The last Muslim Badshah to destroy Hindu temples at Mathura and Varanasi was emperor Aurangzeb. Shortly, after coming to the throne in 1658 A.D, Aurangzeb issued the following order on 28 February, 1659:
It has been decided according to our Canon law that long standing temples should not be demolished but no new temples be allowed to be built… Our royal command is that you should direct that in future no person shall, in unlawful ways, interfere with or disturb the Brahmans and other Hindu residents in those places.
This, however, did not cover military operations. In 1661 A.D, Aurangzeb in his zeal to apply, the law of Islam, sent orders to his Viceroy of Bihar, Daud Khan to conquer Palamau . In the process, many temples were destroyed. Similarly, when Mir Jumla made war on the Raja of Kuch Bihar, Mughals destroyed many temples. Idols were broken and temples were converted into mosques. Soon, however, Aurangzeb began to act even without the military provocation. The temple of Somnath was destroyed early in his reign. This was the result of the order sent to his officials in Gujarat on 20 November, 1665 A.D, Similar orders were issued to the governor of Orissa.
About the same time, Aurangzeb's attention turned towards Mathura. Here many beautiful temples had been raised by Hindu rajas and rich men, particularly during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir. Aurangzeb picked out for attack the famous temple of Keshav Rai. Its railing that had once been made of wood had long before become too weak to serve any useful purpose. Dara Shukoh had got built a railing of stone. On 14 October, 1666 its removal by the Fojdar of Mathura was reported to the imperial court.
On 9 April, 1669, it was reported to the emperor that Brahmans of Sind, Multan and Benaras were using the temples as schools for students. Orders were now sent to the Governors of all the provinces that they should destroy the schools and temples of the infidels and put an end to the educational activities as well as the practices of the religion of the kafirs. De Graaf who was at Hoogly in 1670 reported:
In the month of January, all the governors and national officers received an order from the Great Mughal prohibiting the practice of Pagan religion throughout the country and closing down all the temples and sanctuaries of Idol worshippers in the hope that some Pagans would embrace the Muslim religion.
Soon after the order was issued, reports of destruction of temples all over the empire began to arrive. A royal messenger was sent to demolish the Mahavira temple in Jaipur in May, 1669. In August, 1669 the temple of Visvanath at Bnaras was demolished. The presiding priest of the temple was just in time to remove the idols from the temple and threw them into neighbouring well which thus became a centre of pious interest ever after, says Professor Sri Ram Sharma. The temple of Gopi Nath in Benaras was also destroyed at about the same time. (The Religious Policy of Mughal Emperors, 1940).
Then came the turn of the temple of Keshav Rai at Mathura built at a cost of Rs. 33 lakhs by Rao Bir Singh Bundela in the reign of Jahangir. It had been built after the style of the famous temple at Bindaban which Man Singh had built at a cost of Rs. 5 lakh. It had become a centre of pilgrimage for the whole of India. The idols, studded with precious stones and adorned with gold work, were all taken to Agra and there buried under the steps of Jahanara's mosque. The temple was levelled to the ground and a mosque was ordered to be built on the site to mark the acquisition of religious merit by the emperor, as recorded in Maasir-i-Alamgiri, and Mirat-ul-Khayyal says professor Sri Ram Sharma.
No wonder this struck consternation in Hindu mind. Imperial territories offered no place of safe asylum either to the god or his votaries.The priests of the temple of Govardhan founded by the Valabhacharaya sought safety in flight. They reached Jodhpurs and sent Gopinath to Maharaja Raj Singh and begged for a place.The Sasodia Prince extended welcome. The god was installed on 10 March,1672. Sihar Mewar thus became the centre of Vaishnavism in India. The village of Sihar, is now known as Nathadwara. In 1693, the Haitheswar temple at Bar Nagar in Gujarat was demolished.
A number of scholars have written on the destruction of Krishna Janamsthan and Kashi Visvanath. For Krishna Janamsthan, we have depended on the Report of Alexander Cunningham, Director General ASI, (1862-1863) and F.S. Growse’s Mathura: A District Memoir (1882). In respect of Kashi Visvanath, we have made use of Benaras: The Sacred City of The Hindus by Rev. M.A. Sherring, (1868). He was a Protestant missionary in India who was also an Indologist and wrote a number of works related to India. M.A. Sherring was senior Anglican missionary in the city of Varanasi.
