« PreviousContinue »
of Indian antiquities with exactness is only of yesterday. Scarcely a generation has passed since Prinsep deciphered the inscription on Aśoka's pillars, and ascertained its date. Moreover, the spirit of archeological inquiry has but slightly manifested itself among the British rulers of India. Of the large number of educated Englishmen who have visited the country during the last hundred years, and have resided in it for a longer or shorter period, perhaps not one in a thousand has taken the smallest practical interest in bringing to the light of day its hidden historical treasures. It is a hopeful sign of the times, that curiosity on this subject is now being extensively excited; but it has hardly yet passed into the stage of eager desire, displaying itself by earnest and persistent effort in the pursuit of archæological investigations. The discoveries of the last few years have been so remarkable and abundant, and have contributed so many additions to our small stock of knowledge respecting ancient India, that the appetite for these researches has become more and more strongly whetted, and the belief has originated that the Indian mine is rich and deep, and is ample enough to repay the efforts of a whole army of explorers.
The ancient structures of India with which we are acquainted are not of that primitive and rude character which would lead us to imagine that they were the very first productions of Indian architectural skill. On the contrary, they indicate an advanced stage, both in the knowledge and application of permanent material, and in devising and executing elegant designs in it. No one can look upon Aśoka's monoliths and believe for an instant that the knowledge of architecture which they display was developed wholly during that monarch's reign. Nor can it be credited that the beautiful cavetemples were without their predecessors. It may be replied, however, that, from a minute and careful examination of Indian, Assyrian, and Egyptian architecture, the conclusion may almost be demonstrated, that the archetypes of the two former styles were originally wooden, while those of the last-mentioned were of stone, and that, therefore, there is a necessary limit to our investigations, beyond which it is useless to attempt to go; for that the wooden archetypes have mostly, if not entirely, perished, and the stone are of a later period. Granting that this theory is, in the main, true, we are not compelled to believe that the earliest stone erections in India were as recent as the third century before Christ; or, if there were any before that date, that they have all been destroyed. Of the ancient Assyrian palaces discovered by Layard, those most elaborately sculptured were built about B.C. 700, while others, in a less ornamented style, were erected still earlier : and even these were preceded by wooden buildings. If this be correct, why should not at least the same antiquity be conceded to Indian sculptures subsequent to the wooden period ? Is it at all likely that the Aryan race existed in India for between one and two thousand years, that they conquered a large portion of the country, that they attained to greatness and glory, and made wonderful progress in civilization, equalling, if not surpassing, their contemporaries in other parts of Asia, and yet, that, during all this time, they were satisfied with only transitory symbols of greatness, and never conceived the idea of leaving behind them durable monuments of their power, which should hand down their name to many generations ? They must have heard of the vast structures erected in Egypt, and of the splendid palaces, and stairs, and pillars, and other edifices, with which the Assyrian monarchs adorned their cities. They were not lacking in genius, or in the desire for knowledge; on the contrary, their minds investigated the highest subjects, and whatever was of interest to humanity in general, they regarded as of importance to themselves.
But, it may be said, the Hindus borrowed their architecture from the Assyrians; or the architecture of the two races was of a common origin. Both suppositions may be true; and, in my opinion, it is almost certain, that, in whatever way it was brought about, both countries in some respects followed the same models. Whether Assyrian or Persian sculptors were the architects of the earliest Hindu buildings, is open to question ; but, if they were, it seems absurd to suppose that they should have erected edifices altogether of wood, while in their own country the public buildings were, to a large extent, of stone; especially seeing that various kinds of durable stone were easily procurable in India. If, on the other hand, the architects were natives who had learnt the principles of their art chiefly from Assyria or Persia, or from a common source, it appears equally strange that they should have perpetuated the construction of wooden buildings in India for centuries after they must have known them to have been abandoned in other countries, and to have given place to vast edifices of wood and stone combined, covered with carvings and sculptures.
We arrive, therefore, at this conclusion, that, as there is every reason to believe that solid buildings partly if not entirely of stone were erected in India several hundred years preceding the third century B.C.,—the earliest date, as already remarked, of any monuments hitherto discovered,—the probability is, that, if a diligent search were instituted, some fragmentary remains of them would be found. It is a circumstance highly favourable to the prosecution of this search, that the ancient abodes of the Aryan race in India have been, for the most part, well ascertained. All these places will, I hope, in the course of time, be thoroughly examined, and every object of interest tending to throw any light on the subject before us, or on the ancient history of India generally, noted and described.
It is natural to believe, that, prima facie, Benares offers as fair a field for archæological investigation in regard to the earliest forms of Hindu architecture as any city in India. It is confessedly true, however, that no very ancient remains have yet been found there; but the reason may be, because they have not been properly sought after.
Only within the last few years, so far as I am aware, have any inquiries been made, in a regular manner, after old buildings in Benares. Mr. James Prinsep, the great Indian archæologist, was a resident in the city for about ten years; but it does not appear that he made any important discoveries in it. His “Views of Benares” are chiefly of a popular cast, and do not give evidence of any extensive observation or research of this nature. Major Kittoe, the late Government archæologist, and the architect of the Government College,-a beautiful Gothic structure in the suburbs of the city,--although interesting himself in the excavations of Sárnáth, some three miles to the north of Benares, did not, so far as is known, examine the city itself. Indeed, so inattentive was he to its claims to antiquity, that he removed
many cart-loads of heavy stones, some of which were curiously carved, from Bakaríyá Kund, on the confines of the city and not more than a mile from the college which he was erecting, without reflecting that they might possibly be relics of ancient buildings formerly situated on that site. As a fact, they were originally connected with a series of Buddhist edifices covering perhaps as much space as those structures the foundations and remains of which are found at Sárnáth. A third archæologist, Mr. Thomas, late Judge of Benares, and a distinguished numismatist, trod in the same footsteps, only taking interest in the coins discovered in the city and in the Sárnáth explorations. As instances of ruthless spoliation, I may here remark, that, in the erection of one of the bridges over the river Barna, forty-eight statues and other sculptured stones were removed from Sárnáth and thrown into the river, to serve as a breakwater to the piers; and that, in the erection of the second bridge, the iron one, from fifty to sixty cart-loads of stones from the Sárnáth buildings were employed. But this vandalism hardly equals that of Babu Jagat Sinh, who, in