In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Benares, I have expanded the abbreviations for easier reading and added paragraphing and links. The illustration is in the original. The title-page bears the date 1856, but internal evidence in various entrees makes clear that the text dates from 1851. This discussion of a major city in British India has particular importance because it immediately precedes the 1857 Mutiny.— George P. Landow]

Madhoray Ghaut, and the Minarets, Benares, from the River. From Prisnsep’s Benares Illustrated. Click on image to enlarge it.

The palaces are those of the Indian Rajahs and Indian chieftians, from one end of India almost to the other; every independent potentate being earnestly desirous to have a palace in Benares, so that, once in his life, at least, he may make a pilgrimage to the holy city; and that, when not there, he may have a resident representative in the person of an official, or some member of his family. Many of the houses are built of stone, six stories in height, with small windows, each story inhabited by a separate family; some of the larger houses thus contain, perhaps, 200 persons; the walls are daubed with mythological representations from the Hindoo pantheon.

The more wealthy Hindoos live in detached houses, with open courts, and surrounded by walls. The British and other Europeans reside chiefly at Seroli, a handsome well-built village, about 2 miles from the city; they are few in number, consisting principally of officials connected with the Government, and courts of justice; medical men, and a few merchants; indigo planters, and persons employed in the Government mint.

Domes of the Golden Temple. This photograph comes from Greaves Kashi (1909). Click on image to enlarge it.

An old observatory, founded before the Mussulman conquest, and still very entire, though not made use of, is one of the most interesting and singular objects in the city. It is of stone, with a large square tower, containing instruments, chiefly of stone, of which many had been evidently used for judicial astrology. A few miles East of Seroli is the Saranath, a remarkable monument, 40 to 50 feet in diameter, seemingly of solid masonry; considered, by some, to be of Grecian origin; but alleged, by the inhabitants of Benares, to be a Buddhist structure.

This city and its environs, for a distance of 10 miles round, are held sacred by the Hindoos; and the number of pilgrims who resort hither, during religious festivals, from all parts of India, and even from Thibet and Burmah, is very great. It is crowded with mendicant priests, and there are, it is said, 8000 houses occupied by Brahmins who live on the alms and offerings of the pilgrims. [I, 373-74]

Sources for this entry: [Bishop] Heber’s Narrative; Hamilton’s East India Gazette; Parliamentary Papers.)

Ramnagar. “Ramnagar Fort is the residence of His Highness the Maharaja of Benares. . . . From the Cantonment it is a drive of some four miles” (Greaves, Kashi, 93). Click on image to enlarge it.


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 7 November 2018.

Greaves, Edwin. Kashi, the City Illustrious, or Benares. The Indian Press: Allahabad, 1909.

Last modified 23 November 2018