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«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 ...»

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However, in the early nineteenth century Banaras was reframed as a Hindu city. This reinvented Hindu tradition served political ends, for example it emphasized a local ruler all Banarasis could identify with, irrespective of background (Desai, 2003;

Freitag, 1989a, p. 9; 1989b, p. 210). After the British had taken over, the rāja had no direct rule over the city, but he was allowed to keep his capital at Ramnagar in recognition of his cultural and symbolic importance (Freitag, 1989a, pp. 5-11). The rāja’s ceremonial status was principally expressed in the Ramnagar Ramlila (see section Varanasi changed significantly during the British raj. Broad roads replaced narrow lanes, many lakes and streams were drained and filled, and education was reformed. The British opened a Sanskrit College in 1853 and after efforts from reformer Madan Mohan Malaviya Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was established in 1916. The nineteenth century also saw efforts to spread Christianity as missionaries recognized Banaras’ religious importance and were convinced that if Banarasis would convert they would serve as an example for India (Eck, 1983, pp.


3.2 Religious significance

Since the early British explorers Varanasi is often referred to as the most holy city for Hindus, the Hindu equivalent of Mecca or Jerusalem (MacLeod, 1870, p. 20; Nevill, 1909, v. 7, p. 180; Sherring, 1868, pp. 2, 14). Eck is more hesitant to speak of ‘the most holy’ city, because Varanasi is part of a sacred ‘imagined landscape’ that links various pilgrim routes and replicates tīrthas (‘pilgrimage sites’); India’s tīrthas can be found in Banaras and Banaras is replicated throughout India (Eck, 1983, p. 39).

Desai calls attention to the fact that this image of Varanasi is deliberately created in the 18th century, mainly triggered by two processes. Firstly, the British sought to discover ‘authentic’ Varanasi and discharged Muslim influences as ‘foreign’ and ‘inauthentic’. The latter were depicted as aggressive and zealous temple destroyers.

This obscured the fact that, even though it did happen, it happened mostly for political, not religious, reasons (Desai, 2003). Around the same time, the Maharaja started patronizing the Ramlila (see section It is suggested that through patronage of the Ramlila the Hindu glory that was lost could be restored and at the same time the Maharaja legitimized his own position as king of (Hindus as well as Muslims of) Banaras and representative of Shiva (Freitag, 1989a, p. 12; Lutgendorf, 2000, p. 41; Schechner & Hess, 1977, pp. 73-74). Additionally, Banaras Hindu Figure 2. Map of the sacred geography of Hindu Varanasi. Taken from: Eck (1983, p. 2) Figure 3. Map of the sacred geography of Muslim Varanasi. Taken from: Singh (2004, p. 225) University has also played a role in defining the Hindu character of the city (Casolari, 2002).

In order to construct Banaras as a Hindu city, its Muslim elements had to be concealed. It has been pointed out by various scholars that descriptions of Varanasi as the oldest living city, as a Hindu city, as the holiest place for Hindus are often brought matter-of-factly (Desai, 2003; Kumar, 1987, 1990; Singh, 2011). The Muslim geography and heritage of the city is thereby often neglected. Not only is about a quarter of the people of Varanasi Muslim, Muslims have also significantly influenced the structure of the city and continue to play their part in the cultural life of the city up to today (Desai, 2003; Gaenszle & Gengnagel, 2006, p. 9; Kumar, 1990; Singh, 2011). Although Hinduism is more prominent in the city, Sherring noted that there were 3300 Hindu shrines and sacred sites and 1388 shrines and sacred sites by the end of the 1860s and today there are about 3300 Hindu shrines and 1454 Muslim shrines and sacred sites (see Figure 2 and Figure 3 for the sacred Hindu and Muslim geographies of Banaras; Sherring, 1868, pp. 41-42; Singh, 2011). Muslims have their own pilgrimage network spanning these sacred sites.

Only since British rule labels such as ‘Muslim’ and ‘Hindu’ started to be are used in a way that fixed religious identity. However, this dichotomy simply opposes the groups as a whole and thereby fails to give credit to the enormous diversity between Hindus and between Muslims. Besides, there are still groups of people who do not define themselves as either Hindu or Muslim and blend customs from both religions and participate in each other’s festivals (Eck, 1983, p. 167; Freitag, 1989b, p. 206;

Raman, 2010, p. 213). Moreover, today, as since decades, festivals carry a religious as well as a profane meaning: they are both a religious ceremony and an occasion for relaxing and amusement for people from various religious backgrounds (Freitag, 1989a, pp. 13-14; Sherring, 1868, p. 213).

