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 higher gods.
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 clean towel.
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 aggressive spirits.
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 and 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 but trees."
"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 her predecessor.
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 for us.
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 your veins.
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 her language.
"It is not about you, it is not about you! It is of me she speaks, because I am in Government service. Oh, she is inexorable!"
"Rakshasas! Asuras!" thundered the voice. "How dare you appear before us? how dare you to stand on this holy ground in boots made of a cow's sacred skin? Be cursed for etern——"
But her curse was not destined to be finished. In an instant the Hercules-like Narayan had fallen on the Sivatherium, and upset the whole pile, the skull, the horns and the demoniac Pythia included. A second more, and we thought we saw the witch flying in the air towards the portico. A confused vision of a stout, shaven Brahman, suddenly emerging from under the Sivatherium and instantly disappearing in the hollow beneath it, flashed before my dilated eyes.
But, alas! after the third second had passed, we all came to the embarrassing conclusion that, judging from the loud clang of the door of the cave, the representative of the Seven Sisters had ignominiously fled. The moment she had disappeared from our inquisitive eyes to her subterranean domain, we all realized that the unearthly hollow voice we had heard had nothing supernatural about it and belonged to the Brahman hidden under the Sivatherium—to someone's live uncle, as Mr. Y—— had rightly supposed.
Oh, Narayan! how carelessly.... how disorderly the worlds rotate around us.... I begin to seriously doubt their reality. From this moment I shall earnestly believe that all things in the universe are nothing but illusion, a mere Maya. I am becoming a Vedantin.... I doubt that in the whole universe there may be found anything more objective than a Hindu witch flying up the spout.——
Miss X—— woke up, and asked what was the meaning of all this noise. The noise of many voices and the sounds of the many retreating footsteps, the general rush of the crowd, had frightened her. She listened to us with a condescending smile, and a few yawns, and went to sleep again.
Next morning, at daybreak, we very reluctantly, it must be owned, bade good-bye to the kind-hearted, good-natured Sham Rao. The confoundingly easy victory of Narayan hung heavily on his mind. His faith in the holy hermitess and the seven goddesses was a good deal shaken by the shameful capitulation of the Sisters, who had surrendered at the first blow from a mere mortal. But during the dark hours of the night he had had time to think it over, and to shake off the uneasy feeling of having unwillingly misled and disappointed his European friends.
Sham Rao still looked confused when he shook hands with us at parting, and expressed to us the best wishes of his family and himself.
As to the heroes of this truthful narrative, they mounted their elephants once more, and directed their heavy steps towards the high road and Jubbulpore.
The direction of our pilgrimage of self-improvement lay towards the north-west, as was previously decided. We were very impatient to see these status in statu of Anglo-India, but.... Do what you may, there always will be a but.
We left the Jubbulpore line several miles from Nassik; and, to return to it, we had to go back to Akbarpur, then travel by doubtful Local-Board roads to the station Vanevad and take the train of Holkar's line, which joins the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.
Meanwhile, the Bagh caves were quite close to us, not more than fifty miles off, to the east from Mandu. We were undecided whether to leave them alone or go back to the Nerbudda. In the country situated on the other side of Kandesh, our Babu had some "chums," as everywhere else in India; the omnipresent Bengali Babus, who are always glad to be of some service to you, are scattered all over Hindostan, like the Jews in Russia. Besides, our party was joined by a new member.
The day before we had received a letter from Swami Dayanand, carried to us by a traveling Sannyasi. Dayanand informed us that the cholera was increasing every day in Hardwar, and that we must postpone making his acquaintance personally till the end of May, either in Dehra-Dun, at the foot of Himalaya, or in Saharanpur, which attracts every tourist by its charming situation.
The Sannyasi brought us also a nosegay from the Swami, a nosegay of the most extraordinary flowers, which are totally unknown in Europe. They grow only in certain Himalayan valleys; they possess the wonderful capacity of changing their color after midday, and do not look dead even when faded. The Latin name of this charming plant is Hibiscus mutabilis. At night they are nothing but a large knot of pressed green leaves, but from dawn till ten o'clock the flowers open and look like large snow-white roses; then, towards twelve o'clock, they begin to redden, and later in the afternoon they look as crimson as a peony. These flowers are sacred to the Asuras, a kind of fallen angels in Hindu mythology, and to the sun-god Surya. The latter deity fell in love with an Asuri at the beginning of creation, and since then is constantly caught whispering words of fiery love to the flower that shelters her. But the Asura is a virgin; she gives herself entirely to the service of the goddess Chastity, who is the patroness of all the ascetic brotherhoods. The love of Surya is vain, Asura will not listen to him. But under the flaming arrows of the enamoured god she blushes and in appearance loses her purity. The natives call this plant lajjalu, the modest one.
