Part 3 out of 5
Twelve miles south-east from Chandvad there is a whole town of
subterranean temples, known under the name of Enkay-Tenkay. Here,
again, the entrance is a hundred feet from the base, and the hill
is pyramidal. I must not attempt to give a full description of
these temples, as this subject must be worked out in a way quite
impossible in a newspaper article. So I shall only note that here
all the statues, idols, and carvings are ascribed to Buddhist
ascetics of the first centuries after the death of Buddha. I wish
I could content myself with this statement. But, unfortunately,
messieurs les archeologues meet here with an unexpected difficulty,
and a more serious one than all the difficulties brought on them
by the inconsistencies of all other temples put together.
In these temples there are more idols designated Buddhas than
anywhere else. They cover the main entrance, sit in thick rows
along the balconies, occupy the inner walls of the cells, watch
the entrances of all the doors like monster giants, and two of
them sit in the chief tank, where spring water washes them century
after century without any harm to their granite bodies. Some of
these Buddhas are decently clad, with pyramidal pagodas as their
head gear; others are naked; some sit, others stand; some are
real colossi, some tiny, some of middle size. However, all this
would not matter; we may go so far as to overlook the fact of
Gautama's or Siddhartha-Buddha's reform consisting precisely in
his earnest desire to tear up by the roots the Brahmanical idol-worship.
Though, of course, we cannot help remembering that his religion
remained pure from idol-worship of any kind during centuries, until
the Lamas of Tibet, the Chinese, the Burmese, and the Siamese taking
it into their lands disfigured it, and spoilt it with heresies. We
cannot forget that, persecuted by conquer-ing Brahmans, and expelled
from India, it found, at last, a shelter in Ceylon where it still
flourishes like the legendary aloe, which is said to blossom once
in its lifetime and then to die, as the root is killed by the
exuberance of blossom, and the seeds cannot produce anything but
weeds. All this we may overlook, as I said before. But the
difficulty of the archaeologists still exists, if not in the fact
of idols being ascribed to early Buddhists, then in the physiognomies,
in the type of all these Enkay-Tenkay Buddhas. They all, from the
tiniest to the hugest, are Negroes, with flat noses, thick lips,
forty five degrees of the facial angle, and curly hair! There is
not the slightest likeness between these Negro faces and any of
the Siamese or Tibetan Buddhas, which all have purely Mongolian
features and perfectly straight hair. This unexpected African type,
unheard of in India, upsets the antiquarians entirely. This is why
the archaeologists avoid mentioning these caves. Enkay-Tenkay is
a worse difficulty for them than even Nassik; they find it as
hard to conquer as the Persians found Thermopylae.
We passed by Maleganva and Chikalval, where we examined an exceedingly
curious ancient temple of the Jainas. No cement was used in the
building of its outer walls, they consist entirely of square stones,
which are so well wrought and so closely joined that the blade of
the thinnest knife cannot be pushed between two of them; the
interior of the temple is richly decorated.
On our way back we did not stop in Thalner, but went straight on
to Ghara. There we had to hire elephants again to visit the
splendid ruins of Mandu, once a strongly fortified town, about
twenty miles due north east of this place. This time we got there
speedily and safely. I mention this place because some time later
I witnessed in its vicinity a most curious sight, offered by the
branch of the numerous Indian rites, which is generally called
Mandu is situated on the ridge of the Vindhya Mountains, about
two thousand feet above the surface of the sea. According to
Malcolm's statement, this town was built in A.D. 313, and for a
long time was the capital of the Hindu Rajas of Dhara. The historian
Ferishtah points to Mandu as the residence of Dilivan-Khan-Ghuri,
the first King of Malwa, who flourished in 1387-1405. In 1526 the
town was taken by Bahadur-Shah, King of Gujerat, but in 1570 Akbar
won this town back, and a marble slab over the town gate still bears
his name and the date of his visit.
On entering this vast city in its present state of solitude (the
natives call it the "dead town") we all experienced a peculiar
feeling, not unlike the sensation of a man who enters Pompeii for
the first time. Everything shows that Mandu was once one of the
wealthiest towns of India. The town wall is thirty-seven miles long.
Streets ran whole miles, on their sides stand ruined palaces, and
marble pillars lie on the ground. Black excavations of the
subterranean halls, in the coolness of which rich ladies spent
the hottest hours of the day, peer from under dilapidated granite
walls. Further on are broken stairs, dry tanks, waterless fountains,
endless empty yards, marble platforms, and disfigured arches of
majestic porches. All this is overgrown with creepers and shrubs,
hiding the dens of wild beasts. Here and there a well-preserved
wall of some palace rises high above the general wreck, its empty
windows fringed with parasitic plants blinking and staring at us
like sightless eyes, protesting against troublesome intruders. And
still further, in the very centre of the ruins, the heart of the
dead town sends forth a whole crop of broken cypresses, an untrimmed
grove on the place where heaved once so many breasts and clamoured
so many passions.
In 1570 this town was called Shadiabad, the abode of happiness.
The Franciscan missionaries, Adolf Aquaviva, Antario de Moncerotti,
and others, who came here in that very year as an embassy from Goa
to seek various privileges from the Mogul Government, described
it over and over again. At this epoch it was one of the greatest
cities of the world, whose magnificent streets and luxurious ways
used to astonish the most pompous courts of India. It seems almost
incredible that in such a short period nothing should remain of
this town but the heaps of rubbish, amongst which we could hardly
find room enough for our tent. At last we decided to pitch it in
the only building which remained in a tolerable state of preservation,
in Yami-Masjid, the cathedral-mosque, on a granite platform about
twenty-five steps higher than the square. The stairs, constructed
of pure marble like the greater part of the town buildings, are
broad and almost untouched by time, but the roof has entirely
disappeared, and so we were obliged to put up with the stars for a
canopy. All round this building runs a low gallery supported by
several rows of thick pillars. From a distance it reminds one, in
spite of its being somewhat clumsy and lacking in proportion, of
the Acropolis of Athens. From the stairs, where we rested for a
while, there was a view of the mausoleum of Gushanga-Guri, King of
Malwa, in whose reign the town was at the culmination of its
brilliancy and glory. It is a massive, majestic, white marble
edifice, with a sheltered peristyle and finely carved pillars.
This peristyle once led straight to the palace, but now it is
surrounded with a deep ravine, full of broken stones and overgrown
with cacti. The interior of the mausoleum is covered with golden
lettering of inscriptions from the Koran, and the sarcophagus of
the sultan is placed in the middle. Close by it stands the palace
of Baz-Bahadur, all broken to pieces--nothing now but a heap of
dust covered with trees.
We spent the whole day visiting these sad remains, and returned
to our sheltering place a little before sunset, exhausted with
hunger and thirst, but triumphantly carrying on our sticks three
huge snakes, killed on our way home. Tea and supper were waiting
for us. To our great astonishment we found visitors in the tent.
The Patel of the neighboring village--something between a
tax-collector and a judge--and two zemindars (land owners) rode
over to present us their respects and to invite us and our Hindu
friends, some of whom they had known previously, to accompany them
to their houses. On hearing that we intended to spend the night
in the "dead town" they grew awfully indignant. They assured us
it was highly dangerous and utterly impossible. Two hours later
hyenas, tigers, and other beasts of prey were sure to come out
from under every bush and every ruined wall, without mentioning
thousands of jackals and wild cats. Our elephants would not stay,
and if they did stay no doubt they would be devoured. We ought
to leave the ruins as quickly as possible and go with them to the
nearest village, which would not take us more than half an hour.
In the village everything had been prepared for us, and our friend
the Babu was already there, and getting impatient at our delay.
Only on hearing this did we become aware that our bareheaded and
cautious friend was conspicuous by his absence. Probably he had
left some time ago, without consulting us, and made straight to
the village where he evidently had friends. Sending for us was
a mere trick of his. But the evening was so sweet, and we felt
so comfortable, that the idea of upsetting all our plans for the
morning was not at all attractive. Besides, it seemed quite
ridiculous to think that the ruins, amongst which we had wandered
several hours without meeting anything more dangerous than a snake,
swarmed with wild animals. So we smiled and returned thanks, but
would not accept the invitation.
"But you positively must not dare to stay here," insisted the fat
Patel. "In case of accident, I shall be responsible for you to
the Government. Is it possible you do not dread a sleepless night
spent in fighting jackals, if not something worse? You do not
believe that you are surrounded with wild animals..... It is true
they are invisible until sunset, but nevertheless they are dangerous.
If you do not believe us, believe the instinct of your elephants,
who are as brave as you, but a little more reasonable. Just look
We looked. Truly, our grave, philosophic-looking elephants behaved
very strangely at this moment. Their lifted trunks looked like
huge points of interrogation. They snorted and stamped restively.
In another minute one of them tore the thick rope, with which he
was tied to a broken pillar, made a sudden volte-face with all
his heavy body, and stood against the wind, sniffing the air.
Evidently he perceived some dangerous animal in the neighborhood.
The colonel stared at him through his spectacles and whistled
"Well, well," remarked he, "what shall we do if tigers really
"What shall we do indeed?" was my thought. "Takur Gulab-Lal-Sing
is not here to protect us."
Our Hindu companions sat on the carpet after their oriental fashion,
quietly chewing betel. On being asked their opinion, they said
they would not interfere with our decision, and were ready to do
exactly as we liked. But as for the European portion of our party,
there was no use concealing the fact that we were frightened, and
we speedily prepared to start. Five minutes later we mounted the
elephants, and, in a quarter of an hour, just when the sun disappeared
behind the mountain and heavy darkness instantaneously fell, we
passed the gate of Akbar and descended into the valley.
We were hardly a quarter of a mile from our abandoned camping place
when the cypress grove resounded with shrieking howls of jackals,
followed by a well-known mighty roar. There was no longer any
possibility of doubting. The tigers were disappointed at our escape.
Their discontentment shook the very air, and cold perspiration
stood on our brows. Our elephant sprang forward, upsetting the
order of our procession and threatening to crush the horses and
their riders before us. We ourselves, however, were out of danger.
We sat in a strong howdah, locked as in a dungeon.
"It is useless to deny that we have had a narrow escape!" remarked
the colonel, looking out of the window at some twenty servants of
the Patel, who were busily lighting torches.
In an hour's time we stopped at the gate of a large bungalow, and
were welcomed by the beaming face of our bareheaded Bengali. When
we were all safely gathered on the verandah, he explained to us that,
knowing beforehand that our "American pigheadedness" would not listen
to any warning, he had dodged up this little scheme of his own and
was very glad he had been successful.
"Now let us go and wash our hands, and then to supper. And," he
added, addressing me, "was it not your wish to be present at a
real Hindu meal? This is your opportunity. Our host is a Brahman,
and you are the first Europeans who ever entered the part of his
house inhabited by the family."
Who amongst Europeans ever dreamed of a country where every step,
and the least action of everyday life, especially of the family life,
is controlled by religious rites and cannot be performed except
according to a certain programme? India is this country. In India
all the important incidents of a man's life, such as birth, reaching
certain periods of a child's life, marriage, fatherhood, old age
and death, as well as all the physical and physiological functions
of everyday routine, like morning ablutions, dressing, eating, et
tout ce qui s'en suit, from a man's first hour to his last sigh,
everything must be performed according to a certain Brahmanical
ritual, on penalty of expulsion from his caste. The Brahmans may
be compared to the musicians of an orchestra in which the different
musical instruments are the numerous sects of their country. They
are all of a different shape and of a different timbre; but still
every one of them obeys the same leader of the band. However widely
the sects may differ in the interpretation of their sacred books,
however hostile they may be to each other, striving to put forward
their particular deity, every one of them, obeying blindly the
ancient custom, must follow like musicians the same directing wand,
the laws of Manu. This is the point where they all meet and form
a unanimous, single-minded community, a strongly united mass. And
woe to the one who breaks the symphony by a single discordant note!
