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FROM THE CAVES AND JUNGLES OF HINDOSTAN
Gutenberg Project Notice on this Public Domain Work
Translated From The Russian Of HELENA PETROVNA BLAVATSKY
"You must remember," said Mme. Blavatsky, "that I never
meant this for a scientific work. My letters to the Russian
Messenger, under the general title: 'From the Caves and Jungles
of Hindostan,' were written in leisure moments, more for amusement
than with any serious design.
"Broadly speaking, the facts and incidents are true; but
I have freely availed myself of an author's privilege to group,
colour, and dramatize them, whenever this seemed necessary to the
full artistic effect; though, as I say, much of the book is exactly
true, l would rather claim kindly judgment for it, as a romance
of travel, than incur the critical risks that haunt an avowedly
To this caution of the author's, the translator must add
another; these letters, as Mme Blavatsky says, were written in
leisure moments, during 1879 and 1880, for the pages of the Russki
Vyestnik, then edited by M. Katkoff. Mme. Blavatsky's manuscript
was often incorrect; often obscure. The Russian compositors,
though they did their best to render faithfully the Indian names
and places, often produced, through their ignorance of Oriental
tongues, forms which are strange, and sometimes unrecognizable.
The proof-sheets were never corrected by the author, who was then
in India; and, in consequence, it has been impossible to restore
all the local and personal names to their proper form.
A similar difficulty has arisen with reference to quotations
and cited authorities, all of which have gone through a double
process of refraction: first into Russian, then into English.
The translator, also a Russian, and far from perfectly acquainted
with English, cannot claim to possess the erudition necessary to
verify and restore the many quotations to verbal accuracy; all
that is hoped is that, by a careful rendering, the correct sense
has been preserved.
The translator begs the indulgence of English readers for
all imperfections of style and language; in the words of the
Sanskrit proverb: "Who is to be blamed, if success be not reached
after due effort?"
The translator's best thanks are due to Mr. John C. Staples,
for valuable help in the early chapters.
--London, July, 1892
On the Way to Karli
In the Karli Caves
A City of the Dead
A Witch's Den
The Banns of Marriage
The Caves of Bagh
An Isle of Mystery
FROM THE CAVES AND JUNGLES OF HINDOSTAN
By Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
Late in the evening of the sixteenth of February, 1879,
after a rough voyage which lasted thirty-two days, joyful exclamations
were heard everywhere on deck. "Have you seen the lighthouse?"
"There it is at last, the Bombay lighthouse."
Cards, books, music, everything was forgotten. Everyone
rushed on deck. The moon had not risen as yet, and, in spite of
the starry tropical sky, it was quite dark. The stars were so
bright that, at first, it seemed hardly possible to distinguish,
far away amongst them, a small fiery point lit by earthly hands.
The stars winked at us like so many huge eyes in the black sky,
on one side of which shone the Southern Cross. At last we
distinguished the lighthouse on the distant horizon. It was
nothing but a tiny fiery point diving in the phosphorescent waves.
The tired travellers greeted it warmly. The rejoicing was general.
What a glorious daybreak followed this dark night! The sea no
longer tossed our ship. Under the skilled guidance of the pilot,
who had just arrived, and whose bronze form was so sharply defined
against the pale sky, our steamer, breathing heavily with its
broken machinery, slipped over the quiet, transparent waters of
the Indian Ocean straight to the harbour. We were only four miles
from Bombay, and, to us, who had trembled with cold only a few
weeks ago in the Bay of Biscay, which has been so glorified by
many poets and so heartily cursed by all sailors, our surroundings
simply seemed a magical dream.
After the tropical nights of the Red Sea and the scorching hot
days that had tortured us since Aden, we, people of the distant
North, now experienced something strange and unwonted, as if the
very fresh soft air had cast its spell over us. There was not a
cloud in the sky, thickly strewn with dying stars. Even the moonlight,
which till then had covered the sky with its silvery garb, was
gradually vanishing; and the brighter grew the rosiness of dawn
over the small island that lay before us in the East, the paler
in the West grew the scattered rays of the moon that sprinkled with
bright flakes of light the dark wake our ship left behind her, as
if the glory of the West was bidding good-bye to us, while the
light of the East welcomed the newcomers from far-off lands.
Brighter and bluer grew the sky, swiftly absorbing the remaining
pale stars one after the other, and we felt something touching
in the sweet dignity with which the Queen of Night resigned her
rights to the powerful usurper. At last, descending lower and
lower, she disappeared completely.
And suddenly, almost without interval between darkness and light,
the red-hot globe, emerging on the opposite side from under the
cape, leant his golden chin on the lower rocks of the island and
seemed to stop for a while, as if examining us. Then, with one
powerful effort, the torch of day rose high over the sea and
gloriously proceeded on its path, including in one mighty fiery
embrace the blue waters of the bay, the shore and the islands with
their rocks and cocoanut forests. His golden rays fell upon a
crowd of Parsees, his rightful worshippers, who stood on shore
raising their arms towards the mighty "Eye of Ormuzd." The sight
was so impressive that everyone on deck became silent for a moment,
even a red-nosed old sailor, who was busy quite close to us over
the cable, stopped working, and, clearing his throat, nodded at the sun.
Moving slowly and cautiously along the charming but
treacherous bay, we had plenty of time to admire the picture
around us. On the right was a group of islands with Gharipuri or
Elephanta, with its ancient temple, at their head. Gharipuri
translated means "the town of caves" according to the Orientalists,
and "the town of purification" according to the native Sanskrit
scholars. This temple, cut out by an unknown hand in the very
heart of a rock resembling porphyry, is a true apple of discord
amongst the archaeologists, of whom none can as yet fix, even
approximately, its antiquity. Elephanta raises high its rocky brow,
all overgrown with secular cactus, and right under it, at the foot
of the rock, are hollowed out the chief temple and the two lateral
ones. Like the serpent of our Russian fairy tales, it seems to be
opening its fierce black mouth to swallow the daring mortal who
comes to take possession of the secret mystery of Titan. Its two
remaining teeth, dark with time, are formed by two huge pillars
at the entrance, sustaining the palate of the monster.
How many generations of Hindus, how many races, have knelt
in the dust before the Trimurti, your threefold deity, O Elephanta?
How many centuries were spent by weak man in digging out in your
stone bosom this town of temples and carving your gigantic idols?
Who can say? Many years have elapsed since I saw you last, ancient,
mysterious temple, and still the same restless thoughts, the same
recurrent questions vex me snow as they did then, and still remain
unanswered. In a few days we shall see each other again. Once more
I shall gaze upon your stern image, upon your three huge granite faces,
and shall feel as hopeless as ever of piercing the mystery of your
being. This secret fell into safe hands three centuries before ours.
It is not in vain that the old Portuguese historian Don Diego de Cuta
boasts that "the big square stone fastened over the arch of the
pagoda with a distinct inscription, having been torn out and sent
as a present to the King Dom Juan III, disappeared mysteriously
in the course of time....," and adds, further, "Close to this big
pagoda there stood another, and farther on even a third one, the
most wonderful of all in beauty, incredible size, and richness of
material. All those pagodas and caves have been built by the Kings
of Kanada, (?) the most important of whom was Bonazur, and these
buildings of Satan our (Portuguese) soldiers attacked with such
vehemence that in a few years one stone was not left upon another...."
And, worst of all, they left no inscriptions that might have given
a clue to so much. Thanks to the fanaticism of Portuguese soldiers,
the chronology of the Indian cave temples must remain for ever an
enigma to the archaeological world, beginning with the Brah-mans,
who say Elephanta is 374,000 years old, and ending with Fergusson,
who tries to prove that it was carved only in the twelfth century
of our era. Whenever one turns one's eyes to history, there is
nothing to be found but hypotheses and darkness. And yet Gharipuri
is mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, which was written, according
to Colebrooke and Wilson, a good while before the reign of Cyrus.
In another ancient legend it is said that the temple of Trimurti
was built on Elephanta by the sons of Pandu, who took part in the
war between the dynasties of the Sun and the Moon, and, belonging
to the latter, were expelled at the end of the war. The Rajputs,
who are the descendants of the first, still sing of this victory;
but even in their popular songs there is nothing positive. Centuries
have passed and will pass, and the ancient secret will die in the
rocky bosom of the cave still unrecorded.
On the left side of the bay, exactly opposite Elephanta,
and as if in contrast with all its antiquity and greatness, spreads
the Malabar Hill, the residence of the modern Europeans and rich
natives. Their brightly painted bungalows are bathed in the greenery
of banyan, Indian fig, and various other trees, and the tall and
straight trunks of cocoanut palms cover with the fringe of their
leaves the whole ridge of the hilly headland. There, on the south-
western end of the rock, you see the almost transparent, lace-like
Government House surrounded on three sides by the ocean. This is
the coolest and the most comfortable part of Bombay, fanned by
three different sea breezes.
The island of Bombay, designated by the natives "Mambai,"
received its name from the goddess Mamba, in Mahrati Mahima, or Amba,
Mama, and Amma, according to the dialect, a word meaning, literally,
the Great Mother. Hardly one hundred years ago, on the site of
the modern esplanade, there stood a temple consecrated to Mamba-Devi.
With great difficulty and expense they carried it nearer to the shore,
close to the fort, and erected it in front of Baleshwara the "Lord
of the Innocent"--one of the names of the god Shiva. Bombay is
part of a considerable group of islands, the most remarkable of
which are Salsetta, joined to Bombay by a mole, Elephanta, so named
by the Portuguese because of a huge rock cut in the shape of an
elephant thirty-five feet long, and Trombay, whose lovely rock rises
nine hundred feet above the surface of the sea. Bombay looks, on
the maps, like an enormous crayfish, and is at the head of the
rest of the islands. Spreading far out into the sea its two claws,
Bombay island stands like a sleepless guardian watching over his
younger brothers. Between it and the Continent there is a narrow
arm of a river, which gets gradually broader and then again narrower,
deeply indenting the sides of both shores, and so forming a haven
that has no equal in the world. It was not without reason that
the Portuguese, expelled in the course of time by the English, used
to call it "Buona Bahia."
In a fit of tourist exaltation some travellers have compared it
to the Bay of Naples; but, as a matter of fact, the one is as
much like the other as a lazzaroni is like a Kuli. The whole
resemblance between the former consists in the fact that there
is water in both. In Bombay, as well as in its harbour, everything
is original and does not in the least remind one of Southern Europe.
Look at those coasting vessels and native boats; both are built
in the likeness of the sea bird "sat," a kind of kingfisher. When
in motion these boats are the personi-fication of grace, with their
long prows and rounded poops. They look as if they were gliding
backwards, and one might mistake for wings the strangely shaped,
long lateen sails, their narrow angles fastened upwards to a yard.
Filling these two wings with the wind, and careening, so as almost
to touch the surface of the water, these boats will fly along with
astonishing swiftness. Unlike our European boats, they do not
cut the waves, but glide over them like a sea-gull.
The surroundings of the bay transported us to some fairy land of
the Arabian Nights. The ridge of the Western Ghats, cut through
here and there by some separate hills almost as high as themselves,
stretched all along the Eastern shore. From the base to their
fantastic, rocky tops, they are all overgrown with impenetrable
forests and jungles inhabited by wild animals. Every rock has been
enriched by the popular imagination with an independent legend.
All over the slope of the mountain are scattered the pagodas,
mosques, and temples of numberless sects. Here and there the hot
rays of the sun strike upon an old fortress, once dreadful and
inaccessible, now half ruined and covered with prickly cactus.
At every step some memorial of sanctity. Here a deep vihara, a
cave cell of a Buddhist bhikshu saint, there a rock protected by
the symbol of Shiva, further on a Jaina temple, or a holy tank,
all covered with sedge and filled with water, once blessed by a
Brahman and able to purify every sin, all indispensable attribute
of all pagodas. All the surroundings are covered with symbols of
gods and goddesses. Each of the three hundred and thirty millions
of deities of the Hindu Pantheon has its representative in something
consecrated to it, a stone, a flower, a tree, or a bird. On the
West side of the Malabar Hill peeps through the trees Valakeshvara,
the temple of the "Lord of Sand." A long stream of Hindus moves
towards this celebrated temple; men and women, shining with rings
on their fingers and toes, with bracelets from their wrists up
to their elbows, clad in bright turbans and snow white muslins,
with foreheads freshly painted with red, yellow, and white, holy
The legend says that Rama spent here a night on his way from Ayodhya
(Oudh) to Lanka (Ceylon) to fetch his wife Sita who had been stolen
by the wicked King Ravana. Rama's brother Lakshman, whose duty
it was to send him daily a new lingam from Benares, was late in
doing so one evening. Losing patience, Rama erected for himself
a lingam of sand. When, at last, the symbol arrived from Benares,
it was put in a temple, and the lingam erected by Rama was left
on the shore. There it stayed during long centuries, but, at the
arrival of the Portuguese, the "Lord of Sand" felt so disgusted
with the feringhi (foreigners) that he jumped into the sea never
to return. A little farther on there is a charming tank, called
Vanattirtha, or the "point of the arrow." Here Rama, the much
worshipped hero of the Hindus, felt thirsty and, not finding any
water, shot an arrow and immediately there was created a pond. Its
crystal waters were surrounded by a high wall, steps were built
leading down to it, and a circle of white marble dwellings was
filled with dwija (twice born) Brahmans.
India is the land of legends and of mysterious nooks and corners.
There is not a ruin, not a monument, not a thicket, that has no
story attached to it. Yet, however they may be entangled in the
cobweb of popular imagination, which becomes thicker with every
generation, it is difficult to point out a single one that is not
founded on fact. With patience and, still more, with the help
of the learned Brahmans you can always get at the truth, when once
you have secured their trust and friendship.
The same road leads to the temple of the Parsee fire-worshippers.
At its altar burns an unquenchable fire, which daily consumes
hundredweights of sandal wood and aromatic herbs. Lit three
hundred years ago, the sacred fire has never been extinguished,
notwithstanding many disorders, sectarian discords, and even wars.
The Parsees are very proud of this temple of Zaratushta, as they
call Zoroaster. Compared with it the Hindu pagodas look like
brightly painted Easter eggs. Generally they are consecrated to
Hanuman, the monkey-god and the faithful ally of Rama, or to the
elephant headed Ganesha, the god of the occult wisdom, or to one
of the Devis. You meet with these temples in every street. Before
each there is a row of pipals (Ficus religiosa) centuries old,
which no temple can dispense with, because these trees are the
abode of the elementals and the sinful souls.
All this is entangled, mixed, and scattered, appearing to one's
eyes like a picture in a dream. Thirty centuries have left their
traces here. The innate laziness and the strong conservative
tendencies of the Hindus, even before the European invasion,
preserved all kinds of monuments from the ruinous vengeance of the
fanatics, whether those memorials were Buddhist, or belonged to
some other unpopular sect. The Hindus are not naturally given
to senseless vandalism, and a phrenologist would vainly look for
a bump of destructiveness on their skulls. If you meet with
antiquities that, having been spared by time, are, nowadays, either
destroyed or disfigured, it is not they who are to blame, but
either Mussulmans, or the Portuguese under the guidance of the Jesuits.
At last we were anchored and, in a moment, were besieged, ourselves
as well as our luggage, by numbers of naked skeleton-like Hindus,
Parsees, Moguls, and various other tribes. All this crowd emerged,
as if from the bottom of the sea, and began to shout, to chatter,
and to yell, as only the tribes of Asia can. To get rid of this
Babel confusion of tongues as soon as possible, we took refuge
in the first bunder boat and made for the shore.
Once settled in the bungalow awaiting us, the first thing we were
struck with in Bombay was the millions of crows and vultures. The
first are, so to speak, the County Council of the town, whose duty
it is to clean the streets, and to kill one of them is not only
forbidden by the police, but would be very dangerous. By killing
one you would rouse the vengeance of every Hindu, who is always
ready to offer his own life in exchange for a crow's. The souls
of the sinful forefathers transmigrate into crows and to kill one
is to interfere with the law of Karma and to expose the poor
ancestor to something still worse. Such is the firm belief, not
only of Hindus, but of Parsees, even the most enlightened amongst
them. The strange behaviour of the Indian crows explains, to a
certain extent, this superstition. The vultures are, in a way,
the grave-diggers of the Parsees and are under the personal protection
of the Farvardania, the angel of death, who soars over the Tower
of Silence, watching the occupations of the feathered workmen.
The deafening caw of the crows strikes every new comer as uncanny,
but, after a while, is explained very simply. Every tree of the
numerous cocoa-nut forests round Bombay is provided with a hollow
pumpkin. The sap of the tree drops into it and, after fermenting,
becomes a most intoxicating beverage, known in Bombay under the
name of toddy. The naked toddy wallahs, generally half-caste
Portuguese, modestly adorned with a single coral necklace, fetch
this beverage twice a day, climbing the hundred and fifty feet
high trunks like squirrels. The crows mostly build their nests
on the tops of the cocoa-nut palms and drink incessantly out of
the open pumpkins. The result of this is the chronic intoxication
of the birds. As soon as we went out in the garden of our new
habitation, flocks of crows came down heavily from every tree.
The noise they make whilst jumping about everywhere is indescribable.
There seemed to be something positively human in the positions
of the slyly bent heads of the drunken birds, and a fiendish light
shone in their eyes while they were examining us from foot to head.
We occupied three small bungalows, lost, like nests, in the garden,
their roofs literally smothered in roses blossoming on bushes
twenty feet high, and their windows covered only with muslin,
instead of the usual panes of glass. The bungalows were situated
in the native part of the town, so that we were transported, all
at once, into the real India. We were living in India, unlike
English people, who are only surrounded by India at a certain distance.
We were enabled to study her character and customs, her religion,
superstitions and rites, to learn her legends, in fact, to live
Everything in India, this land of the elephant and the poisonous
cobra, of the tiger and the unsuccessful English missionary, is
original and strange. Everything seems unusual, unexpected, and
striking, even to one who has travelled in Turkey, Egypt, Damascus,
and Palestine. In these tropical regions the conditions of nature
are so various that all the forms of the animal and vegetable
kingdoms must radically differ from what we are used to in Europe.
Look, for instance, at those women on their way to a well through
a garden, which is private and at the same time open to anyone,
because somebody's cows are grazing in it. To whom does it not
happen to meet with women, to see cows, and admire a garden?
Doubtless these are among the commonest of all things. But a
single attentive glance will suffice to show you the difference
that exists between the same objects in Europe and in India. Nowhere
more than in India does a human being feel his weakness and
insignificance. The majesty of the tropical growth is such that
our highest trees would look dwarfed compared with banyans and
especially with palms. A European cow, mistaking, at first sight,
her Indian sister for a calf, would deny the existence of any
kinship between them, as neither the mouse-coloured wool, nor the
straight goat-like horns, nor the humped back of the latter would
permit her to make such an error. As to the women, each of them
would make any artist feel enthusiastic about the gracefulness
of her movements and drapery, but still, no pink and white, stout
Anna Ivanovna would condescend to greet her. "Such a shame, God
forgive me, the woman is entirely naked!"
This opinion of the modern Russian woman is nothing but the echo
of what was said in 1470 by a distinguished Russian traveler, "the
sinful slave of God, Athanasius son of Nikita from Tver," as he
styles himself. He describes India as follows: "This is the land
of India. Its people are naked, never cover their heads, and wear
their hair braided. Women have babies every year. Men and women
are black. Their prince wears a veil round his head and wraps
another veil round his legs. The noblemen wear a veil on one
shoulder, and the noblewomen on the shoulders and round the loins,
but everyone is barefooted. The women walk about with their hair
spread and their breasts naked. The children, boys and girls,
never cover their shame until they are seven years old. . . ."
This description is quite correct, but Athanasius Nikita's son is
right only concerning the lowest and poorest classes. These really
do "walk about" covered only with a veil, which often is so poor
that, in fact, it is nothing but a rag. But still, even the poorest
woman is clad in a piece of muslin at least ten yards long. One
end serves as a sort of short petticoat, and the other covers
the head and shoulders when out in the street, though the faces
are always uncovered. The hair is erected into a kind of Greek
chignon. The legs up to the knees, the arms, and the waist are
never covered. There is not a single respectable woman who would
consent to put on a pair of shoes. Shoes are the attribute and
the prerogative of disreputable women. When, some time ago, the
wife of the Madras governor thought of passing a law that should
induce native women to cover their breasts, the place was actually
threatened with a revolution. A kind of jacket is worn only by
dancing girls. The Government recognized that it would be
unreasonable to irritate women, who, very often, are more dangerous
than their husbands and brothers, and the custom, based on the
law of Manu, and sanctified by three thousand years' observance,
For more than two years before we left America we were in constant
correspondence with a certain learned Brahman, whose glory is great
at present (1879) all over India. We came to India to study, under
his guidance, the ancient country of Aryas, the Vedas, and their
difficult language. His name is Dayanand Saraswati Swami. Swami
is the name of the learned anchorites who are initiated into many
mysteries unattainable by common mortals. They are monks who never
marry, but are quite different from other mendicant brotherhoods,
the so-called Sannyasi and Hossein. This Pandit is considered
the greatest Sanskritist of modern India and is an absolute enigma
to everyone. It is only five years since he appeared on the arena
of great reforms, but till then, he lived, entirely secluded, in
a jungle, like the ancient gymnosophists mentioned by the Greek
and Latin authors. At this time he was studying the chief
philosophical systems of the "Aryavartta" and the occult meaning
of the Vedas with the help of mystics and anchorites. All Hindus
believe that on the Bhadrinath Mountains (22,000 feet above the
level of the sea) there exist spacious caves, inhabited, now for
many thousand years, by these anchorites. Bhadrinath is situated
in the north of Hindustan on the river Bishegunj, and is celebrated
for its temple of Vishnu right in the heart of the town. Inside
the temple there are hot mineral springs, visited yearly by about
fifty thousand pilgrims, who come to be purified by them.
From the first day of his appearance Dayanand Saraswati produced
an immense impression and got the surname of the "Luther of India."
Wandering from one town to another, today in the South, tomorrow
in the North, and transporting himself from one end of the country
to another with incredible quickness, he has visited every part
of India, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, and from Calcutta
to Bombay. He preaches the One Deity and, "Vedas in hand," proves
that in the ancient writings there was not a word that could justify
polytheism. Thundering against idol worship, the great orator
fights with all his might against caste, infant marriages, and
superstitions. Chastising all the evils grafted on India by
centuries of casuistry and false interpretation of the Vedas,
he blames for them the Brahmans, who, as he openly says before
masses of people, are alone guilty of the humiliation of their
country, once great and independent, now fallen and enslaved.
And yet Great Britain has in him not an enemy, but rather an ally.
He says openly--"If you expel the English, then, no later than
tomorrow, you and I and everyone who rises against idol worship
will have our throats cut like mere sheep. The Mussulmans are
stronger than the idol worshippers; but these last are stronger
than we." The Pandit held many a warm dispute with the Brah-mans,
those treacherous enemies of the people, and has almost always
been victorious. In Benares secret assassins were hired to slay
him, but the attempt did not succeed. In a small town of Bengal,
where he treated fetishism with more than his usual severity,
some fanatic threw on his naked feet a huge cobra. There are two
snakes deified by the Brahman mythology: the one which surrounds
the neck of Shiva on his idols is called Vasuki; the other, Ananta,
forms the couch of Vishnu. So the worshipper of Shiva, feeling
sure that his cobra, trained purposely for the mysteries of a
Shivaite pagoda, would at once make an end of the offender's life,
triumphantly exclaimed, "Let the god Vasuki himself show which of
us is right!"
Dayanand jerked off the cobra twirling round his leg, and with a
single vigorous movement, crushed the reptile's head. "Let him
do so," he quietly assented. "Your god has been too slow. It
is I who have decided the dispute, Now go," added he, addressing
the crowd, "and tell everyone how easily perish the false gods."
Thanks to his excellent knowledge of Sanskrit the Pandit does a
great service, not only to the masses, clearing their ignorance
about the monotheism of the Vedas, but to science too, showing who,
exactly, are the Brahmans, the only caste in India which, during
centuries, had the right to study Sanskrit literature and comment
on the Vedas, and which used this right solely for its own advantage.
Long before the time of such Orientalists as Burnouf, Colebrooke
and Max Muller, there have been in India many reformers who tried
to prove the pure monotheism of the Vedic doctrines. There have
even been founders of new religions who denied the revelations
of these scriptures; for instance, the Raja Ram Mohun Roy, and,
after him, Babu Keshub Chunder Sen, both Calcutta Bengalees. But
neither of them had much success. They did nothing but add new
denominations to the numberless sects existing in India. Ram Mohun
Roy died in England, having done next to nothing, and Keshub Chunder
Sen, having founded the community of "Brahmo-Samaj," which professes
a religion extracted from the depths of the Babu's own imagination,
became a mystic of the most pronounced type, and now is only "a
berry from the same field," as we say in Russia, as the Spiritualists,
by whom he is considered to be a medium and a Calcutta Swedenborg.
He spends his time in a dirty tank, singing praises to Chaitanya,
Koran, Buddha, and his own person, proclaiming himself their prophet,
and performs a mystical dance, dressed in woman's attire, which,
on his part, is an attention to a "woman goddess" whom the Babu
calls his "mother, father and eldest brother."
In short, all the attempts to re-establish the pure primitive
monotheism of Aryan India have been a failure. They always got
wrecked upon the double rock of Brahmanism and of prejudices
centuries old. But lo! here appears unexpectedly the pandit
Dayanand. None, even of the most beloved of his disciples, knows
who he is and whence he comes. He openly confesses before the
crowds that the name under which he is known is not his, but was
given to him at the Yogi initiation.
The mystical school of Yogis was established by Patanjali, the
founder of one of the six philosophical systems of ancient India.
It is supposed that the Neo-platonists of the second and third
Alexandrian Schools were the followers of Indian Yogis, more
especially was their theurgy brought from India by Pythagoras,
according to the tradition. There still exist in India hundreds
of Yogis who follow the system of Patanjali, and assert that they
are in communion with Brahma. Nevertheless, most of them are
do-nothings, mendicants by profession, and great frauds, thanks
to the insatiable longing of the natives for miracles. The real
Yogis avoid appearing in public, and spend their lives in secluded
retirement and studies, except when, as in Dayanand's case, they
come forth in time of need to aid their country. However, it is
perfectly certain that India never saw a more learned Sanskrit
scholar, a deeper metaphysician, a more wonderful orator, and a
more fearless denunciator of every evil, than Dayanand, since the
time of Sankharacharya, the celebrated founder of the Vedanta
philosophy, the most metaphysical of Indian systems, in fact,
the crown of pantheistic teaching. Then, Dayanand's personal
appearance is striking. He is immensely tall, his complexion is
pale, rather European than Indian, his eyes are large and bright,
and his greyish hair is long. The Yogis and Dikshatas (initiated)
never cut either their hair or beard. His voice is clear and loud,
well calculated to give expression to every shade of deep feeling,
ranging from a sweet childish caressing whisper to thundering
wrath against the evil doings and falsehoods of the priests. All
this taken together produces an indescribable effect on the
impressionable Hindu. Wherever Dayanand appears crowds prostrate
themselves in the dust over his footprints; but, unlike Babu
Keshub Chunder Sen, he does not teach a new religion, does not
invent new dogmas. He only asks them to renew their half-forgotten
Sanskrit studies, and, having compared the doctrines of their
forefathers with what they have become in the hands of Brahmans,
to return to the pure conceptions of Deity taught by the primitive
Rishis--Agni, Vayu, Aditya, and Anghira--the patriarchs who first
gave the Vedas to humanity. He does not even claim that the Vedas
are a heavenly revelation, but simply teaches that "every word in
these scriptures belongs to the highest inspiration possible to
the earthly man, an inspiration that is repeated in the history
of humanity, and, when necessary, may happen to any nation....."
During his five years of work Swami Dayanand made about two million
proselytes, chiefly amongst the higher castes. Judging by appearances,
they are all ready to sacrifice to him their lives and souls and
even their earthly possessions, which are often more precious to
them than their lives. But Dayanand is a real Yogi, he never touches
money, and despises pecuniary affairs. He contents himself with a
few handfuls of rice per day. One is inclined to think that this
wonderful Hindu bears a charmed life, so careless is he of rousing
the worst human passions, which are so dangerous in India. A
marble statue could not be less moved by the raging wrath of the
crowd. We saw him once at work. He sent away all his faithful
followers and forbade them either to watch over him or to defend
him, and stood alone before the infuriated crowd, facing calmly
the monster ready to spring upon him and tear him to pieces.
Here a short explanation is necessary. A few years ago a society
of well-informed, energetic people was formed in New York. A
certain sharp-witted savant surnamed them "La Societe des Malcontents
du Spiritisme." The founders of this club were people who, believing
in the phenomena of spiritualism as much as in the possibility of
every other phenomenon in Nature, still denied the theory of the
"spirits." They considered that the modern psychology was a
science still in the first stages of its development, in total
ignorance of the nature of the psychic man, and denying, as do
many other sciences, all that cannot be explained according to
its own particular theories.
From the first days of its existence some of the most learned
Americans joined the Society, which became known as the Theosophical
Society. Its members differed on many points, much as do the
members of any other Society, Geographical or Archeological, which
fights for years over the sources of the Nile, or the Hieroglyphs
of Egypt. But everyone is unanimously agreed that, as long as
there is water in the Nile, its sources must exist somewhere. So
much about the phenomena of spiritualism and mesmerism. These
phenomena were still waiting their Champollion--but the Rosetta
stone was to be searched for neither in Europe nor in America,
but in the far-away countries where they still believe in magic,
where wonders are performed daily by the native priesthood, and
where the cold materialism of science has never yet reached--in
one word, in the East.
The Council of the Society knew that the Lama-Buddhists, for instance,
though not believing in God, and denying the personal immortality
of the soul, are yet celebrated for their "phenomena," and that
mesmerism was known and daily practised in China from time immemorial
under the name of "gina." In India they fear and hate the very
name of the spirits whom the Spiritualists venerate so deeply, yet
many an ignorant fakir can perform "miracles" calculated to turn
upside-down all the notions of a scientist and to be the despair
of the most celebrated of European prestidigitateurs. Many members
of the Society have visited India--many were born there and have
themselves witnessed the "sorceries" of the Brahmans. The founders
of the Club, well aware of the depth of modern ignorance in regard
to the spiritual man, were most anxious that Cuvier's method of
comparative anatomy should acquire rights of citizenship among
metaphysicians, and, so, progress from regions physical to regions
psychological on its own inductive and deductive foundation.
"Otherwise," they thought, "psychology will be unable to move
forward a single step, and may even obstruct every other branch
of Natural History." Instances have not been wanting of physiology
poaching on the preserves of purely metaphysical and abstract knowledge,
all the time feigning to ignore the latter absolutely, and seeking
to class psychology with the positive sciences, having first bound
it to a Bed of Procrustes, where it refuses to yield its secret
to its clumsy tormentors.
In a short time the Theosophical Society counted its members, not
by hundreds, but by thousands. All the "malcontents" of American
Spiritualism--and there were at that time twelve million Spiritualists
in America--joined the Society. Collateral branches were formed
in London, Corfu, Australia, Spain, Cuba, California, etc.
Everywhere experiments were being performed, and the conviction
that it is not spirits alone who are the causes of the phenomena
was becoming general.
In course of time branches of the Society were in India and in
Ceylon. The Buddhist and Brahmanical members became more numerous
than the Europeans. A league was formed, and to the name of the
Society was added the subtitle, "The Brotherhood of Humanity."
After an active correspondence between the Arya-Samaj, founded by
Swami Dayanand, and the Theosophical Society, an amalgamation was
arranged between the two bodies. Then the Chief Council of the
New York branch decided upon sending a special delegation to India,
for the purpose of studying, on the spot, the ancient language of
the Vedas and the manuscripts and the wonders of Yogism. On the
17th of December, 1878, the delegation, composed of two secretaries
and two members of the council of the Theosophical Society, started
from New York, to pause for a while in London, and then to proceed
to Bombay, where it landed in February, 1879.
It may easily be conceived that, under these circumstances, the
members of the delegation were better able to study the country
and to make fruitful researches than might, otherwise, have been
the case. Today they are looked upon as brothers and aided by
the most influential natives of India. They count among the
members of their society pandits of Benares and Calcutta, and
Buddhist priests of the Ceylon Viharas--amongst others the learned
Sumangala, mentioned by Minayeff in the description of his visit
to Adam's Peak--and Lamas of Thibet, Burmah, Travancore and elsewhere.
The members of the delegation are admitted to sanctuaries where,
as yet, no European has set his foot. Consequently they may hope
to render many services to Humanity and Science, in spite of the
illwill which the representatives of positive science bear to them.
As soon as the delegation landed, a telegram was despatched to
Dayanand, as everyone was anxious to make his personal acquaintance.
In reply, he said that he was obliged to go immediately to Hardwar,
where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were expected to assemble,
but he insisted on our remaining behind, since cholera was certain
to break out among the devotees. He appointed a certain spot,
at the foot of the Himalayas, in the jab, where we were to meet
in a month's time.
Alas! all this was written some time ago. Since then Swami
Dayanand's countenance has changed completely toward us. He is,
now, an enemy of the Theosophical Society and its two founders--
Colonel Olcott and the author of these letters. It appeared that,
on entering into an offensive and defensive alliance with the
Society, Dayanand nourished the hope that all its members, Christians,
Brahmans and Buddhists, would acknowledge His supremacy, and become
members of the Arya Samaj.
Needless to say, this was impossible. The Theosophical Society
rests on the principle of complete non-interference with the
religious beliefs of its members. Toleration is its basis and
its aims are purely philosophical. This did not suit Dayanand.
He wanted all the members, either to become his disciples, or to
be expelled from the Society. It was quite clear that neither
the President, nor the Council could assent to such a claim.
Englishmen and Americans, whether they were Christians or Freethinkers,
Buddhists, and especially Brahmans, revolted against Dayanand, and
unanimously demanded that the league should be broken.
However, all this happened later. At the time of which I speak
we were friends and allies of the Swami, and we learned with deep
interest that the Hardwar "mela," which he was to visit, takes
place every twelve years, and is a kind of religious fair, which
attracts representatives from all the numerous sects of India.
Learned dissertations are read by the disputants in defence of
their peculiar doctrines, and the debates are held in public.
This year the Hardwar gathering was exceptionally numerous. The
Sannyasis--the mendicant monks of India--alone numbered 35,000 and
the cholera, foreseen by the Swami, actually broke out.
As we were not yet to start for the appointed meeting, we had
plenty of spare time before us; so we proceeded to examine Bombay.
The Tower of Silence, on the heights of the Malabar Hill, is the
last abode of all the sons of Zoroaster. It is, in fact, a Parsee
cemetery. Here their dead, rich and poor, men, women and children,
are all laid in a row, and in a few minutes nothing remains of
them but bare skeletons. A dismal impression is made upon a
foreigner by these towers, where absolute silence has reigned for
centuries. This kind of building is very common in every place
were Parsees live and die. In Bombay, of six towers, the largest
was built 250 years ago, and the least but a short time since.
With few exceptions, they are round or square in shape, from twenty
to forty feet high, without roof, window, or door, but with a
single iron gate opening towards the East, and so small that it
is quite covered by a few bushes. The first corpse brought to a
new tower--"dakhma"--must be the body of the innocent child of a
mobed or priest. No one, not even the chief watcher, is allowed
to approach within a distance of thirty paces of these towers.
Of all living human beings "nassesalars"--corpse-carriers--
alone enter and leave the "Tower of Silence." The life these
men lead is simply wretched. No European executioner's position
is worse. They live quite apart from the rest of the world, in
whose eyes they are the most abject of beings. Being forbidden
to enter the markets, they must get their food as they can. They
are born, marry, and die, perfect strangers to all except their
own class, passing through the streets only to fetch the dead and
carry them to the tower. Even to be near one of them is a degradation.
Entering the tower with a corpse, covered, whatever may have been
its rank or position, with old white rags, they undress it and place
it, in silence, on one of the three rows presently to be described.
Then, still preserving the same silence, they come out, shut the
gate, and burn the rags.
Amongst the fire-worshippers, Death is divested of all his majesty
and is a mere object of disgust. As soon as the last hour of a
sick person seems to approach, everyone leaves the chamber of death,
as much to avoid impeding the departure of the soul from the body,
as to shun the risk of polluting the living by contact with the dead.
The mobed alone stays with the dying man for a while, and having
whispered into his ear the Zend-Avesta precepts, "ashem-vohu"
and "Yato-Ahuvarie," leaves the room while the patient is still
alive. Then a dog is brought and made to look straight into his
face. This ceremony is called "sas-did," the "dog's-stare." A
dog is the only living creature that the "Drux-nassu"--the evil
one--fears, and that is able to prevent him from taking possession
of the body. It must be strictly observed that no one's shadow
lies between the dying man and the dog, otherwise the whole strength
of the dog's gaze will be lost, and the demon will profit by the
occasion. The body remains on the spot where life left it, until
the nassesalars appear, their arms hidden to the shoulders under
old bags, to take it away. Having deposited it in an iron coffin--
the same for everyone--they carry it to the dakhma. If any one,
who has once been carried thither, should happen to regain
consciousness, the nassesalars are bound to kill him; for such
a person, who has been polluted by one touch of the dead bodies
in the dakhma, has thereby lost all right to return to the living,
by doing so he would contaminate the whole community. As some
such cases have occurred, the Parsees are trying to get a new law
passed, that would allow the miserable ex-corpses to live again
amongst their friends, and that would compel the nassesalars to
leave the only gate of the dakhma unlocked, so that they might
find a way of retreat open to them. It is very curious, but it
is said that the vultures, which devour without hesitation the
corpses, will never touch those who are only apparently dead, but
fly away uttering loud shrieks. After a last prayer at the gate
of the dakhma, pronounced from afar by the mobed, and re-peated
in chorus by the nassesalars, the dog ceremony is repeated. In
Bombay there is a dog, trained for this purpose, at the entrance
to the tower. Finally, the body is taken inside and placed on one
or other of the rows, according to its sex and age.
We have twice been present at the ceremonies of dying, and once
of burial, if I may be permitted to use such an incongruous term.
In this respect the Parsees are much more tolerant than the Hindus,
who are offended by the mere presence at their religious rites of
an European. N. Bayranji, a chief official of the tower, invited
us to his house to be present at the burial of some rich woman.
So we witnessed all that was going on at a distance of about forty
paces, sitting quietly on our obliging host's verandah. While
the dog was staring into the dead woman's face, we were gazing,
as intently, but with much more disgust, at the huge flock of
vultures above the dakhma, that kept entering the tower, and flying
out again with pieces of human flesh in their beaks. These birds,
that build their nests in thousands round the Tower of Silence,
have been purposely imported from Persia. Indian vultures proved
to be too weak, and not sufficiently bloodthirsty, to perform the
process of stripping the bones with the despatch prescribed by
Zoroaster. We were told that the entire operation of denuding the
bones occupies no more than a few minutes. As soon as the ceremony
was over, we were led into another building, where a model of the
dakhma was to be seen. We could now very easily imagine what was
to take place presently inside the tower. In the centre there
is a deep waterless well, covered with a grating like the opening
into a drain. Around it are three broad circles, gradually sloping
downwards. In each of them are coffin-like receptacles for the
bodies. There are three hundred and sixty-five such places. The
first and smallest row is destined for children, the second for
women, and the third for men. This threefold circle is symbolical
of three cardinal Zoroastrian virtues--pure thoughts, kind words,
and good actions. Thanks to the vultures, the bones are laid bare
in less than an hour, and, in two or three weeks, the tropical sun
scorches them into such a state of fragility, that the slightest
breath of wind is enough to reduce them to powder and to carry
them down into the pit. No smell is left behind, no source of
plagues and epidemics. I do not know that this way may not be
preferable to cremation, which leaves in the air about the Ghat
a faint but disagreeable odour. The Ghat is a place by the sea,
or river shore, where Hindus burn their dead. Instead of feeding
the old Slavonic deity "Mother Wet Earth" with carrion, Parsees
give to Armasti pure dust. Armasti means, literally, "fostering
cow," and Zoroaster teaches that the cultivation of land is the
noblest of all occupations in the eyes of God. Accordingly, the
worship of Earth is so sacred among the Parsees, that they take
all possible precautions against polluting the "fostering cow"
that gives them "a hundred golden grains for every single grain."
In the season of the Monsoon, when, during four months, the rain
pours incessantly down and washes into the well everything that
is left by the vultures, the water absorbed by the earth is filtered,
for the bottom of the well, the walls of which are built of granite,
is, to this end, covered with sand and charcoal.
The sight of the Pinjarapala is less lugubrious and much more amusing.
The Pinjarapala is the Bombay Hospital for decrepit animals, but a
similar institution exists in every town where Jainas dwell. Being
one of the most ancient, this is also one of the most interesting,
of the sects of India. It is much older than Buddhism, which took
its rise about 543 to 477 B.C. Jainas boast that Buddhism is
nothing more than a mere heresy of Jainism, Gautama, the founder
of Buddhism, having been a disciple and follower of one of the
Jaina Gurus. The customs, rites, and philosophical conceptions
of Jainas place them midway between the Brahmanists and the Buddhists.
In view of their social arrangements, they more closely resemble
the former, but in their religion they incline towards the latter.
Their caste divisions, their total abstinence from flesh, and their
non-worship of the relics of the saints, are as strictly observed
as the similar tenets of the Brahmans, but, like Buddhists, they
deny the Hindu gods and the authority of the Vedas, and adore their
own twenty-four Tirthankaras, or Jinas, who belong to the Host of
the Blissful. Their priests, like the Buddhists', never marry,
they live in isolated viharas and choose their successors from
amongst the members of any social class. According to them, Prakrit
is the only sacred language, and is used in their sacred literature,
as well as in Ceylon. Jainas and Buddhists have the same traditional
chronology. They do not eat after sunset, and carefully dust any
place before sitting down upon it, that they may not crush even
the tiniest of insects. Both systems, or rather both schools of
philosophy, teach the theory of eternal indestructible atoms,
following the ancient atomistic school of Kanada. They assert
that the universe never had a beginning and never will have an end.
"The world and everything in it is but an illusion, a Maya," say
the Vedantists, the Buddhists, and the Jainas; but, whereas the
followers of Sankaracharya preach Parabrahm (a deity devoid of will,
understanding, and action, because "It is absolute understanding,
mind and will"), and Ishwara emanating from It, the Jainas and
the Buddhists believe in no Creator of the Universe, but teach
only the existence of Swabhawati, a plastic, infinite, self-created
principle in Nature. Still they firmly believe, as do all
Indian sects, in the transmigration of souls. Their fear, lest,
by killing an animal or an insect, they may, perchance, destroy
the life of an ancestor, develops their love and care for every
living creature to an almost incredible extent. Not only is there
a hospital for invalid animals in every town and village, but their
priests always wear a muslin muzzle, (I trust they will pardon the
disrespectful expression!) in order to avoid destroying even the
smallest animalcule, by inadvertence in the act of breathing. The
same fear impels them to drink only filtered water. There are a
few millions of Jainas in Gujerat, Bombay, Konkan, and some other places.
The Bombay Pinjarapala occupies a whole quarter of the town, and
is separated into yards, meadows and gardens, with ponds, cages
for beasts of prey, and enclosures for tame animals. This institution
would have served very well for a model of Noah's Ark. In the first
yard, however, we saw no animals, but, instead, a few hundred human
skeletons--old men, women and children. They were the remaining
natives of the, so-called, famine districts, who had crowded into
Bombay to beg their bread. Thus, while, a few yards off, the official
"Vets." were busily bandaging the broken legs of jackals, pouring
ointments on the backs of mangy dogs, and fitting crutches to lame
storks, human beings were dying, at their very elbows, of starvation.
Happily for the famine-stricken, there were at that time fewer
hungry animals than usual, and so they were fed on what remained
from the meals of the brute pensioners. No doubt many of these
wretched sufferers would have consented to transmigrate instantly
into the bodies of any of the animals who were ending so snugly
their earthly careers.
But even the Pinjarajala roses are not without thorns. The
graminivorous "subjects," of course, could mot wish for anything
better; but I doubt very much whether the beasts of prey, such
as tigers, hyenas, and wolves, are content with the rules and the
forcibly prescribed diet. Jainas themselves turn with disgust
even from eggs and fish, and, in consequence, all the animals of
which they have the care must turn vegetarians. We were present
when an old tiger, wounded by an English bullet, was fed. Having
sniffed at a kind of rice soup which was offered to him, he lashed
his tail, snarled, showing his yellow teeth, and with a weak roar
turned away from the food. What a look he cast askance upon his
keeper, who was meekly trying to persuade him to taste his nice
dinner! Only the strong bars of the cage saved the Jaina from a
vigorous protest on the part of this veteran of the forest. A
hyena, with a bleeding head and an ear half torn off, began by
sitting in the trough filled with this Spartan sauce, and then,
without any further ceremony, upset it, as if to show its utter
contempt for the mess. The wolves and the dogs raised such
disconsolate howls that they attracted the attention of two
inseparable friends, an old elephant with a wooden leg and a sore-
eyed ox, the veritable Castor and Pollux of this institu-tion.
In accordance with his noble nature, the first thought of the
elephant concerned his friend. He wound his trunk round the neck
of the ox, in token of protection, and both moaned dismally.
Parrots, storks, pigeons, flamingoes--the whole feathered tribe--
revelled in their breakfast. Monkeys were the first to answer
the keeper's invitation and greatly enjoyed themselves. Further
on we were shown a holy man, who was feeding insects with his own
blood. He lay with his eyes shut, and the scorching rays of the
sun striking full upon his naked body. He was literally covered
with flies, mosquitoes, ants and bugs.
"All these are our brothers," mildly observed the keeper, pointing
to the hundreds of animals and insects. "How can you Europeans
kill and even devour them?"
"What would you do," I asked, "if this snake were about to bite you?
Is it possible you would not kill it, if you had time?"
"Not for all the world. I should cautiously catch it, and then
I should carry it to some deserted place outside the town, and
there set it free."
"Nevertheless; suppose it bit you?"
"Then I should recite a mantram, and, if that produced no good
result, I should be fair to consider it as the finger of Fate, and
quietly leave this body for another."
These were the words of a man who was educated to a certain extent,
and very well read. When we pointed out that no gift of Nature
is aimless, and that the human teeth are all devouring, he answered
by quoting whole chapters of Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection
and Origin of Species. "It is not true," argued he, "that the
first men were born with canine teeth. It was only in course of
time, with the degradation of humanity,--only when the appetite
for flesh food began to develop--that the jaws changed their first
shape under the influence of new necessities."
I could not help asking myself, "Ou la science va-t'elle se fourrer?"
The same evening, in Elphinstone's Theatre, there was given a
special performance in honour of "the American Mission," as we
are styled here. Native actors represented in Gujerati the ancient
fairy drama Sita-Rama, that has been adapted from the Ramayana,
the celebrated epic by Vilmiki. This drama is composed of
fourteen acts and no end of tableaux, in addition to transformation
scenes. All the female parts, as usual, were acted by young boys,
and the actors, accord-ing to the historical and national customs,
were bare-footed and half-naked. Still, the richness of the costumes,
the stage adornments and transformations, were truly wonderful.
For instance, even on the stages of large metropolitan theatres,
it would have been difficult to give a better representation of
the army of Rama's allies, who are nothing more than troops of
monkeys under the leadership of Hanuman--the soldier, statesman,
dramatist, poet, god, who is so celebrated in history (that of
India s.v.p.). The oldest and best of all Sanskrit dramas, Hanuman-
Natak, is ascribed to this talented forefather of ours.
Alas! gone is the glorious time when, proud of our white skin
(which after all may be nothing more than the result of a fading,
under the influences of our northern sky), we looked down upon
Hindus and other "niggers" with a feeling of contempt well suited
to our own magnificence. No doubt Sir William Jones's soft heart
ached, when translating from the Sanskrit such humiliating sentences
as the following: "Hanuman is said to be the forefather of the
Europeans." Rama, being a hero and a demi-god, was well entitled
to unite all the bachelors of his useful monkey army to the
daughters of the Lanka (Ceylon) giants, the Rakshasas, and to
present these Dravidian beauties with the dowry of all Western
lands. After the most pompous marriage ceremonies, the monkey
soldiers made a bridge, with the help of their own tails, and
safely landed with their spouses in Europe, where they lived very
happily and had a numerous progeny. This progeny are we, Europeans.
Dravidian words found in some European languages, in Basque for
instance, greatly rejoice the hearts of the Brahmans, who would
gladly promote the philologists to the rank of demi-gods for this
important discovery, which confirms so gloriously their ancient
legend. But it was Darwin who crowned the edifice of proof with
the authority of Western education and Western scientific literature.
The Indians became still more convinced that we are the veritable
descendants of Hanuman, and that, if one only took the trouble
to examine carefully, our tails might easily be discovered. Our
narrow breeches and long skirts only add to the evidence, however
uncomplimentary the idea may be to us.
Still, if you consider seriously, what are we to say when Science,
in the person of Darwin, concedes this hypothesis to the wisdom
of ancient Aryas. We must perforce submit. And, really, it is
better to have for a forefather Hanu-man, the poet, the hero, the
god, than any other monkey, even though it be a tailless one.
Sita-Rama belongs to the category of mythological dramas, something
like the tragedies of Aeschylus. Listening to this production
of the remotest antiquity, the spectators are carried back to the
times when the gods, descending upon earth, took an active part
in the everyday life of mortals. Nothing reminds one of a modern
drama, though the exterior arrangement is the same. "From the
sublime to the ridiculous there is but a step," and vice versa.
The goat, chosen for a sacrifice to Bacchus, presented the world
tragedy (greek script here). The death bleatings and buttings of
the quadrupedal offering of antiquity have been polished by the
hands of time and of civilization, and, as a result of this process,
we get the dying whisper of Rachel in the part of Adrienne Lecouvreur,
and the fearfully realistic "kicking" of the modern Croisette in
the poisoning scene of The Sphinx. But, whereas the descendants
of Themistocles gladly receive, whether captive or free, all the
changes and improvements considered as such by modern taste,
thinking them to be a corrected and enlarged edition of the genius
of Aeschylus; Hindus, happily for archaeologists and lovers of
antiquity, have never moved a step since the times of our much
honoured forefather Hanuman.
We awaited the performance of Sita-Rama with the liveliest curiosity.
Except ourselves and the building of the theatre, everything was
strictly indigenous and nothing reminded us of the West. There
was not the trace of an orchestra. Music was only to be heard
from the stage, or from behind it. At last the curtain rose. The
silence, which had been very remarkable before the performance,
considering the huge crowd of spectators of both sexes, now became
absolute. Rama is one of the incarnations of Vishnu and, as most
of the audience were worshippers of Vishnu, for them the spectacle
was not a mere theatrical performance, but a religious mystery,
representing the life and achievements of their favourite and most
The prologue was laid in the epoch before creation began (it may
safely be said that no dramatist would dare to choose an earlier one)
--or, rather, before the last manifestation of the universe. All
the philosophical sects of India, except Mussulmans, agree that
the universe has always existed. But the Hindus divide the
periodical appearances and vanishings into days and nights of Brahma.
The nights, or withdrawals of the objective universe, are called
Pralayas, and the days, or epochs of new awakening into life and
light, are called Manvantaras, Yugas, or "centuries of the gods."
These periods are also called, respectively, the inbreathings and
outbreathings of Brahma. When Pralaya comes to an end Brahma
awakens, and, with this awakening, the universe that rested in
deity, in other words, that was reabsorbed in its subjective essence,
emanates from the divine principle and becomes visible. The gods,
who died at the same time as the universe, begin slowly to return
to life. The "Invisible" alone, the "Infinite," the "Lifeless,"
the One who is the unconditioned original "Life" itself, soars,
surrounded by shoreless chaos. Its holy presence is not visible.
It shows itself only in the periodical pulsation of chaos,
represented by a dark mass of waters filling the stage. These
waters are not, as yet, separated from the dry land, because Brahma,
the creative spirit of Narayana, has not yet separated from the
"Ever Unchanging." Then comes a heavy shock of the whole mass and
the waters begin to acquire transparency. Rays, proceeding from
a golden egg at the bottom, spread through the chaotic waters.
Receiving life from the spirit of Narayana, the egg bursts and the
awakened Brahma rises to the surface of the water in the shape of
a huge lotus. Light clouds appear, at first transparent and web-like.
They gradually become condensed, and transform themselves into
Prajapatis, the ten personified creative powers of Brahma, the god
of everything living, and sing a hymn of praise to the creator.
Something naively poetical, to our unaccustomed ears, breathed
in this uniform melody unaccompanied by any orchestra.
The hour of general revival has struck. Pralaya comes to an end.
Everything rejoices, returning to life. The sky is separated from
the waters and on it appear the Asuras and Gandharvas, the heavenly
singers and musicians. Then Indra, Yama, Varuna, and Kuvera, the
spirits presiding over the four cardinal points, or the four elements,
water, fire, earth, and air, pour forth atoms, whence springs the
serpent "Ananta." The monster swims to the surface of the waves
and, bending its swanlike neck, forms a couch on which Vishnu reclines
with the Goddess of Beauty, his wife Lakshmi, at his feet. "Swatha!
Swatha! Swatha!" cries the choir of heavenly musicians, hailing
the deity. In the Russian church service this is pronounced Swiat!
Swiat! Swiat! and means holy! holy! holy!
In one of his future avatars Vishnu will incarnate in Rama, the
son of a great king, and Lakshmi will become Sita. The motive of
the whole poem of Ramayana is sung in a few words by the celestial
musicians. Kama, the God of Love, shelters the divine couple and,
that very moment, a flame is lit in their hearts and the whole world
Later there are performed the fourteen acts of the drama, which
is well known to everybody, and in which several hundred personages
take part. At the end of the prologue the whole assembly of gods
come forward, one after another, and acquaint the audience with
the contents and the epilogue of their performance, asking the
public not to be too exacting. It is as though all these familiar
deities, made of painted granite and marble, left the temples and
came down to remind mortals of events long past and forgotten.
The hall was full of natives. We four alone were representatives
of Europe. Like a huge flower bed, the women displayed the bright
colors of their garments. Here and there, among handsome, bronze-
like heads, were the pretty, dull white faces of Parsee women,
whose beauty reminded me of the Georgians. The front rows were
occupied by women only. In India it is quite easy to learn a person's
religion, sect, and caste, and even whether a woman is married or
single, from the marks painted in bright colors on everyone's forehead.
Since the time when Alexander the Great destroyed the sacred books
of the Gebars, they have constantly been oppressed by the idol
worshippers. King Ardeshir-Babechan restored fire worship in the
years 229-243 A.C. Since then they have again been persecuted
during the reign of one of the Shakpurs, either II., IX., or XI.,
of the Sassanids, but which of them is not known. It is, however,
reported that one of them was a great protector of the Zartushta
doctrines. After the fall of Yesdejird, the fire-worshippers
emigrated to the island of Ormasd, and, some time later, having
found a book of Zoroastrian prophecies, in obedience to one of
them they set out for Hindustan. After many wanderings,
they appeared, about 1,000 or 1,200 years ago, in the territory
of Maharana-Jayadeva, a vassal of the Rajput King Champanir, who
allowed them to colonize his land, but only on condition that
they laid down their weapons, that they abandoned the Persian
language for Hindi, and that their women put off their national
dress and clothed themselves after the manner of Hindu women. He,
however, allowed them to wear shoes, since this is strictly prescribed
by Zoroaster. Since then very few changes have been made. It
follows that the Parsee women could only be distinguished from
their Hindu sisters by very slight differences. The almost white
faces of the former were separated by a strip of smooth black hair
from a sort of white cap, and the whole was covered with a bright
veil. The latter wore no covering on their rich, shining hair,
twisted into a kind of Greek chignon. Their foreheads were brightly
painted, and their nostrils adorned with golden rings. Both are
fond of bright, but uniform, colors, both cover their arms up to
the elbow with bangles, and both wear saris.
Behind the women a whole sea of most wonderful turbans was waving
in the pit. There were long-haired Rajputs with regular Grecian
features and long beards parted in the middle, their heads covered
with "pagris" consisting of, at least, twenty yards of finest white
muslin, and their persons adorned with earrings and necklaces;
there were Mahrata Brahmans, who shave their heads, leaving only
one long central lock, and wear turbans of blinding red, decorated
in front with a sort of golden horn of plenty; Bangas, wearing
three-cornered helmets with a kind of cockscomb on the top; Kachhis,
with Roman helmets; Bhillis, from the borders of Rajastan, whose
chins are wrapped three times in the ends of their pyramidal turbans,
so that the innocent tourist never fails to think that they constantly
suffer from toothache; Bengalis and Calcutta Babus, bare-headed
all the year round, their hair cut after an Athenian fashion, and
their bodies clothed in the proud folds of a white toga-virilis,
in no way different from those once worn by Roman senators; Parsees,
in their black, oilcloth mitres; Sikhs, the followers of Nanaka,
strictly monotheist and mystic, whose turbans are very like the
Bhillis', but who wear long hair down to their waists; and hundreds
of other tribes.
