Part 1 out of 5
[[Transcribed by M.R.J.]]
FROM THE CAVES AND JUNGLES OF HINDOSTAN
Translated From The Russian Of
HELENA PETROVNA BLAVATSKY
"You must remember," said Mme. Blavatsky, "that I never
meant this for a scientific work. My letters to the Russian
Messenger, under the general title: 'From the Caves and Jungles
of Hindostan,' were written in leisure moments, more for amusement
than with any serious design.
"Broadly speaking, the facts and incidents are true; but
I have freely availed myself of an author's privilege to group,
colour, and dramatize them, whenever this seemed necessary to the
full artistic effect; though, as I say, much of the book is exactly
true, l would rather claim kindly judgment for it, as a romance
of travel, than incur the critical risks that haunt an avowedly
To this caution of the author's, the translator must add
another; these letters, as Mme Blavatsky says, were written in
leisure moments, during 1879 and 1880, for the pages of the Russki
Vyestnik, then edited by M. Katkoff. Mme. Blavatsky's manuscript
was often incorrect; often obscure. The Russian compositors,
though they did their best to render faithfully the Indian names
and places, often produced, through their ignorance of Oriental
tongues, forms which are strange, and sometimes unrecognizable.
The proof-sheets were never corrected by the author, who was then
in India; and, in consequence, it has been impossible to restore
all the local and personal names to their proper form.
A similar difficulty has arisen with reference to quotations
and cited authorities, all of which have gone through a double
process of refraction: first into Russian, then into English.
The translator, also a Russian, and far from perfectly acquainted
with English, cannot claim to possess the erudition necessary to
verify and restore the many quotations to verbal accuracy; all
that is hoped is that, by a careful rendering, the correct sense
has been preserved.
The translator begs the indulgence of English readers for
all imperfections of style and language; in the words of the
Sanskrit proverb: "Who is to be blamed, if success be not reached
after due effort?"
The translator's best thanks are due to Mr. John C. Staples,
for valuable help in the early chapters.
--London, July, 1892
On the Way to Karli
In the Karli Caves
A City of the Dead
A Witch's Den
The Banns of Marriage
The Caves of Bagh
An Isle of Mystery
FROM THE CAVES AND JUNGLES OF HINDOSTAN
By Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
Late in the evening of the sixteenth of February, 1879,
after a rough voyage which lasted thirty-two days, joyful exclamations
were heard everywhere on deck. "Have you seen the lighthouse?"
"There it is at last, the Bombay lighthouse."
Cards, books, music, everything was forgotten. Everyone
rushed on deck. The moon had not risen as yet, and, in spite of
the starry tropical sky, it was quite dark. The stars were so
bright that, at first, it seemed hardly possible to distinguish,
far away amongst them, a small fiery point lit by earthly hands.
The stars winked at us like so many huge eyes in the black sky,
on one side of which shone the Southern Cross. At last we
distinguished the lighthouse on the distant horizon. It was
nothing but a tiny fiery point diving in the phosphorescent waves.
The tired travellers greeted it warmly. The rejoicing was general.
What a glorious daybreak followed this dark night! The sea no
longer tossed our ship. Under the skilled guidance of the pilot,
who had just arrived, and whose bronze form was so sharply defined
against the pale sky, our steamer, breathing heavily with its
broken machinery, slipped over the quiet, transparent waters of
the Indian Ocean straight to the harbour. We were only four miles
from Bombay, and, to us, who had trembled with cold only a few
weeks ago in the Bay of Biscay, which has been so glorified by
many poets and so heartily cursed by all sailors, our surroundings
simply seemed a magical dream.
After the tropical nights of the Red Sea and the scorching hot
days that had tortured us since Aden, we, people of the distant
North, now experienced something strange and unwonted, as if the
very fresh soft air had cast its spell over us. There was not a
cloud in the sky, thickly strewn with dying stars. Even the moonlight,
which till then had covered the sky with its silvery garb, was
gradually vanishing; and the brighter grew the rosiness of dawn
over the small island that lay before us in the East, the paler
in the West grew the scattered rays of the moon that sprinkled with
bright flakes of light the dark wake our ship left behind her, as
if the glory of the West was bidding good-bye to us, while the
light of the East welcomed the newcomers from far-off lands.
Brighter and bluer grew the sky, swiftly absorbing the remaining
pale stars one after the other, and we felt something touching
in the sweet dignity with which the Queen of Night resigned her
rights to the powerful usurper. At last, descending lower and
lower, she disappeared completely.
And suddenly, almost without interval between darkness and light,
the red-hot globe, emerging on the opposite side from under the
cape, leant his golden chin on the lower rocks of the island and
seemed to stop for a while, as if examining us. Then, with one
powerful effort, the torch of day rose high over the sea and
gloriously proceeded on its path, including in one mighty fiery
embrace the blue waters of the bay, the shore and the islands with
their rocks and cocoanut forests. His golden rays fell upon a
crowd of Parsees, his rightful worshippers, who stood on shore
raising their arms towards the mighty "Eye of Ormuzd." The sight
was so impressive that everyone on deck became silent for a moment,
even a red-nosed old sailor, who was busy quite close to us over
the cable, stopped working, and, clearing his throat, nodded at the sun.
Moving slowly and cautiously along the charming but
treacherous bay, we had plenty of time to admire the picture
around us. On the right was a group of islands with Gharipuri or
Elephanta, with its ancient temple, at their head. Gharipuri
translated means "the town of caves" according to the Orientalists,
and "the town of purification" according to the native Sanskrit
scholars. This temple, cut out by an unknown hand in the very
heart of a rock resembling porphyry, is a true apple of discord
amongst the archaeologists, of whom none can as yet fix, even
approximately, its antiquity. Elephanta raises high its rocky brow,
all overgrown with secular cactus, and right under it, at the foot
of the rock, are hollowed out the chief temple and the two lateral
ones. Like the serpent of our Russian fairy tales, it seems to be
opening its fierce black mouth to swallow the daring mortal who
comes to take possession of the secret mystery of Titan. Its two
remaining teeth, dark with time, are formed by two huge pillars
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
of India, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, and from Calcutta
to Bombay. He preaches the One Deity and, "Vedas in hand," proves
that in the ancient writings there was not a word that could justify
polytheism. Thundering against idol worship, the great orator
fights with all his might against caste, infant marriages, and
superstitions. Chastising all the evils grafted on India by
centuries of casuistry and false interpretation of the Vedas,
he blames for them the Brahmans, who, as he openly says before
masses of people, are alone guilty of the humiliation of their
country, once great and independent, now fallen and enslaved.
And yet Great Britain has in him not an enemy, but rather an ally.
He says openly--"If you expel the English, then, no later than
tomorrow, you and I and everyone who rises against idol worship
will have our throats cut like mere sheep. The Mussulmans are
stronger than the idol worshippers; but these last are stronger
than we." The Pandit held many a warm dispute with the Brah-mans,
those treacherous enemies of the people, and has almost always
been victorious. In Benares secret assassins were hired to slay
him, but the attempt did not succeed. In a small town of Bengal,
where he treated fetishism with more than his usual severity,
some fanatic threw on his naked feet a huge cobra. There are two
snakes deified by the Brahman mythology: the one which surrounds
the neck of Shiva on his idols is called Vasuki; the other, Ananta,
forms the couch of Vishnu. So the worshipper of Shiva, feeling
sure that his cobra, trained purposely for the mysteries of a
Shivaite pagoda, would at once make an end of the offender's life,
triumphantly exclaimed, "Let the god Vasuki himself show which of
us is right!"
Dayanand jerked off the cobra twirling round his leg, and with a
single vigorous movement, crushed the reptile's head. "Let him
do so," he quietly assented. "Your god has been too slow. It
is I who have decided the dispute, Now go," added he, addressing
the crowd, "and tell everyone how easily perish the false gods."
Thanks to his excellent knowledge of Sanskrit the Pandit does a
great service, not only to the masses, clearing their ignorance
about the monotheism of the Vedas, but to science too, showing who,
exactly, are the Brahmans, the only caste in India which, during
centuries, had the right to study Sanskrit literature and comment
on the Vedas, and which used this right solely for its own advantage.
Long before the time of such Orientalists as Burnouf, Colebrooke
and Max Muller, there have been in India many reformers who tried
to prove the pure monotheism of the Vedic doctrines. There have
even been founders of new religions who denied the revelations
of these scriptures; for instance, the Raja Ram Mohun Roy, and,
after him, Babu Keshub Chunder Sen, both Calcutta Bengalees. But
neither of them had much success. They did nothing but add new
denominations to the numberless sects existing in India. Ram Mohun
Roy died in England, having done next to nothing, and Keshub Chunder
Sen, having founded the community of "Brahmo-Samaj," which professes
a religion extracted from the depths of the Babu's own imagination,
became a mystic of the most pronounced type, and now is only "a
berry from the same field," as we say in Russia, as the Spiritualists,
by whom he is considered to be a medium and a Calcutta Swedenborg.
He spends his time in a dirty tank, singing praises to Chaitanya,
Koran, Buddha, and his own person, proclaiming himself their prophet,
and performs a mystical dance, dressed in woman's attire, which,
on his part, is an attention to a "woman goddess" whom the Babu
calls his "mother, father and eldest brother."
In short, all the attempts to re-establish the pure primitive
monotheism of Aryan India have been a failure. They always got
wrecked upon the double rock of Brahmanism and of prejudices
centuries old. But lo! here appears unexpectedly the pandit
Dayanand. None, even of the most beloved of his disciples, knows
who he is and whence he comes. He openly confesses before the
crowds that the name under which he is known is not his, but was
given to him at the Yogi initiation.
The mystical school of Yogis was established by Patanjali, the
founder of one of the six philosophical systems of ancient India.
