« PreviousContinue »
the last century, carted away an entire tope, or sacred tower, from the same vast store-house, with which he built Jagat Ganj, a ward or district in the suburbs of the city.
The chief reason why Benares has been thus neglected is, in my judgment, attributable partly to its great extent, and partly to the general ignorance as to the position of its ancient portions; and, consequently, the explorer, in commencing his task, has been in considerable doubt where to begin. Now, it is necessary to state, that much of the existing city has been erected in comparatively modern times, and, with the exception of an occasional bit of old frieze or cornice, or'a broken bass-relief or statue, inserted into recent walls, deposited over drains, or lying neglected by the side of the road, there is nothing of an ancient character visible throughout a very large section of it. Yet all the northern quarter of the city, a district little frequented by European visitors, exhibits in abundance isolated specimens of architectural remains of various stages of antiquity. Independently of a few separate buildings, or parts of buildings, here and there to be seen, of an early style of Hindu architecture, sculptured stones of many kinds are distributed amongst the walls and foundations of the modern houses, and in all places wherever solid masonry is required, in such great profusion, that it is impossible not to believe that on this site stood an older city or, at least, a portion of it. Moreover, the very scattered nature of these remains shows that a considerable period has elapsed since they occupied their proper places in their own original edifices. It might be utterly impracticable to collect the entire materials of any one building; but this is not necessary, seeing that the age of a building can be commonly determined by observing merely a fragment of its ruins. In the case, however, of ancient Hindu remains, so little has been done in their investigation, especially in comparing one with another, that the question of their antiquity cannot be at once decided.
From an ignorance of primitive types, mistakes of five hundred or a thousand years or upwards may be easily made. In judging, therefore, of the age of the relics found in Benares, we have, in reality, very little to guide us.
If there be anything in the argument based on the simplicity of a style, or on its ornamentation, as bearing on its greater or less antiquity, then we can predicate of the buildings which formerly stood in this part of Benares various stages of antiquity. Some of the capitals, pillars, bases, architraves, and mouldings are most severely simple in their type, while others are crowded with ornamentation; and both species are very different from the styles in modern use. The first species is, doubtless, the forerunner of the second, but at what interval, it is at present impossible to affirm.
There is no question that a large proportion of the ancient remains in Benares are of Buddhist origin, but of various epochs; and, in some cases, those on the same site are of different ages. For instance, the Buddhist monastery and temples, of which traces are found at Bakaríyá Kund, differ in their styles of architecture. Of the two small temples, parts of which, though possibly altered and transposed, are still standing, the pillars of the one are square and without ornament, while those of the other, situated about three hundred yards off, are square below, then eight-sided, and then sixteen-sided, and are adorned with exquisitely-carved devices. Moreover, from the quarry-marks engraved upon many of the stones found here, it is manifest that a portion of the buildings was erected about the era of the Gupta dynasty, or perhaps from the first or second to the third or fourth century A.D.
There are several ancient edifices in Benares, which, if not original, are certainly to a large extent built of old materials. In these, more especially in their columns, may be traced a gradation of style. When we compare the simple bracket or cruciform capital and its plain square shaft and base, such as we find in the pillars of the cloisters around the platform of Aurungzeb's mosque behind the modern Bisheswar temple, and also in the pillars of a Mohammedan cemetery in the neighbourhood of Tiliyá Nálá, with the elaborately ornamented columns of the mosque in the Ráj Ghát Fort, we are at once struck with the contrast, and at the extraordinary development whith the style—the same fundamentally in both instances—has received. Various intermediate stages of diversity are represented in other buildings; but I cannot now further enlarge on them. The first class of pillars, however, must, I contend, be of a much earlier date than the other. Yet it does not follow that this latter class belongs necessarily to a recent epoch. The mosque in which the columns are found consists, apparently, of two Buddhist cloisters, or, possibly, of two divisions of a Buddhist temple, and has been, at times, so extensively altered and repaired that it is hard to say that any one column stands exactly as originally placed. The columns are four in each row, and are seventy in number. They are all carved, as also, with a few exceptions, are the architraves ; and the carvings in one division are uniform. The carvings in the other division are bolder and more profuse, but, nevertheless, are totally free from degeneracy of style. Some of the pillars are of striking beauty, and, for grandness of conception, and correctness of execution, are scarcely surpassed anywhere in India. Now, as some of the beautifully carved pillars at Bhilsa were set up in the second or third century before Christ, we must be careful in our estimate of the date to which the Ráj Ghát pillars, which are of singular excellency and purity of style, ought to be assigned, although I do not propose to claim for them so high an antiquity.
But I do not suppose that the architectural remains scattered, for the most part in fragments, over this quarter of Benares, are all of Buddhist origin. At the same time, I must not forget the remark of Fergusson ("Handbook of Architecture,” p. 100), that “the earliest authentic building that we have of the Hindu religion in Hindustan is the great temple of Bhobaneswar (in Orissa), built by Lelat Indra Kesari, A.D. 657," which, if true at the time he wrote, is hardly true now. The same eminent writer has elsewhere hazarded the observation, respecting Buddhist structures, that no built examples whatever exist in India of Buddhist temples (chaityas) and monasteries (viháras); and has, besides, apparently confounded Jaina and Buddhist monuments. Previously to the Buddhist supremacy in India, we know that Benares was a Brahmanical city; and there is no proof that, at any period of that supremacy,
Brahmanism was entirely extirpated. For my part, I am inclined to believe that some of these ancient remains may be attributed equally to Hindu and Buddhist origin. The simple style of architecture, to which I have referred, was, without doubt, the earliest introduced into Benares, perhaps into Hindustan; and, whether the work of Buddhists or of Hindus is, doubtless, of high antiquity. Yet how it found its way here is open to question. This part of the existing city, as already stated, is much older than the rest; but, after all, there is good reason to believe that only a small portion of even this quarter belonged to the most ancient city, in which case the above-mentioned fragmentary remains of a very old type, may have been chiefly brought from the primitive city, or may have been relics of buildings erected after models found there. This entire subject will be discussed in subsequent chapters, towards the close of this volume, in which some account of the archæology of Benares and its neighbourhood will be given in detail.
It is worthy of notice, as illustrating the nature of Mohammedan rule in India, that nearly all the buildings in Benares, of acknowledged antiquity, have been appropriated by the Musulmans; being used as mosques, mausoleums, dargahs, and so forth; and also that a large portion of the separate pillars, architraves, and various other ancient remains, which, as before remarked, are so plentifully found in one part of the city, now contribute to the support or adornment of their edifices. Not con