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The history of a country is sometimes epitomized in the history of one of its principal cities. The city of Benares represents India, religiously and intellectually, just as Paris represents the political sentiments of France. There are few cities in the world of greater antiquity, and none that have só uninterruptedly maintained their ancient celebrity and distinction. In Benares, Buddhism was first promulgated ; in Benares, Hinduism has had her home in the bosom of her most impassioned votaries. This city, therefore, has given impulse and vigour to the two religions which to this day govern half the world.
An account of a city of such remarkable associations, which has occupied such a prominent place in the annals of the human race, is not without its importance, and ought not to be devoid of interest. Having resided in it for several years, I have enjoyed peculiarly favourable opportunities for becoming acquainted with its inner life
and character. The task I have set myself is not that of discussing the religious systems existing there,— which would be an unnecessary undertaking, it having been so frequently accomplished by abler hands - but of giving a representation of Benares as she was in the past, and as she is in the present. Her early conditionher connexion with ancient Buddhism - her architectural remains—her famous temples, holy wells and tanks, and numerous ghats or stairs leading down to the Gangesthe legends concerning them—the peculiar customs at the temples—the ceremonies of the idolater—the modes of worship—the religious festivals, and other topics, illustrative of the character which Benares maintains as the sacred city of India, are dwelt upon, with some amount of detail, in this volume. I have deemed it of moment, also, in a book of this nature, to make some observations on the influence which education, European civilization, and, above all, Christianity, are now exerting upon the city. As Benares has held a foremost place in the history of India for two thousand five hundred
at the least, so, in all likelihood, she is destined to retain that position in the new era of enlightenment which has already dawned upon the land.
Portions of this work have, at various times, appeared in print, in contributions to the Calcutta Review and the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and in a
Lecture delivered before the Benares Institute, published in the Transactions of that Society.
I would express my warmest thanks to CHARLES HORNE, Esq., C.S., late Judge of Benares, for his very valuable assistance in the archæological researches described in this book, especially in Chapters xix. and xx. My thanks are also due to J. H. B. IRONSIDE, Esq., C.B., Magistrate of Benares, for his kindness in placing at my disposal a paper on the Melas or Festivals of Benares, drawn up by Babu Sítal Prasád, Deputy Inspector of Schools. I would likewise acknowledge my great obligations to D. TRESHAM, Esq., Head Master of the Government Normal School, Benares, for his excellent photographs of the city, from which the illustrations of this volume have been taken.
M. A. SHERRING.
July 2nd, 1868.