The elders and the caste or sub-caste councils (of these there are
any number), whose members hold office for life, are stern rulers.
There is no appeal against their decisions, and this is why expulsion
from the caste is a calamity, entailing truly formidable consequences.
The excommunicated member is worse off than a leper, the solidarity
of the castes in this respect being something phenomenal. The only
thing that can bear any comparison with it is the solidarity of the
disciples of Loyola. If members of two different castes, united by
the sincerest feelings of respect and friendship, may not intermarry,
may not dine together, are forbidden to accept a glass of water
from each other, or to offer each other a hookah, it becomes clear
how much more severe all these restrictions must be in the case
of an excommunicated person. The poor wretch must literally die
to everybody, to the members of his own family as to strangers.
His own household, his father, wife, children, are all bound to turn
their faces from him, under the penalty of being excommunicated in
their turn. There is no hope for his sons and daughters of getting
married, however innocent they may be of the sin of their father.
From the moment of "excommunication" the Hindu must totally disappear.
His mother and wife must not feed him, must not let him drink from
the family well. No member of any existing caste dares to sell
him his food or cook for him. He must either starve or buy eatables
from outcasts and Europeans, and so incur the dangers of further
pollution. When the Brahmanical power was at its zenith, such acts
as deceiving, robbing and even killing this wretch were encouraged,
as he was beyond the pale of the laws. Now, at all events, he is
free from the latter danger, but still, even now, if he happens to
die before he is forgiven and received back into his caste, his
body may not be burned, and no purifying mantrams will be chanted
for him; he will be thrown into the water, or left to rot under
the bushes like a dead cat.
This is a passive force, and its passiveness only makes it more
formidable. Western education and English influence can do nothing
to change it. There exists only one course of action for the
excommunicated; he must show signs of repentance and submit to
all kinds of humiliations, often to the total loss of all his
worldly possessions. Personally, I know several young Brahmans,
who, having brilliantly passed the university examinations in England,
have had to submit to the most repulsive conditions of purification
on their return home; these purifications consisting chiefly in
shaving off half their moustaches and eyebrows, crawling in the
dust round pagodas, clinging during long hours to the tail of a
sacred cow, and, finally, swallowing the excrements of this cow.
The latter ceremony is called "Pancha-Gavya," literally, the five
products of the cow: milk, curds, butter, etc. The voyage over
Kalapani, the black water, that is to say the sea, is considered
the worst of all the sins. A man who commits it is considered
as polluting himself continually, from the first moment of his
going on board the bellati (foreign) ship.
Only a few days ago a friend of ours, who is an LL.D., had to
undergo this "purgation," and it nearly cost him his reason. When
we remonstrated with him, pointing out that in his case it was
simply foolish to submit, he being a materialist by conviction
and not caring a straw for Brahmanism, he replied that he was bound
to do so for the following reasons:
"I have two daughters," he explained, "one five, the other six
years old. If I do not find a husband for the eldest of them in
the course of the coming year, she will grow too old to get married,
nobody will think of espousing her. Suppose I suffer my caste to
excommunicate me, both my girls will be dishonored and miserable
for the rest of their lives. Then, again, I must take into
consideration the superstitions of my old mother. If such a
misfortune befell me, it would simply kill her....."
But why should he not free himself from every bond to Brahmanism
and caste? Why not join, once for all, the ever-growing community
of men who are guilty of the same offence? Why not ask all his
family to form a colony and join the civilization of the Europeans?
All these are very natural questions, but unfortunately there is
no difficulty in finding reasons for answering them in the negative.
There were thirty-two reasons given why one of Napoleon's marshals
refused to besiege a certain fortress, but the first of these
reasons was the absence of gunpowder, and so it excluded the
necessity of discussing the remaining thirty-one. Similarly the
first reason why a Hindu cannot be Europeanized is quite sufficient,
and does not call for any additional ones. This reason is that by
doing so a Hindu would not improve his position. Were he such an
adept of science as to rival Tyndall, were he such a clever politician
as to eclipse the genius of Disraeli and Bismarck, as soon as he
actually had given up his caste and kinsmen, he would indubitably
find himself in the position of Mahomet's coffin; metaphorically
speaking, he would hang half-way between the earth and the sky.
It would be an utter injustice to suppose that this state of things
is the result of the policy of the English Government; that the
said Government is afraid of giving a chance to natives who may
be suspected of being hostile to the British rule. In reality,
the Government has little or nothing to do with it. This state
of things must be attributed entirely to the social ostracism,
to the contempt felt by a "superior" for an "inferior" race, a
contempt deeply rooted in some members of the Anglo-Indian society
and displayed at the least provocation. This question of racial
"superiority" and "inferiority" plays a more important part than
is generally believed, even in England. Nevertheless, the natives
(Mussulmans included) do not deserve contempt, and so the gulf
between the rulers and the ruled widens with every year, and long
centuries would not suffice to fill it up.
I have to dwell upon all this to give my readers a clear idea on
the subject. And so it is no wonder the ill-fated Hindus prefer
temporary humiliations and the physical and moral sufferings of
the "purification," to the prospect of general contempt until death.
These were the questions we discussed with the Brahmans during the
two hours before dinner.
Dining with foreigners and people belonging to different castes is,
no doubt, a dangerous breach of Manu's sacred precepts. But this
time, for once, it was easily explained. First, the stout Patel,
our host, was the head of his caste, and so was beyond the dread
of excommunication; secondly, he had already taken all the
prescribed and advisable precautions against being polluted by
our presence. He was a free-thinker in his own way, and a friend
of Gulab-Lal-Sing, and so he rejoiced at the idea of showing us
how much skillful sophistry and strategical circumspection can be
used by adroit Brahmans to avoid the law in some circumstances,
while adhering at the same time to its dead letter. Besides, our
good-natured, well-favored host evidently desired to obtain a
diploma from our Society, being well aware that the collector of
his district was enrolled amongst our members.
These, at any rate, were the explanations of our Babu when we
expressed our astonishment; so it was our concern to make the
most of our chance, and to thank Providence for this rare
opportunity. And this we accordingly did.
Hindus take their food only twice a day, at ten o'clock in the
morning and at nine in the evening. Both meals are accompanied
by complicated rites and ceremonies. Even very young children
are not allowed to eat at odd times, eating without the prescribed
performance of certain exorcisms being considered a sin. Thousands
of educated Hindus have long ceased to believe in all these
superstitious customs, but, nevertheless, they are daily practised.
Sham Rao Bahunathji, our host, belonged to the ancient caste of
Patarah Prabhus, and was very proud of his origin. Prabhu means
lord, and this caste descends from the Kshatriyas. The first of
them was Ashvapati (700 B.C.), a lineal descendant of Rama and
Prithu, who, as is stated in the local chronology, governed India
in the Dvapara and Treta Yugas, which is a good while ago! The
Patarah Prabhus are the only caste within which Brahmans have to
perform certain purely Vedic rites, known under the name of the
"Kshatriya rites." But this does not prevent their being Patans,
instead of Patars, Patan meaning the fallen one. This is the fault
of King Ashvapati. Once, when distributing gifts to holy anchorites,
he inadvertently forgot to give his due to the great Bhrigu. The
offended prophet and seer declared to him that his reign was drawing
near its end, and that all his posterity would perish. The king,
throwing himself on the ground, implored the prophet's pardon. But
his curse had worked its fulfilment already. All that he could do
to stop the mischief consisted in a solemn promise not to let the
king's descendants disappear completely from the earth. However,
the Patars soon lost their throne and their power. Since then they
have had to "live by their pens," in the employment of many successive
governments, to exchange their name of Patars for Patans, and to
lead a humbler life than many of their late subjects. Happily for
our talkative Amphitryon, his forefathers became Brahmans, that
is to say "went through the golden cow."
The expression "to live by their pens" alludes, as we learned later
on, to the fact of the Patans occupying all the small Government
posts in the Bombay Presidency, and so being dangerous rivals of
the Bengali Babus since the time of British rule. In Bombay the
Patan clerks reach the considerable figure of five thousand. Their
complexion is darker than the complexion of Konkan Brahmans, but
they are handsomer and brighter. As to the mysterious expression,
"went through the golden cow," it illustrates a very curious custom.
The Kshatriyas, and even the much-despised Shudras, may become a
sort of left-hand Brahmans. This metamorphosis depends on the
will of the real Brahmans, who may, if they like, sell this right
for several hundreds or thousands of cows. When the gift is
accomplished, a model cow, made of pure gold, is erected and made
sacred by the performance of some mystical ceremonies. The candidate
must now crawl through her hollow body three times, and thus is
transformed into a Brahman. The present Maharaja of Travankor,
and even the great Raja of Benares, who died recently, were both
Shudras who acquired their rights in this manner. We received all
this information and a notion of the legendary Patar chronicle from
our obliging host.
Having announced that we must now get ready for dinner, he
disappeared in the company of all the gentlemen of our party.
Being left to ourselves, Miss X--- and I decided to have a good
look at the house whilst it was empty. The Babu, being a downright,
modern Bengali, had no respect for the religious preparations for
dinner, and chose to accompany us, proposing to explain to us all
that we should otherwise fail to understand.
The Prabhu brothers always live together, but every married couple
have separate rooms and servants of their own. The habitation of
our host was very spacious. There were small several bungalows,
occupied by his brothers, and a chief building containing rooms
for visitors, the general dining-room, a lying-in ward, a small
chapel with any number of idols, and so on. The ground floor, of
course, was surrounded by a verandah pierced with arches leading
to a huge hall. All round this hall were wooden pillars adorned
with exquisite carving. For some reason or other, it struck me
that these pillars once belonged to some palace of the "dead town."
On close examination I only grew more convinced that I was right.
Their style bore no traces of Hindu taste; no gods, no fabulous
monster animals, only arabesques and elegant leaves and flowers
of nonexistent plants. The pillars stood very close to each other,
but the carvings prevented them from forming an uninterrupted wall,
so that the ventilation was a little too strong. All the time we
spent at the dinner table miniature hurricanes whistled from behind
every pillar, waking up all our old rheumatisms and toothaches,
which had peacefully slumbered since our arrival in India.
The front of the house was thickly covered with iron horseshoes--
the best precaution against evil spirits and evil eyes.
At the foot of a broad, carved staircase we came across a couch
or a cradle, hung from the ceiling by iron chains. I saw somebody
lying on it, whom, at first sight, I mistook for a sleeping Hindu,
and was going to retreat discreetly, but, recognizing my old friend
Hanuman, I grew bold and endeavored to examine him. Alas! the poor
idol possessed only a head and neck, the rest of his body was a
heap of old rags.
On the left side of the verandah there were many more lateral rooms,
each with a special destination, some of which I have mentioned
already. The largest of these rooms was called "vattan," and was
used exclusively by the fair sex. Brahman women are not bound to
spend their lives under veils, like Mussulman women, but still
they have very little communication with men, and keep aloof.
