Varanasi

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Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together. ~ Mark Twain
In Banaras there is a sacred place at every step ~ Padma Purdna
its appearance is extremely beautiful ; the great variety of the buildings strikes the eye, and the whole view is much improved by innumerable flights of stone steps, which are either entrances into the several temples, or to the houses. ~ William Hodges

Varanasi, also known as Benares, Banaras, or Kashi, is a city on the banks of the Ganges in the Uttar Pradesh state of North India, 320 kilometres (200 mi) south-east of the state capital, Lucknow, and 121 kilometres (75 mi) east of Allahabad. A major religious hub in India, it is the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism.

Quotes[edit]

  • Making a pilgrimage there in Banaras every day for a whole year, still she did not reach all the sacred places. For in Banaras there is a sacred place at every step.
    • Padma Purdna, cited from Eck, D. L. (1999). Banaras: city of light. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.
    • Mark Twain, cited from Eck, D. L. (1999). Banaras: city of light. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • I think Banares is one of the most wonderful places I have ever seen. It has struck me that a Westerner feels in Banares very much as an Oriental must feel while he is planted down in the middle of London.
    • Mark Twain, quoted in "Mark Twain: The Complete Interviews", University of Alabama Press
  • Many people think they cannot have knowledge or understanding of God without reading books. But hearing is better than reading, and seeing is better than hearing. Hearing about Benares is different from reading about it; but seeing Benares is different from either hearing or reading.
    • The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (1942), p. 863
  • The history of this period [of Muslim domination] is complicated, and the various Muslim dynasties which came to power through the centuries were far from monolithic in their policies... But for the most part these were hard centuries. The religious life of the city was under almost constant threat. At least six times during these years the temples of Kashi were destroyed... Although parts of Banaras were destroyed repeatedly between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries by the armies of the various Muslim kings who ruled North India, they were rebuilt, right on top of the ruins and rubble. Despite the fact that few of its buildings are ancient, the city looks very old.
    • Eck, D. L. (1999). Banaras: city of light. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Benares is holy. Europe, grown superficial, hardly understands such truths anymore.....I feel nearer here than I have ever done to the heart of the world; here I feel everyday as if soon, perhaps even today, I would receive the grace of supreme revelation...The atmosphere of devotion which hangs above the river is improbable in strength; stronger than in any church that I have ever visited. Every would be Christian priest would do well to sacrifice a year of his theological studies in order to spend his time on the Ganges; here he would discover what piety means.
  • It had been brought to the notice of His Majesty that during the late reign many idol temples had been begun, but remained unfinished at Benares, the great stronghold of infidelity. The infidels were now desirous of completing them. His Majesty, the defender of the faith, gave orders that at Benares, and throughout all his dominions in every place, all temples that had been begun should be cast down. It was now reported from the province of Allahãbãd that seventy-six temples had been destroyed in the district of Benares.'
    • Bãdshãh-Nãma, by Abdul Hamîd Lãhorî, in Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, Vol. VII, p. 36.
  • From that place the royal army proceeded towards Benares 'which is the centre of the country of Hind, and here they destroyed nearly one thousand temples, and raised mosques on their foundations; and the knowledge of the law became promulgated, and the foundations of religion were established.
    • About the sack of Benares by the forces of Muhammed of Ghor. Elliot and Dowson, Vol. II : Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, 8 Volumes, Allahabad Reprint, 1964. (223) and quoted in part in Eck, D. L. (1999). Banaras: city of light. New York: Columbia University Press. Also quoted in Jain, Meenakshi (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts.
  • This city anciently bore the name of Kashi, but at what period it received its present name the page of history is silent. It is built on the north side of the river, which is here very broad, and the banks of which are very high : from the water, its appearance is extremely beautiful ; the great variety of the buildings strikes the eye, and the whole view is much improved by innumerable flights of stone steps, which are either entrances into the several temples, or to the houses.... Nearly in the center of the city is a considerable Mahomedan mosque, with two minarets ... this building was raised by that most intolerant and ambitious of human beings, the Emperor Aurungzebe, who destroyed a magnificent temple of the Hindoos on this spot, and built the present mosque, said to be of the same extent and height of the building destroyed... Surrounding the city are many ruins of buildings, the effects of Mahomedan intolerance.
