Dedicated to the sun God Surya, Lolark Kund is a dramatic and ancient water reservoir situated in a small plaza above Tulsi Ghat in Varanasi (Banaras or Kashi), near to the confluence of the Asi and the Ganga rivers.
Of all the step wells I have seen in India, Lolark Kund is certainly one of the most distinctive, with a wide flight of very steeps steps on three sides leading down to the pool, which is separated from the main well by an incredibly tall and narrow arch. This distinctive and unusual arch indicates the direction of the rising sun over the river Ganges a short distance away. Access down to the kund is via the adjacent Lolark Aditya Mandir immediately to the south.
The structure that can be seen to day probably dates to around 1000 A.D., but the origins of Lolark Kund date much further back than that, and is very likely to be one of the oldest sacred sites in Varanasi. It is named in some of the earliest Puranic Mahatmyas of the city (Kashi khand of Skand Puran), at a time when only a few sites were explicitly named.
Two copper plate inscriptions found here record the patronage of the Gohadavala kings, who bathed and worshipped here and made charitable donations. The Gohadavala dynasty ruled from 1089 – 1197 A.D., which may well correspond to the time the current kund structure we see today was built.
The origins of Lolark Kund are steeped in legend and associated with the story of when Surya divided himself into twelve parts (adityas).
A very long time ago there was a severe drought on Earth that lasted for over 60 years. Brahma observed the chaos it created, and looked for someone to restore order. He selected a sage by the name of Ripunjay, who assumed control over the Earth on the condition that all the Gods would not interfere with his rule. He subsequently ordered all the Gods to leave Kashi, and whilst perfect order was returned to Earth by his rule, Shiva longed to return to Kashi from Mount Mandara where he had been banished.
After much discussion, Shiva and Parvati decided to ask the 64 Goddesses (yoginis) for help. The yoginis adopted numerous disguises and descended on Kashi in an attempt to disturb the kings rule, but none of their efforts were successful.
In desperation Shiva turned to Surya, the sun, who agreed to help him. Legend says that when Surya first set his eyes on Kashi, he trembled with pure uncontrolled excitement.
The place where he dropped his semen came to be called Lolark Kund, but even Surya failed to disrupt the kings rule. Ashamed of his failure and yet captivated by the city, Surya settled down in Kashi and divided himself into 12 parts called adityas. This is how Kashi became known as the home of the adityas, with Lolark the most important of these. Lolark means ‘trembling Sun’, referring back to Surya’s reaction upon first setting his eyes on the city of Kashi.
It is widely thought that long before 1000 A.D. villagers would have traveled to this place to bathe and worship. Lolark Kund may well have been a place for sun and naga (serpent) worship before Vishnu and Shiva were adopted as the great Gods of Kashi.
The water here is said to have special powers of fertility. It is believed that women who bathe in the waters will be blessed with a child, and specifically a son. On a designated festival day during the monsoon season (Lolark Shashti), up to seven thousand couples flock to Lolund Kund at sunrise, leaving their wet clothes behind after bathing along with a piece of fruit or vegetable that they pledge never to eat again.
To conceive a son, the wife and husband have to bathe together, her sari tied to his doti. Some devotees also throw jewellery into the water, to be later retrieved by the priests to help fund the massive clean-up effort. Couples who claim to have had a son as a result of previously bathing here return to the kund with the child for thanksgiving and to give the child’s first haircut (tonsure).
Modern railings down the centre of the flights of steps is testament to just how busy this place gets during the festival, the steps are incredibly steep and difficult to negotiate even with nobody around. It is hardly surprising that over the years the volume of devotees during the festival has resulted in a number of stampedes occurring.
I imagine at one time an ancient temple once stood next to Lolark Kund that has long since gone. Possible evidence for this earlier temple can be seen in some carvings that have been set into the side walls of the kund as you descend the steps, they appear a little out of place and perhaps once resided elsewhere.
The earlier temple would have probably stood on the same site as the more modern Lolark Aditya Mandir, which is dedicated to Shiva and has some interesting carvings including the Navagraha (nine planets).
Seeing Lolark Kund today, it’s hard to imagine the landscape that once enveloped this ancient and sacred site. This whole area would have been quite densely forested, peppered with ponds and with streams making their way to the great river Ganges. A few mansions and ashrams may have existed, but this kund that is mentioned in works as early as the Mahabharata would have been very much nestled in a rural setting.
Thankfully, despite the urban development of the city over the centuries, Lolark Kund has survived. Located just 5 minutes walk from Tulsi Ghat, it’s well work a short excursion to see this monument, one of the oldest of all sacred sites in the city.
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