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Architecture of Benares.
small. In a wall a hundred feet long there are scarcely more than four or five openings. To have little light and air in domestic architecture is perhaps a suggestion of the local climate, which is beyond measure severe and trying, as well in winter as in summer. In Bengal the ladies live in separate apartments adjoining to those of the men, in one enclosure. But in Benares they have their zenanas high up on the sixth or seventh floor. By thus bearing their female world upon their shoulders, the Khottahs of Benares may outdo the chivalry of Bengal. But for all that, their women fare not the better. Perched high upon their aerial substratum, they are so much roasted during the day, that if anybody here were in need of grilled flesh, he had better look for a Benarese lady.
The city is divided into wards, called muhullas, each having a gate closed at night. This a curious relic of the olden times—very good for making men sober against their will. But to us moderns, it appears as making caged birds of them.
Temples in Benares are as 'plenty as blackberries.' More than a thousand of them had been destroyed by the first Moslem invader. But they multiplied again, and their number rose to some fifteen hundred by the time of Jehangeer, who describes the place in his autobiography as 'a city of temples. These again in their turn were levelled by Aurungzebe. A third time have they raised up their heads, and now they count again not less than a thousand.
The idols are perhaps more numerous than the swarming population of the city. They are seen not only in the public temples, but in many of the private dwellings, at the angles of the streets, and by the sides of the thoroughfares. This extraordinary number is easily accounted for by a Hindoo, who is aware of the fact, that all mortals dying in this holy city are made immortals by being transformed into the stone emblems of Shiva. Topographically, the Benares of the present day might afford a faithful miniature of the India of our ancestors. Its multitude of domes, turrets, and pinnacles reflect 'the very body and age—the form and pressure of that Bharatversh which was to have been seen in the Pouranic age. It does not afford a picture of the Bharatversh either of the Vedic period, or of the age of Menu-when idolatry was unknown, and the worship of one Almighty Spirit was prevalent in India.
Bulls and beggars still abound, though not to the extent as in Heber's time. Partly the nuisance of the thing has been felt by the people themselves, and partly it has been suppressed by Government. There are enough beggars, though, to make one's charity to them ' a drop of water in the ocean.' Fakirs' houses still ocevery
turn. Benares is not purely a Shivite town. By turns, it has been Brahminical, Buddhist, Shivite, Sacto, Vishnuvite, and Jain. Shiva is certainly the god-paramount, and the lord of the soil. But Doorga, Ganesa, Surya, Vishnu, Rama, and Parisnath, have all received ports to settle in his territory. They have all of them their followers here like consuls and envoys in a foreign
court. Pilgrims of every sect throng hither to offer their prayers-and the 'fifty thousand foreign devotees give one the different types of the Hindoo race.' There are religious travellers sometimes from Thibet and Burmah. Benares has always been the head-quarters of Hindoo orthodoxy-enjoying and exercising the metropolitan authority throughout Brahmindom, that Rome once did throughout Christendom.
Bheloopoor is comparatively an open and agreeable quarter. The muhulla is traversed by a road wide enough to allow two wheeled carriages to pass each other with
To the Jains it is sacred for being the birth-place of Parisnath. They have not put up a stone to mark the spot where he was born. The Ranee-Dowager of Vizianagram has taken up her abode at Bheloopoor. She is come far away from the Coromandel to spend hither her last days, and give up her soul in holy Benares to avoid a transmigration. The old lady has passed her fiftieth year. By her largesses on the many festive days of the year, and her constant entertainments to the poor, she has made herself not a little prominent in the city, where men are often under the impulse of surpassing each other in splendour and charity. She lives in a mansion respectable enough in a place where hot is the competition for abode, and keeps the best Nagara Khana in all Benares.
In the locality where Parisnath sought to promote the spiritual welfare of men is now a dispensary to promote their physical welfare. The Baboo in charge of that dispensary turned out to be an old chum of the doctor—and he bade us all welcome to his roof and to his table. He is here for the last five years, and quoted his own instance—his own improvement from a longstanding dyspepsia—to confirm the healthiness of the place. But he did not omit to remark, that the heat in summer beggars all description. Once, for a moment, our thoughts were turned far away to home from the scenes around us, and we sat down to communicate the news of our arrival at the holy city of Benares. This done, a long hour was spent in chatting over a cup of tea, on the newest events of the day. The chillum intervened, to raise the question of our being beholden most —whether to the narcotic of China, or to the exotic of America. By nine, the company rose to prepare for bath. How fortunate is a Hindoo sinner, to have to pass through the pleasantest of all purgatories in the form of a dip in the Ganges, and thereby secure a passport to heaven!
The ghauts at Benares are by far the most striking of all its architecture, and the ghauts of a Hindoo city are always its best lounges. Upon them are passed the happiest hours of a Hindoo's day. There, in the mornings, the greater part of the population turns out to bathe, to dress, and to pray. In the evenings, the people retire thither from the toils of the day, to sit on the open steps and gulp the fresh river-air. The devout congregate to see a Sunyasi practise austerities, or hear a Purumhunso pass judgment upon Vedantism. The idler lounges there, and has a hawk's eye after a pretty wench. There do the Hindoo females see the world out of their zenanas, cultivate friendship, acquire taste, pick The Women of Benarcs.
up fashion, talk scandal, discuss the politics of petticoat government, learn the prices current of eatables, and propose matches for their sons and daughters. Half their flirting and half their romancing go on at the ghauts. There have the young widows opportunity to exchange glances, to know that there are admirers of their obsolete beauties, and to enjoy the highest good humour they can harmlessly indulge in.
Being the head-quarters of religion, the centre of wealth, the focus of fashion, and the seat of polite society, Benares is the great point of convergence to which is attracted the beauty of all Hindoostan. To have a peep at that beauty, the best opportunity is when the women sport themselves like merry Naiads in the waters of the Ganges. Then do you see realized the mythic story of the apple of discord between goddesses personified by the Khottanee, the Mahrattanee, and the Lucknowallee -each contending to carry off the prize. The Hindoostanee women have a prestige from the days of Sacoontola and Seeta. But it is to be questioned whether a youthful Bengalinee cannot fairly stand the rivalry of their charms. The dress and costume of the Khottanees certainly kick the beam in their favour. But we would fain raise the point on behalf of the women of Bengal, whether beauty unadorned is not adorned the most '— whether in the nudity of their muslin-saree, they are not as naked as “the statue that enchants the world !'
- fair undress, best dress! which checks no vein,
Howbeit, with regard to the women, there is no