Page images
PDF
EPUB

atry is a word denoting all that is wicked in imagination and impure in practice. These remarks are especially true of rigid and thorough Hindus, like the Gangaputras, or “sons of the Ganges,” who may be regarded as representing, in their own persons, the complete results of their strange religion. To speak plainly, and yet without extravagance, the moral nature of such Hindus has become so distorted, that, to a large extent, they have forgotten the essential distinctions of things. Their idol-worship has plunged them into immoralities of the grossest forms, has robbed them of truth, has filled their minds with deceit, has vitiated their holy aspirations, has greatly enfeebled every sentiment of virtue, has corrupted the common feelings of humanity within them, has disfigured and well-nigh destroyed the true notion of God which all men in some shape are believed to possess, has degraded them to the lowest depths, and has rendered them unfit alike for this world and for the next. Idolatry is a demonan incarnation of all evil—but, nevertheless, as bewitching and seductive as a Siren. It ensnares the depraved heart, coils around it like a serpent, transfixes it with its deadly fangs, and finally stings it to death. Idolatry has, for many centuries, drunk the life-blood of the Hindu with insatiate thirst, has covered with its pollutions the fair and fertile soil of India, has drenched the land with its poisoned waters, and has rendered its inhabitants as godless as it was possible for them to become. Most of the temples are of modern date; but many

of them occupy, in popular belief, the sites of immemorial shrines long since displaced by their successors. It

is, therefore, a common reply which one receives, on inquiring the date of any given shrine, that it is without date, and has always existed. . These original sites are numerous; and each has a history of its own. For instance, the pandits say that Gaņeś is worshipped in fifty-six places, the goddess Yoganí in sixty-four, Durga in nine, Bhairo in eight, s'iva in eleven, Vishņu in one, and the Sun in twelve; all which date from the mythical period, when Divodása, the famous Raja of Benares, whose name is a household word among the people, was prevailed on to permit the gods to return to their ancient and sacred home. But these places do not, by any means, represent the present number of shrines at which these deities are venerated. Gaņeś especially, the god of wisdom, son of S'iva and Párvatí, is very extensively worshipped in Benares ; and there is scarcely a temple in some niche or corner of which his monstrous figure may not be found.

The temple receiving the highest meed of honour in the whole city is that dedicated to the god Bisheswar, or S'iva, whose image is the linga, a plain conical stone set on end. Bisheswar is the reigning deity of Benares, and, in the opinion of the people, holds the position of king over all the other deities, as well as over all the inhabitants residing, not only within the city itself, but also within the circuit of the Panchkosí road or sacred boundary of Benares, extending for nearly fifty miles. In issuing his orders, he acts through Bhaironáth, who is the deified kotwal or godmagistrate of Benares and its extensive suburbs. Every matter of importance is presumed to be brought in a

regular manner by the kotwal before his royal master. The agents of the koțwál are stationed all along the Panch-kosí road, and are the gods or idols located there, who are supposed to act as chaukidárs or watchmen over the entire boundary. The office of these watchmen is to ward off all evil from the sacred city, to contend with such enemies as they may meet with endeavouring to break in upon the outer inclosure, and to send in their reports to the god-magistrate Bhaironáth.

Bisheswar, in his capacity of idol-king of Benares, demands the homage of his subjects, and will not resign his rights to the other deities who throng his dominions. His subjects must, first of all, worship him, and must bring their offerings to his shrine, of which he, or rather his rapacious priests, are exceedingly fond. Although without mouth or throat, his thirst seems to be great; for one of the most plentiful offerings presented to him is that of Ganges water, with which, in the hot season, he is kept perpetually drenched.

It is no matter of surprise, therefore, that Bisheswar should receive more adoration than any other idol in Benares. Not only the permanent inhabitants of the city, but also pilgrims and other travellers, may be seen pressing into the temple during the greater portion of the day. The worshippers are of all classes and conditions, and present a singular, and even picturesque, variety of appearance. Among the most prominent of these is, we need hardly say, the proud, half-naked Brahman,—with shaven head, save a long tuft depending from his crown behind, the sacred cord being thrown over one shoulder or ear, and the symbol of S'iva being

displayed upon his forehead,—who performs his devotions with punctilious nicety. The faqir, too, in almost primitive nakedness,—his hair dyed and matted together, and his body bedaubed with ashes,—though scarcely noticed by other people, arrests the attention of the stranger. Few of the men have much clothing upon their

persons; yet many of them, by their carriage, and by the jewels and gold with which they are adorned, show that they occupy a very respectable position in native society. The women are, for the most part, thoroughly clothed; and, some of them, occasionally, are profusely decorated with gold and silver ornaments studded with precious stones. All the worshippers carry offerings in their hands, consisting of sugar, rice, ghee (or clarified butter), grain, flowers, water, etc. One of the most beautiful of the flowers presented is the lotos, the form and colour of which bear some resemblance to those of a large tulip or water-lily.

Over the narrow doorway which constitutes the chief entrance to the temple, is a small figure of Gaņeś, upon which some of the worshippers, as they pass in, sprinkle a few drops of water. As one enters the enclosure, several shrines are visible. The worshipper pays his homage to any god, or to all, as he may elect; but he must of necessity approach the paramount deity of the place, that is to say, the plain conical stone already spoken of.

He makes his obeisance to the god either by bowing his head-his hands being folded in adoration — or by prostrating himself upon the ground; after which he presents his offering, and rings one of the bells suspended from the roof of the temple. This

is to attract the attention of the god,-for it is possible he may be asleep, or otherwise occupied, -and to fix it upon himself. The adoration of an idolater is sometimes distressingly solemn. His whole soul seems to be over-awed, but with what sentiments it is impossible to affirm ; and the solemnity, if any, is singularly transient, and lasts only so long as he is in the presence of the idol. It is difficult to analyse his feelings, or to affirm precisely that they are of this or of that nature: nevertheless, there can be little doubt that his mind is occasionally filled with dread and anxiety, amounting, it may be, to alarm. The idolater cherishes no love for the idols he worships, but, on the contrary, regards them as beings to be feared, and, therefore, to be propitiated by adoration and suitable offerings. Nearly all the worshippers engage in their devotions in a quiet, orderly, and decent manner, but with manifest perfunctoriness, and with little or no thought beyond the desire to perform thoroughly the task they have set themselves, even to the minutest particular.

The temple of Bisheśwar is situated in the midst of a quadrangle, covered in with a roof, above which the tower of the temple is seen.

At each corner is a dome, and, at the south-east corner, a temple sacred to Sliva. When observed in the distance, from the elevation of the roof, the building presents three distinct divisions. The first is the spire of a temple of Mahadeva, whose base is in the quadrangle below; the second is a large gilded dome; and the third is the gilded tower of the temple of Bisheswar itself. These three objects are all in a row, in the centre of the quadrangle, filling

« PreviousContinue »