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!