«ESTHER WAPSTRA Thesis submitted for MA degree Supervisors: Dr. Laurens G. H. Bakker Prof. Paul J. C. L. van der Velde 30 August 2013 COMMUNAL HARMONY ...»
According to Sanskrit scriptures, the city is divided into four zones. The zones are represented by progressively smaller circles. The outer circle, Kashi, is marked by the Panchkroshi road, a road of five (pānch) krosha, or about 80 km. The next zone is smaller, limited by the Varana River in the north and the Asi in the south. Next is Avimukta and the most inner circle, the ‘Inner Sanctum’ is the area directly surrounding the Vishwanath temple (Eck, 1983, pp. 350-355; Parry, 1994, p. 16).
In 1901, there were 557.541 people in Benares tahsīl (district). In Benares city there were 209.331 people, of them 73.48% was Hindu and 25.58 % was Muslim (Nevill, 1909, pp. 182-189). According to the 2001 census, 15.85% of the population in Varanasi district were Muslim, which is slightly higher than the percentage of Muslims in India at large (13.43%); 83.72% of the population in Varanasi district were Hindu, which is also higher than the national percentage of Hindus (80.45%).9 About a quarter of the population in the city is Muslim.
3.1.1 Early history Varanasi is often referred to as the oldest living city; older than for example Babylon, Athens, Greece, Jerusalem (Sherring, 1868, p. 7). Varanasi is even mentioned in the great Hindu epics Mahabharata (Mahābhārata) and the Ramayana (Rāmāyana;
Nevill, 1909, v. 7, p. 189; Sherring, 1868, pp. 1-2). Yet, the oldest remains found are from the pillar of Ashoka, which only stems from the third century BCE (MacLeod, 1870, p. 20; Sherring, 1868, p. 19). Eck argues that around 1,000 BCE, Varanasi was a forest paradise with pools and streams where yakshas (nature deities) were worshipped and where ascetics practiced and hermits retreated (Eck, 1983, p. 55).
According to the Jain tradition, the seventh and twenty-third Tirthankar came from Varanasi, the latter of which can historically be traced and lived in the eight century BCE.10 His successor, who lived in the sixth century and was a contemporary of the Buddha, is said to have visited Varanasi (Eck, 1983, p. 57; Jain, 2009).
According to the Buddhist Jataka tales, sixth century (BCE) Varanasi was a reasonably big city and “a significant trading and commercial center” famous for its wealth, but in which the “balance of power constantly changed” (Eck, 1983, p. 45;
Sherring, 1868, pp. 5-6). During this time, the Buddha, after reaching enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, came to Varanasi to give his first lecture in Sarnath. In the centuries to follow Sarnath became an important Buddhist centre. Varanasi became a centre of learning. Although theistic Hinduism began during the Mauryan Empire in the third and fourth centuries CE, Buddhism remained dominant, even amongst rulers.11 Around the sixth century CE, by the end of the Gupta Empire, theistic Hindu culture was established and Hinduism became more dominant than Buddhism; in the seventh century Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang reported that Banaras’ kingdom had thirty Buddhist monasteries with three thousand devotees and a hundred temples of Hindu gods with about ten thousand worshippers (Eck, 1983, pp. 61-79; Greaves, 1909, p. 2; Sherring, 1868, pp. 266, 366-367). Whereas Varanasi is seen as the city of Shiva, Eck mentions that around the eight century CE Varanasi is sometimes called Nārāyanavāsa (‘Abode of Vishnu’) and even today some people assert that Shiva and Vishnu are equal (Eck, 1983, pp. 81, 209-210).12 After 1,500 years Buddhism In the Jain tradition, a Tirthankar is someone who is liberated (i.e., is free from free from the suffering cause by passions like craving, greediness, anger) has attained nirvana (i.e., has ended cycle of endless births and deaths), and directs others to nirvana. Jains acknowledge twenty-four Tirthankars in the current age (Jain, 2009, pp. 3-18) Whereas in theistic (‘popular’) Hinduism worshipping deities is more important, the older Vedic Hinduism focused more on recreation of the universe though rituals This view may be based on the story in which Vishnu creates the world. Shiva and Parvati (his second wife, after Sati had died, see 126.96.36.199) were enjoying their stay in the forest paradise when they thought it would be nice if someone else could bear the responsibility of creating the universe.
declined greatly in the eleventh or twelfth century. Whereas Sherring attributes this to the dominance of Hinduism Eck contends that it was due to Qutb-ud-din Aibak;
Hinduism recovered from the shock in the twelfth century, but Buddhism did not (Eck, 1983, p. 57; Sherring, 1868, p. 268).
