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old—Christianity or Hinduism is the more powerful. The contest between them has already commenced. It is felt throughout all the divisions of native society. It is filling with anxiety the higher castes, and is calling forth all the subtlety of the Brahmans, all their intellect, and all their mysterious authority. We must expect the opposition to Christianity to be, in many places, organized and systematic, determined and dogged. But, if Christians in India be faithful to themselves and to their Divine Master, the triumph of their cause is certain.
Upwards of thirty years ago, Mr. James Prinsep, then stationed at Benares, took a census of the city, and also made a computation of the number of temples and mosques existing in it. From his calculation, which was made with considerable care, there were, at that time, in the city proper, exclusive of the suburbs, 1,000 Hindu temples and 333 Mohammedan mosques.
But this number of temples, which has since been much increased, did not include, I imagine, the small shrines, the niches in the walls, the cavities inside and outside many of the houses, and the spaces on the gháts, in which images in immense multitudes were and are still deposited. These secondary shrines, if they be worthy of this designation, each occupied by one or more idols, are, in some parts of the city, exceedingly numerous. Figures of all forms, from a plain stone to the most fantastic shape, whole and mutilated, painted and unpainted, some without adornment, others decorated with garlands, or wet with sacred water, meet the eye in every direction. These remarks especially refer to the neighbourhood of the bathing gháts and of the prin
cipal temples. But the abundance of idols and fanes all over the city gives it a strange and repellent appearance.
By a more recent estimate than that made by Mr. Prinsep, the following results have been arrived at, the accuracy of which, however, I am unable to vouch for, though I dare say they may be taken as approximately correct :
272 The Hindus have a strange fancy for accumulating idols in certain spots. Not content with depositing an image in a temple, they ornament its portico and walls with deities, or arrange them in rows in the temple enclosure. You may sometimes see twenty, fifty, and even a hundred of these idols in one place, many of which will perhaps receive as much homage as the god who is exalted to the chief seat within the temple itself. If it would be difficult to count the small shrines and sacred niches abounding in the city, it would be incomparably more so to enumerate the idols actually worshipped by the people. These inferior shrines were, on one occasion, by a curious contrivance, immensely increased; and yet the increase could hardly have been generally perceived. Raja Man Sinh, of Jeypore, wishing to present one hundred thousand temples to the city, made this stipulation, that they were all to be commenced and finished in one day. The plan hit upon was, to cut out on blocks of stone a great many tiny carvings, each one representing a temple. The separate blocks, therefore, on the work being completed, exhibited, from top to bottom, and on all sides, a mass of minute temples. These blocks are still to be seen in various parts of Benares, the largest being situated above the Dasáśamedh Ghát, near the Mán Mandil Observatory. In regard to the number of idols of every description actually worshipped by the people, it certainly exceeds the number of people themselves, though multiplied twice over: it cannot be less than half a million, and may be many more. Indeed, the love for idolatry is so deep-seated and intense in the breast of the Hindu, that it is a common thing for both men and women to amuse themselves, with a pious intent, with manufacturing little gods from mud or clay, and, after paying divine honours to them, and that, too, with the same profound reverence which they display in their devotions before the well-known deities of the temples, to throw them away.
I recall to mind a remarkable instance of this. One day on entering the courtyard of the temple of Annpúrņá, the goddess of plenty, my attention was arrested by an aged woman seated on the ground in front of a small clay figure, which, I ascertained, she had, with her own hands, manufactured that morning, and to which she was solemnly paying homage.
Close by was a brazen vessel containing water, into which every now and then she dipped a small spoon, and then gently poured a few drops upon the head of the image. She then reverently folded her hands, and muttered words of prayer, occasionally moving one hand to her face, and with finger and thumb compressing her two nostrils, in order that, holding her breath as far as possible, she might increase the merit of her worship and the efficacy of her prayer. I did not stay to the end; yet I well knew the result, as the same thing is constantly done in Benares. Having completed her devotions, she rose, took the image which she had worshipped in her hands, and threw it away, as of no further use.
Benares, like Athens in the time of St. Paul, is a city “wholly given to idolatry.” The Hindu, it should always be remembered, is, in his own fashion, a religious man of very great earnestness; but his religion takes the form of idolatry. Idolatry enters into all the associations and concerns of his life. He can take no step without it. He carries his offerings publicly in the streets, on his way to the temple in the morning, and receives upon his forehead, from the officiating priest, the peculiar mark of his god, as the symbol of the worship he has paid him, which he wears all the day long. As he walks about, you may hear him muttering the names and sounding the praises of his gods. In greeting a friend, he accosts him in the name of a deity. In a letter on business, or on any other matter, the first word he invariably writes is the name of a god. Should he propose an engagement of importance, he first inquires the pleasure of the idol, and a lucky day for observing it. At his birth, his
horoscope is cast; when he is ill, the gods must be propitiated; when he is bereaved, the idol must be remembered ; at his death, his funeral rites are performed in the name of one or more deities.
In short, idolatry is a charm, a fascination, to the Hindu. It is, so to speak, the air he breathes. It is the food of his soul. It is the foundation of his hopes, both for this world and for another. He is subdued, enslaved, and befooled by it. He is, however, a willing slave, a willing devotee; for he loves idolatry, together with its superstitions and ceremonies, with all the ardour of religious frenzy. Moreover, it is of great importance to bear in mind, that, as a man can hardly be better than his religion, the nature of the Hindu partakes of the supposed nature of the gods whom he worships. And what is that nature ? According to the traditions handed about amongst the natives, and constantly dwelt upon in their conversation, and referred to in their popular songs, which, perhaps, would be sufficient proof for our purpose, yet, more especially, according to the numberless statements and narratives found in their sacred writings, on which these traditions are based, it is, in many instances, vile and abominable to the last degree; so that the poor idolater, when brought completely under its influence, is most deplorably debased. Virtue, truth, holiness, civilization, enlightenment, human progress, all that contributes to individual happiness and to a nation's prosperity, cannot be properly appreciated by him. His soul's best affections are blighted, and his conscience is deeply perverted. Idol