Women cook the men's food, but do not dine with them. The elder
ladies of the family are often held in great respect, and husbands
sometimes show a shy courteousness towards their wives, but still
a woman has no right to speak to her husband before strangers, nor
even before the nearest relations, such as her sisters and her mother.
As to the Hindu widows, they really are the most wretched creatures
in the whole world. As soon as a woman's husband dies she must
have her hair and her eyebrows shaven off. She must part with all
her trinkets, her earrings, her nose jewels, her bangles and toe-rings.
After this is done she is as good as dead. The lowest outcast would
not marry her. A man is polluted by her slightest touch, and must
immediately proceed to purify himself. The dirtiest work of the
household is her duty, and she must not eat with the married women
and the children. The "sati," the burning of the widows, is abolished,
but Brahmans are clever managers, and the widows often long for
At last, having examined the family chapel, full of idols, flowers,
rich vases with burning incense, lamps hanging from its ceiling,
and aromatic herbs covering its floor, we decided to get ready
for dinner. We carefully washed ourselves, but this was not enough,
we were requested to take off our shoes. This was a somewhat
disagreeable surprise, but a real Brahmanical supper was worth
However, a truly amazing surprise was still in store for us.
On entering the dining-room we stopped short at the entrance--both
our European companions were dressed, or rather undressed, exactly
like Hindus! For the sake of decency they kept on a kind of
sleeveless knitted vest, but they were barefooted, wore the snow-white
Hindu dhutis (a piece of muslin wrapped round to the waist and
forming a petticoat), and looked like something between white
Hindus and Constantinople garcons de bains. Both were indescribably
funny, I never saw anything funnier. To the great discomfiture
of the men, and the scandal of the grave ladies of the house, I
could not restrain myself, but burst out laughing. Miss X---
blushed violently and followed my example.
A quarter of an hour before the evening meal every Hindu, old or
young, has to perform a "puja" before the gods. He does not change
his clothes, as we do in Europe, but takes off the few things he
wore during the day. He bathes by the family well and loosens his
hair, of which, if he is a Mahratti or an inhabitant of the Dekkan,
he has only one long lock at the top of his shaven head. To cover
the body and the head whilst eating would be sinful. Wrapping his
waist and legs in a white silk dhuti, he goes once more to salute
the idols and then sits down to his meal.
But here I shall allow myself to digress. "Silk possesses the
property of dismissing the evil spirits who inhabit the magnetic
fluids of the atmosphere," says the Mantram, book v., verse 23.
And I cannot help wondering whether this apparent superstition
may not contain a deeper meaning. It is difficult, I own, to part
with our favorite theories about all the customs of ancient
heathendom being mere ignorant superstitions. But have not some
vague notions of these customs being founded originally on a true
knowledge of scientific principles found their way amongst European
scientific circles? At first sight the idea seems untenable. But
why may we not suppose that the ancients prescribed this observance
in the full knowledge that the effect of electricity upon the organs
of digestion is truly beneficial? People who have studied the
ancient philosophy of India with a firm resolve to penetrate the
hidden meaning of its aphorisms have for the most part grown
convinced that electricity and its effects were known to a
considerable extent to some philosophers, as, for instance,
to Patanjali. Charaka and Sushruta had pro-pounded the system
of Hippocrates long before the time of him who in Europe is supposed
to be the "father of medicine." The Bhadrinath temple of Vishnu
possesses a stone bearing evident proof of the fact that Surya-Sidhanta
knew and calculated the expansive force of steam many centuries ago.
The ancient Hindus were the first to determine the velocity of
light and the laws of its reflection; and the table of Pythagoras
and his celebrated theorem of the square of hypotenuse are to be
found in the ancient books of Jyotisha. All this leads us to
suppose that ancient Aryans, when instituting the strange custom
of wearing silk during meals, had something serious in view, more
serious, at all events, than the "dismissing of demons."
Having entered the "refectory," we immediately noticed what were
the Hindu precautions against their being polluted by our presence.
The stone floor of the hall was divided into two equal parts. This
division consisted of a line traced in chalk, with Kabalistic signs
at either end. One part was destined for the host's party and the
guests belonging to the same caste, the other for ourselves. On our
side of the hall there was yet a third square to contain Hindus of
a different caste. The furniture of the two bigger squares was
exactly similar. Along the two opposite walls there were narrow
carpets spread on the floor, covered with cushions and low stools.
Before every occupant there was an oblong on the bare floor, traced
also with chalk, and divided, like a chess board, into small
quadrangles which were destined for dishes and plates. Both the
latter articles were made of the thick strong leaves of the butea
frondosa: larger dishes of several leaves pinned together with
thorns, plates and saucers of one leaf with its borders turned up.
All the courses of the supper were already arranged on each square;
we counted forty-eight dishes, containing about a mouthful of
forty-eight different dainties. The materials of which they were
composed were mostly terra incognita to us, but some of them tasted
very nice. All this was vegetarian food. Of meat, fowl, eggs
and fish there appeared no traces. There were chutneys, fruit
and vegetables preserved in vinegar and honey, panchamrits, a
mixture of pampello-berries, tamarinds, cocoa milk, treacle and
olive oil, and kushmer, made of radishes, honey and flour; there
were also burning hot pickles and spices. All this was crowned
with a mountain of exquisitely cooked rice and another mountain
of chapatis, which are something like brown pancakes. The dishes
stood in four rows, each row containing twelve dishes; and between
the rows burned three aromatic sticks of the size of a small church
taper. Our part of the hall was brightly lit with green and red
candles. The chandeliers which held these candles were of a very
queer shape. They each represented the trunk of a tree with a
seven-headed cobra wound round it. From each of the seven mouths
rose a red or a green wax candle of spiral form like a corkscrew.
Draughts blowing from behind every pillar fluttered the yellow
flames, filling the roomy refectory with fantastic moving shadows,
and causing both our lightly-clad gentlemen to sneeze very frequently.
Leaving the dark silhouettes of the Hindus in comparative obscurity,
this unsteady light made the two white figures still more conspicuous,
as if making a masquerade of them and laughing at them.
The relatives and friends of our host came in one after the other.
They were all naked down to the waist, all barefooted, all wore
the triple Brahmanical thread and white silk dhutis, and their
hair hung loose. Every sahib was followed by his own servant,
who carried his cup, his silver, or even gold, jug filled with water,
and his towel. All of them, having saluted the host, greeted us,
the palms of their hands pressed to-gether and touching their
foreheads, their breasts, and then the floor. They all said to us:
"Ram-Ram" and "Namaste" (salutation to thee), and then made straight
for their respective seats in perfect silence. Their civilities
reminded me that the custom of greeting each other with the twice
pronounced name of some ancestor was usual in the remotest antiquity.
We all sat down, the Hindus calm and stately, as if preparing for
some mystic celebration, we ourselves feeling awkward and uneasy,
fearing to prove guilty of some unpardonable blunder. An invisible
choir of women's voices chanted a monotonous hymn, celebrating the
glory of the gods. These were half a dozen nautch-girls from a
neighboring pagoda. To this accompaniment we began satisfying
our appetites. Thanks to the Babu's instructions, we took great
care to eat only with our right hands. This was somewhat difficult,
because we were hungry and hasty, but quite necessary. Had we only
so much as touched the rice with our left hands whole hosts of
Rakshasas (demons) would have been attracted to take part in the
festivity that very moment; which, of course, would send all
the Hindus out of the room. It is hardly necessary to say that
there were no traces of forks, knives or spoons. That I might
run no risk of breaking the rule I put my left hand in my pocket
and held on to my pocket-handkerchief all the time the dinner lasted.
The singing lasted only a few minutes. During the rest of the
time a dead silence reigned amongst us. It was Monday, a fast day,
and so the usual absence of noise at meal times had to be observed
still more strictly than on any other day. Usually a man who is
compelled to break the silence by some emergency or other hastens
to plunge into water the middle finger of his left hand, which till
then had remained hidden behind his back, and to moisten both his
eyelids with it. But a really pious man would not be content with
this simple formula of purification; having spoken, he must leave
the dining-room, wash thoroughly, and then abstain from food for
the remainder of the day.
Thanks to this solemn silence, I was at liberty to notice everything
that was going on with great attention. Now and again, whenever
I caught sight of the colonel or Mr. Y---, I had all the difficulty
in the world to preserve my gravity. Fits of foolish laughter
would take possession of me when I observed them sitting erect
with such comical solemnity and working so awkwardly with their
elbows and hands. The long beard of the one was white with grains
of rice, as if silvered with hoar-frost, the chin of the other was
yellow with liquid saffron. But unsatisfied curiosity happily came
to my rescue, and I went on watching the quaint proceedings of
Each of them, having sat down with his legs twisted under him,
poured some water with his left hand out of the jug brought by
the servant, first into his cup, then into the palm of his right
hand. Then he slowly and carefully sprinkled the water round a
dish with all kinds of dainties, which stood by itself, and was
destined, as we learned afterwards, for the gods. During this
procedure each Hindu repeated a Vedic mantram. Filling his right
hand with rice, he pronounced a new series of couplets, then, having
stored five pinches of rice on the right side of his own plate, he
once more washed his hands to avert the evil eye, sprinkled more
water, and pouring a few drops of it into his right palm, slowly
drank it. After this he swallowed six pinches of rice, one after
the other, murmuring prayers all the while, and wetted both his
eyes with the middle finger of his left hand. All this done, he
finally hid his left hand behind his back, and began eating with
the right hand. All this took only a few minutes, but was performed
The Hindus ate with their bodies bent over the food, throwing it
up and catching it in their mouths so dexterously that not a grain
of rice was lost, not a drop of the various liquids spilt. Zealous
to show his consideration for his host, the colonel tried to
imitate all these movements. He contrived to bend over his food
almost horizontally, but, alas! he could not remain long in this
position. The natural weight of his powerful limbs overcame him,
he lost his balance and nearly tumbled head foremost, dropping his
spectacles into a dish of sour milk and garlic. After this
unsuccessful experience the brave American gave up all further
attempts to become "Hinduized," and sat very quietly.
The supper was concluded with rice mixed with sugar, powdered peas,
olive oil, garlic and grains of pomegranate, as usual. This last
dainty is consumed hurriedly. Everyone nervously glances askance
at his neighbor, and is mortally afraid of being the last to finish,
because this is considered a very bad sign. To conclude, they all
take some water into their mouths, murmuring prayers the while,
and this time they must swallow it in one gulp. Woe to the one
who chokes! 'Tis a clear sign that a bhuta has taken possession
of his throat. The unfortunate man must run for his life and
get purified before the altar.
The poor Hindus are very much troubled by these wicked bhutas, the
souls of the people who have died with ungratified desires and
earthly passions. Hindu spirits, if I am to believe the unanimous
assertions of one and all, are always swarming round the living,
always ready to satisfy their hunger with other people's mouths
and gratify their impure desires with the help of organs temporarily
stolen from the living. They are feared and cursed all over India.
No means to get rid of them are despised. The notions and conclusions
of the Hindus on this point categorically contradict the aspirations
and hopes of Western spiritualists.
