« PreviousContinue »
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
otherwise. Imitate our good deeds, and not those that are otherwise. ... Give alms with a willing heart. Do not give with an unwilling heart. Give wisely. Give with modesty. Give with fear. Give with a sympathetic heart.'”!
The story of Yama and Nachiketâ is the most characteristic in the Upanishads. It is as follows:
Nachiketâ was a young Brahmin, who, having been hastily vowed by his father as a victim to Yama, the god of Death, cheerfully submitted, even though his father repented of his vow and hesitated to fulfil it. Owing to Death's absence when Nachiketâ arrived at his abode, he remained three nights without food. On his return Yama, as an apology for the slight to his Brahmin guest, begged of him to ask for any three boons he might desire.
Nachiketa's first request was that his father might have peace of mind and cease to feel anger towards him. This was immediately granted. The next was that Death would explain to him the manner of producing the sacrificial fire which led to heaven. To this also Death readily assented. Nachiketâ's last boon was that Death would tell him what all men desired to know, the mystery of the future life.
Yama said: “Ask for sons and grandsons who shall live a hundred years; ask for wealth, pleasure, power, long life for yourself—all that men hold most precious, but only not this—ask me no question about death ".
Nachiketâ replied: “In all these things you offer, O Death, no wise man will take delight. They are things of a day; even all life is short. Keep your
1 The Upanishads. Translated by Sitanath Tattvabhusan. Som Brothers, 1904Vol. II. p. 104
UPANISHAD STORIES - 13 pleasures, power, and riches. The boon I have asked I have asked."
Then Yama said: “The good, the pleasant, these are separate things, with different objects, binding all mankind. They who accept the good, alone are wise. They who prefer the pleasant, miss life's real aim.
“Fools who live in darkness, believing themselves wise and learned, wander in devious ways, like blind men led by blind.
“To the man without understanding, thoughtless and deceived by wealth, the future life is not revealed. He who thinks this world alone exists, and the future is not, must yield himself to me time after time.
“The knowledge you would gain cannot be gained by reasoning. Few have the means of hearing it, few after hearing can understand it. It is subtler than an atom, and beyond the ken of reason.
"The wise man who has realized by spiritual communion that Divine Being,' invisible, hidden, pervading all things, who is in the heart and lives in inaccessible places, gives up both joy and sorrow.”
Nachiketâ said: “That which is different from virtue and different from vice, different from the chain of cause and effect, different from the past and future, tell me of that ".
Yama replied: “The Worshipful One, whom all the Vedas tell of, to whom all discipline of mind and body is directed, for whom men acquire spiritual knowledge, I will speak to you briefly of that Worshipful One. He is AUM.
“Verily this syllable is Brahman, this syllable is the Highest. Knowing this, one obtains every desire.
* Brahman, the Universal Soul, or Sell.
14 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
“This help is the best, this help is the highest. Knowing this, one becomes glorified in the world of Brahman.
“The real Self is neither born, nor dies. It is not produced, nor is aught produced from it. It is unborn, eternal, everlasting, and ancient. When the body is destroyed, it is not destroyed.
“If the slayer thinks he slays the Self, and if the slain believes the Self is slain, both are ignorant. The Self is neither slain nor slays.
“The wise man knowing the Self to be incorporeal—though existing in changing bodies-knowing it great and all-pervading, is free from grief
“This Self cannot be realized by the Vedas, nor by reason, nor by learning. The wicked cannot know it, nor he whose mind is not at rest. It manifests itself to itself. Only Self knows Self.”
We may picture Benares in the later Vedic times as one of the first Aryan settlements in the Ganges valley-a clearing in the primeval forest, perhaps first occupied by the Dravidians or Kolarians. There they kept their cattle and cultivated the soil with the help of the conquered aboriginals, whom they called Dasyus. Their ordinary dwellings were probably of mud, roofed with bamboos and thatch—very like those in the villages round Benares now; the better ones might have been partly of brick or stone, plastered over and decorated with paintings in fresco, the most ancient form of pictorial art, such as the oldest Buddhist records describe.
It was an admirable site for such a settlement. The rich alluvial soil afforded plenty of sustenance for men BENARES IN VEDIC TIMES
1 Abridged from Pandit Tattvabhusan's translation.
and cattle. The Ganges was at the same time a protection from hostile invasions, and an easy highway of communication with the older Aryan settlements in the Punjab. The river Barna on the north, and the Asi on the south-a more important stream than it is now-gave protection from sudden attacks of the fierce aboriginal tribes dwelling in the densest forests, and called by the Aryans Rakshasas, demons. It only needed a wall or forts on the west to make the little colony secure on all sides.
The cool bathing in the splendid river and worship on its sunny banks would afford to the Aryan settlers refreshment for body and soul. So even in those remote times the place may have acquired a reputation as being propitious for the favoured people, and thus to them sacred soil, an oasis of spiritual life in the midst of the impious non-Aryan tribes, like Brahmâ. varta, their much-beloved home in the north-west.
It has been supposed that the spiritual leaders of the Aryans began, about the time when the Kâsis first . appeared in the Ganges valley, to arrange the compilation of the Vedic hymns, the Brahmanas and the o: Upanishads, in order to preserve their traditional faith from the risk of corruption which was incurred by intermarriage with the Dravidian and Kolarian neighbours. Benares, therefore, may perhaps have begun already to establish its reputation as a great seat of Aryan philosophy and religion.
The first idea of caste, which was mainly that of race protection, originated at the same period, and from the same cause. But caste as it is now understood did not become a fixed institution for many centuries later. Even in the sixth century B.C., though
16 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY there were restrictions as to eating together, and a fair complexion was regarded as indicating high birth, a low occupation by itself did not involve any social ostracism. A Brahmin or Kshatriya could work at a trade or engage in agriculture without any dishonour or penalty.