Mathura: In the Brahmanical city of Mathura, in A. D. 634, the temples of the gods were reckoned by Hwen Thsang at five only, while the Buddhist monasteries amounted to 20, with 2,000 resident monks. The number of Stupas and other Buddhist monuments was also very great, there being no less than seven towers, containing' relics of the principal disciples of Buddha. The King and his ministers were zealous Buddhists, and the three great fasts of the year were celebrated with much pomp and ceremony, at which times the people flocked eagerly to make their offerings to the holy Stupas containing the relics of Buddha’s disciples.
But notwithstanding this apparently flourishing condition of Buddhism, it is certain that the zeal of the people of Mathura must have lessened considerably since A. D. 400, when Fa Hian reckoned the body of monks in the 20 monasteries to be 3,000, or just one-half more than their number at the time of Hwen Thsang's visit in A. D. 634. From these accounts of the Chinese pilgrims it would appear that the Buddhist establishments at Mathura must have been of considerable importance, and this conclusion is fully borne out by the number and interest of the recent discoveries.
There are a great number of lofty earthen mounds around Mathura which are covered with fragments of stone and brick. Nothing, however, is known about them, although everyone of them has a separate name. The numerous fragments of stone which are found upon them show that they are not old brick-kilns, as might have been supposed from their vicinity to the city. Apparently, they are natural mounds such as are found everywhere along the lower course of Jumna, and which have usually been taken advantage of for the sites of forts or temples. Thus the old fort of Mathura is perched upon a similar mound, and so also is the Jâma Masjid in the middle of the Katra square.
VIEWS OF ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM
The Katra mound has been successively occupied by Buddhists, Brahmans, and Musalmâns. The Katra, or market-place, is an oblong enclosure like a Sarâi, 804 feet in length by 653 feet in breadth. In the midst of this square stands the Jâma Masjid, on a large mound from 25 to 30 feet in height. The mosque is 172 feet long and 66 feet broad, with a raised terrace in front of the same length, but with a breadth of 86 feet, the whole being 30 feet in height above the ground. About 5 feet lower, there is another terrace 286 feet in length by 268 feet in breadth, on the eastern edge of which stands the mosque. There is no inscription on the building, but the people ascribe it to Aurungzib, who is said to have pulled down the great Hindu temple of Kesava Deva, or Keso Ray, that formerly stood on this high mound, a most noble position, which commands a fine view of the whole city. Curiously enough I have been able to verify this charge against Aurungzib by means of some inscriptions on the pavement slabs which were recorded by Hindu pilgrims to the shrine of Kesava Ray. In relaying the pavement, the Muhammadan architect was obliged to cut many of the slabs to make them fit into their new places. This is proved by several of the slabs bearing incomplete portions of Nâgari inscriptions of a late date. One slab has “bat 1713, Phâlgun,” the initial Sam of Sambat having been cut off. Another slab has the name of Keso Ray, the rest being wanting; while a third bears the late date of S. 1720. These dates are equivalent to A. D. 1656 and 1663; and as the latter is five years subsequent to the accession of Aurungzib, it is certain that the Hindu temple was still standing at the beginning of his reign.
