One of the oldest surviving temples of Varanasi that holds the rare distinction of escaping the ruthless desecration by Muslim invaders especially the Mughals is the Kardameshwar Mahadev Mandir located near Kandwa Pokhra. This ancient Shiva Temple that forms a part of the sacrosanct Panchkroshi Yatra is one of the best preserved temples of Varanasi.
According to the locals, this entire area used to be a dense forest centuries ago. Historians opine that Shah Jahan in 1624 took shelter in the surrounding areas of Benares when the Mughal troops had laid siege to Prayagraj. After ascending the throne in 1628, Shah Jahan, whose tyranny is superseded only by his son Aurangzeb ordered that all Hindu temples should be destroyed and the construction of temples must cease forthwith. Over 76 temples were demolished in Kashi alone. Aurangzeb passed the controversial order on 9 April 1669 that gave his men the right to demolish all Hindu schools and temples and to use any means necessary to put down their religious teachings and practices. The horrific desecration of the sacred shrine of Shree Kashi Vishwanath at Benares on 4 September 1669 and the construction of a mosque on its site and destruction of sacred temples in and around Kashi is yet another fine example of the religious intolerance of Aurangzeb. As the Kardameshwar Mahadev Mandir was located deep in a thickly wooded area, the Mughal soldiers did not find the courage to enter the forest.
This temple has been described in detail in the Kashi Khanda of the Skanda Purana. According to the Hindu scriptures, Lord Rama incurred the Brahmahatya dosha after killing Shiva bhakta Ravana, Lord of Lanka. He was advised by Kulaguru Vashishta Brahmarshi on his return to Ayodhya to absolve himself of this sin by visiting Kardameshwar Mahadev Temple along with his family. After taking a dip in the divine Kandwa Sarovar, Lord Rama circumambulated Lord Mahadev and Parvati Devi and was liberated from the dosha. The tradition of parikrama has been established since then.
Kashi Khanda also states that Rishi Kardam, the manasaputra of Brahma performed severe penance here for thousands of years. Such was the intensity of his tapas (austerities and penance) that tears of joy (ecstatic bliss) used to fall from his eyes which then formed a pool that is seen in front of the temple. Lord Vishnu gave Rishi Kardam darshan in this place and asked him to seek a boon. Rishi Kardam prayed that Lord Vishnu would be born as a son to him to which Lord Vishnu consented. Rishi Kardam married Devahuti and had nine girls and one boy named Kapila.
Rishi Kardam also pleased Bhagawan Shankar with his tapas who offered him a boon. The pious sage had become quite aged by this time and sought the boon of youth from Lord Mahadev. Lord Shiva asked him and his wife to take a dip in the kund and lo! Rishi Kardam and his wife regained their youth. Locals say that if one is able to see their shadow in the pool, it means that they will have a long life. It is highly recommended to take a dip in this kund to improve one’s mental and physical health.
There are many more stories associated with this temple mentioned in the Hindu scriptures which the locals and priests will narrate with great enthusiasm and devotion. The temple derives its name from Rishi Kardam who consecrated the Shiva Linga in the sanctum sanctorum.
The original structure of this temple appears to have been built in the 6th to 7th century most likely by the Guptas. Several sculptures seen on the external façade are typical of the Gupta style of architecture especially the hair and garments. Successive dynasties have added to the original temple structure. This temple appears to be the only surviving structure built by the Gahadavala dynasty in this region.
It is roughly estimated that this temple has reached its present structure under the Chandelas of Jejakabhukti. A lot of architectural elements, structural detailing and intricate carvings and sculptures are reminiscent of the masterpieces of Khajuraho. It would appear that this temple was perhaps one of the last structures built by the master builders before the Muslim invaders razed many of their stupendous works of art to the ground.
This temple is built as a Pancharatha with an ardha mandapa and a square garbha griha with an extremely ornate shikhara over it. There is a water source in the north-west corner of the sanctum from which water flows continuously on the Shiva Linga. The innumerable sculptures of Uma Maheshwar, Dasha Avatar, Lord Brahma, sages, apsaras, Durga, Lord Shiva, Ardhanaareshwara, Nataraja, Lord Balarama and Revati Devi, Nagadevas, Mahishasura Mardini and others are stunning to say the least. The different styles of architecture are easily identifiable in the postures, facial expressions, hair decorations, garments and detailing in and around the niches.
There are two inscriptions found on the pillars of the ardha mandapa that date back to the 14th to 15th century. The ghat and kund was renovated by Rani Bhabani of Natore who is also credited with building the Durga Temple in Varanasi.
This is one of the most interesting temples from the viewpoint of art, architecture and spirituality. Kardameshwar Mahadev Mandir is a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)