Proposing to count how many different headgears are to be seen in
Bombay alone, we had to abandon the task as impracticable after a
fortnight. Every caste, every trade, guild, and sect, every one
of the thousand sub-divisions of the social hierarchy, has its own
bright turban, often sparkling with gold lace and precious stones,
which is laid aside only in case of mourning. But, as if to
compensate for this luxury, even the mem-bers of the municipality,
rich merchants, and Rai-Bahadurs, who have been created baronets
by the Government, never wear any stockings, and leave their legs
bare up to the knees. As for their dress, it chiefly consists of
a kind of shapeless white shirt.
In Baroda some Gaikwars (a title of all the Baroda princes) still
keep in their stables elephants and the less common giraffes,
though the former are strictly forbidden in the streets of Bombay.
We had an opportunity of seeing ministers, and even Rajas, mounted
on these noble animals, their mouths full of pansupari (betel leaves),
their heads drooping under the weight of the precious stones on
their turbans, and each of their fingers and toes adorned with rich
golden rings. While the evening I am describing lasted, however,
we saw no elephants, no giraffes, though we enjoyed the company of
Rajas and ministers. We had in our box the hand-some ambassador
and late tutor of the Mahararana of Oodeypore. Our companion was
a Raja and a pandit. His name was a Mohunlal-Vishnulal-Pandia.
He wore a small pink turban sparkling with diamonds, a pair of
pink barege trousers, and a white gauze coat. His raven black
hair half covered his amber-colored neck, which was surrounded by
a necklace that might have driven any Parisian belle frantic with
envy. The poor Raiput was awfully sleepy, but he stuck heroically
to his duties, and, thoughtfully pulling his beard, led us all
through the endless labyrinth of metaphysical entanglements of
the Ramayana. During the entr'actes we were offered coffee,
sherbets, and cigarettes, which we smoked even during the performance,
sitting in front of the stage in the first row. We were covered,
like idols, with garlands of flowers, and the manager, a stout
Hindu clad in transparent muslins, sprinkled us several times
The performance began at eight p.m. and, at half-past two, had only
reached the ninth act. In spite of each of us having a punkah-wallah
at our backs, the heat was unbearable. We had reached the limits
of our endurance, and tried to excuse ourselves. This led to general
disturbance, on the stage as well as in the auditorium. The airy
chariot, on which the wicked king Ravana was carrying Sita away,
paused in the air. The king of the Nagas (serpents) ceased breathing
flames, the monkey soldiers hung motionless on the trees, and Rama
himself, clad in light blue and crowned with a diminutive pagoda,
came to the front of the stage and pronounced in pure English speech,
in which he thanked us for the honour of our presence. Then new
bouquets, pansu-paris, and rose-water, and, finally, we reached home
about four a.m. Next morning we learned that the performance had
ended at half-past six.
On The Way To Karli
It is an early morning near the end of March. A light breeze
caresses with its velvety hand the sleepy faces of the pilgrims;
and the intoxicating perfume of tuberoses mingles with the pungent
odors of the bazaar. Crowds of barefooted Brahman women, stately
and well-formed, direct their steps, like the biblical Rachel, to
the well, with brass water pots bright as gold upon their heads.
On our way lie numerous sacred tanks, filled with stagnant water,
in which Hindus of both sexes perform their prescribed morning
ablutions. Under the hedge of a garden somebody's tame mongoose
is devouring the head of a cobra. The headless body of the
snake convulsively, but harmlessly, beats against the thin flanks
of the little animal, which regards these vain efforts with an
evident delight. Side by side with this group of animals
is a human figure; a naked mali (gardener), offering betel and
salt to a monstrous stone idol of Shiva, with the view of pacifying
the wrath of the "Destroyer," excited by the death of the cobra,
which is one of his favourite servants. A few steps before reaching
the railway station, we meet a modest Catholic procession, consisting
of a few newly converted pariahs and some of the native Portuguese.
Under a baldachin is a litter, on which swings to and fro a dusky
Madonna dressed after the fashion of the native goddesses, with
a ring in her nose. In her arms she carries the holy Babe,
clad in yellow pyjamas and a red Brah-manical turban. "Hari, hari,
devaki!" ("Glory to the holy Virgin!") exclaim the converts,
unconscious of any difference between the Devaki, mother of Krishna,
and the Catholic Madonna. All they know is that, excluded from
the temples by the Brahmans on account of their not belonging to
any of the Hindu castes, they are admitted sometimes into the
Christian pagodas, thanks to the "padris," a name adopted from
the Portuguese padre, and applied indiscriminately to the missionaries
of every European sect.
At last, our gharis--native two-wheeled vehicles drawn by a pair
of strong bullocks--arrived at the station. English employes open
wide their eyes at the sight of white-faced people travelling about
the town in gilded Hindu chariots. But we are true Americans, and
we have come hither to study, not Europe, but India and her products
on the spot.
If the tourist casts a glance on the shore opposite to the port
of Bombay, he will see a dark blue mass rising like a wall between
himself and the horizon. This is Parbul, a flat-topped mountain
2,250 feet high. Its right slope leans on two sharp rocks covered
with woods. The highest of them, Mataran, is the object of our trip.
From Bombay to Narel, a station situated at the foot of this mountain,
we are to travel four hours by railway, though, as the crow flies,
the distance is not more than twelve miles. The railroad wanders
round the foot of the most charming little hills, skirts hundreds
of pretty lakes, and pierces with more than twenty tunnels the
very heart of the rocky ghats.
We were accompanied by three Hindu friends. Two of them once
belonged to a high caste, but were excommunicated from their
pagoda for association and friendship with us, unworthy foreigners.
At the station our party was joined by two more natives, with whom
we had been in correspondence for many a year. All were members
of our Society, reformers of the Young India school, enemies of
Brahmans, castes, aid prejudices, and were to be our fellow-travelers
and visit with us the annual fair at the temple festivities of Karli,
stopping on the way at Mataran and Khanduli. One was a Brahman
from Poona, the second a moodeliar (landowner) from Madras, the
third a Singalese from Kegalla, the fourth a Bengali Zemindar, and
the fifth a gigantic Rajput, whom we had known for a long time by
the name of Gulab-Lal-Sing, and had called simply Gulab-Sing. I
shall dwell upon his personality more than on any of the others,
because the most wonderful and diverse stories were in circulation
about this strange man. It was asserted that he belonged to the
sect of Raj-Yogis, and was an initiate of the mysteries of magic,
alchemy, and various other occult sciences of India. He was rich
and independent, and rumour did not dare to suspect him of deception,
the more so because, though quite full of these sciences, he never
uttered a word about them in public, and carefully concealed his
knowledge from all except a few friends.
He was an independent Takur from Rajistan, a province the name
of which means the land of kings. Takurs are, almost without
exception, descended from the Surya (sun), and are accordingly
called Suryavansa. They are prouder than any other nation in the
world. They have a proverb, "The dirt of the earth cannot stick
to the rays of the sun." They do not despise any sect, except
the Brahmans, and honor only the bards who sing their military
achievements. Of the latter Colonel Tod writes somewhat as follows,*
"The magnificence and luxury of the Rajput courts in the early periods
of history were truly wonderful, even when due allowance is made for
the poetical license of the bards. From the earliest times Northern
India was a wealthy country, and it was precisely here that was
situated the richest satrapy of Darius. At all events, this country
abounded in those most striking events which furnish history with
her richest materials. In Rajistan every small kingdom had its
Thermopylae, and every little town has produced its Leonidas.
But the veil of the centuries hides from posterity events that
the pen of the historian might have bequeathed to the everlasting
admiration of the nations. Somnath might have appeared as a
rival of Delphi, the treasures of Hind might outweigh the riches
of the King of Lydia, while compared with the army of the brothers
Pandu, that of Xerxes would seem an inconsiderable handful of men,
worthy only to rank in the second place."
* In nearly every instance the passages quoted from various
authorities have been retranslated from the Russian. As the
time and labor needful for verification would he too great, the
sense only of these passages is given here. They do not pretend
to be textual.--Translator
England did not disarm the Rajputs, as she did the rest of the
Indian nations, so Gulab-Sing came accompanied by vassals and
Possessing an inexhaustible knowledge of legends, and being
evidently well acquainted with the antiquities of his country,
Gulab-Sing proved to be the most interesting of our companions.
"There, against the blue sky," said Gulab-Lal-Sing, "you behold
the majestic Bhao Mallin. That deserted spot was once the abode
of a holy hermit; now it is visited yearly by crowds of pilgrims.
According to popular belief the most wonderful things happen there--
miracles. At the top of the mountain, two thousand feet above
the level of the sea, is the platform of a fortress. Behind it
rises another rock two hundred and seventy feet in height, and
at the very summit of this peak are to be found the ruins of a
still more ancient fortress, which for seventy-five years served
as a shelter for this hermit. Whence he obtained his food will
for ever remain a mystery. Some think he ate the roots of
wild plants, but upon this barren rock there is no vegetation.
The only mode of ascent of this perpendicular mountain consists
of a rope, and holes, just big enough to receive the toes of a man,
cut out of the living rock. One would think such a pathway
accessible only to acrobats and monkeys. Surely fanaticism must
provide wings for the Hindus, for no accident has ever happened
to any of them. Unfortunately, about forty years ago, a party of
Englishmen conceived the unhappy thought of exploring the ruins,
but a strong gust of wind arose and carried them over the precipice.
After this, General Dickinson gave orders for the destruction of
all means of communication with the upper fortress, and the lower
one, once the cause of so many losses and so much bloodshed, is
now entirely deserted, and serves only as a shelter for eagles
Listening to these tales of olden times, I could not help comparing
the past with the present. What a difference!
"Kali-Yug!" cry old Hindus with grim despair. "Who can strive
against the Age of Darkness?"
This fatalism, the certainty that nothing good can be expected now,
the conviction that even the powerful god Shiva himself can neither
appear nor help them are all deeply rooted in the minds of the old
generation. As for the younger men, they receive their education
in high schools and universities, learn by heart Herbert Spencer,
John Stuart Mill, Darwin and the German philosophers, and entirely
lose all respect, not only for their own religion, but for every
other in the world.
The young "educated" Hindus are materialists almost without exception,
and often achieve the last limits of Atheism. They seldom hope to
attain to anything better than a situation as "chief mate of the
junior clerk," as we say in Russia, and either become sycophants,
disgusting flatterers of their present lords, or, which is still
worse, or at any rate sillier, begin to edit a newspaper full of
cheap liberalism, which gradually develops into a revolutionary organ.
But all this is only en passant. Compared with the mysterious
and grandiose past of India, the ancient Aryavarta, her present
is a natural Indian ink background, the black shadow of a bright
picture, the inevitable evil in the cycle of every nation. India
has become decrepit and has fallen down, like a huge memorial of
antiquity, prostrate and broken to pieces. But the most
insignificant of these fragments will for ever remain a treasure
for the archeologist and the artist, and, in the course of time,
may even afford a clue to the philosopher and the psychologist.
"Ancient Hindus built like giants and finished their work like
goldsmiths," says Archbishop Heber, describing his travel in India.
In his description of the Taj-Mahal of Agra, that veritable eighth
wonder of the world, he calls it "a poem in marble." He might
have added that it is difficult to find in India a ruin, in the
least state of preservation, that cannot speak, more eloquently
than whole volumes, of the past of India, her religious aspirations,
her beliefs and hopes.
There is not a country of antiquity, not even excluding the Egypt
of the Pharaohs, where the development of the subjective ideal
into its demonstration by an objective symbol has been expressed
more graphically, more skillfully, and artistically, than in India.
The whole pantheism of the Vedanta is contained in the symbol of
the bisexual deity Ardhanari. It is surrounded by the double
triangle, known in India under the name of the sign of Vishnu.
By his side lie a lion, a bull, and an eagle. In his hands there
rests a full moon, which is reflected in the waters at his feet.
The Vedanta has taught for thousands of years what some of the
German philosophers began to preach at the end of last century and
the beginning of this one, namely, that everything objective in
the world, as well as the world itself, is no more than an illusion,
a Maya, a phantom created by our imagination, and as unreal
as the reflection of the moon upon the surface of the waters. The
phenomenal world, as well as the subjectivity of our conception
concerning our Egos, are nothing but, as it were, a mirage. The
true sage will never submit to the temptations of illusion. He
is well aware that man will attain to self-knowledge, and become
a real Ego, only after the entire union of the personal fragment
with the All, thus becoming an immutable, infinite, universal Brahma.
Accordingly, he considers the whole cycle of birth, life, old age,
and death as the sole product of imagination.
Generally speaking, Indian philosophy, split up as it is into
numerous metaphysical teachings, possesses, when united to Indian
ontological doctrines, such a well developed logic, such a
wonderfully refined psychology, that it might well take the
first rank when contrasted with the schools, ancient and modern,
idealist or positivist, and eclipse them all in turn. That
positivism expounded by Lewis, that makes each particular hair
on the heads of Oxford theologians stand on end, is ridiculous
child's play compared with the atomistic school of Vaisheshika,
with its world divided, like a chessboard, into six categories
of everlasting atoms, nine substances, twenty-four qualities, and
five motions. And, however difficult, and even impossible may
seem the exact representation of all these abstract ideas, idealistic,
pantheistic, and, sometimes, purely material, in the condensed shape
of allegorical symbols, India, nevertheless, has known how to express
all these teachings more or less successfully. She has immortalized
them in her ugly, four-headed idols, in the geometrical, complicated
forms of her temples, and even in the entangled lines and spots
on the foreheads of her sectaries.
We were discussing this and other topics with our Hindu fellow-
travellers when a Catholic padre, a teacher in the Jesuit College
of St. Xavier in Bombay, entered our carriage at one of the stations.
Soon he could contain himself no longer, and joined in our
conversation. Smiling and rubbing his hands, he said that he
was curious to know on the strength of what sophistry our companions
could find anything resembling a philosophical explanation "in
the fundamental idea of the four faces of this ugly Shiva, crowned
with snakes," pointing with his finger to the idol at the entrance
to a pagoda.
"It is very simple," answered the Bengali Babu. You see that its
four faces are turned towards the four cardinal points, South,
North, West, and East--but all these faces are on one body and
belong to one god."
"Would you mind explaining first the philosophical idea of the
four faces and eight hands of your Shiva," interrupted the padre.
"With great pleasure. Thinking that our great Rudra (the Vedic
name for this god) is omnipresent, we repre-sent him with his face
turned simultaneously in all directions. Eight hands indicate his
omnipotence, and his single body serves to remind us that he is One,
though he is everywhere, and nobody can avoid his all-seeing eye,
or his chastising hand."
The padre was going to say something when the train stopped; we
had arrived at Narel.
It is hardly twenty-five years since, for the first time, a white
man ascended Mataran, a huge mass of various kinds of trap rock,
for the most part crystalline in form. Though quite near to Bombay,
and only a few miles from Khandala, the summer residence of the
Europeans, the threatening heights of this giant were long considered
inaccessible. On the north, its smooth, almost vertical face rises
2,450 feet over the valley of the river Pen, and, further on,
numberless separate rocks and hillocks, covered with thick vegetation,
and divided by valleys and precipices, rise up to the clouds. In
1854, the railway pierced one of the sides of Mataran, and now has
reached the foot of the last mountain, stopping at Narel, where,
not long ago, there was nothing but a precipice. From Narel to
the upper plateau is but eight miles, which you may travel on a
pony, or in an open or closed palanquin, as you choose.
Considering that we arrived at Narel about six in the evening,
this course was not very tempting. Civilization has done much
with inanimate nature, but, in spite of all its despotism, it has
not yet been able to conquer tigers and snakes. Tigers, no doubt,
are banished to the more remote jungles, but all hinds of snakes,
especially cobras and coralillos, which last by preference inhabit
trees, still abound in the forests of Mataran as in days of old,
and wage a regular guerilla warfare against the invaders. Woe
betide the belated pedestrian, or even horseman, if he happens to
pass under a tree which forms the ambuscade of a coralillo snake!
Cobras and other reptiles seldom attack men, and will generally try
to avoid them, unless accidentally trodden upon, but these guerilleros
of the forest, the tree serpents, lie in wait for their victims. As
soon as the head of a man comes under the branch which shelters the
coralillo, this enemy of man, coiling its tail round the branch,
dives down into space with all the length of is body, and strikes
with its fangs at the man's forehead. This curious fact was long
considered to be a mere fable, but it has now been verified, and
belongs to the natural history of India. In these cases the natives
see in the snake the envoy of Death, the fulfiller of the will of
the bloodthirsty Kali, the spouse of Shiva.
But evening, after the scorchingly hot day, was so tempting, and
held out to us from the distance such promise of delicious coolness,
that we decided upon risking our fate. In the heart of this
wondrous nature one longs to shake off earthly chains, and unite
oneself with the boundless life, so that death itself has its
attractions in India.
Besides, the full moon was about to rise at eight p.m. Three hours'
ascent of the mountain, on such a moonlit, tropical night as would
tax the descriptive powers of the greatest artists, was worth any
sacrifice. Apropos, among the few artists who can fix upon canvas
the subtle charm of a moonlit night in India public opinion begins
to name our own V.V. Vereshtchagin.
Having dined hurriedly in the dak bungalow we asked for our sedan
chairs, and, drawing our roof-like topees over our eyes, we started.
Eight coolies, clad, as usual, in vine-leaves, took possession of
each chair and hurried up the mountain, uttering the shrieks and
yells no true Hindu can dispense with. Each chair was accompanied
besides by a relay of eight more porters. So we were sixty-four,
without counting the Hindus and their servants--an army sufficient
to frighten any stray leopard or jungle tiger, in fact any animal,
except our fearless cousins on the side of our great-grandfather
Hanuman. As soon as we turned into a thicket at the foot of the
Mountain, several dozens of these kinsmen joined our procession.
Thanks to the achievements of Rama's ally, monkeys are sacred in
India. The Government, emulating the earlier wisdom of the East
India Company, forbids everyone to molest them, not only when met
with in the forests, which in all justice belong to them, but even
when they invade the city gardens. Leaping from one branch to
another, chattering like magpies, and making the most formidable
grimaces, they followed us all the way, like so many midnight spooks.
Sometimes they hung on the trees in full moonlight, like forest
nymphs of Russian mythology; sometimes they preceded us, awaiting
our arrival at the turns of the road as if showing us the way.
They never left us. One monkey babe alighted on my knees. In a
moment the authoress of his being, jumping without any ceremony
over the coolies' shoulders, came to his rescue, picked him up,
and, after making the most ungodly grimace at me, ran away with him.
"Bandras (monkeys) bring luck with their presence," remarked one
of the Hindus, as if to console me for the loss of my crumpled topee.
"Besides," he added, "seeing them here we may be sure that there
is not a single tiger for ten miles round."
Higher and higher we ascended by the steep winding path, and the
forest grew perceptibly thicker, darker, and more impenetrable.
Some of the thickets were as dark as graves. Passing under hundred-
year-old banyans it was impossible to distinguish one's own finger
at the distance of two inches. It seemed to me that in certain
places it would not be possible to advance without feeling our way,
but our coolies never made a false step, but hastened onwards.
Not one of us uttered a word. It was as if we had agreed to be
silent at these moments. We felt as though wrapped in the heavy
veil of dark-ness, and no sound was heard but the short, irregular
breathing of the porters, and the cadence of their quick, nervous
footsteps upon the stony soil of the path. One felt sick at heart
and ashamed of belonging to that human race, one part of which
makes of the other mere beasts of burden. These poor wretches
are paid for their work four annas a day all the year round. Four
annas for going eight miles upwards and eight miles downwards not
less than twice a day; altogether thirty-two miles up and down a
mountain 1,500 feet high, carrying a burden of two hundredweight!
However, India is a country where everything is adjusted to never
changing customs, and four annas a day is the pay for unskilled
labor of any kind.
Gradually open spaces and glades became more frequent and the light
grew as intense as by day. Millions of grasshoppers were shrilling
in the forest, filling the air with a metallic throbbing, and flocks
of frightened parrots rushed from tree to tree. Sometimes the
thundering, prolonged roars of tigers rose from the bottom of the
precipices thickly covered with all kinds of vegetation. Shikaris
assure us that, on a quiet night, the roaring of these beasts can
be heard for many miles around. The panorama, lit up, as if by
Bengal fires, changed at every turn. Rivers, fields, forests,
and rocks, spread out at our feet over an enormous distance, moved
and trembled, iridescent, in the silvery moonlight, like the tides
of a mirage. The fantastic character of the pictures made us hold
our breath. Our heads grew giddy if, by chance, we glanced down
into the depths by the flickering moonlight. We felt that the
precipice, 2,000 feet deep, was fascinating us. One of our American
fellow travelers, who had begun the voyage on horseback, had to
dismount, afraid of being unable to resist the temptation to dive
head foremost into the abyss.
Several times we met with lonely pedestrians, men and young women,
coming down Mataran on their way home after a day's work. It often
happens that some of them never reach home. The police unconcernedly
report that the missing man has been carried off by a tiger, or
killed by a snake. All is said, and he is soon entirely forgotten.
One person, more or less, out of the two hundred and forty millions
who inhabit India does not matter much! But there exists a very
strange superstition in the Deccan about this mysterious, and only
partially explored, mountain. The natives assert that, in spite
of the considerable number of victims, there has never been found
a single skeleton. The corpse, whether intact or mangled by tigers,
is immediately carried away by the monkeys, who, in the latter case,
gather the scattered bones, and bury them skillfully in deep holes,
that no traces ever remain. Englishmen laugh at this superstition,
but the police do not deny the fact of the entire disappearance
of the bodies. When the sides of the mountain were excavated,
in the course of the construction of the railway, separate bones,
with the marks of tigers' teeth upon them, broken bracelets, and
other adornments, were found at an incredible depth from the surface.
The fact of these things being broken showed clearly that they
were not buried by men, because, neither the religion of the Hindus,
nor their greed, would allow them to break and bury silver and gold.
Is it possible, then, that, as amongst men one hand washes the other,
so in the animal kingdom one species conceals the crimes of another?
Having spent the night in a Portuguese inn, woven like an eagle's
nest out of bamboos, and clinging to the almost vertical side of
a rock, we rose at daybreak, and, having visited all the points
de vue famed for their beauty, made our preparations to return to
Narel. By daylight the panorama was still more splendid than by
night; volumes would not suffice to describe it. Had it not been
that on three sides the horizon was shut out by rugged ridges of
mountain, the whole of the Deccan plateau would have appeared before
our eyes. Bombay was so distinct that it seemed quite near to us,
and the channel that separates the town from Salsetta shone like
a tiny silvery streak. It winds like a snake on its way to the
port, surrounding Kanari and other islets, which look the very
image of green peas scattered on the white cloth of its bright
waters, and, finally, joins the blinding line of the Indian Ocean
in the extreme distance. On the outer side is the northern Konkan,
terminated by the Tal-Ghats, the needle-like summits of the Jano-Maoli
rocks, and, lastly, the battlemented ridge of Funell, whose bold
silhouette stands out in strong relief against the distant blue
of the dim sky, like a giant's castle in some fairy tale. Further
on looms Parbul, whose flat summit, in the days of old, was the
seat of the gods, whence, according to the legends, Vishnu spoke
to mortals. And there below, where the defile widens into a valley,
all covered with huge separate rocks, each of which is crowded
with historical and mythological legends, you may perceive the
dim blue ridge of mountains, still loftier and still more strangely
shaped. That is Khandala, which is overhung by a huge stone block,
known by the name of the Duke's Nose. On the opposite side, under
the very summit of the mountain, is situated Karli, which, according
to the unanimous opinion or archeologists, is the most ancient
and best preserved of Indian cave temples.
One who has traversed the passes of the Caucasus again and again;
one who, from the top of the Cross Mountain, has beheld beneath
her feet thunderstorms and lightnings; who has visited the Alps
and the Rigi; who is well acquainted with the Andes and Cordilleras,
and knows every corner of the Catskills in America, may be allowed,
I hope, the expression of a humble opinion. The Caucasian Mountains,
I do not deny, are more majestic than Ghats of India, and their
splendour cannot be dimmed by comparison with these; but their
beauty is of a type, if I may use this expression. At their sight
one experiences true delight, but at the same time a sensation of awe.
One feels like a pigmy before these Titans of nature. But in India,
the Himalayas excepted, mountains produce quite a different impression.
The highest summits of the Deccan, as well as of the triangular
ridge that fringes Northern Hindostan, and of the Eastern Ghats,
do not exceed 3,000 feet. Only in the Ghats of the Malabar coast,
from Cape Comorin to the river Surat, are there heights of 7,000
feet above the surface of the sea. So that no comparison can be
dawn between these and the hoary headed patriarch Elbruz, or Kasbek,
which exceeds 18,000 feet. The chief and original charm of
Indian mountains wonderfully consists in their capricious shapes.
Sometimes these mountains, or, rather, separate volcanic peaks
standing in a row, form chains; but it is more common to find
them scattered, to the great perplexity of geologists, without
visible cause, in places where the formation seems quite unsuitable.
Spacious valleys, surrounded by high walls of rock, over the very
ridge of which passes the railway, are common. Look below, and
it will seem to you that you are gazing upon the studio of some
whimsical Titanic sculptor, filled with half finished groups,
statues, and monuments. Here is a dream-land bird, seated upon
the head of a monster six hundred feet high, spreading its wings
and widely gaping its dragon's mouth; by its side the bust of a
man, surmounted by a helmet, battlemented like the walls of a
feudal castle; there, again, new monsters devouring each other,
statues with broken limbs, disorderly heaps of huge balls, lonely
fortresses with loopholes, ruined towers and bridges. All this
scattered and intermixed with shapes changing incessantly like the
dreams of delirium. And the chief attraction is that nothing here
is the result of art, everything is the pure sport of Nature, which,
however, has occasionally been turned to account by ancient builders.
The art of man in India is to be sought in the interior of the earth,
not on its surface. Ancient Hindus seldom built their temples
otherwise than in the bosom of the earth, as though they were
ashamed of their efforts, or did not dare to rival the sculpture
of nature. Having chosen, for instance, a pyramidal rock, or a
cupola shaped hillock like Elephanta, Or Karli, they scraped away
inside, according to the Puranas, for centuries, planning on so
grand a style that no modern architecture has been able to conceive
anything to equal it. Fables (?) about the Cyclops seem truer in
India than in Egypt.
The marvellous railroad from Narel to Khandala reminds one of a
similar line from Genoa up the Apenines. One may be said to travel
in the air, not on land. The railway traverses a region 1,400
feet above Konkan, and, in some places, while one rail is laid on
the sharp edge of the rock, the other is supported on vaults and
arches. The Mali Khindi viaduct is 163 feet high. For two hours
we hastened on between sky and earth, with abysses on both sides
thickly covered with mango trees and bananas. Truly English
engineers are wonderful builders.
The pass of Bhor-Ghat is safely accomplished and we are in Khandala.
Our bungalow here is built on the very edge of a ravine, which
nature herself has carefully concealed under a cover of the most
luxuriant vegetation. Everything is in blossom, and, in this
unfathomed recess, a botanist might find sufficient material to
occupy him for a lifetime. Palms have disappeared; for the
most part they grow only near the sea. Here they are replaced by
bananas, mango trees, pipals (ficus religiosa), fig trees, and
thousands of other trees and shrubs, unknown to such outsiders as
ourselves. The Indian flora is too often slandered and misrepresented
as being full of beautiful, but scentless, flowers. At some seasons
this may be true enough, but, as long as jasmines, the various
balsams, white tuberoses, and golden champa (champaka or frangipani)
are in blossom, this statement is far from being true. The aroma
of champa alone is so powerful as to make one almost giddy. For
size, it is the king of flowering trees, and hundreds of them were
in full bloom, just at this time of year, on Mataran and Khandala.
We sat on the verandah, talking and enjoying the surrounding views,
until well-nigh midnight. Everything slept around us.
Khandala is nothing but a big village, situated on the flat top
of one of the mountains of the Sahiadra range, about 2,200 feet
above the sea level. It is surrounded by isolated peaks, as
strange in shape as any we have seen.
One of them, straight before us, on the opposite side of the abyss,
looked exactly like a long, one-storied building, with a flat
roof and a battlemented parapet. The Hindus assert that, somewhere
about this hillock, there exists a secret entrance, leading into
vast interior halls, in fact to a whole subterranean palace, and
that there still exist people who possess the secret of this abode.
A holy hermit, Yogi, and Magus, who had inhabited these caves for
"many centuries," imparted this secret to Sivaji, the celebrated
leader of the Mahratta armies. Like Tanhauser, in Wagner's opera,
the unconquerable Sivaji spent seven years of his youth in this
mysterious abode, and therein acquired his extraordinary strength
Sivaji is a kind of Indian Ilia Moorometz, though his epoch is
much nearer to our times. He was the hero and the king of the
Mahrattas in the seventeenth century, and the founder of their
short-lived empire. It is to him that India owes the weakening,
if not the entire destruction, of the Mussulman yoke. No taller
than an ordinary woman, and with the hand of a child, he was,
nevertheless, possessed of wonderful strength, which, of course,
his compatriots ascribed to sorcery. His sword is still preserved
in a museum, and one cannot help wondering at its size and weight,
and at the hilt, through which only a ten-year-old child could put
his hand. The basis of this hero's fame is the fact that he, the
son of a poor officer in the service of a Mogul emperor, like
another David, slew the Mussulman Goliath, the formidable Afzul Khan.
It was not, however, with a sling that he killed him, he used in
this combat the formidable Mahratti weapon, vaghnakh, consisting
of five long steel nails, as sharp as needles, and very strong.
This weapon is worn on the fingers, and wrestlers use it to tear
each other's flesh like wild animals. The Deccan is full of legends
about Sivaji, and even the English historians mention him with
respect. Just as in the fable respecting Charles V, one of tile
local Indian traditions asserts that Sivaji is not dead, but lives
secreted in one of the Sahiadra caves. When the fateful hour
strikes (and according to the calculations of the astrologers the
time is not far off) he will reappear, and will bring freedom to
his beloved country.
The learned and artful Brahmans, those Jesuits of India, profit
by the profound superstition of the masses to extort wealth from
them, sometimes to the last cow, the only food giver of a large family.
In the following passage I give a curious example of this. At
the end of July, 1879, this mysterious document appeared in Bombay.
I translate literally, from the Mahratti, the original having been
translated into all the dialects of India, of which there are 273.
"Shri!" (an untranslatable greeting). "Let it be known unto every
one that this epistle, traced in the original in golden letters,
came down from Indra-loka (the heaven of Indra), in the presence
of holy Brahmans, on the altar of the Vishveshvara temple, which
is in the sacred town of Benares.
"Listen and remember, O tribes of Hindustan, Rajis-tan, Punjab, etc.,
etc. On Saturday, the second day of the first half of the month
Magha, 1809, of Shalivahan's era" (1887 A.D.), "the eleventh month
of the Hindus, during the Ashwini Nakshatra" (the first of the
twenty-seven constellations on the moon's path), "when the sun
enters the sign Capricorn, and the time of the day will be near
the constellation Pisces, that is to say, exactly one hour and
thirty-six minutes after sunrise, the hour of the end of the Kali-Yug
will strike, and the much desired Satya-Yug will commence" (that is
to say, the end of the Maha-Yug, the great cycle that embraces the
four minor Yugas). "This time Satya-Yug will last 1,100 years.
During all this time a man's lifetime will be 128 years. The days
will become longer and will consist of twenty hours and forty-eight
minutes, and the nights of thirteen hours and twelve minutes, that
is to say, instead of twenty-four hours we shall have exactly
thirty-four hours and one minute. The first day of Satya-Yug will
be very important for us, because it is then that will appear to
us our new King with white face and golden hair, who will come from
the far North. He will become the autonomous Lord of India. The
Maya of human unbelief, with all the heresies over which it presides,
will be thrown down to Patala" (sig-nifying at once hell and the
antipodes), "and the Maya of the righteous and pious will abide
with them, and will help them to enjoy life in Mretinloka" (our earth).
"Let it also be known to everyone that, for the dissemination of
this divine document, every separate copy of it will be rewarded
by the forgiveness of as many sins as are generally forgiven when
a pious man sacrifices to a Brahman one hundred cows. As for the
disbelievers and the indifferent, they will be sent to Naraka" (hell).
"Copied out and given, by the slave of Vishnu, Malau Shriram, on
Saturday, the 7th day of the first half of Shravan" (the fifth month
of the Hindu year), "1801, of Shalivalian's era" (that is, 26th
The further career of this ignorant and cunning epistle is not
known to me. Probably the police put a stop to its distribution;
this only concerns the wise administrators. But it splendidly
illustrates, from one side, the credulity of the populace, drowned
in superstition, and from the other the unscrupulousness of the Brahmans.
Concerning the word Patala, which literally means the opposite side,
a recent discovery of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, whom I have already
mentioned in the preceding letters, is interesting, especially if
this discovery can be accepted by philologists, as the facts seem
to promise. Dayanand tries to show that the ancient Aryans knew,
and even visited, America, which in ancient MSS. is called Patala,
and out of which popular fancy constructed, in the course of time,
something like the Greek Hades. He supports his theory by many
quotations from the oldest MSS., especially from the legends about
Krishna and his favourite disciple Arjuna. In the history of the
latter it is mentioned that Arjuna, one of the five Pandavas,
descendants of the moon dynasty, visited Patala on his travels,
and there married the widowed daughter of King Nagual, called Illupl.
Comparing the names of father and daughter we reach the following
considerations, which speak strongly in favour of Dayanand's supposition.
(1) Nagual is the name by which the sorcerers of Mexico, Indians
and aborigines of America, are still designated. Like the Assyrian
and Chaldean Nargals, chiefs of the Magi, the Mexican Nagual unites
in his person the functions of priest and of sorcerer, being served
in the latter capacity by a demon in the shape of some animal,
generally a snake or a crocodile. These Naguals are thought to
be the descendants of Nagua, the king of the snakes. Abbe Brasseur
de Bourbourg devotes a considerable amount of space to them in his
book about Mexico, and says that the Naguals are servants of the
evil one, who, in his turn, renders them but a temporary service.
In Sanskrit, likewise, snake is Naga, and the "King of the Nagas"
plays an important part in the history of Buddha; and in the Puranas
there exists a tradition that it was Arjuna who introduced snake
worship into Patala. The coincidence, and the identity of the
names are so striking that our scientists really ought to pay some
attention to them.
(2) The Name of Arjuna's wife Illupl is purely old Mexican, and
if we reject the hypothesis of Swami Daya-nand it will be perfectly
impossible to explain the actual existence of this name in Sanskrit
manuscripts long before the Christian era. Of all ancient dialects
and languages it is only in those of the American aborigines that
you constantly meet with such combinations of consonants as pl, tl,
etc. They are abundant especially in the language of the Toltecs,
or Nahuatl, whereas, neither in Sanskrit nor in ancient Greek are
they ever found at the end of a word. Even the words Atlas and
Atlantis seem to be foreign to the etymology of the European languages.
Wherever Plato may have found them, it was not he who invented them.
In the Toltec language we find the root atl, which means water and
war, and directly after America was discovered Columbus found a
town called Atlan, at the entrance of the Bay of Uraga. It is now
a poor fishing village called Aclo. Only in America does one find
such names as Itzcoatl, Zempoaltecatl, and Popocatepetl. To attempt
to explain such coincidences by the theory of blind chance would
be too much, consequently, as long as science does not seek to
deny Dayanand's hypothesis, which, as yet, it is unable to do,
we think it reasonable to adopt it, be it only in order to follow
out the axiom "one hypothesis is equal to another." Amongst other
things Dayanand points out that the route that led Arjuna to America
five thousand years ago was by Siberia and Behring's Straits.
It was long past midnight, but we still sat listening to this
legend and others of a similar kind. At length the innkeeper sent
a servant to warn us of the dangers that threatened us if we
lingered too long on the verandah on a moonlit night. The programme
of these dangers was divided into three sections--snakes, beasts
of prey, and dacoits. Besides the cobra and the "rock-snake," the
surrounding mountains are full of a kind of very small mountain
snake, called furzen, the most dangerous of all. Their poison
kills with the swiftness of lightning. The moonlight attracts them,
and whole parties of these uninvited guests crawl up to the verandahs
of houses, in order to warm themselves. Here they are more snug
than on the wet ground. The verdant and perfumed abyss below our
verandah happened, too, to be the favorite resort of tigers and
leopards, who come thither to quench their thirst at the broad
brook which runs along the bottom, and then wander until daybreak
under the windows of the bungalow. Lastly, there were the mad
dacoits, whose dens are scattered in mountains inaccessible to
the police, who often shoot Europeans simply to afford themselves
the pleasure of sending ad patres one of the hateful bellatis
(foreigners). Three days before our arrival the wife of a Brahman
disappeared, carried off by a tiger, and two favorite dogs of the
commandant were killed by snakes. We declined to wait for further
explanations, but hurried to our rooms. At daybreak we were to
start for Karli, six miles from this place.
In The Karli Caves
At five o'clock in the morning we had already arrived at the limit,
not only of driveable, but, even, of rideable roads. Our bullock-cart
could go no further. The last half mile was nothing but a rough sea
of stones. We had either to give up our enterprise, or to climb on
all-fours up an almost perpendicular slope two hundred feet high.
We were utterly at our wits' end, and meekly gazed at the historical
mass before us, not knowing what to do next. Almost at the summit
of the mountain, under the overhanging rocks, were a dozen black
openings. Hundreds of pilgrims were crawling upwards, looking,
in their holiday dresses, like so many green, pink, and blue ants.
Here, however, our faithful Hindu friends came to our rescue. One
of them, putting the palm of his hand to his mouth, produced a
strident sound something between a shriek and a whistle. This
signal was answered from above by an echo, and the next moment
several half naked Brahmans, hereditary watchmen of the temple,
began to descend the rocks as swiftly and skillfully as wild cats.
Five minutes later they were with us, fastening round our bodies
strong leathern straps, and rather dragging than leading us upwards.
Half an hour later, exhausted but perfectly safe, we stood before
the porch of the chief temple, which until then had been hidden
from us by giant trees and cactuses.
This majestic entrance, resting on four massive pillars which form
a quadrangle, is fifty-two feet wide and is covered with ancient
moss and carvings. Before it stands the "lion column," so-called
from the four lions carved as large as nature, and seated back to
back, at its base. Over the principal entrance, its sides covered
with colossal male and female figures, is a huge arch, in front of
which three gigantic elephants are sculptured in relief, with heads
and trunks that project from the wall. The shape of the temple is
oval. It is 128 feet long and forty-six feet wide. The central
space is separated on each side from the aisles by forty-two pillars,
which sustain the cupola-shaped ceiling. Further on is an altar,
which divides the first dome from a second one which rises over a
small chamber, formerly used by the ancient Aryan priests for an
inner, secret altar. Two side passages leading towards it come
to a sudden end, which suggests that, once upon a time, either
doors or wall were there which exist no longer. Each of the forty-two
pillars has a pedestal, an octagonal shaft, and a capital, described
by Fergusson as "of the most exquisite workmanship, representing two
kneeling elephants surmounted by a god and a goddess." Fergusson
further says that this temple, or chaitya, is older and better
preserved than any other in India, and may be assigned to a period
about 200 years B.C., because Prinsep, who has read the inscription
on the Silastamba pillar, asserts that the lion pillar was the gift
of Ajmitra Ukasa, son of Saha Ravisobhoti, and another inscription
shows that the temple was visited by Dathama Hara, otherwise
Dathahamini, King of Ceylon, in the twentieth year of his reign,
that is to say, 163 years before our era. For some reason or other,
Dr. Stevenson points to seventy years B.C. as the date, asserting
that Karlen, or Karli, was built by the Emperor Devobhuti, under
the supervision of Dhanu-Kakata. But how can this be maintained
in view of the above-mentioned perfectly authentic inscriptions?
Even Fergusson, the celebrated defender of the Egyptian antiquities
and hostile critic of those of India, insists that Karli belongs
to the erections of the third century B.C., adding that "the
disposition of the various parts of its architecture is identical
with the architecture of the choirs of the Gothic period, and the
polygonal apsides of cathedrals."
Above the chief entrance is found a gallery, which reminds one of
the choirs, where, in Catholic churches, the organ is placed.
Besides the chief entrance there are two lateral entrances, leading
to the aisles of the temple, and over the gallery there is a single
spacious window in the shape of a horseshoe, so that the light
falls on the daghopa (altar) entirely from above, leaving the aisles,
sheltered by the pillars, in obscurity, which increases as you
approach the further end of the building. To the eyes of a
spectator standing at the entrance, the whole daghopa shines with
light, and behind it is nothing but impenetrable darkness, where
no profane footsteps were permitted to tread. A figure on the
dag-hopa, from the summit of which "Raja priests" used to pronounce
verdicts to the people, is called Dharma-Raja, from Dharma, the
Hindu Minos. Above the temple are two stories of caves, in each
of which are wide open galleries formed by huge carved pillars,
and from these galleries an opening leads to roomy cells and corridors,
sometimes very long, but quite useless, as they invariably come to
an abrupt termination at solid walls, without the trace of an issue
of any kind. The guardians of the temple have either lost the
secret of further caves, or conceal them jealously from Europeans.
Besides the Viharas already described, there are many others,
scattered over the slope of the mountain. These temple-monasteries
are all smaller than the first, but, according to the opinion of
some archeologists, they are much older. To what century or epoch
they belong is not known except to a few Brahmans, who keep silence.
Generally speaking, the position of a European archaeologist in
India is very sad. The masses, drowned in superstition, are utterly
unable to be of any use to him, and the learned Brahmans, initiated
into the mysteries of secret libraries in pagodas, do all they can
to prevent archeological research. However, after all that has
happened, it would be unjust to blame the conduct of the Brahmans
in these matters. The bitter experience of many centuries has
taught them that their only weapons are distrust and circumspection,
without these their national history and the most sacred of their
treasures would be irrevocably lost. Political coups d'etat which
have shaken their country to its foundation, Mussulman invasions
that proved so fatal to its welfare, the all-destructive fanaticism
of Mussulman vandals and of Catholic padres, who are ready for
anything in order to secure manuscripts and destroy them--all these
form a good excuse for the action of the Brahmans. However in
spite of these manifold destructive tendencies, there exist in
many places in India vast libraries capable of pouring a bright
and new light, not only on the history of India itself, but also
on the darkest problems of universal history. Some of these
libraries, filled with the most precious manuscripts, are in the
possession of native princes and of pagodas attached to their
territories, but the greater part is in the hands of the Jainas
(the oldest of Hindu sects) and of the Rajputana Takurs, whose
ancient hereditary castles are scattered all over Rajistan, like
so many eagles' nests on high rocks. The existence of the
celebrated collections in Jassulmer and Patana is not unknown to
the Government, but they remain wholly beyond its reach. The
manuscripts are written in an ancient and now completely forgotten
language, intelligible only to the high priests and their initiated
librarians. One thick folio is so sacred and inviolable that it
rests on a heavy golden chain in the centre of the temple of
Chintamani in Jassulmer, and taken down only to be dusted and
rebound at the advent of each new pontiff. This is the work of
Somaditya Suru Acharya, a great priest of the pre-Mussulman time,
well-known in history. His mantle is still preserved in the temple,
and forms the robe of initiation of every new high priest. Colonel
James Tod, who spent so many years in India and gained the love
of the people as well as of the Brahmans--a most uncommon trait
in the biography of any Anglo-Indian--has written the only true
history of India, but even he was never allowed to touch this folio.
Natives commonly believe that he was offered initiation into the
mysteries at the price of the adoption of their religion. Being
a devoted archaeologist he almost resolved to do so, but, having
to return to England on account of his health, he left this world
before he could return to his adopted country, and thus the enigma
of this new book of the sibyl remains unsolved.
The Takurs of Rajputana, who are said to possess some of the
underground libraries, occupy in India position similar to the
position of European feudal barons of the Middle Ages. Nominally
they are dependent on some of the native princes or on the British
Government; but de facto they are perfectly independent. Their
castles are built on high rocks, and besides the natural difficulty
of entering them, their possessors are made doubly unreachable by
the fact that long secret passages exist in every such castle,
known only to the present owner and confided to his heir only at
his death. We have visited two such underground halls, one of
them big enough to contain a whole village. No torture would ever
induce the owners to disclose the secret of their entrances, but
the Yogis and the initiated Adepts come and go freely, entirely
trusted by the Takurs.
A similar story is told concerning the libraries and subterranean
passages of Karli. As for the archaeologists, they are unable
even to determine whether this temple was built by Buddhists or
Brahmans. The huge daghopa that hides the holy of holies from
the eyes of the worshippers is sheltered by a mushroom-shaped roof,
and resembles a low minaret with a cupola. Roofs of this description
are called "umbrellas," and usually shelter the statues of Buddha
and of the Chinese sages. But, on the other hand, the worshippers
of Shiva, who possess the temple nowadays, assert that this low
building is nothing but a lingam of Shiva. Besides, the carvings
of gods and goddesses cut out of the rock forbid one to think
that the temple is the production of the Buddhists. Fergusson
writes, "What is this monument of antiquity? Does it belong to
the Hindus, or to the Buddhists? Has it been built upon plans
drawn since the death of Sakya Sing, or does it belong to a more
That is the question. If Fergusson, being bound by facts existing
in inscriptions to acknowledge the anti-quity of Karli, will still
persist in asserting that Elephanta is of much later date, he
will scarcely be able to solve this dilemma, because the two styles
are exactly the same, and the carvings of the latter are still
more magnificent. To ascribe the temples of Elephanta and Kanari
to the Buddhists, and to say that their respective periods
correspond to the fourth and fifth centuries in the first case,
and the tenth in the second, is to introduce into history a very
strange and unfounded anachronism. After the first century A.D.
there was not left a single influential Buddhist in India. Conquered
and persecuted by the Brahmans, they emigrated by thousands to
Ceylon and the trans-Himalayan districts. After the death of King
Asoka, Buddhism speedily broke down, and in a short time was entirely
displaced by the theocratic Brahmanism.
Fergusson's hypothesis that the followers of Sakya Sing, driven
out by intolerance from the continent, probably sought shelter on
the islands that surround Bombay, would hardly sustain critical
analysis. Elephanta and Salsetta are quite near to Bombay, two
and five miles distant respectively, and they are full of ancient
Hindu temples. Is it credible, then, that the Brahmans, at the
culminating point of their power, just before the Mussulman invasions,
fanatical as they were, and mortal enemies of the Buddhists, would
allow these hated heretics to build temples within their possessions
in general and on Gharipuri in particular, this latter being an
island consecrated to their Hindu pagodas? It is not necessary
to be either a specialist, an architect, or an eminent archeologist,
in order to be convinced at the first glance that such temples as
Elephanta are the work of Cyclopses, requiring centuries and not
years for their construction. Whereas in Karli everything is
built and carved after a perfect plan, in Elephanta it seems as
if thousands of different hands had wrought at different times,
each following its own ideas and fashioning after its own device.
All three caves are dug out of a hard porphyry rock. The first
temple is practically a square, 130 feet 6 inches long and 130
feet wide. It contains twenty-six thick pillars and sixteen pilasters.
Between some of them there is a distance of 12 or 16 feet, between
others 15 feet 5 inches, 13 feet 3 1/2 inches, and so on. The
same lack of uniformity is found in the pedestals of the columns,
the finish and style of which is constantly varying.
Why, then, should we not pay some attention to the explanations
of the Brahmans? They say that this temple was begun by the sons
of Pandu, after "the great war," Mahabharata, and that after their
death every true believer was bidden to continue the work according
to his own notions. Thus the temple was gradually built during
three centuries. Every one who wished to redeem his sins would
bring his chisel and set to work. Many were the members of royal
families, and even kings, who personally took part in these labors.
On the right hand side of the temple there is a corner stone, a
lingam of Shiva in his character of Fructifying Force, which is
sheltered by a small square chapel with four doors. Round this
chapel are many colossal human figures. According to the Brahmans,
these are statues representing the royal sculptors themselves,
they being doorkeepers of the holy of holies, Hindus of the highest
caste. Each of the larger figures leans upon a dwarf representative
of the lower castes, which have been promoted by the popular fancy
to the rank of demons (Pisachas). Moreover, the temple is full
of unskillful work. The Brahmans hold that such a holy place
could not be deserted if men of the preceding and present generations
had not become unworthy of visiting it. As to Kanari or Kanhari,
and some other cave temples, there is not the slightest doubt that
they were all erected by Buddhists. In some of them were found
inscriptions in a perfect state of preservation, and their style
does not remind one in the least of the symbolical buildings of
the Brahmans. Archbishop Heber thinks the Kanari caves were built
in the first or second centuries B.C. But Elephanta is much older
and must be classed among prehistoric monuments, that is to say,
its date must be assigned to the epoch that immediately followed
the "great war," Mahabharata. Unfortunately the date of this
war is a point of disagreement between European scientists; the
celebrated and learned Dr. Martin Haug thinks it is almost antediluvian,
while the no less celebrated and learned Professor Max Muller places
it as near the first century of our era as possible.
The fair was at its culmination when, having finished visiting the
cells, climbing over all the stories, and examining the celebrated
"hall of wrestlers," we descended, not by way of the stairs, of
which there is no trace to be found, but after the fashion of pails
bringing water out of a deep well, that is to say, by the aid of ropes.
A crowd of about three thousand persons had assembled from the
surrounding villages and towns. Women were there adorned from the
waist down in brilliant-hued saris, with rings in their noses, their
ears, their lips, and on all parts of their limbs that could hold
a ring. Their raven-black hair which was smoothly combed back,
shone with cocoanut oil, and was adorned with crimson flowers,
which are sacred to Shiva and to Bhavani, the feminine aspect of
Before the temple there were rows of small shops and of tents,
where could be bought all the requisites for the usual sacrifices--
aromatic herbs, incense, sandal wood, rice, gulab, and the red
powder with which the pilgrim sprinkles first the idol and then
his own face. Fakirs, bairagis, hosseins, the whole body of the
mendicant brotherhood, was present among the crowd. Wreathed in
chaplets, with long uncombed hair twisted at the top of the head
into a regular chignon, and with bearded faces, they presented a
very funny likeness to naked apes. Some of them were covered with
wounds and bruises due to mortification of the flesh. We also saw
some bunis, snake-charmers, with dozens of various snakes round
their waists, necks, arms, and legs--models well worthy of the
brush of a painter who intended to depict the image of a male Fury.
One jadugar was especially remarkable. His head was crowned with
a turban of cobras. Expanding their hoods and raising their
leaf-like dark green heads, these cobras hissed furiously and so
loudly that the sound was audible a hundred paces off. Their
"stings" quivered like light-ning, and their small eyes glittered
with anger at the approach of every passer-by. The expression,
"the sting of a snake," is universal, but it does not describe
accurately the process of inflicting a wound. The "sting" of a
snake is perfectly harmless. To introduce the poison into the
blood of a man, or of an animal, the snake must pierce the flesh
with its fangs, not prick with its sting. The needle-like eye
teeth of a cobra communicate with the poison gland, and if this
gland is cut out the cobra will not live more than two days.
Accordingly, the supposition of some sceptics, that the bunis cut
out this gland, is quite unfounded. The term "hissing" is also
inaccurate when applied to cobras. They do not hiss. The noise
they make is exactly like the death-rattle of a dying man. The
whole body of a cobra is shaken by this loud and heavy growl.
Here we happened to be the witnesses of a fact which I relate
exactly as it occurred, without indulging in explanations or
hypotheses of any kind. I leave to naturalists the solution of
Expecting to be well paid, the cobra-turbaned buni sent us word
by a messenger boy that he would like very much to exhibit his
powers of snake-charming. Of course we were perfectly willing,
but on condition that between us and his pupils there should be
what Mr. Disraeli would call a "scientific frontier."* We selected
a spot about fifteen paces from the magic circle. I will not
describe minutely the tricks and wonders that we saw, but will
proceed at once to the main fact. With the aid of a vaguda, a
kind of musical pipe of bamboo, the buni caused all the snakes to
fall into a sort of cataleptic sleep. The melody that he played,
monotonous, low, and original to the last degree, nearly sent us
to sleep ourselves. At all events we all grew extremely sleepy
without any apparent cause. We were aroused from this half lethargy
by our friend Gulab-Sing, who gathered a handful of a grass,
perfectly unknown to us, and advised us to rub our temples and
eyelids with it. Then the buni produced from a dirty bag a kind
of round stone, something like a fish's eye, or an onyx with a
white spot in the centre, not bigger than a ten-kopek bit. He
declared that anyone who bought that stone would be able to charm
any cobra (it would produce no effect on snakes of other kinds)
paralyzing the creature and then causing it to fall asleep. Moreover,
by his account, this stone is the only remedy for the bite of a cobra.
You have only to place this talisman on the wound, where it will
stick so firmly that it cannot be torn off until all the poison is
absorbed into it, when it will fall off of itself, and all danger
will be past.
* Written in 1879.
Being aware that the Government gladly offers any premium for the
invention of a remedy for the bite of the cobra, we did not show
any unreasonable interest on the appearance of this stone. In the
meanwhile, the buni began to irritate his cobras. Choosing a cobra
eight feet long, he literally enraged it. Twisting its tail round
a tree, the cobra arose and hissed. The buni quietly let it bite
his finger, on which we all saw drops of blood. A unanimous cry
of horror arose in the crowd. But master buni stuck the stone on
his finger and proceeded with his performance.
"The poison gland of the snake has been cut out," remarked our
New York colonel. "This is a mere farce."
As if in answer to this remark, the buni seized the neck of the
cobra, and, after a short struggle, fixed a match into its mouth,
so that it remained open. Then he brought the snake over and
showed it to each of us separately, so that we all saw the death-
giving gland in its mouth. But our colonel would not give up his
first impression so easily. "The gland is in its place right
enough," said he, "but how are we to know that it really does
Then a live hen was brought forward and, tying its legs together,
the buni placed it beside the snake. But the latter would pay
no attention at first to this new victim, but went on hissing at
the buni, who teased and irritated it until at last it actually
struck at the wretched bird. The hen made a weak attempt to
cackle, then shuddered once or twice and became still. The death
was instantaneous. Facts will remain facts, the most exacting
critic and disbeliever notwithstanding. This thought gives me
courage to write what happened further. Little by little the
cobra grew so infuriated that it became evident the jadugar himself
did not dare to approach it. As if glued to the trunk of the tree
by its tail, the snake never ceased diving into space with its
upper part and trying to bite everything. A few steps from us was
somebody's dog. It seemed to attract the whole of the buni's
attention for some time. Sitting on his haunches, as far as
possible from his raging pupil, he stared at the dog with motionless
glassy eyes, and then began a scarcely audible song. The dog grew
restless. Putting his tail between his legs, he tried to escape,
but remained, as if fastened to the ground. After a few seconds
he crawled nearer and nearer to the buni, whining, but unable to
tear his gaze from the charmer. I understood his object, and felt
awfully sorry for the dog. But, to my horror, I suddenly felt that
my tongue would not move, I was perfectly unable either to get up
or even to raise my finger. Happily this fiendish scene was not
prolonged. As soon as the dog was near enough, the cobra bit him.
The poor animal fell on his back, made a few convulsive movements
with his legs, and shortly died. We could no longer doubt that
there was poison in the gland. In the meanwhile the stone had
dropped from the buni's finger and he approached to show us the
healed member. We all saw the trace of the prick, a red spot not
bigger than the head of an ordinary pin.
Next he made his snakes rise on their tails, and, holding the
stone between his first finger and thumb, he proceeded to demonstrate
its influence on the cobras. The nearer his hand approached to the
head of the snake, the more the reptile's body recoiled. Looking
steadfastly at the stone they shivered, and, one by one, dropped
as if paralyzed. The buni then made straight for our sceptical
colonel, and made him an offer to try the experiment himself. We
all protested vigorously, but he would not listen to us, and chose
a cobra of a very considerable size. Armed with the stone, the
colonel bravely approached the snake. For a moment I positively
felt petrified with fright. Inflating its hood, the cobra made
an attempt to fly at him, then suddenly stopped short, and, after
a pause, began following with all its body the circular movements
of the colonel's hand. When he put the stone quite close to the
reptile's head, the snake staggered as if intoxicated, its hissing
grew weak, its hood dropped helplessly on both sides of its neck,
and its eyes closed. Drooping lower and lower, the snake fell at
last on the ground like a stick, and slept.