The greater part of the foundations of the Hindu temple of Kesava Ray may still be traced at the back of the Masjid. Indeed, the back wall of the mosque itself is actually built upon the plinth of the temple, one of the cyma reversa mouldings being filled up with brick and mortar. I traced the walls for a distance of 163 feet to the westward, but apparently this was not the whole length of the temple, as the mouldings of the Hindu plinth at the back of the Masjid are those of an exterior wall. I think it probable that the temple must have extended at least as far as the front of the mosque, which would give a total length of 250 feet, with an extreme breadth of nearly 72 feet, the floor of the building being no less than 25 feet above the ground. Judging from these dimensions, the temple of Kesava Deva must have been one of the largest in India. I was unable to obtain any information as to the probable date of this magnificent fane. It is usually called Keso Ray, and attributed to Raja Jaga Deva, but some say that the enshrined image was that of Jaga Deva, and that the builder’s name was Ray or Raja Kesava Deva. It is possible that it may have been one of the “innumerable temples” described by Mahmud in his letter to the Governor of' Ghazni written in A. D. 1017, as we know that the conqueror spared the temples either through admiration of their beauty, or on account of the difficulty of destroying them. Mahmud remained at Mathura only 20 days, but during that time the city was pillaged and burned, and the temples were rifled of their statues. Amongst these there were “five golden idols whose eyes were of rubies, valued at 50,000 dinars,” or €25,000. A sixth golden image weighed 98,300 mishkals, or 1,120 Ibs., and was decorated with a sapphire weighing 300 mishkale, or 3 1/2 Ibs. But, “besides these images, there were above one hundred idols of silver, which loaded as many camels.” Altogether the value of the idols carried off by Mahmud cannot have been less than three millions of rupees, or €300,000.
(The above write - up is based on report of 1862-63 given by Major-General Alexander Cunningham, Director - General of the Archaeological Survey of India, published by ASI, New Delhi-2000)
VIEWS OF F.S. GROWSE DISTRICT MAJISTRATE, MATHURA (1871-1878)
MATHURA UNDER MUSLIM RULE: Apart from inscriptions and other fragmentary archaeological vestiges of its ancient glory, the first authentic contemporary record of Mathura that we find in existing literature is dated the year 1017 AD, when it was sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni in his ninth invasion of India. The original source of information respecting Mahmud’s campaigns is the Tarikh Yamini of Al Utbi, who himself was secretary to the Sultan.
During the period of Muhammadan supremacy, the history of Mathura is almost a total blank. The natural dislike of the ruling power to be brought into close personal connection with such a centre of superstition divested the town of all political importance; while the Hindu pilgrims, who still continued to frequent its impoverished shrines, were not invited to present, as the priests were not anxious to receive, any lavish donation which would only excite the jealousy of the rival faith. Thus, while there are abundant remains of the earlier Buddhist period, there is not a single building, nor fragment of a building, which can be assigned to any year in the long interval between the invasion of Mahmud in 1017AD and the reign of Akbar in the latter half of the sixteenth century; and it is only from the day when the Jats and Mahrattas began to be the virtual sovereigns of the country that any continuous series of monumental records exists.
Nor can this be wondered at, since whenever the unfortunate city did attract the Emperor's notice, it became at once a mark for pillage and desecration:and the more religious the sovereign, the more thorough the persecution. Take for example the following passage from the Tarikh-i-Daudi of Abdullah (a writer in the reign of Jahangir) who is speaking of Sultan Sikandar Lodi (1488-1516AD), one of the most able and accomplished of all the occupants of the Delhi throne; “He was so zealous a Musalman that he utterly destroyed of many places of worship of the infidels, and left not a single vestige remaining of them. He entirely ruined the shrines of Mathura, that mine of heathenism, and turned their principal temples into saraes and colleges. Their stone images were given to the butchers to serve them as meat-weights, and all the Hindus in Mathura were strictly prohibited from shaving their heads and beards and performing their ablutions. He thus put an end to all the idolatrous rites of the infidels there; and no Hindu, if he wished to have his head or beard shaved, could get a barber to do it.” In confirmation of the truth of this narrative it may be observed that when the Muhammadan Governor Abd-un-Nabi, in 1661 built his great mosque as a first step towards the construction of the new city, of which he is virtually the founder, the ground which he selected for the purpose, and which was unquestionably an old temple site, had to be purchased from the butchers.
Jahangir, on his accession to the throne, continued to some extent his father's policy of religious tolerance; but in the following reign of Shahjahan, we find Murshid Ali Khan, in the year 1636, made a commander of 2,000 horse, and appointed by the Emperor Governor of Mathura and Maha-ban, with express instructions to be zealous in stamping out all rebellion and idolatry. The climax of wanton destruction was, however, attained by Aurangzeb, the Oliver Cromwell of India, who, not content with demolishing the most sacred of its shrines, thought also to destroy even the ancient name of the city by substituting for it Islampur or Islamabad.
