James Prinsep Illustrated Benares

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Prinsep (1799-1840), an antiquary and colonial administrator was assay master at the Benares Mint between 1820-30. The lithographs published in this collection (Benares Illustrated) were based on his original sketches of the various views of the ‘holy’ city of the Hindus. Of this view he writes: ‘ Conjunctions of the planets, eclipses and Sankrant, or the Sun’s entrance into the zodiacal signs, are accounted the most auspicious moments for bathing in the Ganges…For two or three days previous to such an event, pilgrims and travelling parties…assemble in groups upon the terraces and balconies of the temples and houses near the river. Every vacant spot is put in requisition and hired out by the square foot…the scene bears more the character of a fair (mela)…At the eclipse of the 25th Nov. the crowd was unusually great, and no less than forty lives were lost in the press of bathers at the first glimpse of the moon’s obscured visage. Most of the figures in the view were drawn and finished on the spot…The smoke on the left hand points out the spot on which the dead are burned, a place dedicated to Vishnoo…In the crowd are seen a couple of Missionaries distributing tracts with zeal as ardent, and perhaps as unavailing as that of the poor Suttees themselves.’

Eve Of The Eclipse Of The Moon, 25th November 1825.

The temple of Kashi Vishwanatha stands in the centre of the city of Benares and enshrines the Hindu god Shiva as Vishwanatha, ‘lord of the universe’. The original temple was located across the road until Aurangazeb destroyed it in the late seventeenth century. The present temple was built by Ahalya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1777. The dome above the sanctum sanctorum was gold-plated in 1839 by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Panjab, years after Prinsep made this sketch of the temple. source bl.uk

Temple Of Vishveshwur, Benares

Plate 7 from the first part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this plate he writes: ‘”Without the aid of colour it is scarcely possible to characterise properly the drapery of the damsels who are delineated from life in this sketch. Their trousers are of coloured silk- the full petticoat of striped muslin, with silver or gold embroidery; and the do-putta or folded sarf is of stiff crape, with silver brocade border…”. source bl.uk

Ulee Bunder. Hindoo Nach Girl.

Plate 9 from the second part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this view he writes: ‘…an increasing opposition having in these few years been organized by the Soonees against the practice of celebrating the Mohurrum within the precincts of the musjids, and of carrying the tazeea (a model of the mausoleum at Karbala containing the tomb of the Imam) in public procession, and giving it regular burial at the conclusion of the festival. At Allahabad, the troops have been drawn out more than once for the preservation of peace…The present drawing represents the spot in which the tazeeeas are buried at Benares: they were formerly merely thrown into the ditch that is visible on the left hand, until the establishment of the burial place by Sheikh Ulee Hujee, a saint of royal descent, who came hither from Persia in 1750. The place derives its name from a Durgah, or mausoleum, which he erected in honour of Fatima, the wife of the Prophet’. source bl.uk

Procession Of The Tazeeas

Plate 4 from the third part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this plate he writes: ‘Five or six spots in the town becomes annually this season, the scene of a Ram Leela…Many of the native regiments go to considerable expense in performing the Ram Leela…The Rajah of Benares, or his estate at Ramnugur, conducts the performance in a very complete manner: really the whole of the Ramayana is read though in the course of twenty or thirty days, and whatever incidents are capable of being acted, or displayed, are simultaneously exhibited’. source bl.uk

Ram Leela Mela. As Performed before at Ram Nugur before the Raja of Benares.

Frontispiece from James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this plate he writes: ‘ The churn-padooka…distinguished by the figure of two feet cut in white marble, in the centre of a round slab, probably intended to represent the chukr or discus; but as the churn is generally thought to be peculiar to Boodha and Jain places of worship…There is another padooka near the mouth of the Burna Nala…The two temples were built by Ahila Baee, and another Marhatta lady erected and endowed the Nowbat Khanah, or orchestral pavilion on the right, from which at sun-rise and sun-set, the sounds of the Shehnai and drums waft through the ‘amphitheatre of the ghats’. source bl.uk

Benares, A Brahmin placing a garland on the holiest spot in the sacred city.

Plate 6 from the second part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this view he writes: ‘The “house of Man” forms one of the most picturesque objects for the artist’s pencil, from the commanding altitude and antiquated irregularity of its front, enhanced by the expanse of never ending steps at its base, and a background well situated to the effects of light and shadow. Of one of the projecting balconies, a drawing was given in the first series: the rest are in a more dilapidated state, and the lower gallery is much corroded by the alternate action of the atmosphere and the river. The building was converted into an observatory by Jysing, A.D. 1680…The large stone azimuth circle is seen towering above the centre of the building…The rooms nearest to the spectator were the residence of the chief pundit, who had a small equatorial dial on top of his house, to serve, no doubt as his private chronometer…the group in the foreground represents a Mahratta family crossing a ferry’. source bl.uk

The Man Mundil, Or Hindoo Observatory, Benares.

Plate 5 from the first part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this plate he writes: ‘…here we have priest sitting in the corner of the temple teaching the people; not performing a stated stipendary suty, but denoting his life to the holy office…His Singhasun serves alternately as a bed, a table and a pulpit. When a sufficient congregation assembles…the Priest commences his exposition by first chanting the text in Sanskrit congregation assembles…The Priest commences his exposition by first chanting the text in Sanskrit from detached leaves of the sacred Potee, he then translates it…The architecture of the Unna Poorna Temple is a sample of the mixed style now prevalent: it was built about 60 years ago…Unna Poorna is the name of the consort of Shiva, typified as the Goddess of Plenty…’. source bl.uk

A Preacher Expounding The Poorans.

