The riverside of the holy city of Banaras has always attracted the attention of people. From the late eighteenth century onwards, both amateur and professional European painters were drawn to paint the panoramic scenic beauty of its ghats (“holy landing places”, used also for ritualistic bathing). The ghats are a vast area of space for the religious and cultural life of the city, serving also as the “lungs” of the thick population of the city which they fringed. These were gradually stone-paved and steps leading to the river were built; this trend mainly started in the second half of the sixteenth century. This great architecture movement was initiated by the Rajputs and subsequently followed by Maratha donors. In the present illustration folder, the core of this chain of ghats was already built while the flanks were yet to come.
Pilgrims taking ablution in the holy waters of the Ganga, dhobis washing clothes, corpses being cremated, cows and horses roaming, and such daily scenes as can still be seen today on the banks of the river have been treated with rare insight and humour. The river is replete with many types of boats, a principal mode of locomotion, such as goods-laden boats, ferry boats, pleasure boats of different denominations with liveried boatsmen, rowing boats, sail boats, boats drawn upstream by ropes. . . .
These paintings are the work of a “Company School” local painter, working in a localized tradition of British landscape water colour. The scenes are mostly naturalistic and present an authentic account of the riverfront.