We were spending the night by a brook, under a shadowy fig-tree. The Sannyasi, who had made a wide circuit to fulfil Dayanand's request, made friends with us; and we sat up late in the night, listening whilst he talked about his travels, the wonders of his native country, once so great, and about the heroic deeds of old Runjit-Sing, the Lion of the Punjab.
Strange, mysterious beings are found sometimes amongst these traveling monks. Some of them are very learned; read and talk Sanskrit; know all about modern science and politics; and, nevertheless, remain faithful to their ancient philosophical conceptions. Generally they do not wear any clothes, except a piece of muslin round the loins, which is insisted upon by the police of the towns inhabited by Europeans. They wander from the age of fifteen, all their lives, and die generally very aged. They live never giving a thought to the morrow, like the birds of heaven, and the lilies of the field. They never touch money, and are contented with a handful of rice. All their worldly possessions consist of a small dry pumpkin to carry water, a rosary, a brass cup and a walking stick. The Sannyasis and the Swamis are usually Sikhs from the Punjab, and monotheists. They despise idol-worshipers, and have nothing to do with them, though the latter very often call themselves by their names.
Our new friend was a native of Amritsar, in the Punjab, and had been brought up in the "Golden Temple," on the banks of Amrita-Saras, the "Lake of Immortality." The head Guru, or instructor, of Sikhs resides there. He never crosses the boundaries of the temple. His chief occupation is the study of the book called Adigrantha, which belongs to the sacred literature of this strange bellicose sect. The Sikhs respect him as much as the Tibetans respect their Dalai-Lama. The Lamas in general consider the latter to be the incarnation of Buddha, the Sikhs think that the Maha-Guru of Amritsar is the incarnation of Nanak, the founder of their sect. Nevertheless, no true Sikh will ever say that Nanak was a deity; they look on him as a prophet, inspired by the spirit of the only God. This shows that our Sannyasi was not one of the naked travelling monks, but a true Akali; one of the six hundred warrior-priests attached to the Golden Temple, for the purpose of serving God and protecting the temple from the destructive Mussulmans. His name was Ram-Runjit-Das; and his personal appearance was in perfect accordance with his title of "God's warrior." His exterior was very remarkable and typical; and he looked like a muscular centurion of ancient Roman legions, rather than a peaceable servant of the altar. Ram-Runjit-Das appeared to us mounted on a magnificent horse, and accompanied by another Sikh, who respectfully walked some distance behind him, and was evidently passing through his noviciate. Our Hindu companions had discerned that he was an Akali, when he was still in the distance. He wore a bright blue tunic without sleeves, exactly like that we see on the statues of Roman warriors. Broad steel bracelets protected his strong arms, and a shield protruded from behind his back. A blue, conical turban covered his head, and round his waist were many steel circlets. The enemies of the Sikhs assert that these sacred sectarian belts become more dangerous in the hand of an experienced "God's warrior," than any other weapon.
The Sikhs are the bravest and the most warlike sect of the whole Punjab. The word sikh means disciple. Founded in the fifteenth century by the wealthy and noble Brahman Nanak, the new teaching spread so successfully amongst the northern soldiers, that in 1539 A.D., when the founder died, it counted one hundred thousand followers. At the present time, this sect, harmonizing closely with the fiery natural mysticism, and the warlike tendencies of the natives, is the reigning creed of the whole Punjab. It is based on the principles of theocratic rule; but its dogmas are almost totally unknown to Europeans; the teachings, the religious conceptions, and the rites of the Sikhs, are kept secret. The following details are known generally: the Sikhs are ardent monotheists, they refuse to recognize caste; have no restrictions in diet, like Europeans; and bury their dead, which, except among Mussulmans, is a rare exception in India. The second volume of the Adigrantha teaches them "to adore the only true God; to avoid superstitions; to help the dead, that they may lead a righteous life; and to earn one's living, sword in hand." Govinda, one of the great Gurus of the Sikhs, ordered them never to shave their beards and moustaches, and not to cut their hair—in order that they may not be mistaken for Mussulmans or any other native of India.
