Travel: India – Up The Ganges Valley

Our hundred and fifteen miles up the river from Calcutta is the city of Benares with a population of two hundred thousand. It is the Mecca of Hinduism. The city contains three thousand Hindu temples and shrines. Thousands of aged persons come here to spend the remnant of their days, that they may die upon the sacred banks of ” Mother Ganges.” Among other temples is the famous Monkey Temple a short distance out of the city. It is so named from the monkeys that swarm the trees and the surrounding walls. They expect to be fed at the expense of every visitor, and become rather impudent if this is not done. A few handfuls of rice or grain will satisfy them.

The building is not a remarkable one among its class. It is built of red sandstone, and consists of a wall enclosing a tank of water, or bathing place, and the temple proper. This structure is about thirty feet square at the base, and tapers to a point fifty feet high, in pagoda style. Within the building is the image, a gaudy, ill-conceived object. Before the door is a raised platform of stone, on which the worshipers congregate.

The Cow Temple attracts especial attention. I was permitted to stand in the door, and that satisfied me, for the place is filthy with the presence of the sacred bovines, which seem to enjoy life above the average of their class. Many women to whom the privilege of bearing sons has been denied, resort here to pray devoutly for that blessing.

The Golden Temple, in the center of the city, is a much more interesting place. It consists of a large group of tem ples dedicated to different gods. The principal one, devoted to Siva, has a dome and tower covered with plates of beaten gold, very thin of course, and yet apparently genuine. The worship is carried on beneath, access to which is denied all unbelievers. The privilege of looking through a small opening in the stone wall was given, and revealed a strange scene of heathen activity and devotion. This group of temples is approached only by narrow, dark passages. Here was a temple to Krishna, one to the monkey god, another to the sacred bull, and so forth through a long list.

This is one of Satan’s headquarters. Here he holds undisputed sway amid a countless throng of willing votaries. Being alone, I felt uneasy, as I was jostled about and often glared upon by priests and fanatics, until looking behind, I saw a policeman following. In the center of this nest of Hinduism, the conqueror Aurangzeb erected a Mohammedan mosque, doubtless as an insult to the Hindu faith. It may be a question as to which are the more uncomfortable, the mosque people or their uncongenial neighbors.

Perhaps the most sacred of all these sacred spots is the holy Well of Wisdom where Siva is said to live. This well is about twelve feet in diameter and twenty feet in depth. The worshipers are constantly throwing into it offerings of rice and marigolds. The putrid water, thick with decaying flowers and rice, is prized as the nectar of the gods. The place is a hot-bed of cholera.

The most interesting sight in Benares is to be obtained on the river in the early part of the day. The city is wholly built on the north side of the Ganges, and its bank is crowded with palaces and temples, while numerous ghats for bathing and burning, lead down to the water. The scene is unbroken for two miles or more. Many of the principal rulers and great men of India have palaces here, where they and their households may freely enjoy the benefits of the sacred waters. The devout bathers pray and wash at the same time. Taking a boat we slowly floated down the stream, passing near this most novel scene. Midway we landed, and visited the mosque which the conquering Mussulmans built here, and which, as at the Golden Temple, is a stumbling-block to the Hindus. Its lofty minarets rise more than two hundred feet above the river, from the top of one of which we enjoyed a fine view of the city. The shaft being but eight feet in diameter, a peculiar sensation attends this apparent suspension in mid-air. A carriage could not approach within half a mile of this mosque, so densely are the houses, palaces, and temples packed together.

A short distance up the river from Benares is Allahabad (the city of Allah, or God). It is at the junction of the sacred river Jumna with the more sacred Ganges, and is a most cele brated rendezvous upon certain occasions. The city itself is a place of considerable learning, and possesses many fine residences belonging to Europeans and other wealthy classes. It is also a railway center of some importance. Fifteen miles from it stands the little village of Manauri, where a pause was made at the hospitable home of L. Porter, Esq., superintendent of the large oil mills of the East India Railway Company. Their oils for lubrication and illumination are made from the castor bean, and in the manufacture of this produce, with varnish, paint, soap, etc., over five hundred hands are kept employed. Here was an excellent opportunity to study the simple village life of the poorer classes. Mr. Porter is looked up to with almost filial regard by the little village whose people have learned of his kindness in many ways. Happy would it be for India if all European overseers were thus kind.