"A good and pure spirit, they are confident, will not let his soul
revisit the earth, if this soul is equally pure. He is glad to
die and unite himself to Brahma, to live an eternal life in Svarga
(heaven) and enjoy the society of the beautiful Gandharvas or
singing angels. He is glad to slumber whole eternities, listening
to their songs, whilst his soul is purified by a new incarnation
in a body, which is more perfect than the one the soul abandoned
The Hindus believe that the spirit or Atma, a particle of the
GREAT ALL, which is Parabrahm, cannot be punished for sins in
which it never participated. It is Manas, the animal intelligence,
and the animal soul or Jiva, both half material illusions, that
sin and suffer and transmigrate from one body into the other till
they purify themselves. The spirit merely overshadows their earthly
transmigrations. When the Ego has reached the final state of purity,
it will be one with the Atma, and gradually will merge and disappear
But this is not what awaits the wicked souls. The soul that does
not succeed in getting rid of earthly cares and desires before
the death of the body is weighed down by its sins, and, instead
of reincarnating in some new form, according to the laws of
metempsychosis, it will remain bodiless, doomed to wander on earth.
It will become a bhuta, and by its own sufferings will cause
unutterable sufferings to its kinsmen. That is why the Hindu fears
above all things to remain bodiless after his death.
"It is better for one to enter the body of a tiger, of a dog, even
of a yellow-legged falcon, after death, than to become a bhuta!"
an old Hindu said to me on one occasion. "Every animal possesses
a body of his own and a right to make an honest use of it. Whereas
the bhutas are doomed dakoits, brigands and thieves, they are ever
watching for an opportunity to use what does not belong to them.
This is a horrible state--a horror indescribable. This is the
true hell. What is this spiritualism they talk so much of in the
West? Is it possible the intelligent English and Americans are
so mad as this?"
And all our remonstrances notwithstanding, he refused to believe
that there are actually people who are fond of bhutas, who would
do much to attract them into their homes.
After supper the men went again to the family well to wash, and
then dressed themselves.
Usually at this hour of the night the Hindus put on clean malmalas,
a kind of tight shirt, white turbans, and wooden sandals with knobs
pressed between the toes. These curious shoes are left at the
door whilst their owners return to the hall and sit down along
the walls on carpets and cushions to chew betel, smoke hookahs
and cheroots, to listen to sacred reading, and to witness the
dances of the nautches. But this evening, probably in our honor,
all the Hindus dressed magnificently. Some of them wore darias
of rich striped satin, no end of gold bangles, necklaces mounted
with diamonds and emeralds, gold watches and chains, and transparent
Brahmanical scarfs with gold embroidery. The fat fingers and the
right ear of our host were simply blazing with diamonds.
The women, who waited on us during the meal, disappeared afterwards
for a considerable time. When they came back they also were
luxuriously overdressed and were introduced to us formally as the
ladies of the house. They were five: the wife of the host, a
woman of twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age, then two others
looking somewhat younger, one of whom carried a baby, and, to our
great astonishment, was introduced as the married daughter of the
hostess; then the old mother of the host and a little girl of seven,
the wife of one of his brothers. So that our hostess turned out
to be a grandmother, and her sister-in-law, who was to enter finally
into matrimony in from two to three years, might have become a mother
before she was twelve. They were all barefooted, with rings on each
of their toes, and all, with the exception of the old woman, wore
garlands of natural flowers round their necks and in their jet
black hair. Their tight bodices, covered with embroidery, were
so short that between them and the sari there was a good quarter
of a yard of bare skin. The dark, bronze-coloured waists of these
well-shaped Women were boldly presented to any one's examination
and reflected the lights of the room. Their beautiful arms and
their ankles were covered with bracelets. At the least of their
movements they all set up a tinkling silvery sound, and the little
sister-in-law, who might easily be mistaken for an automaton doll,
could hardly move under her load of ornaments. The young grandmother,
our hostess, had a ring in her left nostril, which reached to the
lower part of the chin. Her nose was considerably disfigured by
the weight of the gold, and we noticed how unusually handsome she
was only when she took it off to enable herself to drink her tea
with some comfort.
The dances of the nautch girls began. Two of them were very pretty.
Their dancing consisted chiefly in more or less expressive movements
of their eyes, their heads, and even their ears, in fact, of the
whole upper part of their bodies. As to their legs, they either
did not move at all or moved with such a swiftness as to appear
in a cloud of mist.
After this eventful day I slept the sleep of the just.
After many nights spent in a tent, it is more than agreeable to
sleep in a regular bed, even if it is only a hanging one. The
pleasure would, no doubt, have been considerably increased had I
but known I was resting on the couch of a god. But this latter
circumstance was revealed to me only in the morning, when descending
the staircase I suddenly discovered the poor general en chef,
Hanuman, deprived of his cradle and unceremoniously stowed away
under the stairs. Decidedly, the Hindus of the nineteenth century
are a degenerate and blaspheming race!
In the course of the morning we learned that this swinging throne
of his, and an ancient sofa, were the only pieces of furniture in
the whole house that could be transformed into beds.
Neither of our gentlemen had spent a comfortable night. They slept
in an empty tower that was once the altar of a decayed pagoda and
was situated behind the main building. In assigning to them this
strange resting place, the host was guided by the praiseworthy
intention of protecting them from the jackals, which freely penetrate
into all the rooms of the ground floor, as they are pierced by
numberless arches and have no door and no window frames. The jackals,
however, did not trouble the gentlemen much that night, except by
giving their nightly concert. But both Mr. Y--- and the colonel
had to fight all the night long with a vampire, which, besides
being a flying fox of an unusual size, happened to be a spirit,
as we learned too late, to our great misfortune.
This is how it happened. Noiselessly hovering about the tower,
the vampire from time to time alighted on the sleepers, making
them shudder under the disgusting touch of his cold sticky wings.
His intention clearly was to get a nice suck of European blood.
They were wakened by his manipulations at least ten times, and
each time frightened him away. But, as soon as they were dozing
again, the wretched bat was sure to return and perch on their
shoulders, heads, or legs. At last Mr. Y---, losing patience,
had recourse to strong measures; he caught him and broke his neck.
Feeling perfectly innocent, the gentlemen mentioned the tragic
end of the troublesome flying fox to their host, and instantly
drew down on their heads all the thunder-clouds of heaven.
The yard was crowded with people. All the inhabitants of the
house stood sorrowfully drooping their heads, at the entrance of
the tower. Our host's old mother tore her hair in despair, and
shrieked lamentations in all the languages of India. What was
the matter with them all? We were at our wits' end. But when
we learned the cause of all this, there was no limit to our confusion.
By certain mysterious signs, known only to the family Brahman, it
had been decided ten years ago that the soul of our host's elder
brother had incarnated in this blood-thirsty vampire-bat. This
fact was stated as being beyond any doubt. For nine years the
late Patarah Prabhu existed under this new shape, carrying out
the laws of metempsychosis. He spent the hours between sunrise
and the sunset in an old pipal-tree before the tower, hanging with
his head downwards. But at night he visited the old tower and
gave fierce chase to the insects that sought rest in this out-of-
the-way corner. And so nine years were spent in this happy existence,
divided between sleep, food, and the gradual redemption of old sins
committed in the shape of a Patarah Prabhu. And now? Now his
listless body lay in the dust at the entrance of his favorite tower,
and his wings were half devoured by the rats. The poor old woman,
his mother, was mad with sorrow, and cast, through her tears,
reproachful, angry looks at Mr. Y---, who, in his new capacity of
a heartless murderer, looked disgustingly composed.
But the affair was growing serious. The comical side of it
disappeared before the sincerity and the intensity of her
lamentations. Her descendants, grouped around her, were too
polite to reproach us openly, but the expression of their faces
was far from reassuring. The family priest and astrologer
stood by the old lady, Shastras in hand, ready to begin the
ceremony of purification. He solemnly covered the corpse with a
piece of new linen. and so hid from our eyes the sad remains on
which ants were literally swarming.
Mr. Y--- did his best to look unconcerned, but still, when the
tactless Miss X--- came to him, expressing her loud indignation
at all these superstitions of an inferior race, he at least seemed
to remember that our host knew English perfectly, and he did not
encourage her farther expressions of sympathy. He made no answer,
but smiled contemptuously. Our host approached the colonel with
respectful salaams and invited us to follow him.
"No doubt he is going to ask us to leave his house immediately!"
was my uncomfortable impression.
But my apprehension was not justified. At this epoch of my Indian
pilgrimage I was far, as yet, from having fathomed the metaphysical
depth of a Hindu heart.
Sham Rao began by delivering a very far-fetched, eloquent preface.
He reminded us that he, personally, was an enlightened man, a man
who possessed all the advantages of a Western education. He said
that, owing to this, he was not quite sure that the body of the
vampire was actually inhabited by his late brother. Darwin, of course,
and some other great naturalists of the West, seemed to believe in
the transmigration of souls, but, as far as he understood, they
believed in it in an inverse sense; that is to say, if a baby had
been born to his mother exactly at the moment of the vampire's death,
this baby would indubitably have had a great likeness to a vampire,
owing to the decaying atoms of the vampire being so close to her.
"Is not this an exact interpretation of the Darwinian school?" he asked.
We modestly answered that, having traveled almost incessantly during
the last year, we could not help being a bit behindhand in the
questions of modern science, and that we were not able to follow
its latest conclusions.
"But I have followed them!" rejoined the good-natured Sham Rao,
with a touch of pomposity. "And so I hope I may be allowed to say
that I have understood and duly appreciated their most recent
developments. I have just finished studying the magnificent
Anthropogenesis of Haeckel, and have carefully discussed in my
own mind his logical, scientific explanations of the origin of
man from inferior animal forms through transformation. And what
is this transformation, pray, if not the transmigration of the
ancient and modern Hindus, and the metempsychosis of the Greeks?"
We had nothing to say against the identity, and even ventured to
observe that, according to Haeckel, it does look like it.
"Exactly!" exclaimed he joyfully. "This shows that our conceptions
are neither silly nor superstitious, as is maintained by some
opponents of Manu. The great Manu, anticipated Darwin and Haeckel.
Judge for yourself; the latter derives the genesis of man from a
group of plastides, from the jelly-like moneron; this moneron,
through the ameoba, the ascidian, the brainless and heartless
amphioxus, and so on, transmigrates in the eighth remove into the
lamprey, is transformed, at last, into a vertebrate amniote, into
a premammalian, into a marsupial animal.... The vampire, in its turn,
belongs to the species of vertebrates. You, being well read people
all of you, cannot contradict this statement." He was right in
his supposition; we did not contradict it.
"In this case, do me the honor to follow my argument...."
We did follow his argument with the greatest attention, but were
at a loss to foresee whither it tended to lead us.
"Darwin," continued Sham Rao, "in his Origin of Species,
re-established almost word for word the palin-genetic teachings
of our Manu. Of this I am perfectly convinced, and, if you like,
I can prove it to you book in hand. Our ancient law-giver, amongst
other sayings, speaks as follows: `The great Parabrahm commanded
man to appear in the universe, after traversing all the grades
of the animal kingdom, and springing primarily from the worm of
the deep sea mud.' The worm be-came a snake, the snake a fish,
the fish a mammal, and so on. Is not this very idea at the bottom
of Darwin's theory, when he maintains that the organic forms have
their origin in more simple species, and says that the structureless
protoplasm born in the mud of the Laurentian and Silurian periods--
the Manu's `mud of the seas,' I dare say--gradually transformed
itself into the anthro-poid ape, and then finally into the human being?"
We said it looked very like it.
