An evangelist’s heart went out to Benares Friday, Jul 24 2009 


10. Christian Tears

The Europeans should clearly understand that this spirit of ‘Mohammedanism is unchangeable, and that, if by any mischance, India should again come into the possession of men of this creed, all the churches and colleges and all the Mission institutions, would not be worth a week’s purchase. 

So wrote Reverend Mathaw Atmore Sherring. The Muslims had done no harm to the Christians of British India. But he was so upset at the vandalism he saw in Benares that he could not help speaking out.
Reverend Sherring was a devout, and maybe a slightly bigoted evangelist member of the London Missionary Society. He was dead against idol worship. As he has written 

idolatry is a word denoting all that is wicked in imagination and impure in practice. Idolatry is a demon – an incarnation of all evil. And yet he said it woul, not be difficult, I believe, to find twenty temples in all Benares of the age of Aurangzeb, or from 1658 to 1707. The same unequal proportion of old temples, as compared with new, is visible throughout the whole of northern India. 

 His description of the desecration of temples by the thousand, and their blatant conversion into either mosques, mausoleums, dargahs palaces or pleasure houses has to be seen to be believed.
In his view,

if there is one circumstance respecting the Mohammedan period which Hindus remember better than another, it is the insulting pride of the Musulmans (sic), the outrages which they perpetrated upon their religious convictions, and the extensive spoilation of their temples and shrines. When we endeavour to ascertain what the Mohammedans have left to the Hindus of their ancient buildings in Benares, we are startled at the result of’ our investigations. Although the city is bestrewn with temples, it is unlikely that there are many which are old.
Reverend Sherring continued, the diminutive size of nearly all the temples in India ercept for the south that exist is another powerful testimony to the stringency of the Mohammedan rule. It seems clear, that, for the most part, the emperors for bade the Hindus to build spacious temples, and suffered them to erect only small structures, of the size of  cages, for their idols, and these of no pretensions to beauty. The consequence is, that the Hindus of the present day, blindly following the example of their predecessors of two centuries ago, commonly build their religious edifices of the same dwarfish size as formerly. 

 These observations speak volumes for the trauma that the Hindu psyche has suffered as a result of the impact of Islam.
Sherring appreciates that Muslims yearn to visit Mecca and the Christians desire to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem but the Hindu heart goes out to Benares. If the Hindus refer to any one city as their holiest, it is Benares. Yet, Aurangzeb thought it fit to change its name to Muhammadabad. The temple of Bisheswar, who was regarded as king of all the Hindu gods, was systematically demolished by Aurangzeb during the 17th century. The large collection of deities stored on a platforrn called the court of Mahadev on the northern side of the temple, were found from the debris. As recorded by Sherring, extensive remains of this ancient temple are still visible and they form a large portion of the western wall of the mosque which was built upon its site by the bigoted oppressor. Evidently, the former temple was much larger than the present one, which is really small for so important a shrine. But there was a reason for it.
The new temple was built at the behest of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar long after Aurangzeb’s desecration. As already explained by Sherring, all the temples built during the Mohammaden rule in Benares had to be diminutive in size. It transpires that the demolition of temples was not inspired merely by a hatred for idolatory or by greed for loot. It was also driven by a desire to humiliate the Hindus. Or, else, how does one explain that the masjid built by Aurangzeb had to be bang next to the Gyan Vapi or the well of knowledge.
Incidentally, Sherring has also referred to Al-Beruni who is one of the important sources of Indian history: He came to India with Mahmud Ghazni. Although the Reverend doubts Al-Beruni’s contention, nevertheless, he mentions that Ghazni reached as far as Benares during his ninth incursion into India. In 1194 AD, Shahabuddin, better known as Muhammad Ghauri, after defeating the Kannaujian monarch, Jaichand, marched to Benares where he is reported to have destroyed a thousand Hindu temples.
The author came across this interesting book on Benares by an extraordinary circumstance. The last time he went to the holy city, he happened to be accompanied by a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist, Sudhansu Chaki, who was at the Presidency College, Kolkata, with him during 1956. Over the years, he had told the author that he was an atheist. If he had a God, it was Karl Marx. No one else. About half an hour after both of us had reached the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the author found his friend’s eyes full of tears. When the author asked him why, he said he had not imagined the extent to which the land of his forefathers had been vandalised. he was referring to the Gyan Vapi masjid. Some months after he returned to Kolkata he sent the author the volume!

