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protected ; but the manipulative process was simple, and, possibly, more assuring to the mass, who were then enabled to see the writing that was to aid their act of worship.” A plan was adopted, too, by means of flat clay cakes, on which chaityas were represented, offering as many as twenty of these sacred objects at one and the same time.
It has already been observed that the city of Benares was associated with the early history of Buddhism, and was formerly one of the chief seats of that religion, and that it was in Benares that the religion first developed itself, and whence the streams proceeded which, by degrees, flowed over India, Ceylon, Burmah, China, and Tibet. Some of its distinguishing doctrines and principles had, indeed, been cherished in India long before Buddhism, as a historical religion, sprang into existence; but, as a definite and distinctive creed, holding itself aloof from Hinduism, and claiming an individuality of its own, the religion must date from the lifetime of him who gave it historical reality. This is no other than Buddha himself, or Sákya Muni, who, some say, was born in the sixth century before Christ, and died B.C. 477. This wonderful personage was the son of the Raja of Kapila, a small territory, probably in the neighbourhood of Goruckpore, upwards of a hundred miles to the north of Benares. Until his twentyninth year, Sákya paid no special attention to religion, but passed his time in the pursuit of pleasure. At this age, however, his habits changed; and, becoming an ascetic, he practised the austere rites which were then
Bengal Asiatic Journal, for 1854, pp. 474, 475.
in vogue. But it was chiefly by meditation that he is said to have gained that mysterious knowledge which he afterwards preached, and the possession of which raised him, as he imagined, to the rank of Deity, and constituted him the visible representation and embodiment of the Supreme. When he was thirty-five years of age, he is said to have become Buddha, on attaining which condition, he proceeded to Benares, and there made himself known in his new character. Here his ministry commenced, which continued for upwards of forty-five years, during which period he visited a multitude of places, and gathered to himself a great number of followers. “At his death,” says Major-General Cunningham, “his doctrines had been firmly established; and the divinity of his mission was fully recognized by the eager claims preferred, by kings and rulers, for relics of their divine teacher of forty-five years, this wonderful man succeeded in establishing his own peculiar doctrines over the fairest districts of the Ganges—from the Delta to the neighbourhood of Agra and Cawnpore.”
Buddhism continued to advance in India, with steady step, until the reign of Asoka, grandson of Chandra Gupta, in the third century B.C., when, through his conversion, it received a prodigious impulse. Asoka showed his zeal for Buddhism by erecting, in various places in his dominions, spacious Viháras or templemonasteries, enormous topes or towers, and massive stone pillars, on which his edicts for the propagation of the faith were inscribed. Similar edicts were, likewise, engraven on rocks in various parts of the country.
In the short space
In his reign, Buddhist missionaries were sent to distant places in India, and to countries out of India, for the purpose of making converts to Buddhism. Among them was his celebrated son, Mahendra, who, together with his sister, Sangamitrá, had the honour of preaching the Buddhist doctrines to the inhabitants of Ceylon, and of being chief instruments in their conversion. With the era of Asoka, commenced the palmy days of Buddhism in India, which then became the popular and paramount religion, and continued to remain so for several hundred years. The history of this period is, to a great extent, involved in obscurity; but the evidence that exists, while fragmentary and confused, is decidedly in favour of the general prevalence of the Buddhist, and of the depression and weakness of the Brahmanical, faith. Much, though not all, of this evidence is gathered from coins and inscriptions. Even in the fifth century of our era, when the Chinese pilgrim, Fa Hian, travelled through Northern India, the national religion was Buddhism. “At the time of Fa Hian's visit, Buddhism was the prevailing religion of the Punjab and of Northern India, from Mathurá to the mouth of the Ganges. Between the Punjab and Mathurá, — that is, in Brahmávarta Proper,—the law of Buddha was not held in honour. But this was the original seat and stronghold of the Brahmans and their religion; and its exception, by Fa Hian, is one amongst the many proofs of the pilgrim's accuracy. Everywhere else, Buddhism was honoured and flourishing; the kings were firmly attached to the law, and showed their reverence for the ascetics by taking off their tiaras before
them. But at Shachi and at Shewei in Oudh, the heretical Brahmans had attempted to destroy a sacred nettle and some holy topes. The very attempt shows the increasing power of the Brahmans, and their confident hope of ultimate success."1 In the seventh century, when Hiouen Thsang visited India, Buddhism was losing its influence, and was being supplanted by its powerful rival.
Although Buddhism was in this age declining very sensibly, yet it still retained considerable vigour. The existence of so many sacred monuments at Sárnáth is strong evidence of this; especially as their number seems to have been greatly increased since the visit of the previous traveller, Fa Hian, It is always a work of time for ideas which have been inwoven into the national life of a people to undergo complete expulsion, and for other ideas to be introduced in their room. Religious ideas are, of all ideas, the most tenacious and powerful; and, when once a set of dogmas, no matter how false and erroneous, has taken possession of a nation, those dogmas will never relax their hold of the popular mind, until after a long conflict with ideas which are more cogent than themselves ; and, although, through exhaustion, they are compelled to give place to them, they will, as they retire, nevertheless, fight every inch of the way, and continue the contest even when reduced to absolute weakness. Thus, it took several centuries for Buddhism to expire in India. It is possible that the erection of so many sacred edifices at Sárnáth and in its neighbourhood, between the periods of Fa Hian and
Bhilsa Topes, p. 156.
Hiouen Thsang, was an effort not unlike that of a drowning man making desperate struggles to prolong his existence, and actually devising some plan whereby his existence is temporarily prolonged. But, at length, the moment of dissolution arrived. Its adversary, Brahmanism, became too strong for it, and, eventually, crushed it for ever. Its extinction occurred in the eleventh or twelfth century, when, says MajorGeneral Cunningham, “the last votaries of Buddha were expelled from the continent of India. Numbers of images, concealed by the departing monks, are found buried near Sárnáth; and heaps of ashes still lie scattered amidst the ruins, to show that the monasteries were destroyed by fire." And, in a note, he adds: “I wrote this passage from my own knowledge, as I made many excavations around Sárnáth in 1835-36. Major Kittoe has since (1851) most fully confirmed my opinion by his more extended excavations in the same neighbourhood. He writes to me: 'All has been sacked and burned-priests, temples, idols, all together; for, in some places, bones, iron, wood, and stone are found in huge masses : and this has happened more than once.'” 1
Mr. Thomas gives us further information. chambers on the eastern side of the square were found filled in with a strange medley of uncooked food, hastily abandoned on their floors —— pottery of everyday life, nodes of brass, produced, apparently, by the melting-down of the cooking vessels in common use. Above these, again, were the remnants of the charred timbers of the roof, with iron nails still remaining
| Bhilsa Topes, pp. 166, 167.