A few months earlier, in February of the same year, during the fast of Ramazan, the time when religious bigotry would be most inflamed, Aurangzeb had descended in person on Mathura. The temple specially marked out for destruction was one built so recently as the reign of Jahangir, at a cost of thirty-three lakhs, by Bir Sinh Deva, Bundela, of Urecha. Beyond all doubt this was the last of the famous shrine of Kesava Deva.
In consequence of the changes in religion and the long lapse of time, the whole of the ancient Buddhist buildings described by the Chinese pilgrims had been overthrown, buried, and forgotten, till quite recently, when some fragments of them have been again brought to light. The first discovery was made by General Cunningham, in 1853, who noticed some capitals and pillars lying about within the enclosure of the Katra, the site of the Hindu temple of Kesava Deva.
THE HINDU CITY OF MATHURA:
ON the decline of Buddhism, Mathura acquired that character for sanctity which it still retains, as the reputed birth-place of the deified Krishna. Or, more probably, the triumph of Buddhism was a mere episode, on the conclusion of which the city recovered a character which it had before enjoyed at a much earlier period; for it may be inferred from the language of the Greek geographers that Brahmanism was in their time the religion of the country, while Hindu tradition is uniform in maintaining its claims both to holiness and antiquity. Thus it is represented as the second of the capital of the Lunar race, which were in succession Prayag, Mathura, Kusasthali, and Dwaraka; and in the following well-known couplet it is ranked among the seven sanctuaries of Hindustan :-
Kasi Kanti cha Miiyakhya twayodhya Dwaravatyapi
Mathuravantika chaita sapta puryo tra mokshadah.
“Kasi (i. e., Bansras), Klinti (probably Kanchi), Maya (i. e., Haridwar), with Ayodhya, Dwaravati, Mathura, and Avantika, are the seven cities of salvation.”
DESTRUCTION OF KESAVA DEV TEMPLE:
At the present day it has no lack of stately edifices, with which, as described of old in the Harivansa, "it rises beautiful as the cresent moon over the dark stream of the Jamuna; but they are all modern. The neighbourhood is crowded with sacred sites, which for many generations have been reverenced as the traditionary scenes of Krishna's adventures; but, 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 was destroyed, in 1669, the eleventh year of the reign of the iconoclastic Aurangzeb. The mosque erected on its ruins is a building of little architectural value, but the natural advantages of its lofty and isolated position tender it a striking feature in the landscape. The so-called katra, in which it stands, is an oblong enclosure, like a sarae, 104 feet in length by 653 feet in breadth. In its centre is a raised terrace, 172 feet long and 86 feet broad, upon which now stands the mosque, occupying its entire length, but only 60 feet of its breadth. About five feet lower is another terrace, measuring 286 feet by 268. There may still be observed, let into the Muhammadan pavement, some votive tablets with. Nagari inscriptions, dated Sambat 1713 and 1720, corresponding to 1656 and 1663 A. D.
In the latter year the temple attracted the notice of the traveller Bernier, who writes: - “Between Delhi and Agra, a distance of fifty or sixty leagues, there are no fine towns; the whole road is cheerless and uninteresting; nothing is worthy of observation but Mathura, where an ancient and magnificent pagan temple is still to be seen.” The plinth of the temple-wall may be traced to this day at the back of the mosque and at right angles to it for a distance of 163 feet; but not a vestige of the superstructure has been all owed to remain.
The following description of this famous building is given by Tavernier, who visited it about the year 1650. He writes: - “After the temples of Jagrenath and Banarous, the most important is that of Matura, about 18 kos” from Agra on the road to Delhi. It is one of the most sumptuous edifices in all India, and the place where there used to be formerly the greatest concourse of pilgrims; but now they are not so many, the Hindus having gradually lost their previous veneration for the temple, on account of the Jamuna, which used to pass close by, now having changed its bed and formed a new channel half a league away. For, after bathing in the river, they lose too much time in returning to the temple, and on the way might come across something to render them unclean.