Cawnpore is the next station of importance, and here, too, the kind hospitality of English residents was demonstrated. This city of growing importance is one of the liveliest places in the interior country. There is a very melancholy interest connected with its history in the circumstance of the Sepoy rebellion in 1857. In the beautiful Memorial Garden is located the well into which two hundred and forty butchered and living persons were thrown by the rebels who learned of the approach of the English soldiers. This well is enclosed and covered with a marble wall, in the midst of which stands a beautiful angel figure holding a palm branch and looking pensively down into the well. On the banks of the Ganges, some distance from the garden, is the famous Suttee Chauri Ghat, where, under promise of safe conduct to Allahabad by boats, the English garrison and settlers embarked, and no sooner were in their boats than the natives in ambush opened fire and killed nearly every man in the company. The women and children were taken back to the barracks and closely confined for a few days, when they met their terrible fate in the well. Cawnpore is now celebrated for its cotton-mills and for its manufactures of leathern goods. It is also celebrated for its jugglers, though it by no means has a monopoly of this interesting genius: But the adepts of the occult art in India rank with the superior orders of cunning tricksters. One may spend an idle hour watching their exploits without being able upon any ground of human possibilities to account for one tenth of what he sees. It is easy to conclude that these crafty performers are in league with the great deceiver. The broad grin with which they watch the astonishment of the onlookers forms a comical feature of the entertainment.

Lucknow is forty-five miles north from Cawnpore. It is the fourth city in India, having a population of over three hundred thousand. It is even more famous for its participation in the Sepoy rebellion than Cawnpore. The city was once the capital of the reigning maharajahs of the province of Oudh, and abounds in palaces of royalty. In the central part of the city is the Kaiser Bagh, or Emperor’s Gardens, a vast pile of buildings, once the magnificent home of reigning kings and their extensive households. They are built around a square of perhaps fifteen acres which has been cultivated as a park and flower garden. Many of these old-time buildings present an imposing appearance as they are approached, but upon closer examination prove to be bizarre and cheap. They are built of bricks a little more than an inch in thickness, laid in clay, and the walls are covered with stucco which in time crumbles off, leaving the buildings unsightly. The more modern structures are of a different character, some of them being imposing and decidedly creditable in appearance.

The object of greatest interest in Lucknow is the ruins of the Residency. Prior to the mutiny, this was a palace sur rounded by buildings of the British representation. At that time there were less than one thousand English soldiers, and about the same number of loyal Indian troops, with civilians, women, and children, comprising about three thousand souls surrounded by an overwhelming force of rebels. Fortifications were quickly thrown up, and for eight months the place endured a fearful siege, during which time two thirds of the beleaguered party perished. Relief came under the forces of Sir Henry Havelock, who fought his way through the gates and streets of Lucknow. But his army was not sufficient to raise the siege. Finally ample relief carne under the command of Sir Colin Campbell. Sir Henry Lawrence, who at first held command, was mortally wounded by a shell which burst in his room, and Sir Henry Havelock died of dysentery before leaving the city. The ruins are carefully preserved in as nearly the shape in which they were left by the siege as possible, except that the grounds are improved and beautifully kept. The grave of Lawrence is within the grounds, and upon the humble monument is an astounding inscription Alluding to the last words of the faithful man it reads, “Here lies the man who tried to do his duty. May the Lord have mercy on his soul.”

In missionary work, Lucknow is the headquarters of the publishing work for the American Methodist Episcopal Mission. Here, too, are located a college and school for boys. They have commodious buildings for school and dormitory. The cost of boarding boys at this school is about one dollar per month. The culinary operations are conducted by themselves upon a very simple plan, and embrace chiefly the almost universal chowpatti (spelling mine) made of coarsely ground wheat or ghendri meals mixed with water, rolled very thin, and baked upon the smooth surface of a hot stone. The boys think that these are not bad to take, and it is quite easy to agree with them for a. short trial. One hundred dollars will send ten boys to school there for one year. Certainly a good opportunity for philanthropic people to invest some money. Besides this, there is located here Miss Thoburn’s school for females, which is giving instruction to many young women who are fitting themselves for usefulness in Bible work and teaching. Besides Christian ladies, zenana women are brought to the house in their palkees or closed palanquins, that they may avail themselves of the privileges of the school. The examination of these high-caste ladies by the gentlemen regents of the school has to be carried on through a curtain, for in no case would they expose their faces to the view of any man except their own husbands or fathers. It would be in their minds an act of gross immodesty. Physicians who have been called to visit patients of this class have to examine their tongues or pulses through an aperture in a curtain.