Many a desperate battle the Sikhs fought and won, against the Mussulmans, and against the Hindus. Their leader, the celebrated Runjit-Sing, after having been acknowledged the autocrat of the Upper Punjab, concluded a treaty with Lord Auckland, at the beginning of this century, in which his country was proclaimed an independent state. But after the death of the "old lion," his throne became the cause of the most dreadful civil wars and disorders. His son, Maharaja Dhulip-Sing, proved quite unfit for the high post he inherited from his father, and, under him, the Sikhs became an ill-disciplined restless mob. Their attempt to conquer the whole of Hindostan proved disastrous. Persecuted by his own soldiers, Dhulip-Sing sought the help of Englishmen, and was sent away to Scotland. And some time after this, the Sikhs took their place amongst the rest of Britain's Indian subjects.
But still there remains a strong body of the great Sikh sect of old. The Kuks represent the most dangerous underground current of the popular hatred. This new sect was founded about thirty years ago [written in 1879] by Balaka-Rama, and, at first, formed a bulk of people near Attok, in the Punjab, on the east bank of the Indus, exactly on the spot where the latter becomes navigable. Balaka-Rama had a double aim; to restore the religion of the Sikhs to its pristine purity, and to organize a secret political body, which must be ready for everything, at a moment's notice. This brotherhood consists of sixty thousand members, who pledged themselves never to reveal their secrets, and never to disobey any order of their leaders. In Attok they are few, for the town is small. But we were assured that the Kuks live everywhere in India. Their community is so perfectly organized that it is impossible to find them out, or to learn the names of their leaders.
In the course of the evening our Akali presented us with a little crystal bottle, filled with water from the "Lake of Immortality." He said that a drop of it would cure all diseases of the eye. There are numbers of fresh springs at the bottom of this lake, and so its water is wonderfully pure and transparent, in spite of hundreds of people daily bathing in it. When, later on, we visited it, we had the opportunity to verify the fact that the smallest stone at the bottom is seen perfectly distinctly, all over the one hundred and fifty square yards of the lake. Amrita-Saran is the most charming of all the sights of Northern India. The reflection of the Golden Temple in its crystal waters makes a picture that is simply feerique.
We had still seven weeks at our disposal. We were undecided between exploring the Bombay Presidency, the North-West Provinces and the Rajistan. Which were we to choose? Where were we to go? How best to employ our time? Before such a variety of interesting places we became irresolute. Hyderabad, which is said to transport the tourists into the scenery of the Arabian Nights, seemed so attractive that we seriously thought of turning our elephants back to the territory of the Nizam. We grew fond of the idea of visiting this "City of the Lion," which was built in 1589 by the magnificent Mohamed-Kuli-Kuth-Shah, who was so used to luxuries of every kind as to grow weary even of Golkonda, with all its fairyland castles and bright gardens. Some buildings of Hyderabad, mere remnants of the past glory, are still known to renown. Mir-Abu-Talib, the keeper of the Royal Treasury, states that Mohamed-Kuli-Shah spent the fabulous sum of L 2,800,000 sterling on the embellishment of the town, at the beginning of his reign; though the labor of the workmen did not cost him anything at all. Save these few memorials of greatness, the town looks like a heap of rubbish nowadays. But all tourists are unanimous on one point, namely, that the British Residency of Hyderabad still deserves its title of the Versailles of India.
The title the British Residency bears, and everything it may contain at the present time, are mere trifles compared with the past. I remember reading a chapter of the History of Hyderabad, by an English author, which contained something to the following effect: Whilst the Resident entertained the gentlemen, his wife was similarly employed receiving the ladies a few yards off, in a separate palace, which was as sumptuous, and bore the name of Rang-Mahal. Both palaces were built by Colonel Kirkpatrick, the late minister at the Nizam's court. Having married a native princess, he constructed this charming abode for her personal use. Its garden is surrounded by a high wall, as is customary in the Orient, and the centre of the garden is adorned with a large marble fountain, covered with scenes from the Ramayana, and mosaics, Pavilions, galleries and terraces—everything in this garden is loaded with adornments of the most costly Oriental style, that is to say, with abundance of inlaid designs, paintings, gilding, ivory and marble. The great attraction of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's receptions were the nautches, magnificently dressed, thanks to the generosity of the Resident. Some of them wore a cargo of jewels worth L 30,000, and literally shone from head to foot with diamonds and other precious stones.
