Johann A Schürmann ~ Correspondence

Benares, by Rev. M. T. Adam (first LMS missionary to Benares)

May 1835 | Article | Rev. M. T. Adam.

A contemporary overview with focus on mission by the first LMS missionary in Benares, India, written during Shurman's early years at Benares.


By the Rev. M. T. Adam, late Missionary in India.

Benares, or as it is sometimes called, Kashee—"the splendid"—stands on the northern bank of the Ganges, in lat. 25° 18,' 34,' and E. long. 82°, 59,' 45, about four hundred miles by the post road, and about seven hundred by the course of the river, from Calcutta. Of the early history of this completely Indian, and in several respects truly magnificent city, nothing is known except what is recorded in the legendary tales of the Hindoos, which, as usual in such cases, are too imaginative and absur[d] to admit either of sober criticism, or rational belief. According to one of these, it is said, to have been originally built of gold, and to have been changed, as a curse from their Gods, in consequence of the sins of the people — into its present materials of stone, brick, and mud. Hence, many of the Hindoos profess to believe that the true Kashee no longer exists on earth, but in heaven. From time immemorial it seems to have been invested with peculiar sanctity, and have been regarded with sentiments of profound veneration by all the followers of Hindooism, wherever they lived; and to have been, if not the chief, at least one of the great objects of pilgrimage. Hence, it has ever been the favorite residence of the learned and devout of the Hindoo community; so that in modern times, it has obtained the honorable, and not altogether inappropriate designation of the Athens of India: and, in its pres­ent state, contains more Brahmuns and Brahmudical learning, than are to be found in any other city in the country.

Of its early state, and gradual rise, little can be gleaned from its legendary tales, which merits the name of true his­tory. From its total want, however, of buildings, which bear the marks of anti­quity, it may fairly be inferred that the present city, if built at all on what was the site of the ancient city of this name, is comparatively but of modern origin. This inference is also strongly corrobo­rated by a tradition that the ancient city extended from what is now called Raj-Ghat as far as Sarunath — a building of a peculiar structure, and well worthy of the attention of every inquisitive traveller, and situated about five miles inland, and by the apparently well attested fact that, the Moohummuduns when they took the city, commenced the assault on what still bears the name of the old Fort of Benares, which extends from Raj Ghat to the mouth of the Burna, a small river which joins the Ganges some thing less than a mile below.

This event is said to have occured in A. D. 1017, when the Moohummuduns under the command of Muhmood of Ghizni, gained a com­plete victory over the Hindoo forces— slew the Prince of Benares and pillag­ed the city. Some idea of its then ex­tent, wealth, and splendour may be formed from what Ferishta says in his history of Moohummudun conquests of India; namely, that they broke down the idols in a thousand Temples, and led away four thousand camels laden with the most valuable spoil. Making all due allowance in this account for Eas­tern hyperbole, it cannot be reasonably doubted, that the city was then of great extent, wealth and splendour. Such a se­vere blow as this, however, to its wealth and prosperity, must have been long felt. Indeed, it seems exceedingly doubt­ful, whether, during the long reign of Moohummudun oppression, which suc­ceeded this catastrophe, it ever regain­ed its former splendour—as it ever after this constituted a part of the Delhi em­pire, it shared of course the fortunes of that unhappy dynasty, till in A. D. 1775 it was ceded with the whole of the ad­jacent territory, to the British.

The Ganges, at all times a grand and an interesting object, but particular­ly go during the rainy season, forms op­posite and adjacent to Benares, one of its magnificent sweeps of several miles in extent. As the city is built on the exter­nal side of the curve which is thus form­ed, on a gradual sloping bank of consid­erable elevation, it is seen to great ad­vantage when approached by the river, but particularly when proceeding up­wards. When it bursts on the view of the stranger thus approaching it, in a fine day during the rainy season, the effect it has on the mind is of the most grati­fying character. Nor, is the delight les­sened as he nears it, and is enabled to take a distinct view of its singularly in­teresting and impressive features. Ma­ny of the buildings skirt the river's edge, and are actually washed by its waters; behind which others tower so thickly grouped together, as scarcely to admit of any intervening space, and with architecture truly eastern, and admira­bly calculated to produce effect.

