Page images

pillars of the one are square and without ornament, while those of the other, situated about three hundred yards off, are square below, then eight-sided, and then sixteen-sided, and are adorned with exquisitely-carved devices. Moreover, from the quarry-marks, engraved upon many of the stones found here, it is manifest that a portion of the buildings was erected about the era of the Gupta dynasty, or perhaps from the first or second to the third or fourth century A.D.

There are several ancient edifices in Benares, which, if not original, are certainly to a large extent built of old materials. In these, more especially in their columns, may be traced a gradation of style. When we compare the simple bracket or cruciform capital and its plain square shaft and base, such as we find in the pillars of the cloisters around the platform of Aurungzeb's mosque behind the modern Bisheswar temple, and also in the pillars of a Mohammedan cemetery in the neighbourhood of Tiliyá Nálá, with the elaborately ornamented columns of the mosque in the Ráj Ghát Fort, we are at once struck with the contrast, and at the extraordinary development which the style—the same fundamentally in both instances—has received. Various intermediate stages of diversity are represented in other buildings; but I cannot now further enlarge on them. The first class of pillars, however, must, I contend, be of a much earlier date than the other. Yet it does not follow that this latter class belongs necessarily to a recent epoch. The mosque in which the columns are found consists, apparently, of two Buddhist cloisters, or, possibly, of two divisions of a Buddhist temple, and has been, at times, so extensively altered and repaired that it is hard to say that any one column stands exactly as originally placed. The columns are four in each row, and are seventy in number. They are all carved, as also, with a few exceptions, are the architraves; and the carvings in one division are uniform. The carvings in the other division are bolder and more profuse, but, nevertheless, are totally free from degeneracy of style. Some of the pillars are of striking beauty, and, for grandness of conception, and correctness of execution, are scarcely surpassed anywhere in India. Now, as some of the beautifully carved pillars at Bhilsa were set up in the second or third century before Christ, we must be careful in our estimate of the date to which the Ráj Ghát pillars, which are of singular excellency and purity of style, ought to be assigned, although I do not propose to claim for them so high an antiquity.

But I do not suppose that the architectural remains scattered, for the most part in fragments, over this quarter of Benares, are all of Buddhist origin. At the same time, I must not forget the remark of Fergusson (“Handbook of Architecture," p. 100), that “the earliest authentic building that we have of the Hindu religion in Hindustan is the great temple of Bhobaneswar (in Orissa), built by Lelat Indra Kesari, A.D. 657," which, if true at the time he wrote, is hardly true now. The same eminent writer has elsewhere hazarded the observation, respecting Buddhist structures, that no built examples whatever exist in India of Buddhist temples (chaityas) and monasteries (viháras); and has, besides, apparently confounded Jaina and Buddhist monuments. Previously to the Buddhist supremacy in India, we know that Benares was a Brahmanical city; and there is no proof that, at any period of that supremacy, Brahmanism was entirely extirpated. For my part, I am inclined to believe that some of these ancient remains may be attributed equally to Hindu and Buddhist origin. The simple style of architecture, to which I have referred, was, without doubt, the earliest introduced into Benares, perhaps into Hindustan; and, whether the work of Buddhists or of Hindus is, doubtless, of high antiquity. Yet how it found its way here is open to question. This part of the existing city, as already stated, is much older than the rest; but, after all, there is good reason to believe that only a small portion of even this quarter belonged to the most ancient city, in which case the above-mentioned fragmentary remains of a very old type, may have been chiefly brought from the primitive city, of may have been relics of buildings erected after models found there. This entire subject will be discussed in subsequent chapters, towards the close of this volume, in which some account of the archæology of Benares and its neighbourhood will be given in detail.

It is worthy of notice, as illustrating the nature of Mohammedan rule in India, that nearly all the buildings in Benares, of acknowledged antiquity, have been appropriated by the Musulmans; being used as mosques, mausoleums, dargahs, and so forth; and also that a large portion of the separate pillars, architraves, and various other ancient remains, which, as before remarked, are so plentifully found in one part of the city, now contribute to the support or adornment of their edifices. Not content with destroying temples and mutilating idols, with all the zeal of fanatics, they fised their greedy eyes on whatever object was suited to their own purposes, and, without scruple or any of the tenderness shown by the present rulers, seized upon it for themselves. And thus it has come to pass, that every solid and durable structure, and every ancient stone of value, being esteemed by them as their peculiar property, has, with very few exceptions, passed into their hands. We believe it was the boast of Aláuddin, that he had destroyed one thousand temples in Bepares alone. How many more were razed to the ground, or transformed into mosques through the iconoclastic fervour of Aurungzeb, there is no means of knowing; but it is not too much to say, that he was unsurpassed, in this feature of religious fanaticism, by any of his predecessors. If there is one circumstance respecting the Mohammedan period which Hindus remember better than another, it is the insulting pride of the Musulmans, the outrages which they perpetrated upon their religious convictions, and the extensive spoliation of their temples and shrines. It is right that Europeans should clearly understand, that this spirit of Mohammedanism is unchangeable, and that, if, by any mischance, India should again come into the possession of men of this creed, all the churches and colleges, and all the Mission institutions, would not be worth a week's purchase.

When we endeavour to ascertain what the Mohammedans have left to the Hindus of their ancient build. ings in Benares, we are startled at the result of our investigations. Although the city is bestrewn with

temples in every direction, in some places very thickly, yet it would be difficult, I believe, to find twenty temples, in all Benares, of the age of Aurungzeb, or from 1658 to 1707. The same unequal proportion of old temples, as compared with new, is visible throughout the whole of Northern India. Moreover, the diminutive size of nearly all the temples that exist is another powerful testimony to the stringency of the Mohammedan rule. It seems clear, that, for the most part, the emperors forbade the Hindus to build spacious temples, and suffered them to erect only small structures, of the size of cages, for their idols, and these of no pretensions to beauty. The consequence is, that the Hindus of the present day, blindly following the example of their predecessors of two centuries ago, commonly build their religious edifices of the same dwarfish size as formerly; but, instead of plain, ugly buildings, they are often of elegant construction. Some of them, indeed, are so delicately carved externally, are so crowded with bassreliefs and minute sculpturing, are so lavishly orhamented, that the eye of the beholder becomes satiated and wearied. In regard to size, there is a marked difference between the temples of Northern and Southern India; the latter being frequently of gigantic dimensions. Yet, in respect of symmetry and beauty, the difference is immensely in favour of the Northern fanes.

The present city of Benares, like the earlier one, exhibits a tendency to shift its site. If any person will take the trouble to ride through the city from north to south, and then all along its extensive suburbs, from the ancient fort at the junction of the Barna and

« PreviousContinue »