Only then did we breathe freely. Taking the sorcerer aside we
expressed our desire to buy the stone, to which he easily assented,
and, to our great astonishment, asked for it only two rupees. This
talisman became my own property and I still keep it. The buni
asserts, and our Hindu friends confirm the story, that it is not
a stone but an excrescence. It is found in the mouth of one cobra
in a hundred, between the bone of the upper jaw and the skin of
the palate. This "stone" is not fastened to the skull, but hangs,
wrapped in skin, from the palate, and so is very easily cut off;
but after this operation the cobra is said to die. If we are to
believe Bishu Nath, for that was our sorcerer's name, this excrescence
confers upon the cobra who possesses it the rank of king over the
rest of his kind.
"Such a cobra," said the buni, "is like a Brahman, a Dwija Brahman
amongst Shudras, they all obey him. There exists, moreover, a
poisonous toad that also, sometimes, possesses this stone, but its
effect is much weaker. To destroy the effect of a cobra's poison
you must apply the toad's stone not later than two minutes after
the infliction of the wound; but the stone of a cobra is effectual
to the last. Its healing power is certain as long as the heart of
the wounded man has not ceased to beat."
Bidding us good-bye, the buni advised us to keep the stone in a
dry place and never to leave it near a dead body, also, to hide
it during the sun and moon eclipses, "otherwise," said he, "it
will lose all its power." In case we were bitten by a mad dog,
he said, we were to put the stone into a glass of water and leave
it there during the night, next morning the sufferer was to drink
the water and then forget all danger.
"He is a regular devil and not a man!" exclaimed our colonel, as
soon as the buni had disappeared on his way to a Shiva temple,
where, by the way, we were not admitted.
"As simple a mortal as you or I," remarked the Rajput with a smile,
"and, what is more, he is very ignorant. The truth is, he has
been brought up in a Shivaite pagoda, like all the real snake-charmers.
Shiva is the patron god of snakes, and the Brahmans teach the bunis
to produce all kinds of mesmeric tricks by empiri-cal methods, never
explaining to them the theoretical principles, but assuring them
that Shiva is behind every phenomenon. So that the bunis sincerely
ascribe to their god the honor of their `miracles."'
"The Government of India offers a reward for an antidote to the
poison of the cobra. Why then do the bunis not claim it, rather
than let thousands of people die helpless?"
"The Brahmans would never suffer that. If the Government took
the trouble to examine carefully the statistics of deaths caused
by snakes, it would be found that no Hindu of the Shivaite sect
has ever died from the bite of a cobra. They let people of other
sects die, but save the members of their own flock."
"But did we not see how easily he parted with his secret,
notwithstanding we were foreigners. Why should not the English
buy it as readily?"
"Because this secret is quite useless in the hands of Europeans.
The Hindus do not try to conceal it, because they are perfectly
certain that without their aid nobody can make any use of it.
The stone will retain its wonderful power only when it is taken
from a live cobra. In order to catch the snake without killing it,
it must be cast into a lethargy, or, if you prefer the term, charmed.
Who is there among the foreigners who is able to do this? Even
amongst the Hindus, you will not find a single individual in all
India who possesses this ancient secret, unless he be a disciple
of the Shivaite Brahmans. Only Brahmans of this sect possess a
monopoly of the secret, and not all even of them, only those, in
short, who belong to the pseudo-Patanjali school, who are usually
called Bhuta ascetics. Now there exist, scattered over the whole
of India, only about half-a-dozen of their pagoda schools, and
the inmates would rather part with their very lives than with
"We have paid only two rupees for a secret which proved as strong
in the colonel's hands as in the hands of the buni. Is it then
so difficult to procure a store of these stones?" Our friend laughed.
"In a few days," said he, "the talisman will lose all its healing
powers in your inexperienced hands. This is the reason why he let
it go at such a low price, which he is, probably, at this moment
sacrificing before the altar of his deity. I guarantee you a week's
activity for your purchase, but after that time it will only be fit
to be thrown out of the window."
We soon learned how true were these words. On the following day
we came across a little girl, bitten by a green scorpion. She
seemed to be in the last convulsions. No sooner had we applied
the stone than the child seemed relieved, and, in an hour, she
was gaily playing about, whereas, even in the case of the sting
of a common black scorpion, the patient suffers for two weeks.
But when, about ten days later, we tried the experiment of the
stone upon a poor coolie, just bitten by a cobra, it would not
even stick to the wound, and the poor wretch shortly expired. I
do not take upon myself to offer, either a defence, or an explanation
of the virtues of the "stone." I simply state the facts and leave
the future career of the story to its own fate. The sceptics may
deal with it as they will. Yet I can easily find people in India
who will bear witness to my accuracy.
In this connection I was told a funny story. When Dr. (now Sir J.)
Fayrer, who lately published his Thanatophidia, a book on the
venomous snakes of India, a work well known throughout Europe,
he categorically stated in it his disbelief in the wondrous snake-
charmers of India. However, about a fortnight or so after the book
appeared amongst the Anglo-Indians, a cobra bit his own cook. A
buni, who happened to pass by, readily offered to save the man's
life. It stands to reason that the celebrated naturalist could
not accept such an offer. Nevertheless, Major Kelly and other
officers urged him to permit the experiment. Declaring that in
spite of all, in less than an hour his cook would be no more, he
gave his consent. But it happened that in less than an hour the
cook was quietly preparing dinner in the kitchen, and, it is added,
Dr. Fayrer seriously thought of throwing his book into the fire.
The day grew dreadfully hot. We felt the heat of the rocks in
spite of our thick-soled shoes. Besides, the general curiosity
aroused by our presence, and the unceremonious persecutions of
the crowd, were becoming tiring. We resolved to "go home," that
is to say, to return to the cool cave, six hundred paces from the
temple, where we were to spend the evening and to sleep. We would
wait no longer for our Hindu companions, who had gone to see the
fair, and so we started by ourselves.
On approaching the entrance of the temple we were struck by the
appearance of a young man, who stood apart from the crowd and was
of an ideal beauty. He was a member of the Sadhu sect, a "candidate
for Saintship," to use the expression of one of our party.
The Sadhus differ greatly from every other sect. They never appear
unclothed, do not cover themselves with damp ashes, wear no painted
signs on their faces, or foreheads, and do not worship idols.
Belonging to the Adwaiti section of the Vedantic school, they
believe only in Parabrahm (the great spirit). The young man looked
quite decent in his light yellow costume, a kind of nightgown without
sleeves. He had long hair, and his head was uncovered. His elbow
rested on the back of a cow, which was itself well calculated to
attract attention, for, in addition to her four perfectly shaped
legs, she had a fifth growing out of her hump. This wonderful
freak of nature used its fifth leg as if it were a hand and arm,
hunting and killing tiresome flies, and scratching its head with
the hoof. At first we thought it was a trick to attract attention,
and even felt offended with the animal, as well as with its handsome
owner, but, coming nearer, we saw that it was no trick, but an
actual sport of mischievous Nature. From the young man we learned
that the cow had been presented to him by the Maharaja Holkar, and
that her milk had been his only food during the last two years.
Sadhus are aspirants to the Raj Yoga, and, as I have said above,
usually belong to the school of the Vedanta. That is to say, they
are disciples of initiates who have entirely resigned the life of
the world, and lead a life of monastic chastity. Between the
Sadhus and the Shivaite bunis there exists a mortal enmity, which
manifests itself by a silent contempt on the side of the Sadhus,
and on that of the bunis by constant attempts to sweep their rivals
off the face of the earth. This antipathy is as marked as that
between light and darkness, and reminds one of the dualism of the
Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman of the Zoroastrians. Masses of people
look up to the first as to Magi, sons of the sun and of the Divine
Principle, while the latter are dreaded as dangerous sorcerers.
Having heard most wonderful accounts of the former, we were burning
with anxiety to see some of the "miracles" ascribed to them by some
even among the Englishmen. We eagerly invited the Sadhu to visit
our vihara during the evening. But the handsome ascetic sternly
refused, for the reason that we were staying within the temple of
the idol-worshippers, the very air of which would prove antagonistic
to him. We offered him money, but he would not touch it, and so
A path, or rather a ledge cut along the perpendicular face of a
rocky mass 200 feet high, led from the chief temple to our vihara.
A man needs good eyes, sure feet, and a very strong head to avoid
sliding down the precipice at the first false step. Any help
would be quite out of the question, for, the ledge being only two
feet wide, no one could walk side by side with another. We had to
walk one by one, appealing for aid only to the whole of our personal
courage. But the courage of many of us was gone on an unlimited
furlough. The position of our American colonel was the worst,
for he was very stout and short-sighted, which defects, taken
together, caused him frequent vertigos. To keep up our spirits
we indulged in a choral performance of the duet from Norma, "Moriam'
insieme," holding each other's hands the while, to ensure our being
spared by death or dying all four in company. But the colonel did
not fail to frighten us nearly out of our lives. We were already
half way up to the cave when he made a false step, staggered, lost
hold of my hand, and rolled over the edge. We three, having to
clutch the bushes and stones, were quite unable to help him. A
unanimous cry of horror escaped us, but died away as we perceived
that he had succeeded in clinging to the trunk of a small tree,
which grew on the slope a few steps below us. Fortunately, we
knew that the colonel was good at athletics, and remarkably cool
in danger. Still the moment was a critical one. The slender stem
of the tree might give way at any moment. Our cries of distress
were answered by the sudden appearance of the mysterious Sadhu
with his cow.
They were quietly walking along about twenty feet below us, on
such invisible projections of the rock that a child's foot could
barely have found room to rest there, and they both traveled as
calmly, and even carelessly, as if a comfortable causeway were
beneath their feet, instead of a vertical rock. The Sadhu called
out to the colonel to hold on, and to us to keep quiet. He patted
the neck of his monstrous cow, and untied the rope by which he
was leading her. Then, with both hands he turned her head in our
direction, and clucking with his tongue, he cried "Chal!" (go).
With a few wild goat-like bounds the animal reached our path, and
stood before us motion-less. A for the Sadhu himself, his movements
were as swift and as goat-like. In a moment he had reached the tree,
tied the rope round the colonel's body, and put him on his legs again;
then, rising higher, with one effort of his strong hand he hoisted
him up to the path. Our colonel was with us once more, rather
pale, and with the loss of his pince-nez, but not of his presence
An adventure that had threatened to become a tragedy ended in a farce.
"What is to be done now?" was our unanimous in-quiry. "We cannot
let you go alone any further."
"In a few moments it will be dark and we shall be lost," said Mr.
Y---, the colonel's secretary.
And, indeed, the sun was dipping below the horizon, and every
moment was precious. In the meanwhile, the Sadhu had fastened
the rope round the cow's neck again and stood before us on the
pathway, evidently not understanding a word of our conversation.
His tall, slim figure seemed as if suspended in the air above the
precipice. His long, black hair, floating in the breeze, alone
showed that in him we beheld a living being and not a magnificent
statue of bronze. Forgetting our recent danger and our present
awkward situation, Miss X---, who was a born artist, exclaimed:
"Look at the majesty of that pure profile; observe the pose of
that man. How beautiful are his outlines seen against the golden
and blue sky. One would say, a Greek Adonis, not a Hindu!" But
the "Adonis" in question put a sudden stop to her ecstasy. He
glanced at Miss X--- with half-pitying, half-kindly, laughing eyes,
and said with his ringing voice in Hindi--
"Bara-Sahib cannot go any further without the help of someone else's
eyes. Sahib's eyes are his enemies. Let the Sahib ride on my cow.
She cannot stumble."
"I! Ride on a cow, and a five-legged one at that? Never!" exclaimed
the poor colonel, with such a helpless air, nevertheless, that we
burst out laughing.
"It will be better for Sahib to sit on a cow than to lie on a chitta"
(the pyre on which dead bodies are burned), remarked the Sadhu with
modest seriousness. "Why call forth the hour which has not yet struck?"
The colonel saw that argument was perfectly useless, and we succeeded
in persuading him to follow the Sadhu's advice, who carefully hoisted
him on the cow's back, then, recommending him to hold on by the fifth
leg, he led the way. We all followed to the best of our ability.
In a few minutes more we were on the verandah of our vihara, where
we found our Hindu friends, who had arrived by another path. We
eagerly related all our adventures, and then looked for the Sadhu,
but, in the meanwhile, he had disappeared together with his cow.
"Do not look for him, he is gone by a road known only to himself,"
remarked Gulab-Sing carelessly. "He knows you are sincere in your
gratitude, but he would not take your money. He is a Sadhu, not
a buni," added he proudly.
We remembered that it was reported this proud friend of ours also
belonged to the Sadhu sect. "Who can tell," whispered the colonel
in my ear, "whether these reports are mere gossip, or the truth?"
Sadhu-Nanaka must not be confounded with Guru-Nanaka, a leader of
the Sikhs. The former are Adwaitas, the latter monotheists. The
Adwaitas believe only in an impersonal deity named Parabrahm.
In the chief hall of the vihara was a life-sized statue of Bhavani,
the feminine aspect of Shiva. From the bosom of this devaki streams
forth the pure cold water of a mountain spring, which falls into a
reservoir at her feet. Around it lay heaps of sacrificial flowers,
rice, betel leaves and incense. This hall was, in consequence, so
damp that we preferred to spend the night on the verandah in the
open air, hanging, as it were, between sky and earth, and lit from
below by numerous fires kept burning all the night by Gulab-Sing's
servants, to scare away wild beasts, and, from above, by the light
of the full moon. A supper was arranged after the Eastern fashion,
on carpets spread upon the floor, and with thick banana leaves for
plates and dishes. The noiselessly gliding steps of the servants,
more silent than ghosts, their white muslins and red turbans, the
limitless depths of space, lost in waves of moonlight, before us,
and behind, the dark vaults of ancient caves, dug out by unknown
races, in unknown times, in honor of an unknown, prehistoric religion--
all these, our surroundings, transported us into a strange world,
and into distant epochs far different from our own.
We had before us representatives of five different peoples, five
different types of costume, each quite unlike the others. All
five are known to us in ethnography under the generic name of Hindus.
Similarly eagles, condors, hawks, vultures, and owls are known to
ornithology as "birds of prey," but the analogous differences are
as great. Each of these five companions, a Rajput, a Bengali, a
Madrasi, a Sinhalese and a Mahratti, is a descendant of a race,
the origin of which European scientists have discussed for over
half a century without coming to any agreement.
Rajputs are called Hindus and are said to belong to the Aryan race;
but they call themselves Suryavansa, that is to say, descendants
of Surya or the sun.
The Brahmans derive their origin from Indu, the moon, and are called
Induvansa; Indu, Soma, or Chandra, meaning moon in Sanskrit. If
the first Aryans, appearing in the prologue of universal history,
are Brahmans, that is to say, the people who, according to Max Muller,
having crossed the Himalayas conquered the country of the five rivers,
then the Rajputs are no Aryans; and if they are Aryans they are not
Brahmans, as all their genealogies and sacred books (Puranas) show
that they are much older than the Brahmans; and, in this case,
moreover, the Aryan tribes had an actual existence in other countries
of our globe than the much renowned district of the Oxus, the cradle
of the Germanic race, the ancestors of Aryans and Hindus, in the
fancy of the scientist we have named and his German school.
The "moon" line begins with Pururavas (see the genealogical tree
prepared by Colonel Tod from the MS. Puranas in the Oodeypore
archives), that is to say, two thousand two hundred years before
Christ, and much later than Ikshvaku, the patriarch of the Suryavansa.
The fourth son of Pururavas, Rech, stands at the head of the line
of the moon-race, and only in the fifteenth generation after him
appears Harita, who founded the Kanshikagotra, the Brahman tribe.
The Rajputs hate the latter. They say the children of the sun
and Rama have nothing in common with the children of the moon and
Krishna. As for the Bengalis, according to their traditions and
history, they are aborigines. The Madrasis and the Sinhalese are
Dravidians. They have, in turn, been said to belong to the Semites,
the Hamites, the Aryans, and, lastly, they have been given up to
the will of God, with the conclusion drawn that the Sinhalese, at
all events, must be Mongolians of Turanian origin. The Mahrattis
are aborigines of the West of India, as the Bengalis are of, the East;
but to what group of tribes belong these two nationalities no
ethnographer can define, save perhaps a German. The traditions of
the people themselves are generally denied, because they are not in
harmony with foregone conclusions. The meaning of ancient manuscripts
is disfigured, and, in fact, sacrificed to fiction, if only the
latter proceeds from the mouth of some favorite oracle.
The ignorant masses are often blamed and found to be guilty of
superstition for creating idols in the spiritual world. Is not,
then, the educated man, the man who craves after knowledge, who is
enlightened, still more inconsistent than these masses, when he
deals with his favorite authorities? Are not half a dozen laurel-
crowned heads allowed by him to do whatever they like with facts,
to draw their own conclusions, according to their own liking, and
does he not stone every one who would dare to rise against the
decisions of these quasi-infallible specialists, and brand him
as an ignorant fool?
Let us remember the case in point of Louis Jacolliot, who spent
twenty years in India, who actually knew the language and the country
to perfection, and who, nevertheless, was rolled in the mud by Max
Muller, whose foot never touched Indian soil.
The oldest peoples of Europe are mere babes com-pared with the
tribes of Asia, and especially of India. And oh! how poor and
insignificant are the genealogies of the oldest European families
compared with those of some Rajputs. In the opinion of Colonel Tod,
who for over twenty years studied these genealogies on the spot,
they are the completest and most trustworthy of the records of
the peoples of antiquity. They date from 1,000 to 2,200 years B.C.,
and their authenticity may often be proved by reference to Greek
authors. After long and careful research and comparison with the
text of the Puranas, and various monumental inscriptions, Colonel
Tod came to the conclusion that in the Oodeypore archives (now
hidden from public inspection), not to mention other sources, may
be found a clue to the history of India in particular, and to
universal ancient history in general. Colonel Tod advises the
earnest seeker after this clue not to think, with some flippant
archaeologists who are insufficiently acquainted with India, that
the stories of Rama, the Mahabharata, Krishna, and the five brothers
Pandu, are mere allegories. He affirms that he who seriously
considers these legends will very soon become thoroughly convinced
that all these so-called "fables" are founded on historical facts,
by the actual existence of the descendants of the heroes, by tribes,
ancient towns, and coins still extant; that to acquire the right
to pronounce a final opinion one must read first the inscriptions
on the Inda-Prestha pillars of Purag and Mevar, on the rocks of
Junagur, in Bijoli, on Aravuli and on all the ancient Jaina temples
scattered throughout India, where are to be found numerous
inscriptions in a language utterly unknown, in comparison with
which the hieroglyphs will seem a mere toy.
Yet, nevertheless, Professor Max Muller, who, as already mentioned,
was never in India, sits as a judge and corrects chronological
tables as is his wont, and Europe, taking his words for those of an
oracle, endorses his decisions. Et c'est ainsi que s'ecrit l'histoire.
Talking of the venerable German Sanskritist's chronology, I cannot
resist the desire to show, be it only to Russia, on what a fragile
basis are founded his scientific discussions, and how little he
is to be trusted when he pronounces upon the antiquity of this
or that manuscript. These pages are of a superficial and descriptive
nature, and, as such, make no pretense to profound learning, so that
what follows may seem incongruous. But it must be remembered that
in Russia, as elsewhere in Europe, people estimate the value of
this philological light by the points of exclamation lavished upon
him by his admiring followers, and that no one reads the Veda
Bhashaya of Swami Dayanand. It may even be that I shall not be
far from the truth in saying that the very existence of this work
is ignored, which may perhaps be a fortunate fact for the reputation
of Professor Max Muller. I shall be as brief as possible. When
Professor Max Muller states, in his Sahitya-Grantha, that the Aryan
tribe in India acquired the notion of God step by step and very
slowly, he evidently wishes to prove that the Vedas are far from
being as old as is supposed by some of his colleagues. Having
presented, in due course, some more or less valuable evidence to
prove the truth of this new theory, he ends with a fact which, in
his opinion, is indisputable. He points to the word hiranya-garbha
in the mantrams, which he translates by the word "gold," and adds
that, as the part of the Vedas called chanda appeared 3,100 years ago,
the part called mantrams could not have been written earlier than
2,900 years ago. Let me remind the reader that the Vedas are divided
into two parts: chandas--slokas, verses, etc.; and mantrams--
prayers and rhythmical hymns, which are, at the same time, incantations
used in white magic. Professor Max Muller divides the mantram ("Agnihi
Poorwebhihi," etc.) philologically and chronologically, and, finding
in it the word hiranya-garbha, he denounces it as an anachronism.
The ancients, he says, had no knowledge of gold, and, therefore,
if gold is mentioned in this mantram it means that the mantram was
composed at a comparatively modern epoch, and so on.
But here the illustrious Sanskritist is very much mistaken. Swami
Dayanand and other pandits, who sometimes are far from being
Dayanand's allies, maintain that Professor Max Muller has completely
misunderstood the meaning of the term hiranya. Originally it did
not mean, and, when united to the word garbha, even now does not
mean, gold. So all the Professor's brilliant demonstrations are
labor in vain. The word hiranya in this mantram must be translated
"divine light"--mystically a symbol of knowledge; analogically
the alchemists used the term "sublimated gold" for "light," and
hoped to compose the objective metal out of its rays. The two words,
hiranya-garbha, taken together, mean, literally, the "radiant bosom,"
and, when used in the Vedas, designate the first principle, in whose
bosom, like gold in the bosom of the earth, rests the light of divine
knowledge and truth, the essence of the soul liberated from the sins
of the world. In the mantrams, as in the chandas, one must always
look for a double meaning: (1) a metaphysical one, purely abstract,
and (2) one as purely physical; for everything existing upon the
earth is closely bound to the spiritual world, from which it proceeds
and by which it is reabsorbed. For instance Indra, the god of thunder,
Surya, the sun-god, Vayu, god of the wind, and Agni, god of fire,
all four depending on this first divine principle, expand, according
to the mantram from hiranya-garbha, the radiant bosom. In this
case the gods are the personifications of the forces of Nature. But
the initiated Adepts of India understand very clearly that the god
Indra, for instance, is nothing more than a mere sound, born of the
shock of electrical forces, or simply electricity itself. Surya
is not the god of the sun, but simply the centre of fire in our
system, the essence whence come fire, warmth, light, and so on;
the very thing, namely, which no European scientist, steering an
even course between Tyndall and Schropfer, has, as yet, defined.
This concealed meaning has totally escaped Professor Max Muller's
attention, and this is why, clinging to the dead letter, he never
hesitates before cutting a Gordian knot. How then can he be
permitted to pronounce upon the antiquity of the Vedas, when he
is so far from the right understanding of the language of these
The above is a resume of Dayanand's argument, and to him the
Sanskritists must apply for further particulars, which they will
certainly find in his Rigvedadi Bhashya Bhoomika.
In the cave, every one slept soundly round the fire except myself.
None of my companions seemed to mind in the least either the hum
of the thousand voices of the fair, or the prolonged, far-away
roar of the tigers rising from the valley, or even the loud prayers
of the pilgrims who passed to and fro all night long, never fearing
to cross the steep passage which, even by daylight, caused us
such perplexity. They came in parties of twos and threes, and
sometimes there appeared a lonely unescorted woman. They could
not reach the large vihara, because we occupied the verandah at
its entrance, and so, after grumbling a little, they entered a
small lateral cave something like a chapel, containing a statue
of Devaki-Mata, above a tank full of water. Each pilgrim prostrated
himself for a time, then placed his offering at the feet of the
goddess and bathed in the "holy waters of purification," or, at
the least, sprinkled some water over his forehead, cheeks, and breast.
Lastly, retreating backwards, he knelt again at the door and
disappeared in the darkness with a final invocation: "Mata, maha
mata!"--Mother, O great mother!
Two of Gulab-Sing's servants, with traditional spears and shields
of rhinoceros skin, who had been ordered to protect us from wild
beasts, sat on the steps of the verandah. I was unable to sleep,
and so watched with increasing curiosity everything that was going on.
The Takur, too, was sleepless. Every time I raised my eyes, heavy
with fatigue, the first object upon which they fell was the gigantic
figure of our mysterious friend.
Having seated himself after the Eastern fashion, with his feet
drawn up and his arms round his knees, the Rajput sat on a bench
cut in the rock at one end of the verandah, gazing out into the
silvery atmosphere. He was so near the abyss that the least
incautious movement would expose him to great danger. But the
granite goddess, Bhavani herself, could not be more immovable.
The light of the moon before him was so strong that the black
shadow under the rock which sheltered him was doubly impenetrable,
shrouding his face in absolute darkness. From time to time the
flame of the sinking fires leaping up shed its hot reflection on
the dark bronze face, enabling me to distinguish its sphinx-like
lineaments and its shining eyes, as unmoving as the rest of the
"What am I to think? Is he simply sleeping, or is he in that strange
state, that temporary annihilation of bodily life?..... Only this
morning he was telling us how the initiate Raj-yogis were able to
plunge into this state at will... Oh, if I could only go to sleep....."
Suddenly a loud prolonged hissing, quite close to my ear, made me
start, trembling with indistinct reminiscences of cobras. The
sound was strident and evidently came from under the hay upon
which I rested. Then it struck one! two! It was our American
alarum-clock, which always traveled with me. I could not help
laughing at myself, and, at the same time, feeling a little ashamed
of my involuntary fright.
But neither the hissing, nor the loud striking of the clock, nor
my sudden movement, that made Miss X--- raise her sleepy head,
awakened Gulab-Sing, who still hung over the precipice. Another
half hour passed. The far-away roar of the festivity was still
heard, but everything round me was calm and still. Sleep fled
further and further from my eyes. A fresh, strong wind arose,
before the dawn, rustling the leaves and then shaking the tops
of the trees that rose above the abyss. My attention became
absorbed by the group of three Rajputs before me--by the two
shield bearers and their master. I cannot tell why I was specially
attracted at this moment by the sight of the long hair of the
servants, which was waving in the wind, though the place they
occupied was comparatively sheltered. I turned my eyes upon
their Sahib, and the blood in my veins stood still. The veil of
somebody's topi, which hung beside him, tied to a pillar, was simply
whirling in the wind, while the hair of the Sahib himself lay as
still as if it had been glued to his shoulders, not a hair moved,
nor a single fold of his light muslin garment. No statue could be
more motionless. What is this then? I said to myself. Is it
delirium? Is this a hallucination, or a wonderful inexplicable
reality? I shut my eyes, telling myself I must look no longer.
But a moment later I again looked up, startled by a crackling sound
from above the steps. The long, dark silhouette of some animal
appeared at the entrance, clearly outlined against the pale sky.
I saw it in profile. Its long tail was lashing to and fro. Both
the servants rose swiftly and noiselessly and turned their heads
towards Gulab-Sing, as if asking for orders. But where was Gulab-Sing?
In the place which, but a moment ago, he occupied, there was no one.
There lay only the topi, torn from the pillar by the wind. I sprang up:
a tremendous roar deafened me, filling the vihara, wakening the
slumbering echoes, and resounding, like the softened rumbling of
thunder, over all the borders of the precipice. Good heavens! A tiger!
Before this thought had time to shape itself clearly in my mind,
the sleepers sprang up and the men all seized their guns and revolvers,
and then we heard the sound of crashing branches, and of something
heavy sliding down into the precipice. The alarm was general.
"What is the matter now?" said the calm voice of Gulab-Sing, and
I again saw him on the stone bench. "Why should you be so frightened?"
"A tiger! Was it not a tiger?" came in hasty, questioning tones
from Europeans and Hindus.
Miss X--- trembled like one stricken with fever. "Whether it was
a tiger, or something else, matters very little to us now. Whatever
it was, it is, by this time, at the bottom of the abyss," answered
the Rajput yawning.
"I wonder the Government does not destroy all these horrid animals,"
sobbed poor Miss X---, who evidently believed firmly in the omnipotence
of her Executive.
"But how did you get rid of the `striped one'?" insisted the colonel.
"Has anyone fired a shot?"
"You Europeans think that shooting is, if not the only, at least
the best way to get rid of wild animals. We possess other means,
which are sometimes more efficacious than guns," explained Babu
Narendro-Das Sen. "Wait until you come to Bengal, there you will
have many opportunities to make acquaintance with the tigers."
It was now getting light, and Gulab-Sing proposed to us to descend
and examine the rest of the caves and the ruins of a fortress
before the day became too hot, so, at half-past three, we went by
another and easier way to the valley, and, happily, this time we
had no adventures. The Mahratti did not accompany us. He disappeared
without informing us whither he was going.
We saw Logarh, a fortress which was captured by Sivaji from the
Moguls in 1670, and the ruins of the hall, where the widow of Nana
Farnavese, under the pretext of an English protectorate, became
de facto the captive of General Wellesley in 1804, with a yearly
pension of 12,000 rupees. We then started for the village of Vargaon,
once fortified and still very rich. We were to spend the hottest
hours of the day there, from nine in the morning until four in the
afternoon, and proceed afterwards to the historical caves of Birsa
and Badjah, about three miles from Karli.
At about two P.M. when, in spite of the huge punkahs waving to and
fro, we were grumbling at the heat, appeared our friend the Mahratta
Brahman, whom we thought we had lost on the way. Accompanied by
half-a-dozen Daknis (inhabitants 0f the Dekhan plateau) he was
slowly advancing, seated almost on the ears of his horse, which
snorted and seemed very unwilling to move. When he reached the
verandah and jumped down, we saw the reason of his disappearance.
Across the saddle was tied a huge tiger, whose tail dragged in
the dust. There were traces of dark blood in his half opened mouth.
He was taken from the horse and laid down by the doorstep.
Was it our visitor of the night before? I looked at Gulab-Sing.
He lay on a rug in a corner, resting his head on his hand and reading.
He knitted his brows slightly, but did not say a word. The Brahman
who had just brought the tiger was very silent too, watching over
certain preparations, as if making ready for some solemnity. We
soon learned that, in the eyes of a superstitious people, what was
about to happen was a solemnity indeed.
A bit of hair cut from the skin of a tiger that has been killed,
neither by bullet, nor by knife, but by a "word," is considered
the best of all talismans against his tribe.
"This is a very rare opportunity," explained the Mahratti. "It is
very seldom that one meets with a man who possesses the word.
Yogis and Sadhus do not generally kill wild animals, thinking it
sinful to destroy any living creature, be it even a cobra or a tiger,
so they simply keep out of the way of noxious animals. There exists
only one brotherhood in India whose members possess all secrets,
and from whom nothing in nature is concealed. Here is the body
of the tiger to testify that the animal was not killed with a weapon
of any kind, but simply by the word of Gulab-Lal-Sing. I found it,
very easily, in the bushes exactly under our vihara, at the foot
of the rock over which the tiger had rolled, already dead. Tigers
never make false steps. Gulab-Lal-Sing, you are a Raj-Yogi, and
I salute you!" added the proud Brahman, kneeling before the Takur.
"Do not use vain words, Krishna Rao!" interrupted Gulab-Sing.
"Get up; do not play the part of a Shudra."
"I obey you, Sahib, but, forgive me, I trust my own judgment. No
Raj-Yogi ever yet acknowledged his connection with the brotherhood,
since the time Mount Abu came into existence."
And he began distributing bits of hair taken from the dead animal.
No one spoke, I gazed curiously at the group of my fellow-travelers.
The colonel, President of our Society, sat with downcast eyes,
very pale. His secretary, Mr. Y---, lay on his back, smoking a
cigar and looking straight above him, with no expression in his eyes.
He silently accepted the hair and put it in his purse. The Hindus
stood round the tiger, and the Sinhalese traced mysterious signs
on its forehead. Gulab-Sing continued quietly reading his book.
The Birza cave, about six miles from Vargaon, is constructed on
the same plan as Karli. The vault-like ceiling of the temple rests
upon twenty-six pillars, eighteen feet high, and the portico on four,
twenty-eight feet high; over the portico are carved groups of horses,
oxen, and elephants, of the most exquisite beauty. The "Hall of
Initiation" is a spacious, oval room, with pillars, and eleven very
deep cells cut in the rock. The Bajah caves are older and more
beautiful. Inscriptions may still be seen showing that all these
temples were built by Buddhists, or, rather, by Jainas. Modern
Buddhists believe in one Buddha only, Gautama, Prince of Kapilavastu
(six centuries before Christ) whereas the Jainas recognize a Buddha
in each of their twenty-four divine teachers (Tirthankaras) the
last of whom was the Guru (teacher) of Gautama. This disagreement
is very embarrassing when people try to conjecture the antiquity
of this or that vihara or chaitya. The origin of the Jaina sect
is lost in the remotest, unfathomed antiquity, so the name of Buddha,
mentioned in the inscriptions, may be attributed to the last of
the Buddhas as easily as to the first, who lived (see Tod's genealogy)
a long time before 2,200 B.C.
One of the inscriptions in the Baira cave, for instance. in
cuneiform characters, says: "From an ascetic in Nassik to the
one who is worthy, to the holy Buddha, purified from sins, heavenly
This tends to convince scientists that the cave was cut out by Buddhists.
Another inscription, in the same cave, but over an-other cell,
contains the following: "An agreeable offering of a small gift
to the moving force [life], to the mind principle [soul], the well-
beloved material body, fruit of Manu, priceless treasure, to the
highest and here present, Heavenly."
Of course the conclusion is drawn that the building does not belong
to the Buddhists, but to the Brahmans, who believe in Manu.
Here are two more inscriptions from Bajah caves.
"An agreeable gift of the symbol and vehicle of the purified Saka-Saka."
"Gift of the vehicle of Radha [wife of Krishna, symbol of perfection]
to Sugata who is gone for ever."
Sugata, again, is one of the names of Buddha. A new contradiction!
It was somewhere here, in the neighborhood of Vargaon, that the
Mahrattis seized Captain Vaughan and his brother, who were hanged
after the battle of Khirki.
Next morning we drove to Chinchor, or, as it is called here,
Chinchood. This place is celebrated in the annals of the Dekkan.
Here one meets with a repetition in miniature of what takes place
on a larger scale at L'hassa in Tibet. As Buddha incarnates in
every new Dalai-Lama, so, here, Gunpati (Ganesha, the god of
wisdom with the elephant's head) is allowed by his father Shiva
to incarnate in the eldest son of a certain Brahman family. There
is a splendid temple erected in his honor, where the avatars
(incarnations) of Gunpati have lived and received adoration for
over two hundred years.
This is how it happened.
About 250 years ago a poor Brahman couple were promised, in sleep,
by the god of wisdom that he would incarnate in their eldest son.
The boy was named Maroba (one of the god's titles) in honor of
the deity. Maroba grew up, married, and begot several sons,
after which he was commanded by the god to relinquish the world
and finish his days in the desert. There, during twenty-two years,
according to the legend, Maroba wrought miracles and his fame grew
day by day. He lived in an impenetrable jungle, in a corner of
the thick forest that covered Chinchood in those days. Gunpati
appeared to him once more, and promised to incarnate in his
descendants for seven generations. After this there was no limit
to his miracles, so that the people began to worship him, and
ended by building a splendid temple for him.
At last Maroba gave orders to the people to bury him alive, in a
sitting posture, with an open book in his hands, and never to open
his grave again under penalty of his wrath and maledictions. After
the burial of Maroba, Gunpati incarnated in his first-born, who
began a conjuring career in his turn. So that Maroba-Deo I, was
replaced by Chintaman-Deo I. This latter god had eight wives and
eight sons. The tricks of the eldest of these sons, Narayan-Deo I,
became so celebrated that his fame reached the ears of the Emperor
Alamgir. In order to test the extent of his "deification," Alamgir
sent him a piece of a cow's tail wrapped in rich stuffs and coverings.
Now, to touch the tail of a dead cow is the worst of all degradations
for a Hindu. On receiving it Narayan sprinkled the parcel with water,
and, when the stuffs were unfolded, there was found enclosed in
them a nosegay of white syringa, instead of the ungodly tail. This
transformation rejoiced the Emperor so much that he presented the
god with eight villages, to cover his private expenses. Narayan's
social position and property were inherited by Chintaman-Deo II.,
whose heir was Dharmadhar, and, lastly, Narayan II came into power.
He drew down the malediction of Gunpati by violating the grave of
Maroba. That is why his son, the last of the gods, is to die
When we saw him he was an aged man, about ninety years old. He
was seated on a kind of platform. His head shook and his eyes
idiotically stared without seeing us, the result of his constant
use of opium. On his neck, ears, and toes, shone precious stones,
and all around were spread offerings. We had to take off our shoes
before we were allowed to approach this half-ruined relic.
On the evening of the same day we returned to Bombay. Two days
later we were to start on our long journey to the North-West
Provinces, and our route promised to be very attractive. We were
to see Nassik, one of the few towns mentioned by Greek historians,
its caves, and the tower of Rama; to visit Allahabad, the ancient
Prayaga, the metropolis of the moon dynasty, built at the confluence
of the Ganges and Jumna; Benares, the town of five thousand temples
and as many monkeys; Cawnpur, notorious for the bloody revenge of
Nana Sahib; the remains of the city of the sun, destroyed,
according to the computations of Colebrooke, six thousand years ago;
Agra and Delhi; and then, having explored Rajistan with its thousand
Takur castles, fortresses, ruins, and legends, we were to go to
Lahore, the metropolis of the Punjab, and, lastly, to stay for a
while in Amritsar. There, in the Golden Temple, built in the centre
of the "Lake of Immortality," was to be held the first meeting of
the members of our Society, Brahmans, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc.--in
a word, the representatives of the one thousand and one sects of
India, who all sympathized, more or less, with the idea of the
Brotherhood of Humanity of our Theosophical Society.
Benares, Prayaga (now Allahabad), Nassik, Hurdwar, Bhadrinath,
Matura--these were the sacred places of prehistoric India which
we were to visit one after the other; but to visit them, not after
the usual manner of tourists, a vol d'oiseau, with a cheap guide-
book in our hands and a cicerone to weary our brains, and wear
out our legs. We were well aware that all these ancient places
are thronged with traditions and overgrown with the weeds of popular
fancy, like ruins of ancient castles covered with ivy; that the
original shape of the building is destroyed by the cold embrace
of these parasitic plants, and that it is as difficult for the
archaeologist to form an idea of the architecture of the once
perfect edifice, judging only by the heaps of disfigured rubbish
that cover the country, as for us to select from out the thick mass
of legends good wheat from weeds. No guides and no cicerone
could be of any use whatever to us. The only thing they could do
would be to point out to us places where once there stood a fortress,
a castle, a temple, a sacred grove, or a celebrated town, and then
to repeat legends which came into existence only lately, under the
Mussulman rule. As to the undisguised truth, the original history
of every interesting spot, we should have had to search for these
by ourselves, assisted only by our own conjectures.
Modern India does not present a pale shadow of what it was in the
pre-Christian era, nor even of the Hindostan of the days of Akbar,
Shah-Jehan and Aurungzeb. The neighborhood of every town that
has been shattered by many a war, and of every ruined hamlet, is
covered with round reddish pebbles, as if with so many petrified
tears of blood. But, in order to approach the iron gate of some
ancient fortress, it is not over natural pebbles that it is necessary
to walk, but over the broken fragments of some older granite remains,
under which, very often, rest the ruins of a third town, still more
ancient than the last. Modern names have been given to them by
Mussulmans, who generally built their towns upon the remains of
those they had just taken by assault. The names of the latter
are sometimes mentioned in the legends, but the names of their
predecessors had completely disappeared from the popular memory
even before the Mussulman invasion. Will a time ever come for
these secrets of the centuries to be revealed? Knowing all this
beforehand, we resolved not to lose patience, even though we had
to devote whole years to explorations of the same places, in
order to obtain better historical information, and facts less
disfigured than those obtained by our predecessors, who had to be
contented with a choice collection of naive lies, poured forth from
the mouth of some frightened semi-savage, or some Brahman, unwilling
to speak and desirous of disguising the truth. As for ourselves,
we were differently situated. We were helped by a whole society
of educated Hindus, who were as deeply interested in the same
questions as ourselves. Besides, we had a promise of the revelation
of some secrets, and the accurate translation of some ancient
chronicles, that had been preserved as if by a miracle.
The history of India has long since faded from the memories of her
sons, and is still a mystery to her conquerors. Doubtless it still
exists, though, perchance, only partly, in manuscripts that are
jealously concealed from every European eye. This has been shown
by some pregnant words, spoken by Brahmans on their rare occasions
of friendly expansiveness. Thus, Colonel Tod, whom I have already
quoted several times, is said to have been told by a Mahant, the
chief of an ancient pagoda-monastery: "Sahib, you lose your time
in vain researches. The Bellati India [India of foreigners] is
before you, but you will never see the Gupta India [secret India].
We are the guardians of her mysteries, and would rather cut out
each other's tongues than speak."
Yet, nevertheless, Tod succeeded in learning a good deal. It must
be borne in mind that no Englishman has ever been loved so well
by the natives as this old and courageous friend of the Maharana
of Oodeypur, who, in his turn, was so friendly towards the natives
that the humblest of them never saw a trace of contempt in his
demeanour. He wrote before ethnology had reached its present stage
of development, but his book is still an authority on everything
concerning Rajistan. Though the author's opinion of his work was
not very high, though he stated that "it is nothing but a
conscientious collection of materials for a future historian,"
still in this book is to be found many a thing undreamed of by any
British civil servant.
Let our friends smile incredulously. Let our enemies laugh at
our pretensions to penetrate the world-mysteries of Aryavarta,"
as a certain critic recently expressed himself. However pessimistic
may be our critics' views, yet, even in the event of our conclusions
not proving more trustworthy than those of Fergusson, Wilson,
Wheeler, and the rest of the archeologists and Sanskritists who
have written about India, still, I hope, they will not be less
susceptible of proof. We are daily reminded that, like unreasonable
children, we have undertaken a task before which archaeologists
and historians, aided by all the influence and wealth of the
Government, have shrunk dismayed; that we have taken upon ourselves
a work which has proved to be beyond the capacities of the Royal
Let it be so.
Let everyone try to remember, as we ourselves remember, that not
very long ago a poor Hungarian, who not only had no means of any
kind but was almost a beggar, traveled on foot to Tibet through
unknown and dangerous countries, led only by the love of learning
and the eager wish to pour light on the historical origin of his
nation. The result was that inexhaustible mines of literary
treasures were discovered. Philology, which till then had wandered
in the Egyptian darkness of etymological labyrinths, and was about
to ask the sanction of the scientific world to one of the wildest
of theories, suddenly stumbled on the clue of Ariadne. Philology
discovered, at last, that the Sanskrit language is, if not the
forefather, at least--to use the language of Max Muller--"the elder
brother" of all classical languages. Thanks to the extraordinary
zeal of Alexander Csoma de Koros, Tibet yielded a language the
literature of which was totally unknown. He partly translated it
and partly analyzed and explained it. His translations have shown
the scientific world that (1) the originals of the Zend-Avesta,
the sacred scriptures of the sun-worshippers, of Tripitaka, that
of the Buddhists, and of Aytareya-Brahmanam, that of the Brahmans,
were written in one and the same Sanskrit language; (2) that all
these three languages--Zend, Nepalese, and the modern Brahman
Sanskrit--are more or less dialects of the first; (3) that old
Sanskrit is the origin of all the less ancient Indo-European
languages, as well as of the modern European tongues and dialects;
(4) that the three chief religions of heathendom--Zoroastrianism,
Buddhism and Brahmanism--are mere heresies of the monotheistic
teachings of the Vedas, which does not prevent them from being
real ancient religions and not modern falsifications.
The moral of all this is evident. A poor traveler, without either
money or protection, succeeded in gaining admittance to the
Lamaseries of Tibet and to the sacred literature of the isolated
tribe which inhabits it, probably because he treated the Mongolians
and the Tibetans as his brothers and not as an inferior race--a
feat which has never been accomplished by generations of scientists.
One cannot help feeling ashamed of humanity and science when one
thinks that he whose labors first gave to science such precious
results, he who was the first sower of such an abundant harvest,
remained, almost until the day of his death, a poor and obscure
worker. On his way from Tibet he walked to Calcutta without a
penny in his pocket. At last Csoma de Koros became known, and
his name began to be pronounced with honor and praise whilst he
was dying in one of the poorest parts of Calcutta. Being already
very ill, he wanted to get back to Tibet, and started on foot again
through Sikkhim. He succumbed to his illness on the road and was
buried in Darhjeeling.
It is needless to say we are fully aware that what we have undertaken
is simply impossible within the limits of ordinary newspaper articles.
All we hope to accomplish is to lay the foundation stone of an
edifice, whose further progress must be entrusted to future generations.
In order to combat successfully the theories worked out by two
generations of Orientalists, half a century of diligent labor
would be required. And, in order to replace these theories with
new ones, we must get new facts, facts founded not on the chronology
and false evidence of scheming Brahmans, whose interest is to feed
the ignorance of European Sanskritists (as, unfortunately, was
the experience of Lieutenant Wilford and Louis Jacolliot), but on
indubitable proofs that are to be found in inscriptions as yet
undeciphered. The clue to these inscriptions Europeans do not
possess, because, as I have already stated, it is guarded in MSS.
which are as old as the inscriptions and which are almost out of
reach. Even in case our hopes are realized and we obtain this clue,
a new difficulty will arise before us. We shall have to begin a
systematic refutation, page by page, of many a volume of hypotheses
published by the Royal Asiatic Society. A work like this might be
accomplished by dozens of tireless, never-resting Sanskritists--a
class which, even in India, is almost as rare as white elephants.
Thanks to private contributions and the zeal of some educated Hindu
patriots, two free classes of Sanskrit and Pali had already been
opened--one in Bombay by the Theosophical Society, the other in
Benares under the presidency of the learned Rama-Misra-Shastri.
In the present year, 1882, the Theosophical Society has, altogether,
fourteen schools in Ceylon and India.
Our heads full of thoughts and plans of this kind, we, that is to
say, one American, three Europeans, and three natives, occupied a
whole carriage of the Great Indian Peninsular Railroad on our way
to Nassik, one of the oldest towns in India, as I have already
mentioned, and the most sacred of all in the eyes of the inhabitants
of the Western Presidency. Nassik borrowed its name from the
Sanskrit word "Nasika," which means nose. An epic legend assures
us that on this very spot Lakshman, the eldest brother of the
deified King Rama, cut off the nose of the giantess Sarpnaka,
sister of Ravana, who stole Sita, the "Helen of Troy" of the Hindus.
The train stops six miles from the town, so that we had to finish
our journey in six two-wheeled, gilded chariots, called ekkas, and
drawn by bullocks. It was one o'clock A.M., but, in spite of the
darkness of the hour, the horns of the animals were gilded and
adorned with flowers, and brass bangles tinkled on their legs.
Our waylay through ravines overgrown with jungle, where, as our
drivers hastened to inform us, tigers and other four-footed
misanthropes of the forest played hide-and-seek. However, we had
no opportunity of making the acquaintance of the tigers, but enjoyed
instead a concert of a whole community of jackals. They followed
us step by step, piercing our ears with shrieks, wild laughter
and barking. These animals are annoying, but so cowardly that,
though numerous enough to devour, not only all of us, but our
gold-horned bullocks too, none of them dared to come nearer than
the distance of a few steps. Every time the long whip, our weapon
against snakes, alighted on the back of one of them, the whole
horde disappeared with unimaginable noise. Nevertheless, the
drivers did not dispense with a single one of their superstitious
precautions against tigers. They chanted mantrams in unison,
spread betel over the road as a token of their respect to the
Rajas of the forest, and, after every couplet, made the bullocks
kneel and bow their heads in honor of the great gods. Needless to
say, the ekka, as light as a nutshell, threatened each time to fall
with its passenger over the horns of the bullocks. We had to endure
this agreeable way of traveling for five hours under a very dark sky.
We reached the Inn of the Pilgrims in the morning at about six o'clock.
The real cause of Nassik's sacredness, however, is not the mutilated
trunk of the giantess, but the situation of the town on the banks
of the Godavari, quite close to the sources of this river which,
for some reason or other, are called by the natives Ganga (Ganges).
It is to this magic name, probably, that the town owes its numerous
magnificent temples, and the selectness of the Brahmans who inhabit
the banks of the river. Twice a year pilgrims flock here to pray,
and on these solemn occasions the number of the visitors exceeds
that of the inhabitants, which is only 35,000. Very picturesque,
but equally dirty, are the houses of the rich Brahmans built on
both sides of the way from the centre of the town to the Godavari.
A whole forest of narrow pyramidal temples spreads on both sides
of the river. All these new pagodas are built on the ruins of
those destroyed by the fanaticism of the Mussulmans. A legend
informs us that most of them rose from the ashes of the tail of
the monkey god Hanuman. Retreating from Lanka, where the wicked
Ravana, having anointed the brave hero's tail with some combustible
stuff set it on fire, Hanuman, with a single leap through the air,
reached Nassik, his fatherland. And here the noble adornment of
the monkey's back, burned almost entirely during the voyage,
crumbled into ashes, and from every sacred atom of these ashes,
fallen to the ground, there rose a temple.... And, indeed, when
seen from the mountain, these numberless pagodas, scattered in a
most curious disorderly way, look as if they had really been thrown
down by handfuls from the sky. Not only the river banks and the
surrounding country, but every little island, every rock peeping
from the water is covered with temples. And not one of them is
destitute of a legend of its own, different versions of which are
told by every individual of the Brahmanical community according
to his own taste--of course in the hope of a suitable reward.
Here, as everywhere else in India, Brahmans are divided into two
sects--worshippers of Shiva and wor-shippers of Vishnu--and between
the two there is rivalry and warfare centuries old. Though the
neighborhood of the Godavari shines with a twofold fame derived
from its being the birthplace of Hanuman and the theatre of the
first great deeds of Rama, the incarnation of Vishnu, it possesses
as many temples dedicated to Shiva as to Vishnu. The material of
which the pagodas consecrated to Shiva are constructed is black basalt.
And it is, exactly, the color of the material which is the apple of
discord in this case. The black material is claimed by the
Vaishnavas as their own, it being of the same color as the burned
tail of Rama's ally. They try to prove that the Shivaites have no
right to it. From the first days of their rule the English inherited
endless lawsuits between the fighting sectarians, cases decided
in one law-court only to be transferred on appeal to another, and
always having their origin in this ill-omened tail and its pretensions.
This tail is a mysterious deus ex machina that directs all the
thoughts of the Nassik Brahmans pro and contra.
On the subject of this tail were written more reams of paper and
petitions than in the quarrel about the goose between Ivan Ivanitch
and Ivan Nikiphoritch; and more ink and bile were spilt than there
was mud in Mirgorod, since the creation of the universe. The pig
that so happily decided the famous quarrel in Gogol would be a
priceless blessing to Nassik, and the struggle for the tail. But
unhappily even the "pig" if it hailed from "Russia" would be of no
avail in India; for the English would suspect it at once, and
arrest it as a Russian spy!
Rama's bathing place is shown in Nassik. The ashes of pious
Brahmans are brought hither from distant parts to be thrown into
the Godavari, and so to mingle for ever with the sacred waters
of Ganges. In an ancient MS. there is a statement of one of Rama's
generals, who, somehow or other, is not mentioned in the Ramayana.
This statement points to the river Godavari as the frontier between
the kingdoms of Rama, King of Ayodya (Oude), and of Ravana, King
of Lanka (Ceylon). Legends and the poem of Ramayana state that
this was the spot where Rama, while hunting, saw a beautiful antelope,
and, intending to make a present to his beloved Sita of its skin,
entered the regions of his unknown neighbor. No doubt Rama, Ravana,
and even Hanuman, promoted, for some unexplained reason, to the
rank of a monkey, are historical personages who once had a real
existence. About fifty years ago it was vaguely suspected that the
Brahmans possessed priceless MSS. It was reported that one of these
MSS. treats of the prehistoric epoch when the Aryans first invaded
the country, and began an endless war with the dark aborigines of
southern India. But the religious fanaticism of the Hindus never
allowed the English Government to verify these reports.
The most interesting sights of Nassik are its cave-temples, about
five miles from the town. The day before we started thither, I
certainly did not dream that a "tail" would have to play an important
part in our visit to Nassik, that, in this case, it would save me,
if not from death, at least from disagreeable and perhaps dangerous
bruises. This is how it happened.
As the difficult task of ascending a steep mountain lay before us,
we decided to hire elephants. The best couple in the town was
brought before us. Their owner assured us "that the Prince
of Wales had ridden upon them and was very contented." To go
there and back and have them in attendance the whole day--in fact
the whole pleasure-trip--was to cost us two rupees for each elephant.
Our native friends, accustomed from infancy to this way of riding,
were not long in getting on the back of their elephant. They
covered him like flies, with no predilection for this or that
spot of his vast back. They held on by all kinds of strings and
ropes, more with their toes than their fingers, and, on the whole,
presented a picture of contentment and comfort. We Europeans had
to use the lady elephant, as being the tamer of the two. On her
back there were two little benches with sloping seats on both sides,
and not the slightest prop for our backs. The wretched, undergrown
youngsters seen in European circuses give no idea of the real size
of this noble beast. The mahout, or driver, placed himself between
the huge animal's ears whilst we gazed at the "perfected" seats
ready for us with an uneasy feeling of distrust The mahout ordered
his elephant to kneel, and it must be owned that in climbing on her
back with the aid of a small ladder, I felt what the French call
chair de poule. Our she-elephant answered to the poetical name
of "Chanchuli Peri," the Active Fairy, and really was the most
obedient and the merriest of all the representatives of her tribe
that I have ever seen. Clinging to each other we at last gave
the signal for departure, and the mahout goaded the right ear of
the animal with an iron rod. First the elephant raised herself
on her fore-legs, which movement tilted us all back, then she
heavily rose on her hind ones, too, and we rolled forwards,
threatening to upset the mahout. But this was not the end of our
misfortunes. At the very first steps of Peri we slipped about in
all directions, like quivering fragments of blancmange.
The journey came to a sudden pause. We were picked up in a hasty
way, replaced on our respective seats, during which proceeding
Peri's trunk proved very active, and the journey continued. The
very thought of the five miles before us filled us with horror,
but we would not give up the excursion, and indignantly refused
to be tied to our seats, as was suggested by our Hindu companions,
who could not suppress their merry laughter.... However, I bitterly
repented this display of vanity. This unusual mode of locomotion
was something incredibly fantastical, and, at the same time, ridiculous.
A horse carrying our luggage trotted by Peri's side, and looked, from
our vast elevation, no bigger than a donkey. At every mighty step
of Peri we had to be prepared for all sorts of unexpected acrobatic
feats, while jolted from one side to the other by her swinging gait.
This experience, under the scorching sun, unavoidably induced a
state of body and mind something between sea-sickness and a delirious
nightmare. As a crown to our pleasures, when we began to ascend a
tortuous little path over the stony slope of a deep ravine, our
Peri stumbled. This sudden shock caused me to lose my balance
altogether. I sat on the hinder part of the elephant's back, in
the place of honor, as it is esteemed, and, once thoroughly shaken,
rolled down like a log. No doubt, next moment I should have found
myself at the bottom of the ravine, with some more or less sad
loss to my bodily constitution, if it had not been for the wonderful
dexterity and instinct of the clever animal. Having felt that
something was wrong she twisted her tail round me, stopped
instantaneously and began to kneel down carefully. But my natural
weight was too much for the thin tail of this kind animal. Peri
did not lose hold of me, but, having at last knelt down, she moaned
plaintively, though discreetly, thinking probably that she had
nearly lost her tail through being so generous. The mahout hurried
to my rescue and then examined the damaged tail of his animal.
We now witnessed a scene that clearly showed us the coarse cunning,
greediness and cowardice of a low-class Hindu, of an outcast, as
they are denominated here.
The mahout very indifferently and composedly examined Peri's tail,
and even pulled it several times to make sure, and was already on
the point of hoisting himself quietly into his usual place, when
I had the unhappy thought of muttering something that expressed
my regret and compassion. My words worked a miraculous transformation
in the mahout's behavior. He threw himself on the ground, and
rolled about like a demoniac, uttering horrible wild groans.
Sobbing and crying he kept on repeating that the Mam-Sahib had
torn off his darling Peri's tail, that Peri was damaged for ever
in everybody's estimation, that Peri's husband, the proud Airavati,
lineal descendant of Indra's own favourite elephant, having
witnessed her shame, would renounce his spouse, and that she had
better die.... Yells and bitter tears were his only answer to all
remonstrances of our companions. In vain we tried to persuade
him that the "proud Airavati" did not show the slightest disposition
to be so cruel, in vain we pointed out to him that all this time
both elephants stood quietly together, Airavati even at this critical
moment rubbing his trunk affectionately against Peri's neck, and
Peri not looking in the least discomfited by the accident to her tail.