The glorious times of the East India Company are beyond recall, and no Residents, and even no native princes, could now afford to be so "generous." India, this "most precious diamond of the British crown," is utterly exhausted, like a pile of gold in the hands of an alchemist, who thriftlessly spent it in the hope of finding the philosopher's stone. Besides ruining themselves and the country, the Anglo-Indians commit the greatest blunders, at least in two points of their present Government system. These two points are: first, the Western education they give to the higher classes; and, secondly, the protection and maintenance of the rights of idol worship. Neither of these systems is wise. By means of the first they successfully replace the religious feelings of old India, which, however false, had the great advantage of being sincere, by a positive atheism amongst the young generation of the Brahmans; and by the means of the second they flatter only the ignorant masses, from whom nothing is to be feared under any circumstances. If the patriotic feelings of the bulk of the population could possibly be roused, the English would have been slaughtered long ago. The rural populace is unarmed, it is true, but a crowd seeking revenge could use the brass and stone idols, sent to India by thousands from Birmingham, with as great success as if they were so many swords. But, as it is, the masses of India are indifferent and harmless; so that the only existing danger comes from the side of the educated classes. And the English fail to see that the better the education they give them, the more careful they must be to avoid reopening the old wounds, always alive to new injury, in the heart of every true Hindu. The Hindus are proud of the past of their country, dreams of past glories are their only compensation for the bitter present. The English education they receive only enables them to learn that Europe was plunged in the darkness of the Stone Age, when India was in the full growth of her splendid civilization. And so the comparison of their past with their present is only the more sad. This consideration never hinders the Anglo-Indians from hurting the feelings of the Hindus. For instance, in the unanimous opinion of travelers and antiquarians, the most interesting building of Hyderabad is Chahar-Minar, a college that was built by Mohamed-Kuli-Khan on the ruins of a still more ancient college. It is built at the crossing of four streets, on four arches, which are so high that loaded camels and elephants with their turrets pass through freely. Over these arches rise the several stories of the college. Each story once was destined for a separate branch of learning. Alas! the times when India studied philosophy and astronomy at the feet of her great sages are gone, and the English have transformed the college itself into a warehouse. The hall, which served for the study of astronomy, and was filled with quaint, medieval apparatus, is now used for a depot of opium; and the hall of philosophy contains huge boxes of liqueurs, rum and champagne, which are prohibited by the Koran, as well as by the Brahmans.
We were so enchanted by what we heard about Hyderabad, that we resolved to start thither the very next morning, when our ciceroni and companions destroyed all our plans by a single word. This word was: heat. During the hot season in Hyderabad the thermometer reaches ninety-eight degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, and the temperature of the water in the Indus is the temperature of the blood. As to Upper Sindh, where the dryness of the air, and the extreme aridity of the sandy soil reproduce the Sahara in miniature, the usual shade temperature is one hundred and thirty degrees Fahrenheit. No wonder the missionaries have no chance there. The most eloquent of Dante's descriptions of hell could hardly produce anything but a cooling effect on a populace who live perfectly contented under these circumstances.
Calculating that there was no obstacle to our going to the Bagh caves, and that going to Sindh was a perfect impossibility, we recovered our equanimity. Then the general council decided that we had better abandon all ideas of a predetermined plan, and travel as fancy led us.
We dismissed our elephants, and next day, a little before sunset, arrived at the spot where the Vagrey and Girna join. These are two little rivers, quite famous in the annals of the Indian mythology, and which are generally conspicuous by their absence, especially in summer. At the opposite side of the river, there lay the illustrious Bagh caves, with their four openings blinking in the thick evening mist.