It is supposed that the Neo-platonists of the second and third
Alexandrian Schools were the followers of Indian Yogis, more
especially was their theurgy brought from India by Pythagoras,
according to the tradition. There still exist in India hundreds
of Yogis who follow the system of Patanjali, and assert that they
are in communion with Brahma. Nevertheless, most of them are
do-nothings, mendicants by profession, and great frauds, thanks
to the insatiable longing of the natives for miracles. The real
Yogis avoid appearing in public, and spend their lives in secluded
retirement and studies, except when, as in Dayanand's case, they
come forth in time of need to aid their country. However, it is
perfectly certain that India never saw a more learned Sanskrit
scholar, a deeper metaphysician, a more wonderful orator, and a
more fearless denunciator of every evil, than Dayanand, since the
time of Sankharacharya, the celebrated founder of the Vedanta
philosophy, the most metaphysical of Indian systems, in fact,
the crown of pantheistic teaching. Then, Dayanand's personal
appearance is striking. He is immensely tall, his complexion is
pale, rather European than Indian, his eyes are large and bright,
and his greyish hair is long. The Yogis and Dikshatas (initiated)
never cut either their hair or beard. His voice is clear and loud,
well calculated to give expression to every shade of deep feeling,
ranging from a sweet childish caressing whisper to thundering
wrath against the evil doings and falsehoods of the priests. All
this taken together produces an indescribable effect on the
impressionable Hindu. Wherever Dayanand appears crowds prostrate
themselves in the dust over his footprints; but, unlike Babu
Keshub Chunder Sen, he does not teach a new religion, does not
invent new dogmas. He only asks them to renew their half-forgotten
Sanskrit studies, and, having compared the doctrines of their
forefathers with what they have become in the hands of Brahmans,
to return to the pure conceptions of Deity taught by the primitive
Rishis--Agni, Vayu, Aditya, and Anghira--the patriarchs who first
gave the Vedas to humanity. He does not even claim that the Vedas
are a heavenly revelation, but simply teaches that "every word in
these scriptures belongs to the highest inspiration possible to
the earthly man, an inspiration that is repeated in the history
of humanity, and, when necessary, may happen to any nation....."
During his five years of work Swami Dayanand made about two million
proselytes, chiefly amongst the higher castes. Judging by appearances,
they are all ready to sacrifice to him their lives and souls and
even their earthly possessions, which are often more precious to
them than their lives. But Dayanand is a real Yogi, he never touches
money, and despises pecuniary affairs. He contents himself with a
few handfuls of rice per day. One is inclined to think that this
wonderful Hindu bears a charmed life, so careless is he of rousing
the worst human passions, which are so dangerous in India. A
marble statue could not be less moved by the raging wrath of the
crowd. We saw him once at work. He sent away all his faithful
followers and forbade them either to watch over him or to defend
him, and stood alone before the infuriated crowd, facing calmly
the monster ready to spring upon him and tear him to pieces.
Here a short explanation is necessary. A few years ago a society
of well-informed, energetic people was formed in New York. A
certain sharp-witted savant surnamed them "La Societe des Malcontents
du Spiritisme." The founders of this club were people who, believing
in the phenomena of spiritualism as much as in the possibility of
every other phenomenon in Nature, still denied the theory of the
"spirits." They considered that the modern psychology was a
science still in the first stages of its development, in total
ignorance of the nature of the psychic man, and denying, as do
many other sciences, all that cannot be explained according to
its own particular theories.
From the first days of its existence some of the most learned
Americans joined the Society, which became known as the Theosophical
Society. Its members differed on many points, much as do the
members of any other Society, Geographical or Archeological, which
fights for years over the sources of the Nile, or the Hieroglyphs
of Egypt. But everyone is unanimously agreed that, as long as
there is water in the Nile, its sources must exist somewhere. So
much about the phenomena of spiritualism and mesmerism. These
phenomena were still waiting their Champollion--but the Rosetta
stone was to be searched for neither in Europe nor in America,
but in the far-away countries where they still believe in magic,
where wonders are performed daily by the native priesthood, and
where the cold materialism of science has never yet reached--in
one word, in the East.
The Council of the Society knew that the Lama-Buddhists, for instance,
though not believing in God, and denying the personal immortality
of the soul, are yet celebrated for their "phenomena," and that
mesmerism was known and daily practised in China from time immemorial
under the name of "gina." In India they fear and hate the very
name of the spirits whom the Spiritualists venerate so deeply, yet
many an ignorant fakir can perform "miracles" calculated to turn
upside-down all the notions of a scientist and to be the despair
of the most celebrated of European prestidigitateurs. Many members
of the Society have visited India--many were born there and have
themselves witnessed the "sorceries" of the Brahmans. The founders
of the Club, well aware of the depth of modern ignorance in regard
to the spiritual man, were most anxious that Cuvier's method of
comparative anatomy should acquire rights of citizenship among
metaphysicians, and, so, progress from regions physical to regions
psychological on its own inductive and deductive foundation.
"Otherwise," they thought, "psychology will be unable to move
forward a single step, and may even obstruct every other branch
of Natural History." Instances have not been wanting of physiology
poaching on the preserves of purely metaphysical and abstract knowledge,
all the time feigning to ignore the latter absolutely, and seeking
to class psychology with the positive sciences, having first bound
it to a Bed of Procrustes, where it refuses to yield its secret
to its clumsy tormentors.
In a short time the Theosophical Society counted its members, not
by hundreds, but by thousands. All the "malcontents" of American
Spiritualism--and there were at that time twelve million Spiritualists
in America--joined the Society. Collateral branches were formed
in London, Corfu, Australia, Spain, Cuba, California, etc.
Everywhere experiments were being performed, and the conviction
that it is not spirits alone who are the causes of the phenomena
was becoming general.
In course of time branches of the Society were in India and in
Ceylon. The Buddhist and Brahmanical members became more numerous
than the Europeans. A league was formed, and to the name of the
Society was added the subtitle, "The Brotherhood of Humanity."
After an active correspondence between the Arya-Samaj, founded by
Swami Dayanand, and the Theosophical Society, an amalgamation was
arranged between the two bodies. Then the Chief Council of the
New York branch decided upon sending a special delegation to India,
for the purpose of studying, on the spot, the ancient language of
the Vedas and the manuscripts and the wonders of Yogism. On the
17th of December, 1878, the delegation, composed of two secretaries
and two members of the council of the Theosophical Society, started
from New York, to pause for a while in London, and then to proceed
to Bombay, where it landed in February, 1879.
It may easily be conceived that, under these circumstances, the
members of the delegation were better able to study the country
and to make fruitful researches than might, otherwise, have been
the case. Today they are looked upon as brothers and aided by
the most influential natives of India. They count among the
members of their society pandits of Benares and Calcutta, and
Buddhist priests of the Ceylon Viharas--amongst others the learned
Sumangala, mentioned by Minayeff in the description of his visit
to Adam's Peak--and Lamas of Thibet, Burmah, Travancore and elsewhere.
The members of the delegation are admitted to sanctuaries where,
as yet, no European has set his foot. Consequently they may hope
to render many services to Humanity and Science, in spite of the
illwill which the representatives of positive science bear to them.
As soon as the delegation landed, a telegram was despatched to
Dayanand, as everyone was anxious to make his personal acquaintance.
In reply, he said that he was obliged to go immediately to Hardwar,
where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were expected to assemble,
but he insisted on our remaining behind, since cholera was certain
to break out among the devotees. He appointed a certain spot,
at the foot of the Himalayas, in the jab, where we were to meet
in a month's time.
Alas! all this was written some time ago. Since then Swami
Dayanand's countenance has changed completely toward us. He is,
now, an enemy of the Theosophical Society and its two founders--
Colonel Olcott and the author of these letters. It appeared that,
on entering into an offensive and defensive alliance with the
Society, Dayanand nourished the hope that all its members, Christians,
Brahmans and Buddhists, would acknowledge His supremacy, and become
members of the Arya Samaj.
Needless to say, this was impossible. The Theosophical Society
rests on the principle of complete non-interference with the
religious beliefs of its members. Toleration is its basis and
its aims are purely philosophical. This did not suit Dayanand.
He wanted all the members, either to become his disciples, or to
be expelled from the Society. It was quite clear that neither
the President, nor the Council could assent to such a claim.
Englishmen and Americans, whether they were Christians or Freethinkers,
Buddhists, and especially Brahmans, revolted against Dayanand, and
unanimously demanded that the league should be broken.
However, all this happened later. At the time of which I speak
we were friends and allies of the Swami, and we learned with deep
interest that the Hardwar "mela," which he was to visit, takes
place every twelve years, and is a kind of religious fair, which
attracts representatives from all the numerous sects of India.
Learned dissertations are read by the disputants in defence of
their peculiar doctrines, and the debates are held in public.
This year the Hardwar gathering was exceptionally numerous. The
Sannyasis--the mendicant monks of India--alone numbered 35,000 and
the cholera, foreseen by the Swami, actually broke out.
As we were not yet to start for the appointed meeting, we had
plenty of spare time before us; so we proceeded to examine Bombay.
The Tower of Silence, on the heights of the Malabar Hill, is the
last abode of all the sons of Zoroaster. It is, in fact, a Parsee
cemetery. Here their dead, rich and poor, men, women and children,
are all laid in a row, and in a few minutes nothing remains of
them but bare skeletons. A dismal impression is made upon a
foreigner by these towers, where absolute silence has reigned for
centuries. This kind of building is very common in every place
were Parsees live and die. In Bombay, of six towers, the largest
was built 250 years ago, and the least but a short time since.
With few exceptions, they are round or square in shape, from twenty
to forty feet high, without roof, window, or door, but with a
single iron gate opening towards the East, and so small that it
is quite covered by a few bushes. The first corpse brought to a
new tower--"dakhma"--must be the body of the innocent child of a
mobed or priest. No one, not even the chief watcher, is allowed
to approach within a distance of thirty paces of these towers.
Of all living human beings "nassesalars"--corpse-carriers--
alone enter and leave the "Tower of Silence." The life these
men lead is simply wretched. No European executioner's position
is worse. They live quite apart from the rest of the world, in
whose eyes they are the most abject of beings. Being forbidden
to enter the markets, they must get their food as they can. They
are born, marry, and die, perfect strangers to all except their
own class, passing through the streets only to fetch the dead and
carry them to the tower. Even to be near one of them is a degradation.
Entering the tower with a corpse, covered, whatever may have been
its rank or position, with old white rags, they undress it and place
it, in silence, on one of the three rows presently to be described.