All this was of no avail! Our friend Narayan lost his patience at
last. He was a man of extraordinary muscular strength and took
recourse to a last original means. With one hand he threw down a
silver rupee, with the other he seized the mahout's muslin garment
and hurled him after the coin. Without giving a thought to his
bleeding nose, the mahout jumped at the rupee with the greediness
of a wild beast springing upon its prey. He prostrated himself
in the dust before us repeatedly, with endless "salaams," instantly
changing his deep sorrow into mad joy. He gave another pull at
the unfortunate tail and gladly declared that, thanks to the "prayers
of the sahib," it really was safe; to demonstrate which he hung
on to it, till he was torn away and put back on his seat.
"Is it possible that a single, miserable rupee can have been the
cause of all this?" we asked each other in utter bewilderment.
"Your astonishment is natural enough," answered the Hindus. "We
need not express how ashamed and how disgusted we all feel at this
voluntary display of humiliation and greed. But do not forget
that this wretch, who certainly has a wife and children, serves
his employer for twelve rupees a year, instead of which he often
gets nothing but a beating. Remember also the long centuries of
tyrannical treatment from Brahmans, from fanatical Mussulmans, who
regard a Hindu as nothing better than an unclean reptile, and,
nowadays, from the average Englishman, and maybe you will pity
this wretched caricature of humanity."
But the "caricature" in question evidently felt perfectly happy
and not in the least conscious of a humiliation of any kind. Sitting
on the roomy forehead of his Peri, he was telling her of his
unexpected wealth, reminding her of her "divine" origin, and
ordering her to salute the "sahibs" with her trunk. Peri, whose
spirits had been raised by the gift of a whole stick of sugar-cane
from me, lifted her trunk backwards and playfully blew into our faces.
On the threshold of the Nassik caves we bid good-bye to the modern
pigmy India, to the petty things of her everyday life, and to her
humiliations. We re-entered the unknown world of India, the great
and the mysterious.
The main caves of Nassik are excavated in a mountain bearing the
name of Pandu-Lena, which points again to the undying, persistent,
primaeval tradition that ascribes all such buildings to the five
mythical (?) brothers of prehistoric times. The unanimous opinion
of archaeologists esteems these caves more interesting and more
important than all the caves of Elephanta and Karli put together.
And, nevertheless--is it not strange?--with the exception of the
learned Dr. Wilson, who, it may be, was a little too fond of forming
hasty opinions, no archaeologist has, as yet, made so bold as to
decide to what epoch they belong, by whom they were erected, and
which of the three chief religions of antiquity was the one professed
by their mysterious builders.
It is evident, however, that those who wrought here did not all
belong either to the same generation or to the same sect. The
first thing which strikes the attention is the roughness of the
primitive work, its huge dimensions, and the decline of the sculpture
on the solid walls, whereas the sculpture and carvings of the six
colossi which prop the chief cave on the second floor, are
magnificently preserved and very elegant. This circumstance
would lead one to think that the work was begun many centuries
before it was finished. But when? One of the Sanskrit inscriptions
of a comparatively recent epoch (on the pedestal of one of the colossi)
clearly points to 453 B.C. as the year of the building. At all
events, Barth, Stevenson, Gibson, Reeves, and some other scientists,
who being Westerns can have none of the prejudices proper to the
native Pundits, have formed this conjecture on the basis of some
astronomical data. Besides, the conjunction of the planets stated
in the inscription leaves no doubt as to the dates, it must be either
453 B.C., or 1734 of our era, or 2640 B.C., which last is impossible,
because Buddha and Buddhist monasteries are mentioned in the inscription.
I translate some of the most important sentences:
"To the most Perfect and the Highest! May this be agreeable to Him!
The son of King Kshaparata, Lord of the Kshatriya tribe and protector
of people, the Ruler of Dinik, bright as the dawn, sacrifices a
hundred thousand cows that graze on the river Banasa, together
with the river, and also the gift of gold by the builder of this
holy shelter of gods, the place of the curbing of the Brahmans'
passions. There is no more desirable place than this place, neither
in Prabhasa, where accumulate hundreds of thousands of Brahmans
repeating the sacred verse, nor in the sacred city Gaya, nor on
the steep mountain near Dashatura, nor on the Serpents' Field in
Govardhana, nor in the city Pratisraya where stands the monastery
of Buddhists, nor even in the edifice erected by Depana-kara on the
shores of the fresh water [?] sea. This place, giving incomparable
favors, is agreeable and useful in all respects to the spotted
deerskin of an ascetic. A safe boat given also by him who built
the gratuitous ferry daily transports to the well-guarded shore.
By him also who built the house for travelers and the public fountain,
a gilded lion was erected by the ever-assaulted gate of this Govardhana,
also another [lion] by the ferry-boat, and another by Ramatirtha.
Various kinds of food will always be found here by the scanty flock;
for this flock more than a hundred kinds of herbs and thousands of
mountain roots are stored by this generous giver. In the same
Govardhana, in the luminous mountain, this second cave was dug by
the order of the same beneficent person, during the very year when
the Sun, Shukra and Rahu, much respected by men, were in the full
glory of their rise; it was in this year that the gifts were offered.
Lakshmi, Indra and Yama having blessed them, returned with shouts
of triumph to their chariot, kept on the way free from obstacles
[the sky], by the force of mantrams. When they [the gods] all left,
poured a heavy shower....." and so on.
Rahn and Kehetti are the fixed stars which form the head and the
tail of the constellation of the Dragon. Shukra is Venus. Lakshmi,
Indra and Yama stand here for the constellations of Virgo, Aquarius
and Taurus, which are subject and consecrated to these three among
the twelve higher deities.
The first caves are dugout in a conical hillock about two hundred
and eighty feet from its base. In the chief of them stand three
statues of Buddha; in the lateral ones a lingam and two Jaina idols.
In the top cave there is a statue of Dharma Raja, or Yudhshtira,
the eldest of the Pandus, who is worshipped in a temple erected
in his honor, between Pent and Nassik. Farther on is a whole
labyrinth of cells, where Buddhist hermits probably lived, a huge
statue of Buddha in a reclining posture. and another as big, but
surrounded with pillars adorned with figures of various animals.
Styles, epochs and sects are here as much mixed up and entangled
as different trees in a thick forest.
It is very remarkable that almost all the cave temples of India
are to be found inside conical rocks and mountains. It is as
though the ancient builders looked for such natural pyramids
purposely. I noticed this peculiarity in Karli, and it is to be
met with only in India. Is it a mere coincidence, or is it one
of the rules of the religious architecture of the remote past?
And which are the imitators--the builders of the Egyptian pyramids,
or the unknown architects of the under ground caves of India? In
pyramids as well as in caves everything seems to be calculated with
geometrical exactitude. In neither case are the entrances ever at
the bottom, but always at a certain distance from the ground. It
is well known that nature does not imitate art, and, as a rule,
art tries to copy certain forms of nature. And if, even in this
similarity of the symbols of Egypt and India, nothing is to be
found but a coincidence, we shall have to own that coincidences
are sometimes very extraordinary. Egypt has borrowed many things
from India. We must not forget that nothing is known about the
origin of the Pharaohs, and that the few facts science has succeeded
in discovering, far from contradicting our theory, suggest India
as the cradle of the Egyptian race. In the days of remote antiquity
Kalluka-Bhatta wrote: "During the reign of Visvamitra, first king
of the Soma-Vansha dynasty, after a five days battle, Manu-Vena,
the heir of ancient kings, was abandoned by the Brahmans, and
emigrated with his army, and, having traversed Arya and Barria,
at last reached the shores of Masra....."
Arya is Iran or Persia; Barria is an ancient name of Arabia; Masr
or Masra is a name of Cairo, disfigured by Mussulmans into Misro
Kalluka-Bhatta is an ancient writer. Sanskritists still quarrel
over his epoch, wavering between 2,000 years B.C., and the reign
of the Emperor Akbar (the time of John the Terrible and Elizabeth
of England). On the grounds of this uncertainty, the evidence of
Kalluka-Bhatta might be objected to. In this case, there are the
words of a modern historian, who has studied Egypt all his life,
not in Berlin or London, like some other historians, but in Egypt,
deciphering the inscriptions of the oldest sarcophagi and papyri,
that is to say, the words of Henry Brugsch-Bey:
". . . I repeat, my firm conviction is that the Egyptians came
from Asia long before the historical period, having traversed the
Suez promontory, that bridge of all the nations, and found a new
fatherland on the banks of the Nile."
An inscription on a Hammamat rock says that Sankara, the last
Pharaoh of the eleventh dynasty, sent a nobleman to Punt: "I was
sent on a ship to Punt, to bring back some aromatic gum, gathered
by the princes of the Red Land."
Commenting on this inscription, Brugsch-Bey explains that "under
the name of Punt the ancient inhabitants of Chemi meant a distant
land surrounded by a great ocean, full of mountains and valleys,
and rich in ebony and other expensive woods, in perfumes, precious
stones and metals, in wild beasts, giraffes, leopards and big monkeys."
The name of a monkey in Egypt was Kaff, or Kafi, in Hebrew Koff,
in Sanskrit Kapi.
In the eyes of the ancient Egyptians, this Punt was a sacred land,
because Punt or Pa-nuter was "the original land of the gods, who
left it under the leadership of A-Mon [Manu-Vena of Kalluka-Bhatta?]
Hor and Hator, and duly arrived in Chemi."
Hanuman has a decided family likeness to the Egyptian Cynocephalus,
and the emblem of Osiris and Shiva is the same. Qui vivra verra!
Our return journey was very agreeable. We had adapted ourselves
to Peri's movements. and felt ourselves first-rate jockeys. But
for a whole week afterwards we could hardly walk.
A City Of The Dead
What would be your choice if you had to choose between being blind
and being deaf? Nine people out of ten answer this question by
positively preferring deafness to blindness. And one whose good
fortune it has been to contemplate, even for a moment, some fantastic
fairy-like corner of India, this country of lace-like marble palaces
and enchanting gardens, would willingly add to deafness, lameness
of both legs, rather than lose such sights.
We are told that Saadi, the great poet, bitterly complained of his
friends looking tired and indifferent while he praised the beauty
and charm of his lady-love. "If the happiness of contemplating
her wonderful beauty," remonstrated he, "was yours, as it is mine,
you could not fail to understand my verses, which, alas, describe
in such meagre and inadequate terms the rapturous feelings
experienced by every one who sees her even from a distance!"
I fully sympathize with the enamoured poet, but cannot condemn
his friends who never saw his lady-love, and that is why I tremble
lest my constant rhapsodies on India should bore my readers as much
as Saadi bored his friends. But what, I pray you, is the poor
narrator to do, when new, undreamed-of charms are daily discovered
in the lady-love in question? Her darkest aspects, abject and
immoral as they are, and sometimes of such a nature as to excite
your horror--even these aspects are full of some wild poetry, of
originality, which cannot be met with in any other country. It is
not unusual for a European novice to shudder with disgust at some
features of local everyday life; but at the same time these very
sights attract and fascinate the attention like a horrible nightmare.
We had plenty of these experiences whilst our ecole buissoniere
lasted. We spent these days far from railways and from any other
vestige of civilization. Happily so, because European civilization
does not suit India any better than a fashionable bonnet would
suit a half naked Peruvian maiden, a true "daughter of Sun,"
of Cortes' time.
All the day long we wandered across rivers and jungles, passing
villages and ruins of ancient fortresses, over local-board roads
between Nassik and Jubblepore, traveling with the aid of bullock
cars, elephants, horses, and very often being carried in palks.
At nightfall we put up our tents and slept anywhere. These days
offered us an opportunity of seeing that man decidedly can surmount
trying and even dangerous conditions of climate, though, perhaps,
in a passive way, by mere force of habit. In the afternoons, when we,
white people, were very nearly fainting with the roasting heat, in
spite of thick cork topis and such shelter as we could procure,
and even our native companions had to use more than the usual
supplies of muslin round their heads--the Bengali Babu traveled
on horseback endless miles, under the vertical rays of the hot sun,
bareheaded, protected only by his thick crop of hair. The sun
has no influence whatever on Bengali skulls. They are covered
only on solemn occasions, in cases of weddings and great festivities.
Their turbans are useless adornments, like flowers in a European
Bengali Babus are born clerks; they invade all railroad stations,
post and telegraph offices and Government law courts. Wrapped in
their white muslin toga virilis, their legs bare up to the knees,
their heads unprotected, they proudly loaf on the platforms of
railway stations, or at the entrances of their offices, casting
contemptuous glances on the Mahrattis, who dearly love their
numerous rings and lovely earrings in the upper part of their
right ears. Bengalis, unlike the rest of the Hindus, do not paint
sectarian signs on their foreheads. The only trinket they do not
completely despise is an expensive necklace; but even this is not
common. Contrary to all expectations, the Mahrattis, with all
their little effeminate ways, are the bravest tribe of India,
gallant and experienced soldiers, a fact which has been
demonstrated by centuries of fighting; but Bengal has never as
yet produced a single soldier out of its sixty-five million
inhabitants. Not a single Bengali is to be found in the native
regiments of the British army. This is a strange fact, which I
refused to believe at first, but which has been confirmed by many
English officers and by Bengalis themselves. But with all this,
they are far from being cowardly. Their wealthy classes do lead
a somewhat effeminate life, but their zemindars and peasantry are
undoubtedly brave. Disarmed by their present Government, the
Bengali peasants go out to meet the tiger, which in their country
is more ferocious than elsewhere, armed only with a club, as
composedly as they used to go with rifles and swords.
Many out-of-the-way paths and groves which most probably had never
before been trodden by a European foot, were visited by us during
these short days. Gulab-Lal-Sing was absent, but we were accompanied
by a trusted servant of his, and the welcome we met with almost
everywhere was certainly the result of the magic influence of his
name. If the wretched, naked peasants shrank from us and shut their
doors at our approach, the Brahmans were as obliging as could be desired.
The sights around Kandesh, on the way to Thalner and Mhau, are very
picturesque. But the effect is not entirely due to Nature's beauty.
Art has a good deal to do with it, especially in Mussulman cemeteries.
Now they are all more or less destroyed and deserted, owing to the
increase of the Hindu inhabitants around them, and to the Mussulman
princes, once the rightful lords of India, being expelled. Mussulmans
of the present day are badly off and have to put up with more
humiliations than even the Hindus. But still they have left many
memorials behind them, and, amongst others, their cemeteries. The
Mussulman fidelity to the dead is a very touching feature of their
character. Their devotion to those that are gone is always more
demonstrative than their affection for the living members of their
families, and almost entirely concentrates itself on their last
abodes. In proportion as their notions of paradise are coarse and
material, the appearance of their cemeteries is poetical, especially
in India. One may pleasantly spend whole hours in these shady,
delightful gardens, amongst their white monuments crowned with
turbans, covered with roses and jessamine and sheltered with rows
of cypresses. We often stopped in such places to sleep and dine.
A cemetery near Thalner is especially attractive. Out of several
mausoleums in a good state of preservation the most magnificent
is the monument of the family of Kiladar, who was hanged on the
city tower by the order of General Hislop in 1818. Four other
mausoleums attracted our attention and we learned that one of them
is celebrated throughout India. It is a white marble octagon,
covered from top to bottom with carving, the like of which could
not be found even in Pere La Chaise. A Persian inscription on its
base records that it cost one hundred thousand rupees.
By day, bathed in the hot rays of the sun, its tall minaret-like
outline looks like a block of ice against the blue sky. By night,
with the aid of the intense, phosphorescent moonlight proper to
India, it is still more dazzling and poetical. The summit looks
as if it were covered with freshly fallen snow-crystals. Raising
its slender profile above the dark background of bushes, it suggests
some pure midnight apparition, soaring over this silent abode of
destruction and lamenting what will never return. Side by side
with these cemeteries rise the Hindu ghats, generally by the river
bank. There really is something grand in the ritual of burning
the dead. Witnessing this ceremony the spectator is struck with
the deep philosophy underlying the fundamental idea of this custom.
In the course of an hour nothing remains of the body but a few
handfuls of ashes. A professional Brahman, like a priest of death,
scatters these ashes to the winds over a river. The ashes of what
once lived and felt, loved and hated, rejoiced and wept, are thus
given back again to the four elements: to Earth, which fed it
during such a long time and out of which it grew and developed;
to Fire, emblem of purity, that has just devoured the body in
order that the spirit may be rid of everything impure, and may
freely gravitate to the new sphere of posthumous existence, where
every sin is a stumbling block on the way to "Moksha," or infinite
bliss; to Air, which it inhaled and through which it lived, and
to Water, which purified it physically and spiritually, and is
now to receive its ashes into her pure bosom.
The adjective "pure" must be understood in the figurative sense
of the mantram. Generally speaking, the rivers of India, beginning
with the thrice sacred Ganges, are dreadfully dirty, especially
near villages and towns.
In these rivers about two hundred millions of people daily cleanse
themselves from the tropical perspiration and dirt. The corpses
of those who are not worth burning are thrown in the same rivers,
and their number is great, because it includes all Shudras, pariahs,
and various other outcasts, as well as Brahman children under three
years of age.
Only rich and high-born people are buried pompously. It is for
them that the sandal-wood fires are lit after sunset; it is for
them that mantrams are chanted, and for them that the gods are
invoked. But Shudras must not listen on any account to the divine
words dictated at the beginning of the world by the four Rishis
to Veda Vyasa, the great theologian of Aryavarta. No fires for them,
no prayers. As during his life a Shudra never approaches a temple
nearer than seven steps, so even after death he cannot be put on
the same level with the "twice-born."
Brightly burn the fires, extending like a fiery serpent along the
river. The dark outlines of strange, wildly-fantastical figures
silently move amongst the flames. Sometimes they raise their arms
towards the sky, as if in a prayer, sometimes they add fuel to the
fires and poke them with long iron pitchforks. The dying flames
rise high, creeping and dancing, sputtering with melted human fat
and shooting towards the sky whole showers of golden sparks, which
are instantly lost in the clouds of black smoke.
This on the right side of the river. Let us now see what is going
on on the left. In the early hours of the morning, when the red
fires, the black clouds of miasmas, and the thin figures of the
fakirs grow dim and vanish little by little, when the smell of
burned flesh is blown away by the fresh wind which rises at the
approach of the dawn, when, in a word, the right side of the river
with its ghotas plunges into stillness and silence, to be reawakened
when the evening comes, processions of a different kind appear on
the left bank. We see groups of Hindu men and women in sad, silent
trains. They approach the river quietly. They do not cry, and
have no rituals to perform. We see two men carrying something
long and thin, wrapped in an old red rug. Holding it by the head
and feet they swing it into the dirty, yellowish waves of the river.
The shock is so violent that the red rug flies open and we behold
the face of a young woman tinged with dark green, who quickly
disappears in the river. Further on another group; an old man
and two young women. One of them, a little girl of ten, small,
thin, hardly fully developed, sobs bitterly. She is the mother
of a stillborn child, whose body is to be thrown in the river.
Her weak voice monotonously resounds over the shore, and her
trembling hands are not strong enough to lift the poor little
corpse that is more like a tiny brown kitten than a human being.
The old man tries to console her, and, taking the body in his own
hands, enters the water and throws it right in the middle. After
him both the women get into the river, and, having plunged seven
times to purify themselves from the touch of a dead body, they
return home, their clothes dripping with wet. In the meanwhile
vultures, crows and other birds of prey gather in thick clouds
and considerably retard the progress of the bodies down the river.
Occasionally some half-stripped skeleton is caught by the reeds,
and stranded there helplessly for weeks, until an outcast, whose
sad duty it is to busy himself all his life long with such unclean
work, takes notice of it, and catching it by the ribs with his
long hook, restores it to its highway towards the ocean.
But let us leave the river bank, which is unbearably hot in spite
of the early hour. Let us bid good-bye to the watery cemetery
of the poor. Disgusting and heart-rending are such sights in
the eyes of a European! And unconsciously we allow the light wings
of reverie to transport us to the far North, to the peaceful village
cemeteries where there are no marble monuments crowned with turbans,
no sandal-wood fires, no dirty rivers to serve the purpose of a
last resting place, but where humble wooden crosses stand in rows,
sheltered by old birches. How peacefully our dead repose under
the rich green grass! None of them ever saw these gigantic palms,
sumptuous palaces and pagodas covered with gold. But on their
poor graves grow violets and lilies of the valley, and in the
spring evenings nightingales sing to them in the old birch-trees.
No nightingales ever sing for me, either in the neighboring groves,
or in my own heart. The latter least of all.
Let us stroll along this wall of reddish stone. It will lead us
to a fortress once celebrated and drenched with blood, now harmless
and half ruined, like many another Indian fortress. Flocks of
green parrots, startled by our approach, fly from under every
cavity of the old wall, their wings shining in the sun like so
many flying emeralds. This territory is accursed by Englishmen.
This is Chandvad, where, during the Sepoy mutiny, the Bhils streamed
from their ambuscades like a mighty mountain torrent, and cut many
an English throat.
Tatva, an ancient Hindu book, treating of the geography of the
times of King Asoka (250-300 B.C.), teaches us that the Mahratti
territory spreads up to the wall of Chandvad or Chandor, and that
the Kandesh country begins on the other side of the river. But
English people do not believe in Tatva or in any other authority
and want us to learn that Kandesh begins right at the foot of
Twelve miles south-east from Chandvad there is a whole town of
subterranean temples, known under the name of Enkay-Tenkay. Here,
again, the entrance is a hundred feet from the base, and the hill
is pyramidal. I must not attempt to give a full description of
these temples, as this subject must be worked out in a way quite
impossible in a newspaper article. So I shall only note that here
all the statues, idols, and carvings are ascribed to Buddhist
ascetics of the first centuries after the death of Buddha. I wish
I could content myself with this statement. But, unfortunately,
messieurs les archeologues meet here with an unexpected difficulty,
and a more serious one than all the difficulties brought on them
by the inconsistencies of all other temples put together.
In these temples there are more idols designated Buddhas than
anywhere else. They cover the main entrance, sit in thick rows
along the balconies, occupy the inner walls of the cells, watch
the entrances of all the doors like monster giants, and two of
them sit in the chief tank, where spring water washes them century
after century without any harm to their granite bodies. Some of
these Buddhas are decently clad, with pyramidal pagodas as their
head gear; others are naked; some sit, others stand; some are
real colossi, some tiny, some of middle size. However, all this
would not matter; we may go so far as to overlook the fact of
Gautama's or Siddhartha-Buddha's reform consisting precisely in
his earnest desire to tear up by the roots the Brahmanical idol-worship.
Though, of course, we cannot help remembering that his religion
remained pure from idol-worship of any kind during centuries, until
the Lamas of Tibet, the Chinese, the Burmese, and the Siamese taking
it into their lands disfigured it, and spoilt it with heresies. We
cannot forget that, persecuted by conquer-ing Brahmans, and expelled
from India, it found, at last, a shelter in Ceylon where it still
flourishes like the legendary aloe, which is said to blossom once
in its lifetime and then to die, as the root is killed by the
exuberance of blossom, and the seeds cannot produce anything but
weeds. All this we may overlook, as I said before. But the
difficulty of the archaeologists still exists, if not in the fact
of idols being ascribed to early Buddhists, then in the physiognomies,
in the type of all these Enkay-Tenkay Buddhas. They all, from the
tiniest to the hugest, are Negroes, with flat noses, thick lips,
forty five degrees of the facial angle, and curly hair! There is
not the slightest likeness between these Negro faces and any of
the Siamese or Tibetan Buddhas, which all have purely Mongolian
features and perfectly straight hair. This unexpected African type,
unheard of in India, upsets the antiquarians entirely. This is why
the archaeologists avoid mentioning these caves. Enkay-Tenkay is
a worse difficulty for them than even Nassik; they find it as
hard to conquer as the Persians found Thermopylae.
We passed by Maleganva and Chikalval, where we examined an exceedingly
curious ancient temple of the Jainas. No cement was used in the
building of its outer walls, they consist entirely of square stones,
which are so well wrought and so closely joined that the blade of
the thinnest knife cannot be pushed between two of them; the
interior of the temple is richly decorated.
On our way back we did not stop in Thalner, but went straight on
to Ghara. There we had to hire elephants again to visit the
splendid ruins of Mandu, once a strongly fortified town, about
twenty miles due north east of this place. This time we got there
speedily and safely. I mention this place because some time later
I witnessed in its vicinity a most curious sight, offered by the
branch of the numerous Indian rites, which is generally called
Mandu is situated on the ridge of the Vindhya Mountains, about
two thousand feet above the surface of the sea. According to
Malcolm's statement, this town was built in A.D. 313, and for a
long time was the capital of the Hindu Rajas of Dhara. The historian
Ferishtah points to Mandu as the residence of Dilivan-Khan-Ghuri,
the first King of Malwa, who flourished in 1387-1405. In 1526 the
town was taken by Bahadur-Shah, King of Gujerat, but in 1570 Akbar
won this town back, and a marble slab over the town gate still bears
his name and the date of his visit.
On entering this vast city in its present state of solitude (the
natives call it the "dead town") we all experienced a peculiar
feeling, not unlike the sensation of a man who enters Pompeii for
the first time. Everything shows that Mandu was once one of the
wealthiest towns of India. The town wall is thirty-seven miles long.
Streets ran whole miles, on their sides stand ruined palaces, and
marble pillars lie on the ground. Black excavations of the
subterranean halls, in the coolness of which rich ladies spent
the hottest hours of the day, peer from under dilapidated granite
walls. Further on are broken stairs, dry tanks, waterless fountains,
endless empty yards, marble platforms, and disfigured arches of
majestic porches. All this is overgrown with creepers and shrubs,
hiding the dens of wild beasts. Here and there a well-preserved
wall of some palace rises high above the general wreck, its empty
windows fringed with parasitic plants blinking and staring at us
like sightless eyes, protesting against troublesome intruders. And
still further, in the very centre of the ruins, the heart of the
dead town sends forth a whole crop of broken cypresses, an untrimmed
grove on the place where heaved once so many breasts and clamoured
so many passions.
In 1570 this town was called Shadiabad, the abode of happiness.
The Franciscan missionaries, Adolf Aquaviva, Antario de Moncerotti,
and others, who came here in that very year as an embassy from Goa
to seek various privileges from the Mogul Government, described
it over and over again. At this epoch it was one of the greatest
cities of the world, whose magnificent streets and luxurious ways
used to astonish the most pompous courts of India. It seems almost
incredible that in such a short period nothing should remain of
this town but the heaps of rubbish, amongst which we could hardly
find room enough for our tent. At last we decided to pitch it in
the only building which remained in a tolerable state of preservation,
in Yami-Masjid, the cathedral-mosque, on a granite platform about
twenty-five steps higher than the square. The stairs, constructed
of pure marble like the greater part of the town buildings, are
broad and almost untouched by time, but the roof has entirely
disappeared, and so we were obliged to put up with the stars for a
canopy. All round this building runs a low gallery supported by
several rows of thick pillars. From a distance it reminds one, in
spite of its being somewhat clumsy and lacking in proportion, of
the Acropolis of Athens. From the stairs, where we rested for a
while, there was a view of the mausoleum of Gushanga-Guri, King of
Malwa, in whose reign the town was at the culmination of its
brilliancy and glory. It is a massive, majestic, white marble
edifice, with a sheltered peristyle and finely carved pillars.
This peristyle once led straight to the palace, but now it is
surrounded with a deep ravine, full of broken stones and overgrown
with cacti. The interior of the mausoleum is covered with golden
lettering of inscriptions from the Koran, and the sarcophagus of
the sultan is placed in the middle. Close by it stands the palace
of Baz-Bahadur, all broken to pieces--nothing now but a heap of
dust covered with trees.
We spent the whole day visiting these sad remains, and returned
to our sheltering place a little before sunset, exhausted with
hunger and thirst, but triumphantly carrying on our sticks three
huge snakes, killed on our way home. Tea and supper were waiting
for us. To our great astonishment we found visitors in the tent.
The Patel of the neighboring village--something between a
tax-collector and a judge--and two zemindars (land owners) rode
over to present us their respects and to invite us and our Hindu
friends, some of whom they had known previously, to accompany them
to their houses. On hearing that we intended to spend the night
in the "dead town" they grew awfully indignant. They assured us
it was highly dangerous and utterly impossible. Two hours later
hyenas, tigers, and other beasts of prey were sure to come out
from under every bush and every ruined wall, without mentioning
thousands of jackals and wild cats. Our elephants would not stay,
and if they did stay no doubt they would be devoured. We ought
to leave the ruins as quickly as possible and go with them to the
nearest village, which would not take us more than half an hour.
In the village everything had been prepared for us, and our friend
the Babu was already there, and getting impatient at our delay.
Only on hearing this did we become aware that our bareheaded and
cautious friend was conspicuous by his absence. Probably he had
left some time ago, without consulting us, and made straight to
the village where he evidently had friends. Sending for us was
a mere trick of his. But the evening was so sweet, and we felt
so comfortable, that the idea of upsetting all our plans for the
morning was not at all attractive. Besides, it seemed quite
ridiculous to think that the ruins, amongst which we had wandered
several hours without meeting anything more dangerous than a snake,
swarmed with wild animals. So we smiled and returned thanks, but
would not accept the invitation.
"But you positively must not dare to stay here," insisted the fat
Patel. "In case of accident, I shall be responsible for you to
the Government. Is it possible you do not dread a sleepless night
spent in fighting jackals, if not something worse? You do not
believe that you are surrounded with wild animals..... It is true
they are invisible until sunset, but nevertheless they are dangerous.
If you do not believe us, believe the instinct of your elephants,
who are as brave as you, but a little more reasonable. Just look
We looked. Truly, our grave, philosophic-looking elephants behaved
very strangely at this moment. Their lifted trunks looked like
huge points of interrogation. They snorted and stamped restively.
In another minute one of them tore the thick rope, with which he
was tied to a broken pillar, made a sudden volte-face with all
his heavy body, and stood against the wind, sniffing the air.
Evidently he perceived some dangerous animal in the neighborhood.
The colonel stared at him through his spectacles and whistled
"Well, well," remarked he, "what shall we do if tigers really
"What shall we do indeed?" was my thought. "Takur Gulab-Lal-Sing
is not here to protect us."
Our Hindu companions sat on the carpet after their oriental fashion,
quietly chewing betel. On being asked their opinion, they said
they would not interfere with our decision, and were ready to do
exactly as we liked. But as for the European portion of our party,
there was no use concealing the fact that we were frightened, and
we speedily prepared to start. Five minutes later we mounted the
elephants, and, in a quarter of an hour, just when the sun disappeared
behind the mountain and heavy darkness instantaneously fell, we
passed the gate of Akbar and descended into the valley.
We were hardly a quarter of a mile from our abandoned camping place
when the cypress grove resounded with shrieking howls of jackals,
followed by a well-known mighty roar. There was no longer any
possibility of doubting. The tigers were disappointed at our escape.
Their discontentment shook the very air, and cold perspiration
stood on our brows. Our elephant sprang forward, upsetting the
order of our procession and threatening to crush the horses and
their riders before us. We ourselves, however, were out of danger.
We sat in a strong howdah, locked as in a dungeon.
"It is useless to deny that we have had a narrow escape!" remarked
the colonel, looking out of the window at some twenty servants of
the Patel, who were busily lighting torches.
In an hour's time we stopped at the gate of a large bungalow, and
were welcomed by the beaming face of our bareheaded Bengali. When
we were all safely gathered on the verandah, he explained to us that,
knowing beforehand that our "American pigheadedness" would not listen
to any warning, he had dodged up this little scheme of his own and
was very glad he had been successful.
"Now let us go and wash our hands, and then to supper. And," he
added, addressing me, "was it not your wish to be present at a
real Hindu meal? This is your opportunity. Our host is a Brahman,
and you are the first Europeans who ever entered the part of his
house inhabited by the family."
Who amongst Europeans ever dreamed of a country where every step,
and the least action of everyday life, especially of the family life,
is controlled by religious rites and cannot be performed except
according to a certain programme? India is this country. In India
all the important incidents of a man's life, such as birth, reaching
certain periods of a child's life, marriage, fatherhood, old age
and death, as well as all the physical and physiological functions
of everyday routine, like morning ablutions, dressing, eating, et
tout ce qui s'en suit, from a man's first hour to his last sigh,
everything must be performed according to a certain Brahmanical
ritual, on penalty of expulsion from his caste. The Brahmans may
be compared to the musicians of an orchestra in which the different
musical instruments are the numerous sects of their country. They
are all of a different shape and of a different timbre; but still
every one of them obeys the same leader of the band. However widely
the sects may differ in the interpretation of their sacred books,
however hostile they may be to each other, striving to put forward
their particular deity, every one of them, obeying blindly the
ancient custom, must follow like musicians the same directing wand,
the laws of Manu. This is the point where they all meet and form
a unanimous, single-minded community, a strongly united mass. And
woe to the one who breaks the symphony by a single discordant note!
The elders and the caste or sub-caste councils (of these there are
any number), whose members hold office for life, are stern rulers.
There is no appeal against their decisions, and this is why expulsion
from the caste is a calamity, entailing truly formidable consequences.
The excommunicated member is worse off than a leper, the solidarity
of the castes in this respect being something phenomenal. The only
thing that can bear any comparison with it is the solidarity of the
disciples of Loyola. If members of two different castes, united by
the sincerest feelings of respect and friendship, may not intermarry,
may not dine together, are forbidden to accept a glass of water
from each other, or to offer each other a hookah, it becomes clear
how much more severe all these restrictions must be in the case
of an excommunicated person. The poor wretch must literally die
to everybody, to the members of his own family as to strangers.
His own household, his father, wife, children, are all bound to turn
their faces from him, under the penalty of being excommunicated in
their turn. There is no hope for his sons and daughters of getting
married, however innocent they may be of the sin of their father.
From the moment of "excommunication" the Hindu must totally disappear.
His mother and wife must not feed him, must not let him drink from
the family well. No member of any existing caste dares to sell
him his food or cook for him. He must either starve or buy eatables
from outcasts and Europeans, and so incur the dangers of further
pollution. When the Brahmanical power was at its zenith, such acts
as deceiving, robbing and even killing this wretch were encouraged,
as he was beyond the pale of the laws. Now, at all events, he is
free from the latter danger, but still, even now, if he happens to
die before he is forgiven and received back into his caste, his
body may not be burned, and no purifying mantrams will be chanted
for him; he will be thrown into the water, or left to rot under
the bushes like a dead cat.
This is a passive force, and its passiveness only makes it more
formidable. Western education and English influence can do nothing
to change it. There exists only one course of action for the
excommunicated; he must show signs of repentance and submit to
all kinds of humiliations, often to the total loss of all his
worldly possessions. Personally, I know several young Brahmans,
who, having brilliantly passed the university examinations in England,
have had to submit to the most repulsive conditions of purification
on their return home; these purifications consisting chiefly in
shaving off half their moustaches and eyebrows, crawling in the
dust round pagodas, clinging during long hours to the tail of a
sacred cow, and, finally, swallowing the excrements of this cow.
The latter ceremony is called "Pancha-Gavya," literally, the five
products of the cow: milk, curds, butter, etc. The voyage over
Kalapani, the black water, that is to say the sea, is considered
the worst of all the sins. A man who commits it is considered
as polluting himself continually, from the first moment of his
going on board the bellati (foreign) ship.
Only a few days ago a friend of ours, who is an LL.D., had to
undergo this "purgation," and it nearly cost him his reason. When
we remonstrated with him, pointing out that in his case it was
simply foolish to submit, he being a materialist by conviction
and not caring a straw for Brahmanism, he replied that he was bound
to do so for the following reasons:
"I have two daughters," he explained, "one five, the other six
years old. If I do not find a husband for the eldest of them in
the course of the coming year, she will grow too old to get married,
nobody will think of espousing her. Suppose I suffer my caste to
excommunicate me, both my girls will be dishonored and miserable
for the rest of their lives. Then, again, I must take into
consideration the superstitions of my old mother. If such a
misfortune befell me, it would simply kill her....."
But why should he not free himself from every bond to Brahmanism
and caste? Why not join, once for all, the ever-growing community
of men who are guilty of the same offence? Why not ask all his
family to form a colony and join the civilization of the Europeans?
All these are very natural questions, but unfortunately there is
no difficulty in finding reasons for answering them in the negative.
There were thirty-two reasons given why one of Napoleon's marshals
refused to besiege a certain fortress, but the first of these
reasons was the absence of gunpowder, and so it excluded the
necessity of discussing the remaining thirty-one. Similarly the
first reason why a Hindu cannot be Europeanized is quite sufficient,
and does not call for any additional ones. This reason is that by
doing so a Hindu would not improve his position. Were he such an
adept of science as to rival Tyndall, were he such a clever politician
as to eclipse the genius of Disraeli and Bismarck, as soon as he
actually had given up his caste and kinsmen, he would indubitably
find himself in the position of Mahomet's coffin; metaphorically
speaking, he would hang half-way between the earth and the sky.
It would be an utter injustice to suppose that this state of things
is the result of the policy of the English Government; that the
said Government is afraid of giving a chance to natives who may
be suspected of being hostile to the British rule. In reality,
the Government has little or nothing to do with it. This state
of things must be attributed entirely to the social ostracism,
to the contempt felt by a "superior" for an "inferior" race, a
contempt deeply rooted in some members of the Anglo-Indian society
and displayed at the least provocation. This question of racial
"superiority" and "inferiority" plays a more important part than
is generally believed, even in England. Nevertheless, the natives
(Mussulmans included) do not deserve contempt, and so the gulf
between the rulers and the ruled widens with every year, and long
centuries would not suffice to fill it up.
I have to dwell upon all this to give my readers a clear idea on
the subject. And so it is no wonder the ill-fated Hindus prefer
temporary humiliations and the physical and moral sufferings of
the "purification," to the prospect of general contempt until death.
These were the questions we discussed with the Brahmans during the
two hours before dinner.
Dining with foreigners and people belonging to different castes is,
no doubt, a dangerous breach of Manu's sacred precepts. But this
time, for once, it was easily explained. First, the stout Patel,
our host, was the head of his caste, and so was beyond the dread
of excommunication; secondly, he had already taken all the
prescribed and advisable precautions against being polluted by
our presence. He was a free-thinker in his own way, and a friend
of Gulab-Lal-Sing, and so he rejoiced at the idea of showing us
how much skillful sophistry and strategical circumspection can be
used by adroit Brahmans to avoid the law in some circumstances,
while adhering at the same time to its dead letter. Besides, our
good-natured, well-favored host evidently desired to obtain a
diploma from our Society, being well aware that the collector of
his district was enrolled amongst our members.
These, at any rate, were the explanations of our Babu when we
expressed our astonishment; so it was our concern to make the
most of our chance, and to thank Providence for this rare
opportunity. And this we accordingly did.
Hindus take their food only twice a day, at ten o'clock in the
morning and at nine in the evening. Both meals are accompanied
by complicated rites and ceremonies. Even very young children
are not allowed to eat at odd times, eating without the prescribed
performance of certain exorcisms being considered a sin. Thousands
of educated Hindus have long ceased to believe in all these
superstitious customs, but, nevertheless, they are daily practised.
Sham Rao Bahunathji, our host, belonged to the ancient caste of
Patarah Prabhus, and was very proud of his origin. Prabhu means
lord, and this caste descends from the Kshatriyas. The first of
them was Ashvapati (700 B.C.), a lineal descendant of Rama and
Prithu, who, as is stated in the local chronology, governed India
in the Dvapara and Treta Yugas, which is a good while ago! The
Patarah Prabhus are the only caste within which Brahmans have to
perform certain purely Vedic rites, known under the name of the
"Kshatriya rites." But this does not prevent their being Patans,
instead of Patars, Patan meaning the fallen one. This is the fault
of King Ashvapati. Once, when distributing gifts to holy anchorites,
he inadvertently forgot to give his due to the great Bhrigu. The
offended prophet and seer declared to him that his reign was drawing
near its end, and that all his posterity would perish. The king,
throwing himself on the ground, implored the prophet's pardon. But
his curse had worked its fulfilment already. All that he could do
to stop the mischief consisted in a solemn promise not to let the
king's descendants disappear completely from the earth. However,
the Patars soon lost their throne and their power. Since then they
have had to "live by their pens," in the employment of many successive
governments, to exchange their name of Patars for Patans, and to
lead a humbler life than many of their late subjects. Happily for
our talkative Amphitryon, his forefathers became Brahmans, that
is to say "went through the golden cow."
The expression "to live by their pens" alludes, as we learned later
on, to the fact of the Patans occupying all the small Government
posts in the Bombay Presidency, and so being dangerous rivals of
the Bengali Babus since the time of British rule. In Bombay the
Patan clerks reach the considerable figure of five thousand. Their
complexion is darker than the complexion of Konkan Brahmans, but
they are handsomer and brighter. As to the mysterious expression,
"went through the golden cow," it illustrates a very curious custom.
The Kshatriyas, and even the much-despised Shudras, may become a
sort of left-hand Brahmans. This metamorphosis depends on the
will of the real Brahmans, who may, if they like, sell this right
for several hundreds or thousands of cows. When the gift is
accomplished, a model cow, made of pure gold, is erected and made
sacred by the performance of some mystical ceremonies. The candidate
must now crawl through her hollow body three times, and thus is
transformed into a Brahman. The present Maharaja of Travankor,
and even the great Raja of Benares, who died recently, were both
Shudras who acquired their rights in this manner. We received all
this information and a notion of the legendary Patar chronicle from
our obliging host.
Having announced that we must now get ready for dinner, he
disappeared in the company of all the gentlemen of our party.
Being left to ourselves, Miss X--- and I decided to have a good
look at the house whilst it was empty. The Babu, being a downright,
modern Bengali, had no respect for the religious preparations for
dinner, and chose to accompany us, proposing to explain to us all
that we should otherwise fail to understand.
The Prabhu brothers always live together, but every married couple
have separate rooms and servants of their own. The habitation of
our host was very spacious. There were small several bungalows,
occupied by his brothers, and a chief building containing rooms
for visitors, the general dining-room, a lying-in ward, a small
chapel with any number of idols, and so on. The ground floor, of
course, was surrounded by a verandah pierced with arches leading
to a huge hall. All round this hall were wooden pillars adorned
with exquisite carving. For some reason or other, it struck me
that these pillars once belonged to some palace of the "dead town."
On close examination I only grew more convinced that I was right.
Their style bore no traces of Hindu taste; no gods, no fabulous
monster animals, only arabesques and elegant leaves and flowers
of nonexistent plants. The pillars stood very close to each other,
but the carvings prevented them from forming an uninterrupted wall,
so that the ventilation was a little too strong. All the time we
spent at the dinner table miniature hurricanes whistled from behind
every pillar, waking up all our old rheumatisms and toothaches,
which had peacefully slumbered since our arrival in India.
The front of the house was thickly covered with iron horseshoes--
the best precaution against evil spirits and evil eyes.
At the foot of a broad, carved staircase we came across a couch
or a cradle, hung from the ceiling by iron chains. I saw somebody
lying on it, whom, at first sight, I mistook for a sleeping Hindu,
and was going to retreat discreetly, but, recognizing my old friend
Hanuman, I grew bold and endeavored to examine him. Alas! the poor
idol possessed only a head and neck, the rest of his body was a
heap of old rags.
On the left side of the verandah there were many more lateral rooms,
each with a special destination, some of which I have mentioned
already. The largest of these rooms was called "vattan," and was
used exclusively by the fair sex. Brahman women are not bound to
spend their lives under veils, like Mussulman women, but still
they have very little communication with men, and keep aloof.
Women cook the men's food, but do not dine with them. The elder
ladies of the family are often held in great respect, and husbands
sometimes show a shy courteousness towards their wives, but still
a woman has no right to speak to her husband before strangers, nor
even before the nearest relations, such as her sisters and her mother.
As to the Hindu widows, they really are the most wretched creatures
in the whole world. As soon as a woman's husband dies she must
have her hair and her eyebrows shaven off. She must part with all
her trinkets, her earrings, her nose jewels, her bangles and toe-rings.
After this is done she is as good as dead. The lowest outcast would
not marry her. A man is polluted by her slightest touch, and must
immediately proceed to purify himself. The dirtiest work of the
household is her duty, and she must not eat with the married women
and the children. The "sati," the burning of the widows, is abolished,
but Brahmans are clever managers, and the widows often long for
At last, having examined the family chapel, full of idols, flowers,
rich vases with burning incense, lamps hanging from its ceiling,
and aromatic herbs covering its floor, we decided to get ready
for dinner. We carefully washed ourselves, but this was not enough,
we were requested to take off our shoes. This was a somewhat
disagreeable surprise, but a real Brahmanical supper was worth
However, a truly amazing surprise was still in store for us.
On entering the dining-room we stopped short at the entrance--both
our European companions were dressed, or rather undressed, exactly
like Hindus! For the sake of decency they kept on a kind of
sleeveless knitted vest, but they were barefooted, wore the snow-white
Hindu dhutis (a piece of muslin wrapped round to the waist and
forming a petticoat), and looked like something between white
Hindus and Constantinople garcons de bains. Both were indescribably
funny, I never saw anything funnier. To the great discomfiture
of the men, and the scandal of the grave ladies of the house, I
could not restrain myself, but burst out laughing. Miss X---
blushed violently and followed my example.
A quarter of an hour before the evening meal every Hindu, old or
young, has to perform a "puja" before the gods. He does not change
his clothes, as we do in Europe, but takes off the few things he
wore during the day. He bathes by the family well and loosens his
hair, of which, if he is a Mahratti or an inhabitant of the Dekkan,
he has only one long lock at the top of his shaven head. To cover
the body and the head whilst eating would be sinful. Wrapping his
waist and legs in a white silk dhuti, he goes once more to salute
the idols and then sits down to his meal.
But here I shall allow myself to digress. "Silk possesses the
property of dismissing the evil spirits who inhabit the magnetic
fluids of the atmosphere," says the Mantram, book v., verse 23.
And I cannot help wondering whether this apparent superstition
may not contain a deeper meaning. It is difficult, I own, to part
with our favorite theories about all the customs of ancient
heathendom being mere ignorant superstitions. But have not some
vague notions of these customs being founded originally on a true
knowledge of scientific principles found their way amongst European
scientific circles? At first sight the idea seems untenable. But
why may we not suppose that the ancients prescribed this observance
in the full knowledge that the effect of electricity upon the organs
of digestion is truly beneficial? People who have studied the
ancient philosophy of India with a firm resolve to penetrate the
hidden meaning of its aphorisms have for the most part grown
convinced that electricity and its effects were known to a
considerable extent to some philosophers, as, for instance,
to Patanjali. Charaka and Sushruta had pro-pounded the system
of Hippocrates long before the time of him who in Europe is supposed
to be the "father of medicine." The Bhadrinath temple of Vishnu
possesses a stone bearing evident proof of the fact that Surya-Sidhanta
knew and calculated the expansive force of steam many centuries ago.
The ancient Hindus were the first to determine the velocity of
light and the laws of its reflection; and the table of Pythagoras
and his celebrated theorem of the square of hypotenuse are to be
found in the ancient books of Jyotisha. All this leads us to
suppose that ancient Aryans, when instituting the strange custom
of wearing silk during meals, had something serious in view, more
serious, at all events, than the "dismissing of demons."
Having entered the "refectory," we immediately noticed what were
the Hindu precautions against their being polluted by our presence.
The stone floor of the hall was divided into two equal parts. This
division consisted of a line traced in chalk, with Kabalistic signs
at either end. One part was destined for the host's party and the
guests belonging to the same caste, the other for ourselves. On our
side of the hall there was yet a third square to contain Hindus of
a different caste. The furniture of the two bigger squares was
exactly similar. Along the two opposite walls there were narrow
carpets spread on the floor, covered with cushions and low stools.
Before every occupant there was an oblong on the bare floor, traced
also with chalk, and divided, like a chess board, into small
quadrangles which were destined for dishes and plates. Both the
latter articles were made of the thick strong leaves of the butea
frondosa: larger dishes of several leaves pinned together with
thorns, plates and saucers of one leaf with its borders turned up.
All the courses of the supper were already arranged on each square;
we counted forty-eight dishes, containing about a mouthful of
forty-eight different dainties. The materials of which they were
composed were mostly terra incognita to us, but some of them tasted
very nice. All this was vegetarian food. Of meat, fowl, eggs
and fish there appeared no traces. There were chutneys, fruit
and vegetables preserved in vinegar and honey, panchamrits, a
mixture of pampello-berries, tamarinds, cocoa milk, treacle and
olive oil, and kushmer, made of radishes, honey and flour; there
were also burning hot pickles and spices. All this was crowned
with a mountain of exquisitely cooked rice and another mountain
of chapatis, which are something like brown pancakes. The dishes
stood in four rows, each row containing twelve dishes; and between
the rows burned three aromatic sticks of the size of a small church
taper. Our part of the hall was brightly lit with green and red
candles. The chandeliers which held these candles were of a very
queer shape. They each represented the trunk of a tree with a
seven-headed cobra wound round it. From each of the seven mouths
rose a red or a green wax candle of spiral form like a corkscrew.
Draughts blowing from behind every pillar fluttered the yellow
flames, filling the roomy refectory with fantastic moving shadows,
and causing both our lightly-clad gentlemen to sneeze very frequently.
Leaving the dark silhouettes of the Hindus in comparative obscurity,
this unsteady light made the two white figures still more conspicuous,
as if making a masquerade of them and laughing at them.
The relatives and friends of our host came in one after the other.
They were all naked down to the waist, all barefooted, all wore
the triple Brahmanical thread and white silk dhutis, and their
hair hung loose. Every sahib was followed by his own servant,
who carried his cup, his silver, or even gold, jug filled with water,
and his towel. All of them, having saluted the host, greeted us,
the palms of their hands pressed to-gether and touching their
foreheads, their breasts, and then the floor. They all said to us:
"Ram-Ram" and "Namaste" (salutation to thee), and then made straight
for their respective seats in perfect silence. Their civilities
reminded me that the custom of greeting each other with the twice
pronounced name of some ancestor was usual in the remotest antiquity.
We all sat down, the Hindus calm and stately, as if preparing for
some mystic celebration, we ourselves feeling awkward and uneasy,
fearing to prove guilty of some unpardonable blunder. An invisible
choir of women's voices chanted a monotonous hymn, celebrating the
glory of the gods. These were half a dozen nautch-girls from a
neighboring pagoda. To this accompaniment we began satisfying
our appetites. Thanks to the Babu's instructions, we took great
care to eat only with our right hands. This was somewhat difficult,
because we were hungry and hasty, but quite necessary. Had we only
so much as touched the rice with our left hands whole hosts of
Rakshasas (demons) would have been attracted to take part in the
festivity that very moment; which, of course, would send all
the Hindus out of the room. It is hardly necessary to say that
there were no traces of forks, knives or spoons. That I might
run no risk of breaking the rule I put my left hand in my pocket
and held on to my pocket-handkerchief all the time the dinner lasted.
The singing lasted only a few minutes. During the rest of the
time a dead silence reigned amongst us. It was Monday, a fast day,
and so the usual absence of noise at meal times had to be observed
still more strictly than on any other day. Usually a man who is
compelled to break the silence by some emergency or other hastens
to plunge into water the middle finger of his left hand, which till
then had remained hidden behind his back, and to moisten both his
eyelids with it. But a really pious man would not be content with
this simple formula of purification; having spoken, he must leave
the dining-room, wash thoroughly, and then abstain from food for
the remainder of the day.
Thanks to this solemn silence, I was at liberty to notice everything
that was going on with great attention. Now and again, whenever
I caught sight of the colonel or Mr. Y---, I had all the difficulty
in the world to preserve my gravity. Fits of foolish laughter
would take possession of me when I observed them sitting erect
with such comical solemnity and working so awkwardly with their
elbows and hands. The long beard of the one was white with grains
of rice, as if silvered with hoar-frost, the chin of the other was
yellow with liquid saffron. But unsatisfied curiosity happily came
to my rescue, and I went on watching the quaint proceedings of
Each of them, having sat down with his legs twisted under him,
poured some water with his left hand out of the jug brought by
the servant, first into his cup, then into the palm of his right
hand. Then he slowly and carefully sprinkled the water round a
dish with all kinds of dainties, which stood by itself, and was
destined, as we learned afterwards, for the gods. During this
procedure each Hindu repeated a Vedic mantram. Filling his right
hand with rice, he pronounced a new series of couplets, then, having
stored five pinches of rice on the right side of his own plate, he
once more washed his hands to avert the evil eye, sprinkled more
water, and pouring a few drops of it into his right palm, slowly
drank it. After this he swallowed six pinches of rice, one after
the other, murmuring prayers all the while, and wetted both his
eyes with the middle finger of his left hand. All this done, he
finally hid his left hand behind his back, and began eating with
the right hand. All this took only a few minutes, but was performed
The Hindus ate with their bodies bent over the food, throwing it
up and catching it in their mouths so dexterously that not a grain
of rice was lost, not a drop of the various liquids spilt. Zealous
to show his consideration for his host, the colonel tried to
imitate all these movements. He contrived to bend over his food
almost horizontally, but, alas! he could not remain long in this
position. The natural weight of his powerful limbs overcame him,
he lost his balance and nearly tumbled head foremost, dropping his
spectacles into a dish of sour milk and garlic. After this
unsuccessful experience the brave American gave up all further
attempts to become "Hinduized," and sat very quietly.
The supper was concluded with rice mixed with sugar, powdered peas,
olive oil, garlic and grains of pomegranate, as usual. This last
dainty is consumed hurriedly. Everyone nervously glances askance
at his neighbor, and is mortally afraid of being the last to finish,
because this is considered a very bad sign. To conclude, they all
take some water into their mouths, murmuring prayers the while,
and this time they must swallow it in one gulp. Woe to the one
who chokes! 'Tis a clear sign that a bhuta has taken possession
of his throat. The unfortunate man must run for his life and
get purified before the altar.
The poor Hindus are very much troubled by these wicked bhutas, the
souls of the people who have died with ungratified desires and
earthly passions. Hindu spirits, if I am to believe the unanimous
assertions of one and all, are always swarming round the living,
always ready to satisfy their hunger with other people's mouths
and gratify their impure desires with the help of organs temporarily
stolen from the living. They are feared and cursed all over India.
No means to get rid of them are despised. The notions and conclusions
of the Hindus on this point categorically contradict the aspirations
and hopes of Western spiritualists.
"A good and pure spirit, they are confident, will not let his soul
revisit the earth, if this soul is equally pure. He is glad to
die and unite himself to Brahma, to live an eternal life in Svarga
(heaven) and enjoy the society of the beautiful Gandharvas or
singing angels. He is glad to slumber whole eternities, listening
to their songs, whilst his soul is purified by a new incarnation
in a body, which is more perfect than the one the soul abandoned
The Hindus believe that the spirit or Atma, a particle of the
GREAT ALL, which is Parabrahm, cannot be punished for sins in
which it never participated. It is Manas, the animal intelligence,
and the animal soul or Jiva, both half material illusions, that
sin and suffer and transmigrate from one body into the other till
they purify themselves. The spirit merely overshadows their earthly
transmigrations. When the Ego has reached the final state of purity,
it will be one with the Atma, and gradually will merge and disappear
But this is not what awaits the wicked souls. The soul that does
not succeed in getting rid of earthly cares and desires before
the death of the body is weighed down by its sins, and, instead
of reincarnating in some new form, according to the laws of
metempsychosis, it will remain bodiless, doomed to wander on earth.
It will become a bhuta, and by its own sufferings will cause
unutterable sufferings to its kinsmen. That is why the Hindu fears
above all things to remain bodiless after his death.
"It is better for one to enter the body of a tiger, of a dog, even
of a yellow-legged falcon, after death, than to become a bhuta!"
an old Hindu said to me on one occasion. "Every animal possesses
a body of his own and a right to make an honest use of it. Whereas
the bhutas are doomed dakoits, brigands and thieves, they are ever
watching for an opportunity to use what does not belong to them.
This is a horrible state--a horror indescribable. This is the
true hell. What is this spiritualism they talk so much of in the
West? Is it possible the intelligent English and Americans are
so mad as this?"
And all our remonstrances notwithstanding, he refused to believe
that there are actually people who are fond of bhutas, who would
do much to attract them into their homes.
After supper the men went again to the family well to wash, and
then dressed themselves.
Usually at this hour of the night the Hindus put on clean malmalas,
a kind of tight shirt, white turbans, and wooden sandals with knobs
pressed between the toes. These curious shoes are left at the
door whilst their owners return to the hall and sit down along
the walls on carpets and cushions to chew betel, smoke hookahs
and cheroots, to listen to sacred reading, and to witness the
dances of the nautches. But this evening, probably in our honor,
all the Hindus dressed magnificently. Some of them wore darias
of rich striped satin, no end of gold bangles, necklaces mounted
with diamonds and emeralds, gold watches and chains, and transparent
Brahmanical scarfs with gold embroidery. The fat fingers and the
right ear of our host were simply blazing with diamonds.