"But, in spite of all my respect for Darwin and his eminent follower
Haeckel, I cannot agree with their final conclusions, especially
with the conclusions of the latter," continued Sham Rao. "This
hasty and bilious German is perfectly accurate in copying the
embryology of Manu and all the metamorphoses of our ancestors,
but he forgets the evolution of the human soul, which, as it is
stated by Manu, goes hand in hand with the evolution of matter.
The son of Swayambhuva, the Self Becoming, speaks as follows:
`Everything created in a new cycle, in addition to the qualities
of its preceding transmigrations, acquires new qualities, and the
nearer it approaches to man, the highest type of the earth, the
brighter becomes its divine spark; but, once it has become a Brahma,
it will enter the cycle of conscious transmigrations.' Do you
realize what that means? It means that from this moment, its
transformations depend no longer on the blind laws of gradual evolution,
but on the least of a man's actions, which brings either a reward or
a punishment. Now you see that it depends on the man's will whether,
on the one hand, he will start on the way to Moksha, the eternal bliss,
passing from one Loka to another till he reaches Brahmaloka, or, on
the other, owing to his sins, will be thrown back. You know that the
average soul, once freed from earthly reincarnations, has to ascend
from one Loka to another, always in the human shape, though this
shape will grow and perfect itself with every Loka. Some of our
sects understood these Lokas to mean certain stars. These spirits,
freed from earthly matter, are what we mean by Pitris and Devas,
whom we worship. And did not your Kabalists of the middle ages
designate these Pitris under the expression Planetary Spirits?
But, in the case of a very sinful man, he will have to begin once
more with the animal forms which he had already traversed unconsciously.
Both Darwin and Haeckel lose sight of this, so to speak, second volume
of their incomplete theory, but still neither of them advances any
argument to prove it false. Is it not so?"
"Neither of them does anything of the sort, most assuredly."
"Why, in this case," exclaimed he, suddenly changing his colloquial
tone for an aggressive one, "why am I, I who have studied the most
modern ideas of Western science, I who believe in its representatives--
why am I suspected, pray, by Miss X--- of belonging to the tribe
of the ignorant and superstitious Hindus? Why does she think that
our perfected scientific theories are superstitions, and we
ourselves a fallen inferior race?"
Sham Rao stood before us with tears in his eyes. We were at a
loss what to answer him, being confused to the last degree by
"Mind you, I do not proclaim our popular beliefs to be infallible
dogmas. I consider them as mere theories, and try to the best of
my ability to reconcile the ancient and the modern science. I
formulate hypotheses just like Darwin and Haeckel. Besides, if I
understood rightly, Miss X--- is a spiritualist, so she believes
in bhutas. And, believing that a bhuta is capable of penetrating
the body of a medium, how can she deny that a bhuta, and more so
a less sinful soul, may enter the body of a vampire-bat?"
I own, this logic was a little too condensed for us, and so, avoiding
a direct answer to a metaphysical question of such delicacy, we tried
to apologize and excuse Miss X---'s rudeness as well as we could.
"She did not mean to offend you," we said, "she only repeated a
calumny, familiar to every European. Besides, if she had taken
the trouble to think it over, she probably would not have said it...."
Little by little we succeeded in pacifying our host. He recovered
his usual cheerfulness, but could not resist the temptation of adding
a few words to his long argumentation. He had just begun to reveal
to us certain peculiarities of his late brother's character, which
induced him to be prepared, judging by the laws of atavism, to see
their repetition in the propensities of a vampire bat, when Mr. Y---
suddenly dashed in on our small group and spoiled all the results
of our conciliatory words by screaming at the top of his voice:
"The old woman has gone demented! She keeps on cursing us and
says that the murder of this wretched bat is only the forerunner
of a whole series of misfortunes brought on her house by you,
Sham Rao," said he, hastily addressing the bewildered follower
of Haackel. "She says you have polluted your Brahmanical
holiness by inviting us. Colonel, you had better send for the
elephants. In another moment all this crowd will be on us..."
"For goodness' sake!" exclaimed poor Sham Rao, "have some consideration
for my feelings. She is an old woman, she has some superstitions,
but she is my mother. You are educated people, learned people...
Advise me, show me a way out of all these difficulties. What should
you do in my place?"
"What should I do, sir?" exclaimed Mr. Y---, completely put out
of temper by the utter ludicrousness of our awkward predicament.
"What should I do? Were I a man in your position and a believer
in all you are brought up to believe, I should take my revolver,
and in the first place, shoot all the vampire bats in the neighborhood,
if only to rid all your late relations from the abject bodies of
these creatures, and, in the second place, I should endeavor to
smash the head of the conceited fraud in the shape of a Brahman
who invented all this stupid story. That is what I should do, sir!"
But this advice did not content the miserable descendant of Rama.
No doubt he would have remained a long time undecided as to what
course of action to adopt, torn as he was between the sacred feelings
of hospitality, the innate fear of the Brahman-priest, and his own
superstitions, if our ingenious Babu had not come to our rescue.
Learning that we all felt more or less indignant at all this row,
and that we were preparing to leave the house as quickly as possible,
he persuaded us to stay, if only for an hour, saying that our
hasty departure would be a terrible outrage upon our host, whom,
in any case, we could not find fault with. As to the stupid old
woman, the Babu promised us to pacify her speedily enough: he
had his own plans and views. In the meantime, he said, we had
better go and examine the ruins of an old fortress close by.
We obeyed very reluctantly, feeling an acute interest in his "plans."
We proceeded slowly. Our gentlemen were visibly out of temper.
Miss X--- tried to calm herself by talking more than usual, and
Narayan, as phlegmatic as usual, indolently and good-naturedly
chaffed her about her beloved "spirits." Glancing back we saw
the Babu accompanied by the family priest. Judging by their
gestures they were engaged in some warm discussion. The shaven
head of the Brahman nodded right and left, his yellow garment
flapped in the wind, and his arms rose towards the sky, as if in an
appeal to the gods to come down and testify to the truth of his words.
"I'll bet you a thousand dollars, no plans of our Babu's will be
of any avail with this fanatic!" confidently remarked the colonel
as he lit his pipe.
But we had hardly walked a hundred steps after this remark when
we saw the Babu running after us and signaling us to stop.
"Everything ended first-rate!" screamed he, as soon as we could
hear. "You are to be thanked . . . You happen to be the true
saviours and benefactors of the deceased bhuta... You..."
Our Babu sank on the ground holding his narrow, panting breast
with both his hands, and laughed, laughed till we all burst into
laughter too, before learning any-thing at all.
"Think of it," began the Babu, and stopped short, prevented from
going on by his exuberant hilarity. "Just think of it! The whole
transaction is to cost me only ten rupees.... I offered five at
first... but he would not.... He said this was a sacred matter.....
But ten he could not resist! Ho, ho, ho.... "
At last we learned the story. All the metempsychoses depend on
the imagination of the family Gurus, who receive for their kind
offices from one hundred to one hundred and fifty rupees a year.
Every rite is accompanied by a more or less considerable addition
to the purse of the insatiable family Brahman, but the happy events
pay better than the sad ones. Knowing all this, the Babu asked
the Brahman point-blank to perform a false samadhi, that is to say,
to feign an inspiration and to announce to the sorrowing mother
that her late son's will had acted consciously in all the circumstances;
that he brought about his end in the body of the flying fox, that
he was tired of that grade of transmigration, that he longed for
death in order to attain a higher position in the animal kingdom,
that he is happy, and that he is deeply indebted to the sahib who
broke his neck and so freed him from his abject embodiment.
Besides, the observant eye of our all-knowing Babu had not failed
to remark that a she-buffalo of the Guru's was expecting a calf,
and that the Guru was yearning to sell it to Sham Rao. This
circumstance was a trump card in the Babu's hand. Let the Guru
announce, under the influence of samadhi, that the freed spirit
intends to inhabit the body of the future baby-buffalo and the
old lady will buy the new incarnation of her first-born as sure
as the sun is bright. This announcement will be followed by
rejoicings and by new rites. And who will profit by all this if
not the family priest?
At first the Guru had some misgivings, and swore by everything
sacred that the vampire bat was veritably inhabited by the brother
of Sham Rao. But the Babu knew better than to give in. The Guru
ended by understanding that his skillful opponent saw through
his tricks, and that he was well aware that the Shastras exclude
the possibility of such a transmigration. Growing alarmed, the
Guru also grew meek, and asked only ten rupees and a promise of
silence for the performance of a samadhi.
On our way back we were met at the gate by Sham Rao, who was simply
radiant. Whether he was afraid of our laughing at him, or was at
loss to find an explanation of this new metamorphosis in the
positive sciences in general, and Haeckel in particular, he did
not attempt to explain why the affair had taken such an unexpectedly
good turn. He merely mentioned awkwardly enough that his mother,
owing to some new mysterious conjectures of hers, had dismissed
all sad apprehensions as to the destiny of her elder son, and he
then dropped the subject completely.
In order to wipe away the traces of the morning's perplexities
from our minds, Sham Rao invited us to sit on the verandah, by
the wide entrance of his idol room, whilst the family prayers
were going on. Nothing could suit us better. It was nine o'clock,
the usual time of the morning prayers. Sham Rao went to the well
to get ready, and dress himself, as he said, though the process
was more like undressing. In a few moments he came back wearing
only a dhuti, as during dinner time, and with his head uncovered.
He went straight to his idol room. The moment he entered we heard
the loud stroke of a bell that hung under the ceiling, and that
continued tolling all the time the prayers lasted.
The Babu explained to us that a little boy was pulling the bell
rope from the roof.
Sham Rao stepped in with his right foot and very slowly. Then he
approached the altar and sat on a little stool with his legs crossed.
At the opposite side of the room, on the red velvet shelves of
an altar that resembled an etagere in the drawing-room of some
fashionable lady, stood many idols. They were made of gold, of
silver, of brass and of marble, according to their im-portance and
merits. Maha-Deva or Shiva was of gold. Gunpati or Ganesha of
silver, Vishnu in the form of a round black stone from the river
Gandaki in Nepal. In this form Vishnu is called Lakshmi-Narayan.
There were also many other gods unknown to us, who were worshipped
in the shapes of big sea-shells, called Chakra. Surya, the god
of the sun, and the kula-devas, the domestic gods, were placed in
the second rank. The altar was sheltered by a cupola of carved
sandal-wood. During the night the gods and the offerings were
covered by a huge bell glass. On the walls there were many sacred
images representing the chief episodes in the biographies of the
Sham Rao filled his left hand with ashes, murmuring prayers all
the while, covered it for a second with the right one, then put
some matter to the ashes, and mixing the two by rubbing his hands
together, he traced a line on his face with this mixture by moving
the thumb of his right hand from his nose upwards, then from the
middle of the forehead to the right temple, then back again to
the left temple. Having done with his face he proceeded to cover
with wet ashes his throat, arms, shoulders, his back, head and ears.
In one corner of the room stood a huge bronze font filled with water.
Sham Rao made straight to it and plunged into it three times, dhuti,
head, and all, after which he came out looking exactly like a
well-favored dripping wet Triton. He twisted the only lock of
hair on the top of his shaved head and sprinkled it with water.
This operation concluded the first act.