Then, still preserving the same silence, they come out, shut the
gate, and burn the rags.
Amongst the fire-worshippers, Death is divested of all his majesty
and is a mere object of disgust. As soon as the last hour of a
sick person seems to approach, everyone leaves the chamber of death,
as much to avoid impeding the departure of the soul from the body,
as to shun the risk of polluting the living by contact with the dead.
The mobed alone stays with the dying man for a while, and having
whispered into his ear the Zend-Avesta precepts, "ashem-vohu"
and "Yato-Ahuvarie," leaves the room while the patient is still
alive. Then a dog is brought and made to look straight into his
face. This ceremony is called "sas-did," the "dog's-stare." A
dog is the only living creature that the "Drux-nassu"--the evil
one--fears, and that is able to prevent him from taking possession
of the body. It must be strictly observed that no one's shadow
lies between the dying man and the dog, otherwise the whole strength
of the dog's gaze will be lost, and the demon will profit by the
occasion. The body remains on the spot where life left it, until
the nassesalars appear, their arms hidden to the shoulders under
old bags, to take it away. Having deposited it in an iron coffin--
the same for everyone--they carry it to the dakhma. If any one,
who has once been carried thither, should happen to regain
consciousness, the nassesalars are bound to kill him; for such
a person, who has been polluted by one touch of the dead bodies
in the dakhma, has thereby lost all right to return to the living,
by doing so he would contaminate the whole community. As some
such cases have occurred, the Parsees are trying to get a new law
passed, that would allow the miserable ex-corpses to live again
amongst their friends, and that would compel the nassesalars to
leave the only gate of the dakhma unlocked, so that they might
find a way of retreat open to them. It is very curious, but it
is said that the vultures, which devour without hesitation the
corpses, will never touch those who are only apparently dead, but
fly away uttering loud shrieks. After a last prayer at the gate
of the dakhma, pronounced from afar by the mobed, and re-peated
in chorus by the nassesalars, the dog ceremony is repeated. In
Bombay there is a dog, trained for this purpose, at the entrance
to the tower. Finally, the body is taken inside and placed on one
or other of the rows, according to its sex and age.
We have twice been present at the ceremonies of dying, and once
of burial, if I may be permitted to use such an incongruous term.
In this respect the Parsees are much more tolerant than the Hindus,
who are offended by the mere presence at their religious rites of
an European. N. Bayranji, a chief official of the tower, invited
us to his house to be present at the burial of some rich woman.
So we witnessed all that was going on at a distance of about forty
paces, sitting quietly on our obliging host's verandah. While
the dog was staring into the dead woman's face, we were gazing,
as intently, but with much more disgust, at the huge flock of
vultures above the dakhma, that kept entering the tower, and flying
out again with pieces of human flesh in their beaks. These birds,
that build their nests in thousands round the Tower of Silence,
have been purposely imported from Persia. Indian vultures proved
to be too weak, and not sufficiently bloodthirsty, to perform the
process of stripping the bones with the despatch prescribed by
Zoroaster. We were told that the entire operation of denuding the
bones occupies no more than a few minutes. As soon as the ceremony
was over, we were led into another building, where a model of the
dakhma was to be seen. We could now very easily imagine what was
to take place presently inside the tower. In the centre there
is a deep waterless well, covered with a grating like the opening
into a drain. Around it are three broad circles, gradually sloping
downwards. In each of them are coffin-like receptacles for the
bodies. There are three hundred and sixty-five such places. The
first and smallest row is destined for children, the second for
women, and the third for men. This threefold circle is symbolical
of three cardinal Zoroastrian virtues--pure thoughts, kind words,
and good actions. Thanks to the vultures, the bones are laid bare
in less than an hour, and, in two or three weeks, the tropical sun
scorches them into such a state of fragility, that the slightest
breath of wind is enough to reduce them to powder and to carry
them down into the pit. No smell is left behind, no source of
plagues and epidemics. I do not know that this way may not be
preferable to cremation, which leaves in the air about the Ghat
a faint but disagreeable odour. The Ghat is a place by the sea,
or river shore, where Hindus burn their dead. Instead of feeding
the old Slavonic deity "Mother Wet Earth" with carrion, Parsees
give to Armasti pure dust. Armasti means, literally, "fostering
cow," and Zoroaster teaches that the cultivation of land is the
noblest of all occupations in the eyes of God. Accordingly, the
worship of Earth is so sacred among the Parsees, that they take
all possible precautions against polluting the "fostering cow"
that gives them "a hundred golden grains for every single grain."
In the season of the Monsoon, when, during four months, the rain
pours incessantly down and washes into the well everything that
is left by the vultures, the water absorbed by the earth is filtered,
for the bottom of the well, the walls of which are built of granite,
is, to this end, covered with sand and charcoal.
The sight of the Pinjarapala is less lugubrious and much more amusing.
The Pinjarapala is the Bombay Hospital for decrepit animals, but a
similar institution exists in every town where Jainas dwell. Being
one of the most ancient, this is also one of the most interesting,
of the sects of India. It is much older than Buddhism, which took
its rise about 543 to 477 B.C. Jainas boast that Buddhism is
nothing more than a mere heresy of Jainism, Gautama, the founder
of Buddhism, having been a disciple and follower of one of the
Jaina Gurus. The customs, rites, and philosophical conceptions
of Jainas place them midway between the Brahmanists and the Buddhists.
In view of their social arrangements, they more closely resemble
the former, but in their religion they incline towards the latter.
Their caste divisions, their total abstinence from flesh, and their
non-worship of the relics of the saints, are as strictly observed
as the similar tenets of the Brahmans, but, like Buddhists, they
deny the Hindu gods and the authority of the Vedas, and adore their
own twenty-four Tirthankaras, or Jinas, who belong to the Host of
the Blissful. Their priests, like the Buddhists', never marry,
they live in isolated viharas and choose their successors from
amongst the members of any social class. According to them, Prakrit
is the only sacred language, and is used in their sacred literature,
as well as in Ceylon. Jainas and Buddhists have the same traditional
chronology. They do not eat after sunset, and carefully dust any
place before sitting down upon it, that they may not crush even
the tiniest of insects. Both systems, or rather both schools of
philosophy, teach the theory of eternal indestructible atoms,
following the ancient atomistic school of Kanada. They assert
that the universe never had a beginning and never will have an end.
"The world and everything in it is but an illusion, a Maya," say
the Vedantists, the Buddhists, and the Jainas; but, whereas the
followers of Sankaracharya preach Parabrahm (a deity devoid of will,
understanding, and action, because "It is absolute understanding,
mind and will"), and Ishwara emanating from It, the Jainas and
the Buddhists believe in no Creator of the Universe, but teach
only the existence of Swabhawati, a plastic, infinite, self-created
principle in Nature. Still they firmly believe, as do all
Indian sects, in the transmigration of souls. Their fear, lest,
by killing an animal or an insect, they may, perchance, destroy
the life of an ancestor, develops their love and care for every
living creature to an almost incredible extent. Not only is there
a hospital for invalid animals in every town and village, but their
priests always wear a muslin muzzle, (I trust they will pardon the
disrespectful expression!) in order to avoid destroying even the
smallest animalcule, by inadvertence in the act of breathing. The
same fear impels them to drink only filtered water. There are a
few millions of Jainas in Gujerat, Bombay, Konkan, and some other places.
The Bombay Pinjarapala occupies a whole quarter of the town, and
is separated into yards, meadows and gardens, with ponds, cages
for beasts of prey, and enclosures for tame animals. This institution
would have served very well for a model of Noah's Ark. In the first
yard, however, we saw no animals, but, instead, a few hundred human
skeletons--old men, women and children. They were the remaining
natives of the, so-called, famine districts, who had crowded into
Bombay to beg their bread. Thus, while, a few yards off, the official
"Vets." were busily bandaging the broken legs of jackals, pouring
ointments on the backs of mangy dogs, and fitting crutches to lame
storks, human beings were dying, at their very elbows, of starvation.
Happily for the famine-stricken, there were at that time fewer
hungry animals than usual, and so they were fed on what remained
from the meals of the brute pensioners. No doubt many of these
wretched sufferers would have consented to transmigrate instantly
into the bodies of any of the animals who were ending so snugly
their earthly careers.
But even the Pinjarajala roses are not without thorns. The
graminivorous "subjects," of course, could mot wish for anything
better; but I doubt very much whether the beasts of prey, such
as tigers, hyenas, and wolves, are content with the rules and the
forcibly prescribed diet. Jainas themselves turn with disgust
even from eggs and fish, and, in consequence, all the animals of
which they have the care must turn vegetarians. We were present
when an old tiger, wounded by an English bullet, was fed. Having
sniffed at a kind of rice soup which was offered to him, he lashed
his tail, snarled, showing his yellow teeth, and with a weak roar
turned away from the food. What a look he cast askance upon his
keeper, who was meekly trying to persuade him to taste his nice
dinner! Only the strong bars of the cage saved the Jaina from a
vigorous protest on the part of this veteran of the forest. A
hyena, with a bleeding head and an ear half torn off, began by
sitting in the trough filled with this Spartan sauce, and then,
without any further ceremony, upset it, as if to show its utter
contempt for the mess. The wolves and the dogs raised such
disconsolate howls that they attracted the attention of two
inseparable friends, an old elephant with a wooden leg and a sore-
eyed ox, the veritable Castor and Pollux of this institu-tion.
In accordance with his noble nature, the first thought of the
elephant concerned his friend. He wound his trunk round the neck
of the ox, in token of protection, and both moaned dismally.
Parrots, storks, pigeons, flamingoes--the whole feathered tribe--
revelled in their breakfast. Monkeys were the first to answer
the keeper's invitation and greatly enjoyed themselves. Further
on we were shown a holy man, who was feeding insects with his own
blood. He lay with his eyes shut, and the scorching rays of the
sun striking full upon his naked body. He was literally covered
with flies, mosquitoes, ants and bugs.
"All these are our brothers," mildly observed the keeper, pointing
to the hundreds of animals and insects. "How can you Europeans
kill and even devour them?"