The women, who waited on us during the meal, disappeared afterwards
for a considerable time. When they came back they also were
luxuriously overdressed and were introduced to us formally as the
ladies of the house. They were five: the wife of the host, a
woman of twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age, then two others
looking somewhat younger, one of whom carried a baby, and, to our
great astonishment, was introduced as the married daughter of the
hostess; then the old mother of the host and a little girl of seven,
the wife of one of his brothers. So that our hostess turned out
to be a grandmother, and her sister-in-law, who was to enter finally
into matrimony in from two to three years, might have become a mother
before she was twelve. They were all barefooted, with rings on each
of their toes, and all, with the exception of the old woman, wore
garlands of natural flowers round their necks and in their jet
black hair. Their tight bodices, covered with embroidery, were
so short that between them and the sari there was a good quarter
of a yard of bare skin. The dark, bronze-coloured waists of these
well-shaped Women were boldly presented to any one's examination
and reflected the lights of the room. Their beautiful arms and
their ankles were covered with bracelets. At the least of their
movements they all set up a tinkling silvery sound, and the little
sister-in-law, who might easily be mistaken for an automaton doll,
could hardly move under her load of ornaments. The young grandmother,
our hostess, had a ring in her left nostril, which reached to the
lower part of the chin. Her nose was considerably disfigured by
the weight of the gold, and we noticed how unusually handsome she
was only when she took it off to enable herself to drink her tea
with some comfort.
The dances of the nautch girls began. Two of them were very pretty.
Their dancing consisted chiefly in more or less expressive movements
of their eyes, their heads, and even their ears, in fact, of the
whole upper part of their bodies. As to their legs, they either
did not move at all or moved with such a swiftness as to appear
in a cloud of mist.
After this eventful day I slept the sleep of the just.
After many nights spent in a tent, it is more than agreeable to
sleep in a regular bed, even if it is only a hanging one. The
pleasure would, no doubt, have been considerably increased had I
but known I was resting on the couch of a god. But this latter
circumstance was revealed to me only in the morning, when descending
the staircase I suddenly discovered the poor general en chef,
Hanuman, deprived of his cradle and unceremoniously stowed away
under the stairs. Decidedly, the Hindus of the nineteenth century
are a degenerate and blaspheming race!
In the course of the morning we learned that this swinging throne
of his, and an ancient sofa, were the only pieces of furniture in
the whole house that could be transformed into beds.
Neither of our gentlemen had spent a comfortable night. They slept
in an empty tower that was once the altar of a decayed pagoda and
was situated behind the main building. In assigning to them this
strange resting place, the host was guided by the praiseworthy
intention of protecting them from the jackals, which freely penetrate
into all the rooms of the ground floor, as they are pierced by
numberless arches and have no door and no window frames. The jackals,
however, did not trouble the gentlemen much that night, except by
giving their nightly concert. But both Mr. Y--- and the colonel
had to fight all the night long with a vampire, which, besides
being a flying fox of an unusual size, happened to be a spirit,
as we learned too late, to our great misfortune.
This is how it happened. Noiselessly hovering about the tower,
the vampire from time to time alighted on the sleepers, making
them shudder under the disgusting touch of his cold sticky wings.
His intention clearly was to get a nice suck of European blood.
They were wakened by his manipulations at least ten times, and
each time frightened him away. But, as soon as they were dozing
again, the wretched bat was sure to return and perch on their
shoulders, heads, or legs. At last Mr. Y---, losing patience,
had recourse to strong measures; he caught him and broke his neck.
Feeling perfectly innocent, the gentlemen mentioned the tragic
end of the troublesome flying fox to their host, and instantly
drew down on their heads all the thunder-clouds of heaven.
The yard was crowded with people. All the inhabitants of the
house stood sorrowfully drooping their heads, at the entrance of
the tower. Our host's old mother tore her hair in despair, and
shrieked lamentations in all the languages of India. What was
the matter with them all? We were at our wits' end. But when
we learned the cause of all this, there was no limit to our confusion.
By certain mysterious signs, known only to the family Brahman, it
had been decided ten years ago that the soul of our host's elder
brother had incarnated in this blood-thirsty vampire-bat. This
fact was stated as being beyond any doubt. For nine years the
late Patarah Prabhu existed under this new shape, carrying out
the laws of metempsychosis. He spent the hours between sunrise
and the sunset in an old pipal-tree before the tower, hanging with
his head downwards. But at night he visited the old tower and
gave fierce chase to the insects that sought rest in this out-of-
the-way corner. And so nine years were spent in this happy existence,
divided between sleep, food, and the gradual redemption of old sins
committed in the shape of a Patarah Prabhu. And now? Now his
listless body lay in the dust at the entrance of his favorite tower,
and his wings were half devoured by the rats. The poor old woman,
his mother, was mad with sorrow, and cast, through her tears,
reproachful, angry looks at Mr. Y---, who, in his new capacity of
a heartless murderer, looked disgustingly composed.
But the affair was growing serious. The comical side of it
disappeared before the sincerity and the intensity of her
lamentations. Her descendants, grouped around her, were too
polite to reproach us openly, but the expression of their faces
was far from reassuring. The family priest and astrologer
stood by the old lady, Shastras in hand, ready to begin the
ceremony of purification. He solemnly covered the corpse with a
piece of new linen. and so hid from our eyes the sad remains on
which ants were literally swarming.
Mr. Y--- did his best to look unconcerned, but still, when the
tactless Miss X--- came to him, expressing her loud indignation
at all these superstitions of an inferior race, he at least seemed
to remember that our host knew English perfectly, and he did not
encourage her farther expressions of sympathy. He made no answer,
but smiled contemptuously. Our host approached the colonel with
respectful salaams and invited us to follow him.
"No doubt he is going to ask us to leave his house immediately!"
was my uncomfortable impression.
But my apprehension was not justified. At this epoch of my Indian
pilgrimage I was far, as yet, from having fathomed the metaphysical
depth of a Hindu heart.
Sham Rao began by delivering a very far-fetched, eloquent preface.
He reminded us that he, personally, was an enlightened man, a man
who possessed all the advantages of a Western education. He said
that, owing to this, he was not quite sure that the body of the
vampire was actually inhabited by his late brother. Darwin, of course,
and some other great naturalists of the West, seemed to believe in
the transmigration of souls, but, as far as he understood, they
believed in it in an inverse sense; that is to say, if a baby had
been born to his mother exactly at the moment of the vampire's death,
this baby would indubitably have had a great likeness to a vampire,
owing to the decaying atoms of the vampire being so close to her.
"Is not this an exact interpretation of the Darwinian school?" he asked.
We modestly answered that, having traveled almost incessantly during
the last year, we could not help being a bit behindhand in the
questions of modern science, and that we were not able to follow
its latest conclusions.
"But I have followed them!" rejoined the good-natured Sham Rao,
with a touch of pomposity. "And so I hope I may be allowed to say
that I have understood and duly appreciated their most recent
developments. I have just finished studying the magnificent
Anthropogenesis of Haeckel, and have carefully discussed in my
own mind his logical, scientific explanations of the origin of
man from inferior animal forms through transformation. And what
is this transformation, pray, if not the transmigration of the
ancient and modern Hindus, and the metempsychosis of the Greeks?"
We had nothing to say against the identity, and even ventured to
observe that, according to Haeckel, it does look like it.
"Exactly!" exclaimed he joyfully. "This shows that our conceptions
are neither silly nor superstitious, as is maintained by some
opponents of Manu. The great Manu, anticipated Darwin and Haeckel.
Judge for yourself; the latter derives the genesis of man from a
group of plastides, from the jelly-like moneron; this moneron,
through the ameoba, the ascidian, the brainless and heartless
amphioxus, and so on, transmigrates in the eighth remove into the
lamprey, is transformed, at last, into a vertebrate amniote, into
a premammalian, into a marsupial animal.... The vampire, in its turn,
belongs to the species of vertebrates. You, being well read people
all of you, cannot contradict this statement." He was right in
his supposition; we did not contradict it.
"In this case, do me the honor to follow my argument...."
We did follow his argument with the greatest attention, but were
at a loss to foresee whither it tended to lead us.
"Darwin," continued Sham Rao, "in his Origin of Species,
re-established almost word for word the palin-genetic teachings
of our Manu. Of this I am perfectly convinced, and, if you like,
I can prove it to you book in hand. Our ancient law-giver, amongst
other sayings, speaks as follows: `The great Parabrahm commanded
man to appear in the universe, after traversing all the grades
of the animal kingdom, and springing primarily from the worm of
the deep sea mud.' The worm be-came a snake, the snake a fish,
the fish a mammal, and so on. Is not this very idea at the bottom
of Darwin's theory, when he maintains that the organic forms have
their origin in more simple species, and says that the structureless
protoplasm born in the mud of the Laurentian and Silurian periods--
the Manu's `mud of the seas,' I dare say--gradually transformed
itself into the anthro-poid ape, and then finally into the human being?"
We said it looked very like it.
"But, in spite of all my respect for Darwin and his eminent follower
Haeckel, I cannot agree with their final conclusions, especially
with the conclusions of the latter," continued Sham Rao. "This
hasty and bilious German is perfectly accurate in copying the
embryology of Manu and all the metamorphoses of our ancestors,
but he forgets the evolution of the human soul, which, as it is
stated by Manu, goes hand in hand with the evolution of matter.
The son of Swayambhuva, the Self Becoming, speaks as follows:
`Everything created in a new cycle, in addition to the qualities
of its preceding transmigrations, acquires new qualities, and the
nearer it approaches to man, the highest type of the earth, the
brighter becomes its divine spark; but, once it has become a Brahma,
it will enter the cycle of conscious transmigrations.' Do you
realize what that means? It means that from this moment, its
transformations depend no longer on the blind laws of gradual evolution,
but on the least of a man's actions, which brings either a reward or
a punishment. Now you see that it depends on the man's will whether,
on the one hand, he will start on the way to Moksha, the eternal bliss,
passing from one Loka to another till he reaches Brahmaloka, or, on
the other, owing to his sins, will be thrown back. You know that the
average soul, once freed from earthly reincarnations, has to ascend
from one Loka to another, always in the human shape, though this
shape will grow and perfect itself with every Loka. Some of our
sects understood these Lokas to mean certain stars. These spirits,
freed from earthly matter, are what we mean by Pitris and Devas,
whom we worship. And did not your Kabalists of the middle ages
designate these Pitris under the expression Planetary Spirits?
But, in the case of a very sinful man, he will have to begin once
more with the animal forms which he had already traversed unconsciously.
Both Darwin and Haeckel lose sight of this, so to speak, second volume
of their incomplete theory, but still neither of them advances any
argument to prove it false. Is it not so?"
"Neither of them does anything of the sort, most assuredly."
"Why, in this case," exclaimed he, suddenly changing his colloquial
tone for an aggressive one, "why am I, I who have studied the most
modern ideas of Western science, I who believe in its representatives--
why am I suspected, pray, by Miss X--- of belonging to the tribe
of the ignorant and superstitious Hindus? Why does she think that
our perfected scientific theories are superstitions, and we
ourselves a fallen inferior race?"
Sham Rao stood before us with tears in his eyes. We were at a
loss what to answer him, being confused to the last degree by
"Mind you, I do not proclaim our popular beliefs to be infallible
dogmas. I consider them as mere theories, and try to the best of
my ability to reconcile the ancient and the modern science. I
formulate hypotheses just like Darwin and Haeckel. Besides, if I
understood rightly, Miss X--- is a spiritualist, so she believes
in bhutas. And, believing that a bhuta is capable of penetrating
the body of a medium, how can she deny that a bhuta, and more so
a less sinful soul, may enter the body of a vampire-bat?"
I own, this logic was a little too condensed for us, and so, avoiding
a direct answer to a metaphysical question of such delicacy, we tried
to apologize and excuse Miss X---'s rudeness as well as we could.
"She did not mean to offend you," we said, "she only repeated a
calumny, familiar to every European. Besides, if she had taken
the trouble to think it over, she probably would not have said it...."
Little by little we succeeded in pacifying our host. He recovered
his usual cheerfulness, but could not resist the temptation of adding
a few words to his long argumentation. He had just begun to reveal
to us certain peculiarities of his late brother's character, which
induced him to be prepared, judging by the laws of atavism, to see
their repetition in the propensities of a vampire bat, when Mr. Y---
suddenly dashed in on our small group and spoiled all the results
of our conciliatory words by screaming at the top of his voice:
"The old woman has gone demented! She keeps on cursing us and
says that the murder of this wretched bat is only the forerunner
of a whole series of misfortunes brought on her house by you,
Sham Rao," said he, hastily addressing the bewildered follower
of Haackel. "She says you have polluted your Brahmanical
holiness by inviting us. Colonel, you had better send for the
elephants. In another moment all this crowd will be on us..."
"For goodness' sake!" exclaimed poor Sham Rao, "have some consideration
for my feelings. She is an old woman, she has some superstitions,
but she is my mother. You are educated people, learned people...
Advise me, show me a way out of all these difficulties. What should
you do in my place?"
"What should I do, sir?" exclaimed Mr. Y---, completely put out
of temper by the utter ludicrousness of our awkward predicament.
"What should I do? Were I a man in your position and a believer
in all you are brought up to believe, I should take my revolver,
and in the first place, shoot all the vampire bats in the neighborhood,
if only to rid all your late relations from the abject bodies of
these creatures, and, in the second place, I should endeavor to
smash the head of the conceited fraud in the shape of a Brahman
who invented all this stupid story. That is what I should do, sir!"
But this advice did not content the miserable descendant of Rama.
No doubt he would have remained a long time undecided as to what
course of action to adopt, torn as he was between the sacred feelings
of hospitality, the innate fear of the Brahman-priest, and his own
superstitions, if our ingenious Babu had not come to our rescue.
Learning that we all felt more or less indignant at all this row,
and that we were preparing to leave the house as quickly as possible,
he persuaded us to stay, if only for an hour, saying that our
hasty departure would be a terrible outrage upon our host, whom,
in any case, we could not find fault with. As to the stupid old
woman, the Babu promised us to pacify her speedily enough: he
had his own plans and views. In the meantime, he said, we had
better go and examine the ruins of an old fortress close by.
We obeyed very reluctantly, feeling an acute interest in his "plans."
We proceeded slowly. Our gentlemen were visibly out of temper.
Miss X--- tried to calm herself by talking more than usual, and
Narayan, as phlegmatic as usual, indolently and good-naturedly
chaffed her about her beloved "spirits." Glancing back we saw
the Babu accompanied by the family priest. Judging by their
gestures they were engaged in some warm discussion. The shaven
head of the Brahman nodded right and left, his yellow garment
flapped in the wind, and his arms rose towards the sky, as if in an
appeal to the gods to come down and testify to the truth of his words.
"I'll bet you a thousand dollars, no plans of our Babu's will be
of any avail with this fanatic!" confidently remarked the colonel
as he lit his pipe.
But we had hardly walked a hundred steps after this remark when
we saw the Babu running after us and signaling us to stop.
"Everything ended first-rate!" screamed he, as soon as we could
hear. "You are to be thanked . . . You happen to be the true
saviours and benefactors of the deceased bhuta... You..."
Our Babu sank on the ground holding his narrow, panting breast
with both his hands, and laughed, laughed till we all burst into
laughter too, before learning any-thing at all.
"Think of it," began the Babu, and stopped short, prevented from
going on by his exuberant hilarity. "Just think of it! The whole
transaction is to cost me only ten rupees.... I offered five at
first... but he would not.... He said this was a sacred matter.....
But ten he could not resist! Ho, ho, ho.... "
At last we learned the story. All the metempsychoses depend on
the imagination of the family Gurus, who receive for their kind
offices from one hundred to one hundred and fifty rupees a year.
Every rite is accompanied by a more or less considerable addition
to the purse of the insatiable family Brahman, but the happy events
pay better than the sad ones. Knowing all this, the Babu asked
the Brahman point-blank to perform a false samadhi, that is to say,
to feign an inspiration and to announce to the sorrowing mother
that her late son's will had acted consciously in all the circumstances;
that he brought about his end in the body of the flying fox, that
he was tired of that grade of transmigration, that he longed for
death in order to attain a higher position in the animal kingdom,
that he is happy, and that he is deeply indebted to the sahib who
broke his neck and so freed him from his abject embodiment.
Besides, the observant eye of our all-knowing Babu had not failed
to remark that a she-buffalo of the Guru's was expecting a calf,
and that the Guru was yearning to sell it to Sham Rao. This
circumstance was a trump card in the Babu's hand. Let the Guru
announce, under the influence of samadhi, that the freed spirit
intends to inhabit the body of the future baby-buffalo and the
old lady will buy the new incarnation of her first-born as sure
as the sun is bright. This announcement will be followed by
rejoicings and by new rites. And who will profit by all this if
not the family priest?
At first the Guru had some misgivings, and swore by everything
sacred that the vampire bat was veritably inhabited by the brother
of Sham Rao. But the Babu knew better than to give in. The Guru
ended by understanding that his skillful opponent saw through
his tricks, and that he was well aware that the Shastras exclude
the possibility of such a transmigration. Growing alarmed, the
Guru also grew meek, and asked only ten rupees and a promise of
silence for the performance of a samadhi.
On our way back we were met at the gate by Sham Rao, who was simply
radiant. Whether he was afraid of our laughing at him, or was at
loss to find an explanation of this new metamorphosis in the
positive sciences in general, and Haeckel in particular, he did
not attempt to explain why the affair had taken such an unexpectedly
good turn. He merely mentioned awkwardly enough that his mother,
owing to some new mysterious conjectures of hers, had dismissed
all sad apprehensions as to the destiny of her elder son, and he
then dropped the subject completely.
In order to wipe away the traces of the morning's perplexities
from our minds, Sham Rao invited us to sit on the verandah, by
the wide entrance of his idol room, whilst the family prayers
were going on. Nothing could suit us better. It was nine o'clock,
the usual time of the morning prayers. Sham Rao went to the well
to get ready, and dress himself, as he said, though the process
was more like undressing. In a few moments he came back wearing
only a dhuti, as during dinner time, and with his head uncovered.
He went straight to his idol room. The moment he entered we heard
the loud stroke of a bell that hung under the ceiling, and that
continued tolling all the time the prayers lasted.
The Babu explained to us that a little boy was pulling the bell
rope from the roof.
Sham Rao stepped in with his right foot and very slowly. Then he
approached the altar and sat on a little stool with his legs crossed.
At the opposite side of the room, on the red velvet shelves of
an altar that resembled an etagere in the drawing-room of some
fashionable lady, stood many idols. They were made of gold, of
silver, of brass and of marble, according to their im-portance and
merits. Maha-Deva or Shiva was of gold. Gunpati or Ganesha of
silver, Vishnu in the form of a round black stone from the river
Gandaki in Nepal. In this form Vishnu is called Lakshmi-Narayan.
There were also many other gods unknown to us, who were worshipped
in the shapes of big sea-shells, called Chakra. Surya, the god
of the sun, and the kula-devas, the domestic gods, were placed in
the second rank. The altar was sheltered by a cupola of carved
sandal-wood. During the night the gods and the offerings were
covered by a huge bell glass. On the walls there were many sacred
images representing the chief episodes in the biographies of the
Sham Rao filled his left hand with ashes, murmuring prayers all
the while, covered it for a second with the right one, then put
some matter to the ashes, and mixing the two by rubbing his hands
together, he traced a line on his face with this mixture by moving
the thumb of his right hand from his nose upwards, then from the
middle of the forehead to the right temple, then back again to
the left temple. Having done with his face he proceeded to cover
with wet ashes his throat, arms, shoulders, his back, head and ears.
In one corner of the room stood a huge bronze font filled with water.
Sham Rao made straight to it and plunged into it three times, dhuti,
head, and all, after which he came out looking exactly like a
well-favored dripping wet Triton. He twisted the only lock of
hair on the top of his shaved head and sprinkled it with water.
This operation concluded the first act.
The second act began with religious meditations and with mantrams,
which, by really pious people, must be repeated three times a day--
at sunrise, at noon and at sunset. Sham Rao loudly pronounced the
names of twenty-four gods, and each name was accompanied by a stroke
of the bell. Having finished he first shut his eyes and stuffed
his ears with cotton, then pressed his left nostril with two fingers
of his left hand, and having filled his lungs with air through the
right nostril, pressed the latter also. Then he tightly closed
his lips, so that breathing became impossible. In this position
every pious Hindu must mentally repeat a certain verse, which is
called the Gayatri. These are sacred words which no Hindu will
dare to pronounce aloud. Even in repeating them mentally he must
take every precaution not to inhale anything impure.
I am bound by my word of honor never to repeat the whole of this
prayer, but I may quote a few unconnected sentences:
"Om... Earth... Heaven.... Let the adored light of.... [here follows
a name which must not be pronounced] shelter me. Let thy Sun, O
thou only One, shelter me, the unworthy... I shut my eyes, I shut
my ears, I do not breathe ... in order to see, hear and breathe
thee alone. Throw light upon our thoughts [again the secret name]... "
It is curious to compare this Hindu prayer with the celebrated
prayer of Descartes' "Meditation III" in his L'Existence de Dieu.
It runs as follows, if I remember rightly:
"Now I shut my eyes, cover my ears, and dismiss all my five senses,
I will dwell on the thought of God alone, I will meditate on His
quality and look on the beauty of this wondrous radiancy."
After this prayer Sham Rao read many other prayers, holding with
two fingers his sacred Brahmanical thread. After a while began
the ceremony of "the washing of the gods." Taking them down from
the altar, one after the other, according to their rank, Sham Rao
first plunged them in the big font, in which he had just bathed
himself, and then bathed them in milk in a smaller bronze font
by the altar. The milk was mixed up with curds, butter, honey,
and sugar, and so it cannot be said that this cleansing served
its purpose. No wonder we were glad to see that the gods underwent
a second bathing in the first font and then were dried with a
When the gods were arranged in their respective places, the Hindu
traced on them the sectarian signs with a ring from his left hand.
He used white sandal paint for the lingam and red for Gunpati and
Surya. Then he sprinkled them with aromatic oils and covered them
with fresh flowers. The long ceremony was finished by "the
awakening of the gods." A small bell was repeatedly rung under
the noses of the idols, who, as the Brahman probably supposed,
all went to sleep during this tedious ceremony.
Having noticed, or fancied, which often amounts to the same thing,
that they were wide awake, he began offering them his daily sacrifices,
lighting the incense and the lamps, and, to our great astonishment,
snapping his fingers from time to time, as if warning the idols to
"look out." Having filled the room with clouds of incense and fumes
of burning camphor, he scattered some more flowers over the altar
and sat on the small stool for a while, murmuring the last prayers.
He repeatedly held the palms of his hands over the flame of the
tapers and rubbed his face with them. Then he walked round the
altar three times, and, having knelt three times, retreated backwards
to the door.
A little while before our host had finished his morning prayers
the ladies of the house came into the room. They brought each a
small stool and sat in a row murmuring prayers and telling the
beads of their rosaries.
The part played by the rosaries in India is as important as in
all Buddhist countries. Every god has his favorite flower and
his favorite material for a rosary. The fakirs are simply covered
with rosaries. The rosary is called mala and consists of one
hundred and eight beads. Very pious Hindus are not content to
tell the beads when praying; they must hide their hands during
this ceremony in a bag called gomukha, which means the cow's mouth.
We left the women to their prayers and followed our host to the
cow house. The cow symbolizes the "fostering earth," or Nature,
and is worshipped accordingly. Sham Rao sat down by the cow and
washed her feet, first with her own milk, then with water. He
gave her some sugar and rice, covered her forehead with powdered
sandal, and adorned her horns and four legs with chains of flowers.
He burned some incense under her nostrils and brandished a burning
lamp over her head. Then he walked three times round her and sat
down to rest. Some Hindus walk round the cow one hundred and
eight times, rosary in hand. But our Sham Rao had a slight
tendency to freethinking, as we knew, and besides, he was too much
of an admirer of Haeckel. Having rested himself, he filled a cup
with water, put in it the cow's tail for a moment, and then drank it!
After this he performed the rite of worshipping the sun and the
sacred plant tulsi. Unable to bring the god Surya from his heavenly
altar and wash him in the sacred font, Sham Rao contented himself
by filling his own mouth with water, standing on one leg, and
spirting this water towards the sun. Needless to say it never
reached the orb of day, but, very unexpectedly, sprinkled us instead.
It is still a mystery to us why the plant tulsi, Royal Basilicum,
is worshipped. However, towards the end of September we yearly
witnessed the strange ceremony of the wedding of this plant with
the god Vishnu, notwithstanding that tulsi bears the title of
Krishna's bride, probably because of the latter being an incarnation
of Vishnu. On these occasions pots of this plant are painted and
adorned with tinsel. A magical circle is traced in the garden
and the plant is put in the middle of it. A Brahman brings an
idol of Vishnu and begins the marriage ceremony, standing before
the plant. A married couple hold a shawl between the plant and
the god, as if screening them from each other, the Brahman utters
prayers, and young women, and especially unmarried girls, who
are the most ardent worshippers of tulsi, throw rice and saffron
over the idol and the plant. When the ceremony is concluded, the
Brahman is presented with the shawl, the idol is put in the shade
of his wife, the Hindus clap their hands, rend everyone's ears
with the noise of tom-toms, let off fireworks, offer each other
pieces of sugar-cane, and rejoice in every conceivable way till
the dawn of the next day.
A Witch's Den
Our kind host Sham Rao was very gay during the remaining hours of
our visit. He did his best to entertain us, and would not hear
of our leaving the neighborhood without having seen its greatest
celebrity, its most interesting sight. A jadu wala--sorceress--
well known in the district, was just at this time under the
influence of seven sister-goddesses, who took possession of her
by turns, and spoke their oracles through her lips. Sham Rao said
we must not fail to see her, be it only in the interests of science.
The evening closes in, and we once more get ready for an excursion.
It is only five miles to the cavern of the Pythia of Hindostan;
the road runs through a jungle, but it is level and smooth. Besides,
the jungle and its ferocious inhabitants have ceased to frighten us.
The timid elephants we had in the "dead city" are sent home, and
we are to mount new behemoths belonging to a neighboring Raja.
The pair, that stand before the verandah like two dark hillocks,
are steady and trust worthy. Many a time these two have hunted
the royal tiger, and no wild shrieking or thunderous roaring can
frighten them. And so, let us start!
The ruddy flames of the torches dazzle our eyes and increase the
forest gloom. Our surroundings seem so dark, so mysterious. There
is something indescribably fascinating, almost solemn, in these
night-journeys in the out-of-the-way corners of India. Everything
is silent and deserted around you, everything is dozing on the
earth and overhead. Only the heavy, regular tread of the elephants
breaks the stillness of the night, like the sound of falling
hammers in the underground smithy of Vulcan. From time to time
uncanny voices and murmurs are heard in the black forest.
"The wind sings its strange song amongst the ruins," says one of us,
"what a wonderful acoustic phenomenon!" "Bhuta, bhuta!" whisper
the awestruck torch-bearers. They brandish their torches and
swiftly spin on one leg, and snap their fingers to chase away the
The plaintive murmur is lost in the distance. The forest is once
more filled with the cadences of its invisible nocturnal life--
the metallic whirr of the crickets, the feeble, monotonous croak
of the tree-frog, the rustle of the leaves. From time to time all
this suddenly stops short and then begins again, gradually increasing
Heavens! What teeming life, what stores of vital energy are hidden
under the smallest leaf, the most imperceptible blades of grass,
in this tropical forest! Myriads of stars shine in the dark blue
of the sky, and myriads of fireflies twinkle at us from every bush,
moving sparks, like a pale reflection of the far-away stars.
We left the thick forest behind us, and reached a deep glen, on
three sides bordered with the thick forest, where even by day the
shadows are as dark as by night. We were about two thousand feet
above the foot of the Vindhya ridge, judging by the ruined wall
of Mandu, straight above our heads. Suddenly a very chilly wind
rose that nearly blew our torches out. Caught in the labyrinth
of bushes and rocks, the wind angrily shook the branches of the
blossoming syringas, then, shaking itself free, it turned back
along the glen and flew down the valley, howling, whistling and
shrieking, as if all the fiends of the forest together were joining
in a funeral song.
"Here we are," said Sham Rao, dismounting. Here is the village;
the elephants cannot go any further."
"The village? Surely you are mistaken. I don't see anything
"It is too dark to see the village. Besides, the huts are so small,
and so hidden by the bushes, that even by daytime you could hardly
find them. And there is no light in the houses, for fear of the spirits."
"And where is your witch? Do you mean we are to watch her performance
in complete darkness?"
Sham Rao cast a furtive, timid look round him; and his voice, when
he answered our questions, was somewhat tremulous.
"I implore you not to call her a witch! She may hear you. ..... It
is not far off, it is not more than half a mile. Do not allow this
short distance to shake your decision. No elephant, and even no
horse, could make its way there. We must walk. ... But we shall
find plenty of light there.... "
This was unexpected, and far from agreeable. To walk in this gloomy
Indian night; to scramble through thickets of cactuses; to venture
in a dark forest, full of wild animals--this was too much for Miss X---.
She declared that she would go no further. She would wait for us
in the howdah, on the elephant's back, and perhaps would go to sleep.
Narayan was against this parti de plaisir from the very beginning,
and now, without explaining his reasons, he said she was the only
sensible one among us.
"You won't lose anything," he remarked, "by staying where you are.
And I only wish everyone would follow your example."
"What ground have you for saying so, I wonder?" remonstrated Sham Rao,
and a slight note of disappointment rang in his voice, when he saw
that the excursion, proposed and organized by himself, threatened
to come to nothing. "What harm could be done by it? I won't insist
any more that the `incarnation of gods' is a rare sight, and that
the Europeans hardly ever have an opportunity of witnessing it;
but, besides, the Kangalim in question is no ordinary woman. She
leads a holy life; she is a prophetess, and her blessing could
not prove harmful to any one. I insisted on this excursion out
of pure patriotism."
"Sahib, if your patriotism consists in displaying before foreigners
the worst of our plagues, then why did you not order all the lepers
of your district to assemble and parade before the eyes of our guests?
You are a patel, you have the power to do it."
How bitterly Narayan's voice sounded to our unaccustomed ears.
Usually he was so even-tempered, so indifferent to everything
belonging to the exterior world.
Fearing a quarrel between the Hindus, the colonel remarked, in a
conciliatory tone, that it was too late for us to reconsider our
expedition. Besides, without being a believer in the "incarnation
of gods," he was personally firmly convinced that demoniacs
existed even in the West. He was eager to study every psychological
phenomenon, wherever he met with it, and whatever shape it might assume.
It would have been a striking sight for our European and American
friends if they had beheld our procession on that dark night. Our
way lay along a narrow winding path up the mountain. Not more
than two people could walk together--and we were thirty, including
the torch-bearers. Surely some reminiscence of night sallies
against the confederate Southerners had revived in the colonel's
breast, judging by the readiness with which he took upon himself
the leadership of our small expedition. He ordered all the rifles
and revolvers to be loaded, despatched three torch-bearers to march
ahead of us, and arranged us in pairs. Under such a skilled chieftain
we had nothing to fear from tigers; and so our procession started,
and slowly crawled up the winding path.
It cannot be said that the inquisitive travelers, who appeared
later on, in the den of the prophetess of Mandu, shone through
the freshness and elegance of their costumes. My gown, as well
as the traveling suits of the colonel and of Mr. Y--- were nearly
torn to pieces. The cactuses gathered from us whatever tribute
they could, and the Babu's disheveled hair swarmed with a whole
colony of grasshoppers and fireflies, which, probably, were
attracted thither by the smell of cocoa-nut oil. The stout Sham
Rao panted like a steam engine. Narayan alone was like his usual
self; that is to say, like a bronze Hercules, armed with a club.
At the last abrupt turn of the path, after having surmounted the
difficulty of climbing over huge, scattered stones, we suddenly
found ourselves on a perfectly smooth place; our eyes, in spite
of our many torches, were dazzled with light; and our ears were
struck by a medley of unusual sounds.
A new glen opened before us, the entrance of which, from the valley,
was well masked by thick trees. We understood how easily we might
have wandered round it, without ever suspecting its existence. At the
bottom of the glen we discovered the abode of the celebrated Kangalim.
The den, as it turned out, was situated in the ruin of an old Hindu
temple in tolerably good preservation. In all probability it was
built long before the "dead city," because during the epoch of the
latter, the heathen were not allowed to have their own places of
worship; and the temple stood quite close to the wall of the town,
in fact, right under it. The cupolas of the two smaller lateral
pagodas had fallen long ago, and huge bushes grew out of their altars.
This evening, their branches were hidden under a mass of bright
colored rags, bits of ribbon, little pots, and various other talismans;
because, even in them, popular superstition sees something sacred.
"And are not these poor people right? Did not these bushes grow
on sacred ground? Is not their sap impregnated with the incense
of offerings, and the exhalations of holy anchorites, who once
lived and breathed here?"
The learned, but superstitious Sham Rao would only answer our
questions by new questions.
But the central temple, built of red granite, stood unharmed by time,
and, as we learned afterwards, a deep tunnel opened just behind
its closely-shut door. What was beyond it no one knew. Sham Rao
assured us that no man of the last three generations had ever stepped
over the threshold of this thick iron door; no one had seen the
subterranean passage for many years. Kangalim lived there in
perfect isolation, and, according to the oldest people in the
neighborhood, she had always lived there. Some people said she
was three hundred years old; others alleged that a certain old
man on his death-bed had revealed to his son that this old woman
was no one else than his own uncle. This fabulous uncle had settled
in the cave in the times when the "dead city" still counted several
hundreds of inhabitants. The hermit, busy paving his road to Moksha,
had no intercourse with the rest of the world, and nobody knew how
he lived and what he ate. But a good while ago, in the days when
the Bellati (foreigners) had not yet taken possession of this mountain,
the old hermit suddenly was transformed into a hermitess. She
continues his pursuits and speaks with his voice, and often in his
name; but she receives worshippers, which was not the practice of
We had come too early, and the Pythia did not at first appear. But
the square before the temple was full of people, and a wild, though
picturesque, scene it was. An enormous bonfire blazed in the centre,
and round it crowded the naked savages like so many black gnomes,
adding whole branches of trees sacred to the seven sister-goddesses.
Slowly and evenly they all jumped from one leg to another to a tune
of a single monotonous musical phrase, which they repeated in chorus,
accompanied by several local drums and tambourines. The hushed
trill of the latter mingled with the forest echoes and the hysterical
moans of two little girls, who lay under a heap of leaves by the fire.
The poor children were brought here by their mothers, in the hope
that the goddesses would take pity upon them and banish the two
evil spirits under whose obsession they were. Both mothers were
quite young, and sat on their heels blankly and sadly staring at
the flames. No one paid us the slightest attention when we appeared,
and afterwards during all our stay these people acted as if we
were invisible. Had we worn a cap of darkness they could not have
behaved more strangely.
"They feel the approach of the gods! The atmosphere is full of
their sacred emanations!" mysteriously explained Sham Rao,
contemplating with reverence the natives, whom his beloved Haeckel
might have easily mistaken for his "missing link," the brood of
his " Bathybius Haeckelii. "
"They are simply under the influence of toddy and opium!" retorted
the irreverent Babu.
The lookers-on moved as in a dream, as if they all were only
half-awakened somnambulists; but the actors were simply victims
of St. Vitus's dance. One of them, a tall old man, a mere skeleton
with a long white beard, left the ring and begun whirling vertiginously,
with his arms spread like wings, and loudly grinding his long, wolf-
like teeth. He was painful and disgusting to look at. He soon fell
down, and was carelessly, almost mechanically, pushed aside by the
feet of the others still engaged in their demoniac performance.
All this was frightful enough, but many more horrors were in store
Waiting for the appearance of the prima donna of this forest opera
company, we sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree, ready to ask
innumerable questions of our condescending host. But I was hardly
seated, when a feeling of indescribable astonishment and horror
made me shrink back.
I beheld the skull of a monstrous animal, the like of which I could
not find in my zoological reminiscences. This head was much larger
than the head of an elephant skeleton. And still it could not be
anything but an elephant, judging by the skillfully restored trunk,
which wound down to my feet like a gigantic black leech. But an
elephant has no horns, whereas this one had four of them! The
front pair stuck from the flat forehead slightly bending forward
and then spreading out; and the others had a wide base, like the
root of a deer's horn, that gradually decreased almost up to the
middle, and bore long branches enough to decorate a dozen ordinary
elks. Pieces of the transparent amber-yellow rhinoceros skin were
strained over the empty eye-holes of the skull, and small lamps
burning behind them only added to the horror, the devilish appearance
of this head.
"What can this be?" was our unanimous question. None of us had
ever met anything like it, and even the colonel looked aghast.
"It is a Sivatherium," said Narayan. "Is it possible you never
came across these fossils in European museums? Their remains are
common enough in the Himalayas, though, of course, in fragments.
They were called after Shiva."
"If the collector of this district ever hears that this antediluvian
relic adorns the den of your--ahem!--witch," remarked the Babu,
"it won't adorn it many days longer."
All round the skull, and on the floor of the portico there were
heaps of white flowers, which, though not quite antediluvian, were
totally unknown to us. They were as large as a big rose; and
their white petals were covered with a red powder, the inevitable
concomitant of every Indian religious ceremony. Further on, there
were groups of cocoa-nuts, and large brass dishes filled with rice;
and each adorned with a red or green taper. In the centre of the
portico there stood a queer-shaped censer, surrounded with chandeliers.
A little boy, dressed from head to foot in white, threw into it
handfuls of aromatic powders.
"These people, who assemble here to worship Kangalim," said Sham Rao,
"do not actually belong either to her sect or to any other. They
are devil-worshippers. They do not believe in Hindu gods, but live
in small communities; they belong to one of the many Indian races,
which usually are called the hill-tribes. Unlike the Shanars of
Southern Travancore, they do not use the blood of sacrificial animals;
they do not build separate temples to their bhutas. But they are
possessed by the strange fancy that the goddess Kali, the wife of
Shiva, from time immemorial has had a grudge against them, and
sends her favorite evil spirits to torture them. Save this little
difference, they have the same beliefs as the Shanars. God does
not exist for them; and even Shiva is considered by them as an
ordinary spirit. Their chief worship is offered to the souls of
the dead. These souls, however righteous and kind they may be in
their lifetime, become after death as wicked as can be; they are
happy only when they are torturing living men and cattle. As the
opportunities of doing so are the only reward for the virtues they
possessed when incarnated, a very wicked man is punished by becoming
after his death a very soft-hearted ghost; he loathes his loss of
daring, and is altogether miserable. The results of this strange
logic are not bad, nevertheless. These savages and devil-worshippers
are the kindest and the most truth-loving of all the hill-tribes.
They do whatever they can to be worthy of their ultimate reward;
because, don't you see, they all long to become the wickedest
of devils!.... "
And put in good humor by his own wittiness, Sham Rao laughed till his
hilarity became offensive, considering the sacredness of the place.
"A year ago some business matters sent me to Tinevelli," continued he.
"Staying with a friend of mine, who is a Shanar, I was allowed to be
present at one of the ceremonies in the honor of devils. No European
has as yet witnessed this worship--whatever the missionaries may say;
but there are many converts amongst the Shanars, who willingly describe
them to the padres. My friend is a wealthy man, which is probably
the reason why the devils are especially vicious to him. They poison
his cattle, spoil his crops and his coffee plants, and persecute his
numerous relations, sending them sunstrokes, madness and epilepsy,
over which illnesses they especially preside. These wicked demons
have settled in every corner of his spacious landed property--in
the woods, the ruins, and even in his stables. To avert all this,
my friend covered his land with stucco pyramids, and prayed humbly,
asking the demons to draw their portraits on each of them, so that
he may recognize them and worship each of them separately, as the
rightful owner of this, or that, particular pyramid. And what do
you think?.... Next morning all the pyramids were found covered
with drawings. Each of them bore an incredibly good likeness of
the dead of the neighborhood. My friend had known personally almost
all of them. He found also a portrait of his own late father amongst
the lot..... "
"Well? And was he satisfied?"
"Oh, he was very glad, very satisfied. It enabled him to choose
the right thing to gratify the personal tastes of each demon, don't
you see? He was not vexed at finding his father's portrait. His
father was somewhat irascible; once he nearly broke both his son's
legs, administering to him fatherly punishment with an iron bar,
so that he could not possibly be very dangerous after his death.
But another portrait, found on the best and the prettiest of the
pyramids, amazed my friend a good deal, and put him in a blue funk.
The whole district recognized an English officer, a certain Captain
Pole, who in his lifetime was as kind a gentleman as ever lived."
"Indeed? But do you mean to say that this strange people worshipped
Captain Pole also?"
"Of course they did! Captain Pole was such a worthy man, such an
honest officer, that, after his death, he could not help being
promoted to the highest rank of Shanar devils. The Pe-Kovil,
demon's house, sacred to his memory, stands side by side with the
Pe-Kovil Bhadrakali, which was recently conferred on the wife of
a certain German missionary, who also was a most charitable lady
and so is very dangerous now."
"But what are their ceremonies? Tell us something about their rites."
"Their rites consist chiefly of dancing, singing, and killing
sacrificial animals. The Shanars have no castes, and eat all
kinds of meat. The crowd assembles about the Pe-Kovil, previously
designated by the priest; there is a general beating of drums,
and slaughtering of fowls, sheep and goats. When Captain Pole's
turn came an ox was killed, as a thoughtful attention to the
peculiar tastes of his nation. The priest appeared, covered with
bangles, and holding a wand on which tinkled numberless little
bells, and wearing garlands of red and white flowers round his neck,
and a black mantle, on which were embroidered the ugliest fiends
you can imagine. Horns were blown and drums rolled incessantly.
And oh, I forgot to tell you there was also a kind of fiddle, the
secret of which is known only to the Shanar priesthood. Its bow
is ordinary enough, made of bamboo; but it is whispered that the
strings are human veins.... When Captain Pole took possession of
the priest's body, the priest leapt high in the air, and then rushed
on the ox and killed him. He drank off the hot blood, and then
began his dance. But what a fright he was when dancing! You know,
I am not superstitious.... Am I?... "
Sham Rao looked at us inquiringly, and I, for one, was glad, at
this moment, that Miss X--- was half a mile off, asleep in the howdah.
"He turned, and turned, as if possessed by all the demons of Naraka.
The enraged crowd hooted and howled when the priest begun to inflict
deep wounds all over his body with the bloody sacrificial knife.
To see him, with his hair waving in the wind and his mouth covered
with foam; to see him bathing in the blood of the sacrificed animal,
mixing it with his own, was more than I could bear. I felt as if
hallucinated, I fancied I also was spinning round.... "
Sham Rao stopped abruptly, struck dumb. Kangalim stood before us!
Her appearance was so unexpected that we all felt embarrassed.
Carried away by Sham Rao's description, we had noticed neither how
nor whence she came. Had she appeared from beneath the earth we
could not have been more astonished. Narayan stared at her, opening
wide his big jet-black eyes; the Babu clicked his tongue in utter
confusion. Imagine a skeleton seven feet high, covered with brown
leather, with a dead child's tiny head stuck on its bony shoulders;
the eyes set so deep and at the same time flashing such fiendish
flames all through your body that you begin to feel your brain stop
working, your thoughts become entangled and your blood freeze in
I describe my personal impressions, and no words of mine can do
them justice. My description is too weak.
Mr. Y--- and the colonel both grew pale under her stare, and Mr. Y---
made a movement as if about to rise.
Needless to say that such an impression could not last. As soon
as the witch had turned her gleaming eyes to the kneeling crowd,
it vanished as swiftly as it had come. But still all our attention
was fixed on this remarkable creature.
Three hundred years old! Who can tell? Judging by her appearance,
we might as well conjecture her to be a thousand. We beheld a
genuine living mummy, or rather a mummy endowed with motion. She
seemed to have been withering since the creation. Neither time,
nor the ills of life, nor the elements could ever affect this living
statue of death. The all-destroying hand of time had touched her
and stopped short. Time could do no more, and so had left her.
And with all this, not a single grey hair. Her long black locks
shone with a greenish sheen, and fell in heavy masses down to her knees.
To my great shame, I must confess that a disgusting reminiscence
flashed into my memory. I thought about the hair and the nails of
corpses growing in the graves, and tried to examine the nails of
the old woman.
Meanwhile, she stood motionless as if suddenly transformed into
an ugly idol. In one hand she held a dish with a piece of burning
camphor, in the other a handful of rice, and she never removed her
burning eyes from the crowd. The pale yellow flame of the camphor
flickered in the wind, and lit up her deathlike head, almost
touching her chin; but she paid no heed to it. Her neck, as
wrinkled as a mushroom, as thin as a stick, was surrounded by
three rows of golden medallions. Her head was adorned with a
golden snake. Her grotesque, hardly human body was covered by a
piece of saffron-yellow muslin.
The demoniac little girls raised their heads from be-neath the
leaves, and set up a prolonged animal-like howl. Their example
was followed by the old man, who lay exhausted by his frantic dance.
The witch tossed her head convulsively, and began her invocations,
rising on tiptoe, as if moved by some external force.
"The goddess, one of the seven sisters, begins to take possession
of her," whispered Sham Rao, not even thinking of wiping away the
big drops of sweat that streamed from his brow. "Look, look at her!"
This advice was quite superfluous. We were looking at her, and
at nothing else.
At first, the movements of the witch were slow, unequal, somewhat
convulsive; then, gradually, they became less angular; at last,
as if catching the cadence of the drums, leaning all her long body
forward, and writhing like an eel, she rushed round and round the
blazing bonfire. A dry leaf caught in a hurricane could not fly
swifter. Her bare bony feet trod noiselessly on the rocky ground.
The long locks of her hair flew round her like snakes, lashing the
spectators, who knelt, stretching their trembling arms towards her,
and writhing as if they were alive. Whoever was touched by one of
this Fury's black curls, fell down on the ground, overcome with
happiness, shouting thanks to the goddess, and considering himself
blessed for ever. It was not human hair that touched the happy
elect, it was the goddess herself, one of the seven. Swifter and
swifter fly her decrepit legs; the young, vigorous hands of the
drummer can hardly follow her. But she does not think of catching
the measure of his music; she rushes, she flies forward. Staring
with her expressionless, motionless orbs at something before her,
at something that is not visible to our mortal eyes, she hardly
glances at her worshippers; then her look becomes full of fire;
and whoever she looks at feels burned through to the marrow of
his bones. At every glance she throws a few grains of rice.
The small handful seems inexhaustible, as if the wrinkled palm
contained the bottomless bag of Prince Fortunatus.
Suddenly she stops as if thunderstruck.
The mad race round the bonfire had lasted twelve minutes, but we
looked in vain for a trace of fatigue on the deathlike face of
the witch. She stopped only for a moment, just the necessary time
for the goddess to release her. As soon as she felt free, by a
single effort she jumped over the fire and plunged into the deep
tank by the portico. This time, she plunged only once; and whilst
she stayed under the water, the second sister-goddess entered her
body. The little boy in white produced another dish, with a new
piece of burning camphor, just in time for the witch to take it up,
and to rush again on her headlong way.
The colonel sat with his watch in his hand. During the second
obsession the witch ran, leaped, and raced for exactly fourteen
minutes. After this, she plunged twice in the tank, in honor of
the second sister; and with every new obsession the number of her
plunges increased, till it became six.
It was already an hour and a half since the race began. All this
time the witch never rested, stopping only for a few seconds, to
disappear under the water.
"She is a fiend, she cannot be a woman!" exclaimed the colonel,
seeing the head of the witch immersed for the sixth time in the water.
"Hang me if I know!" grumbled Mr. Y---, nervously pulling his beard.
"The only thing I know is that a grain of her cursed rice entered
my throat, and I can't get it out!"
"Hush, hush! Please, do be quiet!" implored Sham Rao. "By talking
you will spoil the whole business!"
I glanced at Narayan and lost myself in conjectures. His features,
which usually were so calm and serene, were quite altered at this
moment, by a deep shadow of suffering. His lips trembled, and
the pupils of his eyes were dilated, as if by a dose of belladonna.
His eyes were lifted over the heads of the crowd, as if in his
disgust he tried not to see what was before him, and at the same
time could not see it, engaged in a deep reverie, which carried him
away from us, and from the whole performance.
"What is the matter with him?" was my thought, but I had no time
to ask him, because the witch was again in full swing, chasing
her own shadow.
But with the seventh goddess the programme was slightly changed.
The running of the old woman changed to leaping. Sometimes bending
down to the ground, like a black panther, she leaped up to some
worshipper, and halting before him touched his forehead with her
finger, while her long, thin body shook with inaudible laughter.
Then, again, as if shrinking back playfully from her shadow, and
chased by it, in some uncanny game, the witch appeared to us like
a horrid caricature of Dinorah, dancing her mad dance. Suddenly
she straightened herself to her full height, darted to the portico
and crouched before the smoking censer, beating her forehead against
the granite steps. Another jump, and she was quite close to us,
before the head of the monstrous Sivatherium. She knelt down again
and bowed her head to the ground several times, with the sound of
an empty barrel knocked against something hard.
We had hardly the time to spring to our feet and shrink back when
she appeared on the top of the Sivatherium's head, standing there
amongst the horns.
Narayan alone did not stir, and fearlessly looked straight in the
eyes of the frightful sorceress.
But what was this? Who spoke in those deep manly tones? Her lips
were moving, from her breast were issuing those quick, abrupt phrases,
but the voice sounded hollow as if coming from beneath the ground.
"Hush, hush!" whispered Sham Rao, his whole body trembling. "She
is going to prophesy!.... " "She?" incredulously inquired Mr. Y---.
"This a woman's voice? I don't believe it for a moment. Someone's
uncle must be stowed away somewhere about the place. Not the
fabulous uncle she inherited from, but a real live one!.... "
Sham Rao winced under the irony of this supposition, and cast an
imploring look at the speaker.
"Woe to you! woe to you!" echoed the voice. "Woe to you, children
of the impure Jaya and Vijaya! of the mocking, unbelieving lingerers
round great Shiva's door! Ye, who are cursed by eighty thousand sages!
Woe to you who believe not in the goddess Kali, and you who deny us,
her Seven divine Sisters! Flesh-eating, yellow-legged vultures!
friends of the oppressors of our land! dogs who are not ashamed to
eat from the same trough with the Bellati!" (foreigners).
"It seems to me that your prophetess only foretells the past," said
Mr. Y---, philosophically putting his hands in his pockets. "I
should say that she is hinting at you, my dear Sham Rao."
"Yes! and at us also," murmured the colonel, who was evidently
beginning to feel uneasy.
As to the unlucky Sham Rao, he broke out in a cold sweat, and tried
to assure us that we were mistaken, that we did not fully understand
"It is not about you, it is not about you! It is of me she speaks,
because I am in Government service. Oh, she is inexorable!"
"Rakshasas! Asuras!" thundered the voice. "How dare you appear
before us? how dare you to stand on this holy ground in boots made
of a cow's sacred skin? Be cursed for etern---"
But her curse was not destined to be finished. In an instant the
Hercules-like Narayan had fallen on the Sivatherium, and upset the
whole pile, the skull, the horns and the demoniac Pythia included.
A second more, and we thought we saw the witch flying in the air
towards the portico. A confused vision of a stout, shaven Brahman,
suddenly emerging from under the Sivatherium and instantly
disappearing in the hollow beneath it, flashed before my dilated eyes.
But, alas! after the third second had passed, we all came to the
embarrassing conclusion that, judging from the loud clang of the
door of the cave, the representative of the Seven Sisters had
ignominiously fled. The moment she had disappeared from our
inquisitive eyes to her subterranean domain, we all realized that
the unearthly hollow voice we had heard had nothing supernatural
about it and belonged to the Brahman hidden under the Sivatherium--
to someone's live uncle, as Mr. Y--- had rightly supposed.
Oh, Narayan! how carelessly.... how disorderly the worlds rotate
around us.... I begin to seriously doubt their reality. From this
moment I shall earnestly believe that all things in the universe
are nothing but illusion, a mere Maya. I am becoming a Vedantin....
I doubt that in the whole universe there may be found anything more
objective than a Hindu witch flying up the spout.
Miss X--- woke up, and asked what was the meaning of all this noise.
The noise of many voices and the sounds of the many retreating
footsteps, the general rush of the crowd, had frightened her. She
listened to us with a condescending smile, and a few yawns, and
went to sleep again.
Next morning, at daybreak, we very reluctantly, it must be owned,
bade good-bye to the kind-hearted, good-natured Sham Rao. The
confoundingly easy victory of Narayan hung heavily on his mind.
His faith in the holy hermitess and the seven goddesses was a good
deal shaken by the shameful capitulation of the Sisters, who had
surrendered at the first blow from a mere mortal. But during the
dark hours of the night he had had time to think it over, and to
shake off the uneasy feeling of having unwillingly misled and
disappointed his European friends.
Sham Rao still looked confused when he shook hands with us at parting,
and expressed to us the best wishes of his family and himself.
As to the heroes of this truthful narrative, they mounted their
elephants once more, and directed their heavy steps towards the
high road and Jubbulpore.
The direction of our pilgrimage of self-improvement lay towards the
north-west, as was previously decided. We were very impatient to
see these status in statu of Anglo-India, but.... Do what you may,
there always will be a but.
We left the Jubbulpore line several miles from Nassik; and, to
return to it, we had to go back to Akbarpur, then travel by doubtful
Local-Board roads to the station Vanevad and take the train of Holkar's
line, which joins the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.
Meanwhile, the Bagh caves were quite close to us, not more than
fifty miles off, to the east from Mandu. We were undecided whether
to leave them alone or go back to the Nerbudda. In the country
situated on the other side of Kandesh, our Babu had some "chums,"
as everywhere else in India; the omnipresent Bengali Babus, who
are always glad to be of some service to you, are scattered all
over Hindostan, like the Jews in Russia. Besides, our party was
joined by a new member.
The day before we had received a letter from Swami Dayanand, carried
to us by a traveling Sannyasi. Dayanand informed us that the
cholera was increasing every day in Hardwar, and that we must
postpone making his acquaintance personally till the end of May,
either in Dehra-Dun, at the foot of Himalaya, or in Saharanpur,
which attracts every tourist by its charming situation.
The Sannyasi brought us also a nosegay from the Swami, a nosegay
of the most extraordinary flowers, which are totally unknown in Europe.
They grow only in certain Himalayan valleys; they possess the
wonderful capacity of changing their color after midday, and do
not look dead even when faded. The Latin name of this charming
plant is Hibiscus mutabilis. At night they are nothing but a large
knot of pressed green leaves, but from dawn till ten o'clock the
flowers open and look like large snow-white roses; then, towards
twelve o'clock, they begin to redden, and later in the afternoon
they look as crimson as a peony. These flowers are sacred to the
Asuras, a kind of fallen angels in Hindu mythology, and to the
sun-god Surya. The latter deity fell in love with an Asuri at
the beginning of creation, and since then is constantly caught
whispering words of fiery love to the flower that shelters her.
But the Asura is a virgin; she gives herself entirely to the
service of the goddess Chastity, who is the patroness of all the
ascetic brotherhoods. The love of Surya is vain, Asura will not
listen to him. But under the flaming arrows of the enamoured god
she blushes and in appearance loses her purity. The natives call
this plant lajjalu, the modest one.
We were spending the night by a brook, under a shadowy fig-tree.
The Sannyasi, who had made a wide circuit to fulfil Dayanand's request,
made friends with us; and we sat up late in the night, listening
whilst he talked about his travels, the wonders of his native country,
once so great, and about the heroic deeds of old Runjit-Sing, the
Lion of the Punjab.
Strange, mysterious beings are found sometimes amongst these traveling
monks. Some of them are very learned; read and talk Sanskrit; know
all about modern science and politics; and, nevertheless, remain
faithful to their ancient philosophical conceptions. Generally they
do not wear any clothes, except a piece of muslin round the loins,
which is insisted upon by the police of the towns inhabited by Europeans.
They wander from the age of fifteen, all their lives, and die generally
very aged. They live never giving a thought to the morrow, like the
birds of heaven, and the lilies of the field. They never touch money,
and are contented with a handful of rice. All their worldly
possessions consist of a small dry pumpkin to carry water, a rosary,
a brass cup and a walking stick. The Sannyasis and the Swamis are
usually Sikhs from the Punjab, and monotheists. They despise idol-
worshipers, and have nothing to do with them, though the latter
very often call themselves by their names.