We thought of crossing to them immediately, by the help of a ferry boat, but our Hindu friends and the boat-men interposed. The former said that visiting these caves is dangerous even by daytime; because all the neighborhood is full of beasts of prey and of tigers, who, I concluded, are like the Bengali Babus, to be met with everywhere in India. Before venturing into these caves, you must send a reconnoitring party of torch-bearers and armed shikaris. As to the boatmen, they protested on different grounds, but protested strongly. They said that no Hindu would dare to approach these caves after the sun set. No one but a Bellati would fancy that Vagrey and Girna are ordinary rivers, for every Hindu knows they are divine spouses, the god Shiva and his wife Parvati. This, in the first instance; and in the second, the Bagh tigers are no ordinary tigers either. The sahibs are totally mistaken. These tigers are the servants of the Sadhus, of the holy miracle-workers, who have haunted the caves now for many centuries, and who deign sometimes to take the shape of a tiger. And neither the gods, nor the Sadhus, nor the glamour, nor the true tigers are fond of being disturbed in their nightly rest.
What could we say against all this? We cast one more sorrowful look at the caves, and returned to our antediluvian carriages. The Babu and Narayan said we must spend the night at the house of a certain "chum" of the Babu, who resided in a small town, three miles further on, and bearing the same name as the caves; and we unwillingly acquiesced.
Many things in India are wonderful and unintelligible, but one of the most wonderful and the most unintelligible, is the geographical and the topographical disposition of the numberless territories of this country. Political conjunctures in India seem to be everlastingly playing the French game casse-tete, changing the pattern, diminishing one part and adding to another. The land that only yesterday belonged to this Raja or that Takur, is sure to be found today in the hands of quite a different set of people. For instance, we were in the Raj of Amjir in Malva, and we were going to the little city of Bagh, which also belongs to Malva and is included in the Amjir Raj. In the documents, Malva is included in the independent possessions of Holkar; and nevertheless the Amjir Raj does not belong to Tukuji-Rao-Holkar, but to the son of the independent Raja of Amjir, who was hanged, "by inadvertence" as we were assured, in 1857. The city, and the caves of Bagh, very oddly belong to the Maharaja Sindya of Gwalior, who, besides, does not own them personally, having made a kind of present of them, and their nine thousand rupees of revenue, to some poor relation. This poor relation, in his turn, does not enjoy the property in the least, because a certain Rajput Takur stole it from him, and will not consent to give it back. Bagh is situated on the road from Gujerat to Malva, in the defile of Oodeypur, which is owned accordingly by the Maharana of Oodeypur. Bagh itself is built on the top of a woody hillock, and being disputed property does not belong to any one in particular, properly speaking; but a small fortress, and a bazaar in the centre of it are the private possessions of a certain dhani; who, besides being the chieftain of the Bhimalah tribe, was the personal "chum" of our Babu, and a "great thief and highway robber," according to the assertions of the said Babu.
"But why do you intend taking us to the place of a man whom you consider as a thief and a robber?" objected one of us timidly.
"He is a thief and a brigand," coolly answered the Bengali, "but only in the political sense. Otherwise he is an excellent man, and the truest of friends. Besides, if he does not help us, we shall starve; the bazaar and everything in the shops belong to him."
These explanations of the Babu notwithstanding, we were glad to learn that the "chum" in question was absent, and we were received by a relation of his. The garden was put at our disposal, and before our tents were pitched, we saw people coming from every side of the garden, bringing us provisions. Having deposited what he had brought, each of them, on leaving the tent, threw over his shoulder a pinch of betel and soft sugar, an offering to the "foreign bhutas," which were supposed to accompany us wherever we went. The Hindus of our party asked us, very seriously, not to laugh at this performance, saying it would be dangerous in this out-of-the-way place.
No doubt they were right. We were in Central India, the very nest of all kinds of superstitions, and were surrounded by Bhils. All along the Vindya ridge, from Yama, on the west of the "dead city," the country is thickly populated by this most daring, restless and superstitious of all the half-savage tribes of India.
The Orientalists think that the naive Bhils comes from the Sanskrit root bhid, which means to separate. Sir J. Malcolm supposes accordingly that the Bhils are sectarians, who separated from the Brahmanical creed, and were excommunicated. All this looks very probable, but their tribal traditions say something different. Of course, in this case, as in every other, their history is strongly entangled with mythology; and one has to go through a thick shrubbery of fancy before reaching the tribe's genealogical tree.