Hindoo temples, also, of various dimensions and structure, raising their lofty domes, which are often adorned with the tri­dent of Muhades, meet the eye in every direction. But the object, which of all others attracts it, and excites admiration, is the Mosque of Aurungzebe. This splendid edifice was built at the command of this intolerant emperor, with the view of mortifying the Hindoos, and of leaving behind him a lasting memorial of the triumph of Moohum­mudun power over Hindoo sanctity; and the more effectually to gain these ob­jects, he had a celebrated Temple ded­icated to Muhades demolished, that on its sacred site, this sanctuary of Islam might be erected. Though the Chris­tian must condemn the intolerance from which it proceeded, as unjustifiable and cruel, yet it cannot but be regarded as a splendid ornament to the city. Its dome is said to be two hundred and ten feet high; its minarets are of proportion­able [sic] height, and can be ascended to the top, from which one of the finest views of the city and surrounding country is obtained, that can be well imagined. Indeed, the snowy peaks of the Himayes mountains are said, in a clear atmos­phere, to be discoverable from them.

The Ghats also — flights of stone steps, running from the brink of the river, at its lowest state during the hot season, to the summit of the bank, are very numerous and form an easy and a safe mode access to the sacred stream. These, especially early in the morning, and at noon, are frequented by a great propor­tion of the inhabitants for the purpose of performing their ablutions in the river, and present a scene of astonishing bus­tle, and idolatrous devotion, calculated at once to excite the deepest sympathies of the Christian, and to reprove most — if not all — of the followers of Jesus for the just want of devotedness and zeal in his service.

Another building which excites the attention of the scientific traveller, is the celebrated Hindoo Observatory, built by order of the Emperor Akbar, who flour­ished during the latter part of the 16th century, and died in A. D. 1605. It contains a large Gnomon, and several other instruments made of stone, and which are still in an excellent state of preservation; and though now completely neglected, yet it cannot but be regarded as an interesting memorial of the state of astronomical science in former days.

The only literary institution of any im­portance, of which this seat of Hindoo learning can boast, is the Bidalyu, or College. It was formed, and is still liberally supported by the government; con­taining several Professors, who are al­ways learned natives of the Bahmunical cast, whose business it is to teach the Hindoo law, theology and science, such as they are. It has about four hundred students, who are supported on the foun­dation, and about two hundred more, who occasionally attend the prelections of the Professors, and from among whom the vacancies as they occur on the foundation, are filled up. The whole arrangements of the Institution are under the superintendence of a  gentleman, appointed for that purpose by the Government. As the Institution ad­mits of no students, who are not of the Brahmunical cast, it cannot be regarded as designed or calculated to promote the general good. Indeed, except in the de­partment of Hindoo law, it is worse we apprehend than useless; for its influence, so far as it extends, cannot but contrib­ute to the perpetuating of the mental and moral degradation of the people, through the support which it gives to the errone­ous system which is taught in it; and by the number of Brahmuns which it fosters and qualifies for practising their imposi­tions on the community. If the Institutution in addition to a few classes in Sunskrit Grammar and Hindoo law, contained several professors for teaching in the current language of the people, the sciences as they are cultivated in Europe, and without any restriction as to cast, it might have rendered incalculable aid in promoting the intellectual and moral im­provement of the people; but, as at pres­ent constituted, it cannot be regarded in any other light than as a prop to the monstrous superstition of the country.

Hindoo temples, as we have already remarked, are very numerous; there being ninety one of principal notoriety and re­sort; and though none of them can be compared, as to magnificence, with the celebrated temples of ancient Greece or Rome, yet, they are by no means desti­tute of elegant specimens of architecture on a small scale. They are generally always open, and from sun rise till even­ing are well frequented. The residences of most of the wealthier inhabitants, are lofty and massy, and often ornamented with the emblems of their idolatry. But, what greatly surprises the European traveller, is the narrowness of most of the streets; from one to three yards being their width; and their general filthiness, when compared with the wealth of many of its residents; but domestic cleanliness, and general convenience and comfort, seem seldom, if ever, to form a part of Hindoo arrangements. Most of the streets are crowded, and exhibit as busy a scene as is to be seen probably on the face of the earth.

The celebrated Brahmunee Bulls are often to be met with, travelling even the most crowded streets, and except that without ceremony they often carry off a portion of the fruit, gram, or sweetmeats, which may be exposed for sale in the shops which line tne streets, it is seldom that any accident occurs from them. In connexion with the city, are a general Hospital, and an Asylum for the blind, founded partly by a liberal donation from a generous native, and by a grant from the honourable E. I. Company. They are under the superintendance of the Medical gentlemen attached to the civil department of the station; and were it not for the ridiculous, and deep rooted preju­dices of the people on the subject of Cast, they might be extensive blessings to the city. Indeed, even on their present lim­ited scale, it cannot be doubted that they have been the means of affording medical aid and relief to many of the miserable objects with which it abounds.

