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Benares,—Bridge of Boats.
spot. In his last moments he is carried over to the other side, which is considered to form the nearest point to heaven. Under this impression of the Hindoos, the bridge of boats connecting Benares with the opposite bank might with good reason be taken for a veritable Pons Asinorum. The bridge in question has just begun to be laid
In the interim of its ceasing to exist, during the height of the rains, there plies the ferry of a little steamer paddled by men. The Ganges at Benares now is not more than two-thirds of the breadth of the Hooghly. But in the rains it becomes nearly ninety feet deep, and flows with a current of eight miles an hour.
Landed at the Rajghaut. Alexander was not more eager to leap on the shores of Ilion than an orthodox Hindoo is to do the same on the holy shore of Benares. We proceeded on foot to see the city. The view from the other side really deserves the epithet of magnificent. But much of the prestige vanishes away on landing on this side, and the gay and glittering city proves to be one of shocking filth and abominations.
Travellers describe Benares as characteristically Eastern. They are thrown here on purely Oriental scenes. Indeed, the city has no parallel in the East or the West. It is thoroughly Hindoo—from its Hindoo muts and mundeers, its Hindoo idols and emblems of worship, its toles, or seminaries, of Hindoo learning, its denizens of pure Hindoo faith and manners, and last, but not least, its shops of Hindoo confectionery. Everything here savours of the Hindoo, and a foreigner beholds in it a bonâ fide Hindoo town, distinguished by its peculiarities from all other towns upon the earth.
To quote the words of the poet, ‘four thousand years expand their wings' over Benares. It is the oldest post-diluvian city on the globe. Nineveh, Babylon, and others had been its contemporaries. But they are all in desolation, while Benares is still in its glory. The cities of the Allophylians are now without even a name-much less without a trace. The cities of the Aryans have shared nearly the same fate. Benares is the only town of pre-historic antiquity that yet survives to link the ancient world with the modern, and present a retrospect through a vista of several hundred years.
. But old as Benares is, it has not the hoary look about it, the time-worn visage and decrepit appearance, of an aged millenarian. It has no architectural vestiges of the times of Judisththira or Vicramadytia to write wrinkles upon its brow.' The oldest building dates only from the age of Akbar. Ruled by different princes at different epochs, it had to assume a different phase on each occasion. The present appearance is obviously modernized. The mixed Hindoo and Saracenic order prevailing in its architecture, decidedly points to a recent origin of the present city. If Buddha were to see it now, he would not know one temple or street, and would find it crowded with idols where there used to be none. Megasthenes would not recognize it under its present features.
Fa Hian would behold it as entirely changed in its site, magnitude, topography, architecture,
Benares, its ancient Importance.
and other details. Hwen Thsang also would be struck by many novelties that did not exist in the seventh century. Originally, Benares had been called Kasi. Very probably its founder Khetroviddya had conferred this name upon his favourite city. Under that name it had continued to be called for several
agesfrom the date of its foundation to the times of Buddha, Asoca, and Fa Hian in the fifth century. Of Benares when it was called Kasi, or in the age of the Maharabat or of Menu, no topographical account is extant. In the early times of the Rig Veda it must have hardly begun to exist. But in the age of the great Hindoo Code it seems to have attained some importance and dignity, and to have become the great national seat of learning, where the means of acquiring knowledge were abundant, and where the opportunities of vigorous intellectual exercise were frequent. Here, probably, did Kapila first enunciate his doctrines of the Sankhya. Here, probably, did Gotuma found his school of the Nyaics. Yaska probably published his “ Nirukta’ at this place, Panini his Grammar, and Kulluca Bhutto his Commentaries on the Institutes.' No doubt is to be entertained that in ancient Kasi were to be found the most eminent Hindoo sages, who greatly enriched the literature of their nation, and who were qualified by genius, learning, and eloquence to guide the councils of kings, to mould the opinions of the public of ancient India, and to give law to the Hindoo world. Unless Benares had enjoyed a classic fame, been inhabited by a large and intelligent population, and had exercised the authority of a pontifical
city, it was not likely that it would have been chosen by Buddha as the fittest theatre for first 'turning the wheel of his law' among mankind.
The Kasi-khund professes to give an account of ancient Benares. But it harps more upon Shiva than upon Shiva's abode. There is one little Tamul drama,* which helps to give an insight into the state of things in the olden times. In that drama the poet makes the exiled Rajah Harishchundra burst forth in admiration of Benares, as a gorgeous city of ‘splendid turrets, princely mansions, and millions of pinnacles.' One is at first apt to take this account as referring to a period some eighteen hundred years on the other side of Christ, the probable age of Harishchundra; but the traveller eighteen hundred years on this side of Christ finds it the self-same magnificent city of temples and turrets. But it is very much to be doubted whether in that early age Benares could have grown into such a great and opulent city-an age the same with that of the Rig-Veda, 'when temples and public places of worship’ were unknown on the plains of India.† The anachronism is glaring, and the poet must be construed as having described the city such as it was in the centuries immediately preceding the Mahomedan invasion. In his own age, the fourteenth century, the city had undergone great changes. By that time the name of Kasi had been long dropped for that of Benares. It is Ancient History of Benares.
* •Arichundra, the Martyr of Truth,' translated into English by Mutu Coomar Swamy Mudelier.
of The worship was entirely domestic.'—Wilson's Rig Veda.
a coinage of the Puranic authors, and must have been adopted in the Puranic age. Purely it is Baranasi, from Barana and Asi, the two rivers between which the city is situated. By a wrong orthography, it has become transformed into Benares. Only dry beds of those rivers are seen in this season. The change of name appears to have occurred subsequent to Fa Hian's visit, in whose time the place still retained its ancient appellation. It is probable that ancient Kasi fell into ruins on the expulsion of the first Buddhists from its possession. To rebuild it, the Shivites chose a new site, but not far removed from the old. Their city rose and extended from the Barana to the Asi, and no more appropriate name could have been bestowed upon it than that of Benares, which was dedicated to their patron deity Shiva. Then commenced the era from which Benares became the battle-ground of the different sects of the Hindoos, and the scene of their alternate victory and defeat--till its complete desolation by invaders of a new creed from regions beyond the Indus.
We should greatly err if we were to suppose that any
of the present streets and houses bear the same aspect that they did in the age of Buddha, or Fa Hian, or Sancara. Much of the site now occupied along the river was a 'forest' in Baber's time. Jungles stood and wolves prowled over the space now covered by a long succession of ghauts and temples. In those jungles the Tamul poet has laid the most touching scenes of his drama. The residence of Toolsee Doss—the mut of Ramanund over the Punchogunga ghaut, then peeped