3.1.2 Islamic influences in Varanasi Most accounts of Islamic influences in Varanasi recount the aggressive behaviour of Islamic rulers. Apart from their contributions to Varanasi’s architecture (mainly mosques and shrines, see section 3.2.2) and economy (mainly in the sārī industry, see section 6.4.3) it is unfortunately very difficult to find specific information on accomplishments in infrastructure and science or influences in cuisine, arts and music in Varanasi.
The campaigns of destruction by Islamic rulers began with Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who was in 1192 appointed Governor of India by Muhammad Ghori. In 1194 he plundered Varanasi and destroyed around a thousand temples. The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, after Qutb-ud-din Aibak claimed himself emperor, in 1206 marked the beginning of five centuries Islamic dominion. Eck describes this period as “for the most part... hard centuries. The religious life of the city was under almost constant threat. At least six times during these years the temples of Kāshī were destroyed.” (Eck, 1983, p. 83). In 1376 Firoz Shah Tughluq razed the city, under the rule of the Sharqi kings in the 1400s it was sacked again, and Varanasi’s temples were once more destroyed during the reign of Sikandar Lodi, in 1496.13 In 1526 the Delhi Sultanate was overthrown by Mughal Emperor Babur; his grandson Akbar (ruling from 1556 to 1605) is seen as the most just of the Islamic rulers and is praised for his tolerance. During his rule some of Varanasi’s ghāts were constructed and temples rebuilt. Whilst still recovering from previous attacks on its Hindu heritage, during the reign of Shah Jahan Varanasi again suffered from the destruction of seventy-six temples (Eck, 1983, p. 83; Sahai, 2010, p. 21; Sherring, 1868, pp. 30-32).
Destruction of Hindu temples culminated with Aurangzeb (ruling from 1658 to 1707), who was “unsurpassed, in this feature of religious fanaticism, by any of his Vishnu digs the kund (water basin) at Manikarnika and set himself to tāpas (practicing austerities) in order to create the world whereby the kund gets filled with his sweat. Shiva is delighted about his work and grants him a boon. Vishnu asks to always be around Shiva and to grant moksha to those who die here. Shiva agreed and added Banaras will always be in Satya Yuga (the Age of Truth) (Eck, 1983, p. 242). It may also be based on the story of Divodasa’s rule; the human king is asked to rule the city, but as Shiva misses his city terribly he asks Vishnu to send the king away; eventually he decides to stay in the city for always together with Vishnu and the other gods, who also wish to stay in Shiva’s sacred city (Eck, 1983, pp. 148-157) Interestingly, Eaton mentioned that Muslim jurists had advised Sikandar Lodi that “it is not lawful to lay waste ancient idol temples and it does not rest with you to prohibit ablution in a reservoir which has been customary from ancient times.” (Ahmad, 1927-39, in: Eaton, 2001, p. 70) predecessors.” (Sherring, 1868, p. 31). In Varanasi alone he demolished a thousand temples in 1659, amongst which were big and important temples like the Vishwanath temple. Due to this, few temples are from before the seventeenth century. In some places mosques were erected from the remains of temples. Yet, it seems that even during Aurangzeb’s rule Hindu worship was not completely restricted as Sherring describes how Hindus continues to pay homage to the pillar of Lat Bhairo; in return the Muslims were given a portion of the offerings. The construction of temples also not cease completely either, although the temples that were erected during Aurangzeb’s time were small and simple structures (Sherring, 1868, pp. 32, 191).
Although he is known for his religious zeal and iconoclastic behaviour, a (royal order) issued by Aurangzeb testifies that he protected temples and brahmins.14 Interestingly, Eaton points out that whereas the same farmān states that no new temples shall be built, this apparently applied only to Varanasi as during his reign Hindu temples were built in other places (Eaton, 2001, pp. 73-75). He concludes that “Aurangzeb’s policies respecting temples within imperial domains generally followed those of his predecessors.” (Eaton, 2001, p. 75). In recognition of the importance of the city Varanasi was called ‘Mohammadabad’, but the name was quickly discharged after the death of Aurangzeb (Eck, 1983, p. 83; Freitag, 1989a, p. 3; Greaves, 1909, p. 3; Visuvalingam & Chalier-Visuvalingam, 2006, p. 126).