In con­nexion also with the Station, bat a short distance from the city, there is a Lunatic Asylum, supported, if I mistake not, en­tirely by the Company, and which has afforded a safe, and comfortable home to many of the most afflicted and distress­ed of the human family. The manner in which these valuable Institutions are conducted, is highly creditable to the abilities and assiduity of the Medical gentleman under whose care they are placed.

Of the extent of this celebrated city, some idea may be formed from the census which was taken of it in A. D. 1803, ac­cording to this, it contained twelve thou­sand stone and brick houses, sixteen thousand mud walled ones, and a popula­tion of five hundred and eighty two thou­sand souls. Since then, the number of its buildings, particularly in the suburbs leading towards Secrole, has no doubt increased; but as to the amount of its pop­ulation, it is extremely difficult to speak with accuracy. The highest amount, which we have seen given of it, makes it six hundred and fifty thousand; but, as this was merely a conjecture, it cannot be regarded as worthy of confidence.

A short time before the writer left Benares, James Princep, Esq., a gentleman who will long be remembered for his statisti­cal survey and various improvements in it, and who possessed the means for obtain­ing accurate information on the point, far beyond what any previous surveyor pos­sessed, made a new census, and gave as the result of his returns, two hundred and forty thousand. Making all due allow­ance for inaccuracy in these, owing to the extreme jealousy of the natives, and the dread of a Poll tax, if we state its present population at three hundred and fifty thousand at the utmost, we shall probably be about correct. The Moohummudun part of it, is generally reck­oned as one in four or five to that of Hindoos.

The European settlement is in the rear of the city, at a place called Secrole, which in former days was a mere village. There are cantonments for three battal­ions of native Infantry and a company of Artillery — the Courts of Justice con­nected with the Station; one, in which a Judge and Magistrate presides for at­tending to business immediately connect­ed with the city, another, called a Court of Appeal, with five Judges: two of whom however, are absent on circuit during a considerable part of the year. There also was the Benares Mint, an modern building, but. in consequence of its business having been transferred to the Calcutta Mint, it has been given up; and here too are the Collector's Court, and a Church in which the Chaplain of the Station officiates. The European population, though not great, is yet con­siderable, and in general, highly respect­able, and second to none in a becoming attention to the duties of hospitality, and the many civilities of polite society.

Having thus stated such circumstan­ces in connexion with the history and present state of Benares as seemed ne­cessary in order to give any thing like an accurate idea of it, we shall now en­deavour to point out its great importance as a Missionary Station, and give an out­line of Missionary operations in connex­ion with it.

In viewing Benares in connexion with Christian Missions, the first thing prob­ably which will attract the attention of the Christian philanthropist, is its nu­merous population, sunk in the grossest idolatry that has ever degraded the understanding, and polluted the heart of man, or laboring under all the errors, and equally destructive influence of Moohummudism. If countries and islands, comparatively but thinly peopled, have excited the sympathy and called forth the efforts of tne Christain Church in or­der to impart to them the blessings of the Gospel, is it not evident that, if we admit the necessity of such efforts in any case, and the command of the Saviour to make them, the claims of Benares on the Christian Church are both very great and exceedingly urgent? Three hundred and fifty thousand souls collected togeth­er in one place, and living without God and the knowledge of the Saviour, and perishing without hope! Oh, who can realize the idea, and reflect on the many generations which here have thus lived, and have thus perished since the founda­tion of this city, without fervently in treat­ing the God of mercy that sucn a state of things may no longer exist, and with­out adopting means for putting them in possession of the means of salvation! As a great portion of this population also, comes from other districts of the country, with which communication is constantly kept up, Benares must be regarded as possessing peculiar facilities for dissem­inating the knowledge of the Gospel to places even far remote from itself.

Next to this circumstance may be classed, the high veneration in which it is held by the whole Hindoo community, from the idea which is universally enter­tained of its sanctity. This, in the esti­mation of the Hindoos is so great, that within certain limits, which extend to several miles in a sort of semi-circle in the rear of the city, all who die within these are sure to go to heaven. Its Tem­ples, Ghats, and the waters of the Gan­ges as they pass it, are all considered of pre-eminent efficacy to take away sin from the soul, and to secure its admit­tance into some of the heavens of the Gods, or final absorption into the Divine essence — the summit of Hindoo blessed­ness. It is therefore a great object of pil­grimage, the grand attraction of the weal­thy, and the various classes of devotees, who, as might be expected, abound in it, and come from all parts of the country that they may partake of its fancied pu­rity, and draw their last breath within its hallowing sphere; whilst the dying man, if he can obtain, were it only a glimpse of Kashee, seems to depart in peace.

