« PreviousContinue »
braces, they say, even Europeans and Mohammedans, even Pariahs and other outcasts, even liars, murderers, and thieves. That no soul can perish in Benares is, thus, the charitable superstition of the Hindus.
To perform the pilgrimage of the Panch-kosí is accounted a very meritorious act. It is necessary that every good Hindu residing in the city of Benares should twice a year accomplish this pilgrimage, in order that the impurity which the soul and body have contracted during the year may be obliterated; for it is held to be impossible even to reside in such a holy city as Benares, without contracting some defilement. Not only the inhabitants of Benares, but also multitudes of persons from various parts of India, traverse the road, and seek to obtain the blessing which, they are told, such a pious act ensures. It is customary for a large number of pilgrims to travel together on this journey. Before setting out each morning, they must bathe in a tank or stream, and, on terminating their march each day, must perform the same rite. They do not permit themselves the luxury of shoes; nor do they relieve the fatigue of the journey by the assistance of either horse, or ass, or camel, or elephant, or of any carriage, or cart, or vehicle whatever. Anxious to secure a full measure of merit, they cannot afford that it should be lessened by the appliances and arts of civilized life. All, therefore, men, women, and children, rich and poor, princes and peasants, travel on foot. The only exception to this stringent rule is in the case of the sick and infirm; and it is questionable if even they will obtain such a full meed of merit as the rest. On the way; the pilgrims must not eat pawn, of which all natives are passionately fond ; and they must take great care that the Benares side of the road is not defiled. They must not quarrel, or give one another bad Janguage; must not receive any present, and must not give any food, or water, or anything else even to a friend, or take any such things from him. This last requirement has been dictated by a spirit of selfishness; for the pilgrim is so intent on the acquisition of merit, that he cannot bring himself to share it with any one,—though it be even his dearest friend. He will render no assistance to his neighbour to enter the gates of heaven, unless he can do so without loss to himself. While striving to enter within the sacred gates himself, he will suffer his fainting, foot-sore brother to die upon the road. Such is the hard selfishness of Hinduism. Indeed, selfishness is the very root of Hinduism, is its sap and life, is its branches, and blossoms, and fruit.
Starting from the Manikarniká Ghát, the pilgrim keeps along the banks of the Ganges until he arrives at the Así Sangam and Así Ghát, where a petty stream flows into the great river. From this spot he proceeds to a temple of Jagannath close by, and thence on to the village of Kandhawa, where he stays for the remainder of the day, having performed a journey of six miles. The second day's march is to the village of Dhúpchandi, ten miles further on, where he worships the tutelary goddess of that name. On the third day he arrives at Rámeswar, after a long walk of fourteen miles. The fourth day brings him to Sivapur, where he visits the famous shrine of the Pánch Pándav, or five brothers who were all married to one woman.
On this day he travels eight miles, and, on the fifth day, six more, namely, to the village of Kapildhárá, where he worships the god Mahadeva. The sixth and last stage is from Kapildhárá to the Barna Sangam, and thence to Maņikarniká Ghát, from which he first set out, which is also six miles in length. He has thus completed, in six days, a march of nearly fifty miles, about six of which, — namely, the space between the Barna Sangam and Así Sangam, the two extremities of Benares,—are along the banks of the Ganges. All the way from Kapildhárá to Manikarniká Ghát, the pilgrim scatters on the ground grains of barley, which he carries in a bag made for the purpose: this curious custom is in honour of Siva. On reaching the ghát, he bathes in the river, makes his offering of money to the priests in attendance, and then goes to the temple of Sákhi-vináyak, or the witness-bearing Gaņes, in order that the fact of his pilgrimage may be duly attested by that deity,—and thence to his home. A few grains of barley are reserved for an oblation to the idol Yava-vináyak, or Barley-Gaņeś, whose temple rises immediately above the Manikarniká Ghát.
With the exception of the temple of Kardameswar at Kandhawa, which is of considerable antiquity, and is the finest specimen of ancient Hindu architecture in this part of India, no temple along the road can, in my opinion, date further back than two hundred and fifty years. There may be a few of about this age; but I should say that more than five hundred out of the six hundred temples, which I compute to be now standing there, have been erected since the English came into
possession of India. There are some remains of old sculptures to be found on the road and in its vicinity; but they are few in number. It is exceedingly remarkable that the traces of its antiquity, so far as the buildings skirting it furnish proof, are so slender, especially when we remember that the Hindus believe it to be of high antiquity.
Moreover, the road is, for the most part throughout its whole extent, ornamented by a double row of trees, one on either side. Many of them have massive trunks, and present a noble appearance. Some of the trunks measure from twelve to seventeen feet in girth. Most of the trees are mango; and many of those of large size are of this kind. Undoubtedly, such trees may fairly be regarded as not of recent planting: nevertheless, I do not see that they can lay claim to a greater age than that of the earliest built temples found on the road, -excepting, of course, the temple of Kardarmeswar,—namely, about two hundred and fifty years. But it is not improbable that many of the trees were planted by the Hindu lady before-mentioned, who repaired the Panchkosí road, on the decline of the Mohammedan power.
None of the five tanks and dharmsálás on this road exhibit any signs of antiquity. It is said that a tank at Bhímchandí has, somewhere about it, an inscription, written upwards of four hundred years ago. If this be true,—and here I am very sceptical,-it would be only good testimony that this individual tank was of that age: taken simply by itself, it would afford no proof of the antiquity of the road. On the northern division of the road, towards Kapildhárá, certain indisputable marks and signs of age are apparent; but these, I hold, are not connected with the Panchkosí road, but rather with Sárnáth and other Buddhist sites in this neighbourhood.
Again, roads which have been trodden for many centuries, not to say thousands of years, are commonly much worn, and, occasionally, sink far below the adjacent soil. The limestone soil of Benares and the surrounding country is no exception to this rule. The old Ghazeepore road, which crosses the Panchkosí to the west of Kapildhára, is, in one place, several feet below the fields on either side; which circumstance is valid proof of its being, to say the least, somewhat ancient. But the Panchkosí is, throughout, on a level with the land through which it winds its way, or nearly so. If the road were traversed by only a few persons yearly, this argument would not be very strong; but, seeing that innumerable pilgrims pass along it in the course of the year, it is, in my opinion, almost physically impossible that it should be of ancient date. Upon the whole, I am inclined to the belief, that, previously to the repair of the road by Rani Bhawání, there was a narrow path only, which the Hindus, dreading the vengeance of the Mohammedans, occasionally traversed in small numbers; but for how long this path had been a pilgrim's walk, it is impossible to conjecture. From the very great scarcity of old remains, however, it is my firm belief that it can lay no claim whatever to antiquity, properly so called ; and the probability is, that it was originated by some