Benares State

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Benares State
वाराणसी
Princely State
unknown–1948

Flag of Benares

Flag

History
 -  Established unknown
 -  Accession to the Union of India 1948
Area
 -  1892 2,266 km2 (875 sq mi)
Population
 -  1892 115,773 
Density 51.1 /km2  (132.3 /sq mi)
Chamba Princely State
Varanasi, capital of Benares State

Benares (Hindi: वाराणसी) was a princely state in what is today India during the British Raj. On 15 October 1948 Benares' last ruler signed the accession to the Indian Union.[1]

Its roots go back to the Kingdom of Kashi, which was an independent Bhumihar Brahmin state until 1194. It became a British territory in 1775, and a state in 1911. It is the site of Ramnagar Fort and its museum, which are the repository of the history of the kings of Varanasi and, since the 18th century, has been the home of the Kashi Naresh.[2] Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Varanasi.[2] He is a religious leader and the people of Varanasi consider him an incarnation of Lord Shiva.[2] He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[2] The ruling family claims descent from the God Shiva and benefits greatly from pilgrimages to Benares.

History[edit]

The Kingdom of Kashi was founded by Khsetravridha, the son of Ayus, of the Somavansa dynasty of Pratishthana. It lost independence in 1194 and was eventually ceded by the Nawab of Oudh to the British Raj in 1775, who recognized Benares as a family dominion. Benares became a state in 1911.[3] It was given the privilege of 13-gun salute.

The governor of Benares gave most of the area currently known as Varanasi to Mansa Ram, a Gautam Brahmin zamindar of Utaria. Balwant Singh, the ruler of Utaria in 1737, received the territories of Jaunpur, Varanasi and Chunar in 1740 from the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah of Delhi. The Kingdom of Benaras started in this way under the Mughal dynasty. Other places under the kingship of Kashi Naresh were Chandauli, Gyanpur, Chakia, Latifshah, Mirzapur, Nandeshwar, Mint House and Vindhyachal.

With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the military or Bhumihar brahmins strengthened their sway in the area south of Avadh and in the fertile rice growing areas of Benares, Gorakhpur, Deoria, Ghazipur, Ballia and Bihar and on the fringes of Bengal.[4] The strong clan organisation on which they rested, brought success to the lesser Hindu princes.[4] There were as many as 100,000 Brahmin clansmen backing the power of the Benares rajas in what later became the districts of Benares, Gorakhpur and Azamgarh.[4] This proved a decisive advantage when the dynasty faced a rival and the nominal suzerain, the Nawab of Awadh, in the 1750s and the 1760s.[4] An exhausting guerrilla war, waged by the Benares ruler against the Avadh camp, using his Bhumihar clan troops, forced the Nawab to withdraw his main force.[4]

According to Orthodox Brahmin traditions, no one has seen Kashi Naresh eat food, and none of the kings have travelled abroad, in keeping with strict Brahmin rules.[5] Kashi Naresh has played host to a list of dignitaries which includesKing Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, Nepal, King Birendra Bir Birkram Shah Dev, Nepal Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Indira Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, President Kocheril Raman Narayanan and his Burmese wife.[5]

Rulers[edit]

Rajas[edit]

  • 1740 - 19 Aug 1770 Balwant Singh (b. 1711 - d. 1770)
  • 19 Aug 1770 - 14 Sep 1781 Chait Singh (b. 17.. - d. 1810)
  • 14 Sep 1781 - 12 Sep 1795 Mahipat Narayan Singh (b. 1756 - d. 1795)
  • 12 Sep 1795 - 4 Apr 1835 Udit Narayan Singh (b. 1770 - d. 1835)
  • 4 Apr 1835 - 13 Jun 1889 Ishvari Prasad Narayan Singh (b. 1822 - d. 1889) (personal style Maharaja Bahadur from 11 Aug 1859) from 1 Jan 1877, Sir Ishvari Prasad Narayan Singh
  • 13 Jun 1889 - 1 Apr 1911 Prabhu Narayan Singh (b. 1855 - d. 1931) (personal style Maharaja Bahadur from 23 Sep 1889) from 1 Jan 1891, Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh

Maharaja Bahadurs[edit]

  • 1 Apr 1911 - 4 Aug 1931 Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh (s.a.)
  • 4 Aug 1931 - 5 Apr 1939 Aditya Narayan Singh (b. 1874 - d. 1939)
                            (from 3 Jun 1933, Sir Aditya Narayan Singh)
  • 5 Apr 1939 - 15 Aug 1947 Vibhuti Narayan Singh (b. 1927 - d. 2000)
  • 5 Apr 1939 - 11 Jul 1947 .... -Regent

Kashi Naresh[edit]

Main article: Narayan dynasty

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is believed to be a descendent of Lord Shiva. During the religious occasion of Shivratri, the Kashi Naresh is the chief officiating priest and no other priest is allowed entry into the garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum. Only after he performs his religious offerings may anyone else be allowed to enter.

The residential palace of the Naresh is the Ramnagar Fort at Ramnagar near Varanasi, which is next to the river Ganges.[6]

On January 28, 1983, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust, with the late Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then Kashi Naresh, as President, and an executive committee with the Divisional Commissioner as Chairman.[7]

Vibhuti Narayan Singh was the last Naresh to see kingship after Benares was ceded to the Union of India on 15 October 1948. After his death in 2000, his son Anant Narayan Singh became responsible for upholding the traditional duties of a Kashi Naresh.

History of Ramnagar[edit]

The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century.[8] It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions.[8]

Ram Leela at Ramnagar[edit]

When the Dussehra festivities are inaugurated with a colourful pageant, the Kashi Naresh rides an elephant at the head of the procession.[9] Then, resplendent in silk and brocade, he inaugurates the month-long folk theatre of Ramlila at Ramnagar.[9]

The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Ramcharitmanas, the version of the Ramayana written by Tulsidas.[9] The plays, sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[9] On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[9] Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition of staging the Ramleela at Ramnagar in the mid-nineteenth century.[9]

Over a million pilgrims arrive annually for the vast processions and performances organized by the Kashi Naresh.[10]

All India Kashi raj Trust[edit]

Serious work on the Puranas began when the All India Kashiraj Trust was formed under the patronage and guidance of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, the Maharaja of Kashi, which, in addition to producing critical editions of the Puranas, also published the journal Puranam.[11]

Saraswati Bhawan at Ramnagar Fort[edit]

A rare collection of manuscripts, especially religious writings, is housed in Saraswati Bhawan. It includes a precious handwritten manuscript by Goswami Tulsidas.[12] There are also many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style, with beautifully designed covers.[12]

Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar[edit]

According to a popular Puranic story, when Vyasa failed to receive alms in Varanasi, he put a curse on the city.[12] Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa was so pleased with the alms he received that he forgot his curse.[12] However, because of Vyasa's bad temper Shiva banished him from Varanasi.[12] Resolving to remain nearby, Vyasa took up residence on the other side of the Ganges, where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.[12]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Benares Princely State
  2. ^ a b c d Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. p. 216. ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5. 
  3. ^ Benares (Princely State) - A Document about Maharajas of Varanasi
  4. ^ a b c d e Bayly, Christopher Alan (1983). Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870. Cambridge University Press. p. 489 (at p 18). ISBN 978-0-521-31054-3. 
  5. ^ a b Mark Manuel. "Nobody's Seen The Gourmet Maharaja Eating!". Upper Crust. Archived from the original on 2007-11-10. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  6. ^ A review of Varanasi
  7. ^ Official website of Varanasi
  8. ^ a b Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. p. 216. ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. pp. 216 (at p 126). ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5. 
  10. ^ Banham, Martin (1995). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (second ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 1247. ISBN 978-0-521-43437-9. 
  11. ^ Mittal, Sushil (2004). The Hindu World. Routledge. p. 657. ISBN 978-0-415-21527-5. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. pp. 216 (at p 129). ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5. 

Coordinates: 25°16′55″N 82°57′23″E / 25.282°N 82.9563°E / 25.282; 82.9563