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red pinnacles and clustering cones of a Hindu shrine, and terminating just under the dome and minarets of the white Mosque of Arungzebe, cannot but strike us as remarkably picturesque both in outline and colour. But what is the picturesqueness of the Ghâts themselves compared to that of the throng of human beings gathered on their lower tiers of steps ?
On these Ghâts, every year, and every morning of the year--more especially, of course, at certain sacred festivals —are collected hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Hindus from every part of India, thronging to wash in the sacred waters, to say a few prayers to their favourite gods, and to go away under the treacherous delusion that they have washed away moral as well as physical stain.
There are Mahrattas from the south and Punjabies from the far north-west; light-haired and light-complexioned girls from Cashmere ; others, dark as jet, from the tribes of Central India ; half-starved vagrants, clothed in rags as dark and as dirty as their skins, and rich rajahs with their attendants, all dressed in gaudy colours ; aged and infirm men who have tottered through many a weary mile, to reach the sacred brink before they die; boys and girls too young to be conscious of the supposed solemnity of the ablutions they are performing; wild-looking fakirs, with strings of beads hung round their necks, muttering their mumming prayers, and smearing themselves with ashes, or glaring in bigoted anger at the boat which carries past them the infidel Feringhee; comely youths and maidens who seem to be enjoying the bath, and are hardly able to restrain a smile at the curious Europeans; old and young, rich and poor,
dark and fair, ugly and pretty, all busily engaged in the same superstitious fites; all with one general creed, but in everything else differing entirely one from the other.
Here and there, too, in the midst of this varied living
scene, mingling with it, yet in strange contrast with it, is a Burning Ghât, where one or more corpses are being reduced to ashes, before being finally thrown into the sacred waters. There, just immersed in the brink of the river, within ten yards either way of a group of living bathers, is a swathed body, undergoing its last purification before being placed on the pyre; immediately above it the flames are already leaping up over one whose ablutions are for ever finished; they would almost seem to be placed there to call to those around: 'Make haste, perform all your ceremonies, ere you be like us;' or perhaps in a more bitter, but truer vein: What can all
your washings avail you, when you come to this ? '
, In this half-mile or mile of Ghâts we have a variety of colour and costume, of complexion and feature, of race and language, which would afford an almost unrivalled field for the study of an artist, the deductions of an ethnologist, or the reflections of a philosopher.
It is strange how ludicrous ideas and sights will sometimes come in side by side with what is solemn and even awful. Here we have a most perfect instance of such a strange juxtaposition. The Hindus, with many other Eastern nations, are remarkable for the unusual whiteness of their teeth. This, no doubt, is partly owing to their habit of constantly cleaning them with water and a piece of stick. The end of the stick they chew, till it is in a
, soft pulpy state, and then they use it, making a fresh end each day, and considering the European tooth-brush used over and over again a most uncleanly article. Here, then, is a Hindu, seated on the lowest step of a Ghật, brushing his teeth with the aid of the water at his feet. But though he is particular about the brush, he is not about the water which he uses, for he has chosen a spot not ten vards from a corpse which is lying in the water before
being burnt, and the stream is running down from it towards him ! Could such another instance of foul cleanliness be found ?
We might spend a long time watching in more detail the varied groups collected in the scene before us; but we have more to see to-day, and as the morning hour passes away the crowd of bathers visibly grows thinner.
Let us follow those of them who are walking up one of the central Ghâts, each with a small earthen or brazen pot of the sacred water in his or her hand. through one or two narrow paved passages, thronged with natives hurrying to and fro, and then come to the entrance of the ‘Bisheswar,' or 'Golden Temple,' sacred to Shiva, and styled · Golden' from the fact of two of its domes being covered with a thin layer of gold. There is little in the interior that is attractive to the eye, beyond the ordinary picturesque effect of the Hindu architecture. One or two shrines with images of the goddess, and a number of symbols cut in stone, on which the devotees are sprinkling water from their little pots, or strewing flowers, are all the ornaments, if they may be so called, of the place. We are scarcely inside before we are glad to get out again, and escape from the overpowering odours; though in stepping into the narrow crowded passage, we only change a fetid atmosphere for one slightly less so.
Hard by the Bisheswar is an ancient well, the Well of Knowledge, which from its name a European might conjecture had been placed in the midst of such fearful ignorance in satire. To any but a native it would be rendered more accessible by the establishment, within a moderate distance, of a well of rose-water. The spot is thronged
, by worshippers, passing and repassing, pouring water from the Ganges on the well's mouth, and going through various superstitious rites; but there is no bucket to the well, and
THE IDOLS OF BENARES.
evidently the Well of Knowledge is not be drawn from by the common people. To judge from the whiffs that come up from its black depths, the knowledge must be of a very doubtful kind.
In a different direction from the Bisheswar, but at an equally short distance, is a temple in which several sacred cows wander at will. A high priest sits beneath a canopy in the quadrangle, impressing with his forefinger a red mark of some paint or dye on the forehead of each worshipper that chooses to pass in front of him. If you like to receive his mark or his blessing, he will not object to taking a rupee from you,
These are one or two of the most celebrated of the shrines of Benares, which are said to number, all told, close upon a thousand. The city is, indeed, full of idols. In this quarter, through which we have just been passing, every passage-corner, every nook, contains a shrine to some god whose attributes and symbols are more or less loathsome. Some, indeed, are mere incarnations of evil, who are only worshipped and addressed in order to avert their wrath and to invoke their baneful influence upon enemies. And the more celebrated and more sacred the shrines, the more loathsome is the atmosphere around them. Truly, if cleanliness is next to godliness, filthiness is very near idolatry.
Near the lower end of the Ghâts, as already mentioned, is the Mosque of Arungzebe, founded one hundred and sixty years ago, over the ruins of a Hindoo temple. It is of no great pretensions architecturally; but if we go there from the Bisheswar, we shall find the comparative cleanliness and quiet of a Moslem mosque a refreshing change from the dirt and bustle of a Hindoo shrine. From the top, too, of one of the handsome minars we can have a fine view of the city and the river.
Benares trades in other things as well as in the credulity of her idolaters, and has other arts besides those of the priest and the wizard. In her bazaars are many productions of skill and patience, and of her artisans the most flourishing and most numerous seem to be the workers in brass and the embroiderers. The latter produce some handsome silver and silver-gilt embroidery; the former are chiefly occupied, like the Ephesian artisans of old, in making shrines for the goddesses of their city, or in constructing the brass pots which are almost universally used by the Hindus for drinking-vessels. The makers of wood toys and talc-pictures are among the less important classes ; but the former deserve mention, from the fact that their productions are valued in England as being almost indestructible, and being coated with a polish which never rubs off.
In strong contrast to the appearance of the Hindu temples and the Moslem mosque, is that of the Queen's College, near the European suburb of the town. It was built twelve years ago for the education of natives, and has proved very successful and popular—a Well of Knowledge of a very different kind from that which has stood for centuries in the city.
Another effort to counteract the dense mass of ignorance which reigns here, is the branch of the Zenana mission, established here by the Church Missionary Society. One of the workers in it we had the pleasure of knowing before our visit here. She has had three hard years' work in the cause—very hard, to judge from her face—but speaks of being at last successful beyond her hopes. She has recently established a school for native girls and ladies, and has as many as thirty pupils in it.
In a brief tour through the Cities of the Plain, two days in Benares are sufficient to see something of it in its most