Even throughout the Mughal period Varanasi remained an important centre of learning and many religious texts and manuals were produced. A movement gaining much support during this time was bhakti devotionalism. In this popular movement people worship a personal god (e.g., Rama, Krishna) instead of a more abstract god that transcends human characteristics. A famous poet who has given an impulse to the bhakti movement is sixteenth century poet Tulsi Das. He translated the Ramayana from Sanskrit to the vernacular language, Hindi. It enabled a much wider public to become familiar with the stories of Rama. The enactments in Varanasi’s famous Ramlila every year further popularized the Ramayana (see section 188.8.131.52).
Another movement started a century earlier with contempt for the “brahminical establishment, for the caste system, and for an orientation to ritual which they A copy of the letter, which was written around 1658-1659 in Urdu, is displayed with Hindi and English translation in the Bharat Kala Bhavan museum on the BHU campus. It reads “... in accordance with holy law we have decided that the ancient temples shall not be overthrown but that new one shall not be built. In these days of justic information has reached our noble and most holy court that certain persons activated by rancour and spite have haressed (sic.) the Hindu resident in the town of BANARAS and a few other places in that neighbourhood, and also certain Brahmins, keepers of the temples, in whose charge those ancient temples are, and that they further desire to remove these Brahmins from their ancient office (and this intention of their causes distress to that community) therefore our Royal command is that after the arrival of our lustrous order you should direct that in future no person shall in unlawfull (sic.) ways interfere or disturb Brahmins and other Hindus resident in those places. So that they remain in their occupation and continue with peace of mind to offer up prayers for the continuance of our God given empire that is destined to last to all time. Consider this as an urgent matter.” considered to be mechanical and mindless.” (Eck, 1983, p. 86). Someone who contributed to this movement was fifteenth century poet Kabir, who satirized Hindu as well as Muslim rituals and told people that he was neither worshipping Shiva nor Allah, but instead the one god that transcends religions (Eck, 1983, pp. 84-88).
3.1.3 During the British Although it would take another century before the Mughal Empire was taken over by the British, its power declined much after Aurangzeb. In the seventeenth century, Varanasi was ruled by the nawwāb of Oudh. He appointed Balwant Singh as the first rāja (king) of Banaras. Whilst first maintaining good relations with the nawwāb and paying annual revenue, Balwant Singh soon got strong enough to break the allegiance and declare himself an independent king. In 1750 he built Ramnagar, the fort in the south of Varanasi on the other bank of the Ganges. After an initial struggle the nawwāb of Oudh accepted his independence. Balwant Singh maintained good relations with the nawwāb and the British East Indian Company, who had slowly gained influence since 1773 (Nevill, 1909, v. 2, p. 482). The tradition of learning in Varanasi was continued by the rajas of Banaras. After the death of Balwant Singh in 1770 his illegitimate son Chet Singh was accepted by the nawwāb and the East India Company. When the nawwāb of Oudh died in 1773 his property was taken over by the Company. Chet Singh continued to have the right to rule Varanasi, to administer justice, and to coin money in exchange for an annual contribution. However, because of his slack response to a request for money and people during a war in 1781, Warren Hastings (Governor-General) decided to have him captured in his palace at Shivala ghāt. The rāja escaped and some of Warren Hastings’ men were fatally wounded; Warren Hastings himself had to flee Banaras. After this incident the East Indian Company deposited Chet Singh and installed Mahip Narayan Singh as rāja.
The rights to administer justice and coin money were withdrawn (Greaves, 1909, pp.
5-7; Nevill, 1909, v. 7, p. 180-181; Sherring, 1868, pp. 197-212).
During the eighteenth century Varanasi was rebuilt under patronage of Maratha rulers. Ghāts were constructed and important temples, amongst which the Vishwanath temple, were restored (Desai, 2003, p. 25; Eck, 1983, p. 90; Freitag, 1989a, p. 5).15 Banaras became “the subcontinent’s inland commercial capital...
[receiving] immigrant merchant capital from the whole of north India and [standing] astride the growing trade route from Bengal to the Maratha territories.” (Bayly, 1983, in: Freitag, 1989a, p. 4). Freitag calls eighteenth century Banaras a ‘mughalizing city’. This is reflected in cultural life through patterns established by the Mughals and fostered by the nawwāb of Oudh; in the physical world because of Muslim buildings It is noteworthy that the Hindu rulers during this time not only constructed ghāts and Hindu temples, but also donated considerably to the descendants of guardians of the Sheikh Moin-ud-Din Chishti dargāh at Ajmer (Bayly, 1985, pp. 181-182) the many shrines and the division of the city in muhallas (neighbourhoods); and in the social world by Sūfī orders and pīrs (religious teachers). Freitag suggests this environment was favourable to forge strong bonds between the Banaras dynasty and Muslim lower-caste groups like weavers.