The temple is of such a vast size that, though in a hollow, one can see it five or six “08 off, the building being very lofty and very magnificent. The stone used in it is of a reddish tint, brought from a large quarry near Agra. It splits like our slate, and you can have slabs 15 feet long and nine or ten broad and only some six inches thick; in fact, you can split them just as you like and according to your requirements, while you can also have fine columns. The whole of the fort at Agra, the walls of Jehanabad, the king’s palace, and some of the houses of the nobles are built of this stone. To return to the temple.-It is set on a large octagonal platform, which is all faced without stone, and has round’ about it two bands of many kinds of animals, but particularly monkeys, in relief; the one band being only two feet off the ground level, the other two feet from the top. The ascent is by two staircases of 15 or 16 steps each; the steps being only two feet in length, so that two people cannot mount abreast. One of these staircases leads to the grand entrance of the temple, the other to the back of the choir. The temple, however, occupies only half the platform, the other half making a grand square in front. Like other temples, it is in the form of a cross, and has a great dome in the middle with two rather smaller at the end. Outside, the building is covered from top to bottom with figures of animals, such as rams, monkeys, and elephants, carved in stone: and all round there are nothing but niches occupied by different monsters. In each of the three towers there are, at every stage from the base to the pinnacle, windows five or six feet high, each provided with a kind of balcony where four persons can sit. Each balcony is covered with a little vault, supported some by four, others by eight columns arranged in pairs and all touching. Round these towers there are yet more niches full of figures representing demons; one has four arms, another four legs; some, human heads on bodies of horned beasts with long tails twining round their thighs. There are also many figures of monkeys, and it is quite shocking to have before one's eyes such a host of monstrosities.
The pagoda has only one entrance, which is very lofty, with many columns and images of men and beasts on either side. The choir is enclosed by a screen composed of stone pillars, five or 6 inches in diameter, and no one is allowed inside but the chief Brahmans, who make use of a little secret door which I could not discover. When in the temple, I asked some of the Brahmans if I could see the great Ram Ram, meaning the great idol. They replied that if I would give them something, they would go and ask permission of their superior:* which they did as soon as I had put in their hands a couple of rupees After waiting about half an hour, the Brahmans opened a door on the inside in the middle of the screen-outside, the screen is entirely closed-and, at about 15 or 16 feet from the door, I saw, as it were, a square altar, covered with old gold and silver brocade, and on it the great idol that they call Ram Ram, The bead only is visible and is of very black marble, with what seemed to be two rubies for eyes. The whole body from the neck to the feet was covered with an embroidered robe of red velvet and no arms could be seen. There were two other idols, one on either side, two feet high, or thereabouts, and got up in the same style, only with white faces; these they called Becchor. I also noticed in the temple a structure 15 or 16 feet square, and from 12 to 15 feet high, covered with coloured clothes representing all sorts of demons. This structure was raised on four little wheels, and they told me it was the moveable altar on which they set the great god on high feast days, when he goes to visit the other gods, and when they take him to the river with all the people on their chief holiday.
From the above description, the temple would seem to have been crowded with coarse figure-sculptures, and not in such pure taste as the somewhat older temple of Govind Deva at Brinda-ban; but it must still have been a most sumptuous and imposing edifice, and we cannot but detest the bigotry of the barbarian who destroyed it. At the time of its demolition it had been in existence only some fifty years, but it is certain that an earlier shrine, or series of shrines, on the same site and under the same dedication, had been famous for many ages. Thus it is said in the Varaha Purana -
Na Keeava eamo deva n& Mathuriya samo dvija,
“No god like Kesava, and no Brahman like a Mathuriya Chaube.”
In still earlier times the site now wrested by the Muhammadans from the Hindus had been seized by the Hindus themselves to the prejudice of another religion, as is attested by the Buddhist remains which we have already described as found there.
NATHDWARA TEMPLE IN MEWAR: In anticipation of Aurangzeb's raid, the ancient image of Kesava Deva was removed by Rana Raj Sinh Mewar and was set up on the spot where, as they journeyed, the wheels of the chariot sank in the deep sand and refused to be extricated. It happened to be an obscure little village, then called Siarh, on the Banas, 22 miles north-east of Udaypur. But the old name is now lost in the celebrity of the temple of Nath Ji, ‘the Lord,’ which gives its designation to the town of Nath-dwara, which has grown up round it. This is the most highly venerated of all the statues of Krishna.