The second act began with religious meditations and with mantrams,
which, by really pious people, must be repeated three times a day--
at sunrise, at noon and at sunset. Sham Rao loudly pronounced the
names of twenty-four gods, and each name was accompanied by a stroke
of the bell. Having finished he first shut his eyes and stuffed
his ears with cotton, then pressed his left nostril with two fingers
of his left hand, and having filled his lungs with air through the
right nostril, pressed the latter also. Then he tightly closed
his lips, so that breathing became impossible. In this position
every pious Hindu must mentally repeat a certain verse, which is
called the Gayatri. These are sacred words which no Hindu will
dare to pronounce aloud. Even in repeating them mentally he must
take every precaution not to inhale anything impure.
I am bound by my word of honor never to repeat the whole of this
prayer, but I may quote a few unconnected sentences:
"Om... Earth... Heaven.... Let the adored light of.... [here follows
a name which must not be pronounced] shelter me. Let thy Sun, O
thou only One, shelter me, the unworthy... I shut my eyes, I shut
my ears, I do not breathe ... in order to see, hear and breathe
thee alone. Throw light upon our thoughts [again the secret name]... "
It is curious to compare this Hindu prayer with the celebrated
prayer of Descartes' "Meditation III" in his L'Existence de Dieu.
It runs as follows, if I remember rightly:
"Now I shut my eyes, cover my ears, and dismiss all my five senses,
I will dwell on the thought of God alone, I will meditate on His
quality and look on the beauty of this wondrous radiancy."
After this prayer Sham Rao read many other prayers, holding with
two fingers his sacred Brahmanical thread. After a while began
the ceremony of "the washing of the gods." Taking them down from
the altar, one after the other, according to their rank, Sham Rao
first plunged them in the big font, in which he had just bathed
himself, and then bathed them in milk in a smaller bronze font
by the altar. The milk was mixed up with curds, butter, honey,
and sugar, and so it cannot be said that this cleansing served
its purpose. No wonder we were glad to see that the gods underwent
a second bathing in the first font and then were dried with a
When the gods were arranged in their respective places, the Hindu
traced on them the sectarian signs with a ring from his left hand.
He used white sandal paint for the lingam and red for Gunpati and
Surya. Then he sprinkled them with aromatic oils and covered them
with fresh flowers. The long ceremony was finished by "the
awakening of the gods." A small bell was repeatedly rung under
the noses of the idols, who, as the Brahman probably supposed,
all went to sleep during this tedious ceremony.
Having noticed, or fancied, which often amounts to the same thing,
that they were wide awake, he began offering them his daily sacrifices,
lighting the incense and the lamps, and, to our great astonishment,
snapping his fingers from time to time, as if warning the idols to
"look out." Having filled the room with clouds of incense and fumes
of burning camphor, he scattered some more flowers over the altar
and sat on the small stool for a while, murmuring the last prayers.
He repeatedly held the palms of his hands over the flame of the
tapers and rubbed his face with them. Then he walked round the
altar three times, and, having knelt three times, retreated backwards
to the door.
A little while before our host had finished his morning prayers
the ladies of the house came into the room. They brought each a
small stool and sat in a row murmuring prayers and telling the
beads of their rosaries.
The part played by the rosaries in India is as important as in
all Buddhist countries. Every god has his favorite flower and
his favorite material for a rosary. The fakirs are simply covered
with rosaries. The rosary is called mala and consists of one
hundred and eight beads. Very pious Hindus are not content to
tell the beads when praying; they must hide their hands during
this ceremony in a bag called gomukha, which means the cow's mouth.
We left the women to their prayers and followed our host to the
cow house. The cow symbolizes the "fostering earth," or Nature,
and is worshipped accordingly. Sham Rao sat down by the cow and
washed her feet, first with her own milk, then with water. He
gave her some sugar and rice, covered her forehead with powdered
sandal, and adorned her horns and four legs with chains of flowers.
He burned some incense under her nostrils and brandished a burning
lamp over her head. Then he walked three times round her and sat
down to rest. Some Hindus walk round the cow one hundred and
eight times, rosary in hand. But our Sham Rao had a slight
tendency to freethinking, as we knew, and besides, he was too much
of an admirer of Haeckel. Having rested himself, he filled a cup
with water, put in it the cow's tail for a moment, and then drank it!
After this he performed the rite of worshipping the sun and the
sacred plant tulsi. Unable to bring the god Surya from his heavenly
altar and wash him in the sacred font, Sham Rao contented himself
by filling his own mouth with water, standing on one leg, and
spirting this water towards the sun. Needless to say it never
reached the orb of day, but, very unexpectedly, sprinkled us instead.
It is still a mystery to us why the plant tulsi, Royal Basilicum,
is worshipped. However, towards the end of September we yearly
witnessed the strange ceremony of the wedding of this plant with
the god Vishnu, notwithstanding that tulsi bears the title of
Krishna's bride, probably because of the latter being an incarnation
of Vishnu. On these occasions pots of this plant are painted and
adorned with tinsel. A magical circle is traced in the garden
and the plant is put in the middle of it. A Brahman brings an
idol of Vishnu and begins the marriage ceremony, standing before
the plant. A married couple hold a shawl between the plant and
the god, as if screening them from each other, the Brahman utters
prayers, and young women, and especially unmarried girls, who
are the most ardent worshippers of tulsi, throw rice and saffron
over the idol and the plant. When the ceremony is concluded, the
Brahman is presented with the shawl, the idol is put in the shade
of his wife, the Hindus clap their hands, rend everyone's ears
with the noise of tom-toms, let off fireworks, offer each other
pieces of sugar-cane, and rejoice in every conceivable way till
the dawn of the next day.
A Witch's Den
Our kind host Sham Rao was very gay during the remaining hours of
our visit. He did his best to entertain us, and would not hear
of our leaving the neighborhood without having seen its greatest
celebrity, its most interesting sight. A jadu wala--sorceress--
well known in the district, was just at this time under the
influence of seven sister-goddesses, who took possession of her
by turns, and spoke their oracles through her lips. Sham Rao said
we must not fail to see her, be it only in the interests of science.
The evening closes in, and we once more get ready for an excursion.
It is only five miles to the cavern of the Pythia of Hindostan;
the road runs through a jungle, but it is level and smooth. Besides,
the jungle and its ferocious inhabitants have ceased to frighten us.
The timid elephants we had in the "dead city" are sent home, and
we are to mount new behemoths belonging to a neighboring Raja.
The pair, that stand before the verandah like two dark hillocks,
are steady and trust worthy. Many a time these two have hunted
the royal tiger, and no wild shrieking or thunderous roaring can
frighten them. And so, let us start!
The ruddy flames of the torches dazzle our eyes and increase the
forest gloom. Our surroundings seem so dark, so mysterious. There
is something indescribably fascinating, almost solemn, in these
night-journeys in the out-of-the-way corners of India. Everything
is silent and deserted around you, everything is dozing on the
earth and overhead. Only the heavy, regular tread of the elephants
breaks the stillness of the night, like the sound of falling
hammers in the underground smithy of Vulcan. From time to time
uncanny voices and murmurs are heard in the black forest.
"The wind sings its strange song amongst the ruins," says one of us,
"what a wonderful acoustic phenomenon!" "Bhuta, bhuta!" whisper
the awestruck torch-bearers. They brandish their torches and
swiftly spin on one leg, and snap their fingers to chase away the
The plaintive murmur is lost in the distance. The forest is once
more filled with the cadences of its invisible nocturnal life--
the metallic whirr of the crickets, the feeble, monotonous croak
of the tree-frog, the rustle of the leaves. From time to time all
this suddenly stops short and then begins again, gradually increasing
Heavens! What teeming life, what stores of vital energy are hidden
under the smallest leaf, the most imperceptible blades of grass,
in this tropical forest! Myriads of stars shine in the dark blue
of the sky, and myriads of fireflies twinkle at us from every bush,
moving sparks, like a pale reflection of the far-away stars.
We left the thick forest behind us, and reached a deep glen, on
three sides bordered with the thick forest, where even by day the
shadows are as dark as by night. We were about two thousand feet
above the foot of the Vindhya ridge, judging by the ruined wall
of Mandu, straight above our heads. Suddenly a very chilly wind
rose that nearly blew our torches out. Caught in the labyrinth
of bushes and rocks, the wind angrily shook the branches of the
blossoming syringas, then, shaking itself free, it turned back
along the glen and flew down the valley, howling, whistling and
shrieking, as if all the fiends of the forest together were joining
in a funeral song.
"Here we are," said Sham Rao, dismounting. Here is the village;
the elephants cannot go any further."
"The village? Surely you are mistaken. I don't see anything
"It is too dark to see the village. Besides, the huts are so small,
and so hidden by the bushes, that even by daytime you could hardly
find them. And there is no light in the houses, for fear of the spirits."
"And where is your witch? Do you mean we are to watch her performance
in complete darkness?"
Sham Rao cast a furtive, timid look round him; and his voice, when
he answered our questions, was somewhat tremulous.
"I implore you not to call her a witch! She may hear you. ..... It
is not far off, it is not more than half a mile. Do not allow this
short distance to shake your decision. No elephant, and even no
horse, could make its way there. We must walk. ... But we shall
find plenty of light there.... "
This was unexpected, and far from agreeable. To walk in this gloomy
Indian night; to scramble through thickets of cactuses; to venture
in a dark forest, full of wild animals--this was too much for Miss X---.
She declared that she would go no further. She would wait for us
in the howdah, on the elephant's back, and perhaps would go to sleep.
Narayan was against this parti de plaisir from the very beginning,
and now, without explaining his reasons, he said she was the only
sensible one among us.
"You won't lose anything," he remarked, "by staying where you are.
And I only wish everyone would follow your example."
"What ground have you for saying so, I wonder?" remonstrated Sham Rao,
and a slight note of disappointment rang in his voice, when he saw
that the excursion, proposed and organized by himself, threatened
to come to nothing. "What harm could be done by it? I won't insist
any more that the `incarnation of gods' is a rare sight, and that
the Europeans hardly ever have an opportunity of witnessing it;
but, besides, the Kangalim in question is no ordinary woman. She
leads a holy life; she is a prophetess, and her blessing could
not prove harmful to any one. I insisted on this excursion out
of pure patriotism."
"Sahib, if your patriotism consists in displaying before foreigners
the worst of our plagues, then why did you not order all the lepers
of your district to assemble and parade before the eyes of our guests?
You are a patel, you have the power to do it."
How bitterly Narayan's voice sounded to our unaccustomed ears.
Usually he was so even-tempered, so indifferent to everything
belonging to the exterior world.
Fearing a quarrel between the Hindus, the colonel remarked, in a
conciliatory tone, that it was too late for us to reconsider our
expedition. Besides, without being a believer in the "incarnation
of gods," he was personally firmly convinced that demoniacs
existed even in the West. He was eager to study every psychological
phenomenon, wherever he met with it, and whatever shape it might assume.
It would have been a striking sight for our European and American
friends if they had beheld our procession on that dark night. Our
way lay along a narrow winding path up the mountain. Not more
than two people could walk together--and we were thirty, including
the torch-bearers. Surely some reminiscence of night sallies
against the confederate Southerners had revived in the colonel's
breast, judging by the readiness with which he took upon himself
the leadership of our small expedition. He ordered all the rifles
and revolvers to be loaded, despatched three torch-bearers to march
ahead of us, and arranged us in pairs. Under such a skilled chieftain
we had nothing to fear from tigers; and so our procession started,
and slowly crawled up the winding path.
