Notes from Laat Bhairav

Visiting the Laat Bhairav temple in Benaras had lengthy been on my bucket record. Newspaper articles on it had piqued my curiosity: one in every of them had a picture of Ramleela being carried out on one facet of the temple grounds and namaz being supplied on the opposite. Reportedly, this was a spot the place the strains of Ramcharitmanas’s chaupais and azaan melded within the air. I needed to expertise this for myself.

I learn up on Laat Bhairav earlier than making the journey. Diana L. Eck writes in Banaras: City of Light: “[The] image of Bhairava is a pillar, encased in copper, and smeared with vermilion. Thus, it has the name Lat, the ‘staff’ of Bhairava.” She provides, “When Sherring examined the positioning within the 1860s, he was satisfied that probably the most historic stays there weren’t these of the Hindu temple, however of a a lot earlier Buddhist complicated, and that the Lat itself was actually an Ashokan pillar, with simply the size of the Ashokan pillar discovered at Sarnath a couple of miles to the north.” Today the pillar stands in the course of a Muslim idgah (prayer floor) and believers of each faiths pray in the identical compound.

Inviting vibe

I landed up there on the day of Muharram. People had gathered in sizeable quantity within the compound. They chatted amicably, sharing snacks. Then the procession of tajiyas started: I watched fascinated because it sailed by easily underneath police supervision whereas on the opposite facet of the identical highway a mela went on undisturbed.

Laat Bhairav boasts of different minor wonders too. For one, it’s amazingly quiet, the air unsullied by that bane of non secular locations in India — the cry of loudspeakers. Not being an everyday vacationer spot, the group is much less right here too. The compound additionally has a pond, which stays locked for probably the most a part of the day. While ponds adjoining to temples are widespread in Benaras, clear ponds, just like the one right here, aren’t. The tree-lined giant courtyard offers off an inviting vibe. The scholar, John Irwin, writes, “The pippal tree worshipped beside the stump is said to be the scion of an earlier tree destroyed in the riot” (‘The Lat Bhairo at Benares (Varanasi): Another pre-Asokan monument?’).

What riot? Intrigued, I appeared it up. Elizabeth-Chalier Visuvalingam and Sunthar Visuvalingam say, “The pillar was the focus of fanatical violence between Hindus and Muslims during the famous ‘Lat Bhairo riots’ of 1809, which eventually evolved by 1811 into a common political agitation directed against the excesses of colonial rule, without however resolving the question of the Lat” (‘Between Mecca and Benares: The Marriage of Lat Bhairava & Ghazi Miyan’).

Strange medley

So Hindus and Muslims have fought at this website, which apparently has a Buddhist previous. Sitting within the courtyard underneath the shade of an enormous neem tree, I recalled Irwin’s phrases once more: “The modern visitor has an impression that he is witnessing a relatively late stage in the history of a site that had once been sacred to all Indian religions and was probably older than any of them. What a strange medley.”

The subsequent time I visited, it was for Ramleela. The celebrations had been unhappy — they appeared like a relic from one other age, a practice being forcefully continued. The few spectators who had gathered had been busier with their telephones than with the going-ons. I used to be reminded of the Ramleela in Ramnagar, additionally in Benaras, that’s well-known for its pomp and present. There too I had the sensation that I used to be watching a spectacle belonging to a different time. Incidentally, the effigies utilized in Ramnagar Ramleela are made by the identical household which makes the tajiyas for Muharram.

The author is a historical past buff and avid blogger.

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