Page images
[ocr errors]

city, still entire, of so great antiquity. For nearly all that is striking in its architectural embellishment, Benares is beholden to the Marathas; and to the zeal and enterprise of the same energetic race the resuscitation, in the decline of Hinduism, of much of its former influence is, in large measure, indebted. There is no ground for believing that Benares, in comparison of what we now see it, with its thousand temples,' and their concomitants of holy harpies and willing victims, can ever have boasted a larger population, a prestige of greater potency, or more affluent prosperity.

F. H. JULY, 1868.

Bishop Heber uninquiringly states that the Observatory was “ founded before the Musalman conquest.” Captain Orlich says it was founded by Jayasimha: he does not distinguish which Jayasimha. But it would be endless to point out the mistakes of careless travellers.

Even Mr. James Prinsep,- Benares Illustrated, Second Series from consulting Tavernier with insufficient attention, refers the conversion of the Mânmandil into an Observatory to Jayasimha I.

An excellent account of the Benares Observatory, by Pandit Bâpû Deva Sastrin, is given in the Transaction of the Benares Institute for the Session 1864-65, pp. 191-196.

Such was Mr. James Prinsep’s estimate in 1828–1829. As to the extent of the city, “the measured length along the banks of the river, by survey, is barely three miles ; and the average depth does not exceed one mile." Benares Illustrated, p. 12. Hiouen Thsang found Benares, in the seventh century, of not far from the same dimensions. Vide supra, p. xxvii.

[ocr errors]



EARLY history of Benares.-Sanctity of the city.-Mythic character of

Indian history. Ancient Buddhist records respecting Benares. Sákya Muni, or Buddha, preached the doctrine of Buddhism first in Benares. ----Antiquity of Benares.—Hiouen Thsang's account of his visit to the city in the seventh century of the Christian era.Macaulay's description of Benares. — Connexion of Benares with the religious history of half the human race.-Its connexion with Buddhism.-Life and labours of Buddha.—Benares subsequently to the fall of Buddhism in India.—The Brahman.-Sons of the Ganges.

- Devotees and pilgrims.—Benares, the religious centre of India. The early history of Benares is involved in much obscurity. It is, indisputably, a place of great antiquity, and may even date from the time when the Aryan race first spread itself over Northern India. Although such a supposition is incapable of direct proof, yet the sacred city must, undoubtedly, be reckoned amongst the primitive cities founded by this people. When it was first built, and by what prince or patriarch, is altogether unknown. But of its great antiquity, stretching back through the dim ages of early Indian history, far into the clouds and mists of the Vedic and pre-historical periods, there is no question. It is certain that the city is regarded, by all Hindus, as coeval with the birth of Hinduism, a notion derived both from tradition and from their own writings. Allusions to Benares are exceedingly abundant in ancient Sanskrit literature; and perhaps there is no city in all Hindustan more frequently referred to. By reason of some subtle and mysterious charm, it has linked itself with the religious sympathies of the Hindus through every century of its existence. For the sanctity of its inhabitants of its temples and reservoirs—of its wells and streams—of the very soil that is trodden—of the very air that is breathed—and of everything in it and around it, Benares has been famed for thousands of years. The Hindu ever beholds the city in one peculiar aspect, as a place of spotless holiness and heavenly beauty, where the spiritual eye may be delighted and the heart may be purified; and his imagination has been kept fervid, from generation to generation, by the continued presentation of this glowing picture. "Believing all he has read and heard concerning this ideal seat of blessedness, he has been possessed with the same longing to visit it as the Mohammedan to visit Mecca, or the Christian enthusiast to visit Jerusalem; and, having gratified his desire, has left the memory of his pious enterprise to his children, for their example, to incite them to undertake the same pilgrimage, faithfully transmitting to them the high ambition which he himself received from his fathers.

Unfortunately, Hindu writers have shown a singular neglect of chronology, and an utter distaste for noting and recording historical facts in a simple and consecutive manner.

This is the more remarkable, when it is remembered that many of them have been accustomed to close thought, and have prided themselves on their intellectual acumen; that they have originated

« PreviousContinue »