The relation of the absent dhani, who spent the evening with us, told us the following: The Bhils are the descendants of one of the sons of Mahadeva, or Shiva, and of a fair woman, with blue eyes and a white face, whom he met in some forest on the other side of the Kalapani, "black waters," or ocean. This pair had several sons, one of whom, as handsome as he was vicious, killed the favorite ox of his grandfather Maha-deva, and was banished by his father to the Jodpur desert. Banished to its remotest southern corner, he married; and soon his descendants filled the whole country. They scattered along the Vindya ridge, on the western frontier of Malva and Kandesh; and, later, in the woody wilderness, on the shores of the rivers Maha, Narmada and Tapti. And all of them, inheriting the beauty of their forefather, his blue eyes and fair complexion, inherited also his turbulent disposition and his vice.
"We are thieves and robbers," naively explained the relative of the Babu's "chum," "but we can't help it, because this is the decree of our mighty forefather, the great Maha-deva-Shiva. Sending his grandson to repent his sins in the desert, he said to him: 'Go, wretched murderer of my son and your brother, the ox Nardi; go and live the life of an exile and a brigand, to be an everlasting warning to your brethren!... ' These are the very words of the great god. Now, do you think we could disobey his orders? The least of our actions is always regulated by our Bhamyas—chieftains—who are the direct descendants of Nadir-Sing, the first Bhil, the child of our exiled ancestor, and being this, it is only natural that the great god speaks to us through him."
Is not it strange that Apis, the sacred ox of the Egyptians, is honored by the followers of Zoroaster, as well as by the Hindus? The ox Nardi, the emblem of life in nature, is the son of the creating father, or rather his life-giving breath. Ammianus Marcellinus mentions, in one of his works, that there exists a book which gives the exact age of Apis, the clue to the mystery of creation and the cyclic calculations. The Brahmans also explain the allegory of the ox Nardi by the continuation of life on our globe.
The "mediators" between Shiva and the Bhils possess such unrestricted authority that the most awful crimes are accomplished at their lightest word. The tribe have thought it necessary to decrease their power to a certain extent by instituting a kind of council in every village. This council is called tarvi, and tries to cool down the hot-headed fancies of the dhanis, their brigand lords. However, the word of the Bhils is sacred, and their hospitality is boundless.
The history and the annals of the princes of Jodpur and Oodeypur confirm the legend of the Bhil emigration from their primitive desert, but how they happened to be there nobody knows. Colonel Tod is positive that the Bhils, together with the Merases and the Goands, are the aborigines of India, as well as the tribes who inhabit the Nerbuda forests. But why the Bhils should be almost fair and blue-eyed, whereas the rest of the hill-tribes are almost African in type, is a question that is not answered by this statement. The fact that all these aborigines call themselves Bhumaputra and Vanaputra, sons of the earth and sons of the forest, when the Rajputs, their first conquerors, call themselves Surya-vansa and the Brahmans Indu-putras, descendants of the sun and the moon, does not prove everything. It seems to me, that in the present case, their appearance, which confirms their legends, is of much greater value than philology. Dr. Clark, the author of Travels in Scandinavia, is very logical in saying that, "by directing our attention on the traces of the ancient superstitions of a tribe, we shall find out who were its primitive forefathers much more easily than by scientific examination of their tongue; the superstitions are grafted on the very root, whereas the tongue is subjected to all kinds of changes."
But, unfortunately, everything we know about the history of the Bhils is reduced to the above-mentioned tradition, and to a few ancient songs of their bards. These bards or bhattas live in Rajistan, but visit the Bhils yearly, in order not to lose the leading thread of the achievements of their countrymen. Their songs are history, because the bhattas have existed from time immemorial, composing their lays for future generations, for this is their hereditary duty. And the songs of the remotest antiquity point to the lands over the Kalapani as the place whence the Bhils came; that is to say, some place in Europe. Some Orientalists, especially Colonel Tod, seek to prove that the Rajputs, who conquered the Bhils, were newcomers of Scythian origin, and that the Bhils are the true aborigines. To prove this, they put forward some features common to both peoples, Rajput and Scythian, for instance (1) the worship of the sword, the lance, the shield and the horse; (2) the worship of, and the sacrifice to, the sun (which, as far as I know, never was worshiped by the Scythians); (3) the passion of gambling (which again is as strong amongst the Chinese and the Japanese); (4) the custom of drinking blood out of the skull of an enemy (which is also practised by some aborigines of America), etc., etc.
