« PreviousContinue »
was the ultimate result of that one man's energy, sagacity, and resoluteness of will, is, assuredly, one of the most astounding events in the annals of the world. Buddha surpasses immeasurably every other mere uninspired man in the extent and consequences of his achievements. Mahomet cannot compare for a moment with him. He forced his religion on mankind by the sword; and, after all, his adherents are much less than half as numerous as the devotees of Buddhism. Buddha was a philosopher, a reasoner, a calm disputant, employing no physical force whatever; while the morality which he enforced was the purest the world ever saw, apart from the sublime code found in the Sacred Scriptures.
Although Buddhism continues to be the paramount religion of most of the countries to which it was carried by the agency of its missionaries, yet, strange to say, with the exception of Nepal, where it maintains a struggling existence, it has long been expelled from the land whence it originally sprang. · Benares, however, notwithstanding this circumstance, has not ceased to retain her position as the sacred city. From the period of the revival of Hinduism down to the present moment, her influence has continued undi. minished. It is exceedingly difficult to convey a correct idea of either the nature or extent of this influence. Throughout the country, Benares is regarded with superstitious reverence by every genuine Hindu; and the name produces in his breast a kind of fascination and charm. “Holy Káśí! would that I could see the eternal city, favoured of the gods! Would that I might die on its sacred soil ! ” Such are his thoughts and aspirations. There is no other city which so appeals to his sympathies, which so entwines itself round his spirit, which so stirs his soul to its inmost depths.
As Benares is the religious centre of India, it is natural that priestly influence should there be exceedingly powerful. Everywhere in India, and not merely in this city in particular, the Brahman is a character, a study. No one, not even a foreigner newly arrived in the country, can make a mistake in regard to him. Light in complexion in comparison with the rest of the people, frequently tall in stature, with the marks of a clear, penetrating intelligence depicted plainly and sometimes in a striking manner upon his countenance, erect, proud, self-conscious, he walks along with the air of a man unlike any I have ever seen, in which selfsufficiency, a sense of superiority, and the conviction of inherent purity and sanctity are combined. He needs not the upavita or sacred Brahmanical cord thrown over the right shoulder, or even the streaks, in honour of his favourite deity, painted upon his forehead, to point him out. In his very gait and step you trace his claim to his superiority; and, did we but know the thoughts dwelling in his mind, we should possess the real secret of his majestic demeanour. With the idea constantly before his inner self, that he is himself a god, and deserves divine honours,—which is not a mere freak of a deluded imagination on his part, but is acknowledged by all Hindus, some of whom, as he pursues his
will stop him, and then offer to him the adoration due only to the Almighty, which he receives complacently, as his right,- how is it possible he should comfort himself otherwise than as though the earth were hardly worthy of his tread, and the crowd about him were, in his presence, a vile, unclean, and abominable race? Though mingling with the vulgar herd, he takes care to avoid contact with them, lest he should contract some ceremonial impurity. He is most particular on this point. Should a low-caste man, by mistake, or from the pressure of the throng, approach too near to him, he cries out sharply and decisively, though not angrily; and, in case brazen vessel in his hand, filled with water from the the Ganges, which he is taking to drink or for sacrifice, be touched by such a person, he immediately throws the water away, and scours the vessel thoroughly before using it again. When he prepares his food, — for he cooks it himself,--should a man of inferior caste, by inadvertence, or from any cause, happen to touch it, the whole is considered as spoiled, and is thrown away. Indeed, so rigidly observant of the rules of their order are some of the Brahmans, that, even should the shadow of such a man, or of a Christian, fall upon their food while being cooked, it is altogether rejected. This mysterious notion of divinity, permeating the entire life of the Brahman, originates, not only in the minds of the people, but also in his own mind, a marvellous idea of his spiritual authority and power. Let any man be so infatuated as to cherish a real conviction within him that he is in some sense divine, and he will of necessity assume a bearing and demeanour different from those of ordinary mortals.
over the temples, the sacred wells, streams, and reservoirs, and other holy places about the city. They superintend the worship of the people, and give directions respecting the numberless ceremonies which are performed. Every sacred spot has some peculiarity connected with it; and it is of great moment that no punctilio should be omitted. They receive the offerings, the alms, the public dinners, and the good things which devout Hindus are ever ready to bestow. Some of them not a few in number—are termed “Sons of the Ganges,” and are chiefly found on the banks of that stream, aiding the devotions of the numerous worshippers daily resorting thither.
Devotees and pilgrims, separately, or in crowds, are seen entering or departing from the city constantly throughout the year, especially on occasion of great festivals. They come from all parts of India. Many carry back with them the sacred water of the Ganges, in small bottles hermetically sealed, placed in baskets hanging from the extremities of poles, which they bear upon their shoulders. The poor deluded sensualist, whose life has been passed in abominable courses, or the covetous mahájan or native banker, who has made himself rich by a long course of grinding extortion, or the fanatical devotee, more simple than a babe, yet sometimes guilty of the foulest crimes, still comes, as of old, from the remotest corners of India, as the sands of time are slowly ebbing away, and, fearful lest the last golden grains should escape before his long journey is ended, makes desperate efforts to hold on his course, till, at length, arriving at the sacred city and touching its hallowed soil, his anxious spirit becomes suddenly calm, a strange sense of relief comes over him, and he is at once cheered and comforted with the treacherous lie, that his sins are forgiven and his soul is saved.
In Benares, therefore, Hinduism may be said to dwell at home, in the bosom of its best friends and admirers, courted by princes and wealthy natives, and aided and sustained by innumerable resources and appliances of a material character, which give symbolical significance to its existence and authority. Her thousands of temples, her myriads of idols, her swarms of pilgrims, her hosts of daily worshippers, together with the pomp and circumstance and multifarious representations of idolatry, in their vast aggregate, cause the Hindu religion to be visible to the eye, in this city, in a manner and degree unknown elsewhere. Were a stranger, visiting Benares, to wander about amongst its shrines and sacred places, and to take note merely of the manifold signs and manifestations of Hinduism which he would find there, and then to quit the city without inquiring further, without turning his attention to those silent and unobtrusive, yet potent, influences which are undermining it in every direction, and are in operation throughout all classes of native society, even in this capital and fortress of idolatry, he would imagine that the city was wholly devoted to the practice and ceremonies of heathenism, that no ray of light had penetrated its midnight darkness, and that it was an impracticable and impossible task to attempt its enlightenment and reformation.
We come, therefore, to this conclusion,-justified, I think, by the foregoing observations,—that there are few