    • William Hodges, [1] Travels in India during the Years 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783. Quoted in Jain, Meenakshi (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts.
  • 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. ....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 so profoundly revered by the Hindoos, would appear to have been prompted to the mind of Auruugzebe, hy a bigoted and intemperate desire of insulting their religion. If such was his wish, it hath been completely fulfilled. For the Hindoos consider this monument, as the disgraceful record of a foreign yoke, proclaiming to every stranger, that their favourite city has been debased, and the worship of ther 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 inland from the river....The irregular and compressed manner which has been invariably adopted in forming the streets of Benares,has destroyed the effects which symmetry and arrangement would have otherwise bestowed on a city, entitled, from its valuable buildings, to a preference of any capital which I have seen in India.
    • A journey from Bengal to England, through the northern part of India, Kashmire, Afghanistan, and Persia, and into Russia by the Caspian Sea by George Forster. [2] Quoted in Jain, Meenakshi (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts.
  • “The infidels demolished a mosque,” writes the author of the Ganj-i-Arshadi, “that was under construction and wounded the artisans. When the news reached Shah Yasin, he came to Banaras from Mandyawa and collecting the Muslim weavers, demolished the big temple. A Sayyid who was an artisan by profession agreed with one Abdul Rasul to build a mosque at Banaras and accordingly the foundation was laid. Near the place there was a temple and many houses belonging to it were in the occupation of the Rajputs. The infidels decided that the construction of a mosque in the locality was not proper and that it should be razed to the ground. At night the walls of the mosque were found demolished. Next day the wall was rebuilt but it was again destroyed. This happened three or four times. At last the Sayyid hid himself in a corner. With the advent of night the infidels came to achieve their nefarious purpose. When Abdul Rasul gave the alarm, the infidels began to fight and the Sayyid was wounded by the Rajputs. In the meantime, the Mussulman residents of the neighbourhood arrived at the spot and the infidels took to their heels. The wounded Muslims were taken to Shah Yasin who, determined to vindicate the cause of Islam. When he came to the mosque, people collected from the neighbourhood. The civil officers were outwardly inclined to side with the saint but in reality they were afraid of the royal displeasure on account of the Raja, who was a courtier of the Emperor and had built the temple (near which the mosque was under construction). Shah Yasin, however, took up the sword and started for Jihad. The civil officers sent him a message that such a grave step should not be taken without the Emperor’s permission. Shah Yasin, paying no heed, sallied forth till he reached Bazar Chau Khamba through a fusillade of stones… The doors (of temples) were forced open and the idols thrown down. The weavers and other Mussulmans demolished about 500 temples. They desired to destroy the temple of Beni Madho, but as lanes were barricaded, they desisted from going further.”
    • Faruki, Zahiruddin, Aurangzeb and His Times, Delhi reprint, 1980. , pp. 127-28 citing from Ganj-i-Arshadi, reproduced in Sharma, op. cit., p. 144 n.12. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 8
  • “In August, 1669, the temple of Vishvanath at Banaras was demolished. The presiding priest of the temple was just in time to remove the idols and throw them into a neighbouring well which thus became a centre of interest ever after. The temple of Gopi Nath in Banaras was also destroyed about the same time. He (Aurangzeb) is alleged to have tried to demolish the Shiva temple of Jangamwadi in Banaras”, but could not succeed because of opposition.
    • Maasir-i-Alamgiri, p. 88., R. Sharma, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • In Banaras, according to Ibn-ul-Asir, Shihabuddin’s slaughter of the Hindus was immense, “none was spared except women and children,” who were destined to be made slaves.
