Page images
PDF
EPUB

were but two, which were, to wait the danger and try the chance of repelling it, or to retreat to a place of greater security, or of equal advantage for the encounter. The confined state of the place, of which any description will be insufficient to convey an adequate idea, rendered the first plan impracticable. We had not a force sufficient to guard all the defences of that place, nor a store for the provisions of a day, even of that small number. The only arguments for

were the disgrace of a flight, and the consideration of our wounded sepoys, whom it might leave at the discretion of a merciless enemy. The former consideration yielded to the superior might of necessity; the latter, to the impossibility of protecting the wounded men in either case, as they were quartered at a distance of near a mile from Mahadew Dass's garden ; nor would it have been possible, in their condition, and in the multiplicity of pressing exigencies which the resolution to remain would have created, to remove them. Yet these considerations held me suspended during the whole course of the day. In the evening it became necessary to come to a final determination, as the delay of a few hours might now preclude every option.” After consulting with several officers of the army who were there with him, the Governor General concluded that the safest and wisest policy would be for himself and the entire European community in Benares to retire from the city to the fort of Chunar. “My resolution,"

"was taken and declared, and orders given to form our little corps, that we might have time to gain the open country before the enemy, having notice

he says,

of the design, could cross and attack us at the disadvantage of the streets, lanes, and broken ground, which we had to pass before we could reach it. These orders were issued between seven and eight o'clock; and, by eight, the line was in motion, having been much retarded and impeded by an incredible tumult of servants, palanquins, and baggage of every denomination, which, for a time, threatened a total destruction to our march. Fortunately, the enormous mass took the wrong road, which left the right with a free and undisturbed passage for the sepoys.” On the following morning all the party arrived safely at Chunar.

The evacuation of Benares by the English, as was anticipated, did not fail to exercise an immediate influence on the surrounding country. Half Oude was in insurrection; and many of the Zemindars of Behar were disaffected. Had not a strong blow been quickly struck, or had Warren Hastings been less sagacious and firm, England would speedily have lost her hold of all the provinces lying to the north-west of Bengal Proper. But his dauntless spirit was fully equal to the emergency; and, by the end of September, he had defeated the Raja's troops, had captured several of his forts, and had returned to his old quarters in Mádhodás's garden at Benares. The excitement of the people in this and the neighbouring provinces subsided even more rapidly than it had arisen. “The allegiance of the whole country,” he enthusiastically remarks, was restored as completely, in the course of a few hours, from a state of universal revolt to its proper channel, as if it

1 Insurrection in Benares, p. 32.

[ocr errors]

had never departed from it.” Raja Cheit Singh, having rebelled against the Indian Government, and, having been guilty of the “deliberate murder of our soldiers, and even defenceless passengers” who had the misfortune to fall into his hands, was declared to have forfeited his right to the estates he formerly possessed. These estates, with the title of Raja, were presented to his nephew, Babu Mahipnarain, grandson of Raja Balwant Singh. This Raja's daughter was wife of Babu Durgbijay Singh, from whom the present Maharaja is descended.

213

CHAPTER XVII.

Hindu and Mohammedan Melás or Religious Festivals held periodically

in Benares.

FESTIVALS, or melás, as they are commonly called, are very numerous in all parts of India, and present a peculiar phase of the social life of the people, such as is rarely found in civilized countries. They are more or less connected with religion; and their origin can be, in every case, traced to certain religious ceremonies performed, or said to have been performed, in some sacred locality, as on the banks of a river, or near a holy well or tank, once famous for the exploits of their deified heroes or gods. At the same time, many of them have a secular end, in addition to their religious character, and are held as much for amusement and trade as for graver purposes. They are, in fact, fairs; and, in some instances, they are of prodigious extent.

The word melá signifies a concourse or assemblage of persons, and is derived from the Sanskrit root mil, meaning to meet,' 'to congregate. A melá is of two kinds: that at which religion and amusement are combined, and that which is simply and solely devoted to religion. To the former the people go gaily dressed; but they are present at the latter in their ordinary

costume. The first kind of melá may be divided into two classes, namely, that which is of a moral tendency, and is frequented by persons of respectability, and that which is notoriously immoral, and visited by only the loose and licentious. The melá of the second order, although professedly purely religious, must, on account of the opportunities for vice which it occasionally furnishes, be regarded as immoral, so far as its necessary connexion with vice is concerned. For instance, at the Panch-Gangá Melá, in the month of Kártik, men and women bathe promiscuously in the Ganges. The Mohammedans also have their melás, but to a limited extent as compared with the Hindu population.

I shall now give a list of the Hindu and Mohammedan melás held in Benares, with a few circumstances of interest connected with each of them.

The great Mohurram Festival of the Mohammedans, not being peculiar to Benares or even to India, I shall omit altogether.

1. The Navaratri Melá, held at Durga Kund during the first nine days of the month of Chait. Hindus, both male and female, visit the temple of Durga from about 3 o'clock in the morning. On the 7th and 8th days, the crowd of votaries increases to upwards of ten thousand. At this festival thousands of sheep and goats are offered in sacrifice. The worshippers visit not only this shrine, but also the temples of Annpúrņá, Sankatá, and Bágeswari.

2. The Gau-gaur Melá, held at Rájmandira Ghát, on the 3rd day of Chait. This festival is celebrated by Márwáļís and Deswálís (people from the territory of

« PreviousContinue »