History & Culture

The legend of Bateshwar

Bateshwar was the place which moulded Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s character and his ‘never say die’ will. It was his headmaster father who gave him the name “Atal”, meaning firm and unwavering. While passing his early years in Bateshwar, along the Yamuna bank, he once nearly got drowned while attempting to swim. He later did learn to do so and explored the countryside, once observing that Tulsidas might as well have said, “Bateshwar ke ghat par bahi santan ki bhir/Tulsidas chandan ghisen/Tilak de-it Kanhai”, instead of Raghubir doing so at Chitrakoot. It was this region of Lord Krishna’s ancestors that had inspired Vrindavan Lal Verma, the Walter Scott of India, to write his annals of Bundelkhand and the bravery of “Mardani” Jhansi-ki-Rani. Vajpayee too inherited the same love for his childhood place, and it’s worth throwing light on it:

Off the Agra Bah Road, forty six miles from Agra, in the country of ravines, thugs and dacoits, is the ancient and legendary city of Bateshwar, the city connected with the heroes of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, capital of the kingdom of Vasudeo, Krishna’s father, whose marriage procession also passed through it. In the fourth century BC, Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador to the Court of Chandra Gupta Mauriya, toured the place and has written about it; the Jains believe that Neminath was born at Bateshwar, observed Thomas Smith in a lecture on 19th August, 1970.

“All this and more is quite believable when one visits it, braving all the hazards of the trip. The river Yamuna takes a turn near Bateshwar and on the bank stand a number of temples, said to be more than a hundred once upon a time – six, including two made out of marble, are considered more important. They are architecturally of a high order and contain some priceless pieces of sculpture in the form of statues. The main deity known by various names – Bateshwar Nath, Gauri Shanker, Bihari Raj, etc – is Shiva. The Maratta Sardar, Naro Shanker also built a temple there in memory of the Marattas who lost their lives at the third battle of Panipat in 1761,” he said.

Full of bells

“How near the church the devil lives” can be seen at this hallowed and ancient site. The most popular temple known as Bateshwar Nath, is full of bells offered as a gift to the deity. In the forecourt of the temple, hanging from trees and brackets are scores of bells of all kinds, some of them with the names of desparadoes like Man Singh. Within the main room of the mandir also there are bells, a heap of them, and an adjoining room is stacked high with bells. Besides the lakhs of people who visit the temples at the time of the annual fair, the outlaws patronise the place as their hideout. They are the regular devotees of the temples and consider themselves under their protection. Bateshwar is a wonderful place; it possesses an aura of awe and sanctity. Sikander Lodi and Sher Shah Suri maintained garrisons here to keep the outlaws in check. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was the centre of Maratta campaigns. “Raja Badan Singh of Bhadawar built the Bateshwar Nath temple in 1646. According to legends, the Maharajas of Bhadawar and Mainpuri were forever at war. To bring about a reconciliation it was decided that they solve their differences by marrying together their children. However only girls were born to both but Bhadawar announced that a son was born to him and as agreed, a wedding was arranged with the daughter of the Raja of Mainpuri. Bhadawar sent his daughter, dressed as a young man. The girl was greatly embarrassed and when the marriage procession reached the river, she jumped into it, and lo! Lord Shiva appeared. He lifted up the girl and changed her into a boy. Thereupon Bhadawar, out of gratitude, erected the temple and in order to ensure that the Yamuna always flowed by it, built a two-mile dam diverting its course.”

Like Benaras, Bateshwar was a seat of learning. The chief spoken language of the place was Soreseni which was developed into Brajbhasha. The great Goswami Tulsidas, “roamed here and did penance. Because of the inroads of crime and the difficult terrain, it is no longer a populous town but is still held in high esteem and vast multitudes of people visit the temples during the Kartik Purnima. As of old, it revives itself as a big trade centre; at the fair held on the occasion hundreds of thousands of animals, from goats and donkeys to elephants, exchange hands. The fair is reckoned as the biggest of its kind in Northern India.” Things have changed since the 1970s and Bateshwar is now not so crime-ridden.

Bateshwar is also sacred to the Buddhists. Cunningham, who explored the area in 1871, discovered some Buddhist relics, coins of Apollodotus and some Pathian money in the vicinity of the temples. It is, hence, a place of pilgrimage to all sects of the Hindus and one of great interest to the archaeologists. This naturally shaped Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s outlook, reflected in his poetry and other writings. It was, therefore, appropriate that part of his ashes were immersed at Bateshwar ghat.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 1:12:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-legend-of-bateshwar/article24790948.ece

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