It cannot be said that the inquisitive travelers, who appeared
later on, in the den of the prophetess of Mandu, shone through
the freshness and elegance of their costumes. My gown, as well
as the traveling suits of the colonel and of Mr. Y--- were nearly
torn to pieces. The cactuses gathered from us whatever tribute
they could, and the Babu's disheveled hair swarmed with a whole
colony of grasshoppers and fireflies, which, probably, were
attracted thither by the smell of cocoa-nut oil. The stout Sham
Rao panted like a steam engine. Narayan alone was like his usual
self; that is to say, like a bronze Hercules, armed with a club.
At the last abrupt turn of the path, after having surmounted the
difficulty of climbing over huge, scattered stones, we suddenly
found ourselves on a perfectly smooth place; our eyes, in spite
of our many torches, were dazzled with light; and our ears were
struck by a medley of unusual sounds.
A new glen opened before us, the entrance of which, from the valley,
was well masked by thick trees. We understood how easily we might
have wandered round it, without ever suspecting its existence. At the
bottom of the glen we discovered the abode of the celebrated Kangalim.
The den, as it turned out, was situated in the ruin of an old Hindu
temple in tolerably good preservation. In all probability it was
built long before the "dead city," because during the epoch of the
latter, the heathen were not allowed to have their own places of
worship; and the temple stood quite close to the wall of the town,
in fact, right under it. The cupolas of the two smaller lateral
pagodas had fallen long ago, and huge bushes grew out of their altars.
This evening, their branches were hidden under a mass of bright
colored rags, bits of ribbon, little pots, and various other talismans;
because, even in them, popular superstition sees something sacred.
"And are not these poor people right? Did not these bushes grow
on sacred ground? Is not their sap impregnated with the incense
of offerings, and the exhalations of holy anchorites, who once
lived and breathed here?"
The learned, but superstitious Sham Rao would only answer our
questions by new questions.
But the central temple, built of red granite, stood unharmed by time,
and, as we learned afterwards, a deep tunnel opened just behind
its closely-shut door. What was beyond it no one knew. Sham Rao
assured us that no man of the last three generations had ever stepped
over the threshold of this thick iron door; no one had seen the
subterranean passage for many years. Kangalim lived there in
perfect isolation, and, according to the oldest people in the
neighborhood, she had always lived there. Some people said she
was three hundred years old; others alleged that a certain old
man on his death-bed had revealed to his son that this old woman
was no one else than his own uncle. This fabulous uncle had settled
in the cave in the times when the "dead city" still counted several
hundreds of inhabitants. The hermit, busy paving his road to Moksha,
had no intercourse with the rest of the world, and nobody knew how
he lived and what he ate. But a good while ago, in the days when
the Bellati (foreigners) had not yet taken possession of this mountain,
the old hermit suddenly was transformed into a hermitess. She
continues his pursuits and speaks with his voice, and often in his
name; but she receives worshippers, which was not the practice of
We had come too early, and the Pythia did not at first appear. But
the square before the temple was full of people, and a wild, though
picturesque, scene it was. An enormous bonfire blazed in the centre,
and round it crowded the naked savages like so many black gnomes,
adding whole branches of trees sacred to the seven sister-goddesses.
Slowly and evenly they all jumped from one leg to another to a tune
of a single monotonous musical phrase, which they repeated in chorus,
accompanied by several local drums and tambourines. The hushed
trill of the latter mingled with the forest echoes and the hysterical
moans of two little girls, who lay under a heap of leaves by the fire.
The poor children were brought here by their mothers, in the hope
that the goddesses would take pity upon them and banish the two
evil spirits under whose obsession they were. Both mothers were
quite young, and sat on their heels blankly and sadly staring at
the flames. No one paid us the slightest attention when we appeared,
and afterwards during all our stay these people acted as if we
were invisible. Had we worn a cap of darkness they could not have
behaved more strangely.
"They feel the approach of the gods! The atmosphere is full of
their sacred emanations!" mysteriously explained Sham Rao,
contemplating with reverence the natives, whom his beloved Haeckel
might have easily mistaken for his "missing link," the brood of
his " Bathybius Haeckelii. "
"They are simply under the influence of toddy and opium!" retorted
the irreverent Babu.
The lookers-on moved as in a dream, as if they all were only
half-awakened somnambulists; but the actors were simply victims
of St. Vitus's dance. One of them, a tall old man, a mere skeleton
with a long white beard, left the ring and begun whirling vertiginously,
with his arms spread like wings, and loudly grinding his long, wolf-
like teeth. He was painful and disgusting to look at. He soon fell
down, and was carelessly, almost mechanically, pushed aside by the
feet of the others still engaged in their demoniac performance.
All this was frightful enough, but many more horrors were in store
Waiting for the appearance of the prima donna of this forest opera
company, we sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree, ready to ask
innumerable questions of our condescending host. But I was hardly
seated, when a feeling of indescribable astonishment and horror
made me shrink back.
I beheld the skull of a monstrous animal, the like of which I could
not find in my zoological reminiscences. This head was much larger
than the head of an elephant skeleton. And still it could not be
anything but an elephant, judging by the skillfully restored trunk,
which wound down to my feet like a gigantic black leech. But an
elephant has no horns, whereas this one had four of them! The
front pair stuck from the flat forehead slightly bending forward
and then spreading out; and the others had a wide base, like the
root of a deer's horn, that gradually decreased almost up to the
middle, and bore long branches enough to decorate a dozen ordinary
elks. Pieces of the transparent amber-yellow rhinoceros skin were
strained over the empty eye-holes of the skull, and small lamps
burning behind them only added to the horror, the devilish appearance
of this head.
"What can this be?" was our unanimous question. None of us had
ever met anything like it, and even the colonel looked aghast.
"It is a Sivatherium," said Narayan. "Is it possible you never
came across these fossils in European museums? Their remains are
common enough in the Himalayas, though, of course, in fragments.
They were called after Shiva."
"If the collector of this district ever hears that this antediluvian
relic adorns the den of your--ahem!--witch," remarked the Babu,
"it won't adorn it many days longer."
All round the skull, and on the floor of the portico there were
heaps of white flowers, which, though not quite antediluvian, were
totally unknown to us. They were as large as a big rose; and
their white petals were covered with a red powder, the inevitable
concomitant of every Indian religious ceremony. Further on, there
were groups of cocoa-nuts, and large brass dishes filled with rice;
and each adorned with a red or green taper. In the centre of the
portico there stood a queer-shaped censer, surrounded with chandeliers.
A little boy, dressed from head to foot in white, threw into it
handfuls of aromatic powders.
"These people, who assemble here to worship Kangalim," said Sham Rao,
"do not actually belong either to her sect or to any other. They
are devil-worshippers. They do not believe in Hindu gods, but live
in small communities; they belong to one of the many Indian races,
which usually are called the hill-tribes. Unlike the Shanars of
Southern Travancore, they do not use the blood of sacrificial animals;
they do not build separate temples to their bhutas. But they are
possessed by the strange fancy that the goddess Kali, the wife of
Shiva, from time immemorial has had a grudge against them, and
sends her favorite evil spirits to torture them. Save this little
difference, they have the same beliefs as the Shanars. God does
not exist for them; and even Shiva is considered by them as an
ordinary spirit. Their chief worship is offered to the souls of
the dead. These souls, however righteous and kind they may be in
their lifetime, become after death as wicked as can be; they are
happy only when they are torturing living men and cattle. As the
opportunities of doing so are the only reward for the virtues they
possessed when incarnated, a very wicked man is punished by becoming
after his death a very soft-hearted ghost; he loathes his loss of
daring, and is altogether miserable. The results of this strange
logic are not bad, nevertheless. These savages and devil-worshippers
are the kindest and the most truth-loving of all the hill-tribes.
They do whatever they can to be worthy of their ultimate reward;
because, don't you see, they all long to become the wickedest
of devils!.... "
And put in good humor by his own wittiness, Sham Rao laughed till his
hilarity became offensive, considering the sacredness of the place.
"A year ago some business matters sent me to Tinevelli," continued he.
"Staying with a friend of mine, who is a Shanar, I was allowed to be
present at one of the ceremonies in the honor of devils. No European
has as yet witnessed this worship--whatever the missionaries may say;
but there are many converts amongst the Shanars, who willingly describe
them to the padres. My friend is a wealthy man, which is probably
the reason why the devils are especially vicious to him. They poison
his cattle, spoil his crops and his coffee plants, and persecute his
numerous relations, sending them sunstrokes, madness and epilepsy,
over which illnesses they especially preside. These wicked demons
have settled in every corner of his spacious landed property--in
the woods, the ruins, and even in his stables. To avert all this,
my friend covered his land with stucco pyramids, and prayed humbly,
asking the demons to draw their portraits on each of them, so that
he may recognize them and worship each of them separately, as the
rightful owner of this, or that, particular pyramid. And what do
you think?.... Next morning all the pyramids were found covered
with drawings. Each of them bore an incredibly good likeness of
the dead of the neighborhood. My friend had known personally almost
all of them. He found also a portrait of his own late father amongst
the lot..... "
"Well? And was he satisfied?"
"Oh, he was very glad, very satisfied. It enabled him to choose
the right thing to gratify the personal tastes of each demon, don't
you see? He was not vexed at finding his father's portrait. His
father was somewhat irascible; once he nearly broke both his son's
legs, administering to him fatherly punishment with an iron bar,
so that he could not possibly be very dangerous after his death.
But another portrait, found on the best and the prettiest of the
pyramids, amazed my friend a good deal, and put him in a blue funk.
The whole district recognized an English officer, a certain Captain
Pole, who in his lifetime was as kind a gentleman as ever lived."
"Indeed? But do you mean to say that this strange people worshipped
Captain Pole also?"
"Of course they did! Captain Pole was such a worthy man, such an
honest officer, that, after his death, he could not help being
promoted to the highest rank of Shanar devils. The Pe-Kovil,
demon's house, sacred to his memory, stands side by side with the
Pe-Kovil Bhadrakali, which was recently conferred on the wife of
a certain German missionary, who also was a most charitable lady
and so is very dangerous now."
"But what are their ceremonies? Tell us something about their rites."
"Their rites consist chiefly of dancing, singing, and killing
sacrificial animals. The Shanars have no castes, and eat all
kinds of meat. The crowd assembles about the Pe-Kovil, previously
designated by the priest; there is a general beating of drums,
and slaughtering of fowls, sheep and goats. When Captain Pole's
turn came an ox was killed, as a thoughtful attention to the
peculiar tastes of his nation. The priest appeared, covered with
bangles, and holding a wand on which tinkled numberless little
bells, and wearing garlands of red and white flowers round his neck,
and a black mantle, on which were embroidered the ugliest fiends
you can imagine. Horns were blown and drums rolled incessantly.
And oh, I forgot to tell you there was also a kind of fiddle, the
secret of which is known only to the Shanar priesthood. Its bow
is ordinary enough, made of bamboo; but it is whispered that the
strings are human veins.... When Captain Pole took possession of
the priest's body, the priest leapt high in the air, and then rushed
on the ox and killed him. He drank off the hot blood, and then
began his dance. But what a fright he was when dancing! You know,
I am not superstitious.... Am I?... "
Sham Rao looked at us inquiringly, and I, for one, was glad, at
this moment, that Miss X--- was half a mile off, asleep in the howdah.
"He turned, and turned, as if possessed by all the demons of Naraka.
