H P Blavatsky
From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan
H P Blavatsky
Translated From Russian
"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
FROM THE CAVES AND JUNGLES OF HINDOSTAN
By H P 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
t 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
India, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, and from
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.