« PreviousContinue »
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
Such is the contrast between the high philosophy of Hinduism and the ritual countenanced by its priestly exponents.
The ordinary Hindu, who has not the means or time for regular household worship, has to be content with hiring a Brahmin occasionally to recite a part of the sacred writings, and with visits to the temple on festival days, or when his leisure permits.
PLAN OF HINDU ROOFING
I have noticed before that though Benares is one of the most picturesque cities in India, it possesses hardly a single temple of first-rate architectural merit. The fifteen hundred or more temples it contains are small and nearly all of one type, with very little variation. The cell containing the image or sacred emblem is square, generally with an opening on all four sides, and surmounted by the tall curvilinear and multiform sikra or spire, already described (see p. 44) In front of this, and connected with it, is a larger colonnaded porch, which is roofed either by a dome or by
the more ancient and characteristic Indian method of building squares within squares, by filling in the corners of each square successively with superimposed horizontal layers or slabs of stone, as explained in the diagram. Surrounding the temple is a court or quadrangle enclosed by four walls, or by cloisters which contain subsidiary shrines, or accommodation for the priests.
The temple of Durgâ, the so-called Monkey Temple, is a good illustration of the type of a Benares temple, for being in the suburbs and not restricted by want of space, it is larger and more complete than most of the temples in the city. In front of the temple the vahan, on which the goddess rides, occupies a conspicuous position on a high pedestal somewhat suggestive of the famous column of St. Mark's Square at Venice. Sacrifices of goats are frequently offered at a stake close by. The goats are decapitated at one stroke of the knife, and the blood offered to the goddess, but the bodies are generally taken away by the sacrificers. The object of the sacrifice is various: sometimes to appease the goddess in a case of sickness, sometimes to invoke her aid when the sacrificer is out of employment. Often it is simply to provide a meal for Hindus who are not allowed to eat fesh, except that of animals offered in sacrifice.
The lion symbol is also painted on either side of the entrance, and appears again sculptured in stone on each side of the doorway within. The temple being one of the sights of the tourist, you are invited to purchase food for the monkeys, which climb nimbly down in crowds from the neighbouring roofs and trees, and. scramble with all the vivacity of monkeyhood for the
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
handfuls of grain and sweetmeats thrown to them. Though it is not Hanuman, the monkey god and the ally of Râma in his fight with Râvana, who is worshipped in the temple, the monkeys are found by the Brahmin attendants to be a successful draw for the bakshish of tourists. The cell where the image of Durgâ is placed was built by a Bengali Rânî at the end of the eighteenth century. The pillared porch in front dates from about the middle of the nineteenth. They are both fair specimens of modern Hindu temple architecture and decoration.
The image of Durgâ in this temple is an insig.. nificant doll-like figure of no artistic merit. The illustration here given is from a fine stone bas-relief at Chamba-, representing Durgâ, at the command of Shiva, destroying the Asuras, or demons who were usurping the authority of the gods and oppressing humanity. The face is unfortunately mutilated. Lying at her feet is the dead body of Mahisha, an Asura in the form of a buffalo, whom she slew.
Durga is one of the wives, or saktis, of Shiva. Her aspect is fair and shining, as her original name Gauri signifies. She appears to be especially related to Shiva in his manifestation as god of the Himalayas, and to represent the destructive forces of creation, while Kali, whose images are always black, is the Earth-mother and the universal destroyer of Time, and the Cosmos. In every country the highest mountains have always been associated with the religious ideas of the people. The benignant and ferocious aspects of Indian moun. tain deities are doubtless but the impression on the Indian mind of the two aspects of those natural
! From a photograph by Dr. Vogel, Architectural Surveyor of the Punjab.