I do not intend entering here on a scientific ethnological discussion; and, besides, I am sure no one fails to see that the reasoning of scientists sometimes takes a very strange turn when they set to prove some favorite theory of theirs. It is enough to remember how entangled and obscure is the history of the ancient Scythians to abstain from drawing any positive conclusions whatsoever from it. The tribes that go under one general denomination of Scythians were many, and still it is impossible to deny that there is a good deal of similitude between the customs of the old Scandinavians, worshipers of Odin, whose land indeed was occupied by the Scythians more than five hundred years B.C. and the customs of the Rajputs. But this similitude gives as much right to the Rajputs to say that we are a colony of Surya-vansas settled in the West as to us to maintain that the Rajputs are the descendants of Scythians who emigrated to the East. The Scythians of Herodotus and the Scythians of Ptolemy, and some other classical writers, are two perfectly distinct nationalities. Under Scythia, Herodotus means the extension of land from the mouth of Danube to the Sea of Azoff, according to Niebuhr; and to the mouth of Don, according to Rawlinson; whereas the Scythia of Ptolemy is a country strictly Asiatic, including the whole space between the river Volga and Serika, or China. Besides this, Scythia was divided by the western Himalayas, which the Roman writers call Imaus, into Scythia intra Imaum, and Scythia extra Imaum. Given this lack of precision, the Rajputs may be called the Scythians of Asia, and the Scythians the Rajputs of Europe, with the same degree of likelihood. Pinkerton's opinion is that European contempt for the Tartars would not be half so strong if the European public learned how closely we are related to them; that our forefathers came from northern Asia, and that our primitive customs, laws and mode of living were the same as theirs; in a word, that we are nothing but a Tartar colony... Cimbri, Kelts and Gauls, who conquered the northern part of Europe, are different names of the same tribe, whose origin is Tartary. Who were the Goths, the Swedes, the Vandals, the Huns and the Franks, if not separate swarms of the same beehive? The annals of Sweden point to Kashgar as the fatherland of the Swedes. The likeness between the languages of the Saxons and the Kipchak-Tartars is striking; and the Keltic, which still exists in Brittany and in Wales, is the best proof that their inhabitants are descendants of the Tartar nation.
Whatever Pinkerton and others may say, the modern Rajput warriors do not answer in the least the description Hippocrates gives us of the Scythians. The "father of medicine" says: "The bodily structure of these men is thick, coarse and stunted; their joints are weak and flabby; they have almost no hair, and each of them resembles the other." No man, who has seen the handsome, gigantic warriors of Rajistan, with their abundant hair and beards, will ever recognize this portrait drawn by Hippocrates as theirs. Besides, the Scythians, whoever they may be, buried their dead, which the Rajputs never did, judging by the records of their most ancient MSS. The Scythians were a wandering nation, and are described by Hesiod as "living in covered carts and feeding on mare's milk." And the Rajputs have been a sedentary people from time immemorial, inhabiting towns, and having their history at least several hundred years before Christ—that is to say, earlier than the epoch of Herodotus. They do celebrate the Ashvamedha, the horse sacrifice; but will not touch mare's milk, and despise all Mongolians. Herodotus says that the Scythians, who called themselves Skoloti, hated foreigners, and never let any stranger in their country; and the Rajputs are one of the most hospitable peoples of the world. In the epoch of the wars of Darius, 516 B.C., the Scythians were still in their own district, about the mouth of the Danube. And at the same epoch the Rajputs were already known in India and had their own kingdom. As to the Ashvamedha, which Colonel Tod thinks to be the chief illustration of his theory, the custom of killing horses in honor of the sun is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, as well as in the Aitareya-Brahmana. Martin Haug states that the latter has probably been in existence since 2000-2400 B.C.——
But it strikes me that the digression from the Babu's chum to the Scythians and the Rajputs of the antediluvian epoch threatens to become too long, so I beg the reader's pardon and resume the thread of my narrative.
The Banns Of Marriage
Next day, early in the morning, the local shikaris went under the leadership of the warlike Akali, to hunt glamoured and real tigers in the caves. It took them longer than we expected. The old Bhil, who represented to us the absent dhani, proposed that in the meanwhile we should witness a Brahmanical wedding ceremony. Needless to say, we jumped at this. The ceremonies of betrothal and marriage have not changed in India during the last two millenniums at least. They are performed according to the directions of Manu, and the old theme has no new variations. India's religious rites have crystallized long ago. Whoever has seen a Hindu wedding in 1879, saw it as it was celebrated in ancient Aryavarta many centuries ago.——