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Benares, 30th September, 1782.
MY DEAR SIR,
ING given you a cursory detail of my journey from Calcutta to Benares, with the remarks that occured; I will now lay before you the result of my enquiries and observations at this place. Should errors arise in the investigation of a subject, hitherto Nightly discussed, and, from its extenfive variety, perplexed and abstruse, I must entreat an indulgent eye ; and though mistaken in my opinions, I presume to hope for some commendation, were it only for endeavouring to ad, minister a rational pleasure.
The city of Benares, for its wealth, costly buildings, and the number of its inhabitants, is classed in the first of those now remaining in the possession of the Hindoos. To describe with a due degree of precision the various temples dedicated at Benares, to the almost innumerable deities, and to explain the origin of their foundation with the necessary arrangement, would require a knowledge far superior to mine in the mysterious subject of Hindoo Mythology. It is at this day enveloped in such
deep obscurity, that even those pundits the most skilfully versed in the Sanscrit,* are not able to render it moderately comprehensible to the generality of people.
But as some relation of a city so famous in Hindoostan, and now so well known in Europe for supplying one of the grand sources of the religious worship of the Hindoos, and being the chief repository of the science yet existing among them, may not be unacceptable to you, together with a cursory investigation of the Mythology of Brimha; the talk shall be attempted with attention to the object, and, I trust, with a ftrict adherence to truth.
At the distance of eight miles from the city of Benares, as it is approached on the river, from the eastward, the eye is attracted by the view of two lofty minarets, which were erected by Aurungzebe, on the foundation of an ancient Hindoo temple, dedicated to the Mhah Deve. The construction on this sacred ruin of so towering a Mahometan pile, which from its elevated height, seems to look down with triumph and exultation on the fallen state of a city fo profoundly revered by the Hindoos, would appear to have been prompted to the mind of Arungzebe, by a bigotted and intemperate desire of insulting their religion. If such was his wifh, it hath been completely fulfilled. For the Hindoos
• The language in which the sacred legends of the Hindoos have been preserved.
consider this monument, as. the disgraceful record of a foreign yoke, proclaimning to every stranger, that their favorite city has been debased, and the worship of their gods defiled. From the top of the minarets is seen the entire prospect of Benares, which occupies a space of about two miles and an half along the northern bank of the Ganges, and generally a mile in-land from the river. Many of the houses, which are remarkably high, some of them having fix and seven floors, are built of stone, resembling that species found in the quarries of Portland,* and which abounds in this part of the country. But the streets where these lofty buildings stand, are so narrow as not to admit of two common carriages abreast. In addition to the pernicious effect which must proceed from a confined atmosphere, there is in the hot season, an intolerable stench arising from the many pieces of stagnated water dispersed in different quarters of the town, whose waters and borders are appropriated to the necessary uses of the inhabitants. The filth also, which is indiscriminately thrown into the streets, and there left exposed, (for the Hindoos possess but a small portion of general cleanliness), add to the compound of ill smells, fo offensive to the European inhabitants of this city. The irregular and compressed manner which has been invariably adopted in forming the streets of Benares, has destroyed the effects which symmetry and arrange
* The Benares or Chunar-Ghur stone, is closer grained and deeper coloured, than • that of Portland,
ment would have otherwise bestowed on a city, intitled from its valuable buildings, to a preference of any capital which I have seen in India.
In my research into the principles of the Hindoo religion, I received great aid from a conversant knowledge of the Marhatta language, and an acquaintance, though very trivial, with the Sanscrit. The use of this last tongue, now chiefly confined to a particular sect of Bramins, who officiate in the character of priests, hath ever been made the channel of conveying to the Hindoos, the efsential tenets of their religion, with all the various forms of their worship. The Sanscrit is a sonorous language, abounding in pith and conciseness ; and its periods flow with boldness, and terminate in a cadence peculiarly musical. An extract of a Noke, or stanza, which has been quoted by Mr. Halhed, is a striking testimony of the nervous composition, and the laconic turn of the Sanscrit. Being composed of only four lines, I will insert it, and endeavour to give the translation literally, and in verse.
The Mother who hath lost her fame,
The Hindoos believe in one God, without beginning and with= out end, on whom they bestow, descriptive of his powers, a variety of epithets. But the most common appellation, and which conveys the sublimest sense of his greatness, is, Sree Mun Narrain.* The Hindoos, in their supplication to the Deity, address him as endowed with the three attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, which in the Sanscrit are expressed by the terms, Neerangin, Neerakar, and Neergoon. Though these
* There is reason to believe, that in the more early periods of time, before the priests of the Hindoos had found it expedient, for the firmer establishment of their sway over the minds of the people, to raise a huge fuperftucture of emblematical worship, the temples erected to the Supreme Being were plain, and void of personification; the remains of one of these are now to be seen on the summit of a hill, near the city of Kashmire; which, according to tradition, had been dedicated to the Creator of the world; in which the prayers of those who entered, were addressed to the Deity without fupplicating the intercession of an intermediate agent, and where no image, or fymbol of Divine power, had a place. A gentleman of curious research on the coast of Coromandel, informed me, that at Chilemberum, about 20 miles to the southward of Cudalore, he saw a religious Hindoo edifice, plain, and without any interior figure, which was devoted to the worship of the Invisible God," and was never approached but with tokens of profound awe and reverence.