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SENTIMENTS engendered by the contemplation of the city of Benares
Its history, the history of India.-Principles of progress at work in the city.—Changes visible in native society.—The Brahmo Samáj.Diminished study of Sanskrit. — Diminished faith in idolatry, in Benares and Northern India generally.—Influence of education on Hindu youths.-A Martin Luther for India.- Influence and spread of Christianity.--Priests of Pisách-Mochan Tank.-Literary and Religious Societies amongst the natives. - The Benares Institute Nature of its discussions. — Lecture of Pandit Lakshmají — His account of the consequences of Hinduism.--Effect of Missions and Education on Benares, and on India.—Religious agitation in India.What is the destiny of Idolatry, and of Christianity in India ?— The Future in respect of Benares.—Remarks of the Rev. Dr. Thomson, Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States, on the religious and social condition and future prospects of India.
The ancient and modern buildings of Benares and its neighbourhood, about which I have been discoursing, were constructed by a living, earnest people, who have, for the most part, passed away, but have left these remains behind them, illustrative of their power and skill, of their greatness and glory. By examining these buildings, we gain some knowledge of the people who erected them; and this is the main object we should have in view. Undoubtedly, there is a subtle mysterious pleasure awakened in the breast by the contemplation of an old ruin; but it owes all its force to the fact that the old ruin is associated with human existence in a by-gone age, with the forefathers of the
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.
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 years 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