Page images

epochs of their erection. Our belief is, that the most ancient ruin yet discovered in India exhibits nothing older than some of these Benares stones, now embedded in modern walls and parapets, and scattered about in divers holes and corners of the city.

The fact that such old fragments are found in Benares, conjoined with the circumstance that an exceedingly small number of structural remains of any pretension to high antiquity are traceable in it, goes far to prove that the city has been, not once, but several times, destroyed, until,—except in rare instances, and these chiefly, though not exclusively, consisting of foundations and basement mouldings,-not one stone of the ancient city has been left upon another, and the foundations of its temples and its palaces have been torn up, so that their places are no longer known. Moreover, there is no manner of doubt, that the site of Benares has considerably shifted, and that, at one time, it came quite up to the banks of the river Barná,—which flows into the Ganges on its northern boundary, from which it is now distant nearly half a mile,--and stretched far beyond the opposite bank. Consequently, the Hindu pilgrim, who performs his wearisome journey of perhaps many hundreds of miles, with the object of reaching holy Káśí, and of dying in the city of his fathers, is labouring under a very grave delusion ; for the city which he visits has been chiefly erected under Mohammedan rule, and on a spot for the most part different from that which his fathers trod; and the fanes in which he worships are not the spacious temples which his ancestors built, but either the pinched and contracted cage-like structures which Mo

hammedan emperors grudgingly suffered their idol-loving subjects to erect, or modern imitations of the same.

I shall now proceed to describe such ruins and remains of ancient edifices, whether Hindu or Buddhist, —those at Bakaríyá Kund, spoken of in the preceding chapter, excepted, -as we have discovered in Benares and its immediate suburbs.


In Ráj Ghat Fort. These remains are in the interior of the fort at Ráj Ghát, in the outskirts of the city on its northern boundary. There is a small tongue of highland, about fifty feet above the plain below, extending to the junction of the Ganges and the Barná, which, in the mutiny, was strongly fortified, and has been styled, ever since, the Ráj Ghát Fort. There is a belief, amongst the natives, that this spot was selected, ages ago, for a similar object, by the traditional Raja Banár. It is probable that, formerly, the whole of this elevated space was built over, and that the Raja governing the city had his chief residence there. It is the natural key, not only of modern Benares, but also of the country for several miles round; and a well-equipped force in possession of it would with difficulty be approached and dispossessed. The Government has lately abandoned this grand strategical position, on the ground of its alleged unhealthiness.

A short distance to the right of the main road leading into the fort, may be seen the ancient remains which I will now describe, and which, next to the Buddhist

temple at Bakaríyá Kund, are the most complete, and certainly are the most beautiful, of any yet discovered in Benares. They consist of two cloisters, in a continuous line, each sustained by a quadruple colonnade, but differing both in height and length. The smaller cloister is sixty-six feet long, and the larger eighty-four; and, therefore, the entire façade is exactly one hundred and fifty feet in length, whilst the breadth of both is uniform, and is twenty-five feet. There are eight columns in each row, in the one room, or thirty-two in all; and, in the other, there are ten in each row, or forty in all; so that the number of stone pillars standing in the entire building is seventy-two. Those in the smaller cloister are barely nine feet high, and are all square and of a uniform pattern, a slight difference only being traceable in the capitals, which are of the old cruciform shape. There is not much, ornamentation on these pillars; but the chess-board and serrated patterns are abundantly carved upon the architraves. The pillars in the larger cloister, including the capital and base, are ten feet in height; but the architraves above the capitals are of the same height as those in the smaller cloister, namely, one foot. These pillars differ greatly, both in shape and ornamentation, from those just described. Some of them are covered with profuse carving, cut deep into the stone; and, in many instances, it is so sharp and well-defined, as to wear the appearance of having been recently executed. The lotos-plant forms a conspicuous object in many of the designs, all which are striking, whilst some are chaste and elegant. The chakwa or Brahmani duck is

represented, in divers positions, on the noble scroll-work extending along the square sides of several shafts, from the base to the capital. These scroll bass-reliefs equal some of the carvings on the Sánchi pillars in richness; and the designs are, perhaps, more free in their conception. There were, formerly, human figures, probably of a grotesque form, carved upon some of the pillars, as traces of them are still distinctly discernible; but these figures were defaced, and almost obliterated, by the Mohammedans, on taking possession of the edifice, and appropriating it to their own uses. The pillars are regularly arranged with regard to the Sinhásan or throne of Buddha; and the finest pillars are in the centre of the cloister, in the direction of its depth ; and, above them, near the inner wall, the stone ceiling, in two divisions of the roof, is singularly carved, and, strange to say, is of the kind described, by Fergusson, as Jaina architecture. One of them is covered with lotos-blossoms carved in relief.

There is not the smallest doubt that these cloisters have been much altered from their original condition, and that principally by the Mohammedans, who transformed them into a mosque, for which purpose they were employed even as late as the mutiny in 1857, and were regarded with peculiar sanctity by this people. On closely examining the columns, architraves, and ceilings, it is plain, not only that there has been a good deal of shifting of places, but that new pillars, carved in recent times, have been added to the old, some of the old have been cut up for repairs, and their separated portions have been distributed amongst several pillars, and

joined to them. The inner massive stone wall running along the entire length of the building is, evidently, unconnected with the original structure; as also is the present stone floor, which is a foot and upwards higher than the old. A trench having been dug on the east side, it was discovered that the bases of many of the columns were embedded deep below the modern stone pavement; while, in the front-part of the smaller cloister, at the depth of about a foot, the outer moulding of the earlier floor could be traced continuously, from one end to the other. Notwithstanding all these extensive alterations which the building has undergone from time to time, at the hands of different masters, we cannot but think that many of the columns are standing on their proper sites, and that the edifice, although greatly changed, is still, in its main features, a Buddhist structure, and formed part of an old Vihára or Templemonastery. The cloisters were transformed into their present condition, as a mosque, some eighty years ago; and the modern pavement was then laid down.

There is reason to believe that a third cloister, corresponding to the smaller, formerly existed at the southern extremity of the larger one; and this supposition is greatly strengthened by the circumstance of a Sinhásan (already referred to) being still standing by the wall in the centre of the latter, but altered from its original form, having been used, by Mohammedan Mullábs, as a rostrum or pulpit. The monastery, when complete, was, in all likelihood, a square, each side being, at least, the length of these three cloisters; and the chief Buddha was exactly opposite the centre of the

« PreviousContinue »