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82 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY tourists, than in attending to their religious duties. Shares in temple property, which carry with them the disposal of the pilgrims' offerings, are often bought and sold like common merchandise. It is even said that a proprietary right in a Hindu temple has in this way sometimes fallen into Muhammadan hands.
If, moreover, an index to a people's feelings is always to be found in their art, it is worth noting that there is a vast difference in the artistic quality of the popular art of the present day and that of fifty
years ago. It is not only in the attempts of the wealthier classes to imitate vulgar European fashions that the degradation of Indian art is visible. Even in the art which springs from the religious life of the people, in their idols and sacrificial vessels, there is a marked absence of the sincerity and depth of feeling which are conspicuous in the older work...
But it would not be wise to attach too much significance to this deterioration, and to assume that less devotion to signs and symbols implies a giving way of the foundations of Hindu beliefs. Idolatry and symbolic ritual were never regarded as indispensable to Hinduism, but rather as a kind of spiritual kindergarten to help the masses to understand 'the abstract ideas of Brahmin philosophy. Hindu reformers have
been as earnest as Christian missionaries in denouncing them, and it would be a fatal mistake if the latter believed that by the uprooting of idolatry India must needs become Christian.
It must, however, always be a matter for astonishment that cultured Hindus of great intellectual attain.
ments should regard as adequate symbols of their high philosophic abstractions the vulgar_dolls and childish paraphernalia which now, at Benares and elsewhere, take the place of the fine sculpture and splendid art of former days.
It is remarkable that the art industry for which Benares has long been famous, the weaving of silks and kincobs, or silk brocades, is now principally in the hands of Muhammadan weavers. Whether they were
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY converted to Islam in the Mogul times, forcibly or from motives of self-interest, is not apparently known. Benares has probably been a seat of the industry from the earliest times, but it is more than likely that during the Muhammadan invasions the best artisans were frequently deported for the service of the victors' courts. Similarly, when Mogul rule was firmly established in India, there may have been frequent importations of artisans from the great cities of Persia and Central Asia.
Gold and silver brocade was originally made of thin strips of gold or silver woven into linen or cotton. Silk was already in use in India in the times of the Mahâbhârata and Râmâyana, and has always been more worn by Hindus than Muhammadans, for whereas the former consider it purer than cotton for ceremonial purposes, so that it can be used at mealtimes without being washed, the latter prohibited the use of it as too effeminate for men's garments unless mixed with cotton. This restriction was, however, relaxed in cold weather and in time of war, on account of the better protection afforded by heavy silks and brocades. A plague of lice was also held to justify the use of silk by the strict Musalman.
The mixed fabric of silk and cotton, dyed in variegated colours, and woven in various zigzag stripes, is called mashru, or “lawful”. It is still made at Benares for Muhammadan men's garments, but it is a decaying industry. Jains and strict Hindus who object to the wilful destruction of any forms of life wear a coarse silk made from cocoons from which the moth has escaped.
In the Mogul times there was at every court a
n COCOONS I
ARTS AND CRAFTS
manufacture of magnificent silks and brocades worn by the sultans and their wives, and by the nobles and their wives. Muhammad Tuglak, in the fourteenth century, kept at Delhi 500 weavers to make the gold brocades worn by his wives, and lavishly distributed as royal presents.
L'nder British rule the demand for these gorgeous fabrics has greatly decreased, but compared with other textiles the kincob industry is fairly Nourishing, though not free from the bane of aniline dyes and European patterns. Lately, however, some of the manufacturers have wisely set themselves to reproduce
AN OLD BENARES LOTA a number of fine old patterns found in the palace of the Maharajah of Benares.
The other great art craft of Benares is the metalwork, including the manufacture of brass and copper idols, lamps, and sacrificial utensils, and all sorts of native cooking and drinking vessels which fill the brass bazaar. The most characteristic are the lotas for Ganges water, made of brass and overlaid with copper, and chased with mythological figures and emblems of Shiva or Vishnu; the brass representing the river Jumna and the copper the Ganges. The old
BEXARES, THE SACRED CITY discarded vessels, which are sold as purâna chíz, are always far better than the new.
The Hindu idea of the sacrificial purity of copper water-vessels is interesting in view of a statement recently made in the Indian Medical Journal, that water kept in clean copper vessels for twenty-four hours is probably rendered safe for drinking purposes. Every Hindu villager prefers untinned copper vessels for bringing drinking-water from the well.
The Benares brassware, made specially for Europeans, is a pitiful example of the vulgarity and inanity to which Indian art can descend when the modern commercial element is brought into it, and when it is out of touch with the religious ideas on which its whole foundation rests. It is, unfortunately, made too familiar by Indian exhibitions and curiosity shops to need any description...
In the Hindu social and religious system the musicians and dancing-girls are an indispensable institution. They personate the Gandharvas, the mythical musicians of Indra's heaven, who attend the feasts of the gods, and the Apsarases, the voluptuous charmers—
“With all the gifts of grace, of youth, and beauty.
. . . . . Yet thus fair,
The dancing - girls of Benares are generally the unmarried daughters of the Kathak caste the caste of professional musicians. They live in the quarter known as the Dâl-ki-mandi, a long street with houses of several stories, some of them resplendent with silver
'Ramayana. Wilson's translation.