Our new friend was a native of Amritsar, in the Punjab, and had
been brought up in the "Golden Temple," on the banks of Amrita-Saras,
the "Lake of Immortality." The head Guru, or instructor, of Sikhs
resides there. He never crosses the boundaries of the temple. His
chief occupation is the study of the book called Adigrantha, which
belongs to the sacred literature of this strange bellicose sect.
The Sikhs respect him as much as the Tibetans respect their Dalai-Lama.
The Lamas in general consider the latter to be the incarnation of
Buddha, the Sikhs think that the Maha-Guru of Amritsar is the
incarnation of Nanak, the founder of their sect. Nevertheless,
no true Sikh will ever say that Nanak was a deity; they look on
him as a prophet, inspired by the spirit of the only God. This
shows that our Sannyasi was not one of the naked travelling monks,
but a true Akali; one of the six hundred warrior-priests attached
to the Golden Temple, for the purpose of serving God and protecting
the temple from the destructive Mussulmans. His name was Ram-Runjit-Das;
and his personal appearance was in perfect accordance with his title
of "God's warrior." His exterior was very remarkable and typical;
and he looked like a muscular centurion of ancient Roman legions,
rather than a peaceable servant of the altar. Ram-Runjit-Das appeared
to us mounted on a magnificent horse, and accompanied by another
Sikh, who respectfully walked some distance behind him, and was
evidently passing through his noviciate. Our Hindu companions had
discerned that he was an Akali, when he was still in the distance.
He wore a bright blue tunic without sleeves, exactly like that we
see on the statues of Roman warriors. Broad steel bracelets
protected his strong arms, and a shield protruded from behind his
back. A blue, conical turban covered his head, and round his waist
were many steel circlets. The enemies of the Sikhs assert that
these sacred sectarian belts become more dangerous in the hand of
an experienced "God's warrior," than any other weapon.
The Sikhs are the bravest and the most warlike sect of the whole
Punjab. The word sikh means disciple. Founded in the fifteenth
century by the wealthy and noble Brahman Nanak, the new teaching
spread so successfully amongst the northern soldiers, that in 1539 A.D.,
when the founder died, it counted one hundred thousand followers.
At the present time, this sect, harmonizing closely with the fiery
natural mysticism, and the warlike tendencies of the natives, is
the reigning creed of the whole Punjab. It is based on the principles
of theocratic rule; but its dogmas are almost totally unknown to
Europeans; the teachings, the religious conceptions, and the rites
of the Sikhs, are kept secret. The following details are known
generally: the Sikhs are ardent monotheists, they refuse to
recognize caste; have no restrictions in diet, like Europeans;
and bury their dead, which, except among Mussulmans, is a rare
exception in India. The second volume of the Adigrantha teaches
them "to adore the only true God; to avoid superstitions; to help
the dead, that they may lead a righteous life; and to earn one's
living, sword in hand." Govinda, one of the great Gurus of the Sikhs,
ordered them never to shave their beards and moustaches, and not
to cut their hair--in order that they may not be mistaken for
Mussulmans or any other native of India.
Many a desperate battle the Sikhs fought and won, against the
Mussulmans, and against the Hindus. Their leader, the celebrated
Runjit-Sing, after having been acknowledged the autocrat of the
Upper Punjab, concluded a treaty with Lord Auckland, at the
beginning of this century, in which his country was proclaimed an
independent state. But after the death of the "old lion," his
throne became the cause of the most dreadful civil wars and disorders.
His son, Maharaja Dhulip-Sing, proved quite unfit for the high
post he inherited from his father, and, under him, the Sikhs became
an ill-disciplined restless mob. Their attempt to conquer the
whole of Hindostan proved disastrous. Persecuted by his own soldiers,
Dhulip-Sing sought the help of Englishmen, and was sent away to
Scotland. And some time after this, the Sikhs took their place
amongst the rest of Britain's Indian subjects.
But still there remains a strong body of the great Sikh sect of old.
The Kuks represent the most dangerous underground current of the
popular hatred. This new sect was founded about thirty years ago
[written in 1879] by Balaka-Rama, and, at first, formed a bulk of
people near Attok, in the Punjab, on the east bank of the Indus,
exactly on the spot where the latter becomes navigable. Balaka-Rama
had a double aim; to restore the religion of the Sikhs to its
pristine purity, and to organize a secret political body, which
must be ready for everything, at a moment's notice. This brotherhood
consists of sixty thousand members, who pledged themselves never
to reveal their secrets, and never to disobey any order of their
leaders. In Attok they are few, for the town is small. But we
were assured that the Kuks live everywhere in India. Their
community is so perfectly organized that it is impossible to find
them out, or to learn the names of their leaders.
In the course of the evening our Akali presented us with a little
crystal bottle, filled with water from the "Lake of Immortality."
He said that a drop of it would cure all diseases of the eye. There
are numbers of fresh springs at the bottom of this lake, and so
its water is wonderfully pure and transparent, in spite of hundreds
of people daily bathing in it. When, later on, we visited it, we
had the opportunity to verify the fact that the smallest stone at
the bottom is seen perfectly distinctly, all over the one hundred
and fifty square yards of the lake. Amrita-Saran is the most
charming of all the sights of Northern India. The reflection of
the Golden Temple in its crystal waters makes a picture that is
We had still seven weeks at our disposal. We were undecided
between exploring the Bombay Presidency, the North-West Provinces
and the Rajistan. Which were we to choose? Where were we to go?
How best to employ our time? Before such a variety of interesting
places we became irresolute. Hyderabad, which is said to transport
the tourists into the scenery of the Arabian Nights, seemed so
attractive that we seriously thought of turning our elephants back
to the territory of the Nizam. We grew fond of the idea of visiting
this "City of the Lion," which was built in 1589 by the magnificent
Mohamed-Kuli-Kutb-Shah, who was so used to luxuries of every kind
as to grow weary even of Golkonda, with all its fairyland castles
and bright gardens. Some buildings of Hyderabad, mere remnants
of the past glory, are still known to renown. Mir-Abu-Talib, the
keeper of the Royal Treasury, states that Mohamed-Kuli-Shah spent
the fabulous sum of L 2,800,000 sterling on the embellishment of
the town, at the beginning of his reign; though the labor of the
workmen did not cost him anything at all. Save these few memorials
of greatness, the town looks like a heap of rubbish nowadays. But
all tourists are unanimous on one point, namely, that the British
Residency of Hyderabad still deserves its title of the Versailles
The title the British Residency bears, and everything it may contain
at the present time, are mere trifles compared with the past. I
remember reading a chapter of the History of Hyderabad, by an
English author, which contained something to the following effect:
Whilst the Resident entertained the gentlemen, his wife was similarly
employed receiving the ladies a few yards off, in a separate palace,
which was as sumptuous, and bore the name of Rang-Mahal. Both
palaces were built by Colonel Kirkpatrick, the late minister at
the Nizam's court. Having married a native princess, he constructed
this charming abode for her personal use. Its garden is surrounded
by a high wall, as is customary in the Orient, and the centre of
the garden is adorned with a large marble fountain, covered with
scenes from the Ramayana, and mosaics, Pavilions, galleries and
terraces--everything in this garden is loaded with adornments of
the most costly Oriental style, that is to say, with abundance of
inlaid designs, paintings, gilding, ivory and marble. The great
attraction of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's receptions were the nautches,
magnificently dressed, thanks to the generosity of the Resident.
Some of them wore a cargo of jewels worth L 30,000, and literally
shone from head to foot with diamonds and other precious stones.
The glorious times of the East India Company are beyond recall,
and no Residents, and even no native princes, could now afford to
be so "generous." India, this "most precious diamond of the British
crown," is utterly exhausted, like a pile of gold in the hands of
an alchemist, who thriftlessly spent it in the hope of finding the
philosopher's stone. Besides ruining themselves and the country,
the Anglo-Indians commit the greatest blunders, at least in two
points of their present Government system. These two points are:
first, the Western education they give to the higher classes; and,
secondly, the protection and maintenance of the rights of idol
worship. Neither of these systems is wise. By means of the first
they successfully replace the religious feelings of old India, which,
however false, had the great advantage of being sincere, by a
positive atheism amongst the young generation of the Brahmans;
and by the means of the second they flatter only the ignorant masses,
from whom nothing is to be feared under any circumstances. If the
patriotic feelings of the bulk of the population could possibly be
roused, the English would have been slaughtered long ago. The rural
populace is unarmed, it is true, but a crowd seeking revenge could
use the brass and stone idols, sent to India by thousands from
Birmingham, with as great success as if they were so many swords.
But, as it is, the masses of India are indifferent and harmless;
so that the only existing danger comes from the side of the educated
classes. And the English fail to see that the better the education
they give them, the more careful they must be to avoid reopening
the old wounds, always alive to new injury, in the heart of every
true Hindu. The Hindus are proud of the past of their country,
dreams of past glories are their only compensation for the bitter
present. The English education they receive only enables them to
learn that Europe was plunged in the darkness of the Stone Age,
when India was in the full growth of her splendid civilization.
And so the comparison of their past with their present is only the
more sad. This consideration never hinders the Anglo-Indians from
hurting the feelings of the Hindus. For instance, in the unanimous
opinion of travelers and antiquarians, the most interesting building
of Hyderabad is Chahar-Minar, a college that was built by Mohamed-
Kuli-Khan on the ruins of a still more ancient college. It is built
at the crossing of four streets, on four arches, which are so high
that loaded camels and elephants with their turrets pass through
freely. Over these arches rise the several stories of the college.
Each story once was destined for a separate branch of learning.
Alas! the times when India studied philosophy and astronomy at
the feet of her great sages are gone, and the English have transformed
the college itself into a warehouse. The hall, which served for
the study of astronomy, and was filled with quaint, medieval apparatus,
is now used for a depot of opium; and the hall of philosophy contains
huge boxes of liqueurs, rum and champagne, which are prohibited by
the Koran, as well as by the Brahmans.
We were so enchanted by what we heard about Hyderabad, that we
resolved to start thither the very next morning, when our ciceroni
and companions destroyed all our plans by a single word. This
word was: heat. During the hot season in Hyderabad the thermometer
reaches ninety-eight degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, and the
temperature of the water in the Indus is the temperature of the
blood. As to Upper Sindh, where the dryness of the air, and the
extreme aridity of the sandy soil reproduce the Sahara in miniature,
the usual shade temperature is one hundred and thirty degrees
Fahrenheit. No wonder the missionaries have no chance there. The
most eloquent of Dante's descriptions of hell could hardly produce
anything but a cooling effect on a populace who live perfectly
contented under these circumstances.
Calculating that there was no obstacle to our going to the Bagh
caves, and that going to Sindh was a perfect impossibility, we
recovered our equanimity. Then the general council decided that
we had better abandon all ideas of a predetermined plan, and travel
as fancy led us.
We dismissed our elephants, and next day, a little before sunset,
arrived at the spot where the Vagrey and Girna join. These are
two little rivers, quite famous in the annals of the Indian mythology,
and which are generally conspicuous by their absence, especially
in summer. At the opposite side of the river, there lay the
illustrious Bagh caves, with their four openings blinking in the
thick evening mist.
We thought of crossing to them immediately, by the help of a ferry
boat, but our Hindu friends and the boat-men interposed. The former
said that visiting these caves is dangerous even by daytime; because
all the neighborhood is full of beasts of prey and of tigers, who,
I concluded, are like the Bengali Babus, to be met with everywhere
in India. Before venturing into these caves, you must send a
reconnoitring party of torch-bearers and armed shikaris. As to
the boatmen, they protested on different grounds, but protested
strongly. They said that no Hindu would dare to approach these
caves after the sun set. No one but a Bellati would fancy that
Vagrey and Girna are ordinary rivers, for every Hindu knows they
are divine spouses, the god Shiva and his wife Parvati. This, in
the first instance; and in the second, the Bagh tigers are no
ordinary tigers either. The sahibs are totally mistaken. These
tigers are the servants of the Sadhus, of the holy miracle-workers,
who have haunted the caves now for many centuries, and who deign
sometimes to take the shape of a tiger. And neither the gods, nor
the Sadhus, nor the glamour, nor the true tigers are fond of being
disturbed in their nightly rest.
What could we say against all this? We cast one more sorrowful
look at the caves, and returned to our antediluvian carriages. The
Babu and Narayan said we must spend the night at the house of a
certain "chum" of the Babu, who resided in a small town, three
miles further on, and bearing the same name as the caves; and we
Many things in India are wonderful and unintelligible, but one of
the most wonderful and the most unintelligible, is the geographical
and the topographical disposition of the numberless territories of
this country. Political conjunctures in India seem to be
everlastingly playing the French game casse-tete, changing the
pattern, diminishing one part and adding to another. The land
that only yesterday belonged to this Raja or that Takur, is sure
to be found today in the hands of quite a different set of people.
For instance, we were in the Raj of Amjir in Malva, and we were
going to the little city of Bagh, which also belongs to Malva and
is included in the Amjir Raj. In the documents, Malva is included
in the independent possessions of Holkar; and nevertheless the
Amjir Raj does not belong to Tukuji-Rao-Holkar, but to the son of
the independent Raja of Amjir, who was hanged, "by inadvertence"
as we were assured, in 1857. The city, and the caves of Bagh,
very oddly belong to the Maharaja Sindya of Gwalior, who, besides,
does not own them personally, having made a kind of present of them,
and their nine thousand rupees of revenue, to some poor relation.
This poor relation, in his turn, does not enjoy the property in
the least, because a certain Rajput Takur stole it from him, and
will not consent to give it back. Bagh is situated on the road
from Gujerat to Malva, in the defile of Oodeypur, which is owned
accordingly by the Maharana of Oodeypur. Bagh itself is built on
the top of a woody hillock, and being disputed property does not
belong to any one in particular, properly speaking; but a small
fortress, and a bazaar in the centre of it are the private possessions
of a certain dhani; who, besides being the chieftain of the Bhimalah
tribe, was the personal "chum" of our Babu, and a "great thief and
highway robber," according to the assertions of the said Babu.
"But why do you intend taking us to the place of a man whom you
consider as a thief and a robber?" objected one of us timidly.
"He is a thief and a brigand," coolly answered the Bengali, "but
only in the political sense. Otherwise he is an excellent man,
and the truest of friends. Besides, if he does not help us, we
shall starve; the bazaar and everything in the shops belong to him."
These explanations of the Babu notwithstanding, we were glad to
learn that the "chum" in question was absent, and we were received
by a relation of his. The garden was put at our disposal, and
before our tents were pitched, we saw people coming from every
side of the garden, bringing us provisions. Having deposited what
he had brought, each of them, on leaving the tent, threw over his
shoulder a pinch of betel and soft sugar, an offering to the
"foreign bhutas," which were supposed to accompany us wherever we
went. The Hindus of our party asked us, very seriously, not to
laugh at this performance, saying it would be dangerous in this
No doubt they were right. We were in Central India, the very nest
of all kinds of superstitions, and were surrounded by Bhils. All
along the Vindya ridge, from Yama, on the west of the "dead city,"
the country is thickly populated by this most daring, restless and
superstitious of all the half-savage tribes of India.
The Orientalists think that the naive Bhils comes from the Sanskrit
root bhid, which means to separate. Sir J. Malcolm supposes
accordingly that the Bhils are sectarians, who separated from the
Brahmanical creed, and were excommunicated. All this looks very
probable, but their tribal traditions say something different. Of
course, in this case, as in every other, their history is strongly
entangled with mythology; and one has to go through a thick shrubbery
of fancy before reaching the tribe's genealogical tree.
The relation of the absent dhani, who spent the evening with us,
told us the following: The Bhils are the descendants of one of
the sons of Mahadeva, or Shiva, and of a fair woman, with blue
eyes and a white face, whom he met in some forest on the other
side of the Kalapani, "black waters," or ocean. This pair had
several sons, one of whom, as handsome as he was vicious, killed
the favorite ox of his grandfather Maha-deva, and was banished by
his father to the Jodpur desert. Banished to its remotest southern
corner, he married; and soon his descendants filled the whole
country. They scattered along the Vindya ridge, on the western
frontier of Malva and Kandesh; and, later, in the woody wilderness,
on the shores of the rivers Maha, Narmada and Tapti. And all of
them, inheriting the beauty of their forefather, his blue eyes
and fair complexion, inherited also his turbulent disposition
and his vice.
"We are thieves and robbers," naively explained the relative of
the Babu's "chum," "but we can't help it, because this is the
decree of our mighty forefather, the great Maha-deva-Shiva. Sending
his grandson to repent his sins in the desert, he said to him:
`Go, wretched murderer of my son and your brother, the ox Nardi;
go and live the life of an exile and a brigand, to be an everlasting
warning to your brethren!... ' These are the very words of the
great god. Now, do you think we could disobey his orders? The
least of our actions is always regulated by our Bhamyas--chieftains--
who are the direct descendants of Nadir-Sing, the first Bhil, the
child of our exiled ancestor, and being this, it is only natural
that the great god speaks to us through him."
Is not it strange that Apis, the sacred ox of the Egyptians, is
honored by the followers of Zoroaster, as well as by the Hindus?
The ox Nardi, the emblem of life in nature, is the son of the
creating father, or rather his life-giving breath. Ammianus
Marcellinus mentions, in one of his works, that there exists a
book which gives the exact age of Apis, the clue to the mystery
of creation and the cyclic calculations. The Brahmans also explain
the allegory of the ox Nardi by the continuation of life on our globe.
The "mediators" between Shiva and the Bhils possess such unrestricted
authority that the most awful crimes are accomplished at their
lightest word. The tribe have thought it necessary to decrease
their power to a certain extent by instituting a kind of council
in every village. This council is called tarvi, and tries to cool
down the hot-headed fancies of the dhanis, their brigand lords.
However, the word of the Bhils is sacred, and their hospitality
The history and the annals of the princes of Jodpur and Oodeypur
confirm the legend of the Bhil emigration from their primitive
desert, but how they happened to be there nobody knows. Colonel
Tod is positive that the Bhils, together with the Merases and the
Goands, are the aborigines of India, as well as the tribes who
inhabit the Nerbuda forests. But why the Bhils should be almost
fair and blue-eyed, whereas the rest of the hill-tribes are almost
African in type, is a question that is not answered by this statement.
The fact that all these aborigines call themselves Bhumaputra and
Vanaputra, sons of the earth and sons of the forest, when the
Rajputs, their first conquerors, call themselves Surya-vansa and
the Brahmans Indu-putras, descendants of the sun and the moon,
does not prove everything. It seems to me, that in the present
case, their appearance, which confirms their legends, is of much
greater value than philology. Dr. Clark, the author of Travels
in Scandinavia, is very logical in saying that, "by directing our
attention on the traces of the ancient superstitions of a tribe,
we shall find out who were its primitive forefathers much more easily
than by scientific examination of their tongue; the superstitions
are grafted on the very root, whereas the tongue is subjected to
all kinds of changes."
But, unfortunately, everything we know about the history of the
Bhils is reduced to the above-mentioned tradition, and to a few
ancient songs of their bards. These bards or bhattas live in Rajistan,
but visit the Bhils yearly, in order not to lose the leading thread
of the achievements of their countrymen. Their songs are history,
because the bhattas have existed from time immemorial, composing
their lays for future generations, for this is their hereditary
duty. And the songs of the remotest antiquity point to the lands
over the Kalapani as the place whence the Bhils came; that is to say,
some place in Europe. Some Orientalists, especially Colonel Tod,
seek to prove that the Rajputs, who conquered the Bhils, were
newcomers of Scythian origin, and that the Bhils are the true
aborigines. To prove this, they put forward some features common
to both peoples, Rajput and Scythian, for instance (1) the worship
of the sword, the lance, the shield and the horse; (2) the worship
of, and the sacrifice to, the sun (which, as far as I know, never
was worshiped by the Scythians); (3) the passion of gambling
(which again is as strong amongst the Chinese and the Japanese);
(4) the custom of drinking blood out of the skull of an enemy
(which is also practised by some aborigines of America), etc., etc.
I do not intend entering here on a scientific ethnological discussion;
and, besides, I am sure no one fails to see that the reasoning of
scientists sometimes takes a very strange turn when they set to
prove some favorite theory of theirs. It is enough to remember how
entangled and obscure is the history of the ancient Scythians to
abstain from drawing any positive conclusions whatsoever from it.
The tribes that go under one general denomination of Scythians were
many, and still it is impossible to deny that there is a good deal
of similitude between the customs of the old Scandinavians, worshipers
of Odin, whose land indeed was occupied by the Scythians more than
five hundred years B.C. and the customs of the Rajputs. But this
similitude gives as much right to the Rajputs to say that we are a
colony of Surya-vansas settled in the West as to us to maintain
that the Rajputs are the descendants of Scythians who emigrated
to the East. The Scythians of Herodotus and the Scythians of Ptolemy,
and some other classical writers, are two perfectly distinct
nationalities. Under Scythia, Herodotus means the extension of
land from the mouth of Danube to the Sea of Azoff, according to
Niebuhr; and to the mouth of Don, according to Rawlinson; whereas
the Scythia of Ptolemy is a country strictly Asiatic, including
the whole space between the river Volga and Serika, or China.
Besides this, Scythia was divided by the western Himalayas, which
the Roman writers call Imaus, into Scythia intra Imaum, and Scythia
extra Imaum. Given this lack of precision, the Rajputs may be
called the Scythians of Asia, and the Scythians the Rajputs of
Europe, with the same degree of likelihood. Pinkerton's opinion
is that European contempt for the Tartars would not be half so
strong if the European public learned how closely we are related
to them; that our forefathers came from northern Asia, and that
our primitive customs, laws and mode of living were the same as
theirs; in a word, that we are nothing but a Tartar colony...
Cimbri, Kelts and Gauls, who conquered the northern part of Europe,
are different names of the same tribe, whose origin is Tartary.
Who were the Goths, the Swedes, the Vandals, the Huns and the Franks,
if not separate swarms of the same beehive? The annals of Sweden
point to Kashgar as the fatherland of the Swedes. The likeness
between the languages of the Saxons and the Kipchak-Tartars is
striking; and the Keltic, which still exists in Brittany and in
Wales, is the best proof that their inhabitants are descendants
of the Tartar nation.
Whatever Pinkerton and others may say, the modern Rajput warriors
do not answer in the least the description Hippocrates gives us
of the Scythians. The "father of medicine" says: "The bodily
structure of these men is thick, coarse and stunted; their joints
are weak and flabby; they have almost no hair, and each of them
resembles the other." No man, who has seen the handsome, gigantic
warriors of Rajistan, with their abundant hair and beards, will
ever recognize this portrait drawn by Hippocrates as theirs.
Besides, the Scythians, whoever they may be, buried their dead,
which the Rajputs never did, judging by the records of their most
ancient MSS. The Scythians were a wandering nation, and are
described by Hesiod as "living in covered carts and feeding on
mare's milk." And the Rajputs have been a sedentary people from
time immemorial, inhabiting towns, and having their history at
least several hundred years before Christ--that is to say, earlier
than the epoch of Herodotus. They do celebrate the Ashvamedha,
the horse sacrifice; but will not touch mare's milk, and despise
all Mongolians. Herodotus says that the Scythians, who called
themselves Skoloti, hated foreigners, and never let any stranger
in their country; and the Rajputs are one of the most hospitable
peoples of the world. In the epoch of the wars of Darius, 516 B.C.,
the Scythians were still in their own district, about the mouth
of the Danube. And at the same epoch the Rajputs were already
known in India and had their own kingdom. As to the Ashvamedha,
which Colonel Tod thinks to be the chief illustration of his theory,
the custom of killing horses in honor of the sun is mentioned in
the Rig-Veda, as well as in the Aitareya-Brahmana. Martin Haug
states that the latter has probably been in existence since
But it strikes me that the digression from the Babu's chum to the
Scythians and the Rajputs of the antediluvian epoch threatens to
become too long, so I beg the reader's pardon and resume the
thread of my narrative.
The Banns Of Marriage
Next day, early in the morning, the local shikaris went under the
leadership of the warlike Akali, to hunt glamoured and real tigers
in the caves. It took them longer than we expected. The old Bhil,
who represented to us the absent dhani, proposed that in the
meanwhile we should witness a Brahmanical wedding ceremony. Needless
to say, we jumped at this. The ceremonies of betrothal and marriage
have not changed in India during the last two millenniums at least.
They are performed according to the directions of Manu, and the
old theme has no new variations. India's religious rites have
crystallized long ago. Whoever has seen a Hindu wedding in 1879,
saw it as it was celebrated in ancient Aryavarta many centuries ago.
A few days before we left Bombay we read in a small local newspaper
two announcements of marriages: the first the marriage of a
Brahman heiress, the second of a daughter of the fire-worshipers.
The first announcement was something to the following effect:
"The family of Bimbay Mavlankar, etc., etc., are preparing for a
happy event. This respectable member of our community, unlike
the rest of the less fortunate Brahmans of his caste, has found
a husband for his grand-daughter in a rich Gujerat family of the
same caste. The little Rama-bai is already five, her future
husband is seven. The wedding is to take place in two months
and promises to be brilliant."
The second announcement referred to an accomplished fact. It
appeared in a Parsi paper, which strongly insists on the necessity
of giving up "disgusting superannuated customs," and especially
the early marriage. It justly ridiculed a certain Gujerati newspaper,
which had just described in very pompous expressions a recent
wedding ceremony in Poona. The bridegroom, who had just entered
his sixth year "pressed to his heart a blushing bride of two and
a half!" The usual answers of this couple entering into matrimony
proved so indistinct that the Mobed had to address the questions
to their parents: "Are you willing to have him for your lawful
husband, O daughter of Zaratushta?" and "Are you willing to be
her husband, O son of Zoroaster?" "Everything went as well as it
could be expected," continued the newspaper; "the bridegroom was
led out of the room by the hand, and the bride, who was carried
away in arms, greeted the guests, not with smiles, but with a
tremendous howl, which made her forget the existence of such a
thing as a pocket-handkerchief, and remember only her feeding-bottle;
for the latter article she asked re-peatedly, half choked with sobs,
and throttled with the weight of the family diamonds. Taking
it all in all, it was a Parsi marriage, which shows the progress
of our speedily developing nation with the exactitude of a weather
glass," added the satirical newspaper.
Having read this we laughed heartily, though we did not give full
credit to this description, and thought it a good deal exaggerated.
We knew Parsi and Brahman families in which were husbands of ten
years of age; but had never heard as yet of a bride who was a
baby in arms.
It is not without reason that the Brahmans are fervent upholders
of the ancient law which prohibits to everyone, except the
officiating Brahmans, the study of Sanskrit and the reading of
the Vedas. The Shudras and even the high-born Vaishyas were in
olden times to be executed for such an offence. The secret of
this rigour lies in the fact that the Vedas do not permit matrimony
for women under fifteen to twenty years of age, and for men under
twenty-five, or even thirty. Eager above all that every religious
ceremony should fill their pockets, the Brahmans never stopped at
disfiguring their ancient sacred literature; and not to be caught,
they pronounced its study accursed. Amongst other "criminal
inventions," to use the expression of Swami Dayanand, there is a
text in the Brahmanical books, which contradicts everything that
is to be found in the Vedas on this particular matter: I speak
of the Kudva Kunbis, the wedding season of all the agricultural
classes of Central Asia. This season is to be celebrated once in
every twelve years, but it appears to be a field from which Messieurs
les Brahmans gathered the most abundant harvest. At this epoch,
all the mothers have to seek audiences from the goddess Mata, the
great mother--of course through her rightful oracles the Brahmans.
Mata is the special patroness of all the four kinds of marriages
practised in India: the marriages of adults, of children, of babies,
and of specimens of humanity that are as yet to be born.
The latter is the queerest of all, because the feelings it excites
are so very like gambling. In this case, the marriage ceremony
is celebrated between the mothers of the future children. Many a
curious incident is the result of these matrimonial parodies. But
a true Brahman will never allow the derision of fate to shake his
dignity, and the docile population never will doubt the infallibility
of these "elect of the gods." An open antagonism to the Brahmanical
institutions is more than rare; the feelings of reverence and
dread the masses show to the Brahmans are so blind and so sincere,
that an outsider cannot help smiling at them and respecting them
at the same time.
If both the mothers have children of the same sex, it will not
upset the Brahman in the least; he will say this was the will of
the goddess Mata, it shows that she desires the new-born babies to
be two loving brothers, or two loving sisters, as the case may be,
in future. And if the children grow up, they will be acknowledged
heirs to the properties of both mothers. In this case, the Brahman
breaks the bonds of the marriage by the order of the goddess, is
paid for doing so, and the whole affair is dropped altogether. But
if the children are of different sexes these bonds cannot be broken,
even if they are born cripples or idiots.
While I am dealing with the family life of India, I had better
mention some other features, not to return to them any more. No
Hindu has the right to remain single. The only exceptions are, in
case the child is destined to monastic life from the first days
of his existence, and in case the child is consecrated to the
service of one of the gods of the Trimurti even before he is born.
Religion insists on matrimony for the sake of having a son, whose
duty it will be to perform every prescribed rite, in order that
his departed father may enter Swarga, or paradise. Even the caste
of Brahmacharyas, who take vows of chastity, but take a part and
interest in worldly life--and so are the unique lay-celibates of
India--are bound to adopt sons. The rest of the Hindus must
remain in matrimony till the age of forty; after which they earn
the right to leave the world, and to seek salvation, leading an
ascetic life in some jungle. If a member of some Hindu family
happens to be afflicted from birth with some organic defect, this
will not be an impediment to his marrying, on the condition that
his wife should be also a cripple, if she belongs to the same caste.
The defects of husband and wife must be different: if he is blind,
she must be hump-backed or lame, and vice versa. But if the young
man in question is prejudiced, and wants a healthy wife, he must
condescend to make a mesalliance; he must stoop to choose a wife
in a caste that is exactly one degree lower than his own. But in
this case his kinsmen and associates will not acknowledge her;
the parvenue will not be received on any conditions whatever.
Besides, all these exceptional instances depend entirely on the
family Guru--on the priest who is inspired by the gods.
All the above holds good as far as the men are concerned; but
with the women it is quite different.
Only the nautches--dancing girls consecrated to gods, and living
in temples--can be said to be free and happy. Their occupation
is hereditary, but they are vestals and daughters of vestals,
however strange this may sound to a European ear. But the notions
of the Hindus, especially on questions of morality, are quite
independent, and even anti-Western, if I may use this expression.
No one is more severe and exacting in the questions of feminine
honor and chastity; but the Brahmans proved to be more cunning
than even the Roman augurs. Rhea Sylvia, for instance, the mother
of Romulus and Remus, was buried alive by the ancient Romans, in
spite of the god Mars taking an active part in her faux pas. Numa
and Tiberius took exceedingly good care that the good morals of
their priestesses should not become merely nominal. But the vestals
on the banks of the Ganges and the Indus understand the question
differently from those on the banks of the Tiber. The intimacy
of the nautch-girls with the gods, which is generally accepted,
cleanses them from every sin and makes them in every one's eyes
irreproachable and infallible. A nautcha cannot sin, in spite of
the crowd of the "celestial musicians" who swarm in every pagoda,
in the form of baby-vestals and their little brothers. No virtuous
Roman matron was ever so respected as the pretty little nautcha.
This great reverence for the happy "brides of the gods" is especially
striking in the purely native towns of Central India, where the
population has preserved intact their blind faith in the Brahmans.
Every nautcha can read, and receives the highest Hindu education.
They all read and write in Sanskrit, and study the best literature
of ancient India, and her six chief philosophies, but especially
music, singing and dancing. Besides these "godborn" priestesses
of the pagodas, there are also public nautches, who, like the
Egyptian almeas, are within the reach of ordinary mortals, not
only of gods; they also are in most cases women of a certain culture.
But the fate of an honest woman of Hindostan is quite different;
and a bitter and incredibly unjust fate it is. The life of a
thoroughly good woman, especially if she happens to possess warm
faith and unshaken piety, is simply a long chain of fatal misfortunes.
And the higher her family and social position, the more wretched is
her life. Married women are so afraid of resembling the professional
dancing girls, that they cannot be persuaded to learn anything the
latter are taught. If a Brahman woman is rich her life is spent
in demoralizing idleness; if she is poor, so much the worse, her
earthly existence is concentrated in monotonous performances of
mechanical rites. There is no past, and no future for her; only
a tedious present, from which there is no possible escape. And
this only if everything be well, if her family be not visited by
sad losses. Needless to say that, amongst Brahman women, marriage
is not a question of free choice, and still less of affection.
Her choice of a husband is restricted by the caste to which her
father and mother happen to belong; and so, to find a suitable
match for a girl is a matter of great difficulty, as well as of
great expense. In India, the high-caste woman is not bought, but
she has to buy the right to get married. Accordingly, the birth
of a girl is not a joy, but a sorrow, especially if her parents
are not rich. She must be married not later than when she is
seven or eight; a little girl of ten is an old maid in India,
she is a discredit to her parents and is the miser-able butt of
all her more fortunate contemporaries.
One of the few noble achievements of Englishmen in India which
have succeeded is the decrease of infanticide, which some time
ago was a daily practice, and still is not quite got rid of. Little
girls were killed by their parents everywhere in India; but this
dreadful custom was especially common amongst the tribes of Jadej,
once so powerful in Sindh, and now reduced to petty brigandage.
Probably these tribes were the first to spread this heartless practice.
Obligatory marriage for little girls is a comparatively recent
invention, and it alone is responsible for the parents' decision
rather to see them dead than unmarried. The ancient Aryans knew
nothing of it. Even the ancient Brahmanical literature shows that,
amongst the pure Aryans, woman enjoyed the same privileges as man.
Her voice was listened to by the statesmen; she was free either
to choose a husband, or to remain single. Many a woman's name
plays an important part in the chronicles of the ancient Aryan land;
many women have come down to posterity as eminent poets, astronomers,
philosophers, and even sages and lawyers.
But with the invasion of the Persians, in the seventh century, and
later on of the fanatical, all-destroying Mussulmans, all this
changed. Woman became enslaved, and the Brahmans did everything
to humiliate her. In towns, the position of the Hindu woman is
still worse than amongst agricultural classes.
The wedding ceremonies are very complicated and numerous. They
are divided into three groups: the rites before the wedding;
the rites during the ceremony; and the rites after the celebration
has taken place. The first group consists of eleven ceremonies:
the asking in marriage; the comparison of the two horoscopes;
the sacrifice of a goat; the fixing of a propitious day; the
building of the altar; the purchase of the sacred pots for
household use; the invitation of guests; the sacrifices to the
household gods; mutual presents and so on. All this must be
accomplished as a religious duty, and is full of entangled rites.
As soon as a little girl in some Hindu family is four years old,
her father and mother send for the family Guru, give him her
horoscope, drawn up previously by the astrologer of their caste
(a very important post), and send the Guru to this or that inhabitant
of the place who is known to have a son of appropriate age. The
father of the little boy has to put the horoscope on the altar
before the family gods and to answer: "I am well disposed towards
the Panigrhana; let Rudra help us." The Guru must ask when the
union is to take place, after which he is bowed out. A few days
later the father of the little boy takes the horoscope of his son
as well as of the little girl to the chief astrologer. If the
latter finds them propitious to the intended marriage, it will
take place; if not, his decision is immediately sent to the
father of the little girl, and the whole affair is dropped. If
the astrologer's opinion is favorable, however, the bargain is
concluded on the spot. The astrologer offers a cocoa-nut and a
handful of sugar to the father, after which nothing can be altered;
otherwise a Hindu vendetta will be handed down from generation to
generation. After the obligatory goat-sacrifice, the couple are
irrevocably betrothed, and the astrologer fixes the day of the wedding.
The sacrifice of the goat is very interesting, so I am going to
describe it in detail.
A child of the male sex is sent to invite several married ladies,
old women of twenty or twenty-five, to witness the worship of the
Lares and Penates. Each family has a household goddess of its own--
which is not impossible, since the Hindu gods number thirty-three
crores. On the eve of the sacrificial day, a kid is brought into
the house, and all the family sleep round him. Next morning, the
reception hall in the lower story is made ready for the ceremony.
The floor is thickly covered with cow-dung, and, right in the
middle of the room a square is traced with white chalk, in which
is placed a high pedestal, with the statue of the goddess. The
patriarch of the family brings the goat, and, holding him by the
horns, lowers his head to salute the goddess. After this, the
"old" and young women sing marriage hymns, tie the legs of the goat,
cover his head with red powder, and make a lamp smoke under his nose,
to banish the evil spirits from round him. When all this is done,
the female element puts itself out of the way, and the patriarch
comes again upon the stage. He treacherously puts a ration of
rice before the goat, and as soon as the victim becomes innocently
absorbed in gratifying his appetite, the old man chops his head
off with a single stroke of his sword, and bathes the goddess in
the smoking blood coming from the head of the animal, which he
holds in his right arm, over the idol. The women sing in chorus,
and the ceremony of betrothal is over.
The ceremonies with the astrologers, and the exchange of presents,
are too long to be described. I shall mention only, that in all
these ceremonies the astrologer plays the double part of an augur
and a family lawyer. After a general invocation to the elephant-
headed god Ganesha, the marriage contract is written on the reverse
of the horoscopes and sealed, and a general blessing is pronounced
over the assembly.
Needless to say that all these ceremonies had been accomplished
long ago in the family to whose marriage party we were invited in
Bagh. All these rites are sacred, and most probably we, being
mere strangers, would not have been allowed to witness them. We
saw them all later on in Benares--thanks to the intercession of
When we arrived on the spot, where the Bagh cere-mony was celebrated,
the festivity was at its height. The bridegroom was not more than
fourteen years old, while the bride was only ten. Her small nose
was adorned with a huge golden ring with some very brilliant stone,
which dragged her nostril down. Her face looked comically piteous,
and sometimes she cast furtive glances at us. The bridegroom, a
stout, healthy-looking boy, attired in cloth of gold and wearing
the many storied Indra hat, was on horseback, surrounded by a whole
crowd of male relations.
The altar, especially erected for this occasion, presented a queer
sight. Its regulation height is three times the length of the
bride's arm from the shoulder down to the middle finger. Its
materials are bricks and white-washed clay. Forty-six earthen
pots painted with red, yellow and green stripes--the colors of
the Trimurti--rose in two pyramids on both sides of the "god of
marriages" on the altar, and all round it a crowd of little
married girls were busy grinding ginger. When it was reduced to
powder the whole crowd rushed on the bridegroom, dragged him from
his horse, and, having undressed him, began rubbing him with wet
ginger. As soon as the sun dried him he was dressed again by
some of the little ladies, whilst one part of them sang and the
other sprinkled his head with water from lotus leaves twisted into
tubes. We understood that this was a delicate attention to the
We were also told that the whole of the previous night had been
given up to the worship of various spirits. The last rites, begun
weeks ago, were hurriedly brought to an end during this last night.
Invocations to Ganesha, to the god of marriages; to the gods of
the elements, water, fire, air and earth; to the goddess of the
smallpox and other illnesses; to the spirits of ancestors and
planetary spirits, to the evil spirits, good spirits, family spirits,
and so on, and so on. Suddenly our ears were struck by strains
of music.... Good heavens! what a dreadful symphony it was! The
ear-splitting sounds of Indian tom-toms, Tibetan drunis, Singalese
pipes, Chinese trumpets, and Burmese gongs deafened us on all sides,
awakening in our souls hatred for humanity and humanity's inventions.
"De tous les bruits du monde celui de la musique est le plus
desagreable!" was my ever-recurring thought. Happily, this agony
did not last long, and was replaced by the choral singing of
Brahmans and nautches, which was very original, but perfectly bearable.
The wedding was a rich one, and so the "vestals" appeared in state.
A moment of silence, of restrained whispering, and one of them, a
tall, handsome girl with eyes literally filling half her forehead,
began approaching one guest after the other in perfect silence,
and rubbing their faces with her hand, leaving traces of sandal
and saffron powders. She glided towards us also, noiselessly
moving over the dusty road with her bare feet; and before we
realized what she was doing she had daubed me as well as the colonel
and Miss X---, which made the latter sneeze and wipe her face for
at least ten minutes, with loud but vain utterances of indignation.
The Babu and Mulji offered their faces to the little hand, full
of saffron, with smiles of condescending generosity. But the
indomitable Narayan shrank from the vestal so unexpectedly at the
precise moment when, with fiery glances at him, she stood on tiptoe
to reach his face, that she quite lost countenance and sent a full
dose of powder over his shoulder, whilst he turned away from her
with knitted brow. Her forehead also showed several threatening
lines, but in a moment she overcame her anger and glided towards
Ram-Runjit-Das, sparkling with engaging smiles. But here she met
with still less luck; offended at once in his monotheism and his
chastity, the "God's warrior" pushed the vestal so unceremoniously
that she nearly upset the elaborate pot-decoration of the altar.
A dissatisfied murmur ran through the crowd, and we were preparing
to be condemned to shameful banishment for the sins of the warlike
Sikh, when the drums sounded again and the procession moved on.
In front of everyone drove the trumpeters and the drummers in a car
gilded from top to bottom, and dragged by bullocks loaded with
garlands of flowers; next after them walked a whole detachment
of pipers, and then a third body of musicians on horseback, who
frantically hammered huge gongs. After them proceeded the cortege
of the bridegroom's and the bride's relations on horses adorned
with rich harness, feathers and flowers; they went in pairs. They
were followed by a regiment of Bhils in full disarmour--because no
weapons but bows and arrows had been left to them by the English
Government. All these Bhils looked as if they had tooth-ache,
because of the odd way they have of arranging the ends of their
white pagris. After them walked clerical Brahmans, with aromatic
tapers in their hands and surrounded by the flitting battalion of
nautches, who amused themselves all the way by graceful glissades
and pas. They were followed by the lay Brahmans--the "twice born."
The bridegroom rode on a handsome horse; on both sides walked
two couples of warriors, armed with yaks' tails to wave the flies
away. They were accompanied by two more men on each side with
silver fans. The bridegroom's group was wound up by a naked
Brahman, perched on a donkey and holding over the head of the boy
a huge red silk umbrella. After him a car loaded with a thousand
cocoa-nuts and a hundred bamboo baskets, tied together by a red
rope. The god who looks after marriages drove in melancholy
isolation on the vast back of an elephant, whose mahout led him
by a chain of flowers. Our humble party modestly advanced just
behind the elephant's tail.
The performance of rites on the way seemed endless.
We had to stop before every tree, every pagoda, every sacred tank
and bush, and at last before a sacred cow. When we came back to
the house of the bride it was four in the afternoon, and we had
started a little after six in the morning. We all were utterly
exhausted, and Miss X--- literally threatened to fall asleep on
her feet. The indignant Sikh had left us long ago, and had persuaded
Mr. Y--- and Mulji--whom the colonel had nicknamed the "mute general"
--to keep him company. Our respected president was bathed in his
own perspiration, and even Narayan the unchangeable yawned and
sought consolation in a fan. But the Babu was simply astonishing.
After a nine hours' walk under the sun, with his head unprotected,
he looked fresher than ever, without a drop of sweat on his dark
satin-like forehead. He showed his white teeth in an eternal smile,
and chaffed us all, reciting the "Diamond Wedding" of Steadman.
We struggled against our fatigue in our desire to wit-ness the
last ceremony, after which the woman is forever cut off from the
external world. It was just going to begin; and we kept our eyes
and ears wide open.
The bridegroom and the bride were placed before the altar. The
officiating Brahman tied their hands with some kus-kus grass, and
led them three times round the altar. Then their hands were untied,
and the Brahman mumbled a mantram. When he had finished, the
boy husband lifted his diminutive bride and carried her three
times round the altar in his arms, then again three turns round
the altar, but the boy preceding the girl, and she following him
like an obedient slave. When this was over, the bridegroom was
placed on a high chair by the entrance door, and the bride brought
a basin of water, took off his shoes, and, having washed his feet,
wiped them with her long hair. We learned that this was a very
ancient custom. On the right side of the bridegroom sat his mother.
The bride knelt before her also, and, having performed the same
operation over her feet, she retired to the house. Then her mother
came out of the crowd and repeated the same ceremony, but without
using her hair as a towel. The young couple were married. The
drums and the tom-toms rolled once more; and half-deaf we started
In the tent we found the Akali in the middle of a sermon, delivered
for the edification of the "mute general" and Mr. Y---. He was
explaining to them the advantages of the Sikh religion, and comparing
it with the faith of the "devil-worshipers," as he called the Brahmans.
It was too late to go to the caves, and, besides, we had had enough
sights for one day. So we sat down to rest, and to listen to the
words of wisdom falling from the lips of the "God's warrior." In
my humble opinion, he was right in more than one thing; in his
most imaginative moments Satan himself could not have invented
anything more unjust and more refinedly cruel than what was invented
by these "twice-born" egotists in their relation to the weaker sex.
An unconditioned civil death awaits her in case of widowhood--even
if this sad fate befalls her when she is two or three years old.
It is of no importance for the Brahmans if the marriage never
actually took place; the goat sacrifice, at which the personal
presence of the little girl is not even required--she being
represented by the wretched victim--is considered binding for her.
As for the man, not only is he permitted to have several lawful
wives at a time, but he is even required by the law to marry again
if his wife dies. Not to be unjust, I must mention that, with the
exception of some vicious and depraved Rajas, we never heard of a
Hindu availing himself of this privilege, and having more than
At the present time, the whole of orthodox India is shaken by the
struggle in favor of the remarriage of widows. This agitation
was begun in Bombay, by a few reformers, and opponents of Brahmans.
It is already ten years since Mulji-Taker-Sing and others raised
this question; but we know only of three or four men who have
dared as yet to marry widows. This struggle is carried on in
silence and secrecy, but nevertheless it is fierce and obstinate.
In the meanwhile, the fate of the widow is what the Brahmans wish
it to be. As soon as the corpse of her husband is burned the widow
must shave her head, and never let it grow again as long as she
lives. Her bangles, necklaces and rings are broken to pieces and
burned, together with her hair and her husband's remains. During
the rest of her life she must wear nothing but white if she was
less than twenty-five at her husband's death, and red if she was
older. Temples, religious ceremonies, society, are closed to her
for ever. She has no right to speak to any of her relations, and
no right to eat with them. She sleeps, eats and works separately;
her touch is considered impure for seven years. If a man, going
out on business, meets a widow, he goes home again, abandoning
every pursuit, because to see a widow is accounted an evil omen.
In the past all this was seldom practised, and concerned only
the rich widows, who refused to be burned; but now, since the
Brahmans have been caught in the false interpretation of the Vedas,
with the criminal intention of appropriating the widows' wealth,
they insist on the fulfilment of this cruel precept, and make what
once was the exception the rule. They are powerless against
British law, and so they revenge themselves on the innocent and
helpless women, whom fate has deprived of their natural protectors.
Professor Wilson's demonstration of the means by which the Brahmans
distorted the sense of the Vedas, in order to justify the practice
of widow-burning, is well worth mentioning. During the many
centuries that this terrible practice prevailed, the Brahmans
had appealed to a certain Vedic text for their justification,
and had claimed to be rigidly fulfilling the institutes of Manu,
which contain for them the interpretation of Vedic law. When
the East India Company's Government first turned its attention
to the suppression of suttee, the whole country, from Cape Comorin
to the Himalayas, rose in protest, under the influence of the
Brahmans. "The English promised not to interfere in our religious
affairs, and they must keep their word!" was the general outcry.
Never was India so near revolution as in those days. The English
saw the danger and gave up the task. But Professor Wilson, the
best Sanskritist of the time, did not consider the battle lost.
He applied himself to the study of the most ancient MSS., and
gradually became convinced that the alleged precept did not exist
in the Vedas; though in the Laws of Manu it was quite distinct,
and had been translated accordingly by T. Colebrooke and other
Orientalists. An attempt to prove to the fanatic population that
Manu's interpretation was wrong would have been equivalent to an
attempt to reduce water to powder. So Wilson set himself to
study Manu, and to compare the text of the Vedas with the text
of this law-giver. This was the result of his labors: the Rig
Veda orders the Brahman to place the widow side by side with the
corpse, and then, after the performance of certain rites, to lead
her down from the funeral pyre and to sing the following verse
from Grhya Sutra:
Arise, O woman! return to the world of the living!
Having gone to sleep by the dead, awake again!
Long enough thou hast been a faithful wife
To the one who made thee mother of his children.
Then those present at the burning were to rub their eyes with
collyrium, and the Brahman to address to them the following verse:
Approach, you married women, not widows,
With your husbands bring ghi and butter.
Let the mothers go up to the womb first,
Dressed in festive garments and costly adornments.
The line before the last was misinterpreted by the Brahmans in
the most skillful way. In Sanskrit it reads as follows:
Arohantu janayo yonim agre.....
Yonina agre literally means to the womb first. Having changed
only one letter of the last word agre, "first," in Sanskrit [script],
the Brahmans wrote instead agneh, "fire's," in Sanskrit [script],
and so acquired the right to send the wretched widows yonina agneh--
to the womb of fire. It is difficult to find on the face of the
world another such fiendish deception.
The Vedas never permitted the burning of the widows, and there
is a place in Taittiriya-Aranyaka, of the Yajur Veda, where the
brother of the deceased, or his disciple, or even a trusted friend,
is recommended to say to the widow, whilst the pyre is set on fire:
"Arise, O woman! do not lie down any more beside the lifeless corpse;
return to the world of the living, and become the wife of the one
who holds you by the hand, and is willing to be your husband." This
verse shows that during the Vedic period the remarriage of widows
was allowed. Besides, in several places in the ancient books,
pointed out to us by Swami Dayanand, we found orders to the widows
"to keep the ashes of the husband for several months after his
death and to perform over them certain final rituals."
However, in spite of the scandal created by Professor Wilson's
discovery, and of the fact that the Brahmans were put to shame
before the double authority of the Vedas and of Manu, the custom
of centuries proved so strong that some pious Hindu women still
burn themselves whenever they can. Not more than two years ago
the four widows of Yung-Bahadur, the chief minister of Nepal,
insisted upon being burned. Nepal is not under the British rule,
and so the Anglo-Indian Government had no right to interfere.
The Caves Of Bagh
At four o'clock in the morning we crossed the Vagrey and Girna,
or rather, comme coloris local, Shiva and Parvati. Probably,
following the bad example of the average mortal husband and wife,
this divine couple were engaged in a quarrel, even at this early
hour of the day. They were frightfully rough, and our ferry,
striking on something at the bottom, nearly upset us into the cold
embrace of the god and his irate better half.
Like all the cave temples of India, the Bagh caverns are dug out
in the middle of a vertical rock--with the intention, as it seems
to me, of testing the limits of human patience. Taking into
consideration that such a height does not prevent either glamour
or tigers reaching the caves, I cannot help thinking that the sole
aim of the ascetic builders was to tempt weak mortals into the
sin of irritation by the inaccessibility of their airy abodes.
Seventy-two steps, cut out in the rock, and covered with thorny
weeds and moss, are the beginning of the ascent to the Bagh caves.
Footmarks worn in the stone through centuries spoke of the
numberless pilgrims who had come here before us. The roughness
of the steps, with deep holes here and there, and thorns, added
attractions to this ascent; join to this a number of mountain
springs exuding through the pores of the stone, and no one will
be astonished if I say that we simply felt faint under the weight
of life and our archeological difficulties. The Babu, who, taking
off his slippers, scampered over the thorns as unconcernedly as
if he had hoofs instead of vulnerable human heels, laughed at the
"helplessness of Europeans," and only made us feel worse.
But on reaching the top of the mountain we stopped grumbling,
realizing at the first glance that we should receive our reward.
We saw a whole enfilade of dark caves, through regular square
openings, six feet wide. We felt awestruck with the gloomy majesty
of this deserted temple. There was a curious ceiling over the
square platform that once served as a verandah; there was also
a portico with broken pillars hanging over our heads; and two
rooms on each side, one with a broken image of some flat-nosed
goddess, the other containing a Ganesha; but we did not stop to
examine all this in detail. Ordering the torches to be lit, we
stepped into the first hall.
A damp breath as of the tomb met us. At our first word we all
shivered: a hollow, prolonged echoing howl, dying away in the
distance, shook the ancient vaults and made us all lower our voices
to a whisper. The torch-bearers shrieked "Devi!... Devi!... " and,
kneeling in the dust, performed a fervent puja in honor of the
voice of the invisible goddess of the caves, in spite of the angry
protestations of Narayan and of the "God's warrior."
The only light of the temple came from the entrance, and so two-thirds
of it looked still gloomier by contrast. This hall, or the central
temple, is very spacious, eighty--four feet square, and sixteen
feet high. Twenty-four massive pillars form a square, six pillars
at each side, including the corner ones, and four in the middle
to prop up the centre of the ceiling; otherwise it could not be
kept from falling, as the mass of the mountain which presses on
it from the top is much greater than in Karli or Elephanta.
There are at least three different styles in the architecture of
these pillars. Some of them are grooved in spirals, gradually
and imperceptibly changing from round to sixteen sided, then
octagonal and square. Others, plain for the first third of their
height, gradually finished under the ceiling by a most elaborate
display of ornamentation, which reminds one of the Corinthian style.
The third with a square plinth and semi-circular friezes. Taking
it all in all, they made a most original and graceful picture.
Mr. Y---, an architect by profession, assured us that he never
saw anything more striking. He said he could not imagine by the
aid of what instruments the ancient builders could accomplish
The construction of the Bagh caves, as well as of all the cave
temples of India, whose history is lost in the darkness of time,
is ascribed by the European archeologists to the Buddhists, and
by the native tradition to the Pandu brothers. Indian paleography
protests in every one of its new discoveries against the hasty
conclusions of the Orientalists. And much may be said against
the intervention of Buddhists in this particular case. But I shall
indicate only one particular. The theory which declares that all
the cave temples of India are of Buddhist origin is wrong. The
Orientalists may insist as much as they choose on the hypothesis
that the Buddhists became again idol-worshipers; it will explain
nothing, and contradicts the history of both Buddhists and Brahmans.
The Brahmans began persecuting and banishing the Buddhists precisely
because they had begun a crusade against idol-worship. The few
Buddhist communities who remained in India and deserted the pure,
though, maybe--for a shallow observer--somewhat atheistic teachings
of Gautama Siddhartha, never joined Brahmanism, but coalesced with
the Jainas, and gradually became absorbed in them. Then why not
suppose that if, amongst hundreds of Brahmanical gods, we find
one statue of Buddha, it only shows that the masses of half-converts
to Buddhism added this new god to the ancient Brahmanical temple.
This would be much more sensible than to think that the Buddhists
of the two centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian
era dared to fill their temples with idols, in defiance of the
spirit of the reformer Gau-tama. The figures of Buddha are easily
discerned in the swarm of heathen gods; their position is always
the same, and the palm of its right hand is always turned upwards,
blessing the worshipers with two fingers. We examined almost
every remarkable vihara of the so-called Buddhist temples, and
never met with one statue of Buddha which could not have been
added in a later epoch than the construction of the temple; it
does not matter whether it was a year or a thousand years later.
Not being perfectly self-confident in this matter, we always took
the opinion of Mr. Y---, who, as I said before, was an experienced
architect; and he invariably came to the conclusion that the
Brahmanical idols formed a harmonic and genuine part of the whole,
pillars, decorations, and the general style of the temple; whereas
the statue of Buddha was an additional and discordant patch. Out
of thirty or forty caves of Ellora, all filled with idols, there
is only one, the one called the Temple of the Tri-Lokas, which
contains nothing but statues of Buddha, and of Ananda, his favourite
disciple. Of course, in this case it would be perfectly right
to think it is a Buddhist vihara.
Most probably, some of the Russian archeologists will protest
against the opinions I maintain, that is to say, the opinions of
the Hindu archeologists, and will treat me as an ignoramus,
outraging science. In self-defence, and in order to show how
unstable a ground to base one's opinions upon are the conclusions
even of such a great authority as Mr. Fergusson, I must mention
the following instance. This great architect, but very mediocre
archeologist, proclaimed at the very beginning of his scientific
career that "all the cave temples of Kanara, without exception,
were built between the fifth and the tenth centuries." This theory
became generally accepted, when suddenly Dr. Bird found a brass
plate in a certain Kanara monument, called a tope. The plate
announced in pure and distinct Sanskrit that this tope was erected
as a homage to the old temple, at the beginning of 245 of the
Hindu astronomical (Samvat) era. According to Prinsep and Dr.
Stevenson, this date coincides with 189 A.D., and so it clearly
settles the question of when the tope was built. But the question
of the antiquity of the temple itself still remains open, though
the inscription states that it was an old temple in 189 A.D., and
contradicts the above-quoted opinion of Fergusson. However, this
important discovery failed to shake Fergusson's equanimity. For
him, ancient inscriptions are of no importance, because, as he says,
"the antiquity of ruins must not be fixed on the basis of inscriptions,
but on the basis of certain architectural canons and rules,"
discovered by Mr. Fergusson in person. Fiat hypothesis, ruat coelum!
