One of the most interesting temples of Varanasi that is rarely frequented by any because of the legends associated with it is the Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple at Scindia Ghat. Scindia Ghat was built by the Scindia (Shinde) dynasty who played an important role in the Maratha ascendency. This temple is located north of the Manikarnika Ghat that is better known as the Burning Ghat. The Hindu scriptures state that Agni, God of Fire was born here.
This temple rose to fame because it leans more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. According to the latest studies, the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans about 4 degrees while the Ratneshwar Shiva Temple leans a little more than 9 degrees!
Matru Rin, as this temple is called locally is believed to be cursed and thereby deemed to be the reason for its partially submerged state and tilt. According to the revenue records, the construction is marked down between 1825 and 1830. The Regional Archaeology Officer at that time has stated that the temple was completed in the 18th century. The priests who have settled around the ghat claim it was built in the 15th century.
One priest says that Punyashlok Ahilyabai Holkar spent a great deal of money in building ponds and temples in this ancient city. Maharani’s maid expressed a desire to build a Shiva Temple near the famed Manikarnika Kund. Maharani consented and gave her the money she asked to help her cause. The temple was built exquisitely and Maharani was very pleased to see it but requested her maid Ratna Bai not to lend her name to the Lord and the temple. However, Ratna Bai did not listen and coined the temple as Ratneshwar Mahadev incurring the wrath of Maharani who cursed her saying that this temple will not have the honour of daily and regular worship. The priest says that the temple started tilting after this and remains submerged in the holy waters of the Ganga for most of the year.
A local says that this temple was built by a king and around the 18th century, a renowned saint used to meditate in this temple. He requested the king to handover the responsibility of this temple to him but the king refused. Enraged by this, the saint cursed the temple and since then, very few visitors make their way to the temple.
A former caretaker of the temple states that a saintly person used to reside in this temple spending his time reading the scriptures. A group of people who worked as guides started harassing him. The saint got wild and cursed them and left the temple. Even today, puja and prayers can be offered for only four months in the year while the temple remains submerged in the Ganga for the remaining eight months.
Another priest says that many kings and queens used to visit Benares between the 15th and 16th century. Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior was one of them. A servant had accompanied the Raja along with his mother Ratnabai. The servant wished to build a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva to pay off the debt to his mother. The mother however, was far from pleased with this idea of her son and maintained silence. When the temple was finished by exemplary craftsmen, the servant invited his mother to see the temple. His mother paid obeisance from outside and started walking away. The servant called after his mother and asked why she did not wish to go in, for which she replied that the structure had not been built correctly. When the son turned around, he saw that the temple had sunk to one side and was tilting.
A few scholars maintain that this temple was built by Maharani Baiza Bai of Gwalior. Another record states that the Amethi royal family erected this temple in 1857 taking the assistance of artisans from Jaipur. The temple is designed like a Durga Mata Temple with a lion on the pinnacle. There are detailed carvings depicting Krishna Leela and Dashavatar.
James Prinsep, an assay master at the mint in Benares had carved the Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple in his sketch around the 18th century. It is believed that the priest used to dive in the water to perform the daily rituals. It is stated that the temple was straight in the 1860s and began to lean backwards later on.
This temple is remarkably preserved despite being in water for a large part of the year. The sanctum sanctorum has several Shiva Lingas consecrated. It would appear that this temple unlike the others seen in the vibrant city of Benares that are built on a high platform was deliberately built in the bottom part of the Manikarnika Ghat. The erosion of the ghat over the last century and the sheer weight of the structure has also perhaps made the structure tilt further and sink lower into the Ganga.
This iconic temple is probably the most photographed temple in Varanasi with the divine Manikarnika Ghat behind. Thousands throng the Scindia Ghat to mediate in the early hours of the morning.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)