"What would you do," I asked, "if this snake were about to bite you?
Is it possible you would not kill it, if you had time?"
"Not for all the world. I should cautiously catch it, and then
I should carry it to some deserted place outside the town, and
there set it free."
"Nevertheless; suppose it bit you?"
"Then I should recite a mantram, and, if that produced no good
result, I should be fair to consider it as the finger of Fate, and
quietly leave this body for another."
These were the words of a man who was educated to a certain extent,
and very well read. When we pointed out that no gift of Nature
is aimless, and that the human teeth are all devouring, he answered
by quoting whole chapters of Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection
and Origin of Species. "It is not true," argued he, "that the
first men were born with canine teeth. It was only in course of
time, with the degradation of humanity,--only when the appetite
for flesh food began to develop--that the jaws changed their first
shape under the influence of new necessities."
I could not help asking myself, "Ou la science va-t'elle se fourrer?"
The same evening, in Elphinstone's Theatre, there was given a
special performance in honour of "the American Mission," as we
are styled here. Native actors represented in Gujerati the ancient
fairy drama Sita-Rama, that has been adapted from the Ramayana,
the celebrated epic by Vilmiki. This drama is composed of
fourteen acts and no end of tableaux, in addition to transformation
scenes. All the female parts, as usual, were acted by young boys,
and the actors, accord-ing to the historical and national customs,
were bare-footed and half-naked. Still, the richness of the costumes,
the stage adornments and transformations, were truly wonderful.
For instance, even on the stages of large metropolitan theatres,
it would have been difficult to give a better representation of
the army of Rama's allies, who are nothing more than troops of
monkeys under the leadership of Hanuman--the soldier, statesman,
dramatist, poet, god, who is so celebrated in history (that of
India s.v.p.). The oldest and best of all Sanskrit dramas, Hanuman-
Natak, is ascribed to this talented forefather of ours.
Alas! gone is the glorious time when, proud of our white skin
(which after all may be nothing more than the result of a fading,
under the influences of our northern sky), we looked down upon
Hindus and other "niggers" with a feeling of contempt well suited
to our own magnificence. No doubt Sir William Jones's soft heart
ached, when translating from the Sanskrit such humiliating sentences
as the following: "Hanuman is said to be the forefather of the
Europeans." Rama, being a hero and a demi-god, was well entitled
to unite all the bachelors of his useful monkey army to the
daughters of the Lanka (Ceylon) giants, the Rakshasas, and to
present these Dravidian beauties with the dowry of all Western
lands. After the most pompous marriage ceremonies, the monkey
soldiers made a bridge, with the help of their own tails, and
safely landed with their spouses in Europe, where they lived very
happily and had a numerous progeny. This progeny are we, Europeans.
Dravidian words found in some European languages, in Basque for
instance, greatly rejoice the hearts of the Brahmans, who would
gladly promote the philologists to the rank of demi-gods for this
important discovery, which confirms so gloriously their ancient
legend. But it was Darwin who crowned the edifice of proof with
the authority of Western education and Western scientific literature.
The Indians became still more convinced that we are the veritable
descendants of Hanuman, and that, if one only took the trouble
to examine carefully, our tails might easily be discovered. Our
narrow breeches and long skirts only add to the evidence, however
uncomplimentary the idea may be to us.
Still, if you consider seriously, what are we to say when Science,
in the person of Darwin, concedes this hypothesis to the wisdom
of ancient Aryas. We must perforce submit. And, really, it is
better to have for a forefather Hanu-man, the poet, the hero, the
god, than any other monkey, even though it be a tailless one.
Sita-Rama belongs to the category of mythological dramas, something
like the tragedies of Aeschylus. Listening to this production
of the remotest antiquity, the spectators are carried back to the
times when the gods, descending upon earth, took an active part
in the everyday life of mortals. Nothing reminds one of a modern
drama, though the exterior arrangement is the same. "From the
sublime to the ridiculous there is but a step," and vice versa.
The goat, chosen for a sacrifice to Bacchus, presented the world
tragedy (greek script here). The death bleatings and buttings of
the quadrupedal offering of antiquity have been polished by the
hands of time and of civilization, and, as a result of this process,
we get the dying whisper of Rachel in the part of Adrienne Lecouvreur,
and the fearfully realistic "kicking" of the modern Croisette in
the poisoning scene of The Sphinx. But, whereas the descendants
of Themistocles gladly receive, whether captive or free, all the
changes and improvements considered as such by modern taste,
thinking them to be a corrected and enlarged edition of the genius
of Aeschylus; Hindus, happily for archaeologists and lovers of
antiquity, have never moved a step since the times of our much
honoured forefather Hanuman.
We awaited the performance of Sita-Rama with the liveliest curiosity.
Except ourselves and the building of the theatre, everything was
strictly indigenous and nothing reminded us of the West. There
was not the trace of an orchestra. Music was only to be heard
from the stage, or from behind it. At last the curtain rose. The
silence, which had been very remarkable before the performance,
considering the huge crowd of spectators of both sexes, now became
absolute. Rama is one of the incarnations of Vishnu and, as most
of the audience were worshippers of Vishnu, for them the spectacle
was not a mere theatrical performance, but a religious mystery,
representing the life and achievements of their favourite and most
The prologue was laid in the epoch before creation began (it may
safely be said that no dramatist would dare to choose an earlier one)
--or, rather, before the last manifestation of the universe. All
the philosophical sects of India, except Mussulmans, agree that
the universe has always existed. But the Hindus divide the
periodical appearances and vanishings into days and nights of Brahma.
The nights, or withdrawals of the objective universe, are called
Pralayas, and the days, or epochs of new awakening into life and
light, are called Manvantaras, Yugas, or "centuries of the gods."
These periods are also called, respectively, the inbreathings and
outbreathings of Brahma. When Pralaya comes to an end Brahma
awakens, and, with this awakening, the universe that rested in
deity, in other words, that was reabsorbed in its subjective essence,
emanates from the divine principle and becomes visible. The gods,
who died at the same time as the universe, begin slowly to return
to life. The "Invisible" alone, the "Infinite," the "Lifeless,"
the One who is the unconditioned original "Life" itself, soars,
surrounded by shoreless chaos. Its holy presence is not visible.
It shows itself only in the periodical pulsation of chaos,
represented by a dark mass of waters filling the stage. These
waters are not, as yet, separated from the dry land, because Brahma,
the creative spirit of Narayana, has not yet separated from the
"Ever Unchanging." Then comes a heavy shock of the whole mass and
the waters begin to acquire transparency. Rays, proceeding from
a golden egg at the bottom, spread through the chaotic waters.
Receiving life from the spirit of Narayana, the egg bursts and the
awakened Brahma rises to the surface of the water in the shape of
a huge lotus. Light clouds appear, at first transparent and web-like.
They gradually become condensed, and transform themselves into
Prajapatis, the ten personified creative powers of Brahma, the god
of everything living, and sing a hymn of praise to the creator.
Something naively poetical, to our unaccustomed ears, breathed
in this uniform melody unaccompanied by any orchestra.
The hour of general revival has struck. Pralaya comes to an end.
Everything rejoices, returning to life. The sky is separated from
the waters and on it appear the Asuras and Gandharvas, the heavenly
singers and musicians. Then Indra, Yama, Varuna, and Kuvera, the
spirits presiding over the four cardinal points, or the four elements,
water, fire, earth, and air, pour forth atoms, whence springs the
serpent "Ananta." The monster swims to the surface of the waves
and, bending its swanlike neck, forms a couch on which Vishnu reclines
with the Goddess of Beauty, his wife Lakshmi, at his feet. "Swatha!
Swatha! Swatha!" cries the choir of heavenly musicians, hailing
the deity. In the Russian church service this is pronounced Swiat!
Swiat! Swiat! and means holy! holy! holy!
In one of his future avatars Vishnu will incarnate in Rama, the
son of a great king, and Lakshmi will become Sita. The motive of
the whole poem of Ramayana is sung in a few words by the celestial
musicians. Kama, the God of Love, shelters the divine couple and,
that very moment, a flame is lit in their hearts and the whole world
Later there are performed the fourteen acts of the drama, which
is well known to everybody, and in which several hundred personages
take part. At the end of the prologue the whole assembly of gods
come forward, one after another, and acquaint the audience with
the contents and the epilogue of their performance, asking the
public not to be too exacting. It is as though all these familiar
deities, made of painted granite and marble, left the temples and
came down to remind mortals of events long past and forgotten.
The hall was full of natives. We four alone were representatives
of Europe. Like a huge flower bed, the women displayed the bright
colors of their garments. Here and there, among handsome, bronze-
like heads, were the pretty, dull white faces of Parsee women,
whose beauty reminded me of the Georgians. The front rows were
occupied by women only. In India it is quite easy to learn a person's
religion, sect, and caste, and even whether a woman is married or
single, from the marks painted in bright colors on everyone's forehead.
Since the time when Alexander the Great destroyed the sacred books
of the Gebars, they have constantly been oppressed by the idol
worshippers. King Ardeshir-Babechan restored fire worship in the
years 229-243 A.C. Since then they have again been persecuted
during the reign of one of the Shakpurs, either II., IX., or XI.,
of the Sassanids, but which of them is not known. It is, however,
reported that one of them was a great protector of the Zartushta
doctrines. After the fall of Yesdejird, the fire-worshippers
emigrated to the island of Ormasd, and, some time later, having
found a book of Zoroastrian prophecies, in obedience to one of
them they set out for Hindustan. After many wanderings,
they appeared, about 1,000 or 1,200 years ago, in the territory
of Maharana-Jayadeva, a vassal of the Rajput King Champanir, who
allowed them to colonize his land, but only on condition that
they laid down their weapons, that they abandoned the Persian
language for Hindi, and that their women put off their national
dress and clothed themselves after the manner of Hindu women. He,
however, allowed them to wear shoes, since this is strictly prescribed
by Zoroaster. Since then very few changes have been made. It
follows that the Parsee women could only be distinguished from
their Hindu sisters by very slight differences. The almost white
faces of the former were separated by a strip of smooth black hair
from a sort of white cap, and the whole was covered with a bright
veil. The latter wore no covering on their rich, shining hair,
twisted into a kind of Greek chignon. Their foreheads were brightly
painted, and their nostrils adorned with golden rings. Both are
fond of bright, but uniform, colors, both cover their arms up to
the elbow with bangles, and both wear saris.