NATURE OF MUSLIM RULE: According to Rev. M.A. Sherring it is worthy of notice, as illustrating the nature of Mohammedan rule in India, that nearly all the buildings in Benares, of acknowledged antiquity, have been appropriated by the Musulmans; being used as mosques, mausoleums, dargahs, and so forth; and also that a large portion of the separate pillars, architraves, and various other ancient remains, which, as before remarked, are so plentifully found in one part of the city, now contribute to the support or adornment of their edifices. Not con-tent with destroying temples and mutilating idols, with all the zeal of fanatics, they fixed their greedy eyes on whatever object was suited to their own purposes, and, without scruple or any of the tenderness shown by the present rulers, seized upon it for themselves. And thus it has come to pass, that every solid and durable structure, and every ancient stone of value, being esteemed by them as their peculiar property, has, with very few exceptions, passed into their hands. We believe it was the boast of AIáuddín, that he had destroyed one thousand temples in Benares alone. How many more were razed to the ground, or transformed into mosques through the iconoclastic fervour of Aurungzeb, there is no means of knowing; but it is not too much to say, that he was unsurpassed, in this feature of religious fanaticism, by any of his predecessors.
If there is one circumstance respecting the Mohammedan period which Hindus remember better than another, it is the insulting pride of the Musulmans, the outrages which they perpetrated upon their religious convictions, and the extensive spoliation of their temples and shrines. It is right that 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.
DESTRUCTION BENARAS: 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 in every direction, in some places very thickly, yet it would be difficult, I believe, to find twenty temples, in all Benares, of the age of Aurungzeb, or from 1658 to 1707. The same unequal proportion of old temples, as compared with new, is visible throughout the whole of Northern India. Moreover, the diminutive size of nearly all the temples that exist is another powerful testimony to the stringency of the Mohammedan rule. It seems clear, that, for the most part, the emperors forbade 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; but, instead of plain, ugly buildings, they are often of elegant construction.
DEMOLUTION OF BISHESWAR TEMPLE
The temple of Bisheswar is situated in the midst of a quadrangle, covered in with a roof, above which the tower of the temple is seen. At each corner is a dome, and, at the south-east corner, a temple sacred to Siva. When observed in the distance, from the elevation of the roof, the building presents three distinct divisions, The first is the spire of a temple of Mahadeva, whose base is in the quadrangle below; the second is a large’ gilded dome; and the third is the gilded tower of the temple of Bisheswar itself. These three objects are all in a row, in the centre of the quadrangle, filling up most of the space from one side to the other. The carving upon them is not particularly striking; but the dome and tower glittering in the sun look like vast masses of burnished gold. They are, however, only covered with gold leaf, which is spread over plates of copper overlaying the stones beneath. The expense of gilding them was borne by the late Maharaja Runjeet Sinh, of Lahore. The tower, dome, and spire terminate, severally, in a sharp point. Attached to the first is a high pole bearing a small flag and tipped with a trident. The temple of Bisheswar, including the tower, is fifty-one feet in height. The space between the temples of Bisheswar and Mahadeva, beneath the dome, is used as a belfry; and as many as nine bells are suspended in it. One is of elegant workmanship, and was presented to the temple by the Raja of Nepal.
Outside the enclosure, to the north, is a large collection of deities, raised upon a platform, called by the natives ‘the court of Mahadeva.’ They are, for the most part, male and female emblems. Several small idols likewise are built into the wall flanking this court. These are evidently not of modern manufacture. Their age, however, does not seem to be known. The probability is that they were taken from the ruins of the old temple of Bisheswar, which stood to the north-west of the present structure, and was demolished by the Emperor Aurungzeb in the seventeenth century. Extensive remains of this ancient temple are still visible. They form a large portion of the western wall of the Mohammedan mosque, which was built upon its site by this bigoted oppressor of the, Hindus. Judging from the proportions of these ruins, it is manifest that the former temple of Bisheswar must have been both loftier and more capacious than the existing structure.