Varanasi is also a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Jains as the Buddha gave his first lecture in Sarnat near Varanasi and the seventh and twenty-third Tirthankar (Jain spiritual leader; see footnote 10) are from Varanasi (Eck, 1983, pp. 61-79;

Freitag, 1989a; Greaves, 1909, p. 2; Jain, 2009, pp. 15-30, 69-96; Sherring, 1868, pp. 266, 366-367).

3.2.1 Religious significance for Hindus Kashi is religiously important for Hindus mainly for four reasons, Firstly, because of the prominence of Shiva (“the cult of Vishwanath”) (Vidyarthi, 1979, pp. 14-19).

Kashi is the place where Shiva’s linga first pierced the earth.16 Because Shiva is There are two myths foremost related with the Shiva linga. When Brahma and Vishnu were quarrelling who was the greatest of them, they consulted the Vedas and were astonished upon finding Varanasi’s patron deity and he never leaves her, it is the city of Shiva “par excellence” (Eck, 1983, p. 68).17 The presence of Shiva pervades the city; he is present not only in the temples, but in every stone of the city (Eck, 1983, p. 31;

Vidyarthi, 1979, p. 28). Yet, one of the places where he is most clearly present is in the Vishwanath temple (see section 4.2). Besides Vishwanath (or Vishvesvara, both meaning ‘Lord of the Universe’), Shiva is known by many other names (e.g., Rudra;

Shankar; Mahadeva – ‘Great God’; Nataraja – ‘Lord of the dance’), each highlighting a certain characteristic and connected with certain mythic stories.18 Besides Shiva, all the other gods also dwell in Kashi.19 The other reasons for Kashi’s religious importance are its status as microcosm and representation of the whole world (“the cult of the Tirthas”), the holy river Ganges (“the cult of the Ganges”) and its liberating qualities (“the cult of the Shmashan”) (Vidyarthi, 1979, pp. 14-19). These aspects of Varanasi are described in the following section. Banaras as microcosm Not only is Varanasi the centre of the universe (the universe was created from Manikarnika, see footnote 12), it also contains the universe in it.20 All of India’s sacred places and waters are within its microcosm (Eck, 1983, pp. 23-24, 296).

Hindus consider India’s landscape as holy; a network of various pilgrimage routes connects sacred waters, forests, mountains, and cities to form a sacred ‘imagined landscape’. Although, according to Eck, Varanasi cannot be regarded as ‘the most holy’, it stands out because it is a hub in which various pilgrimage routes cross.

Varanasi is one of the seven cities that bestow moksha (liberation), although death in Varanasi leads directly to liberation and death in the other cities only indirectly through being reborn in Kashi (Eck, 1983, p. 284; Parry, 1981, p. 348). Varanasi is also one of the four ‘abodes’ (dhāmas) of the gods that lie at the four compass points, and is among the pīthas (benches) of the Shiva’s first wife Sati, one of the out that Shiva is the Supreme Lord. At that moment a column of light split the earth. Brahma, on his swan, tries to find the top and Vishnu, in his manifestation as boar, tries to find the bottom, but neither succeeds. After thousands of years they return and then Shiva emerges from the pole (Eck, 1983, p. 107). For the second myth, see footnote 17.

When the earth was suffering from draught, Brahma desperately turned to the only man who could restore the order. This king, Divodasa, agreed to rule Kashi on the condition that all gods leave. Shiva too left, but first established a linga to represent him so that he could dwell in Kashi whilst being away from the city. After some time he misses his city terribly he asks Vishnu to send the king away with a trick; 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) It is worth noting that the use of 108 names of Shiva for mantra purposes closely resembles the Islamic custom of calling the 99 names of Allah. In the latter case, the 99 names are also seen as various qualities of Allah See footnote 17 Ibid.

108 places where pieces of her body fell when Shiva carried his dead body through India. Furthermore, Varanasi is one of the twelve places with a jyotirlinga (linga of light) and one of the 68 places with ‘self-born’ lingas (svayambhū) (Eck, 1983, pp.

290-291; 1998, pp. 180-184). Besides, in Varanasi all of India’s tīrthas are represented. Because of this, when one visits Varanasi, one visits all India’s tīrthas and the need for further pilgrimage is discarded (Eck, 1983, pp. 34-39, 293; 1998, p.