And now I shall return to my narrative.
Straight before the entrance a door leads to another hall, which
is oblong, with hexagonal pillars and niches, containing statues
in a tolerable state of preservation; goddesses ten feet and gods
nine feet high. After this hall there is a room with an altar,
which is a regular hexagon, having sides each three feet long,
and protected by a cupola cut in the rock. Nobody was admitted
here, except the initiates of the mysteries of the adytum. All
round this room there are about twenty priests' cells. Absorbed
in the examination of the altar, we did not notice the absence
of the colonel, till we heard his loud voice in the distance
calling to us:
"I have found a secret passage.... Come along, let us find where
it leads to!"
Torch in hand, the colonel was far ahead of us, and very eager to
proceed; but each of us had a little plan of his own, and so we
were reluctant to obey his summons. The Babu took upon himself
to answer for the whole party:
"Take care, colonel. This passage leads to the den of the glamour....
Mind the tigers!"
But once fairly started on the way to discoveries, our president
was not to be stopped. Nolens volens we followed him.
He was right; he had made a discovery; and on entering the cell
we saw a most unexpected tableau. By the opposite wall stood two
torch-bearers with their flaming torches, as motionless as if they
were transformed into stone caryatides; and from the wall, about
five feet above the ground, protruded two legs clad in white trousers.
There was no body to them; the body had disappeared, and but that
the legs were shaken by a convulsive effort to move on, we might
have thought that the wicked goddess of this place had cut the
colonel into two halves, and having caused the upper half instantly
to evaporate, had stuck the lower half to the wall, as a kind of trophy.
"What is become of you, Mr. President? Where are you?" were our
Instead of an answer, the legs were convulsed still more violently,
and soon disappeared completely, after which we heard the voice
of the colonel, as if coming through a long tube:
"A room... a secret cell.... Be quick! I see a whole row of rooms....
Confound it! my torch is out! Bring some matches and another torch!"
But this was easier said than done. The torch-bearers refused to
go on; as it was, they were already frightened out of their wits.
Miss X--- glanced with apprehension at the wall thickly covered
with soot and then at her pretty gown. Mr. Y--- sat down on a
broken pillar and said he would go no farther, preferring to have
a quiet smoke in the company of the timid torch-bearers.
There were several vertical steps cut in the wall; and on the
floor we saw a large stone of such a curiously irregular shape
that it struck me that it could not be natural. The quick-eyed
Babu was not long in discovering its peculiarities, and said he
was sure "it was the stopper of the secret passage." We all
hurried to examine the stone most minutely, and discovered that,
though it imitated as closely as possible the irregularity of the
rock, its under surface bore evident traces of workmanship and
had a kind of hinge to be easily moved. The hole was about three
feet high, but not more than two feet wide.
The muscular "God's warrior" was the first to follow the colonel.
He was so tall that when he stood on a broken pillar the opening
came down to the middle of his breast, and so he had no difficulty
in transporting himself to the upper story. The slender Babu
joined him with a single monkey-like jump. Then, with the Akali
pulling from above and Narayan pushing from below, I safely made
the passage, though the narrowness of the hole proved most
disagreeable, and the roughness of the rock left considerable
traces on my hands. However trying archeological explorations
may be for a person afflicted by an unusually fine presence, I
felt perfectly confident that with two such Hercules-like helpers
as Narayan and Ram-Runjit-Das the ascent of the Himalayas would
be perfectly possible for me. Miss X--- came next, under the
escort of Mulji, but Mr. Y--- stayed behind.
The secret cell was a room of twelve feet square. Straight above
the black hole in the floor there was another in the ceiling, but
this time we did not discover any "stopper." The cell was perfectly
empty with the exception of black spiders as big as crabs. Our
apparition, and especially the bright light of the torches, maddened
them; panic-stricken they ran in hundreds over the walls, rushed
down, and tumbled on our heads, tearing their thin ropes in their
inconsiderate haste. The first movement of Miss X--- was to kill
as many as she could. But the four Hindus protested strongly and
unanimously. The old lady remonstrated in an offended voice:
"I thought that at least you, Mulji, were a reformer, but you are
as superstitious as any idol-worshiper."
"Above everything I am a Hindu," answered the "mute general." "And
the Hindus, as you know, consider it sinful before nature and
before their own consciences to kill an animal put to flight by
the strength of man, be it even poisonous. As to the spiders, in
spite of their ugliness, they are perfectly harmless."
"I am sure all this is because you think you will transmigrate into
a black spider!" she replied, her nostrils trembling with anger.
"I cannot say I do," retorted Mulji; "but if all the English
ladies are as unkind as you I should rather be a spider than
This lively answer coming from the usually taciturn Mulji was so
unexpected that we could not help laugh-ing. But to our great
discomfiture Miss X--- was seriously angry, and, under pretext
of giddiness, said she would rejoin Mr. Y--- below.
Her constant bad spirits were becoming trying for our cosmopolitan
little party, and so we did not press her to stay.
As to us we climbed through the second opening, but this time
under the leadership of Narayan. He disclosed to us that this
place was not new to him; he had been here before, and confided
to us that similar rooms, one on the top of the other, go up to
the summit of the mountain. Then, he said, they take a sudden
turn, and descend gradually to a whole underground palace, which
is sometimes temporarily inhabited. Wishing to leave the world
for a while and to spend a few days in isolation, the Raj-Yogis
find perfect solitude in this underground abode. Our president
looked askance at Narayan through his spectacles, but did not find
anything to say. The Hindus also received this information in
The second cell was exactly like the first one; we easily
discovered the hole in its ceiling, and reached the third cell.
There we sat down for a while. I felt that breathing was becoming
difficult to me, but I thought I was simply out of breath and
tired, and so did not mention to my companions that anything was
wrong. The passage to the fourth cell was almost stopped by earth
mixed with little stones, and the gentlemen of the party were busy
clearing it out for about twenty minutes. Then we reached the
Narayan was right, the cells were one straight over the other, and
the floor of the one formed the ceiling of the other. The fourth
cell was in ruins. Two broken pillars lying one on the other
presented a very convenient stepping-stone to the fifth story.
But the colonel stopped our zeal by saying that now was the time
to smoke "the pipe of deliberation" after the fashion of red Indians.
"If Narayan is not mistaken," he said, "this going up and up may
continue till tomorrow morning."
"I am not mistaken," said Narayan almost solemnly. But since my
visit here I have heard that some of these passages were filled
with earth, so that every communication is stopped; and, if I
remember rightly, we cannot go further than the next story."
"In that case there is no use trying to go any further. If the
ruins are so shaky as to stop the passages, it would be dangerous
"I never said the passages were stopped by the hand of time....
They did it on purpose.... "
"Who they? Do you mean glamour?... "
"Colonel!" said the Hindu with an effort. "Don't laugh at what
I say. ... I speak seriously."
"My dear fellow, I assure you my intention is neither to offend
you nor to ridicule a serious matter. I simply do not realize
whom you mean when you say they."
"I mean the brotherhood.... The Raj-Yogis. Some of them live
quite close to here."
By the dim light of the half-extinguished torches we saw that
Narayan's lips trembled and that his face grew pale as he spoke.
The colonel coughed, rearranged his spectacles and remained silent
for a while.
"My dear Narayan," at last said the colonel, "I do not want to
believe that your intention is to make fun of our credulity. But
I can't believe either, that you seriously mean to assure us that
any living creature, be it an animal or an ascetic, could exist
in a place where there is no air. I paid special attention to the
fact, and so I am perfectly sure I am not mistaken: there is not
a single bat in these cells, which shows that there is a lack of
air. And just look at our torches! you see how dim they are growing.
I am sure, that on climbing two or three more rooms like this, we
should be suffocated!"
"And in spite of all these facts, I speak the truth," repeated
Narayan. "The caves further on are inhabited by them. And I have
seen them with my own eyes."
The colonel grew thoughtful, and stood glancing at the ceiling in
a perplexed and undecided way. We all kept silent, breathing heavily.
"Let us go back!" suddenly shouted the Akali. "My nose is bleeding."
At this very moment I felt a strange and unexpected sensation, and
I sank heavily on the ground. In a second I felt an indescribably
delicious, heavenly sense of rest, in spite of a dull pain beating
in my temples. I vaguely realized that I had really fainted, and
that I should die if not taken out into the open air. I could not
lift my finger; I could not utter a sound; and, in spite of it,
there was no fear in my soul--nothing but an apathetic, but
indescribably sweet feeling of rest, and a complete inactivity of
all the senses except hearing. A moment came when even this sense
forsook me, because I remember that I listened with imbecile
intentness to the dead silence around me. Is this death? was my
indistinct wondering thought. Then I felt as if mighty wings were
fanning me. "Kind wings, caressing, kind wings!" were the
recurring words in my brain, like the regular movements of a
pendulum, and interiorily under an unreasoning impulse, I laughed
at these words. Then I experienced a new sensation: I rather
knew than felt that I was lifted from the floor, and fell down and
down some unknown precipice, amongst the hollow rollings of a
distant thunder-storm. Suddenly a loud voice resounded near me.
And this time I think I did not hear, but felt it. There was
something palpable in this voice, something that instantly stopped
my helpless descent, and kept me from falling any further. This
was a voice I knew well, but whose voice it was I could not in my
In what way I was dragged through all these narrow holes will
remain an eternal mystery for me. I came to myself on the verandah
below, fanned by fresh breezes, and as suddenly as I had fainted
above in the impure air of the cell. When I recovered completely
the first thing I saw was a powerful figure clad in white, with a
raven black Rajput beard, anxiously leaning over me. As soon as
I recognized the owner of this beard, I could not abstain from
expressing my feelings by a joyful exclamation: "Where do you
come from?" It was our friend Takur Gulab-Lal-Sing, who, having
promised to join us in the North-West Provinces, now appeared to
us in Bagh, as if falling from the sky or coming out of the ground.
But my unfortunate accident, and the pitiable state of the rest
of the daring explorers, were enough to stop any further questions
and expressions of astonishment. On one side of me the frightened
Miss X---, using my nose as a cork for her sal-volatile bottle;
on the other the "God's warrior" covered with blood as if returning
from a battle with the Afghans; further on, poor Mulji with a
dreadful headache. Narayan and the colonel, happily for our party,
did not experience anything worse than a slight vertigo. As to
the Babu, no carbonic acid gas could inconvenience his wonderful
Bengali nature. He said he was safe and comfortable enough, but
At last the outpour of entangled exclamations and unintelligible
explanations stopped, and I collected my thoughts and tried to
understand what had happened to me in the cave. Narayan was the
first to notice that I had fainted, and hastened to drag me back
to the passage. And this very moment they all heard the voice of
Gulab-Sing coming from the upper cell: "Tum-hare iha aneka kya
kam tha?" "What on earth brought you here?" Even before they
recovered from their astonishment he ran quickly past them, and
descending to the cell beneath called to them to "pass him down
the bai" (sister). This "passing down" of such a solid object
as my body, and the picture of the proceeding, vividly imagined,
made me laugh heartily, and I felt sorry I had not been able to
witness it. Handing him over their half-dead load, they hastened
to join the Takur; but he contrived to do without their help,
though how he did it they were at a loss to understand. By the
time they succeeded in getting through one passage Gulab-Sing
was already at the next one, in spite of the heavy burden he
carried; and they never were in time to be of any assistance to
him. The colonel, whose main feature is the tendency to go into
the details of everything, could not conceive by what proceedings
the Takur had managed to pass my almost lifeless body so rapidly
through all these narrow holes.
"He could not have thrown her down the passage before going in
himself, for every single bone of her body would have been broken,"
mused the colonel. "And it is still less possible to suppose that,
descending first himself, he dragged her down afterwards. It is
These questions harassed him for a long time afterwards, until
they became something like the puzzle: Which was created first,
the egg or the bird?
As to the Takur, when closely questioned, he shrugged his shoulders,
and answered that he really did not remember. He said that he
simply did whatever he could to get me out into the open air;
that all our traveling companions were there to watch his proceedings;
he was under their eyes all the time, and that in circumstances
when every second is precious people do not think, but act.
But all these questions arose only in the course of the day. As
to the time directly after I was laid down on the verandah, there
were other things to puzzle all our party; no one could understand
how the Takur happened to be on the spot exactly when his help was
most needed, nor where he came from--and everyone was anxious to
know. On the verandah they found me lying on a carpet, with the
Takur busy restoring me to my senses, and Miss X--- with her eyes
wide open at the Takur, whom she decidedly believed to be a
However, the explanations our friend gave us seemed perfectly
satisfactory, and at first did not strike us as unnatural. He
was in Hardwar when Swami Dayanand sent us the letter which postponed
our going to him. On arriving at Kandua by the Indore railway,
he had visited Holkar; and, learning that we were so near, he
decided to join us sooner than he had expected. He had come to
Bagh yesterday evening, but knowing that we were to start for
the caves early in the morning he went there before us, and simply
was waiting for us in the caves.
"There is the whole mystery for you," said he.
"The whole mystery?" exclaimed the colonel. "Did you know, then,
beforehand that we would discover the cells, or what?"
"No, I did not. I simply went there myself because it is a long
time since I saw them last. Examining them took me longer than I
expected, and so I was too late to meet you at the entrance."
"Probably the Takur-Sahib was enjoying the freshness of the air
in the cells," suggested the mischievous Babu, showing all his
white teeth in a broad grin.
Our president uttered an energetic exclamation. "Exactly! How on
earth did I not think of that before?... You could not possibly
have any breathing air in the cells above the one you found us in....
And, besides,... how did you reach the fifth cell, when the entrance
of the fourth was nearly stopped and we had to dig it out?"
"There are other passages leading to them. I know all the turns
and corridors of these caves, and everyone is free to choose his
way," answered Gulab-Sing; and I thought I saw a look of intelligence
pass between him and Narayan, who simply cowered under his fiery eyes.
"However, let us go to the cave where breakfast is ready for us.
Fresh air will do all of you good."
On our way we met with another cave, twenty or thirty steps south
from the verandah, but the Takur did not let us go in, fearing new
accidents for us. So we descended the stone steps I have already
mentioned, and after descending about two hundred steps towards
the foot of the mountain, made a short reascent again and entered
the "dining-room," as the Babu denominated it. In my role of
"interesting invalid," I was carried to it, sitting in my folding
chair, which never left me in all my travels.
This temple is much the less gloomy of the two, in spite of
considerable signs of decay. The frescoes of the ceiling are
better preserved than in the first temple. The walls, the tumbled
down pillars, the ceiling, and even the interior rooms, which
were lighted by ventilators cut through the rock, were once
covered by a varnished stucco, the secret of which is now known
only to the Madrasis, and which gives the rock the appearance of
We were met by the Takur's four servants, whom we remembered since
our stay in Karli, and who bowed down in the dust to greet us.
The carpets were spread, and the breakfast ready. Every trace of
carbonic acid had left our brains, and we sat down to our meal in
the best of spirits. Our conversation soon turned to the Hardwar
Mela, which our unexpectedly-recovered friend had left exactly
five days ago. All the information we got from Gulab-Lal-Sing
was so interesting that I wrote it down at the first opportunity.
After a few weeks we visited Hardwar ourselves, and since I saw it,
my memory has never grown tired of recalling the charming picture
of its lovely situation. It is as near a primitive picture of
earthly Paradise as anything that can be imagined.
Every twelfth year, which the Hindus call Kumbha, the planet Jupiter
enters the constellation of Aquarius, and this event is considered
very propitious for the beginning of the religious fair; for
which this day is accordingly fixed by the astrologers of the pagodas.
This gathering attracts the representatives of all sects, as I said
before, from princes and maharajas down to the last fakir. The
former come for the sake of religious discussions, the latter,
simply to plunge into the waters of Ganges at its very source,
which must be done at a certain propitious hour, fixed also by
the position of the stars.
Ganges is a name invented in Europe. The natives always say Ganga,
and consider this river to belong strictly to the feminine sex.
Ganges is sacred in the eyes of the Hindus, because she is the
most important of all the fostering goddesses of the country, and
a daughter of the old Himavat (Himalaya), from whose heart she
springs for the salvation of the people. That is why she is
worshiped, and why the city of Hardwar, built at her very source,
is so sacred.
Hardwar is written Hari-avara, the doorway of the sun-god, or
Krishna, and is also often called Gangadvara, the doorway of Ganga;
there is still a third name of the same town, which is the name of
a certain ascetic Kapela, or rather Kapila, who once sought salvation
on this spot, and left many miraculous traditions.
The town is situated in a charming flowery valley, at the foot of
the southern slope of the Sivalik ridge, between two mountain chains.
In this valley, raised 1,024 feet above the sea-level, the northern
nature of the Himalayas struggles with the tropical growth of the
plains; and, in their efforts to excel each other, they have
created the most delightful of all the delightful corners of India.
The town itself is a quaint collection of castle-like turrets of
the most fantastical architecture; of ancient viharas; of wooden
fortresses, so gaily painted that they look like toys; of pagodas,
with loopholes and overhanging curved little balconies; and all
this over-grown by such abundance of roses, dahlias, aloes and
blossoming cactuses, that it is hardly possible to tell a door
from a window. The granite foundations of many houses are laid
almost in the bed of the river, and so, during four months of the
year, they are half covered with water. And behind this handful
of scattered houses, higher up the mountain slope, crowd snow-white,
stately temples. Some of them are low, with thick walls, wide
wings and gilded cupolas; others rise in majestical many-storied
towers; others again with shapely pointed roofs, which look like
the spires of a bell tower. Strange and capricious is the
architecture of these temples, the like of which is not to be seen
anywhere else. They look as if they had suddenly dropped from
the snowy abodes of the mountain spirits above, standing there
in the shelter of the mother mountain, and timidly peeping over
the head of the small town below at their own images reflected in
the pure, untroubled waters of the sacred river.
Here the Ganges is not yet polluted by the dirt and the sins of
her many million adorers. Releasing her worshipers, cleansed from
her icy embrace, the pure maiden of the mountains carries her
transparent waves through the burning plains of Hindostan; and
only three hundred and forty-eight miles lower down, on passing
through Cawnpore, do her waters begin to grow thicker and darker,
while, on reaching Benares, they transform themselves into a kind
of peppery pea soup.
Once, while talking to an old Hindu, who tried to convince us that
his compatriots are the cleanest nation in the world, we asked him:
"Why is it then that, in the less populous places, the Ganges is
pure and transparent, whilst in Benares, especially towards evening,
it looks like a mass of liquid mud?"
"O sahibs!" answered he mournfully, "it is not the dirt of our bodies,
as you think, it is not even the blackness of our sins, that the
devi (goddess) washes away... Her waves are black with the sorrow
and shame of her children. Her feelings are sad and sorrowful;
hidden suffering, burning pain and humiliation, despair and shame
at her own helplessness, have been her lot for many past centuries.
She has suffered all this till her waters have become waves of
black bile. Her waters are poisoned and black, but not from physical
causes. She is our mother, and how could she help resenting the
degradation we have brought ourselves to in this dark age."
This sorrowful, poetical allegory made us feel very keenly for
the poor old man; but, however great our sympathy, we could not
but suppose that probably the woes of the maiden Ganga do not
affect her sources. In Hardwar the color of Ganges is crystal
aqua marina, and the waters run gaily murmuring to the shore-reeds
about the wonders they saw on their way from the Himalayas.
The beautiful river is the greatest and the purest of goddesses,
in the eyes of the Hindus; and many are the honors given to her
in Hardwar. Besides the Mela celebrated once every twelve years,
there is a month in every year when the pilgrims flock together
to the Harika-Paira, stairs of Vishnu. Whosoever succeeds in
throwing himself first into the river, at the appointed day, hour
and moment, will not only expiate all his sins, but also have all
bodily sufferings removed. This zeal to be first is so great that,
owing to a badly-constructed and narrow stair leading to the water,
it used to cost many lives yearly, until, in 1819, the East India
Company, taking pity upon the pilgrims, ordered this ancient relic
to be removed, and a new stairway, one hundred feet wide, and
consisting of sixty steps, to be constructed.
The month when the waters of the Ganges are most salutary, falls,
according to the Brahmanical computation, between March 12th and
April 10th, and is called Chaitra. The worst of it is that the
waters are at their best only at the first moment of a certain
propitious hour, indicated by the Brahmans, and which sometimes
happens to be midnight. You can fancy what it must be when this
moment comes, in the midst of a crowd which exceeds two millions.
In 1819 more than four hundred people were crushed to death. But
even after the new stairs were constructed, the goddess Ganga has
carried away on her virgin bosom many a disfigured corpse of her
worshipers. Nobody pitied the drowned, on the contrary, they were
envied. Whoever happens to be killed during this purification by
bathing, is sure to go straight to Swarga (heaven). In 1760, the
two rival brotherhoods of Sannyasis and Bairagis had a regular
battle amongst them on the sacred day of Purbi, the last day of
the religious fair. The Bairagis were conquered, and there were
eighteen thousand people slaughtered.
"And in 1796," proudly narrated our warlike friend the Akali, "the
pilgrims from Punjab, all of them Sikhs, desiring to punish the
insolence of the Hossains, killed here about five hundred of these
heathens. My own grandfather took part in the fight!"
Later on we verified this in the Gazetteer of India, and the "God's
warrior" was cleared of every suspicion of exaggeration and boasting.
In 1879, however, no one was drowned, or crushed to death, but a
dreadful epidemic of cholera broke out. We were disgusted at this
impediment; but had to keep at a distance in spite of our
impatience to see Hardwar. And unable to behold distant summits
of old Himavat ourselves, we had in the meanwhile to be contented
with what we could hear about him from other people.
So we talked long after our breakfast under the cave vault was
finished. But our talk was not so gay as it might have been,
because we had to part with Ram-Runjit-Das, who was going to Bombay.
The worthy Sikh shook hands with us in the European way, and then
raising his right hand gave us his blessing, after the fashion of
all the followers of Nanaka. But when he approached the Takur to
take leave of him, his countenance suddenly changed. This change
was so evident that we all noted it. The Takur was sitting on the
ground leaning on a saddle, which served him as a cushion. The
Akali did not attempt either to give him his blessing or to shake
hands with him. The proud expression of his face also changed,
and showed confusion and anxious humility instead of the usual
self-respect and self-sufficiency. The brave Sikh knelt down
before the Takur, and instead of the ordinary "Namaste!"--"Salutation
to you," whispered reverently, as if addressing the Guru of the
Golden Lake: "I am your servant, Sadhu-Sahib! give me your blessing!"
Without any apparent reason or cause, we all felt self-conscious
and ill at ease, as if guilty of some indiscretion. But the face
of the mysterious Rajput remained as calm and as dispassionate as
ever. He was looking at the river before this scene took place,
and slowly moved his eyes to the Akali, who lay prostrated before
him. Then he touched the head of the Sikh with his index finger,
and rose with the remark that we also had better start at once,
because it was getting late.
We drove in our carriage, moving very slowly because of the deep
sand which covers all this locality, and the Takur followed us on
horseback all the way. He told us the epic legends of Hardwar and
Rajistan, of the great deeds of the Hari-Kulas, the heroic princes
of the solar race. Hari means sun, and Kula family. Some of the
Rajput princes belong to this family, and the Maharanas of Oodeypur
are especially proud of their astronomical origin.
The name of Hari-Kula gives to some Orientalists ground to suppose
that a member of this family emigrated to Egypt in the remote
epoch of the first Pharaonic dynasties, and that the ancient Greeks,
borrowing the name as well as the traditions, thus formed their
legends about the mythological Hercules. It is believed that the
ancient Egyptians adored the sphinx under the name of Hari-Mukh,
or the "sun on the horizon." On the mountain chain which fringes
Kashmir on the north, thirteen thousand feet above the sea, there
is a huge summit, which is exactly like a head, and which bears
the name of Harimukh. This name is also met with in the most
ancient of the Puranas. Besides, popular tradition considers
this Himalayan stone head to be the image of the setting sun.
Is it possible, then, that all these coincidences are only accidental?
And why is it that the Orientalists will not give it more serious
attention? It seems to me that this is a rich soil for future
research, and that it is no more to be explained by mere chance
than the fact that both Egypt and India held the cow sacred, and
that the ancient Egyptians had the same religious horror of killing
certain animals, as the modern Hindus.
An Isle of Mystery
When evening began to draw on, we were driving beneath the trees
of a wild jungle; arriving soon after at a large lake, we left
the carriages. The shores were overgrown with reeds--not the reeds
that answer our European notions, but rather such as Gulliver was
likely to meet with in his travels to Brobdingnag. The place was
perfectly deserted, but we saw a boat fastened close to the land.
We had still about an hour and a half of daylight before us, and
so we quietly sat down on some ruins and enjoyed the splendid view,
whilst the servants of the Takur transported our bags, boxes and
bundles of rugs from the carriages to the ferry boat. Mr. Y--- was
preparing to paint the picture before us, which indeed was charming.
"Don't be in a hurry to take down this view," said Gulab-Sing.
"In half an hour we shall be on the islet, where the view is still
lovelier. We may spend there the night and tomorrow morning as well."
"I am afraid it will be too dark in an hour," said Mr. Y---, opening
his color box. "And as for tomorrow, we shall probably have to start
"Oh, no! there is not the slightest need to start early. We may
even stay here part of the afternoon. From here to the railway
station it is only three hours, and the train only leaves for J
ubbulpore at eight in the evening. And do you know," added the
Takur, smiling in his usual mysterious way, "I am going to treat
you to a concert. Tonight you shall be witness of a very interesting
natural phenomenon connected with this island."
We all pricked up our ears with curiosity.
"Do you mean that island there? and do you really think we must go?"
asked the colonel. "Why should not we spend the night here, where
we are so deliciously cool, and where... "
"Where the forest swarms with playful leopards, and the reeds
shelter snug family parties of the serpent race, were you going
to say, colonel?" interrupted the Babu, with a broad grin. "Don't
you admire this merry gathering, for instance? Look at them!
There is the father and the mother, uncles, aunts, and children....
I am sure I could point out even a mother-in-law."
Miss X--- looked in the direction he indicated and shrieked, till
all the echoes of the forest groaned in answer. Not farther than
three steps from her there were at least forty grown up serpents
and baby snakes. They amused themselves by practising somersaults,
coiled up, then straightened again and interlaced their tails,
presenting to our dilated eyes a picture of perfect innocence and
primitive contentment. Miss X--- could not stand it any longer
and fled to the carriage, whence she showed us a pale, horrified
face. The Takur, who had arranged himself comfortably beside Mr.
Y--- in order to watch the progress of his paint-ing, left his seat
and looked attentively at the dangerous group, quietly smoking his
gargari--Rajput narghile--the while.
"If you do not stop screaming you will attract all the wild animals
of the forest in another ten minutes," said he. "None of you have
anything to fear. If you do not excite an animal he is almost
sure to leave you alone, and most probably will run away from you."
With these words he lightly waved his pipe in the direction of the
serpentine family-party. A thunderbolt falling in their midst
could not have been more effectual. The whole living mass looked
stunned for a moment, and then rapidly disappeared among the reeds
with loud hissing and rustling.
"Now this is pure mesmerism, I declare," said the colonel, on whom
not a gesture of the Takur was lost. "How did you do it, Gulab-Sing?
Where did you learn this science?"
"They were simply frightened away by the sudden movement of my
chibook, and there was no science and no mesmerism about it.
Probably by this fashionable modern word you mean what we Hindus
call vashi-karana vidya--that is to say, the science of charming
people and animals by the force of will. However, as I have already
said, this has nothing to do with what I did."
"But you do not deny, do you, that you have studied this science
and possess this gift?"
"Of course I don't. Every Hindu of my sect is bound to study the
mysteries of physiology and psychology amongst other secrets left
to us by our ancestors. But what of that? I am very much afraid,
my dear colonel," said the Takur with a quiet smile, "that you
are rather inclined to view the simplest of my acts through a
mystical prism. Narayan has been telling you all kinds of things
about me behind my back.... Now, is it not so?"
And he looked at Narayan, who sat at his feet, with an indescribable
mixture of fondness and reproof. The Dekkan colossus dropped his
eyes and remained silent.
"You have guessed rightly," absently answered Mr. Y---, busy over
his drawing apparatus. "Narayan sees in you something like his
late deity Shiva; something just a little less than Parabrahm.
Would you believe it? He seriously assured us--in Nassik it was--
that the Raj-Yogis, and amongst them yourself--though I must own
I still fail to understand what a Raj-Yogi is, precisely--can force
any one to see, not what is before his eyes at the given moment,
but what is only in the imagination of the Raj-Yogi. If I remember
rightly he called it Maya.... Now, this seemed to me going a little
"Well! You did not believe, of course, and laughed at Narayan?"
asked the Takur, fathoming with his eyes the dark green deeps of
"Not precisely... Though, I dare say, I did just a little bit,"
went on Mr. Y---, absently, being fully engrossed by the view,
and trying to fix his eyes on the most effective part of it. "I
dare say I am too scep-tical on this kind of question."
"And knowing Mr. Y--- as I do," said the colonel, I can add, for
my part, that even were any of these phenomena to happen to himself
personally, he, like Dr. Carpenter, would doubt his own eyes rather
"What you say is a little bit exaggerated, but there is some truth
in it. Maybe I would not trust myself in such an occurrence; and
I tell you why. If I saw something that does not exist, or rather
exists only for me, logic would interfere. However objective my
vision may be, before believing in the materiality of a hallucination,
I feel I am bound to doubt my own senses and sanity.... Besides,
what bosh all this is! As if I ever will allow myself to believe
in the reality of a thing that I alone saw; which belief implies
also the admission of somebody else governing and dominating, for
the time being, my optical nerves, as well as my brains."
"However, there are any number of people, who do not doubt, because
they have had proof that this phenomenon really occurs," remarked
the Takur, in a careless tone, which showed he had not the slightest
desire to insist upon this topic.
However, this remark only increased Mr. Y---'s excitement.
"No doubt there are!" he exclaimed. "But what does that prove?
Besides them, there are equal numbers of people who believe in
the materialization of spirits. But do me the kindness of not
including me among them!"
"Don't you believe in animal magnetism?"
"To a certain extent, I do. If a person suffering from some
contagious illness can influence a person in good health, and
make him ill, in his turn, I suppose somebody else's overflow
of health can also affect the sick person, and, perhaps cure him.
But between physiological contagion and mesmeric influence there
is a great gulf, and I don't feel inclined to cross this gulf on
the grounds of blind faith. It is perfectly possible that there
are instances of thought-transference in cases of somnambulism,
epilepsy, trance. I do not positively deny it, though I am very
doubtful. Mediums and clairvoyants are a sickly lot, as a rule.
But I bet you anything, a healthy man in perfectly normal conditions
is not to be influenced by the tricks of mesmerists. I should
like to see a magnetizer, or even a Raj-Yogi, inducing me to obey
"Now, my dear fellow, you really ought not to speak so rashly,"
said the colonel, who, till then, had not taken any part in
"Ought I not? Don't take it into your head that it is mere
boastfulness on my part. I guarantee failure in my case, simply
because every renowned European mesmerist has tried his luck with
me, without any result; and that is why I defy the whole lot of
them to try again, and feel perfectly safe about it. And why a
Hindu Raj-Yogi should succeed where the strongest of European
mesmerists failed, I do not quite see.... "
Mr. Y--- was growing altogether too excited, and the Takur dropped
the subject, and talked of something else.
For my part, I also feel inclined to deviate once more from my
subject, and give some necessary explanations.
Miss X--- excepted, none of our party had ever been numbered amongst
the spiritualists, least of all Mr. Y---. We Theosophists did not
believe in the playfulness of departed souls, though we admitted
the possibility of some mediumistic phenomena, while totally
disagreeing with the spiritualists as to the cause and point of
view. Refusing to believe in the interference, and even presence
of the spirits, in the so-called spiritualistic phenomena, we
nevertheless believe in the living spirit of man; we believe in
the omnipotence of this spirit, and in its natural, though benumbed
capacities. We also believe that, when incarnated, this spirit,
this divine spark, may be apparently quenched, if it is not guarded,
and if the life the man leads is unfavorable to its expansion,
as it generally is; but, on the other hand, our conviction is
that human beings can develop their potential spiritual powers;
that, if they do, no phenomenon will be impossible for their
liberated wills, and that they will perform what, in the eyes of
the uninitiated, will be much more wondrous than the materialized
forms of the spiritualists. If proper training can render the
muscular strength ten times greater, as in the cases of renowned
athletes, I do not see why proper training should fail in the
case of moral capacities. We have also good grounds to believe
that the secret of this proper training--though unknown to, and
denied by, European physiologists and even psychologists--is
known in some places in India, where its knowledge is hereditary,
and entrusted to few.
Mr. Y--- was a novice in our Society and looked with distrust
even on such phenomena as can be pro-duced by mesmerism. He had
been trained in the Royal Institute of British Architects, which
he left with a gold medal, and with a fund of scepticism that
caused him to distrust everything, en dehors des mathematiques
pures. So that no wonder he lost his temper when people tried to
convince him that there existed things which he was inclined to
treat as "mere bosh and fables."
Now I return to my narrative.
The Babu and Mulji left us to help the servants to transport our
luggage to the ferry boat. The remainder of the party had grown
very quiet and silent. Miss X--- dozed peacefully in the carriage,
forgetting her recent fright. The colonel, stretched on the sand,
amused himself by throwing stones into the water. Narayan sat
motionless, with his hands round his knees, plunged as usual in
the mute contemplation of Gulab Lal-Sing. Mr. Y--- sketched
hurriedly and diligently, only raising his head from time to time
to glance at the opposite shore, and knitting his brow in a
preoccupied way. The Takur went on smoking, and as for me, I sat
on my folding chair, looking lazily at everything round me, till
my eyes rested on Gulab-Sing, and were fixed, as if by a spell.
"Who and what is this mysterious Hindu?" I wondered in my uncertain
thoughts. "Who is this man, who unites in himself two such distinct
personalities: the one exterior, kept up for strangers, for the
orld in general, the other interior, moral and spiritual, shown
only to a few intimate friends? But even these intimate friends
do they know much beyond what is generally known? And what do
they know? They see in him a Hindu who differs very little from
the rest of educated natives, perhaps only in his perfect contempt
for the social conventions of India and the demands of Western
civilization.... And that is all--unless I add that he is known
in Central India as a sufficiently wealthy man, and a Takur, a
feudal chieftain of a Raj, one of the hundreds of similar Rajes.
Besides, he is a true friend of ours, who offered us his protection
in our travels and volunteered to play the mediator between us
and the suspicious, uncommunicative Hindus. Beyond all this, we
know absolutely nothing about him. It is true, though, that I
know a little more than the others; but I have promised silence,
and silent I shall be. But the little I know is so strange, so
unusual, that it is more like a dream than a reality."
A good while ago, more than twenty-seven years, I met him in the
house of a stranger in England, whither he came in the company of
a certain dethroned Indian prince. Then our acquaintance was
limited to two conversations; their unexpectedness, their gravity,
and even severity, produced a strong impression on me then; but,
in the course of time, like many other things, they sank into
oblivion and Lethe. About seven years ago he wrote to me to
America, reminding me of our conversation and of a certain promise
I had made. Now we saw each other once more in India, his own
country, and I failed to see any change wrought in his appearance
by all these long years. I was, and looked, quite young, when I
first saw him; but the passage of years had not failed to change
me into an old woman. As to him, he appeared to me twenty-seven
years ago a man of about thirty, and still looked no older, as if
time were powerless against him. In England, his striking beauty,
especially his extraordinary height and stature, together with his
eccentric refusal to be presented to the Queen--an honour many a
high-born Hindu has sought, coming over on purpose--excited the
public notice and the attention of the newspapers. The newspapermen
of those days, when the influence of Byron was still great, discussed
the "wild Rajput" with untiring pens, calling him "Raja-Misanthrope"
and " Prince Jalma-Samson," and in-venting fables about him all the
time he stayed in England.
All this taken together was well calculated to fill me with consuming
curiosity, and to absorb my thoughts till I forgot every exterior
circumstance, sitting and staring at him in no wise less intensely
I gazed at the remarkable face of Gulab-Lal-Sing with a mixed feeling
of indescribable fear and enthusiastic admiration; recalling the
mysterious death of the Karli tiger, my own miraculous escape a
few hours ago in Bagh, and many other incidents too many to relate.
It was only a few hours since he appeared to us in the morning,
and yet what a number of strange ideas, of puzzling occurrences,
how many enigmas his presence stirred in our minds! The magic
circle of my revolving thought grew too much for me. "What does
all this mean!" I exclaimed to myself, trying to shake off my torpor,
and struggling to find words for my meditation. "Who is this being
whom I saw so many years ago, jubilant with manhood and life, and
now see again, as young and as full of life, only still more austere,
still more incomprehensible. After all, maybe it is his brother,
or even his son?" thought I, trying to calm myself, but with no
result. "No! there is no use doubting; it is he himself, it is
the same face, the same little scar on the left temple. But, as
a quarter of a century ago, so now: no wrinkles on those beautiful
classic features; not a white hair in this thick jet-black mane;
and, in moments of silence, the same expression of perfect rest
on that face, calm as a statue of living bronze. What a strange
expression, and what a wonderful Sphinx-like face!"
"Not a very brilliant comparison, my old friend!" suddenly spoke
the Takur, and a good-natured laughing note rung in his voice,
whilst I shuddered and grew red like a naughty schoolgirl. "This
comparison is so inaccurate that it decidedly sins against history
in two important points. Primo, the Sphinx is a lion; so am I,
as indicates the word Sing in my name; but the Sphinx is winged,
and I am not. Secondo, the Sphinx is a woman as well as a winged
lion, but the Rajput Sinhas never had anything effeminate in their
characters. Besides, the Sphinx is the daughter of Chimera, or
Echidna, who were neither beautiful nor good; and so you might
have chosen a more flattering and a less inaccurate comparison!"
I simply gasped in my utter confusion, and he gave vent to his
merriment, which by no means relieved me. "Shall I give you some
good advice?" continued Gulab-Sing, changing his tone for a more
serious one. "Don't trouble your head with such vain speculations.
The day when this riddle yields its solution, the Rajput Sphinx
will not seek destruction in the waves of the sea; but, believe me,
it won't bring any profit to the Russian Oedipus either. You
already know every detail you ever will learn. So leave the rest
to our respective fates."
And he rose because the Babu and Mulji had informed us that the
ferry boat was ready to start, and were shouting and making signs
to us to hasten.
"Just let me finish," said Mr. Y---, "I have nearly done. Just
an additional touch or two."
"Let us see your work. Hand it round!" insisted the colonel and
Miss X---, who had just left her haven of refuge in the carriage,
and joined us still half asleep.
Mr. Y--- hurriedly added a few more touches to his drawing and rose
to collect his brushes and pencils.
We glanced at his fresh wet picture and opened our eyes in astonishment.
There was no lake on it, no woody shores, and no velvety evening mists
that covered the distant island at this moment. Instead of all this
we saw a charming sea view; thick clusters of shapely palm-trees
scattered over the chalky cliffs of the littoral; a fortress-like
bungalow with balconies and a flat roof, an elephant standing at
its entrance, and a native boat on the crest of a foaming billow.
"Now what is this view, sir?" wondered the colonel. "As if it was
worth your while to sit in the sun, and detain us all, to draw
fancy pictures out of your own head!"
"What on earth are you talking about?" exclaimed Mr. Y---. "Do
you mean to say you do not recognize the lake?"
"Listen to him--the lake! Where is the lake, if you please? Were
you asleep, or what?"
By this time all our party gathered round the colonel, who held
the drawing. Narayan uttered an exclamation, and stood still,
the very image of bewilderment past description.
"I know the place!" said he, at last. "This is Dayri--Bol, the
country house of the Takur-Sahib. I know it. Last year during
the famine I lived there for two months."
I was the first to grasp the meaning of it all, but something
prevented me from speaking at once.
At last Mr. Y--- finished arranging and packing his things, and
approached us in his usual lazy, careless way, but his face showed
traces of vexation. He was evidently bored by our persistency in
seeing a sea, where there was nothing but the corner of a lake.
But, at the first sight of his unlucky sketch, his countenance
suddenly changed. He grew so pale, and the expression of his
face became so piteously distraught that it was painful to see.
He turned and returned the piece of Bristol board, then rushed
like a madman to his drawing portfolio and turned the whole contents
out, ransacking and scattering over the sand hundreds of sketches
and of loose papers. Evidently failing to find what he was looking
for, he glanced again at his sea-view, and suddenly covering his
face with his hands totally collapsed.
We all remained silent, exchanging glances of wonder and pity, and
heedless of the Takur, who stood on the ferry boat, vainly calling
to us to join him.
"Look here, Y---!" timidly spoke the kind-hearted colonel, as if
addressing a sick child. "Are you sure you remember drawing this view?"
Mr. Y-- did not give any answer, as if gathering strength and thinking
it over. After a few moments he answered in hoarse and tremulous tones:
"Yes, I do remember. Of course I made this sketch, but I made it
from nature. I painted only what I saw. And it is that very
certainty that upsets me so."
"But why should you be upset, my dear fellow? Collect yourself!
What happened to you is neither shameful nor dreadful. It is only
the result of the temporary influence of one dominant will over
another, less powerful. You simply acted under `biological influence,'
to use the expression of Dr. Carpenter."
"That is exactly what I am most afraid of.... I remember everything
now. I have been busy over this view more than an hour. I saw it
directly I chose the spot, and seeing it all the while on the
opposite shore I could not suspect anything uncanny. I was
perfectly conscious... or, shall I say, I fancied I was conscious
of putting down on paper what everyone of you had before your eyes.
I had lost every notion of the place as I saw it before I began
my sketch, and as I see it now.... But how do you account for it?
Good gracious! am I to believe that these confounded Hindus really
possess the mystery of this trick? I tell you, colonel, I shall
go mad if I don't understand it all!"
"No fear of that, Mr. Y---," said Narayan, with a triumphant
twinkle in his eyes. "You will simply lose the right to deny
Yoga-Vidya, the great ancient science of my country."
Mr. Y--- did not answer him. He made an effort to calm his feelings,
and bravely stepped on the ferry boat with firm foot. Then he sat
down, apart from us all, obstinately looking at the large surface
of water round us, and struggling to seem his usual self.
Miss X--- was the first to interrupt the silence.
"Ma chere!" said she to me in a subdued, but triumphant voice.
"Ma chere, Monsieur Y--- devient vraiment un medium de premiere force!"
In moments of great excitement she always addressed me in French.
But I also was too excited to control my feelings, and so I answered
"Please stop this nonsense, Miss X---. You know I don't believe
in spiritualism. Poor Mr. Y---, was not he upset?"
Receiving this rebuke and no sympathy from me, she could not think
of anything better than drawing out the Babu, who, for a wonder,
had managed to keep quiet till then.
"What do you say to all this? I for one am perfectly confident that
no one but the disembodied soul of a great artist could have painted
that lovely view. Who else is capable of such a wonderful achievement?"
"Why? The old gentleman in person. Confess that at the bottom
of your soul you firmly believe that the Hindus worship devils.
To be sure it is some deity of ours of this kind that had his
august paw in the matter."
"Il est positivement malhonnete, ce Negre-la!" angrily muttered
Miss X---, hurriedly withdrawing from him.
The island was a tiny one, and so overgrown with tall reeds that,
from a distance, it looked like a pyramidal basket of verdure. With
the exception of a colony of monkeys, who bustled away to a few mango
trees at our approach, the place seemed uninhabited. In this virgin
forest of thick grass there was no trace of human life. Seeing the
word grass the reader must not forget that it is not the grass of
Europe I mean; the grass under which we stood, like insects under
a rhubarb leaf, waved its feathery many-colored plumes much above
the head of Gulab-Sing (who stood six feet and a half in his stockings),
and of Narayan, who measured hardly an inch less. From a distance
it looked like a waving sea of black, yellow, blue, and especially
of rose and green. On landing, we discovered that it consisted of
separate thickets of bamboos, mixed up with the gigantic sirka reeds,
which rose as high as the tops of the mangos.
It is impossible to imagine anything prettier and more graceful
than the bamboos and sirka. The isolated tufts of bamboos show,
in spite of their size, that they are nothing but grass, because
the least gush of wind shakes them, and their green crests begin
to nod like heads adorned with long ostrich plumes. There were
some bamboos there fifty or sixty feet high. From time to time
we heard a light metallic rustle in the reeds, but none of us
paid much attention to it.
Whilst our coolies and servants were busy clearing a place for
our tents, pitching them and preparing the supper, we went to pay
our respects to the monkeys, the true hosts of the place. Without
exaggeration there were at least two hundred. While preparing
for their nightly rest the monkeys behaved like decorous and well-
behaved people; every family chose a separate branch and defended
it from the intrusion of strangers lodging on the same tree, but
this defence never passed the limits of good manners, and generally
took the shape of threatening grimaces. There were many mothers
with babies in arms amongst them; some of them treated the children
tenderly, and lifted them cautiously, with a perfectly human care;
others, less thoughtful, ran up and down, heedless of the child
hanging at their breasts, preoccupied with something, discussing
something, and stopping every moment to quarrel with other monkey
ladies--a true picture of chatty old gossips on a market day,
repeated in the animal kingdom. The bachelors kept apart, absorbed
in their athletic exercises, performed for the most part with the
ends of their tails. One of them, especially, attracted our
attention by dividing his amusement between sauts perilleux and
teasing a respectable looking grandfather, who sat under a tree
hugging two little monkeys. Swinging backward and forward from
the branch, the bachelor jumped at him, bit his ear playfully and
made faces at him, chattering all the time. We cautiously passed
from one tree to another, afraid of frightening them away; but
evidently the years spent by them with the fakirs, who left the
island only a year ago, had accustomed them to human society. They
were sacred monkeys, as we learned, and so they had nothing to fear
from men. They showed no signs of alarm at our approach, and,
having received our greeting, and some of them a piece of sugar-cane,
they calmly stayed on their branch-thrones, crossing their arms,
and looking at us with a good deal of dignified contempt in their
intelligent hazel eyes.
The sun had set, and we were told that the supper was ready. We
all turned "homewards," except the Babu. The main feature of his
character, in the eyes of orthodox Hindus, being a tendency to
blasphemy, he could never resist the temptation to justify their
opinion of him. Climbing up a high branch he crouched there,
imitating every gesture of the monkeys and answering their
threatening grimaces by still uglier ones, to the unconcealed
disgust of our pious coolies.
As the last golden ray disappeared on the horizon, a gauze-like
veil of pale lilac fell over the world. But as every moment
decreased the transparency of this tropical twilight, the tint
gradually lost its softness and became darker and darker. It
looked as if an invisible painter, unceasingly moving his gigantic
brush, swiftly laid one coat of paint over the other, ever changing
the exquisite background of our islet. The phosphoric candles of
the fireflies began to twinkle here and there, shining brightly
against the black trunks of the trees, and lost again on the silvery
background of opalescent evening sky. But in a few minutes more
thousands of these living sparks, precursors of Queen Night, played
round us, pouring like a golden cascade over the trees, and dancing
in the air above the grass and the dark lake.
And behold! here is the queen in person. Noiselessly descending
upon earth, she reassumes her rights. With her approach, rest and
peace spread over us; her cool breath calms the activities of day.
Like a fond mother, she sings a lullaby to nature, lovingly wrapping
her in her soft black mantle; and, when everything is asleep, she
watches over nature's dozing powers till the first streaks of dawn.
Nature sleeps; but man is awake, to be witness to the beauties of
this solemn evening hour. Sitting round the fire we talked, lowering
our voices as if afraid of awaking night. We were only six; the
colonel, the four Hindus and myself, because Mr. Y--- and Miss X---
could not resist the fatigue of the day and had gone to sleep
directly after supper.
Snugly sheltered by the high "grass," we had not the heart to spend
this magnificent night in prosaic sleeping. Besides, we were
waiting for the "concert" which the Takur had promised us.
"Be patient," said he, "the musicians will not appear before the
The fickle goddess was late; she kept us waiting till after ten
o'clock. Just before her arrival, when the horizon began to grow
perceptibly brighter, and the opposite shore to assume a milky,
silvery tint, a sudden wind rose. The waves, that had gone quietly
to sleep at the feet of gigantic reeds, awoke and tossed uneasily,
till the reeds swayed their feathery heads and murmured to each
other as if taking counsel together about some thing that was going
to happen.... Suddenly, in the general stillness and silence, we
heard again the same musical notes, which we had passed unheeded,
when we first reached the island, as if a whole orchestra were
trying their musical instruments before playing some great composition.
All round us, and over our heads, vibrated strings of violins, and
thrilled the separate notes of a flute. In a few moments came
another gust of wind tearing through the reeds, and the whole
island resounded with the strains of hundreds of Aeolian harps.
And suddenly there began a wild unceasing symphony. It swelled
in the surrounding woods, filling the air with an indescribable
melody. Sad and solemn were its prolonged strains; they resounded
like the arpeggios of some funeral march, then, changing into a
trembling thrill, they shook the air like the song of a nightingale,
and died away in a long sigh. They did not quite cease, but grew
louder again, ringing like hundreds of silver bells, changing from
the heartrending howl of a wolf, deprived of her young, to the
precipitate rhythm of a gay tarantella, forgetful of every earthly
sorrow; from the articulate song of a human voice, to the vague
majestic accords of a violoncello, from merry child's laughter to
angry sobbing. And all this was repeated in every direction by
mocking echo, as if hundreds of fabulous forest maidens, disturbed in
their green abodes, answered the appeal of the wild musical Saturnalia.
The colonel and I glanced at each other in our great astonishment.
"How delightful! What witchcraft is this?" we exclaimed at the
The Hindus smiled, but did not answer us. The Takur smoked his
gargari as peacefully as if he was deaf.
There was a short interval, after which the invisible orchestra
started again with renewed energy. The sounds poured and rolled
in unrestrainable, overwhelming waves. We had never heard anything
like this inconceivable wonder. Listen! A storm in the open sea,
the wind tearing through the rigging, the swish of the maddened
waves rushing over each other, or the whirling snow wreaths on
the silent steppes. Suddenly the vision is changed; now it is
a stately cathedral and the thundering strains of an organ rising
under its vaults. The powerful notes now rush together, now spread
out through space, break off, intermingle, and become entangled,
like the fantastic melody of a delirious fever, some musical phantasy
born of the howling and whistling of the wind.
Alas! the charm of these sounds is soon exhausted, and you begin
to feel that they cut like knives through your brain. A horrid
fancy haunts our bewildered heads; we imagine that the invisible
artists strain our own veins, and not the strings of imaginary
violins; their cold breath freezes us, blowing their imaginary
trumpets, shaking our nerves and impeding our breathing.
"For God's sake stop this, Takur! This is really too much," shouted
the colonel, at the end of his patience, and covering his ears with
his hands. "Gulab-Sing, I tell you you must stop this."
The three Hindus burst out laughing; and even the grave face of
the Takur lit up with a merry smile. "Upon my word," said he,
"do you really take me for the great Parabrahm? Do you think it
is in my power to stop the wind, as if I were Marut, the lord of
the storms, in person. Ask for something easier than the
instantaneous uprooting of all these bamboos."
"I beg your pardon; I thought these strange sounds also were some
kind of psychologic influence."
"So sorry to disappoint you, my dear colonel; but you really must
think less of psychology and electrobiology. This develops into
a mania with you. Don't you see that this wild music is a natural
acoustic phenomenon? Each of the reeds around us--and there are
thousands on this island--contains a natural musical instrument;
and the musician, Wind, comes here daily to try his art after
nightfall--especially during the last quarter of the moon."
"The wind!" murmured the colonel. "Oh, yes! But this music begins
to change into a dreadful roar. Is there no way out of it?"
"I at least cannot help it. But keep up your patience, you will
soon get accustomed to it. Besides, there will be intervals when
the wind falls."
We were told that there are many such natural orchestras in India.
The Brahmans know well their wonderful properties, and calling this
kind of reed vina-devi, the lute of the gods, keep up the popular
superstition and say the sounds are divine oracles. The sirka
grass and the bamboos always shelter a number of tiny beetles,
which make considerable holes in the hollow reeds. The fakirs of
the idol-worshipping sects add art to this natural beginning and
work the plants into musical instruments. The islet we visited
bore one of the most celebrated vina-devis, and so, of course,
was proclaimed sacred.
"Tomorrow morning," said the Takur, "you will see what deep knowledge
of all the laws of acoustics was in the possession of the fakirs.
They enlarged the holes made by the beetle according to the size
of the reed, sometimes shaping it into a circle, sometimes into
an oval. These reeds in their present state can be justly considered
as the finest illustration of mechanism applied to acoustics.
However, this is not to be wondered at, because some of the most
ancient Sanskrit books about music minutely describe these laws,
and mention many musical instruments which are not only forgotten,
but totally incomprehensible in our days."
All this was very interesting, but still, disturbed by the din,
we could not listen attentively.
"Don't worry yourselves," said the Takur, who soon understood our
uneasiness, in spite of our attempts at composure. "After midnight
the wind will fall, and you will sleep undisturbed. However, if
the too close neighborhood of this musical grass is too much for
you, we may as well go nearer to the shore. There is a spot from
which you can see the sacred bonfires on the opposite shore."
We followed him, but while walking through the thickets of reeds
we did not leave off our conversation. "How is it that the Brahmans
manage to keep up such an evident cheat?" asked the colonel. "The
stupidest man cannot fail to see in the long run who made the holes
in the reeds, and how they come to give forth music."
"In America stupid men may be as clever as that; I don't know,"
answered the Takur, with a smile; "but not in India. If you took
the trouble to show, to describe, and to explain how all this is
done to any Hindu, be he even comparatively educated, he will still
see nothing. He will tell you that he knows as well as yourself
that the holes are made by the beetles and enlarged by the fakirs.
But what of that? The beetle in his eyes is no ordinary beetle,
but one of the gods incarnated in the insect for this special purpose;
and the fakir is a holy ascetic, who has acted in this case by the
order of the same god. That will be all you will ever get out of him.
Fanaticism and superstition took centuries to develop in the masses,
and now they are as strong as a necessary physiological function.
Kill these two and the crowd will have its eyes opened, and will
see truth, but not before. As to the Brahmans, India would have
been very fortunate if everything they have done were as harmless.
Let the crowds adore the muse and the spirit of harmony. This
adoration is not so very wicked, after all."
The Babu told us that in Dehra-Dun this kind of reed is planted
on both sides of the central street, which is more than a mile long.
The buildings prevent the free action of the wind, and so the sounds
are heard only in time of east wind, which is very rare. A year
ago Swami Dayanand happened to camp off Dehra-Dun. Crowds of people
gathered round him every evening. One day he delivered a very
powerful sermon against superstition. Tired out by this long,
energetic speech, and, besides, being a little unwell, the Swami
sat down on his carpet and shut his eyes to rest as soon as the
sermon was finished. But the crowd, seeing him so unusually quiet
and silent, all at once imagined that his soul, abandoning him in
this prostration, entered the reeds--that had just begun to sing
their fantastical rhap-sody--and was now conversing with the gods
through the bamboos. Many a pious man in this gathering, anxious
to show the teacher in what fulness they grasped his teaching and
how deep was their respect for him personally, knelt down before
the singing reeds and performed a most ardent puja.
"What did the Swami say to that?"
"He did not say anything.... Your question shows that you don't
know our Swami yet," laughed the Babu. "He simply jumped to his
feet, and, uprooting the first sacred reed on his way, gave such
a lively European bakshish (thrashing) to the pious puja-makers,
that they instantly took to their heels. The Swami ran after them
for a whole mile, giving it hot to everyone in his way. He is
wonderfully strong is our Swami, and no friend to useless talk, I
can tell you."
"But it seems to me," said the colonel, "that that is not the right
way to convert crowds. Dispersing and frightening is not converting."
"Not a bit of it. The masses of our nation require peculiar treatment....
Let me tell you the end of this story. Disappointed with the effect
of his teachings on the inhabitants of Dehra-Dun, Dayanand Saraswati
went to Patna, some thirty-five or forty miles from there. And before
he had even rested from the fatigues of his journey, he had to receive
a deputation from Dehra-Dun, who on their knees entreated him to come
back. The leaders of this deputation had their backs covered with
bruises, made by the bamboo of the Swami! They brought him back
with no end of pomp, mounting him on an elephant and spreading
flowers all along the road. Once in Dehra-Dun, he immediately
proceeded to found a Samaj, a society as you would say, and the
Dehra-Dun Arya-Samaj now counts at least two hundred members, who
have renounced idol-worship and superstition for ever."