Behind the women a whole sea of most wonderful turbans was waving
in the pit. There were long-haired Rajputs with regular Grecian
features and long beards parted in the middle, their heads covered
with "pagris" consisting of, at least, twenty yards of finest white
muslin, and their persons adorned with earrings and necklaces;
there were Mahrata Brahmans, who shave their heads, leaving only
one long central lock, and wear turbans of blinding red, decorated
in front with a sort of golden horn of plenty; Bangas, wearing
three-cornered helmets with a kind of cockscomb on the top; Kachhis,
with Roman helmets; Bhillis, from the borders of Rajastan, whose
chins are wrapped three times in the ends of their pyramidal turbans,
so that the innocent tourist never fails to think that they constantly
suffer from toothache; Bengalis and Calcutta Babus, bare-headed
all the year round, their hair cut after an Athenian fashion, and
their bodies clothed in the proud folds of a white toga-virilis,
in no way different from those once worn by Roman senators; Parsees,
in their black, oilcloth mitres; Sikhs, the followers of Nanaka,
strictly monotheist and mystic, whose turbans are very like the
Bhillis', but who wear long hair down to their waists; and hundreds
of other tribes.
Proposing to count how many different headgears are to be seen in
Bombay alone, we had to abandon the task as impracticable after a
fortnight. Every caste, every trade, guild, and sect, every one
of the thousand sub-divisions of the social hierarchy, has its own
bright turban, often sparkling with gold lace and precious stones,
which is laid aside only in case of mourning. But, as if to
compensate for this luxury, even the mem-bers of the municipality,
rich merchants, and Rai-Bahadurs, who have been created baronets
by the Government, never wear any stockings, and leave their legs
bare up to the knees. As for their dress, it chiefly consists of
a kind of shapeless white shirt.
In Baroda some Gaikwars (a title of all the Baroda princes) still
keep in their stables elephants and the less common giraffes,
though the former are strictly forbidden in the streets of Bombay.
We had an opportunity of seeing ministers, and even Rajas, mounted
on these noble animals, their mouths full of pansupari (betel leaves),
their heads drooping under the weight of the precious stones on
their turbans, and each of their fingers and toes adorned with rich
golden rings. While the evening I am describing lasted, however,
we saw no elephants, no giraffes, though we enjoyed the company of
Rajas and ministers. We had in our box the hand-some ambassador
and late tutor of the Mahararana of Oodeypore. Our companion was
a Raja and a pandit. His name was a Mohunlal-Vishnulal-Pandia.
He wore a small pink turban sparkling with diamonds, a pair of
pink barege trousers, and a white gauze coat. His raven black
hair half covered his amber-colored neck, which was surrounded by
a necklace that might have driven any Parisian belle frantic with
envy. The poor Raiput was awfully sleepy, but he stuck heroically
to his duties, and, thoughtfully pulling his beard, led us all
through the endless labyrinth of metaphysical entanglements of
the Ramayana. During the entr'actes we were offered coffee,
sherbets, and cigarettes, which we smoked even during the performance,
sitting in front of the stage in the first row. We were covered,
like idols, with garlands of flowers, and the manager, a stout
Hindu clad in transparent muslins, sprinkled us several times
The performance began at eight p.m. and, at half-past two, had only
reached the ninth act. In spite of each of us having a punkah-wallah
at our backs, the heat was unbearable. We had reached the limits
of our endurance, and tried to excuse ourselves. This led to general
disturbance, on the stage as well as in the auditorium. The airy
chariot, on which the wicked king Ravana was carrying Sita away,
paused in the air. The king of the Nagas (serpents) ceased breathing
flames, the monkey soldiers hung motionless on the trees, and Rama
himself, clad in light blue and crowned with a diminutive pagoda,
came to the front of the stage and pronounced in pure English speech,
in which he thanked us for the honour of our presence. Then new
bouquets, pansu-paris, and rose-water, and, finally, we reached home
about four a.m. Next morning we learned that the performance had
ended at half-past six.
On The Way To Karli
It is an early morning near the end of March. A light breeze
caresses with its velvety hand the sleepy faces of the pilgrims;
and the intoxicating perfume of tuberoses mingles with the pungent
odors of the bazaar. Crowds of barefooted Brahman women, stately
and well-formed, direct their steps, like the biblical Rachel, to
the well, with brass water pots bright as gold upon their heads.
On our way lie numerous sacred tanks, filled with stagnant water,
in which Hindus of both sexes perform their prescribed morning
ablutions. Under the hedge of a garden somebody's tame mongoose
is devouring the head of a cobra. The headless body of the
snake convulsively, but harmlessly, beats against the thin flanks
of the little animal, which regards these vain efforts with an
evident delight. Side by side with this group of animals
is a human figure; a naked mali (gardener), offering betel and
salt to a monstrous stone idol of Shiva, with the view of pacifying
the wrath of the "Destroyer," excited by the death of the cobra,
which is one of his favourite servants. A few steps before reaching
the railway station, we meet a modest Catholic procession, consisting
of a few newly converted pariahs and some of the native Portuguese.
Under a baldachin is a litter, on which swings to and fro a dusky
Madonna dressed after the fashion of the native goddesses, with
a ring in her nose. In her arms she carries the holy Babe,
clad in yellow pyjamas and a red Brah-manical turban. "Hari, hari,
devaki!" ("Glory to the holy Virgin!") exclaim the converts,
unconscious of any difference between the Devaki, mother of Krishna,
and the Catholic Madonna. All they know is that, excluded from
the temples by the Brahmans on account of their not belonging to
any of the Hindu castes, they are admitted sometimes into the
Christian pagodas, thanks to the "padris," a name adopted from
the Portuguese padre, and applied indiscriminately to the missionaries
of every European sect.
At last, our gharis--native two-wheeled vehicles drawn by a pair
of strong bullocks--arrived at the station. English employes open
wide their eyes at the sight of white-faced people travelling about
the town in gilded Hindu chariots. But we are true Americans, and
we have come hither to study, not Europe, but India and her products
on the spot.
If the tourist casts a glance on the shore opposite to the port
of Bombay, he will see a dark blue mass rising like a wall between
himself and the horizon. This is Parbul, a flat-topped mountain
2,250 feet high. Its right slope leans on two sharp rocks covered
with woods. The highest of them, Mataran, is the object of our trip.
From Bombay to Narel, a station situated at the foot of this mountain,
we are to travel four hours by railway, though, as the crow flies,
the distance is not more than twelve miles. The railroad wanders
round the foot of the most charming little hills, skirts hundreds
of pretty lakes, and pierces with more than twenty tunnels the
very heart of the rocky ghats.
We were accompanied by three Hindu friends. Two of them once
belonged to a high caste, but were excommunicated from their
pagoda for association and friendship with us, unworthy foreigners.
At the station our party was joined by two more natives, with whom
we had been in correspondence for many a year. All were members
of our Society, reformers of the Young India school, enemies of
Brahmans, castes, aid prejudices, and were to be our fellow-travelers
and visit with us the annual fair at the temple festivities of Karli,
stopping on the way at Mataran and Khanduli. One was a Brahman
from Poona, the second a moodeliar (landowner) from Madras, the
third a Singalese from Kegalla, the fourth a Bengali Zemindar, and
the fifth a gigantic Rajput, whom we had known for a long time by
the name of Gulab-Lal-Sing, and had called simply Gulab-Sing. I
shall dwell upon his personality more than on any of the others,
because the most wonderful and diverse stories were in circulation
about this strange man. It was asserted that he belonged to the
sect of Raj-Yogis, and was an initiate of the mysteries of magic,
alchemy, and various other occult sciences of India. He was rich
and independent, and rumour did not dare to suspect him of deception,
the more so because, though quite full of these sciences, he never
uttered a word about them in public, and carefully concealed his
knowledge from all except a few friends.
He was an independent Takur from Rajistan, a province the name
of which means the land of kings. Takurs are, almost without
exception, descended from the Surya (sun), and are accordingly
called Suryavansa. They are prouder than any other nation in the
world. They have a proverb, "The dirt of the earth cannot stick
to the rays of the sun." They do not despise any sect, except
the Brahmans, and honor only the bards who sing their military
achievements. Of the latter Colonel Tod writes somewhat as follows,*
"The magnificence and luxury of the Rajput courts in the early periods
of history were truly wonderful, even when due allowance is made for
the poetical license of the bards. From the earliest times Northern
India was a wealthy country, and it was precisely here that was
situated the richest satrapy of Darius. At all events, this country
abounded in those most striking events which furnish history with
her richest materials. In Rajistan every small kingdom had its
Thermopylae, and every little town has produced its Leonidas.
But the veil of the centuries hides from posterity events that
the pen of the historian might have bequeathed to the everlasting
admiration of the nations. Somnath might have appeared as a
rival of Delphi, the treasures of Hind might outweigh the riches
of the King of Lydia, while compared with the army of the brothers
Pandu, that of Xerxes would seem an inconsiderable handful of men,
worthy only to rank in the second place."
* In nearly every instance the passages quoted from various
authorities have been retranslated from the Russian. As the
time and labor needful for verification would he too great, the
sense only of these passages is given here. They do not pretend
to be textual.--Translator
England did not disarm the Rajputs, as she did the rest of the
Indian nations, so Gulab-Sing came accompanied by vassals and
Possessing an inexhaustible knowledge of legends, and being
evidently well acquainted with the antiquities of his country,
Gulab-Sing proved to be the most interesting of our companions.
"There, against the blue sky," said Gulab-Lal-Sing, "you behold
the majestic Bhao Mallin. That deserted spot was once the abode
of a holy hermit; now it is visited yearly by crowds of pilgrims.
