Page images

tent with destroying temples and mutilating idols, with all the zeal of fanatics, they fixed their greedy eyes on whatever object was suited to their own purposes, and, without scruple or any of the tenderness shown by the present rulers, seized upon it for themselves. And thus it has come to pass, that every solid and durable structure, and every ancient stone of value, being esteemed by them as their peculiar property, has, with very few exceptions, passed into their hands. We believe it was the boast of Aláuddin, that he had destroyed one thousand temples in Benares alone. How many more were razed to the ground, or transformed into mosques through the iconoclastic fervour of Aurungzeb, there is no means of knowing; but it is not too much to say, that he was unsurpassed, in this feature of religious fanaticism, by any of his predecessors. If there is one circumstance respecting the Mohammedan period which Hindus remember better than another, it is the insulting pride of the Musulmans, the outrages which they perpetrated upon their religious convictions, and the extensive spoliation of their temples and shrines.

It is right that Europeans should clearly understand, that this spirit of Mohammedanism is unchangeable, and that, if, by any mischance, India should again come into the possession of men of this creed, all the churches and colleges, and all the Mission institutions, would not be worth a week's purchase.

When we endeavour to ascertain what the Mohammedans have left to the Hindus of their ancient buildings in Benares, we are startled at the result of our investigations. Although the city is bestrewn with temples in every direction, in some places very thickly, yet it would be difficult, I believe, to find twenty temples, in all Benares, of the age of Aurungzeb, or from 1658 to 1707. The same unequal proportion of old temples, as compared with new, is visible throughout the whole of Northern India. Moreover, the diminutive size of nearly all the temples that exist is another powerful testimony to the stringency of the Mohammedan rule. It seems clear, that, for the most part, the emperors forbade the Hindus to build spacious temples, and suffered them to erect only small structures, of the size of cages, for their idols, and these of no pretensions to beauty. The consequence is, that the Hindus of the present day, blindly following the example of their predecessors of two centuries ago, commonly build their religious edifices of the same dwarfish size as formerly; but, instead of plain, ugly buildings, they are often of elegant construction. Some of them, indeed, are so delicately carved externally, are so crowded with bassreliefs and minute sculpturing, are so lavishly ornamented, that the eye of the beholder becomes satiated and wearied. In regard to size, there is a marked difference between the temples of Northern and Southern India; the latter being frequently of gigantic dimensions. Yet, in respect of symmetry and beauty, the difference is immensely in favour of the Northern fanes.

The present city of Benares, like the earlier one, exhibits a tendency to shift its site. If any person will take the trouble to ride through the city from north to south, and then all along its extensive suburbs, from the ancient fort at the junction of the Barna and the Ganges, down the road leading towards the cantonments, thence making a detour as far as Durga-kund until he again reaches the Ganges, he will at once be convinced that the aspects of the city differ greatly from one another. He will be especially struck by the apparent newness and freshness of the houses on the southern side, as compared with those on the northern side; and his attention will be, or ought to be, powerfully arrested by the venerable appearance


of the buildings on the cantonment road just alluded to, and in its neighbourhood.

There is still a scattered population on the southern bank of the Barna, living in small villages or hamlets; and, to the north of the present city, between it and the Barna, mausoleums, dargahs, mosques, and even Hindu buildings, most of which are in ruins, are found in abundance, showing that, as late as the Mohammedan period, this portion of the city, now become its suburbs, was possessed of considerable magnificence, and, indeed, was a favourite place of resort to its Mohammedan rulers. The tendency of Benares to change its boundaries—for it shifts continually in a south-westerly direction—is well illustrated by the position of the three fortresses which the Rajas of Benares have occupied at various periods of its history. The oldest fort was situated at Barna Sangam, or the confluence of the Barna and the Ganges; and a few remains of it are still standing. In its day it no doubt formed a part of the city, and was its chief defence; but now it is only a remote suburb, with a mere handful of people in its immediate neighbourhood. The second in point



of time is the fort at S'iválá Ghát, some four miles further south-west in the midst of a dense population: it was the residence of Cheit Singh, in the time of Warren Hastings, but is no longer inhabited by the Rajas of Benares. The third fort is that in which the present Raja dwells, and is situated at Ramnagar, upwards of a mile to the south-east of S'iválá Ghát, on the opposite side of the river, where a considerable population has sprung up.

At present, as has long been the case, the city is known by the two names of Káśí and Benares; the latter designation being a corruption of the Sanskrit Váraņasí, Varáņasí and Varaņasí. On these words, as significative terms, we have only uncertain grounds for speculation. Káśí, the name most favoured by the Hindus, is considered to mean splendid. Varaṇasí is explained as a compound of Varañá and Así, which refer, it is conjectured, to the two streams bearing these names, and severally flowing into the Ganges to the north and south of the city, of which they thus constitute to some extent a natural boundary. In some late Brahmanical writings, Benares is spoken of as lying between the Varaņá and the Así; but, in fact, it lies at a considerable distance from the Varaņá in one direction, and in the other, while it has passed over the small rivulet of the Así, and now embraces it within itself, it is evident that at one time it was a long way distant from that stream. The Varaná (or Barna, as it is popularly called,) contains a considerable body of water in the rainy season ; but the Así continues a small stream all the

1 वारणसी, वराणसी, वरणसी.

year round. There is another derivation current among the natives, perhaps worthy of mention. It is said that a certain Raja Banár formerly ruled over Benares, and

gave his own name to the city. It would appear, that, with the followers of Buddha, the popular name of the city was not Káśí, but Benares; and, on the other hand, that, while the city commonly bore the name of Benares, the circumjacent country was called Káśí. The Chinese pilgrim Fa Hian, who travelled in India at the commencement of the fifth century A.D., remarks, in the journal of his travels, that, following the course of the river Heng (Ganges) towards the “west, he came to the town of Pho lo nai (or Benares), in the kingdom of Kia shi." The ancient Buddhist writings of Ceylon also make reference to the Sárnáth portion of the old city as existing “in the kingdom of Káší.” At one time, therefore, during the prevalence of the Buddhist religion in India, the territory, surrounding Benares, and including the city, was called the Káśí kingdom or country; and it is not unlikely that both Káśí and Váráņasí were terms interchangeably employed to designate the surrounding country even after the decline and downfall of the Buddhist religion in India. Dr. F. Hall concludes, I find, that so late as the eleventh century A.D., “at a period when Káśí was, presumably, the more popular name of the city of Benares, the circumjacent territory was known as Váráņasí.”. Indeed, the inscription which gave rise to this remark makes use of the word Váránasî as de

? Laidlay's Pilgrimage of Fa Hian, p. 307.

Bengal Asiatic Society's Journal for 1862, page 5, Note.


« PreviousContinue »