Plate 7 from the third part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this plate he writes: ‘The period of bathing at this ghat lasts from the 2nd to the 10th day of the whole half of the month Jyestha. The commanding edifice in front us a Bruhmapooree or place of abode for brahmuns of the panch-dravir castes, built and endowed by Uhilya Baee. It is provided with lodging, found and attendance for 60 tenants, who are, properly speaking, not to take up a permanent residence, but to be mere passengers: this regulation is but little attended to. To the left, the brahmunical edifice or chhutra unites with Shreedhar Moonshee’s ghat. The unfinished temple in front denotes the death of the Marhatta, who founded it, before it was completed…’. source bl.uk

Dusaswumedh Ghat. Benares.

Plate 6 from the first part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’.  Of this view he writes: ‘This specimen of architectural effect can with difficulty be ascribed to so recent a period as the age even of Man Singh, from whom this Observatory derives its name and existence; for the stone is quite worn away in many places by the weather’. source bl.uk

Old Projecting Balcony At The Man Mundil Or Observatory, Benares.

Plate 5 from the third part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this plate he writes: ‘[This is] the concluding ceremony of Ram Leela Mela. On the afternoon of the day following the destruction of Rawun, depicted in the last plate[Plate 4 of this collection], another spectacle occurs of an equally , or even more, interesting nature. It is entitled the Bhurut Melao “or the meeting with Bhurut” upon the return of victorious brothers Ram and Luchmun with Sita, to the capital of their kingdom Ayodhya (Oude)’. Ramlila, is the festival dramatising the life of Rama, the model king and hero. An attendant brahmin, or priest, sits on the front step of the throne as mediator between the hero and worshippers distributing wreaths of flowers consecrated by his touch. The garden walls and houses on either side of the streets, through which the procession passes are equipped with stone terraces and parapets, canopied with luxurious pavilions for the upper classes to sit in. source bl.uk

Bhurut Melao.

Plate 6 from the third part of James Prinsep’s ‘Benares Illustrated’. Of this plate he writes: ‘This spot is rendered more sacred in the eyes of the Hindoos from the fact of the lingum of the original temple of Vishveshwur having, upon its demolition by the Emperor Aurangzebe, spontaneously cast itself, as it is believed, into the Well…The vice and flowers were formerly thrown into the Well, but they rendered the water so putrid that a defence of plank has been since put up to prevent it’. source bl.uk

View Of The Gyan Bapee Well, Benares.

Watercolour by James Prinsep (1799-1840), of building work on the drainage tunnel from the Machhodri tank to the river at Varanasi (Benares) in Uttar Pradesh, dated 1826. The image is inscribed on the reverse: ‘Commencement of the Tunnel near Trilochun Ghat’. Varanasi stands on the left bank of the Ganges and at its highest point stood well away from the river, but as the ground receded towards the water stagnant pools and marshes formed near the most densely inhabited areas during the rainy season and became a danger to health. Prinsep devised a plan to drain the city and built a network of drains and a tunnel which were considered a great feat of engineering. The sewers were opened in 1824 and the tunnel in 1827. The Machhodri tank, drained by Prinsep, was formerly a marsh and later the site of a park and a grain market, the Bisheshwarganj, established in 1830. Prinsep came from a family who served in India for three generations; five of his brothers were also in the country. James, also a noted scholar and antiquarian, was Assistant Assay Master at the old Calcutta Mint in 1819, and after occupying the position at the Benares Mint from 1820-30 finally became Assay Master of the Calcutta Mint in 1832. source bl.uk

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Pen and ink and watercolour map and cross section of the drainage tunnel from the Machhodri tank to the river at Varanasi (Benares) in Uttar Pradesh by James Prinsep (1799-1840), dated c. 1825. This image shows the elevation and cross section of the tunnelling process and drawings of the equipment used and is inscribed: ‘Plan of the Mutsyoduree Tunnel. Proposed 30th April 1825. Sanctioned 2nd June 1825. Commenced masonry 1826. Completed 31 July 1827′. On the reverse of the map is an unfinished diagram.

Varanasi stands on the left bank of the Ganges and at its highest point stood well away from the river, but as the ground receded towards the water stagnant pools and marshes formed near the most densely inhabited areas during the rainy season and became a danger to health. Prinsep devised a plan to drain the city and built a network of drains and a tunnel which were considered a great feat of engineering. The Machhodri tank, drained by Prinsep, was formerly a marsh and later the site of a park and a grain market, the Bisheshwarganj, established in 1830. Prinsep came from a family who served in India for three generations; five of his brothers were also in the country. James, also a noted scholar and antiquarian, was Assistant Assay Master at the old Calcutta Mint in 1819, and after occupying the position at the Benares Mint from 1820-30 finally became Assay Master of the Calcutta Mint in 1832. source bl.uk

tunnel

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Sumit Soren is the founder of Livelystories. Basically an Agricultural Engineer, Sumit has interest in varied topics. He regularly writes on tribal history, internet and science related topics.

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