According to popular belief the most wonderful things happen there--
miracles. At the top of the mountain, two thousand feet above
the level of the sea, is the platform of a fortress. Behind it
rises another rock two hundred and seventy feet in height, and
at the very summit of this peak are to be found the ruins of a
still more ancient fortress, which for seventy-five years served
as a shelter for this hermit. Whence he obtained his food will
for ever remain a mystery. Some think he ate the roots of
wild plants, but upon this barren rock there is no vegetation.
The only mode of ascent of this perpendicular mountain consists
of a rope, and holes, just big enough to receive the toes of a man,
cut out of the living rock. One would think such a pathway
accessible only to acrobats and monkeys. Surely fanaticism must
provide wings for the Hindus, for no accident has ever happened
to any of them. Unfortunately, about forty years ago, a party of
Englishmen conceived the unhappy thought of exploring the ruins,
but a strong gust of wind arose and carried them over the precipice.
After this, General Dickinson gave orders for the destruction of
all means of communication with the upper fortress, and the lower
one, once the cause of so many losses and so much bloodshed, is
now entirely deserted, and serves only as a shelter for eagles
Listening to these tales of olden times, I could not help comparing
the past with the present. What a difference!
"Kali-Yug!" cry old Hindus with grim despair. "Who can strive
against the Age of Darkness?"
This fatalism, the certainty that nothing good can be expected now,
the conviction that even the powerful god Shiva himself can neither
appear nor help them are all deeply rooted in the minds of the old
generation. As for the younger men, they receive their education
in high schools and universities, learn by heart Herbert Spencer,
John Stuart Mill, Darwin and the German philosophers, and entirely
lose all respect, not only for their own religion, but for every
other in the world.
The young "educated" Hindus are materialists almost without exception,
and often achieve the last limits of Atheism. They seldom hope to
attain to anything better than a situation as "chief mate of the
junior clerk," as we say in Russia, and either become sycophants,
disgusting flatterers of their present lords, or, which is still
worse, or at any rate sillier, begin to edit a newspaper full of
cheap liberalism, which gradually develops into a revolutionary organ.
But all this is only en passant. Compared with the mysterious
and grandiose past of India, the ancient Aryavarta, her present
is a natural Indian ink background, the black shadow of a bright
picture, the inevitable evil in the cycle of every nation. India
has become decrepit and has fallen down, like a huge memorial of
antiquity, prostrate and broken to pieces. But the most
insignificant of these fragments will for ever remain a treasure
for the archeologist and the artist, and, in the course of time,
may even afford a clue to the philosopher and the psychologist.
"Ancient Hindus built like giants and finished their work like
goldsmiths," says Archbishop Heber, describing his travel in India.
In his description of the Taj-Mahal of Agra, that veritable eighth
wonder of the world, he calls it "a poem in marble." He might
have added that it is difficult to find in India a ruin, in the
least state of preservation, that cannot speak, more eloquently
than whole volumes, of the past of India, her religious aspirations,
her beliefs and hopes.
There is not a country of antiquity, not even excluding the Egypt
of the Pharaohs, where the development of the subjective ideal
into its demonstration by an objective symbol has been expressed
more graphically, more skillfully, and artistically, than in India.
The whole pantheism of the Vedanta is contained in the symbol of
the bisexual deity Ardhanari. It is surrounded by the double
triangle, known in India under the name of the sign of Vishnu.
By his side lie a lion, a bull, and an eagle. In his hands there
rests a full moon, which is reflected in the waters at his feet.
The Vedanta has taught for thousands of years what some of the
German philosophers began to preach at the end of last century and
the beginning of this one, namely, that everything objective in
the world, as well as the world itself, is no more than an illusion,
a Maya, a phantom created by our imagination, and as unreal
as the reflection of the moon upon the surface of the waters. The
phenomenal world, as well as the subjectivity of our conception
concerning our Egos, are nothing but, as it were, a mirage. The
true sage will never submit to the temptations of illusion. He
is well aware that man will attain to self-knowledge, and become
a real Ego, only after the entire union of the personal fragment
with the All, thus becoming an immutable, infinite, universal Brahma.
Accordingly, he considers the whole cycle of birth, life, old age,
and death as the sole product of imagination.
Generally speaking, Indian philosophy, split up as it is into
numerous metaphysical teachings, possesses, when united to Indian
ontological doctrines, such a well developed logic, such a
wonderfully refined psychology, that it might well take the
first rank when contrasted with the schools, ancient and modern,
idealist or positivist, and eclipse them all in turn. That
positivism expounded by Lewis, that makes each particular hair
on the heads of Oxford theologians stand on end, is ridiculous
child's play compared with the atomistic school of Vaisheshika,
with its world divided, like a chessboard, into six categories
of everlasting atoms, nine substances, twenty-four qualities, and
five motions. And, however difficult, and even impossible may
seem the exact representation of all these abstract ideas, idealistic,
pantheistic, and, sometimes, purely material, in the condensed shape
of allegorical symbols, India, nevertheless, has known how to express
all these teachings more or less successfully. She has immortalized
them in her ugly, four-headed idols, in the geometrical, complicated
forms of her temples, and even in the entangled lines and spots
on the foreheads of her sectaries.
We were discussing this and other topics with our Hindu fellow-
travellers when a Catholic padre, a teacher in the Jesuit College
of St. Xavier in Bombay, entered our carriage at one of the stations.
Soon he could contain himself no longer, and joined in our
conversation. Smiling and rubbing his hands, he said that he
was curious to know on the strength of what sophistry our companions
could find anything resembling a philosophical explanation "in
the fundamental idea of the four faces of this ugly Shiva, crowned
with snakes," pointing with his finger to the idol at the entrance
to a pagoda.
"It is very simple," answered the Bengali Babu. You see that its
four faces are turned towards the four cardinal points, South,
North, West, and East--but all these faces are on one body and
belong to one god."
"Would you mind explaining first the philosophical idea of the
four faces and eight hands of your Shiva," interrupted the padre.
"With great pleasure. Thinking that our great Rudra (the Vedic
name for this god) is omnipresent, we repre-sent him with his face
turned simultaneously in all directions. Eight hands indicate his
omnipotence, and his single body serves to remind us that he is One,
though he is everywhere, and nobody can avoid his all-seeing eye,
or his chastising hand."
The padre was going to say something when the train stopped; we
had arrived at Narel.
It is hardly twenty-five years since, for the first time, a white
man ascended Mataran, a huge mass of various kinds of trap rock,
for the most part crystalline in form. Though quite near to Bombay,
and only a few miles from Khandala, the summer residence of the
Europeans, the threatening heights of this giant were long considered
inaccessible. On the north, its smooth, almost vertical face rises
2,450 feet over the valley of the river Pen, and, further on,
numberless separate rocks and hillocks, covered with thick vegetation,
and divided by valleys and precipices, rise up to the clouds. In
1854, the railway pierced one of the sides of Mataran, and now has
reached the foot of the last mountain, stopping at Narel, where,
not long ago, there was nothing but a precipice. From Narel to
the upper plateau is but eight miles, which you may travel on a
pony, or in an open or closed palanquin, as you choose.
Considering that we arrived at Narel about six in the evening,
this course was not very tempting. Civilization has done much
with inanimate nature, but, in spite of all its despotism, it has
not yet been able to conquer tigers and snakes. Tigers, no doubt,
are banished to the more remote jungles, but all hinds of snakes,
especially cobras and coralillos, which last by preference inhabit
trees, still abound in the forests of Mataran as in days of old,
and wage a regular guerilla warfare against the invaders. Woe
betide the belated pedestrian, or even horseman, if he happens to
pass under a tree which forms the ambuscade of a coralillo snake!
Cobras and other reptiles seldom attack men, and will generally try
to avoid them, unless accidentally trodden upon, but these guerilleros
of the forest, the tree serpents, lie in wait for their victims. As
soon as the head of a man comes under the branch which shelters the
coralillo, this enemy of man, coiling its tail round the branch,
dives down into space with all the length of is body, and strikes
with its fangs at the man's forehead. This curious fact was long
considered to be a mere fable, but it has now been verified, and
belongs to the natural history of India. In these cases the natives
see in the snake the envoy of Death, the fulfiller of the will of
the bloodthirsty Kali, the spouse of Shiva.
But evening, after the scorchingly hot day, was so tempting, and
held out to us from the distance such promise of delicious coolness,
that we decided upon risking our fate. In the heart of this
wondrous nature one longs to shake off earthly chains, and unite
oneself with the boundless life, so that death itself has its
attractions in India.
Besides, the full moon was about to rise at eight p.m. Three hours'
ascent of the mountain, on such a moonlit, tropical night as would
tax the descriptive powers of the greatest artists, was worth any
sacrifice. Apropos, among the few artists who can fix upon canvas
the subtle charm of a moonlit night in India public opinion begins
to name our own V.V. Vereshtchagin.
Having dined hurriedly in the dak bungalow we asked for our sedan
chairs, and, drawing our roof-like topees over our eyes, we started.
Eight coolies, clad, as usual, in vine-leaves, took possession of
each chair and hurried up the mountain, uttering the shrieks and
yells no true Hindu can dispense with. Each chair was accompanied
besides by a relay of eight more porters. So we were sixty-four,
without counting the Hindus and their servants--an army sufficient
to frighten any stray leopard or jungle tiger, in fact any animal,
except our fearless cousins on the side of our great-grandfather
Hanuman. As soon as we turned into a thicket at the foot of the
Mountain, several dozens of these kinsmen joined our procession.
Thanks to the achievements of Rama's ally, monkeys are sacred in
India. The Government, emulating the earlier wisdom of the East
India Company, forbids everyone to molest them, not only when met
with in the forests, which in all justice belong to them, but even
when they invade the city gardens. Leaping from one branch to
another, chattering like magpies, and making the most formidable
grimaces, they followed us all the way, like so many midnight spooks.
Sometimes they hung on the trees in full moonlight, like forest
nymphs of Russian mythology; sometimes they preceded us, awaiting
our arrival at the turns of the road as if showing us the way.
They never left us. One monkey babe alighted on my knees. In a
moment the authoress of his being, jumping without any ceremony
over the coolies' shoulders, came to his rescue, picked him up,
and, after making the most ungodly grimace at me, ran away with him.
"Bandras (monkeys) bring luck with their presence," remarked one
of the Hindus, as if to console me for the loss of my crumpled topee.
