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or five kôs,' from Manikarnika well. It is believed by the Hindus to be of great antiquity, and I see no reason to doubt this, though Sherring discredits the tradition. It is possible that the alignment of the road may have varied from time to time, but the practice of circumambulating a shrine, or other holy place, is one of the most ancient of religious observances, and it is interesting to note that the recent Tibet expedition found crowds of Buddhist pilgrims circumambulating the sacred city of Lhasa.
The pilgrimage of the Panch-kósi road is now one which every Hindu inhabitant of Benares is enjoined to make, especially every third year, in the intercalary month which regulates the Hindu lunar calendar. The merit ascribed to this pilgrimage is immense. All the sins which have been committed within the limits of the city can be expiated by the proper fulfilment of the rules of the journey, for along this road the pilgrims circumambulate all that is holy in the holiest of cities. Manikarnika is the starting point. They must walk on foot without shoes, except in the case of the sick or infirm, taking with them only necessary food, without luxuries of any kind. They must refrain from quarrelling or using bad language: They must not give or receive food or water, nor take any gift from anyone. But as human nature is the same all the world over, the wealthier pilgrims often find means to soften the austerities of the journey by arranging with members of their own family, who are not making the pilgrimage, to meet them at the different halting-places with food and other comforts.
Whatever we may think of the special virtues attri.
188 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY buted by Hindus to the pilgrimage, there is no doubt that there is a great charm about this old country road in the crisp air of a late December morning, and something of the Vedic spirit in the simple piety of the old traditions which cling to it. From Manikarnika the crowd of pilgrims, young and old, rich and poor, wend their way along the ghâts to Asi. Sangam on the south, where the little stream called Asi flows into the Ganges. Crossing this, a path leads along the river for some distance through fields of wheat and barley, then widens out into a broad avenue lined by splendid mango-trees. Framed in the noble colonnade of their massive trunks and the deep rich foliage are vistas of tender green cornfields, varied with clumps of sugarcane, patches of yellow mustard and marigold, and the lilac of linseed flowers. The pilgrims pause to pay their devotions at the little wayside shrines placed between the trees. At one place the road is strewn for some distance with broken moulds, where a colony of brass-workers is engaged in making the vessels for which Benares is famous. Next we pass a Hindu monastery.
The first day's halting place is at Khandawa, a typical Hindu village, six miles from Manikarnika along the sacred road. As you approach it you may see a kid lying by the roadside, sacrificed by some lowcaste villagers to appease the spirits of evil. Here a bamboo with a red Aag marks the altar of Devi, perhaps the Earth yoddess of the Dasyus, or another of the primitive aboriginal divinities afterwards brought into the Hindu pantheon as one of the wives of Shiva. At a little distance from the village is the usual collection of huts occupied by potters, rope and basket
makers, and others whose low-caste occupations render them undesirable as inhabitants. These locations are survivals of the early Aryan times when the darkskinned Dasyu slaves, who plied the lowest trades, were not allowed within the Aryan pale. The potters are twirling the clay on the primitive native wheel a relic of almost prehistoric times, and women with
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
a stately pose and gait are carrying on their heads the finished vessels, baked in a heap of cow-dung fuel,
for sale in the village.
Another roadside shrine farther on contains a rude carving of an ancient village deity, hardly higher in the artistic scale than the fetish of a South Sea savage. Beyond this a row of magnificent tamarind trees, whose gnarled and twisted trunks prove their venerable age, affords a grateful shade for the pilgrims, and a splendid portico for one of the dharmsalas, or rest-houses, in which they may halt and take their food. The village itself is. nestled round a spacious tank,
one of those splendid A VILLAGE DEITY
public works which
Hindu rulers and pious benefactors of olden days bestowed on their posterity.
It is a refreshing contrast to the narrow, crowded streets of the city, the dirt, bustle and unrest, the plethora of monstrous idols and their never-ending rites—this broad expanse of placid water mirroring the
tall red spire of a fine old temple, and the dense, rich foliage of the sacred trees which cluster round it. It is in the village life, and not in the life of the crowded cities, that Hinduism is seen at its best. The organization of the village communities, dating back from the
THE TEMPLE AND TANK AT KHANDAWA “
earliest Aryan settlements, has still in some parts of India survived all the storms of contending races and creeds, and remained the political unit of the state. The change which British administration has brought about in this respect seems to be a doubtful advantage. The ordinary affairs of such village communities are administered by a hereditary headman, or patel, as