MOHAMMEDAN MASJID: The mosque, though not small, is by no means an imposing object. It is plain and uninteresting, and displays scarcely any carving or ornament. Within and without, its walls are besmeared with a dirty whitewash, mixed with a little colouring matter. Its most interesting feature is a row of Buddhist or Hindu columns in the front elevation. The presence of this mosque, located, from motives of insult, in a place held so sacred by the Hindus, and around which their closest sympathies are gathered, is a constant source of heart-burnings and feuds both to Hindus and Mohammedans. The former, while unwillingly allowing the latter to retain the mosque, claim the courtyard between it and the wall as their own consequently, they will not permit the Mohammedans to enter the mosque by more than one public entrance, which, instead of being in front of that building, is situated on one side of it. The Mohammedans have many times wished to build a gateway in the midst of the spacious platform in front of the mosque; but, although they once erected one, they were not suffered to make use of it, on account of the excitement that the circumstance occasioned among the Hindu population, which was only allayed by the timely interference of the Magistrate of Benares. The gateway still stands; but the space between the pillars has been filled up. A peepul tree, adored as a god, overhangs both the gateway and the road; but the Hindus will not allow the Mohammedans to pluck .a single leaf from it.
GYAN KUP: Between the mosque and the temple of Bisheswar is the famous well known as Gyan Bapi or Gyan Kup, “well of knowledge,” in which, as the natives believe, the god Siva resides.
VIEWS OF JAMES FERGUSSION
If you ask a Brahman of Benares to point out to you the most ancient temple of his city, he inevitably leads you to the Vishveshwar, as not only the most holy, but the oldest of its sacred edifices. Yet it is known, and cannot be disputed, that the temple, as it now stands, was erected from the foundation in the last century, to replace one that had been thrown down and desecrated by the bigot Aurungzebe. This he did in order that he might erect on the most venerated spot of the Hindus his mosque, whose tall minarets still rear their heads in insult over all the Hindu buildings of the city. The strange thing is, that in this assertion the Brahmans are not so very far from representing the true state of the case. There is hardly any great city in Hindustan that can show so few evidences of antiquity as Benares. The Buddhist remains at Sarnath hardly can be said to belong to the city, and even there they are, as above explained, the most modern examples of their class ill India. The fact is, that the oldest buildings in the city are the Moslem tombs and buildings about the Bukariya Kund, and they almost certainly belong to the 15th century. Even the temple of Vishveshwar, which Aurungzebe destroyed, was not erected before the reign of his predecessor Akbar. The style is so nearly identical with that of known buildings of his reign, at Muttra and elsewhere, that there can be no doubt on this head. When desecrated it was the principal, and probably the most splendid, edifice of its class in the city. It may be, and probably is true, that the Vedic Brahmans erected their fire altars, and worshipped the sun, and paid adoration to the elements on this spot 4000 years ago. It may be also that the emblem of Siva has attracted admiring crowds to this spot for the last 1000 years; but there is no material evidence that before the time of Akbar (A.D. 1556- 1605) any important permanent building was ever erected there to dignify the locality.
The present temple is a double one: two towers or spires almost exactly duplicates of each other, One of these is represented in the preceding woodcut (No. 258), and they are connected by a porch, crowned by a dome borrowed from the Mahomedan style, which, though graceful and pleasing in design, hardly harmonises with the architecture of the rest of the temple, The spires are each 51 ft. in height, and covered with ornament to an extent quite sufficient even in this style. The details too are all elegant, and sharply and cleanly cut, and without any evidence of vulgarity or bad taste; but they are feeble as compared with the more ancient examples, and the forms of the pyramidal parts have lost that expression of power and of constructive propriety which were so evident in the earlier stages of the art. It is, however, curiously characteristic of the style and place, that a building, barely 50 ft. in length, and the same in height, should be the principal temple in the most sacred city of the Hindus, and equally so that one hardly 150 years old should be considered as the most ancient, while it is only that which marks this most holy spot in the religious cosmogony of the Hindus.
(Source - History of Indian and Eastern Architecture by James Fergusson, London, 1890)