The enraged crowd hooted and howled when the priest begun to inflict
deep wounds all over his body with the bloody sacrificial knife.
To see him, with his hair waving in the wind and his mouth covered
with foam; to see him bathing in the blood of the sacrificed animal,
mixing it with his own, was more than I could bear. I felt as if
hallucinated, I fancied I also was spinning round.... "
Sham Rao stopped abruptly, struck dumb. Kangalim stood before us!
Her appearance was so unexpected that we all felt embarrassed.
Carried away by Sham Rao's description, we had noticed neither how
nor whence she came. Had she appeared from beneath the earth we
could not have been more astonished. Narayan stared at her, opening
wide his big jet-black eyes; the Babu clicked his tongue in utter
confusion. Imagine a skeleton seven feet high, covered with brown
leather, with a dead child's tiny head stuck on its bony shoulders;
the eyes set so deep and at the same time flashing such fiendish
flames all through your body that you begin to feel your brain stop
working, your thoughts become entangled and your blood freeze in
I describe my personal impressions, and no words of mine can do
them justice. My description is too weak.
Mr. Y--- and the colonel both grew pale under her stare, and Mr. Y---
made a movement as if about to rise.
Needless to say that such an impression could not last. As soon
as the witch had turned her gleaming eyes to the kneeling crowd,
it vanished as swiftly as it had come. But still all our attention
was fixed on this remarkable creature.
Three hundred years old! Who can tell? Judging by her appearance,
we might as well conjecture her to be a thousand. We beheld a
genuine living mummy, or rather a mummy endowed with motion. She
seemed to have been withering since the creation. Neither time,
nor the ills of life, nor the elements could ever affect this living
statue of death. The all-destroying hand of time had touched her
and stopped short. Time could do no more, and so had left her.
And with all this, not a single grey hair. Her long black locks
shone with a greenish sheen, and fell in heavy masses down to her knees.
To my great shame, I must confess that a disgusting reminiscence
flashed into my memory. I thought about the hair and the nails of
corpses growing in the graves, and tried to examine the nails of
the old woman.
Meanwhile, she stood motionless as if suddenly transformed into
an ugly idol. In one hand she held a dish with a piece of burning
camphor, in the other a handful of rice, and she never removed her
burning eyes from the crowd. The pale yellow flame of the camphor
flickered in the wind, and lit up her deathlike head, almost
touching her chin; but she paid no heed to it. Her neck, as
wrinkled as a mushroom, as thin as a stick, was surrounded by
three rows of golden medallions. Her head was adorned with a
golden snake. Her grotesque, hardly human body was covered by a
piece of saffron-yellow muslin.
The demoniac little girls raised their heads from be-neath the
leaves, and set up a prolonged animal-like howl. Their example
was followed by the old man, who lay exhausted by his frantic dance.
The witch tossed her head convulsively, and began her invocations,
rising on tiptoe, as if moved by some external force.
"The goddess, one of the seven sisters, begins to take possession
of her," whispered Sham Rao, not even thinking of wiping away the
big drops of sweat that streamed from his brow. "Look, look at her!"
This advice was quite superfluous. We were looking at her, and
at nothing else.
At first, the movements of the witch were slow, unequal, somewhat
convulsive; then, gradually, they became less angular; at last,
as if catching the cadence of the drums, leaning all her long body
forward, and writhing like an eel, she rushed round and round the
blazing bonfire. A dry leaf caught in a hurricane could not fly
swifter. Her bare bony feet trod noiselessly on the rocky ground.
The long locks of her hair flew round her like snakes, lashing the
spectators, who knelt, stretching their trembling arms towards her,
and writhing as if they were alive. Whoever was touched by one of
this Fury's black curls, fell down on the ground, overcome with
happiness, shouting thanks to the goddess, and considering himself
blessed for ever. It was not human hair that touched the happy
elect, it was the goddess herself, one of the seven. Swifter and
swifter fly her decrepit legs; the young, vigorous hands of the
drummer can hardly follow her. But she does not think of catching
the measure of his music; she rushes, she flies forward. Staring
with her expressionless, motionless orbs at something before her,
at something that is not visible to our mortal eyes, she hardly
glances at her worshippers; then her look becomes full of fire;
and whoever she looks at feels burned through to the marrow of
his bones. At every glance she throws a few grains of rice.
The small handful seems inexhaustible, as if the wrinkled palm
contained the bottomless bag of Prince Fortunatus.
Suddenly she stops as if thunderstruck.
The mad race round the bonfire had lasted twelve minutes, but we
looked in vain for a trace of fatigue on the deathlike face of
the witch. She stopped only for a moment, just the necessary time
for the goddess to release her. As soon as she felt free, by a
single effort she jumped over the fire and plunged into the deep
tank by the portico. This time, she plunged only once; and whilst
she stayed under the water, the second sister-goddess entered her
body. The little boy in white produced another dish, with a new
piece of burning camphor, just in time for the witch to take it up,
and to rush again on her headlong way.
The colonel sat with his watch in his hand. During the second
obsession the witch ran, leaped, and raced for exactly fourteen
minutes. After this, she plunged twice in the tank, in honor of
the second sister; and with every new obsession the number of her
plunges increased, till it became six.
It was already an hour and a half since the race began. All this
time the witch never rested, stopping only for a few seconds, to
disappear under the water.
"She is a fiend, she cannot be a woman!" exclaimed the colonel,
seeing the head of the witch immersed for the sixth time in the water.
"Hang me if I know!" grumbled Mr. Y---, nervously pulling his beard.
"The only thing I know is that a grain of her cursed rice entered
my throat, and I can't get it out!"
"Hush, hush! Please, do be quiet!" implored Sham Rao. "By talking
you will spoil the whole business!"
I glanced at Narayan and lost myself in conjectures. His features,
which usually were so calm and serene, were quite altered at this
moment, by a deep shadow of suffering. His lips trembled, and
the pupils of his eyes were dilated, as if by a dose of belladonna.
His eyes were lifted over the heads of the crowd, as if in his
disgust he tried not to see what was before him, and at the same
time could not see it, engaged in a deep reverie, which carried him
away from us, and from the whole performance.
"What is the matter with him?" was my thought, but I had no time
to ask him, because the witch was again in full swing, chasing
her own shadow.
But with the seventh goddess the programme was slightly changed.
The running of the old woman changed to leaping. Sometimes bending
down to the ground, like a black panther, she leaped up to some
worshipper, and halting before him touched his forehead with her
finger, while her long, thin body shook with inaudible laughter.
Then, again, as if shrinking back playfully from her shadow, and
chased by it, in some uncanny game, the witch appeared to us like
a horrid caricature of Dinorah, dancing her mad dance. Suddenly
she straightened herself to her full height, darted to the portico
and crouched before the smoking censer, beating her forehead against
the granite steps. Another jump, and she was quite close to us,
before the head of the monstrous Sivatherium. She knelt down again
and bowed her head to the ground several times, with the sound of
an empty barrel knocked against something hard.
We had hardly the time to spring to our feet and shrink back when
she appeared on the top of the Sivatherium's head, standing there
amongst the horns.
Narayan alone did not stir, and fearlessly looked straight in the
eyes of the frightful sorceress.
But what was this? Who spoke in those deep manly tones? Her lips
were moving, from her breast were issuing those quick, abrupt phrases,
but the voice sounded hollow as if coming from beneath the ground.
"Hush, hush!" whispered Sham Rao, his whole body trembling. "She
is going to prophesy!.... " "She?" incredulously inquired Mr. Y---.
"This a woman's voice? I don't believe it for a moment. Someone's
uncle must be stowed away somewhere about the place. Not the
fabulous uncle she inherited from, but a real live one!.... "
Sham Rao winced under the irony of this supposition, and cast an
imploring look at the speaker.
"Woe to you! woe to you!" echoed the voice. "Woe to you, children
of the impure Jaya and Vijaya! of the mocking, unbelieving lingerers
round great Shiva's door! Ye, who are cursed by eighty thousand sages!
Woe to you who believe not in the goddess Kali, and you who deny us,
her Seven divine Sisters! Flesh-eating, yellow-legged vultures!
friends of the oppressors of our land! dogs who are not ashamed to
eat from the same trough with the Bellati!" (foreigners).
"It seems to me that your prophetess only foretells the past," said
Mr. Y---, philosophically putting his hands in his pockets. "I
should say that she is hinting at you, my dear Sham Rao."
"Yes! and at us also," murmured the colonel, who was evidently
beginning to feel uneasy.
As to the unlucky Sham Rao, he broke out in a cold sweat, and tried
to assure us that we were mistaken, that we did not fully understand
"It is not about you, it is not about you! It is of me she speaks,
because I am in Government service. Oh, she is inexorable!"
"Rakshasas! Asuras!" thundered the voice. "How dare you appear
before us? how dare you to stand on this holy ground in boots made
of a cow's sacred skin? Be cursed for etern---"
But her curse was not destined to be finished. In an instant the
Hercules-like Narayan had fallen on the Sivatherium, and upset the
whole pile, the skull, the horns and the demoniac Pythia included.
A second more, and we thought we saw the witch flying in the air
towards the portico. A confused vision of a stout, shaven Brahman,
suddenly emerging from under the Sivatherium and instantly
disappearing in the hollow beneath it, flashed before my dilated eyes.
But, alas! after the third second had passed, we all came to the
embarrassing conclusion that, judging from the loud clang of the
door of the cave, the representative of the Seven Sisters had
ignominiously fled. The moment she had disappeared from our
inquisitive eyes to her subterranean domain, we all realized that
the unearthly hollow voice we had heard had nothing supernatural
about it and belonged to the Brahman hidden under the Sivatherium--
to someone's live uncle, as Mr. Y--- had rightly supposed.
Oh, Narayan! how carelessly.... how disorderly the worlds rotate
around us.... I begin to seriously doubt their reality. From this
moment I shall earnestly believe that all things in the universe
are nothing but illusion, a mere Maya. I am becoming a Vedantin....
I doubt that in the whole universe there may be found anything more
objective than a Hindu witch flying up the spout.
Miss X--- woke up, and asked what was the meaning of all this noise.
The noise of many voices and the sounds of the many retreating
footsteps, the general rush of the crowd, had frightened her. She
listened to us with a condescending smile, and a few yawns, and
went to sleep again.
Next morning, at daybreak, we very reluctantly, it must be owned,
bade good-bye to the kind-hearted, good-natured Sham Rao. The
confoundingly easy victory of Narayan hung heavily on his mind.
His faith in the holy hermitess and the seven goddesses was a good
deal shaken by the shameful capitulation of the Sisters, who had
surrendered at the first blow from a mere mortal. But during the
dark hours of the night he had had time to think it over, and to
shake off the uneasy feeling of having unwillingly misled and
disappointed his European friends.
Sham Rao still looked confused when he shook hands with us at parting,
and expressed to us the best wishes of his family and himself.
As to the heroes of this truthful narrative, they mounted their
elephants once more, and directed their heavy steps towards the
high road and Jubbulpore.
The direction of our pilgrimage of self-improvement lay towards the
north-west, as was previously decided. We were very impatient to
see these status in statu of Anglo-India, but.... Do what you may,
there always will be a but.
We left the Jubbulpore line several miles from Nassik; and, to
return to it, we had to go back to Akbarpur, then travel by doubtful
Local-Board roads to the station Vanevad and take the train of Holkar's
line, which joins the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.