Its Melas or Festivals, which are numerous, collect together an amaz­ing multitude of people from the whole surrounding country, some of the pilgrims from its most distant borders. It is on these occasions—particularly the bath­ing Festivals, which are held on the oc­currence of a solar or lunar eclipse—that the all absorbing influence of Hindooism is seen in its most affecting light. For three days previous to the eclipse, the people of all ranks, conditions and ages, from the child in the arms, to the men who are tottering on the brink of the grave, begin to assemble from the coun­try, and take their seats on the Ghats, and along the brink of the river; and dur­ing the day on which it happens, little else is to be seen on all the principal roads leading to the city, but an unbrok­en line of human beings pouring into it; so that all the Ghats, and the bank which lines the city, become at last occupied by one dense mass of human beings; whilst all the streets communicating with the river are also generally completely filled up, even to a considerable distance from it. Oh, what a sight! It is impos­sible adequately to describe it. On some of these Festivals, there are probably not less than eight hundred thousand human beings, who are thus collected together, anxiously waiting the first appearance of the eclipse, to hasten into the waters ol the Ganges, and there to wash away, as they vainly suppose, the sins of the past, res'.and to lay in a fresh stock of merit for the future. On this; as well as oil other accounts, the Christian reader can easily conceive that Benares exercises an influence in support of the reigning su­perstition throughout the country, which is inconceivably great. How desira­ble is it that this influence should, if possible, be diminished and destroyed; and, oh, how ardently is it to be wished that it were turned in an equal degree to the advancement of the cause of Jesus!— But how, how, can this be brought about, except through the instrumentality of Missionary exertions!

Another circumstance which renders Benares pre-eminently important as a Missionary Station, is its central situa­tion, and frequent and easy communica­tion with all the surrounding region, even to the most northern boundaries of the country. Indeed it may justly be regard­ed as the Metropolis of the upper prov­inces of India, and by its commerce and pilgrims, it maintains a more frequent and extensive intercourse with them than probably any other city in the country; a circumstance which must not be lost sight of, if we would form an accurate estimate of its importance as a Missionary Station.

Nor must we omit to notice the gratifying fact that Missionaries may here reside in perfect safety, and be not only unmolested by the civil authorities, but be countenanced and assisted by many of the residents at the Station. Putting all these circumstances together, we con­ceive that we are not going beyond the limits of truth when we say that, a more important Station for an extensive Mis­sion than Benares, there does not exist any where on the globe. After having said thus much concerning its import­ance as a Missionary Station, the reader will no doubt be anxious to know to what extent the Christian Church has attend­ed to its claims, and endeavored to avail herself of its facilities for propagating the Gospel in Northern India.

So far as the writer knows, the first direct efforts of a Missionary nature at it, were made by the Rev. D. Corree then Chaplain of the Station, but now the Archdeacon of Calcutta. It was through his influence that Jay Narain, a wealthy native of Calcutta, who had taken up his residence at Benares, with the view of there finishing his earthly course, was led to establish what is now termed the Benares Free School in connexion with the Church Missionary Society. To this praise worthy undertaking, the Government also made a monthly grant of two hundred rupees which is still continued; whilst its founder at his death endowed it to an amount calculated to bring in about an equal Sum. This, I suppose, may be regarded as the commencement of the Church Mission at this Station.

Sometime afterwards, Missionary operations were farther extended at it by the settlement of Mr. Smith, a pious country-born, in connexion with the Baptist Mission at Serampore. The Free School was placed under the superintendence of Mr. Adlington, then a young man, but in every respect qualified for the duties of the office and who was afterwards ordained by the well known Bishop Heber.

The London Missionary Society having directed its attention to Benares, with the view of forming a mission at it, it fell to the lot of the writer of this article to leave the land of his father's sepulchres for India, in 1819, for this purpose, and to take up his residence at it on the 16th of August, 1820. About the close of that year, the Church Mission was strengthened by the accessien to it of the Rev. Mr. Morris, and his worthy and amiable lady. After this, Missionary operations were of course greatly extended; a considerable number of schools were established for the purpose of imparting a knowledge of the art of reading, an accomplishment by no means common — and of tile principles of Christianity as far as possible to the rising generation.

The Melas were frequented — elementary works for the use of the schools prepared — tracts were composed and published, and, with portions of the Scriptures extensively circulated — and preaching in the schools and open air was attended to, as far as health, and the other duties and circumstances of the Mission would admit of.

In 1823 and '24, a Chapel was erected by public subscription, for the accommodation of a small English Congregation, to which the writer had previously preached in his own dwelling house.

At the close of 1826, the Mission of the London Missionary Society was strengthened by the arrival of the Rev. James Robertson, who, by his study of the languages current at Benares previous to his leaving England, was soon qualified for taking an active part in the operations of the Mission.

