Gupt Kashi

Gupt Kashi (4850) is in important market town on the road to Kedarnath, and an important stop on the traditional pilgrim route.  It is set high on a ridge on the west side of the Mandakini river valley (and getting there involves a major ascent with numerous hairpin turns).  The name Gupt Kashi means "Hidden Benares," and the town's sacred identity plays on its identity with the more famous pilgrimage site.  The site's charter myth describes how when the Pandava brothers were searching for a glimpse of Shiva, Shiva first concealed himself in Gupt Kashi, but later fled from them further up the valley to Kedarnath, where the Pandavas finally got their wish.  There are more tangible connections as well--the Kedarnath pandas (hereditary pilgrimage priests) live in Gupt Kashi during the winter months, and after the Kedarnath temple closes for the winter, the image of Kedarnath passes through Gupt Kashi on its way to Ukhimath (across the valley), where it stays for the winter.

Gupt Kashi's main temple is to Shiva as Vishvanath, "Lord of the Universe" (the most important Shiva temple in Benares).  It is built in an enclosed courtyard, and the architectural style here is typical of this region--stone construction with a high tower over the main sanctuary, and a wooden frame on top of the tower). The smaller temple to the left (photo below) is to Shiva Ardhanarishvara, and the two streams of water flowing into the temple tank in the foreground (click here or on the spouts for a closeup) are said to be the Yamuna (left) and the Ganga (right).

June 2005.

 

Here's a closer shot of the main temple. showing some of the elaborate decorative painting--including the lotuses on each side at the bottom, the pairs of dark red door guardians (dvarapalas) on either side of the doorway, and red-faced guardian over the doorway--probably Bhairava, the most common guardian deity for Shiva temples.

This temple was completely unpainted (grey stone) when I first saw it in 1989.  It certainly looks grander now--a definite advantage when competing with other sites for patronage--but I think that this sort of decoration resumes an existing practice rather than being an innovation.  Many other hill temples such as Tungnath, Badrinath, Kedarnath, and Ukhimath have exterior painted decorations, (though few are this elaborate).

June 2005

 

Here's a closer shot of the figures on each side of the main doorway, showing elaborately carved and painted door frame, and the guardian figures on each side. 

The sign on the left encourages visitors to put donations only in donation boxes (since any gift in hand will remain with that person, not the temple); the sign at right is that any photography is strictly forbidden inside the temple (the sign also forbids taking a camera inside, but this must only apply to cameras in hand--I put my camera back in the bag and entered without any objection. 

June 2005

 

 

Here's closeup of the guardian deities on the left side of the doorway--if my memory is correct, they are about 12 x 18 inches overall.  Just about all temples have some sort of guardian figures--subsidiary deities whose job is serve the primary deity by keeping the site secure.  The small yellow flowers on their heads show that these deities are also included in the temple's daily rites. 

June 2005

 

Here's a shot of the smaller temple, to Shiva as Ardhanarishvara ("half-woman").  Portraying Shiva as both male and female graphically illustrates how God transcends the opposites and limitations that define human life.   The architectural style is similar to the other temple, but on a smaller scale, with a low entry hall (the doorway is at most 5 feet tall), a tower at the back over the primary image, which is covered by a wood-framed, tin roofed cap.  It is also painted, but far more simply than the Gupt Kashi temple--some bands of color around the doorway, decorations on the supports for the roof, and red-painted roofs.  The painted tin drip edges are VERY characteristic of traditional mountain architecture, and one often finds these long strips cut in decorative shapes and patterns. 

In front of the temple sits a large cast metal statue of Nandi the bull, Shiva's animal associate.  A statue of Nandi is often found outside Shiva temples, and Nandi's image always faces toward the Shiva image, as a visible sign of his devotion to Shiva.

This picture was taken in June 2005.

 

Here's a side shot of this magnificent image, complete with a swastika drawn in sandalwood paste (made by rubbing some sandalwood on a wet stone--it not only smells good, but is also believed to have cooling properties).

Indian travelers see a lot of swastikas, a traditional Hindu symbol associated with good fortune and well-being--very different than the evil of Hitler's National Socialists.  The arms on Hindu swastikas always point clockwise (the auspicious direction), and usually aligned to be vertical and horizontal--unlike the Nazi symbol, in which the arms ran at 45 degree angles).

June 2005


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Last modified 28 January 2006