Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple is also known as Matri-rin Mahadev (मातृऋण महादेव), Kashi Karvat (काशी करवट - a temple in Kashi, which leans ‘karvat’ to one side) or Leaning temple of Varanasi. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Ratneshwar Mahadev Mandir is one of the most photographed temples in the holy city of Varanasi. Though the temple looks apparently well-preserved but in actuality it leans dangerously towards the back side (north-west). It generates eeriness, curiosity and feeling of helplessness pertaining to its dilapidating condition.
Legend: Scholars and local residents narrate different stories related to the origin and antiquity of Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple. Among the legends revolving around the partially submerged & tilted temple of Ratneshwar, the most popular one is that one of the servants of Raja Maan Singh constructed this temple for his mother. Once the temple was constructed, he announced that he has paid off all the debts of his mother by getting constructed the temple. As soon as he said that, the temple started leaning from one side. The narrated reason for the tilt in the temple is to foster a value system that claims that a child can never pay off the debts of a mother. A mother’s love (Matri-rin) is endless and unconditional and it cannot ever be measured or paid off. And since then the temple was damned and remains submerged in water. Ethics aside, the photographs of the temple of early 19th Century (as provided by James Princep) testify that the temple at that time was erected straight. Photos of the temple from the 1860s also show that it was not leaning at that time. Therefore, it can be safely said that slant in the temple’s structure is of later time.
Some scholars claim that the temple was probably built in the mid-19th century, either by the Queen of Gwalior or the Amethi royal family. Some scholars also say that this temple was built by Queen Baija.
Many scholars believe that the ‘shivalingam’ in this temple is related to the Pandavas of the Mahabharata period. It is said that the Pandavas had installed a ‘shivalingam’ at the site of the present Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple while they were in exile. The Pandavas offered their prayers here to receive blessings from Lord Shiva. It is claimed that the ‘shivalingam’ inside this temple is the same ‘shivalingam’ which the Pandavas has installed.
The temple is noted for its unique architecture and structure. The modern studies suggest that the tilt of the temple is because of the defective foundation of the temple and shifting silt. The temple leans by 9°, which is 5° more than the leaning (4°) tower of Pisa. The platform and sanctum sanctorum of the temple remain submerged in the Ganga for most of the time, save the summer season. During summers when the water goes down the entry to the garbagriha becomes visible and some even visit. Since it remains partially submerged most of the time, the aarti & puja rituals are naturally not performed here. Although, when during summers, the water level of the Ganga comes down, the ‘garbhagriha’ gets accessible, then few devotees do perform regular andctraditional religious here