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BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
There is, however, plenty of human interest in the crowds of bathers, mostly Bengalis, who inhabit this quarter of the city. Behind, a picturesque street runs parallel with the river down to Dasâsamedh Ghât.
Some distance farther up the river, Shivâla Ghât and Fort present an imposing front to the river. The fort was the former residence of the Maharaja of Benares, and was occupied by Chêt Singh in the days of Warren Hastings. A yellow flag is flying above the trees within the northern enclosure of the old fort, proclaiming the presence of some Hindu ascetics. This is a math, or monastery, inhabited by some fifteen oi twenty followers of Kapila, the reputed founder of the Sankhya school of philosophy, who is believed to have lived at Benares about B.C. 700. The spacious courtyard is bright with marigolds, and under the shade of some fine old fruit-trees the monks pass their time in quiet devotion. They will give visitors a friendly greeting, offering a handful of cardamoms, with excuses. for their inability to show more lavish hospitality. At the time of my visit there was an old monk, spectacled, nearly blind, and stone-deaf, who was said to be 103 years old. Another venerable hermit seated on a leopard's skin had better use of his faculties, and claimed to be 150. He had known, he said, eight rajas, and remembered Chêt Singh and the days of Warren Hastings. They believed that Kapila, whose footprints were worshipped in a little shrine in the courtyard, was still living in an island at the mouth of the Ganges. They all deplored that the philosophy which once had so many followers was now considered out of date; and the worldliness of modern times had come into their quiet, recluse life, for on my leaving
FIGURES OF BHIMA they produced a printed form from the municipality demanding payment of the water-rate, and requested my help in mitigating the severity of the authorities towards their peaceful hermitage. The founder of the math, Lakhi Baba, perhaps one of the Dîwans of Chết Singh, lies buried under a mango-tree at the entrance.
We will leave Shivâla Ghât and its fine old fort for a tiine, and proceed farther up the river. From Bachraj Ghât up to Asi Sangam the shooting of birds and catching of fish are forbidden out of respect for the feelings of the Jains, who have several temples along this part of the river. As with the Buddhists, the doctrine of the sacredness of all life is an important principle of the Jain faith.
Probably along this part of the ghâts we shall pass several rude, colossal mud figures of Bhîma, one of the Pândava brothers in the Mahâbhârata, stretched full length on the ground. The story which explains why Bhîma is worshipped for the last five days of the month of Kartik is as follows:- Bhîma was a man of enormous size and strength, and had a correspondingly prodigious appetite. Like a good. Hindu, he wished to worship Krishna in the month of Kartik, but found the fasting so irksome that he begged Krishna to relax the rule in his favour. To accommodate the hungry giant, Krishna agreed that if Bhîma would fast for the last five days of the month he should be granted the merit which attached to the whole month's fasting, and, further, as a special mark of favour, that those who worshipped Bhîma the last five days of Kartik should gain the same merit
In this month there will also be many high pedestals
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
of clay, on which are placed for worship sprigs of the sacred basil (ocy'mum sanctum), or tulasi, Vishnu's plant, as it is Vishnu in his Krishna incarnation who is specially worshipped in Kartik. The tulasi was, says the legend, a woman of Brindâban, who loved Krishna so passionately, that at last she threw herself into the fames of a suttee's pyre. Krishna then transformed her into the sacred plant, and directed that it should always be worshipped as part of his own puja. At Asi Sangam we reach the southern limit of Benares. From the other side of the little stream from which the ghất takes its name, the Panch-kosi road begins to wind through the cornfields.
We will now return downstream to Man Mandil Ghât, just below Dasâsamedh. The great building fronting this ghất is the oldest of the palaces in Benares, having been built by Man Singh, Raja of Amber, and ancestor of the present Maharaja of Jaipur, about the year 1600 A.D. It was a very fine specimen of the architecture of that period, and the beautiful stone balcony, which is the chief feature of the present façade, is part of the original work. Unfortunately, the greater part of the building fell into ruin, and about the middle of the last century was restored with brick and plaster of a very inferior style. A picture by Daniell, now in the rooms of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, shows the original façade as built by Man Singh. . • The palace was converted into an observatory in 1693 by the great Hindu astronomer, Raja Jai Singh, a descendant of Man Singh, who was employed by the Mogul emperor, Muhammad Shah, to correct the