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It is a difficult matter for a European observer to ascertain how far the philosophical doctrines of Hinduism are comprehended by the mass of the people. On this point I do not venture to express an opinion, but only quote two very competent witnesses. Dr. Lefroy, Bishop of Lahore, in a recent sermon said: “ From a long personal experience I can bear witness to the extraordinary aptitude with which they engage in discussion or speculation on the deepest philosophical and ethical questions—and that not merely in the case of the upper, or more educated classes, but not infrequently in the case of the very poorest and wholly illiterate persons as well”.
Mr. Burns, who made special enquiries during the last census regarding the beliefs of the common people, says: “The general result of my enquiries is that the great majority of Hindus have a firm belief in one Supreme God, called Bhagwan, Parameshwar, Ishwar, or Narain. Mr. Baillie made some enquiries, which showed that this involved a clear idea of a single personal God. I am inclined to think that this is not limited to the more intelligent, but is distinctly characteristic of Hindus as a whole.” (Census Report, 1901, vol. i. part 1, p. 303.)
Shiva, in popular Hinduism, is the great white-faced Ascetic of the Himalayas, representing the life of austerity which the Brahmins point out as one of the roads to Shiva's abodes of bliss and ultimate absorption into the Absolute. He has three eyes, which are explained variously as the Trimurti, the three Vedas, and the power of seeing the past, present, and future. Two of the epithets applied to him, “the mooncrested” and “ blue-throated”, will be very suggestive
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BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
to those who have watched the crescent moon rising over the great Himalayan snow-peaks, and seen the wonderful tints of violet-blue just below the snowline at sunrise. The five heads which he generally has are the five sacred rivers which now from the Himalayas. In his temples at Benares he is only represented by the phallic emblems, the symbol of his reproductive power by which, as Ishwara, he created Brahma, Vishnu, and himself. The same symbol was used by the Egyptians in the worship of Osiris, and by the ancient Greeks to signify the first principle of animation.
: It has been suspected that the lingam was borrowed . by the Brahmins from the ritual of some non-Aryan cult, but if so, lingam - worship must have been incorporated with the Aryan religion at a very early period, as both the Aitareya and Taittiriya Upanishads contain references to it,' enjoining phallic worship as a step leading to a knowledge of the Absolute. But it is a mistake to suppose that Shiva worship, as a whole, countenances sensuality. On the contrary, Shiva is always regarded as an example and type of austerity; the grosser forms of Hindu worship are chiefly found in the Sâkta sects, and in the cults of Vishnu.
In the Madras Presidency Shiva is most frequently worshipped in his aspect as Natesa, “the Dancer”, the Lord of Bliss, and manifestation of Purusha, “Spirit”. A splendid bronze, now in the Madras Museum, shows that Hindu sculptors have not always been so deficient in the higher qualities of artistic expression as is generally supposed. Shiva, sur
? Ait., p. 83, and Taitt., p 110. (Anandåsram Edit.)
rounded by a halo or glory of fire (representing the energy of heat by which Ishwara was evolved from the Supreme Brahman), is dancing on a prostrate
SHIVA, AS NATESA
Asura, a spirit of evil. In one hand he holds a drum to scare away evil spirits, and in another the sacrificial fire which leads to heaven. He wears a tiara, behind which a number of cobras issue, forming fantastic streamers on either side of his head.
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
In the Brahmanas the serpent is said to signify that the evil of the body can be put off by means of sacrifice, just as a serpent throws off its dead skin. It also symbolizes the doctrine of transmigration, the idea of the human soul obtaining release through a series of changes of the body. Perhaps, also, it symbolizes the reproductive power of Shiva, as the snake is popularly supposed to renew its body every time it casts its skin.
The movement and modelling of this ancient bronze are superb. There is something of classic feeling in the boldness of the generalization shown in the technique, and even the monstrous addition of four arms is treated with so much artistic skill as to make it inoffensive. There is no figure sculpture of this quality to be found in Benares except in the old Buddhist art, where the same feeling is sometimes shown. The iconoclastic zeal of Aurangzib, who enforced the strict Muhammadan law against the representation of animate nature in art, is still felt in all the art of northern India.
IN THE CITY
The sacred character which Hindus ascribe to Benares is not confined to the precincts of the city. The influence of the patron deity extends to the whole area, shaped roughly like the crescent moon placed over Shiva's head, which is contained by the bank of the Ganges between its little tributaries, Barna on the north and Asi on the south, and by the Panchkôsi road. The latter describes a rough semicircle round the city, the centre being the Manikarnika well, the first place of pilgrimage, and the radius a distance of five kôs, or about ten miles.
The sacrificial virtue of Shiva's city is no doubt enhanced by the circumstance that the Ganges at this point takes a great sweep round, so that its current while it passes Benares is flowing in a northerly direction, or towards the Himalayas, where Shiva is said to dwell. The aspect of the river- front of the city · facing the rising sun was another point which may have guided the choice of the early Aryan or preAryan sun-worshippers. In ancient Hindu sculptures, Surya, the sun-god, is generally associated with the gods of the later Trimurti — Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
In the good old days the city was reached either