Page images
PDF
EPUB

present race inhabiting the earth. These sentiments, again, are modified in proportion to the extent of our knowledge of the past. For instance, if we are able to accumulate data sufficient to compare one epoch with another, we are conscious of experiencing pleasure or pain, in proportion as we find humanity progressing or degenerating. There are few sentiments more elevating to the soul than those which spring from the study of a nation which has carried on a long and desperate struggle with great systems of error and moral corruption, and has come out of the conflict triumphant, with clearer perceptions of truth and purer notions of virtue. On the other hand, there is no sentiment more depressing than that which is produced by the study of a people who have declined from bad to worse; from one abomination to another; from one system of evil to others more and more opposed to truth, to reason, and to God.

Now, in regard to the history of Benares, I cannot say that many pleasurable feelings have been engendered in my mind, as I have pondered over it. Its history is, to a great extent, the history of India; and, therefore, it is hardly fair to isolate the city from the country, and to pass judgment on it alone. Speaking, then, of this great city as representative of an immense empire, one is bound to say, that, while its career has been of long duration, it has not been of a character to awaken much of enthusiasm or admiration. It cannot be said that either the moral, or the social, or even the intellectual, condition of the people residing here is a whit better than it was upwards of two thousand years ago.

[ocr errors]

years

One fails to trace, throughout this vast period, any advance in those higher principles of human action, the practice of which alone makes a nation truly illustrious and great. On the contrary, the revelations of the past, brief and scattered though they be, are found to establish the fact beyond all dispute, that, at least in one distant epoch of Hindu History, more respect was paid to truth, honesty, and virtue, than is generally shown by the present inhabitants of India. Now, just as we do not admire a man who happens to be a hundred old, unless we know that he has lived a life of integrity and uprightness, and has increased in wisdom and probity with his years, so we must withhold our admiration from a city or nation which, from a combination of certain peculiar circumstances, has drawn out an existence of wondrous length, but, in respect of its virtues and moral excellences, in respect of those higher qualities which mainly distinguish man from the brute, and by the possession of which he becomes, in a measure, assimilated to his Creator, has, for many ages, been in an unprogressive and stagnant condition. Such a nation or city may possess fine buildings, fine temples, fine gháts, and fine tanks, as Benares has done for thousands of years; but its material splendour will only augment the pervading gloom, just as the stars of heaven give intensity to the darkness of night.

These remarks are intimately connected with the object of this work, which has reference not only to the physical and external circumstances of Benares, but also to its highest moral relations. While I look with profound regret on much of the past history of India, I

look forward to its coming history with strong hope and confidence. The sacred principles of progress, which have raised the western nations of the world to that high position of civilization and greatness which they at present occupy, have already reached this land, and begun to operate upon its inhabitants. These principles have both an intellectual and a spiritual aspect, tending everywhere to strengthen and expand the mind, as well as to purify the heart, and, when brought to bear upon communities and nations, regenerate them socially and religiously, by bringing them into harmony with God. They have, therefore, a divine origin, and, if properly applied, never fail to improve those who receive them, and to lift them up to Him from whom they proceed.

The great changes manifestly taking place in the material and social condition of the people of India are more than equalled by the changes being wrought in their religious sentiments and habits. What the telegraph, and railroads, and canals, and bridges, and metalled roads are accomplishing, physically, in opening up the country, and in developing its immense resources, so much, and more, Christianity and education are effecting, intellectually, in uprooting error and superstition, in imparting right notions respecting virtue and religion, and in elevating the people generally. The most conspicuous and decided illustration of this is, undoubtedly, visible in some parts of Bengal, particularly in Calcutta and other cities and towns in which the society called the Brahmo Samáj exists. This society now numbers several thousands of adherents, who are, for the most part, men of education and intelligence, and is, next to

Christianity, the most formidable assailant of idolatry in India. It is, also, professedly, a stout opponent of caste; but, in practice, its members are not so much released from its bondage as from that of idolatry; nor are they such unequivocal adversaries to its authority as to the authority of the numerous gods of the land.

In Benares and its neighbourhood, Bengalis exert but little influence, except upon their fellow-countrymen of Bengal residing there; for they are regarded, by the Hindústání population, as foreigners, although holding the same religion; and their sentiments and projects are always looked upon with suspicion. But even here the Brahmo Samáj has a branch society, which is slowly exerting an influence similar to that which the parent society exercises. Such an influence, wherever it exists, although not all that Christians desire, yet, so far as it goes, is, to a large extent, salutary. It is mixed up with error, but, nevertheless, contains many noble principles, the operation of which upon the hearts and consciences of the natives cannot fail to raise them far above the degraded social and spiritual condition in which, for ages, they have remained. Better, far better, that all India should attach itself to the Brahmo Samáj, than that its inhabitants should blindly persist in the worship of Siva, and Křishņa, and Rám, and should continue benighted by the fatal errors which such worship sanctions. But, in saying this, I am no advocate for the adoption of this religion as such. I earnestly hope that, having taken a great step in advance of gross heathenism, the members of the Brahmo Samáj will take another, still further in advance, and yet

more decided, and will embrace the pure religion of Christ, in its entirety, from which nearly all that is good in their own reformed religion has been derived.

However, the signs of improvement apparent in Benares, and in the North-western provinces generally, have little or no connexion with this society, or with its adherents, but are the legitimate results of other agencies locally at work. They are of a twofold character. There is a destructive process visible, on the one hand, and a constructive process, on the other. The old fabric of Hinduism is being undermined and destroyed; and a new structure, altogether different in form and material, is being erected. These I shall speak of conjointly; because, in point of fact, they can hardly be separated. One of the principal reasons that Benares is so famous is, that it was formerly the resort of large numbers of Brahmans, who, divided into schools and colleges, pursued the study of the ancient Sanskrit writings. At one time there were many hundreds of such establishments, in which thousands of students were taught the philosophical tenets of Hinduism ; and princes and nobles, in all parts of India, vied with each other in the support they rendered to the priests and pandits of Benares, and to the numerous Sanskrit colleges established in it. Enormous sums were annually given for this purpose, so that learned pandits and their disciples were alike nourished and cared for. Such munificence to teachers and pupils naturally attracted to Benares aspiring young Brahmans, from every province of India, who, receiving a thorough education in certain branches of philosophy, during their long and severe course of study, returned, eventually, to

« PreviousContinue »