The Varanasi Heritage Dossier/Scindhia and Sankatha Ghats
25º 18.729’ North and 83º 00.935’ East (Vashistha-Vamadeva Temple). 25º 18.730’ North and 83º 00.930’ East (Atmavireshvara Temple). 25º 18.733’ North and 83º 00.933’ East (Sankatha Devi Temple).
Exact location on a map
Scindhia and Sankatha Ghats
0.0241ha (the temple compound and nearby area)
At the northern end of the Ghat below the high steps is a shrine of Yameshvara, the linga installed by Yama. Climbing the nearby steps, in a niche halfway up is an image of Yamaditya (“Yama’s Sun”; house near CK 7/ 164), who faces the south - the direction of Yama, ‘Lord of Death’. The merit derived from the worship of Yamaditya combines with that which comes from the merit of worshipping one’s ancestors in the south at Rameshvaram and also together with that acquired in the north by rituals at Manikarnika. It is commonly believed that Yama himself installed this image, which shows a human-like figure with signs of rays on the head. Says the Kashi Khanda (51.108): “Formerly Yama performed pure penance in Yama Tirtha. Then he installed Yameshvara (linga) and Yamaditya (Sun-image) that bestow supernatural powers”.
About 10m climbing, there is a temple on the left that consists of the lingas installed by the mythical sages Vashishtha, Vamadeva, and Janaka (Saptarshi Temple; house CK 7/ 161). All these sages are referred to the Ramayana. At the gate of this temple is the murti (idol) of one of the 56 Vinayakas (Ganesha) called Chintamani (‘giver of relief from worries’). On the river side on the right hand is a shrine of Vaikuntha Madhava, the 27th in the list of 42 Forms of Vishnu in Kashi. Adjacent to it towards the north is the shrine of Harishchandreshvara, a huge linga associated with the mythology of Harishchandra, an ancestor of Lord Rama, who for the perseverance of righteousness sacrificed his kingdom and family. Attached to this linga is Harishchandra Vinayaka. To the other side of the lane facing Harishchandreshvara (CK 7/ 166), in the niche are images of Sena (“army”) and Sima (“boundary”) Vinayakas.
The left lane takes to the temple of Atmavireshvara (CK 7/ 158), which in itself is a small world of divinities. This place is eulogised as Panchamudra Mahapitha, a mystical place possessing supernatural powers. In the Puranic literature this is also called one of the ‘self-born’ (“svayambhu”) lingas. The 6th form of Durga, Katyayini (referred also as Vikatanana in the group of 64 Yoginis), also settled in the compound. Pleased by the great tapas of sage Katyayana, the goddess was born as his daughter, and thus was given the name Katyayini. She is portrayed as three-eyed and eight armed. Katyayini is the patron deity of the Braj Mandala. Two other important lingas established in this compound are Angareshvara (by the Mars) and Budheshvara (by Mercury). The Ganesha is represented here in the form of Mitra (“friend”) Vinayaka. Coming out of the temple on the right in the lower niche there is a small image of Vira Madhava, the 28th Form of Vishnu in Kashi. Some fragments lying there are worshipped as Rahu and Ketu. Nearby, on the other side of the lane is Brihaspatishvara (a linga installed by Jupiter).
Following this lane if one goes towards the ghat one meets Parvateshvara (CK 7/ 156) on the left, and Vasukishvara and Samudreshvara on the right. After a short walk to the other side of lane one enters the temple of Sankatha Devi (“Goddess of dangers”), called Sankatha-Ji (CK 7/ 159), for she is the one who vanquishes dangers for her devotees. She was originally an ancient folk mother-goddess who later on mythologised as Shiva’s consort and her prayer eulogised her as the demon slayer. Her temple icon confirms this identity with the Great Goddess: She is shown with her foot on the vanquished demon, his bull’s head severed from his body. Entering the compound of Sankatha Devi one finds a large courtyard in the centre of which is an old holy-fig tree, with a number of tiny shrines tangled in its mass of roots. The principal one in the group is Sankataharana Hanuman. In the far corner of the compound is the entrance to the sanctuary of the goddess. Close by the gate are the lingas of Sagareshvara and Sankateshvara. The great door is flanked by the sacred cosmogram of Shri Yantra. The sanctuary is dark, lit only by the oil lamps on the altar. There are three recesses on the altar: the first one of divine gatekeepers (dvarapalas), the last one of Hanuman, and the central one occupied by the silver-masked image of goddess Sankatha Devi. Worshippers are allowed to touch the feet of the goddess, which is not common in other goddess temples.
Present state of conservation
Except by the temple trusts and the local public organisations, those work on their own ways, there are no specific action plans, programmes and strategies for conservation and preservation of the ghats.
Specific measures being taken for conserving the specific property
It is expected that by the support of active people participation, awareness to save the age-old rich heritage, and development under the Master Plan (and its judiciary control) the ghat heritage will be protected and conserved for the better befit to the society.
The temples are owned by their Temple Trusts; the ghat area by the Municipal Corporation.