    • Ibn Asir, Kamil-ut-Tawarikh, p.250-1 quoted from Lal, K. S. (1990). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • Mosques of Alamgir (Aurangzeb). It is said that the mosque of Benares was built by Alamgir on the site of the Bisheshwar Temple. That temple was very tall and (held as) holy among the Hindus. On this very site and with those very stones he constructed a lofty mosque, and its ancient stones were rearranged after being embedded in the walls of the mosque. It is one of the renowed mosques of Hindustan. The second mosque at Benares (is the one) which was built by Alamgir on the bank of the Ganga with chiselled stones. This also is a renowned mosque of Hindustan. It has 28 towers, each of which is 238 feet tall. This is on the bank of the Ganga and its foundations extend to the depth of the waters. Alamgir built a mosque at Mathura. It is said that this mosque was built on the site of the Gobind Dev Temple which was very strong and beautiful as well as exquisite…”
    • Maulana Hakim Sayid Abdul Hai: Hindustan Islami Ahad Mein (Hindustan under Islamic Rule, Urdu translation) Majlis Tehqiqat wa Nashriat Islam, Nadwatul-Ulama, Lucknow. With a foreword by Maulana Abul-Hasan Ali Nadwi. Quoted in Arun Shourie: Hideaway Communalism (Indian Express, February 5, 1989) and in Shourie, A., & Goel, S. R. (1990). Hindu temples: What happened to them.
  • Thousands of pilgrims who visit Mathura or walk past the site of Vishvanath temple and Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi everyday, are reminded of Mughal vandalism and disregard for Hindu sensitivities by Muslim rulers.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3 (also in K.S. Lal, Historical Essays)
  • Mahomed Ghoory, in the mean time returning from Ghizny, marched towards Kunowj, and engaged Jye-chund Ray, the Prince of Kunowj and Benares' This prince led his forces into the field, between Chundwar and Etawa, where he sustained a signal defeat from the vanguard of the Ghiznevide army, led by Kootbood-Deen Eibuk, and lost the whole of his baggage and elephants' He marched from thence to Benares, where, having broken the idols in above 1000 temples, he purified and consecrated the latter to the worship of the true God...'Mahomed Ghoory, following with the body of the army into the city of Benares, took possession of the country as far as the boundaries of Bengal, without opposition, and having destroyed all the idols, loaded four thousand camels with spoils.'
    • Tarikh-i-Firishta, translated by John Briggs under the title History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India, first published in 1829, New Delhi Reprint 1981, Vol. I, p. 100-108
  • Next year he [Muhammad of Ghor] defeated Jayachandra of Kanauj. A general massacre, rapine, and pillage followed. The Gahadvad treasuries at Asni and Varanasi were plundered. Hasan Nizami rejoices that in Benares which is the centre of the country of Hind, they destroyed one thousand temples and raised mosques on their foundations. According to Kamil-ut-Tawarikh of Ibn Asir, 'The slaughter of Hindus (at Varanasi) was immense; none were spared except women and children, and the carnage of men went on until the earth was weary.' The women and children were spared so that they could be enslaved and sold all over the Islamic world. It may be added that the Buddhist complex at Sarnath was sacked at this time, and the Bhikshus were slaughtered.
    • Kamil-ut-Tawarikh of Ibn Asir, in Sita Ram Goel, The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India
  • 'I am here led to relate that at the city of Banaras a temple had been erected by Rajah Maun Singh, which cost him the sum of nearly thirty-six laks of five methkally ashrefies. The principle idol in this temple had on its head a tiara or cap, enriched with jewels to the amount of three laks ashrefies. He had placed in this temple moreover, as the associates and ministering servants of the principal idol, four other images of solid gold, each crowned with a tiara, in the like manner enriched with precious stones. It was the belief of these Jehennemites that a dead Hindu, provided when alive he had been a worshipper, when laid before this idol would be restored to life. As I could not possibly give credit to such a pretence, I employed a confidential person to ascertain the truth; and, as I justly supposed, the whole was detected to be an impudent imposture. Of this discovery I availed myself, and I made it my plea for throwing down the temple which was the scene of this imposture and on the spot, with the very same materials, I erected the great mosque, because the very name of Islam was proscribed at Banaras, and with God's blessing it is my design, if I live, to fill it full with true believers.'
    • Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) , Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, translated into English by Major David Price, Calcutta, 1906. pp. 24-25. [3], "Decisions Involving Urban Planning and Religious Institutions"
    • Different translation: I made it my plea for throwing down the temple which was the scene of this imposture; and on the spot, with the very same materials, I erected the great mosque, because the very name of Islam was proscribed at Banaras, and with God’s blessing it is my design, if I live, to fill it full with true believers.

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