« PreviousContinue »
No Architectural remains dating prior to the third century before Christ
yet found in India - Ancient Hindu Edifices of the primitive period, not of a rude character.--Did the Hindus borrow from the Assyrian and Persian Sculptors ? - Ancient remains found chiefly in the northern quarter of the city.-Mohammedan lust for Hindu edifices -Shifting tendency of the modern city.-Origin of the appellation “Benares."
The great antiquity of Indian civilization is proved, directly and indirectly, in so many ways, that it has come to be regarded as one of the ordinary truisms about which all the world is agreed. Yet it is remarkable that, although it admits not of the smallest question, no evidence in its favour should be afforded by any monument of art hitherto discovered in the country. There is no known specimen of architecture existing, of any character, the date of which carries us back beyond the third century before Christ. The pillars of Asoka, which belong to this period, are the very earliest sculptured remains yet found. “Of these,” says Mr. Fergusson, "one is at Delhi; having been re-erected by Feroze Shah in his palace, as a monument of his victory over the Hindus. Three more are standing near the river Gunduck in Tirhoot; and one has been placed on a pedestal in the fort of Allahabad. A fragment of another was discovered near Delhi, and part of a seventh
was used as a roller on the Benares road by a Company's engineer officer." There is reason for supposing that some of the Bhilsa topes may be assigned to this epoch, while others are, undoubtedly, of a somewhat later date.
, Of the cave-temples, so interesting not only to the archæologist, but likewise to all lovers of the curious, not one was excavated earlier than the first century before Christ. The great Kárlen cave dates from the beginning of the Christian era. The Ajunta caves belong to several epochs; and some may be as recent as the ninth or tenth century A.D.
The Viswakarman cave at Ellora is of the seventh or eighth century A.D. Among the caves in Behar there is one called from Lomaša the Rishi, which, from certain peculiarities in its construction, may, it is conjectured, have been excavated prior to the Christian era, although the inscription which covers it is referred to a period so late as the fourth century after Christ.
It has been asserted, on strong authority, that no ancient temples or religious monasteries, apart from the cave structures, exist in India, on the ground that the pre-Buddhist Hindus were as yet simple and unsophisticated, and performed the rites of their religion, to a great extent, without idols or temples; or, if with them, those objects were made of perishable material. The fact of no temples or other edifices having been discovered is regarded as a powerful reason in substantiation of this assertion. Now, to say the least, it is exceedingly premature to hazard such an opinion founded on such a basis, inasmuch as the study
Fergusson's Handbook of Architecture, p. 7.
of Indian antiquities with exactness is only of yesterday. Scarcely a generation has passed since Prinsep deciphered the inscription on Aśoka's pillars, and ascertained its date. Moreover, the spirit of archæological inquiry has but slightly manifested itself among the British rulers of India. Of the large number of educated Englishmen who have visited the country during the last hundred years, and have resided in it for a longer or shorter period, perhaps not one in a thousand has taken the smallest practical interest in bringing to the light of day its hidden historical treasures. It is a hopeful sign of the times, that curiosity on this subject is now being extensively excited; but it has hardly yet passed into the stage of eager desire, displaying itself by earnest and persistent effort in the pursuit of archæological investigations. The discoveries of the last few years have been so remarkable and abundant, and have contributed so many additions to our small stock of knowledge respecting ancient India, that the appetite for these researches has become more and more strongly whetted, and the belief has originated that the Indian mine is rich and deep, and is ample enough to repay the efforts of a whole army of explorers.
The ancient structures of India with which we are acquainted are not of that primitive and rude character which would lead us to imagine that they were the very first productions of Indian architectural skill. On the contrary, they indicate an advanced stage, both in the knowledge and application of permanent material, and in devising and executing elegant designs in it. No
one can look upon Asoka's monoliths and believe for an instant that the knowledge of architecture which they display was developed wholly during that monarch's reign. Nor can it be credited that the beautiful cavetemples were without their predecessors. It may be replied, however, that, from a minute and careful examination of Indian, Assyrian, and Egyptian architecture, the conclusion may almost be demonstrated, that the archetypes of the two former styles were originally wooden, while those of the last-mentioned were of stone, and that, therefore, there is a necessary limit to our investigations, beyond which it is useless to attempt to go; for that the wooden archetypes have mostly, if not entirely, perished, and the stone are of a later period. Granting that this theory is, in the main, true, we are not compelled to believe that the earliest stone erections in India were as recent as the third century before Christ; or, if there were any before that date, that they have all been destroyed. Of the ancient Assyrian palaces discovered by Layard, those most elaborately sculptured were built about B.C. 700, while others, in a less ornamented style, were erected still earlier : and even these were preceded by wooden buildings. If this be correct, why should not at least the same antiquity be conceded to Indian sculptures subsequent to the wooden period? Is it at all likely that the Aryan race existed in India for between one and two thousand years, that they conquered a large portion of the country, that they attained to greatness and glory, and made wonderful progress in civilization, equalling, if not surpassing, their contemporaries in other parts
of Asia, and yet, that, during all this time, they were satisfied with only transitory symbols of greatness, and never conceived the idea of leaving behind them durable monuments of their power, which should hand down their name to many generations ? They must have heard of the vast structures erected in Egypt, and of the splendid palaces, and stairs, and pillars, and other edifices, with which the Assyrian monarchs adorned their cities. They were not lacking in genius, or in the desire for knowledge; on the contrary, their minds investigated the highest subjects, and whatever was of interest to humanity in general, they regarded as of importance to themselves.
But, it may be said, the Hindus borrowed their architecture from the Assyrians; or the architecture of the two races was of a common origin. Both suppositions may be true; and, in my opinion, it is almost certain, that, in whatever.way it was brought about, both countries in some respects followed the same models. Whether Assyrian or Persian sculptors were the architects of the earliest Hindu buildings, is open to question; but, if they were, it seems absurd to suppose that they should have erected edifices altogether of wood, while in their own country the public buildings were, to a large extent, of stone; especially seeing that various kinds of durable stone were easily procurable in India. If, on the other hand, the architects were natives who had learnt the principles of their art chiefly from Assyria or Persia, or from a common source, it
appears equally strange that they should have perpetuated the construction of wooden buildings in India for centuries