"I was present," said Mulji, "two years ago in Benares, when Dayanand
broke to pieces about a hundred idols in the bazaar, and the same
stick served him to beat a Brahman with. He caught the latter in
the hollow idol of a huge Shiva. The Brahman was quietly sitting
there talking to the devotees in the name, and so to speak, with
the voice of Shiva, and asking money for a new suit of clothes the
"Is it possible the Swami had not to pay for this new achievement
"Oh, yes. The Brahman dragged him into a law court, but the judge
had to pronounce the Swami in the right, because of the crowd of
sympathizers and defenders who followed the Swami. But still he
had to pay for all the idols he had broken. So far so good; but
the Brahman died of cholera that very night, and of course, the
opposers of the reform said his death was brought on by the sorcery
of Dayanand Saraswati. This vexed us all a good deal."
"Now, Narayan, it is your turn," said I. Have you no story to
tell us about the Swami? And do you not look up to him as to
"I have only one Guru and only one God on earth, as in heaven,"
answered Narayan; and I saw that he was very unwilling to speak.
"And while I live, I shall not desert them."
"I know who is his Guru and his God!" thoughtlessly exclaimed the
quick-tongued Babu. "It is the Takur--Sahib. In his person both
coincide in the eyes of Narayan."
"You ought to be ashamed to talk such nonsense, Babu," coldly
remarked Gulab-Sing. "I do not think myself worthy of being
anybody's Guru. As to my being a god, the mere words are a
blasphemy, and I must ask you not to repeat them... Here we are!"
added he more cheerfully, pointing to the carpets spread by the
servants on the shore, and evidently desirous of changing the topic.
"Let us sit down!"
We arrived at a small glade some distance from the bamboo forest.
The sounds of the magic orchestra reached us still, but considerably
weakened, and only from time to time. We sat to the windward of
the reeds, and so the harmonic rustle we heard was exactly like
the low tones of an Aeolian harp, and had nothing disagreeable
in it. On the contrary, the distant murmur only added to the
beauty of the whole scene around us.
We sat down, and only then I realized how tired and sleepy I was--
and no wonder, after being on foot since four in the morning, and
after all that had happened to me on this memorable day. The
gentlemen went on talking, and I soon became so absorbed in my
thoughts that their conversation reached me only in fragments.
Wake up, wake up!" repeated the colonel, shaking me by the hand.
"The Takur says that sleeping in the moonlight will do you harm."
I was not asleep; I was simply thinking, though ex-hausted and
sleepy. But wholly under the charm of this enchanting night, I
could not shake off my drowsiness, and did not answer the colonel.
"Wake up, for God's sake! Think of what you are risking!" continued the
colonel. "Wake up and look at the landscape before us, at this wonderful
moon. Have you ever seen anything to equal this magnificent panorama?"
I looked up, and the familiar lines of Pushkin about the golden moon
of Spain flashed into my mind. And indeed this was a golden moon.
At this moment she radiated rivers of golden light, poured forth
liquid gold into the tossing lake at our feet, and sprinkled with
golden dust every blade of grass, every pebble, as far as the eye
could reach, all round us. Her disk of silvery yellow swiftly glided
upward amongst the big stars, on their dark blue ground.
Many a moonlit night have I seen in India, but every time the
impression was new and unexpected. It is no use trying to describe
these feerique pictures, they cannot be represented either in words
or in colors on canvas, they can only be felt--so fugitive is their
grandeur and beauty! In Europe, even in the south, the full moon
eclipses the largest and most brilliant of the stars, so that hardly
any can be seen for a considerable distance round her. In India
it is quite the contrary; she looks like a huge pearl surrounded
by diamonds, rolling on a blue velvet ground. Her light is so
intense that one can read a letter written in small handwriting;
one even can perceive the different greens of the trees and bushes--
a thing unheard of in Europe. The effect of the moon is especially
charming on tall palm trees. From the first moment of her appearance
her rays glide over the tree downwards, beginning with the feathery
crests, then lighting up the scales of the trunk, and descending
lower and lower till the whole palm is literally bathing in a sea
of light. Without any metaphor the surface of the leaves seems
to tremble in liquid silver all the night long, whereas their
under surfaces seem blacker and softer than black velvet. But
woe to the thoughtless novice, woe to the mortal who gazes at
the Indian moon with his head uncovered. It is very dangerous
not only to sleep under, but even to gaze at the chaste Indian
Diana. Fits of epilepsy, madness and death are the punishments
wrought by her treacherous arrows on the modern Acteon who dares
to contemplate the cruel daughter of Latona in her full beauty.
The Hindus never go out in the moonlight without their turbans
or pagris. Even our invulnerable Babu always wore a kind of white
cap during the night.
As soon as the reeds concert reaches its height and the inhabitants
of the neighborhood hear the distant "voices of the gods," whole
villages flock together to the bank of the lake, light bonfires,
and perform their pujas. The fires lit up one after the other,
and the black silhouettes of the worshippers moved about on the
opposite shore. Their sacred songs and loud exclamations, "Hari,
Hari, Maha-deva!" resounded with a strange loudness and a wild
emphasis in the pure air of the night. And the reeds, shaken in
the wind, answered them with tender musical phrases. The whole
stirred a vague feeling of uneasiness in my soul, a strange
intoxication crept gradually over me, and in this enchanting place
the idol-worship of these passionate, poetical souls, sunk in dark
ignorance, seemed more intelligible and less repulsive. A Hindu
is a born mystic, and the luxuriant nature of his country has made
of him a zealous pantheist.
Sounds of alguja, a kind of Pandean pipe with seven openings, struck
our attention; their music was wafted by the wind quite distinctly
from somewhere in the wood. They also startled a whole family of
monkeys in the branches of a tree over our heads. Two or three
monkeys carefully slipped down, and looked round as if waiting
"What is this new Orpheus, to whose voice these monkeys answer?"
asked I laughingly.
"Some fakir probably. The alguja is generally used to invite the
sacred monkeys to their meals. The community of fakirs, who once
inhabited this island, have removed to an old pagoda in the forest.
Their new resting-place brings them more profit, because there are
many passers by, whereas the island is perfectly isolated."
"Probably they were compelled to desert this dreadful place because
they were threatened by chronic deafness," Miss X--- expressed her
opinion. She could not help being out of temper at being prevented
from enjoying her quiet slumber, our tents being right in the middle
of the orchestra.
"A propos of Orpheus," asked the Takur, "do you know that the lyre
of this Greek demigod was not the first to cast spells over people,
animals and even rivers? Kui, a certain Chinese musical artist,
as they are called, expresses something to this effect: `When I
play my kyng the wild animals hasten to me, and range themselvis
into rows, spellbound by my melody.' This Kui lived one thousand
years before the supposed era of Orpheus."
"What a funny coincidence!" exclaimed I. "Kui is the name of one
of our best artists in St. Petersburg. Where did you read this?"
"Oh, this is not a very rare piece of information. Some of your
Western Orientalists have it in their books. But I personally
found it in an ancient Sanskrit book, translated from the Chinese
in the second century before your era. But the original is to be
found in a very ancient work, named The Preserver of the Five Chief
Virtues. It is a kind of chronicle or treatise on the development
of music in China. It was written by the order of Emperor Hoang-Tee
many hundred years before your era."
"Do you think, then, that the Chinese ever understood anything
about music?" said the colonel, with an incredulous smile. "In
California and other places I heard some traveling artists of the
celestial empire. Well, I think, that kind of musical entertainment
would drive any one mad."
"That is exactly the opinion of many of your Western musicians on
the subject of our ancient Aryan, as well as of modern Hindu, music.
But, in the first instance, the idea of melody is perfectly arbitrary;
and, in the second, there is a good deal of difference between the
technical knowledge of music, and the creation of melodies fit to
please the educated, as well as the uneducated, ear. According to
technical theory, a musical piece may be perfect, but the melody,
nevertheless, may be above the understanding of an untrained taste,
or simply unpleasant. Your most renowned operas sound for us like
a wild chaos, like a rush of strident, entangled sounds, in which
we do not see any meaning at all, and which give us headaches. I
have visited the London and the Paris opera; I have heard Rossini
and Meyer-beer; I was resolved to render myself an account of my
impressions, and listened with the greatest attention. But I own
I prefer the simplest of our native melodies to the productions of
the best European composers. Our popular songs speak to me, whereas
they fail to produce any emotion in you. But leaving the tunes and
songs out of question, I can assure you that our ancestors, as well
as the ancestors of the Chinese, were far from inferior to the
modern Europeans, if not in technical instrumentation, at least
in their abstract notions of music."
"The Aryan nations of antiquity, perhaps; but I hardly believe
this in the case of the Turanian Chinese!" said our president doubtfully.
"But the music of nature has been everywhere the first step to
the music of art. This is a universal rule. But there are
different ways of following it. Our musical system is the greatest
art, if--pardon me this seeming paradox--avoiding all artificiality
is art. We do not allow in our melodies any sounds that cannot be
classified amongst the living voices of nature; whereas the modern
Chinese tendencies are quite different. The Chinese system comprises
eight chief tones, which serve as a tuning-fork to all derivatives;
which are accordingly classified under the names of their generators.
These eight sounds are: the notes metal, stone, silk, bamboo,
pumpkin, earthenware, leather and wood. So that they have metallic
sounds, wooden sounds, silk sounds, and so on. Of course, under
these conditions they cannot produce any melody; their music
consists of an entangled series of separate notes. Their imperial
hymn, for instance, is a series of endless unisons. But we Hindus
owe our music only to living nature, and in nowise to inanimate
objects. In a higher sense of the word, we are pantheists, and so
our music is, so to speak, pantheistic; but, at the same time,
it is highly scientific. Coming from the cradle of humanity, the
Aryan races, who were the first to attain manhood, listened to the
voice of nature, and concluded that melody as well as harmony are
both contained in our great common mother. Nature has no false
and no artificial notes; and man, the crown of creation, felt
desirous of imitating her sounds. In their multiplicity, all
these sounds--according to the opinion of some of your Western
physicists--make only one tone, which we all can hear, if we know
how to listen, in the eternal rustle of the foliage of big forests,
in the murmur of water, in the roar of the storming ocean, and even
in the distant roll of a great city. This tone is the middle F,
the fundamental tone of nature. In our melodies it serves as the
starting point, which we embody in the key-note, and around which
are grouped all the other sounds. Having noticed that every musical
note has its typical representative in the animal kingdom, our
ancestors found out that the seven chief tones correspond to the
cries of the goat, the peacock, the ox, the parrot, the frog, the
tiger, and the elephant. So the octave was discovered and founded.
As to its subdivisions and measure, they also found their basis
in the complicated sounds of the same animals."
I am no judge of your ancient music," said the colonel, "nor do I
know whether your ancestors did, or did not, work out any musical
theories, so I cannot contradict you; but I must own that, listening
to the songs of the modern Hindus, I could not give them any credit
for musical knowledge."
"No doubt it is so, because you have never heard a professional
singer. When you have visited Poona, and have listened to the
Gayan Samaj, we shall resume our present conversation. The Gayan
Samaj is a society whose aim is to restore the ancient national music."
Gulab-Lal-Sing spoke in his usual calm voice, but the Babu was
evidently burning to break forth for his country's honor, and
at the same time, he was afraid of offending his seniors by
interrupting their conversation. At last he lost patience.
"You are unjust, colonel!" he exclaimed. "The music of the ancient
Aryans is an antediluvian plant, no doubt, but nevertheless it is
well worth studying, and deserves every consideration. This is
perfectly proved now by a compatriot of mine, the Raja Surendronath
Tagor.... He is a Mus. D., he has lots of decorations from all kinds
of kings and emperors of Europe for his book about the music of
Aryans.... And, well, this man has proved, as clear as daylight,
that ancient India has every right to be called the mother of music.
Even the best musical critics of England say so!... Every school,
whether Italian, German or Aryan, saw the light at a certain period,
developed in a certain climate and in perfectly different circumstances.
Every school has its characteristics, and its peculiar charm, at
least for its followers; and our school is no exception. You
Europeans are trained in the melodies of the West, and acquainted
with Western schools of music; but our musical system, like many
other things in India, is totally unknown to you. So you must
forgive my boldness, colonel, when I say that you have no right
"Don't get so excited, Babu," said the Takur. "Every one has the
right, if not to discuss, then to ask questions about a new subject.
Otherwise no one would ever get any information. If Hindu music
belonged to an epoch as little distant from us as the European--
which you seem to suggest, Babu, in your hot haste; and if, besides,
it included all the virtues of all the previous musical systems,
which the European music assimilates; then no doubt it would have
been better understood, and better appreciated than it is. But
our music belongs to prehistoric times. In one of the sarcophagi
at Thebes, Bruce found a harp with twenty strings, and, judging by
this instrument, we may safely say that the ancient inhabitants
of Egypt were well acquainted with the mysteries of harmony. But,
except the Egyptians, we were the only people possessing this art,
in the remote epochs, when the rest of mankind were still
struggling with the elements for bare existence. We possess
hundreds of Sanskrit MSS. about music, which have never been
translated, even into modern Indian dialects. Some of them are
four thousand and eight thousand years old. Whatever your
Orientalists may say to the contrary, we will persist in believing
in their antiquity, because we have read and studied them, while
the European scientists have never yet set their eyes on them.
There are many of these musical treatises, and they have been
written at different epochs; but they all, without exception,
show that in India music was known and systematized in times when
the modern civilized nations of Europe still lived like savages.
However true, all this does not give us the right to grow indignant
when Europeans say they do not like our music, as long as their
ears are not accustomed to it, and their minds cannot understand
its spirit.... To a certain extent we can explain to you its technical
character, and give you a right idea of it as a science. But nobody
can create in you, in a moment, what the Aryans used to call Rakti;
the capacity of the human soul to receive and be moved by the
combinations of the various sounds of nature. This capacity is
the alpha and omega of our musical system, but you do not possess
it, as we do not possess the possibility to fall into raptures
"But why should it be so? What are these mysterious virtues of
your music, that can be understood only by yourselves? Our skins
are of different colors, but our organic mechanism is the same.
In other words, the physiological combination of bones, blood,
nerves, veins and muscles, which forms a Hindu, has as many parts,
combined exactly after the same model as the living mechanism known
under the name of an American, Englishman, or any other European.
They come into the world from the same workshop of nature; they
have the same beginning and the same end. From a physiological
point of view we are duplicates of each other."
"Physiologically yes. And it would be as true psychologically,
if education did not interfere, which, after all is said and done,
could not but influence the mental and the moral direction taken
by a human being. Sometimes it extinguishes the divine spark;
at other times it only increases it, transforming it into a
lighthouse which becomes man's lodestar for life."
"No doubt this is so. But the influence it has over the physiology
of the ear cannot be so overpowering after all."
"Quite the contrary. Only remember what a strong influence
climatic conditions, food and everyday surroundings have on the
complexion, vitality, capacity for reproduction, and so on, and
you will see that you are mistaken. Apply this same law of gradual
modification to the purely psychic element in man, and the results
will be the same. Change the education and you will change the
capacities of a human being.... For instance, you believe in the
powers of gymnastics, you believe that special exercise can almost
transform the human body. We go one step higher. The experience
of centuries shows that gymnastics exist for the soul as well as
for the body. But what the soul's gymnastics are is our secret.
What is it that gives to the sailor the sight of an eagle, that
endows the acrobat with the skill of a monkey, and the wrestler
with muscles of iron? Practice and habit. Then why should not
we suppose the same possibilities in the soul of the man as well
as in his body? Perhaps on the grounds of modern science--which
either dispenses with the soul altogether, or does not acknowledge
in it a life distinct from the life of the body.... "
"Please do not speak in this way, Takur. You, at least, ought to
know that I believe in the soul and in its immortality!"
"We believe in the immortality of spirit, not of soul, following
the triple division of body, soul and spirit. However, this has
nothing to do with the present discussion.... And so you agree
to the proposition that every dormant possibility of the soul may
be led to perfected strength and activity by practice, and also
that if not properly used it may grow numb and even disappear
altogether. Nature is so zealous that all her gifts should be
used properly, that it is in our power to develop or to kill in
our descendants any physical or mental gift. A systematic training
or a total disregard will accomplish both in the lifetime of a
"Perfectly true; but that does not explain to me the secret charm
of your melodies...."
"These are details and particulars. Why should I dwell on them
when you must see for yourself that my reasoning gives you the clue,
which will solve many similar problems? Centuries have accustomed
the ear of a Hindu to be receptive only of certain combinations
of atmospheric vibrations; whereas the ear of a European is used
to perfectly different combinations. Hence the soul of the former
will be enraptured where the soul of the latter will be perfectly
indifferent. I hope my explanation has been simple and clear, and
I might have ended it here were it not that I am anxious to give
you something better than the feeling of satisfied curiosity. As
yet I have solved only the physiological aspect of the secret,
which is as easily admitted as the fact that we Hindus eat by the
handful spices which would give you inflammation of the intestines
if you happened to swallow a single grain. Our aural nerves, which,
at the beginning, were identical with yours, have been changed
through different training, and became as distinct from yours as
our complexion and our stomachs. Add to this that the eyes of
the Kashmir weavers, men and women, are able to distinguish three
hundred shades more than the eye of a European.... The force of
habit, the law of atavism, if you like. But things of this kind
practically solve the apparent difficulty. You have come all the
way from America to study the Hindus and their religion; but you
will never understand the latter if you do not realize how closely
all our sciences are related, not to the modern ignorant Brahmanism,
of course, but to the philosophy of our primitive Vedic religion."
"I see. You mean that your music has something to do with the Vedas?"
"Exactly. It has a good deal--almost everything--to do with the
Vedas. All the sounds of nature, and, in consequence, of music,
are directly allied to astronomy and mathematics; that is to say,
to the planets, the signs of the zodiac, the sun and moon, and to
rotation and numbers. Above all, they depend on the Akasha, the
ether of space, of the existence of which your scientists have
not made perfectly sure as yet. This was the teaching of the
ancient Chinese and Egyptians, as well as of ancient Aryans. The
doctrine of the 'music of the spheres' first saw the light here in
India, and not in Greece or Italy, whither it was brought by
Pythagoras after he had studied under the Indian Gymnosophists.
And most certainly this great philosopher--who revealed to the
world the heliocentric system before Copernicus and Galileo--knew
better than anyone else how dependent are the least sounds in
nature on Akasha and its interrelations. One of the four Vedas,
namely, the Sama-Veda, entirely consists of hymns. This is a
collection of mantrams sung during the sacrifices to the gods,
that is to say, to the elements. Our ancient priests were hardly
acquainted with the modern methods of chemistry and physics; but,
to make up for it, they knew a good deal which has not as yet been
thought of by modern scientists. So it is not to be wondered at
that, sometimes, our priests, so perfectly acquainted with natural
sciences as they were, forced the elementary gods, or rather the
blind forces of nature, to answer their prayers by various portents.
Every sound of these mantrams has its meaning, its importance,
and stands exactly where it ought to stand; and, having a raison
d'etre, it does not fail to produce its effect. Remember Professor
Leslie, who says that the science of sound is the most subtle,
the most unseizable and the most complicated of all the series
of physical sciences. And if ever this teaching was worked out
to perfection it was in the times of the Rishis, our philosophers
and saints, who left to us the Vedas."
"Now, I think I begin to understand the origin of all the mythological
fables of the Greek antiquity," thoughtfully said the colonel; "the
syrinx of Pan, his pipe of seven reeds, the fauns, the satyrs, and
the lyre of Orpheus himself. The ancient Greeks knew little about
harmony; and the rhythmical declamations of their dramas, which
probably never reached the pathos of the simplest of modern recitals,
could hardly suggest to them the idea of the magic lyre of Orpheus.
I feel strongly inclined to believe what was written by some of our
great philologists: Orpheus must be an emigrant from India; his
very name [greek script], or [greek script], shows that, even amongst
the tawny Greeks, he was remarkably dark. This was the opinion of
Lempriere and others."
"Some day this opinion may become a certainty. There is not the
slightest doubt that the purest and the highest of all the musical
forms of antiquity belongs to India. All our legends ascribe magic
powers to music; it is a gift and a science coming straight from
the gods. As a rule, we ascribe all our arts to divine revelation,
but music stands at the head of everything else. The invention of
the vina, a kind of lute, belongs to Narada, the son of Brahma.
You will probably laugh at me if I tell you that our ancient priests,
whose duty it was to sing during the sacrifices, were able to produce
phenomena that could not but be considered by the ignorant as signs
from supernatural powers; and this, remember, without a shadow of
trickery, but simply with the help of their perfect knowledge of
nature and certain combinations well known to them. The phenomena
produced by the priests and the Raj-Yogis are perfectly natural
for the initiate--however miraculous they may seem to the masses."
"But do you really mean that you have no faith what-ever in the
spirits of the dead?" timidly asked Miss X---, who was always ill
at ease in the presence of the Takur.
"With your permission, I have none."
"And... and have you no regard for mediums?"
"Still less than for the spirits, my dear lady. I do believe in
the existence of many psychic diseases, and, amongst their number,
in mediumism, for which we have got a queer sounding name from time
immemorial. We call it Bhuta-Dak, literally a bhuta-hostelry. I
sincerely pity the real mediums, and do whatever is in my power to
help them. As to the charlatans, I despise them, and never lose an
opportunity of unmasking them."
The witch's den near the "dead city" suddenly flashed into my mind;
the fat Brahman, who played the oracle in the head of the Sivatherium,
caught and rolling down the hole; the witch herself suddenly taking
to her heels. And with this recollection also occurred to me what
I had never thought of before: Narayan had acted under the orders
of the Takur--doing his best to expose the witch and her ally.
"The unknown power which possesses the mediums (which the spiritualists
believe to be spirits of the dead, while the superstitious see in it
the devil, and the sceptics deceit and infamous tricks), true men
of science suspect to be a natural force, which has not as yet been
discovered. It is, in reality, a terrible power. Those possessed
by it are generally weak people, often women and children. Your
beloved spiritualists, Miss X---, only help the growth of dreadful
psychic diseases, but people who know better seek to save them from
this force you know nothing whatever about, and it is no use
discussing this matter now. I shall only add one word: the real
living spirit of a human being is as free as Brahma; and even
more than this for us, for, according to our religion and our
philosophy, our spirit is Brahma himself, higher than whom there
is only the unknowable, the all-pervading, the omnipotent essence
of Parabrahm. The living spirit of man cannot be ordered about
like the spirits of the spiritualists, it cannot be made a slave of...
However, it is getting so late that we had better go to bed. Let
us say good-bye for tonight."
Gulab-Lal-Sing would not talk any more that night, but I have
gathered from our previous conversations many a point without
which the above conversation would remain obscure. The Vedantins
and the followers of Shankaracharya's philosophy, in talking of
themselves, often avoid using the pronoun I, and say, "this body
went," "this hand took," and so on, in everything concerning the
automatic actions of man. The personal pronouns are only used
concerning mental and moral processes, such as, "I thought," "he
desired." The body in their eyes is not the man, but only a
covering to the real man.
The real interior man possesses many bodies; each of them more
subtle and more pure than the preceding; and each of them bears
a different name and is independent of the material body. After
death, when the earthly vital principle disintegrates, together
with the material body, all these interior bodies join together,
and either advance on the way to Moksha, and are called Deva (divine),
though it still has to pass many stadia before the final liberation,
or is left on earth, to wander and to suffer in the invisible world,
and, in this case, is called bhuta. But a Deva has no tangible
intercourse with the living. Its only link with the earth is its
posthumous affection for those it loved in its lifetime, and the
power of protecting and influencing them. Love outlives every
earthly feeling, and a Deva can appear to the beloved ones only
in their dreams--unless it be as an illusion, which cannot last,
because the body of a Deva undergoes a series of gradual changes
from the moment it is freed from its earthly bonds; and, with
every change, it grows more intangible, losing every time something
of its objective nature. It is reborn; it lives and dies in new
Lokas or spheres, which gradually become purer and more subjective.
At last, having got rid of every shadow of earthly thoughts and
desires, it becomes nothing from a material point of view. It is
extinguished like a flame, and, having become one with Parabrahm,
it lives the life of spirit, of which neither our material conception
nor our language can give any idea. But the eternity of Parabrahm
is not the eternity of the soul. The latter, according to a Vedanta
expression, is an eternity in eternity. However holy, the life of
a soul had its beginning and its end, and, consequently, no sins
and no good actions can be punished or rewarded in the eternity of
Parabrahm. This would be contrary to justice, disproportionate,
to use an expression of Vedanta philosophy. Spirit alone lives in
eternity, and has neither beginning nor end, neither limits nor
central point. The Deva lives in Parabrahm, as a drop lives in
the ocean, till the next regeneration of the universe from Pralaya;
a periodical chaos, a disappearance of the worlds from the region
of objectivity. With every new Maha-yuga (great cycle) the Deva
separates from that which is eternal, attracted by existence in
objective worlds, like a drop of water first drawn up by the sun,
then starting again downwards, passing from one region to another,
and returning at last to the dirt of our planet. Then, having
dwelt there whilst a small cycle lasted, it proceeds again upwards
on the other side of the circle. So it gravitates in the eternity
of Parabrahm, passing from one minor eternity to another. Each
of these "human," that is to say conceivable, eternities consists
of 4,320,000,000 years of objective life and of as many years of
subjective life in Parabrahm, altogether 8,640,000,000 years,
which are enough, in the eyes of the Vedantins, to redeem any
mortal sin, and also to reap the fruit of any good actions
performed in such a short period as human life. The individuality
of the soul, teaches the Vedanta, is not lost when plunged in
Parabrahm, as is supposed by some of the European Orientalists.
Only the souls of bhutas--when the last spark of repentance and
of tendency to improvement are extin-guished in them--will evaporate
for ever. Then their divine spirit, the undying part of them,
separates from the soul and returns to its primitive source; the
soul is reduced to its primordial atoms, and the monad plunges into
the darkness of eternal unconsciousness. This is the only case of
total destruction of personality.
Such is the Vedanta teaching concerning the spiritual man. And
this is why no true Hindu believes in the disembodied souls
voluntarily returning to earth, except in the case of bhutas.
Leaving Malva and Indore, the quasi-independent country of Holkar,
we found ourselves once more on strictly British territory. We
were going to Jubblepore by railway.
This town is situated in the district of Saugor and Nerbudda;
once it belonged to the Mahrattis, but, in 1817, the English army
took possession of it. We stopped in the town only for a short
time, being anxious to see the celebrated Marble Rocks. As it
would have been a pity to lose a whole day, we hired a boat and
started at 2 A.M., which gave us the double advantage of avoiding
the heat, and enjoying a splendid bit of the river ten miles from
The neighborhood of Jubblepore is charming; and besides, both a
geologist and a mineralogist would find here the richest field for
scientific researches. The geological formation of the rocks offers
an infinite variety of granites; and the long chains of mountains
might keep a hundred of Cuviers busy for life. The limestone caves
of Jubblepore are a true ossuary of antediluvian India; they are
full of skeletons of mon-strous animals, now disappeared for ever.
At a considerable distance from the rest of the mountain ridges,
and perfectly separate, stand the Marble Rocks, a most wonderful
natural phenomenon, not very rare, though, in India. On the
flattish banks of the Nerbudda, overgrown with thick bushes, you
suddenly perceive a long row of strangely-shaped white cliffs.
They are there without any apparent reason, as if they were a wart
on the smooth cheek of mother nature. White and pure, they are
heaped up on each other as if after some plan, and look exactly
like a huge paperweight from the writing-table of a Titan. We
saw them when we were half-way from the town. They appeared and
disappeared with the sudden capricious turnings of the river;
trembling in the early morning mist like a distant, deceitful
mirage of the desert. Then we lost sight of them altogether.
But just before sunrise they stood out once more before our
charmed eyes, floating above their reflected image in the water.
As if called forth by the wand of a sorcerer, they stood there on
the green bank of the Nerbudda, mirroring their virgin beauty on
the calm surface of the lazy stream, and promising us a cool and
welcome shelter.... And as to the preciousness of every moment of
the cool hours before sunrise, it can be appreciated only by those
who have lived and traveled in this fiery land.
Alas! in spite of all our precautions, and our unusually early
start, our enjoyment of this cool retreat was very short-lived.
Our project was to have prosaic tea amid these poetic surroundings;
but as soon as we landed, the sun leaped above the horizon, and
began shooting his fiery arrows at the boat, and at our unfortunate
heads. Persecuting us from one place to another, he banished us,
at last, even from under a huge rock hanging over the water. There
was literally no place where we could seek salvation. The snow-white
marble beauties became golden red, pouring fire-sparks into the river,
heating the sand and blinding our eyes.
No wonder that legend supposes in them something between the abode
and the incarnation of Kali, the fiercest of all the goddesses of
the Hindu pantheon.
For many Yugas this goddess has been engaged in a desperate contest
with her lawful husband Shiva, who, in his shape of Trikutishvara,
a three-headed lingam, has dishonestly claimed the rocks and the
river for his own--the very rocks and the very river over which
Kali presides in person. And this is why people hear dreadful
moaning, coming from under the ground, every time that the hand
of an irresponsible coolie, working by Government orders in
Government quarries, breaks a stone from the white bosom of the
goddess. The unhappy stone-breaker hears the cry and trembles,
and his heart is torn between the expectations of a dreadful
punishment from the bloodthirsty goddess and the fear of his
implacably exacting inspector in case he disobeys his orders.
Kali is the owner of the Marble Rocks, but she is the patroness
of the ex-Thugs as well. Many a lonely traveler has shuddered on
hearing this name; many a bloodless sacrifice has been offered
on the marble altar of Kali. The country is full of horrible tales
about the achievements of the Thugs, accomplished in the honor of
this goddess. These tales are too recent and too fresh in the
popular memory to become as yet mere highly-colored legends.
They are mostly true, and many of them are proved by official
documents of the law courts and inquest commissions.
If England ever leaves India, the perfect suppression of Thugism
will be one of the good memories that will linger in the country
long after her departure. Under this name was practised in India
during two long centuries the craftiest and the worst kind of
homicide. Only after 1840 was it discovered that its aim was
simply robbery and brigandage. The falsely interpreted symbolical
meaning of Kali was nothing but a pretext, otherwise there would
not have been so many Mussulmans amongst her devotees. When they
were caught at last, and had to answer before justice, most of
these knights of the rumal--the handkerchief with which the operation
of strangling was performed--proved to be Mussulmans. The most
illustrious of their leaders were not Hindus, but followers of
the Prophet, the celebrated Ahmed, for instance. Out of thirty-seven
Thugs caught by the police there were twenty-two Mahometans. This
proves perfectly clearly that their religion, having nothing in
common with the Hindu gods, had nothing to do with their cruel
profession; the reason and cause was robbery.
It is true though that the final initiation rite was performed in
some deserted forest before an idol of Bhavani, or Kali, wearing a
necklace of human skulls. Before this final initiation the
candidates had to undergo a course of schooling, the most difficult
part of which was a certain trick of throwing the rumal on the neck
of the unsuspecting victim and strangling him, so that death might
be instantaneous. In the initiation the part of the goddess was
made manifest in the use of certain symbols, which are in common
use amongst the Freemasons--for instance, an unsheathed dagger,
a human skull, and the corpse of Hiram-Abiff, "son of the widow,"
brought back to life by the Grand Master of the lodge. Kali was
nothing but the pretext for an imposing scenarium. Freemasonry
and Thugism had many points of resemblance. The members of both
recognized each other by certain signs, both had a pass-word and
a jargon that no outsider could understand. The Freemason lodges
receive among their members both Christians and Atheists; the
Thugs used to receive the thieves and robbers of every nation
without any distinction; and it is reported that amongst them
there were some Portuguese and even Englishmen. The difference
between the two is that the Thugs certainly were a criminal
organization, whereas the Freemasons of our days do no harm,
except to their own pockets.
Poor Shiva, wretched Bhavani! What a mean interpretation popular
ignorance has invented for these two poetical types, so deeply
philosophical and so full of knowledge of the laws of nature.
Shiva, in his primi-tive meaning is "Happy God"; then the
all-destroying, as well as the all-regenerating force of nature.
The Hindu trinity is, amongst other things, an allegorical
representation of the three chief elements: fire, earth and water.
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva all represent these elements by turns,
in their different phases; but Shiva is much more the god of the
fire than either Brahma or Vishnu: he burns and purifies; at
the same time creating out of the ashes new forms, full of fresh
life. Shiva-Sankarin is the destroyer or rather the scatterer;
Shiva-Rakshaka is the preserver, the regenerator. He is represented
with flames on his left palm, and with the wand of death and
resurrection in his right hand. His worshippers wear on their
foreheads his sign traced with wet ashes, the ashes being called
vibhuti, or purified substance, and the sign consisting of three
horizontal parallel lines between the eyebrows. The color of Shiva's
skin is rosy-yellow, gradually changing into a flaming red. His neck,
head and arms are covered with snakes, emblems of eternity and
eternal regeneration. "As a serpent, abandoning his old slough,
reappears in new skin, so man after death reappears in a younger
and a purer body," say the Puranas.
In her turn, Shiva's wife Kali is the allegory of earth, fructified
by the flames of the sun. Her educated worshippers say they allow
themselves to believe their goddess is fond of human sacrifices,
only on the strength of the fact that earth is fond of organical
decomposition, which fertilizes her, and helps her to call forth
new forces from the ashes of the dead. The Shivaites, when burning
their dead, put an idol of Shiva at the head of the corpse; but
when beginning to scatter the ashes in the elements, they invoke
Bhavani, in order that the goddess may receive the purified remains,
and develop in them germs of new life. But what truth could bear
the coarse touch of superstitious ignorance without being disfigured!
The murdering Thugs laid their hands on this great philosophic
emblem, and, having understood that the goddess loves human sacrifice,
but hates useless blood-shed, they resolved to please her doubly:
to kill, but never to soil their hands by the blood of their victims.
The result of it was the knighthood of the rumal.
One day we visited a very aged ex-Thug. In his young days he was
transported to the Andaman Islands, but, owing to his sincere
repentance, and to some services he had rendered to the Government,
he was afterwards pardoned. Having returned to his native village,
he settled down to earn his living by weaving ropes, a profession
probably suggested to him by some sweet reminiscences of the
achievements of his youth. He initiated us first into the mysteries
of theoretic Thugism, and then extended his hospitality by a ready
offer to show us the practical side of it, if we agreed to pay for
a sheep. He said he would gladly show us how easy it was to send
a living being ad patres in less than three seconds; the whole
secret consisting in some skillful and swift movements of the
righthand finger joints.
We refused to buy the sheep for this old brigand, but we gave him
some money. To show his gratitude he offered to demonstrate all
the preliminary sensation of the rumal on any English or American
neck that was willing. Of course, he said he would omit the final
twist. But still none of us were willing; and the gratitude of
the repentant criminal found issue in great volubility.
The owl is sacred to Bhavani Kali, and as soon as a band of Thugs,
awaiting their victims, had been signalled by the conventional
hooting, each of the travelers, let them be twenty and more, had
a Thug behind his shoulders. One second more, and the rumal was
on the neck of the victim, the well-trained iron fingers of the
Thug tightly holding the ends of the sacred handkerchief; another
second, the joints of the fingers performed their artistic twist,
pressing the larynx, and the victim fell down lifeless. Not a
sound, not a shriek! The Thugs worked, as swiftly as lightning.
The strangled man was immediately carried to a grave prepared in
some thick forest, usually under the bed of some brook or rivulet
in their periodical state of drought. Every vestige of the victim
disappeared. Who cared to know about him, except his own family
and his very intimate friends? The inquests were especially
difficult, if not impossible, thirty years ago , when there
were no regular railway communications, and no regular Government
system. Besides, the country is full of tigers, whose sad fate
it is to be responsible for every one else's sins as well as for
their own. Whoever it was who happened to disappear, be it
Hindu or Mussulman, the answer was invariably the same: tigers!
The Thugs possessed a wonderfully good organization. Trained
accomplices used to tramp all over India, stopping at the bazaars,
those true clubs of Eastern nations, gathering information, scaring
their listeners to death with tales of the Thugs, and then advising
them to join this or that travelling party, who of course were
Thugs playing the part of rich merchants or pilgrims. Having
ensnared these wretches, they sent word to the Thugs, and got
paid for the commission in proportion to the total profit.
During many long years these invisible bands, scattered all over
the country, and working in parties of from ten to sixty men,
enjoyed perfect freedom, but at last they were caught. The
inquiries unveiled horrid and repulsive secrets: rich bankers,
officiating Brahmans, Rajas on the brink of poverty, and a few
English officials, all had to be brought before justice.
This deed of the East India Company truly deserves the popular
gratitude which it receives.
On our way back from the Marble Rocks we saw Muddun-Mahal, another
mysterious curio; it is a house built--no one knows by whom, or
with what purpose--on a huge boulder. This stone is probably some
kind of relative to the cromlechs of the Celtic Druids. It shakes
at the least touch, together with the house and the people who feel
curious to see inside it. Of course we had this curiosity, and
our noses remained safe only thanks to the Babu, Narayan and the
Takur, who took as great care of us as if they had been nurses,
and we their babies.
Natives of India are truly a wonderful people. However unsteady
the thing may be, they are sure to walk on it, and sit on it, with
the greatest comfort. They think nothing of sitting whole hours
on the top of a post--maybe a little thicker than an ordinary
telegraph post. They also feel perfectly safe with their toes
twisted round a thin branch and their bodies resting on nothing,
as if they were crows perched on a telegraph wire.
"Salam, sahib!" said I once to an ancient, naked Hindu of a low
caste, seated in the above described fashion. "Are you comfortable,
uncle? And are you not afraid of falling down?"
"Why should I fall?" seriously answered the "uncle," expectorating
a red fountain--an unavoidable result of betel-chewing. "I do not
"What do you mean? A man cannot do without breathing!" exclaimed I,
a good deal astonished by this wonderful bit of information.
"Oh yes, he can. I do not breathe just now, and so I am perfectly
safe. But soon I shall have to fill up my breast again with fresh
air, and then I will hold on to the post, otherwise I should fall."
After this astounding physiological information, we parted. He
would not talk any more, evidently fearing to endanger his comfort.
At that time, we did not receive any more explanations on the subject,
but this incident was enough to disturb the scientific equanimity
of our minds.
Till then, we were so naive as to fancy that only sturgeons and
similar aquatic acrobats were clever enough to learn how to fill
up their insides with air in order to become lighter, and to rise
to the surface of the water. What is possible to a sturgeon is
impossible to man, speculated we in our ignorance. So we agreed
to look upon the revelation of the above described "uncle" in the
light of a brag, having no other aim but to chaff the "white sahibs."
In those days, we were still inexperienced, and inclined to resent
this kind of information, as coming very near to mockery. But,
later on, we learned that his description of the process necessary
to keep up this birdlike posture was perfectly accurate. In Jubblepore
we saw much greater wonders. Strolling along the river bank, we
reached the so-called Fakirs' Avenue; and the Takur invited us to
visit the courtyard of the pagoda. This is a sacred place, and
neither Europeans nor Mussulmans are admitted inside. But Gulab-Sing
said something to the chief Brahman, and we entered without hindrance.
The yard was full of devotees, and of ascetics. But our attention
was especially attracted by three ancient, perfectly naked fakirs.
As wrinkled as baked mushrooms, as thin as skeletons, crowned with
twisted masses of white hair, they sat or rather stood in the most
impossible postures, as we thought. One of them, literally leaning
only on the palm of his right hand, was poised with his head downwards
and his legs upwards; his body was as motionless as if he were the
dry branch of a tree. Just a little above the ground his head rose
in the most unnatural position, and his eyes were fixed on the
glaring sun. I cannot guarantee the truthfulness of some talkative
inhabitants of the town, who had joined our party, and who assured
us that this fakir daily spends in this posture all the hours between
noon and the sunset. But I can guarantee that not a muscle of his
body moved during the hour and twenty minutes we spent amongst the
fakirs. Another fakir stood on a "sacred stone of Shiva," a small
stone about five inches in diameter. One of his legs was curled
up under him, and the whole of his body was bent backwards into
an arc; his eyes also were fixed on the sun. The palms of his
hands were pressed together as if in prayer. He seemed glued to
his stone. We were at a loss to imagine by what means this man
came to be master of such equilibration.
The third of these wonderful people sat crossing his legs under him;
but how he could sit was more than we could understand, because
the thing on which he sat was a stone lingam, not higher than an
ordinary street post and little wider than the "stone of Shiva,"
that is to say, hardly more than five or seven inches in diameter.
His arms were crossed behind his back, and his nails had grown
into the flesh of his shoulders.
"This one never changes his position," said one of our companions.
"At least, he has not changed for the last seven years."
His usual food, or rather drink, is milk, which is brought to him
once in every forty-eight hours and poured into his throat with
the aid of a bamboo. Every ascetic has willing servants, who are
also future fakirs, whose duty it is to attend on them; and so
the disciples of this living mummy take him off his pedestal, wash
him in the tank, and put him back like an inanimate object, because
he can no longer stretch his limbs.
"And what if I were to push one of these fakirs?" asked I. "I
daresay the least touch would upset them."
"Try!" laughingly advised the Takur. "In this state of religious
trance it is easier to break a man to pieces than to remove him
from his place."
To touch an ascetic in the state of trance is a sacrilege in the
eyes of the Hindus; but evidently the Takur was well aware that,
under certain circumstances, there may be exceptions to every
Brahmanical rule. He had another aside with the chief Brahman,
who followed us, darker than a thundercloud; the consultation
did not last long, and after it was over Gulab-Sing declared to
us that none of us was allowed to touch the fakirs, but that he
personally had obtained this permission, and so was going to show
us something still more astonishing.
He approached the fakir on the little stone, and, carefully holding
him by his protruding ribs, he lifted him and put him on the ground.
The ascetic remained as statuesque as before. Then Gulab-Sing took
the stone in his hands and showed it to us, asking us, however,
not to touch it for fear of offending the crowd. The stone was
round, flattish, with rather an uneven surface. When laid on the
ground it shook at the least touch.
"Now, you see that this pedestal is far from being steady. And
also you have seen that, under the weight of the fakir, it is as
immovable as if it were planted in the ground."
When the fakir was put back on the stone, he and it at once resumed
their appearance, as of one single body, solidly joined to the ground,
and not a line of the fakir's body had changed. By all appearance,
his bending body and his head thrown backward sought to bring him
down; but for this fakir there was evidently no such thing as the
law of gravity.
What I have described is a fact, but I do not take upon myself to
explain it. At the gates of the pagoda we found our shoes, which
we had been told to take off before going in. We put them on again,
and left this "holy of holies" of the secular mysteries, with our
minds still more perplexed than before. In the Fakirs' Avenue we
found Narayan, Mulji and the Babu, who were waiting for us. The
chief Brahman would not hear of their entering the pagoda. All
the three had long before released themselves from the iron claws
of caste; they openly ate and drank with us, and for this offence
they were regarded as excommunicated, and despised by their
compatriots much more than the Europeans themselves. Their
presence in the pagoda would have polluted it for ever, whereas
the pollution brought by us was only temporary; it would evaporate
in the smoke of cow-dung--the usual Brahmanical incense of
purification--like a drop of muddy water in the rays of the sun.
India is the country for originalities and everything unexpected
and unconventional. From the point of view of an ordinary European
observer every feature of Indian life is contrary to what could
be expected. Shaking the head from one shoulder to another means
no in every other country, but in India it means an emphatic yes.
If you ask a Hindu how his wife is, even if you are well acquainted
with her, or how many children he has, or whether he has any sisters,
he will feel offended in nine cases out of ten. So long as the
host does not point to the door, having previously sprinkled the
guest with rose-water, the latter would not think of leaving. He
would stay the whole day without tasting any food, and lose his
time, rather than offend his host by an unauthorized departure.
Everything contradicts our Western ideas. The Hindus are strange
and original, but their religion is still more original. It has
its dark points, of course. The rites of some sects are truly
repulsive; the officiating Brahmans are far from being without
reproach. But these are only superficialities. In spite of them
the Hindu religion possesses something so deeply and mysteriously
irresistible that it attracts and subdues even unimaginative Englishmen.
The following incident is a curious instance of this fascination:
N.C. Paul, G.B.M.C., wrote a small, but very interesting and very
scientific pamphlet. He was only a regimental surgeon in Benares,
but his name was well known amongst his compatriots as a very learned
specialist in physiology. The pamphlet was called A Treatise on the
Yoga Philosophy, and produced a sensation amongst the representatives
of medicine in India, and a lively polemic between the Anglo-Indian
and native journalists. Dr. Paul spent thirty-five years in studying
the extraordinary facts of Yogism, the existence of which was, for
him, beyond all doubt. He not only described them, but explained
some of the most extraordinary phenomena, for instance, levitation,
the seeming evidence to the contrary of some laws of nature,
notwithstanding. With perfect sincerity, and evident regret, Dr.
Paul says he could never learn anything from the Raj-Yogis. His
experience was almost wholly limited to the facts that fakirs and
Hatha-Yogis would consent to give him. It was his great friendship
with Captain Seymour chiefly which helped him to penetrate some
mysteries, which, till then, were supposed to be impenetrable.
The history of this English gentleman is truly incredible, and
produced, about twenty-five years ago, an unprecedented scandal
in the records of the British army in India. Captain Seymour, a
wealthy and well-educated officer, accepted the Brahmanical creed
and became a Yogi. Of course he was proclaimed mad, and, having
been caught, was sent back to England. Seymour escaped, and
returned to India in the dress of a Sannyasi. He was caught again,
and shut up in some lunatic asylum in London. Three days after,
in spite of the bolts and the watchmen, he disappeared from the
establishment. Later on his acquaintances saw him in Benares, and
the governor-general received a letter from him from the Himalayas.
In this letter he declared that he never was mad, in spite of his
being put into a hospital; he advised the governor-general not
to interfere with what was strictly his own private concern, and
announced his firm resolve never to return to civilized society.
"I am a Yogi," wrote he, "and I hope to obtain before I die what
is the aim of my life--to become a Raj-Yogi." After this letter
he was left alone, and no European ever saw him except Dr. Paul,
who, as it is reported, was in constant correspondence with him,
and even went twice to see him in the Himalayas under the pretext
of botanic excursions.
I was told that the pamphlet of Dr. Paul was ordered to be burned
"as being offensive to the science of physiology and pathology."
At the time I visited India copies of it were very great rarities.
Out of a few copies still extant, one is to be found in the library
of the Maharaja of Benares, and another was given to me by the Takur.
This evening we dined at the refreshment rooms of the railway station.
Our arrival caused an evident sensation. Our party occupied the
whole end of a table, at which were dining many first-class passengers,
who all stared at us with undisguised astonishment. Europeans on an
equal footing with Hindus! Hindus who condescended to dine with
Europeans! These two were rare and wonderful sights indeed. The
subdued whispers grew into loud exclamations. Two officers who
happened to know the Takur took him aside, and, having shaken hands
with him, began a very animated conversation, as if discussing some
matter of business; but, as we learned afterwards, they simply
wanted to gratify their curiosity about us.
Here we learned, for the first time, that we were under police
supervision, the police being represented by an individual clad
in a suit of white clothes, and possessing a very fresh complexion,
and a pair of long moustaches. He was an agent of the secret police,
and had followed us from Bombay. On learning this flattering piece
of news, the colonel burst into a loud laugh; which only made us
still more suspicious in the eyes of all these Anglo-Indians,
enjoying a quiet and dignified meal. As to me, I was very
disagreeably impressed by this bit of news, I must confess, and
wished this unpleasant dinner was over.
The train for Allahabad was to leave at eight P.M., and we were
to spend the night in the railway carriage. We had ten reserved
seats in a first-class carriage, and had made sure that no strange
passengers would enter it, but, nevertheless, there were many
reasons which made me think I could not sleep this night. So I
obtained a provision of candles for my reading lamp, and making
myself comfortable on my couch, began reading the pamphlet of Dr.
Paul, which interested me greatly.
Amongst many other interesting things, Dr. Paul explains very
fully and learnedly the mystery of the periodical suspension of
breathing, and some other seemingly impossible phenomena, practised
by the Yogis.
Here is his theory in brief. The Yogis have discovered the reason
of the wondrous capacity of the chameleon to assume the appearance
of plumpness or of leanness. This animal looks enormous when his
lungs are filled with air, but in his normal condition he is quite
insignificant. Many other reptiles as well acquire the possibility
of swimming across large rivers quite easily by the same process.
And the air that remains in their lungs, after the blood has been
fully oxygenated, makes them extraordinarily lively on dry land
and in the water. The capacity of storing up an extraordinary
provision of air is a characteristic feature of all the animals
that are subjected to hibernation.
The Hindu Yogis studied this capacity, and perfected and developed
it in themselves.
The means by which they acquire it--known under the name of Bhastrika
Kumbhala--consist of the following: The Yogi isolates himself in
an underground cave, where the atmosphere is more uniform and more
damp than on the surface of the earth: this causes the appetite
to grow less. Man's appetite is proportionate to the quantity of
carbonic acid he exhales in a certain period of time. The Yogis
never use salt, and live entirely on milk, which they take only
during the night. They move very slowly in order not to breathe
too often. Movement increases the exhaled carbonic acid, and so
the Yoga practice prescribes avoidance of movement. The quantity
of exhaled carbonic acid is also increased by loud and lively talking:
so the Yogis are taught to talk slowly and in subdued tones, and
are even advised to take the vows of silence. Physical labor is
propitious to the increase of carbonic acid, and mental to its
decrease; accordingly the Yogi spends his life in contemplation
and deep meditation. Padmasana and Siddhasana are the two methods
by which a person is taught to breathe as little as possible.
Suka-Devi, a well-known miracle-monger of the second century B.C. says:
"Place the left foot upon the right thigh, and the right foot upon
the left thigh; straighten the neck and back; make the palms of
the hands rest upon the knees; shut the mouth; and expire forcibly
through both nostrils. Next, inspire and expire quickly until you
are fatigued. Then inspire through the right nostril, fill the
abdomen with the inspired air, suspend the breath, and fix the
sight on the tip of the nose. Then expire through the left nostril,
and next, inspiring through the left nostril, suspend the breath... "
and so on.
"When a Yogi, by practice, is enabled to maintain himself in one
of the above-mentioned postures for the period of three hours, and
to live upon a quantity of food proportional to the reduced condition
of circulation and respiration, without inconvenience, he proceeds
to the practice of Pranayama," writes Dr. Paul. "It is the fourth
stage or division of Yoga."
The Pranayama consists of three parts. The first excites the
secretion of sweat, the second is attended by convulsive movements of
the features, the third gives to the Yogi a feeling of extraordinary
lightness in his body.
After this, the Yogi practises Pratyahara, a kind of voluntary
trance, which is recognizable by the full suspension of all the
senses. After this stage the Yogis study the process of Dharana;
this not only stops the activity of physical senses, but also
causes the mental capacities to be plunged into a deep torpor.
This stage brings abundant suffering; it requires a good deal of
firmness and resolution on the part of a Yogi, but it leads him
to Dhayana, a state of perfect, indescribable bliss. According
to their own description, in this state they swim in the ocean
of eternal light, in Akasha, or Ananta Jyoti, which they call
the "Soul of the Universe." Reaching the stage of Dhyana, the
Yogi becomes a seer. The Dhyana of the Yogis is the same thing
as Turiya Avastha of the Vedantins, in the number of whom are
"Samadhi is the last stage of self-trance," says Dr. Paul. "In
this state the Yogis, like the bat, the hedge-hog, the marmot,
the hamster and the dormouse, acquire the power of supporting the
abstraction of atmospheric air, and the privation of food and drink.
Of Samadhi or human hibernation there have been three cases within
the last twenty-five years. The first case occurred in Calcutta,
the second in Jesselmere, and the third in the Punjab. I was an
eyewitness of the first case. The Jesselmere, the Punjab, and
the Calcutta Yogis assumed a death-like condition by swallowing
the tongue. How the Punjabi fakir (witnessed by Dr. McGregor),
by suspending his breath, lived forty days without food and drink,
is a question which has puzzled a great many learned men of Europe....
It is on the principle of Laghima and Garima (a diminution of one's
specific gravity by swallowing large draughts of air) that the
Brahman of Madras maintained himself in an aerial posture... "
However, all these are physical phenomena produced by Hatha-Yogis.
Each of them ought to be investigated by physical science, but
they are much less interesting than the phenomena of the region
of psychology. But Dr. Paul has next to nothing to say on this
subject. During the thirty-five years of his Indian career, he
met only three Raj-Yogis; but in spite of the friendliness they
showed to the English doctor, none of them consented to initiate
him into the mysteries of nature, a knowledge of which is ascribed
to them. One of them simply denied that he had any power at all;
the other did not deny, and even showed Dr. Paul some very wonderful
things, but refused to give any explanations whatever; the third
said he would explain a few things on the condition that Dr. Paul
must pledge himself never to repeat anything he learned from him.
In acquiring this kind of information, Dr. Paul had only one aim--
to give these secrets publicity, and to enlighten the public
ignorance, and so he declined the honor.
However, the gifts of the true Raj-Yogis are much more interesting,
and a great deal more important for the world, than the phenomena
of the lay Hatha-Yogis. These gifts are purely psychic: to the
knowledge of the Hatha-Yogis the Raj-Yogis add the whole scale of
mental phenomena. Sacred books ascribe to them the following gifts:
foreseeing future events; understanding of all languages; the
healing of all diseases; the art of reading other people's thoughts;
witnessing at will everything that happens thousands of miles from
them; understanding the language of animals and birds; Prakamya,
or the power of keeping up youthful appearance during incredible
periods of time; the power of abandoning their own bodies and
entering other people's frames; Vashitva, or the gift to kill,
and to tame wild animals with their eyes; and, lastly, the mesmeric
power to subjugate any one, and to force any one to obey the
unexpressed orders of the Raj-Yogi.
Dr. Paul has witnessed the few phenomena of Hatha-Yoga already
described; there are many others about which he has heard, and
which he neither believes nor disbelieves. But he guarantees that
a Yogi can suspend his breath for forty-three minutes and twelve
Nevertheless, European scientific authorities maintain that no one
can suspend the breath for more than two minutes. O science! Is
it possible then that thy name is also vanitas vanitatum, like
the other things of this world?
We are forced to suppose that, in Europe, nothing is known about
the means which enabled the philosophers of India, from times
immemorial, gradually to transform their human frames.
Here are a few deep words of Professor Boutleroff, a Russian
scientist whom I, in common with all Russians, greatly respect:
"....All this belongs to knowledge; the increase of the mass of
knowledge will only enrich and not abolish science. This must be
accomplished on the strength of serious observation, of study, of
experience, and under the guidance of positive scientific methods,
by which people are taught to acknowledge every other phenomenon
of nature. We do not call you blindly to accept hypotheses, after
the example of bygone years, but to seek after knowledge; we do
not invite you to give up science, but to enlarge her regions... "
This was said about spiritualist phenomena. As to the rest of our
learned physiologists, this is, approximately, what they have the
right to say: "We know well certain phenomena of nature which we
have personally studied and investigated, under certain conditions,
which we call normal or abnormal, and we guarantee the accuracy of
However, it would be very well if they added:
"But having no pretensions to assure the world that we are acquainted
with all the forces of nature, known and unknown, we do not claim
the right to hold back other people from bold investigations in
regions which we have not reached as yet, owing to our great
cautiousness and also to our moral timidity. Not being able to
maintain that the human organism is utterly incapable of developing
certain transcendental powers, which are rare, and observable only
under certain conditions, unknown to science, we by no means wish
to keep other explorers within the limits of our own scientific
By pronouncing this noble, and, at the same time, modest speech,
our physiologists would doubtless gain the undying gratitude
After this speech there would be no fear of mockery, no danger of
losing one's reputation for veracity and sound reason; and the
learned colleagues of these broad-minded physiologists would
investigate every phenomenon of nature seriously and openly. The
phenomena of spiritualism would then transmigrate from the region
of materialized "mothers-in-law" and half-witted fortune-telling
to the regions of the psycho-physiological sciences. The celebrated
"spirits" would probably evaporate, but in their stead the living
spirit, which "belongeth not to this world," would become better
known and better realized by humanity, because humanity will
comprehend the harmony of the whole only after learning how closely
the visible world is bound to the world invisible.
After this speech, Haeckel at the head of the evolutionists, and
Alfred Russel Wallace at the head of the spiritualists, would be
relieved from many anxieties, and would shake hands in brotherhood.
Seriously speaking, what is there to prevent humanity from
acknowledging two active forces within itself; one purely animal,
the other purely divine?
It does not behove even the greatest amongst scientists to try
to "bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades," even if they have
chosen "Arcturus with his sons" for their guides. Did it never
occur to them to apply to their own intellectual pride the questions
the "voice out of the whirlwind" once asked of long-suffering Job:
"where were they when were laid the foundations of the earth? and
have the gates of death been opened unto them?" If so, only then
have they the right to maintain that here and not there is the
abode of eternal light.
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