Three temples that have existed since the ancient times in Varanasi are Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Maa Annapurna Devi Mandir and Durga Kund Mandir. A visit to Varanasi is deemed complete only after one offers prayers at the Durga Kund Mandir, better known as the Monkey Temple (because of the number of monkeys that reside here).
According to the Srimad Devi Bhagavatam (Devi Bhagavata Purana), Raja Subahu wished to conduct the swayamwara of his accomplished daughter, Shashikala. He decided to invite all the kings to witness this happy occasion. Shashikala had a dream in which she was instructed to marry Sudarshan, son of the deceased king Dhruvasandhi who was now living with his mother Manorama in the ashrama of Bharadwaja Brahmarshi. Sudarshan also had a dream wherein he was instructed to attend the swayamwara even though he did not have an army or weapons to protect himself or his bride-to-be.
Though Raja Subahu and his wife tried to dissuade Shashikala from marrying Sudarshan, she stood firm on her decision preferring death rather than disobeying the instruction of Durga Devi. The kings who had been invited for this grand event were beginning to sense that something was amiss. Raja Yudhajit who had killed Veerasena in a battle to anoint his grandson, Satrujit as the king wished Shashikala should marry his grandson.
However, Raja Subahu married Shashikala and Sudarshan in secret and asked them to leave the palace before the kings found out. The kings who felt angered by the guile of Raja Subahu chased the newly married. When Raja Subahu, Sudarshan and Shashikala were surrounded, Sudarshan invoked the blessings of Durga Devi and sought her protection.
Durga Devi appeared on a lion wielding many weapons to defeat the enemies of her devout disciple Sudarshan and provide safe passage for all of them. Raja Subahu praised Durga Devi and requested her to reside in Kashi. Durga Devi consented and said she will reside in Kashi till such time as this creation exists to protect the universe. The temple built by Raja Subahu for Durga Devi is the Durga Kund Mandir wherein the Divine Mother manifested herself (Swayambhu) when the temple was built.
Locals worship Durga Mata as Kushmanda Durga Devi here. It is said that the mere darshan of Durga Devi will destroy the sins of one. There is a samadhi of a priest who was brought back to life by Durga Devi after some robbers offered him as a human sacrifice. When Durga Devi blessed him with a new lease of life, he requested that he be allowed to rest at her feet forever. The place where the saintly priest took samadhi is known as Kukuteshwar Mahadev which is close to the Durga Mandir.
The temple that stands today has been built by Rani Bhabani of Natore in the 18th century (believed to be 1760) in the typical Nagara style of architecture in red sandstone. At that time, the cost of construction was around fifty thousand rupees. The entire area was densely wooded in the 18th century and monkeys used to enjoy the fruits of the trees and tranquillity of this sacrosanct place.
The temple complex has a huge open courtyard surrounded by a colonnade which leads to Durga Kund that stands on one side. The temple has a wide intricately carved entrance with elaborately embellished columns and multiple shikharas of various heights. The temple is built in the panchayatana layout with the ardha mandapa in front of the sanctum sanctorum. This sacred pool is believed to be connected to the Ganga.
Interestingly, Durga Devi is worshipped through masks and padukas and as a yantra as she is believed to be in the form of the Supreme Energy. Another interesting story about this temple is that the original structure was built as an icosagon (20-gon is a twenty-sided polygon).
It is recommended to take a dip in the Durga Kund during the auspicious Navaratri festival and offer prayers here to wash away sins, disease and anguish. Thousands throng this temple on the fourth day (Chaturthi) of Navaratri.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)