170; Vidyarthi, 1979, p. 42).

Just like Varanasi encompasses all India’s tīrthas, Banaras is present throughout India. In many places temples are called ‘Kashi Vishwanath’, with priests claiming the same benefits can be obtained from visiting the local temple (Eck, 1983, p. 40; 1998, p. 166). Likewise, the river Ganges is said to have local representatives, in particular the seven holy rivers that are claimed to spring from the same source. And in reverse, all the other rivers of India are said to be present in the Ganges (Eck, 1983, p. 214; 1996, p. 138). Banaras’ holy Ganges River The Gaṇges starts in the Himalayas and flows after about 2,500 km into the Bay of Bengal. Many writers have called attention to the unique physical features of the Ganges in Varanasi, flowing from south to north and in shape of a crescent; these features are thought to add to the picturesqueness and beauty of Varanasi (Greaves, 1909, pp. 13, 32; Singh, 1994, p. 213; Vidyarthi, 1979, p. 17). Everywhere along the riverside are ghāts, stairs leading to the water to facilitate bathing and other activities. According to Gaenszle and Gengnagel “The ghāts are for Banaras what the Taj Mahal is for Agra and the Qutb Minar for Delhi.” (Gaenszle & Gengnagel, 2006, p.

14). The ghāts are buzzing with work and leisurely activity: holy men do their practices, boatmen offer their boats, ladies sell flower garlands, old men play a board game, young people chat while drinking chāī, and children play with their kite.

Besides enjoying her beauty many people are drawn to the Ganges for its religious significance. Its religious significance for rituals regarding birth, marriage and death can be traced back to the third century BCE and is recorded in both Vedic and Puranic literature. The Ganges can be seen as a tīrtha, a sacred transition place where living and dead, human and divine meet; according to Hindu scriptures each wave of the Ganga is a tīrtha. King remarks that the Ganges symbolizes Hindu unity more than anything because Hindus from all backgrounds, communities, and castes worship her. The divine qualities of the Ganges were also acknowledged by the Mughal kings (Darian, 2001, pp. 11-14; Eck, 1983, p. 214; 1996, p. 139; King, 2005, pp. 157-165; Singh, 1994, pp. 210-211).21 Darian mentions that Emperor Akbar drank Ganges water, a custom that was continued by Jahangir and even Aurangzeb according to King (Darian, 2001, p. 11; King, 2005, p. 165) Hindus worship her and ask for her blessings by taking a bath, preferably at sunrise, drinking from her, offering flowers, light and incense, and leaving their dead to her care. After pilgrimage people bring vessels of her water home. Singh mentions that “The Gaṇgā, the patron deity Lord Śiva, and the sacred territory of Kāśī together form the Cosmic Trinity (Trimūrti)...”; after bathing in the Ganges, pilgrims pay the Vishwanath temple a visit, where they poor Ganges water over the linga to re-enact the descent of the Ganges on earth (Eck, 1983, pp. 212-213; 1996, p. 138; King, 2005, pp. 155-176; Singh, 1994, p. 211).

Myth holds that the Ganges once flowed in heaven. As reward for king Bhaigiratha’s devoted worship of Shiva the Ganges agreed to flow to the earth in order to take the remains of the king’s ancestors, who died without any funerary rites, to the netherworld. In order not to crush the earth with its force, Shiva first caught the Ganges in his hair. The Ganga is now called Tripathagā because she flows in the three worlds. Besides being intimately connected to Shiva, according to mythology the Ganges flows from the vessel of Brahma and streams over the feet of Vishnu.

Because of her capacity to bring life and confer immortality the Ganges is often called Mother Ganges. Another important aspect of the Ganges is her purifying quality. Her water removes pollution and washes away sins. Eck reminds her readers that the concept of ‘purity’ relates to ritual purity, which should not be confused with the bacterial idea of purity.22 The concept of purity is closely related with karma, because the Ganga not only removes sins, but also brings liberty.23 Therefore, the Ganga is tightly associated with life and death: “The waters of the Ganges are called amrita, the ‘nectar of immortality,’ and as they brought life to the ancestors of Bhagiratha, so will they bring life to all the dead.” (Darian, 2001, p. 31; Eck, 1983, pp. 211-219, 316-318; 1996, pp. 134-148; King, 2005, pp. 156-177; Singh, 1994, p.

210). Banaras as auspicious place for dying

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