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Repeated destruction at Mathura Friday, Jul 24 2009 

9. Ghazni to Alamgir

The richly jewelled idols taken from the pagan temples were transferred to Agra and there placed beneath the steps leading to the Nawab Begum Sahib’s mosque, in order that they might ever be pressed under foot by the true believers. The city ‘s name was changed to Islamabad. Can you guess thename of this unfortunate place? We can tell you who published those words. He was Vincent A. Smith ICE, CIE, the famous historian
If you cannot guess, it was Mathura, the birth place of Sri Krishna. Most of the idols were from the just destroyed Kesava Deva mandir, built at the spot where the popular avtaar was believed to have been born some 3,400 years ago. If Mahmud Ghazni was a juahil or a barbarian, one might have been inclined to overlook his outrage and excuse him. But both Al-Beruni and Utbi, who were chroniclers and lived in Ghazni’s times, certified that Mahmud was devout and built beautiful mosques in his Ghazna. For the author it is difficult to do unto others what he would dislike others doing unto him. It is not easy for a conscience to live with double standards. The author is not a regular worshipperand yet he can appreciate what puja prayer or ibadat means to others. He wouldhate to distrub them. So much for sentiment. Beyond that of course is the Hindu in him which tells him that every karma leads to bhagya, every deed goes to shape destiny. Every action has a reaction, equal and opposite.
This reasoning must have been alien to Mahmud Ghazni in 1017 AD, although his forefathers must have been Hindu or Buddhist, or possibly, pagan (there was no Islam until the seventh century). Do you think that the misfortunes of the Afghan peoples especially since the Soviet invasion in April 1978 are the bhagya resulting from the karmas of iconoclasts like Mahmud? He was not the only blood thirsty invader. There were a series of them from Afghanistan. The last big vandal was  Ahmed Shah Abdali of the 18th century. What was perpetrated at Mathura, is unthinkable in any context of civilization.
You will experience it better when you read what a British Christian had to say. As a Hindu, all that the author will say is that no one is more widely adored amongst us than Sri Krishna. From Jammu in the north to Kanyakumari in the south, from Dwarka in the west to Imphal in the east, there are any number of Krishna worshippers. Moreover, there is no Hindu who would not be an adorer of this son of Mathura. He gave the Bhagawat Gita to us. Even today, every Hindu swears by it before answering in any court, just as Christians and Muslims swear by the Bible and the Quran respectively. If there be any one book from which a Hindu wishes to understand his faith, it is the Gita. In fact, everyone, at least in India, understands what Sri Krishna means to the Hindu psyche. Justas Sri Ram exemplifies the uncompromising idealist, Krishna personifies the comprehensive realist. When a Hindu has a problem, he wonders what Kesava would have done to solve it with his genius for tactics and strategy. If he wishes to celebrate a festival, he thinks of Giridhar Gopal. If he dreams of frolic, he sees Gopinath. If he lo for love, he cannot but help dream of Radheyshyam.

In his Mathura: A District Memoir, Growse has recorded his exhaustive survey and research about Brajbhoomi. He was so overhelmed by the vandalism that visited the area repeatedly, that he wrote feelingly, although his home was in far away England. To quote:  

thanks to Muhammadan intolerance, there is not a single building of any antiquity either in the city itself or its environs. Its most famous temple-that dedicated to Kesava Deva (Krishna) – was destroyed in 1669, the eleventh year of the reign of the iconoclast Aurangzeb (Alamgir was also his name). The mosque (idgah) erected on its ruins is a building of little architectural value.


Mahmud Ghazni was however the first iconoclast to vandalise Mathura. That was in 1017 AD about which Growse wrote: 

If any one wished to construct a building equal to it, he would not be able to do so without expending a hundred millions  diners, and the work would occupy two hundred years, even though the most able  and experienced workmen were employed. Orders were given that all the temple should be burnt with naphtha and fire and levelled with the ground. The city was given up to plunder for twenty days. Among the spoils are said to have been five great idols of pure gold with eyes of rubies and adornments of other precious stones, together with a vast number of smaller silver images, which, when broken up, formed a load for more than a hundred camels. The total value of the spoils has been estimated at three millions of rupees; while the number of Hindus carried away into captivity exceeded 5,000.


Today Balkrishna is worshipped in a little room which appears like a servant quarter attached to the back of the idgah. Pathos can be experienced by any visitor, whether a devotee or otherwise.

To go back to Aurangzeb, over two centuries after the desecration, Growse felt that:  

of all the sacred places in India, none enjoys a greater popularity than the capital of Braj, the holy city of Mathura. For nine months in the year, festival follows upon festival in rapid succession and the ghats and temples are daily thronged with new troops of way-worn pilgrims. So great is the sanctity of the spot that its panegyrists do not hesitate to declare that a single day spent at Mathura is more meritorious than a lifetime passed at Benares. All this celebrity is due to the fact of it being the birthplace of the demi-god Krishna.

In his chapter entitled The Braj Mandal, the Ban Yatra and the Holi as Growse puts it: 

Not only the city of Mathura, but with it, the whole of the westem half of the district has a special interest of its own as the birthplace and abiding home Vaishnava Hinduism. It is about 42 miles in length with an average breadth of 30 miles and is intersected throughout by the river Jamuna. In the neighbourhood Gokul and Brindaban, where the divine brothers Krishna and Balaram grazed their herds. He continues: Almost every spot is traditionally connected with some event in the life of Krishna or of his mythical mistress Radha.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, not all the scents of Arabia would suffice to wash away the sins of Ghazni and Alamgir at Mathura. And since it is not posible to claim back what was destroyed long ago, the return of the Idgaah and the shuddhi of Krishna janmabhoomi or the birth place of Krishna, is the only alternative

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