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BENARES, THE SACRED CITY by the river or by the Grand Trunk road, and even now devout pilgrims approach it by the ways which millions of pious Hindus have followed for centuries on centuries, either by cart or boat, or on foot. A few devotees, in fulfilment of a vow, will . painfully prostrate themselves at full length, and day after day, and month after month, mark the weary way with their bodies, believing that the penance will obtain for them a great store of merit, both in this existence and in the hereafter. At the first sight of the holy city they will salute it with shouts of “ Jai! Jai! Kasinath!” (“ Hail! Hail! Lord of Kâsi!"), the latter being the name of the southern quarter, which is popularly applied to the whole city of Benares.
Europeans, and the great majority of Hindus, now come to Benares by the railway. It is amusing to see sometimes at Mogul Serai, the junction for the East Indian line, how the up-to-date Indian arriving from Calcutta, Bombay, or some other large AngloIndian city, will in an incredibly short time divest himself of his European environment and transform himself into the orthodox Hindu. You will see him first stepping out of the train, dressed in more or less correct European garb, and smoking a cigarette. He is accompanied by a servant, who deposits a steel trunk on the platform in front of him. Then, coram populo, but without the least suggestion of impropriety, he. proceeds to take off coat, waistcoat, trousers, and boots, and taking out of the trunk a collection of spotless white drapery, speedily arrays himself in puggaree, dhotce, and the rest of the becoming costume of an Indian gentleman, while the cast - off garments are stowed away until his next return to European society.
STREET SCENES IN BENARES 73 He is now a good Hindu, fit to appear in the holy city.
Benares cantonment is, like many other AngloIndian stations, a collection of bungalows, with the usual barracks, club, court-houses, offices, official residences, and hotels. It is not until one reaches the Chowk, the principal thoroughfare in the city proper, and its continuations on the north and south, that it is possible to realize the part which Benares plays in the religious life of India. The whole of the ground between this main road and the river is a labyrinth of lanes and alleys, only wide enough for foot traffic, which contains innumerable temples, shrines, and holy places, full of associations for the Hindu worshipper.
In the early morning, especially when it is a Hindu sestival, or on a day esteemed propitious for the sacred bath, Sannyâsin in their ochre robes, nearly naked fakirs, pilgrims from every corner of India, men, women, and children, hurry to and fro, jostling with goats and the sacred bulls and cows--fat and sleek and too well fed to thoroughly appreciate the freedom of the city, which is accorded to them as representatives of the gods. At every few yards there is a temple, or a shrine, on which passers-by will sprinkle holy Ganges water or place a garland. The brass-shops are filled with vessels for use in the daily religious ceremonies and idols worshipped in Hindu households. There are Aower-shops which sell the Aoral offerings to the deities—wreaths of golden marigold or white jessamine, pink rose-petals, and crimson hibiscus flowers, and the leaves of the bêl-tree, shaped like Shiva's trident. Others deal in all sorts of mysterious Hindu
symbols and objects of worship; rosaries used by the followers of Shiva and Vishnu, and the sacred thread worn by the twice-born castes.
The holy fish which saved Manu from the flood, a symbol of good luck, and the lion vehicle of the goddess Durgâ, are carved on every house and shop
front; quaint paintings of the gods and goddesses, of Râma and Sitâ, and the great combats of the Mahabhârata, decorate the walls. In every corner where a tree will grow the sacred pippal and banian find a place, and under their spreading branches a heap of carved stones, fragments from ancient temples, are set up for worship.
It is not difficult to find the way through this network of narrow lanes, once it is realized that they all
trend in one of two directions, towards the river or parallel to it. On the river-front they nearly all end in gigantic Rights of stone steps leading down to the bathing-ghâts, for the city is built on a high ridge about a hundred feet above the river. After the monsoon foods have subsided, the base of these great pyramids of steps gets wider and wider, as the water shrinks, until in the hot season the foundations of the ghâts, or what Pierre Loti has picturesquely called “the roots of the city”, are laid bare. In the rains the Ganges rushes past Benares in a mighty stream, covering the whole of the ghâts and filling the countless small shrines, which are built in and upon them, with a thick deposit of silt. The basement of the great palaces which line the river - bank are then Hooded, and the daily bath in the sacred river is taken within the building, convenient recesses for the bathers being arranged along the main staircase.
Compared with many other Indian cities, there is not much of architectural interest in Benares except these palaces, which have been built by Hindu princes and nobles, but are rarely occupied by them, and chiefly serve as asylums for their old retainers, who are given the privilege of spending their last days in Shiva's city, so that when they die they may be transported at once to Shiva -loka, the-- abode of bliss. There is a great deal of picturesqueness in the narrow alleys, but, if it were not for the temples and the people, it would be easy to imagine one's self to be wandering in an old town of Spain or southern Italy. Neither do the temples by any means represent, either in constructive design or in ornament, the best that Indian architects have produced. Nearly all are of
76 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY quite modern date, very few of the more important ones being older than the eighteenth century.
The Afghans, who in 1194 A.1). burnt the Buddhist monasteries at Sarnath, probably laid waste. Benares · also. Alâuddin, about 1300 A.D., is said to have destroyed a thousand temples. During the tolerant rule of Akbar and of the earlier Mogul emperors, the city may have recovered some of the splendour which it had in the palmy days of Hindu rule, but Aurangzib in the seventeenth century levelled the temples to the ground and caused several mosques to be built with the materials. The great mosque above Panchganga ghât, whose lofty minarets dominate the whole city, is one of the memorials of his intolerant zeal. .
The northern part of Benares contains a few remains of ancient temples, mostly converted into Muhammadan mosques, but in the heart of the city the only vestiges of its former architectural magnificence, besides the ruins of the old Vishweshwar temple which are behind another of Aurangzib's mosques near the Golden Temple, are fragments of carvings built into walls, or set up for worship under a sacred trce and within the temples. The sculptured records of ancient times afford plenty of scope for the student and archæologist who may try to piece together the fragmentary history of Benares, but to the Hindu worshipper they only symbolize the foundation of his creed—the One in Many. There is always room in his pantheon for divinities, new or old, strange or familiar. In Benares there are fifteen hundred Hindu temples, and the s.naller shrines are countless; but though bearing hundreds of different names, they are all, with the exception of a few dedicated to Vishnu, recognized as