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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
more decided, and will embrace the pure religion of Christ, in its entirety, from which nearly all that is good in their own reformed religion has been derived.
However, the signs of improvement apparent in Benares, and in the North-western provinces generally, have little or no connexion with this society, or with its adherents, but are the legitimate results of other agencies locally at work. They are of a twofold character. There is a destructive process visible, on the one hand, and a constructive process, on the other. The old fabric of Hinduism is being undermined and destroyed; and a new structure, altogether different in form and material, is being erected. These I shall speak of conjointly; because, in point of fact, they can hardly be separated. One of the principal reasons that Benares is so famous is, that it was formerly the resort of large numbers of Brahmans, who, divided into schools and colleges, pursued the study of the ancient Sanskrit writings. At one time there were many hundreds of such establishments, in which thousands of students were taught the philosophical tenets of Hinduism; and princes and nobles, in all parts of India, vied with each other in the support they rendered to the priests and pandits of Benares, and to the numerous Sanskrit colleges established in it. Enormous sums were annually given for this purpose, so that learned pandits and their disciples were alike nourished and cared for. Such munificence to teachers and pupils naturally attracted to Benares aspiring young Brahmans, from every province of India, who, receiving a thorough education in certain branches of philosophy, during their long and severe course of study, returned, eventually, to their native villages and towns, and became great local authorities on all religious topics, and the defenders and expounders of the national creed. For the most part, their support was rendered annually; but, for several years past, especially since the mutiny, the amount of that support has greatly diminished. The consequence is, that the pandits, in many instances, have abandoned the close study of Sanskrit, and, with it, the instruction of their pupils, and have largely directed their attention to other and more profitable pursuits. At the present moment, I have been given to understand that not twenty families of Brahmans in all Benares are devoted to the study of the Vedas, and that, of those which engage in this peculiar study, there is not one indigenous to Benares, but all are of the Bhatt Brahmans from Gujerát. I cannot, however, vouch for the absolute truth of this statement, although I believe it is quite true that the study of the Vedas has very much fallen off in Benares. Not only are the most ancient sacred books being neglected in Benares, but, with the exception of a few favoured works, such as the Rámáyaņa, the Bhagavad Gítá, and certain of the Puráņas, in which the sensuous forms of Hinduism, now the vogue in India, are depicted with oriental prodigality of imagination and intensity of extravagance, and, perhaps, with the exception, also, of works on astrology, the interest for Sanskrit literature is rapidly decaying; and it is almost a certainty, that, a few years hence, Sanskrit will be scarcely studied at all, except in the Sanskrit College. In addition to the reason already assigned for the production of this state of things, it should be remarked,