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horoscope is cast; when he is ill, the gods must be propitiated; when he is bereaved, the idol must be remembered ; at his death, his funeral rites are performed in the name of one or more deities.
In short, idolatry is a charm, a fascination, to the Hindu. It is, so to speak, the air he breathes. It is the food of his soul. It is the foundation of his hopes, both for this world and for another. He is subdued, enslaved, and befooled by it. He is, however, a willing slave, a willing devotee; for he loves idolatry, together with its superstitions and monies, with all the ardour of religious frenzy. Moreover, it is of great importance to bear in mind, that, as a man can hardly be better than his religion, the nature of the Hindu partakes of the supposed nature of the gods whom he worships. And what is that nature ? According to the traditions handed about amongst the natives, and constantly dwelt upon in their conversation, and referred to in their popular songs, which, perhaps, would be sufficient proof for our purpose, yet, more especially, according to the numberless statements and narratives found in their sacred writings, on which these traditions are based, it is, in many instances, vile and abominable to the last degree; so that the poor idolater, when brought completely under its influence, is most deplorably debased. Virtue, truth, holiness, civilization, enlightenment, human progress, all that contributes
all that contributes to individual happiness and to a nation's prosperity, cannot be properly appreciated by him. His soul's best affections are blighted, and his conscience is deeply perverted. Idol
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 Yogani in sixty-four, Durgá 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 kotwál or godmagistrate of Benares and its extensive suburbs. Every matter of importance is presumed to be brought in a
regular manner by the koțwal before his royal master. The agents of the koțwál are stationed all along thể 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 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