At the close of 1827, a Tract  Association was formed, on the, principles of the Tract Society in London; an institution that was felt by all the Missionaries at the Station, to be greatly needed.

These operations, which were thus gradually extended, and which had obtained a considerable measure of efficiency, have since then been much interrupted and enfeebled by a succession of reverses, such as have often befallen other Missionary settlements. Towards the close of 1827, the Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Adlington left the Station on account of ill health; and a few months afterwards proceeded to England; where he has since settled, his constitution having been considered no longer equal to the climate of India. At the close of the following year, the. Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Morris, then settled however at Chemar, a Station about eighteen miles from Benares, were compelled from the same cause to proceed also to England, where they also have settled.

The Church Mission, however, was at this time strenghtened by the arrival of the Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Eteson, and the. Rev. Mr. Frimd; the former destined for Benares, the latter for Chemar, when a few months afterwards he came to an early grave. About the same time also, the health of the writer, which had occasionally suffered from the climate, quite gave way; so that at the close of 1829, he also was compelled to leave the Station, and afterwards to proceed to England. Before this, however, he had the satisfaction of seeing a Chapel nearly completed, which is erected on the site of a house, which he had for several years occupied for one of his schools, and which is most eligibly situated for usefulness, being within a few yards of the Vriddh Kal Temple. This is the first building for Christian worship which has ever been erected within the limits of this strong hold of Hindbo idolatry; and from accounts recently received, it teems to be well attended. A few years before, a Chapel was erected within the Cantonments by the Church Missionary Society, designed chiefly for the accommodation of the country-born who are attached to the military at the Station.

The remaining history of this Missionary station may soon be told. Mr. Robertson is dead — a few instance, of conversion have taken place — and the Missions of the London and Church Missionary Societies have been increased, according to the latest information which I have seen, to three of each denomination. To those who take an interest in the cause of Christ and the salvation of men, this increase cannot but be gratifying and cheering; yet, may it nit still be said, what are they amidst the hundreds of thousands of immortal beings by whom they are surrounded, and the vast multitudes more, whom the fancied sanctity of the place attracts to its idolatrous shrines? And what a wide, promising field of Missionary enterprise, does India present to the various stations of the Christian Church? For, though Providence has placed her under British protection and influence, yet, there is nothing in this to prevent the Churches of this free and happy land from coming forward to assist in a much greater degree than they do, in endeavoring to effect the conversion of her sons and daughters to the only living and true God, and to add her to the "nations of the saved." And what an ennobling trait in character of the two countries would it be, to have them thus united in seeking the spiritual and well-being of our brother wherever we find him! What an instructive lesson would it set to the rest of the world, and how likely to bring down the richest blessings of heaven upon both!

In order that the reader may have a full view of the Benares Mission, the following list of its publications may not be uninteresting.

  • A comment on the ten commandments.
  • An address to the inhabitants of Benares.
  • A Catechism, explaining the principles of the Christian Religion.
  • Ditto, second edition improved and enlarged.
  • Jesus Christ the only deliverer from the wrath of God.
  • Ditto, second and enlarged edition.
  • Hitopudesh — or Instructive Lessons selected from the sacred Scriptures.
  • The history of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.
  • A sheet Tract.
  • The folly and wickedness of Idolatry, and the awful misery of Idolaters in the future world.
  • A Comment on the Lord's Prayer, with two forms of prayer.
  • An epitome of the Christian Religion, consisting of extracts from, the sacred Scriptures, with brief explanations.
  • A Hindoowee Printer, two editions.
  • A translation of Bell's Instructions for the proper management of Schools.
  • A translation of Stewart's Historical Anecdotes.
  • A System of Arithmetic.
  • A Hindoowee Grammar.
  • A translation of the Munoringim Itihas, or pleasing tales designed to improve the understanding, and direct the conduct of young persons.
  • A Hindowee Dictionary, with meanings also in Hindowee.
  • An Anglo Hindowee Dictionary.
  • A comparison between Christianity and Moohummedanism; two editions. This is in Hindoosthanee, and was drawn up by Mr. Robertson. The others are in Hindowee, and were the writer.
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Published in:
Adam, M. T. [late LMS missionary to India]. 1835. Benares, in The Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine for 1835, Volume 1. Baltimore Page(s): 132-138.

Online: Google Books. Viewed: 8.1.2015.

For reference:

Administrator. Johann A Schürmann ~ Correspondence :: May 1835, in: Pirltawardli Research Website. Adelaide 2020.
(Created: 20.01.2015. Last updated: 23.03.2016.)
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