« PreviousContinue »
Hindu who can afford it can accomplish the great desire of his life with comparative ease.
To bathe in the Ganges at any place is to the Hindu a choice blessing, but the water near Benares is supposed to possess special virtue. There are vast numbers of pilgrims even now who drag their weary limbs hundreds of miles to gain the blessings of their sacred river. Should the pilgrims be so worn and sick that, as often happens, they die in sight of the river, they are thought to be most fortunate, since this will gain for them immediate entrance into the regions of the blessed.
Benares is one of the oldest cities of India. It has been destroyed many times, but its temples and palaces have always been rebuilt. It is a city of temples. They are built for several miles along the Ganges, crowding close to the river's edge. Great flights of stone steps, called ghats, lead down to the water, and are covered at all times by devout pilgrims anxious to bathe in the sacred river. Besides the bathing ghats, there are the burning ghats, where the Hindus burn the bodies of their dead.
Bishop Phillips Brooks, in one of his letters from India, gives a vivid description of these scenes.
“... This is the sacredest place in India. There are five thousand Hindu temples in Benares. You stumble at every step on a temple with its hideous idol. If hear a gentleman or lady muttering behind you in the street, they are not abusing you, but only saying prayers to Vishnu or Siva, who has a little shrine somewhere in the back yard of the next house. There is one sweet temple to their monkey god, where they keep five hun
If you dred monkeys. I went to this temple yesterday morning, and the little wretches were running over everything, and would hardly let you go, wanting you to feed them. They are so sacred that if you hurt one of them you would have an awful time.
Then I went down to the Ganges, where hun
dreds and hundreds of people were bathing in the sacred river. Pilgrims from all over India had come to wash their sins away, and were scrubbing themselves, as thick as they could stand, for two miles along the bank of the stream.
“By and by we came to a place where in a little hollow
by the river's side a pile of wood was burning; two men were waving a big piece of cloth to fan the flame, and gradually as it burned you caught sight through the flame of a strange bundle lying in the midst of the wood and slowly catching fire. Then you knew that it was the funeral pile of some dead Hindu who had died happy in knowing that he would be burned beside the sacred river, and that his ashes would be mingled with its waters.
While this was going on they had brought down the body of a child perhaps seven or eight years old, and for it they built another pile of wood close to the water. Then they took the body into the stream and bathed it for a moment, then brought it out and laid it on the wood. The father of the child went into the water and washed himself all over. After he came out, the priest at the altar chanted a prayer for him.
. . They had covered the little body with a bright red cloth, and it was the prettiest funeral pile of all, By this time another body, a wasted and worn old man, had come, and they were already bathing him in the Ganges, while some men were gathering up the ashes (of somebody who was burned earlier in the day) and throwing them into the river, where they float to certain bliss. So it goes on all the time, while a great crowd is gathered around, some laughing, some praying, some trafficking, some begging.
It is for people believing in such heathen rites that earnest missionaries have labored for many years to make known to them the Christian faith. To aid in this good work, elementary schools have been estab
lished in which more than two millions of the Hindu children are receiving an education.
Although the Hindu temples, the throngs of worshipers, and the strange scenes along the Ganges attract our first attention, they are not the only points of interest in Benares. In our walks about the crowded streets we see the fakirs, or religious devotees, the
snake charmers, the dancing girls, and beggars of every description.
The Far East is the home of conjurers and jugglers.
In all parts of India, in cities and by the village roadsides, these wandering magicians are to be met.
For a little money they will perform for us many astonishing tricks of magic. Things as marvelous as