"Besides," he added, "seeing them here we may be sure that there
is not a single tiger for ten miles round."
Higher and higher we ascended by the steep winding path, and the
forest grew perceptibly thicker, darker, and more impenetrable.
Some of the thickets were as dark as graves. Passing under hundred-
year-old banyans it was impossible to distinguish one's own finger
at the distance of two inches. It seemed to me that in certain
places it would not be possible to advance without feeling our way,
but our coolies never made a false step, but hastened onwards.
Not one of us uttered a word. It was as if we had agreed to be
silent at these moments. We felt as though wrapped in the heavy
veil of dark-ness, and no sound was heard but the short, irregular
breathing of the porters, and the cadence of their quick, nervous
footsteps upon the stony soil of the path. One felt sick at heart
and ashamed of belonging to that human race, one part of which
makes of the other mere beasts of burden. These poor wretches
are paid for their work four annas a day all the year round. Four
annas for going eight miles upwards and eight miles downwards not
less than twice a day; altogether thirty-two miles up and down a
mountain 1,500 feet high, carrying a burden of two hundredweight!
However, India is a country where everything is adjusted to never
changing customs, and four annas a day is the pay for unskilled
labor of any kind.
Gradually open spaces and glades became more frequent and the light
grew as intense as by day. Millions of grasshoppers were shrilling
in the forest, filling the air with a metallic throbbing, and flocks
of frightened parrots rushed from tree to tree. Sometimes the
thundering, prolonged roars of tigers rose from the bottom of the
precipices thickly covered with all kinds of vegetation. Shikaris
assure us that, on a quiet night, the roaring of these beasts can
be heard for many miles around. The panorama, lit up, as if by
Bengal fires, changed at every turn. Rivers, fields, forests,
and rocks, spread out at our feet over an enormous distance, moved
and trembled, iridescent, in the silvery moonlight, like the tides
of a mirage. The fantastic character of the pictures made us hold
our breath. Our heads grew giddy if, by chance, we glanced down
into the depths by the flickering moonlight. We felt that the
precipice, 2,000 feet deep, was fascinating us. One of our American
fellow travelers, who had begun the voyage on horseback, had to
dismount, afraid of being unable to resist the temptation to dive
head foremost into the abyss.
Several times we met with lonely pedestrians, men and young women,
coming down Mataran on their way home after a day's work. It often
happens that some of them never reach home. The police unconcernedly
report that the missing man has been carried off by a tiger, or
killed by a snake. All is said, and he is soon entirely forgotten.
One person, more or less, out of the two hundred and forty millions
who inhabit India does not matter much! But there exists a very
strange superstition in the Deccan about this mysterious, and only
partially explored, mountain. The natives assert that, in spite
of the considerable number of victims, there has never been found
a single skeleton. The corpse, whether intact or mangled by tigers,
is immediately carried away by the monkeys, who, in the latter case,
gather the scattered bones, and bury them skillfully in deep holes,
that no traces ever remain. Englishmen laugh at this superstition,
but the police do not deny the fact of the entire disappearance
of the bodies. When the sides of the mountain were excavated,
in the course of the construction of the railway, separate bones,
with the marks of tigers' teeth upon them, broken bracelets, and
other adornments, were found at an incredible depth from the surface.
The fact of these things being broken showed clearly that they
were not buried by men, because, neither the religion of the Hindus,
nor their greed, would allow them to break and bury silver and gold.
Is it possible, then, that, as amongst men one hand washes the other,
so in the animal kingdom one species conceals the crimes of another?
Having spent the night in a Portuguese inn, woven like an eagle's
nest out of bamboos, and clinging to the almost vertical side of
a rock, we rose at daybreak, and, having visited all the points
de vue famed for their beauty, made our preparations to return to
Narel. By daylight the panorama was still more splendid than by
night; volumes would not suffice to describe it. Had it not been
that on three sides the horizon was shut out by rugged ridges of
mountain, the whole of the Deccan plateau would have appeared before
our eyes. Bombay was so distinct that it seemed quite near to us,
and the channel that separates the town from Salsetta shone like
a tiny silvery streak. It winds like a snake on its way to the
port, surrounding Kanari and other islets, which look the very
image of green peas scattered on the white cloth of its bright
waters, and, finally, joins the blinding line of the Indian Ocean
in the extreme distance. On the outer side is the northern Konkan,
terminated by the Tal-Ghats, the needle-like summits of the Jano-Maoli
rocks, and, lastly, the battlemented ridge of Funell, whose bold
silhouette stands out in strong relief against the distant blue
of the dim sky, like a giant's castle in some fairy tale. Further
on looms Parbul, whose flat summit, in the days of old, was the
seat of the gods, whence, according to the legends, Vishnu spoke
to mortals. And there below, where the defile widens into a valley,
all covered with huge separate rocks, each of which is crowded
with historical and mythological legends, you may perceive the
dim blue ridge of mountains, still loftier and still more strangely
shaped. That is Khandala, which is overhung by a huge stone block,
known by the name of the Duke's Nose. On the opposite side, under
the very summit of the mountain, is situated Karli, which, according
to the unanimous opinion or archeologists, is the most ancient
and best preserved of Indian cave temples.
One who has traversed the passes of the Caucasus again and again;
one who, from the top of the Cross Mountain, has beheld beneath
her feet thunderstorms and lightnings; who has visited the Alps
and the Rigi; who is well acquainted with the Andes and Cordilleras,
and knows every corner of the Catskills in America, may be allowed,
I hope, the expression of a humble opinion. The Caucasian Mountains,
I do not deny, are more majestic than Ghats of India, and their
splendour cannot be dimmed by comparison with these; but their
beauty is of a type, if I may use this expression. At their sight
one experiences true delight, but at the same time a sensation of awe.
One feels like a pigmy before these Titans of nature. But in India,
the Himalayas excepted, mountains produce quite a different impression.
The highest summits of the Deccan, as well as of the triangular
ridge that fringes Northern Hindostan, and of the Eastern Ghats,
do not exceed 3,000 feet. Only in the Ghats of the Malabar coast,
from Cape Comorin to the river Surat, are there heights of 7,000
feet above the surface of the sea. So that no comparison can be
dawn between these and the hoary headed patriarch Elbruz, or Kasbek,
which exceeds 18,000 feet. The chief and original charm of
Indian mountains wonderfully consists in their capricious shapes.
Sometimes these mountains, or, rather, separate volcanic peaks
standing in a row, form chains; but it is more common to find
them scattered, to the great perplexity of geologists, without
visible cause, in places where the formation seems quite unsuitable.
Spacious valleys, surrounded by high walls of rock, over the very
ridge of which passes the railway, are common. Look below, and
it will seem to you that you are gazing upon the studio of some
whimsical Titanic sculptor, filled with half finished groups,
statues, and monuments. Here is a dream-land bird, seated upon
the head of a monster six hundred feet high, spreading its wings
and widely gaping its dragon's mouth; by its side the bust of a
man, surmounted by a helmet, battlemented like the walls of a
feudal castle; there, again, new monsters devouring each other,
statues with broken limbs, disorderly heaps of huge balls, lonely
fortresses with loopholes, ruined towers and bridges. All this
scattered and intermixed with shapes changing incessantly like the
dreams of delirium. And the chief attraction is that nothing here
is the result of art, everything is the pure sport of Nature, which,
however, has occasionally been turned to account by ancient builders.
The art of man in India is to be sought in the interior of the earth,
not on its surface. Ancient Hindus seldom built their temples
otherwise than in the bosom of the earth, as though they were
ashamed of their efforts, or did not dare to rival the sculpture
of nature. Having chosen, for instance, a pyramidal rock, or a
cupola shaped hillock like Elephanta, Or Karli, they scraped away
inside, according to the Puranas, for centuries, planning on so
grand a style that no modern architecture has been able to conceive
anything to equal it. Fables (?) about the Cyclops seem truer in
India than in Egypt.
The marvellous railroad from Narel to Khandala reminds one of a
similar line from Genoa up the Apenines. One may be said to travel
in the air, not on land. The railway traverses a region 1,400
feet above Konkan, and, in some places, while one rail is laid on
the sharp edge of the rock, the other is supported on vaults and
arches. The Mali Khindi viaduct is 163 feet high. For two hours
we hastened on between sky and earth, with abysses on both sides
thickly covered with mango trees and bananas. Truly English
engineers are wonderful builders.
The pass of Bhor-Ghat is safely accomplished and we are in Khandala.
Our bungalow here is built on the very edge of a ravine, which
nature herself has carefully concealed under a cover of the most
luxuriant vegetation. Everything is in blossom, and, in this
unfathomed recess, a botanist might find sufficient material to
occupy him for a lifetime. Palms have disappeared; for the
most part they grow only near the sea. Here they are replaced by
bananas, mango trees, pipals (ficus religiosa), fig trees, and
thousands of other trees and shrubs, unknown to such outsiders as
ourselves. The Indian flora is too often slandered and misrepresented
as being full of beautiful, but scentless, flowers. At some seasons
this may be true enough, but, as long as jasmines, the various
balsams, white tuberoses, and golden champa (champaka or frangipani)
are in blossom, this statement is far from being true. The aroma
of champa alone is so powerful as to make one almost giddy. For
size, it is the king of flowering trees, and hundreds of them were
in full bloom, just at this time of year, on Mataran and Khandala.
We sat on the verandah, talking and enjoying the surrounding views,
until well-nigh midnight. Everything slept around us.
Khandala is nothing but a big village, situated on the flat top
of one of the mountains of the Sahiadra range, about 2,200 feet
above the sea level. It is surrounded by isolated peaks, as
strange in shape as any we have seen.
One of them, straight before us, on the opposite side of the abyss,
looked exactly like a long, one-storied building, with a flat
roof and a battlemented parapet. The Hindus assert that, somewhere
about this hillock, there exists a secret entrance, leading into
vast interior halls, in fact to a whole subterranean palace, and
that there still exist people who possess the secret of this abode.
