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Benares: The Sacred City of the Hindus

Benares: The Sacred City of the Hindus
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Item Code: NAX946
Author: M.A. Sherring
Publisher: Pilgrims Book House, Kathmandu
Language: English
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 9789350760741
Pages: 278
Other Details: 8.50 X 5.50 inch
weight of the book: 0.35 kg
About The Book

Benares, Kashi or Varanasi-an illustious place of pilgrimage and an idealized nucleus of faith-has been " likened to Jerusalem and Mecca. It is acknowledged ° throughout the world as a core of the Hindu tradition and a seat of ancient learning. It is a city where infinity and continuity, the past and present live together. There are few cities in the world of greater antiquity and none that have so uninterruptedly maintained their ancient celebrity and distinction. Sherring’s book written just after the freedom struggle of 1857, offers a piercing insight into the culture of the city as seen through the eyes of a European at that time. The book will also tell you why Benares has been for over two and a half thousand the pre-eminent sacred city of the Hindus | and why it has a primary cultural status on the map of India. se "A book of profound interest which should be read and enjoyed by everyone who wants to know about India andgiinds beliefs"


The history of a country is sometimes epitomized in the history of one of its principal cities. The city of Benares repre- sents India, religiously and intellectually, just as Paris represents the political sentiments of France. There are few cities in the world of greater antiquity, and none that have so uninterrupt- edly maintained their ancient celebrity and distinction. In Benares, Buddhism was first promulgated; in Benares, Hindu- ism has had her home in the bosom of her most impassioned votaries. This city, therefore, has given impulse and vigour to the two religions which to this day govern half the world.

An account of a city of such remarkable associations, which has occupied such a prominent place in the annals of the human race, is not without its importance, and ought not to be devoid of interest. Having resided in it for several years, I have enjoyed peculiarly favourable opportunities for becoming ac- quainted with its inner life and character. The task I have set myself is not that of discussing the religious system existing there, -which would be an unnecessary undertaking, it having been so frequently accomplished by alber hands, -but of giving a repre- sentation of Benares as she was in the past, and as she is in the present. Her early condition her connexion with ancient Bud- dhism — her architectural remains — her famous temples, holy wells and tanks, and numerous ghats or stairs leading down to the Ganges — the legends concerning them — the peculiar cus- toms at the temples — the ceremonies of the idolater — the modes of worship — the religious festivals, and other topics, illustrative of the character which Benares maintains as the sacred city of India, are dwelt upon, with some amount of detail, in this vol- ume. I have deemed it of moment, also, in a book of this nature, to make some observations on the influence which education, European civilization, and, above all, Christianity, are now ex- erting upon the city. As Benares has held a foremost place in the history of India for two thousand five hundred years, at the least, so, in all likelihood, she is destined to retain that position in the new era of enlightenment which has already dawned upon the land.

Portions of this work have, at various times, appeared in print, in contributions to the Calcutta Review and the Jour- nal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and in a Lecture delivered _before the Benares Institute, published in the Transactions of that Society.

| I would express my warmest thanks to CHARLES HORNE, Esq., C.S., late Judge of Benares, for his very valuable assistance in the archaeological researches described in this book, especially in Chapters xix. and xx. My thanks are also due to J-H.B. Ironsine, Esq., C.B., Magistrate of Benares, for his kind- ness in placing at my disposal a paper on the Melas or Festivals of Benares, drawn up by Babu Sital Prasad, Deputy Inspector of Schools. I would likewise acknowledge my great obligations to D. TRESHAM, Esq., Head master of the Government Normal School, Benares, for his excellent photographs Of the city, from which the illustrations of this volume have been taken.


Alike as to limits and as to influence, the Indian kingdoms of former times were, with few exceptions, ‘nconsiderable; such of them as lay conterminous were often at open feud; and their cities, or fortified towns, constituted, in fact, their only stable boundaries. It was, probably, with the dominion of the Kaéis as it was with other seats of Hindu power. Deriving its origin from some city, as Pratishthana, or Varanasl, it must have acquired extent and consideration by very gradual development.

At least since a hundred and twenty years before our era, Varanasi, as denoting a city, has been a name familiar to Brahmanical literature. The word is crudely referred, by modern inventiveness, to a combination of Varana and Asi; and all the other explanations that we have of its source are equally questionable. Convertible, in later usage, with Varanasi is the designation Kasi or Kasi. Whence it arose history has long forgotten; but conjecture may, possibly, unravel its etymology.

Among the descendants of Ayus was F.Asa, whose son is noticed under the patronyms of Kaseya, Kasiya and Kasi. The regal successors of Kasi, and equally their subjects, were called ‘Kasis.’" Though at first a masculine appellation, Kasi, as applied to the city so styled, is feminine. An exact parallel to this hypothetical evolution is not far to seek. The name of King Champa, femininized, became that of the metropolis of Anga, Champa.

The term Kasi, denominating, if not a City, a people and its chieftains, occurs repeatedly in Sanskrit works of all but the highest antiquity. Of Kasi, in whatever sense of the word, we cannot, however, collect, from indigenous records, materials from which to construct anything approaching, a history. The kingdom of the Kasis,«and its rulers, as is evinced by the frequency of reference to them, enjoyed, from distant ages, more or less of notoriety; and this is, substantially, all that the Hindu memorials teach us.

The Puranas specify but one dynasty of Kasi kings; a goodly catalogue, beginning in the most authoritative of those works, with the son of Kasa. To KaSa, by a lapse of perhaps two centuries, succeeded Divodasa, in whose reign Buddhism seems to have been still acting on the aggressive. In this synchronism there is no discernible improbability; and, with some likelihood, it embodies a historic fact a reflexion of actual events may, likewise, be afforded in the story of the burning of Varanasi by the discus of Vishnu. Of the age of Ajatasatru, as of other very early leaders of the Kasis, none but most vague indications have, as yet, been discovered. Some of these personages ruled, not, at Benares, but at Pratishthana and, at the time of the Muhammadan conquest, Benares and the surrounding country appertained to the throne of Kanauj.

Flagrant as is the exaggeration of the Hindus, it is surpassed by that of the Buddhists. The Brahmadatta who figures ~ so largely, in their sacred writings, as king of Benares very likely was not a myth; but there is no ground for crediting that Gautama ever governed that city at all, notwithstanding that they represent him to have reigned there during nineteen several states of | existence. In a similar spirit, they assert, that, at the same capital ruled, in turn, eighty-four thousand monarchs descended from Asoka. From these, specimens it is manifest that the Buddhist scriptures are little to be trusted for throwing light on the history of Benares. That Buddhism, or any Buddhist king, ever dominated there is altogether problematical.

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