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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 7 (November 1, 1929)

Benares—The Holy Brahmin City

Benares—The Holy Brahmin City.

From Mogul Serai picnickers as a rule go to Benares (pronounced Ba-na-ras) one of the most venerable of India's inland cities and today, the Holy Brahmin City. Originally Brahminic, during the zenith of Buddhist power, it was taken over by that Faith and held by them for eight hundred years. Then the Brahmins again occupied it. As a consequence of this and the Mahomedan Conquest of India, Benares has over two thousand temples and mosques, these in every conceivable variety of Indian architecture. On Holy days the City and River present an equally animated appearance, the temples and ghats being crowded with religious devotees. With the advent of dark the scene becomes absolutely beautiful. Thousands and thousands of chirags (small open oil lamps) illuminate the palaces, temples, ghats and boats on the Ganges, till it is all a scintillant blaze of shimmering light.

Hindu pilgrims come to Benares from all parts of India, journeying frequently over hundreds of miles to bathe in the sacred waters and receive absolution of their sins. The way in which the journey is made may be worthy of description as being singular. Unprotected against attacks of wild animals, scantily clothed, carrying neither food nor drink, they set out from their homes. They measure every yard of the distance with their bodies. Standing at the door of their dwellings they prostrate themselves on the earth, reach out and make a mark to which they walk and again prostrate themselves and so on to the end.

The two principal Brahmin shrines of Benares are the “Monkey” and the “Golden Temple,” both magnificent specimens of Hindu architecture. The former—hence the name—is infested by hordes of Bandars (the Sacred Brown-monkey) who must not be interfered with. So cunning have these animals become that they levy toll of sightseers and if the toll is not forthcoming they certainly make things most unpleasant. One has to purchase about a farthing's worth of chanah (a cereal grain) from the vendors outside the temple precincts, which is thrown to the monkeys inside. This, by some means is communicated through the colony and no hostile demonstration will be made, otherwise the sightseer will be continuously persecuted and no redress may be had.