara Style (the North Indian style of temple architecture). It is stained red with ochre and has a multi-tiered shikhara (spire). The Durga temple is situated on a rectangular tank, called the Durga Kund. According to the Puranas, Goddess Durga has kept this place for many centuries and protects the holy city, Varanasi, from the South.

According to legends, the present statue of Goddess Durga was not made by man but appeared on its own in the temple. The Durga temple is also called Monkey temple because of the presence of large number of monkeys. In Hinduism, Durga is represented as the embodiment of shakti or female power, clad in red, riding a tiger and fully armed with Shiva's trident, Vishnu's discus and a sword. Non-Hindus can enter the courtyard of the Durga temple but not the inner sanctum. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit the Durga temple during Navratri and other auspicious occasions.

The Prince of Wales visiting the Monkey Temple, Benares, from The Graphic, 1876  Interesting to note the different "artist" impression of monkey's in the temple.  The top illustration by a French artist appears to show chimpanzee's.  In the illustration by a German artist, below, he makes the face's appear almost human.


 The inside of the Temple of the Monkeys in Benares,from a German magazine, 1894

"Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together."  Mark Twain

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India.  People often refer to Varanasi as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of lights", "the city of learning", and "the oldest living city on earth."  The earliest known archaeological evidence suggests that settlement around Varanasi in the Middle Ages in the Ganga valley (the seat of Aryan religion and philosophy), began in the 11th or 12th century BCE.  There are about about 23,000 temples in Varanasi, one of the most worshiped is the Benares Monkey Temple.

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