A holy hermit, Yogi, and Magus, who had inhabited these caves for
"many centuries," imparted this secret to Sivaji, the celebrated
leader of the Mahratta armies. Like Tanhauser, in Wagner's opera,
the unconquerable Sivaji spent seven years of his youth in this
mysterious abode, and therein acquired his extraordinary strength
Sivaji is a kind of Indian Ilia Moorometz, though his epoch is
much nearer to our times. He was the hero and the king of the
Mahrattas in the seventeenth century, and the founder of their
short-lived empire. It is to him that India owes the weakening,
if not the entire destruction, of the Mussulman yoke. No taller
than an ordinary woman, and with the hand of a child, he was,
nevertheless, possessed of wonderful strength, which, of course,
his compatriots ascribed to sorcery. His sword is still preserved
in a museum, and one cannot help wondering at its size and weight,
and at the hilt, through which only a ten-year-old child could put
his hand. The basis of this hero's fame is the fact that he, the
son of a poor officer in the service of a Mogul emperor, like
another David, slew the Mussulman Goliath, the formidable Afzul Khan.
It was not, however, with a sling that he killed him, he used in
this combat the formidable Mahratti weapon, vaghnakh, consisting
of five long steel nails, as sharp as needles, and very strong.
This weapon is worn on the fingers, and wrestlers use it to tear
each other's flesh like wild animals. The Deccan is full of legends
about Sivaji, and even the English historians mention him with
respect. Just as in the fable respecting Charles V, one of tile
local Indian traditions asserts that Sivaji is not dead, but lives
secreted in one of the Sahiadra caves. When the fateful hour
strikes (and according to the calculations of the astrologers the
time is not far off) he will reappear, and will bring freedom to
his beloved country.
The learned and artful Brahmans, those Jesuits of India, profit
by the profound superstition of the masses to extort wealth from
them, sometimes to the last cow, the only food giver of a large family.
In the following passage I give a curious example of this. At
the end of July, 1879, this mysterious document appeared in Bombay.
I translate literally, from the Mahratti, the original having been
translated into all the dialects of India, of which there are 273.
"Shri!" (an untranslatable greeting). "Let it be known unto every
one that this epistle, traced in the original in golden letters,
came down from Indra-loka (the heaven of Indra), in the presence
of holy Brahmans, on the altar of the Vishveshvara temple, which
is in the sacred town of Benares.
"Listen and remember, O tribes of Hindustan, Rajis-tan, Punjab, etc.,
etc. On Saturday, the second day of the first half of the month
Magha, 1809, of Shalivahan's era" (1887 A.D.), "the eleventh month
of the Hindus, during the Ashwini Nakshatra" (the first of the
twenty-seven constellations on the moon's path), "when the sun
enters the sign Capricorn, and the time of the day will be near
the constellation Pisces, that is to say, exactly one hour and
thirty-six minutes after sunrise, the hour of the end of the Kali-Yug
will strike, and the much desired Satya-Yug will commence" (that is
to say, the end of the Maha-Yug, the great cycle that embraces the
four minor Yugas). "This time Satya-Yug will last 1,100 years.
During all this time a man's lifetime will be 128 years. The days
will become longer and will consist of twenty hours and forty-eight
minutes, and the nights of thirteen hours and twelve minutes, that
is to say, instead of twenty-four hours we shall have exactly
thirty-four hours and one minute. The first day of Satya-Yug will
be very important for us, because it is then that will appear to
us our new King with white face and golden hair, who will come from
the far North. He will become the autonomous Lord of India. The
Maya of human unbelief, with all the heresies over which it presides,
will be thrown down to Patala" (sig-nifying at once hell and the
antipodes), "and the Maya of the righteous and pious will abide
with them, and will help them to enjoy life in Mretinloka" (our earth).
"Let it also be known to everyone that, for the dissemination of
this divine document, every separate copy of it will be rewarded
by the forgiveness of as many sins as are generally forgiven when
a pious man sacrifices to a Brahman one hundred cows. As for the
disbelievers and the indifferent, they will be sent to Naraka" (hell).
"Copied out and given, by the slave of Vishnu, Malau Shriram, on
Saturday, the 7th day of the first half of Shravan" (the fifth month
of the Hindu year), "1801, of Shalivalian's era" (that is, 26th
The further career of this ignorant and cunning epistle is not
known to me. Probably the police put a stop to its distribution;
this only concerns the wise administrators. But it splendidly
illustrates, from one side, the credulity of the populace, drowned
in superstition, and from the other the unscrupulousness of the Brahmans.
Concerning the word Patala, which literally means the opposite side,
a recent discovery of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, whom I have already
mentioned in the preceding letters, is interesting, especially if
this discovery can be accepted by philologists, as the facts seem
to promise. Dayanand tries to show that the ancient Aryans knew,
and even visited, America, which in ancient MSS. is called Patala,
and out of which popular fancy constructed, in the course of time,
something like the Greek Hades. He supports his theory by many
quotations from the oldest MSS., especially from the legends about
Krishna and his favourite disciple Arjuna. In the history of the
latter it is mentioned that Arjuna, one of the five Pandavas,
descendants of the moon dynasty, visited Patala on his travels,
and there married the widowed daughter of King Nagual, called Illupl.
Comparing the names of father and daughter we reach the following
considerations, which speak strongly in favour of Dayanand's supposition.
(1) Nagual is the name by which the sorcerers of Mexico, Indians
and aborigines of America, are still designated. Like the Assyrian
and Chaldean Nargals, chiefs of the Magi, the Mexican Nagual unites
in his person the functions of priest and of sorcerer, being served
in the latter capacity by a demon in the shape of some animal,
generally a snake or a crocodile. These Naguals are thought to
be the descendants of Nagua, the king of the snakes. Abbe Brasseur
de Bourbourg devotes a considerable amount of space to them in his
book about Mexico, and says that the Naguals are servants of the
evil one, who, in his turn, renders them but a temporary service.
In Sanskrit, likewise, snake is Naga, and the "King of the Nagas"
plays an important part in the history of Buddha; and in the Puranas
there exists a tradition that it was Arjuna who introduced snake
worship into Patala. The coincidence, and the identity of the
names are so striking that our scientists really ought to pay some
attention to them.
(2) The Name of Arjuna's wife Illupl is purely old Mexican, and
if we reject the hypothesis of Swami Daya-nand it will be perfectly
impossible to explain the actual existence of this name in Sanskrit
manuscripts long before the Christian era. Of all ancient dialects
and languages it is only in those of the American aborigines that
you constantly meet with such combinations of consonants as pl, tl,
etc. They are abundant especially in the language of the Toltecs,
or Nahuatl, whereas, neither in Sanskrit nor in ancient Greek are
they ever found at the end of a word. Even the words Atlas and
Atlantis seem to be foreign to the etymology of the European languages.
Wherever Plato may have found them, it was not he who invented them.
In the Toltec language we find the root atl, which means water and
war, and directly after America was discovered Columbus found a
town called Atlan, at the entrance of the Bay of Uraga. It is now
a poor fishing village called Aclo. Only in America does one find
such names as Itzcoatl, Zempoaltecatl, and Popocatepetl. To attempt
to explain such coincidences by the theory of blind chance would
be too much, consequently, as long as science does not seek to
deny Dayanand's hypothesis, which, as yet, it is unable to do,
we think it reasonable to adopt it, be it only in order to follow
out the axiom "one hypothesis is equal to another." Amongst other
things Dayanand points out that the route that led Arjuna to America
five thousand years ago was by Siberia and Behring's Straits.
It was long past midnight, but we still sat listening to this
legend and others of a similar kind. At length the innkeeper sent
a servant to warn us of the dangers that threatened us if we
lingered too long on the verandah on a moonlit night. The programme
of these dangers was divided into three sections--snakes, beasts
of prey, and dacoits. Besides the cobra and the "rock-snake," the
surrounding mountains are full of a kind of very small mountain
snake, called furzen, the most dangerous of all. Their poison
kills with the swiftness of lightning. The moonlight attracts them,
and whole parties of these uninvited guests crawl up to the verandahs
of houses, in order to warm themselves. Here they are more snug
than on the wet ground. The verdant and perfumed abyss below our
verandah happened, too, to be the favorite resort of tigers and
leopards, who come thither to quench their thirst at the broad
brook which runs along the bottom, and then wander until daybreak
under the windows of the bungalow. Lastly, there were the mad
dacoits, whose dens are scattered in mountains inaccessible to
the police, who often shoot Europeans simply to afford themselves
the pleasure of sending ad patres one of the hateful bellatis
(foreigners). Three days before our arrival the wife of a Brahman
disappeared, carried off by a tiger, and two favorite dogs of the
commandant were killed by snakes. We declined to wait for further
explanations, but hurried to our rooms. At daybreak we were to
start for Karli, six miles from this place.
In The Karli Caves
At five o'clock in the morning we had already arrived at the limit,
not only of driveable, but, even, of rideable roads. Our bullock-cart
could go no further. The last half mile was nothing but a rough sea
of stones. We had either to give up our enterprise, or to climb on
all-fours up an almost perpendicular slope two hundred feet high.
We were utterly at our wits' end, and meekly gazed at the historical
mass before us, not knowing what to do next. Almost at the summit
of the mountain, under the overhanging rocks, were a dozen black
openings. Hundreds of pilgrims were crawling upwards, looking,
in their holiday dresses, like so many green, pink, and blue ants.
Here, however, our faithful Hindu friends came to our rescue. One
of them, putting the palm of his hand to his mouth, produced a
strident sound something between a shriek and a whistle. This
signal was answered from above by an echo, and the next moment
several half naked Brahmans, hereditary watchmen of the temple,
began to descend the rocks as swiftly and skillfully as wild cats.
Five minutes later they were with us, fastening round our bodies
strong leathern straps, and rather dragging than leading us upwards.
Half an hour later, exhausted but perfectly safe, we stood before
the porch of the chief temple, which until then had been hidden
from us by giant trees and cactuses.
This majestic entrance, resting on four massive pillars which form
a quadrangle, is fifty-two feet wide and is covered with ancient
moss and carvings. Before it stands the "lion column," so-called
from the four lions carved as large as nature, and seated back to
back, at its base. Over the principal entrance, its sides covered