A few days before we left Bombay we read in a small local newspaper two announcements of marriages: the first the marriage of a Brahman heiress, the second of a daughter of the fire-worshipers. The first announcement was something to the following effect: "The family of Bimbay Mavlankar, etc., etc., are preparing for a happy event. This respectable member of our community, unlike the rest of the less fortunate Brahmans of his caste, has found a husband for his grand-daughter in a rich Gujerat family of the same caste. The little Rama-bai is already five, her future husband is seven. The wedding is to take place in two months and promises to be brilliant."
The second announcement referred to an accomplished fact. It appeared in a Parsi paper, which strongly insists on the necessity of giving up "disgusting superannuated customs," and especially the early marriage. It justly ridiculed a certain Gujerati newspaper, which had just described in very pompous expressions a recent wedding ceremony in Poona. The bridegroom, who had just entered his sixth year "pressed to his heart a blushing bride of two and a half!" The usual answers of this couple entering into matrimony proved so indistinct that the Mobed had to address the questions to their parents: "Are you willing to have him for your lawful husband, O daughter of Zaratushta?" and "Are you willing to be her husband, O son of Zoroaster?" "Everything went as well as it could be expected," continued the newspaper; "the bridegroom was led out of the room by the hand, and the bride, who was carried away in arms, greeted the guests, not with smiles, but with a tremendous howl, which made her forget the existence of such a thing as a pocket-handkerchief, and remember only her feeding-bottle; for the latter article she asked repeatedly, half choked with sobs, and throttled with the weight of the family diamonds. Taking it all in all, it was a Parsi marriage, which shows the progress of our speedily developing nation with the exactitude of a weather glass," added the satirical newspaper.
Having read this we laughed heartily, though we did not give full credit to this description, and thought it a good deal exaggerated. We knew Parsi and Brahman families in which were husbands of ten years of age; but had never heard as yet of a bride who was a baby in arms.——
It is not without reason that the Brahmans are fervent upholders of the ancient law which prohibits to everyone, except the officiating Brahmans, the study of Sanskrit and the reading of the Vedas. The Shudras and even the high-born Vaishyas were in olden times to be executed for such an offence. The secret of this rigour lies in the fact that the Vedas do not permit matrimony for women under fifteen to twenty years of age, and for men under twenty-five, or even thirty. Eager above all that every religious ceremony should fill their pockets, the Brahmans never stopped at disfiguring their ancient sacred literature; and not to be caught, they pronounced its study accursed. Amongst other "criminal inventions," to use the expression of Swami Dayanand, there is a text in the Brahmanical books, which contradicts everything that is to be found in the Vedas on this particular matter: I speak of the Kudva Kunbis, the wedding season of all the agricultural classes of Central Asia. This season is to be celebrated once in every twelve years, but it appears to be a field from which Messieurs les Brahmans gathered the most abundant harvest. At this epoch, all the mothers have to seek audiences from the goddess Mata, the great mother—of course through her rightful oracles the Brahmans. Mata is the special patroness of all the four kinds of marriages practised in India: the marriages of adults, of children, of babies, and of specimens of humanity that are as yet to be born.
The latter is the queerest of all, because the feelings it excites are so very like gambling. In this case, the marriage ceremony is celebrated between the mothers of the future children. Many a curious incident is the result of these matrimonial parodies. But a true Brahman will never allow the derision of fate to shake his dignity, and the docile population never will doubt the infallibility of these "elect of the gods." An open antagonism to the Brahmanical institutions is more than rare; the feelings of reverence and dread the masses show to the Brahmans are so blind and so sincere, that an outsider cannot help smiling at them and respecting them at the same time.
If both the mothers have children of the same sex, it will not upset the Brahman in the least; he will say this was the will of the goddess Mata, it shows that she desires the new-born babies to be two loving brothers, or two loving sisters, as the case may be, in future. And if the children grow up, they will be acknowledged heirs to the properties of both mothers. In this case, the Brahman breaks the bonds of the marriage by the order of the goddess, is paid for doing so, and the whole affair is dropped altogether. But if the children are of different sexes these bonds cannot be broken, even if they are born cripples or idiots.
While I am dealing with the family life of India, I had better mention some other features, not to return to them any more. No Hindu has the right to remain single. The only exceptions are, in case the child is destined to monastic life from the first days of his existence, and in case the child is consecrated to the service of one of the gods of the Trimurti even before he is born. Religion insists on matrimony for the sake of having a son, whose duty it will be to perform every prescribed rite, in order that his departed father may enter Swarga, or paradise. Even the caste of Brahmacharyas, who take vows of chastity, but take a part and interest in worldly life—and so are the unique lay-celibates of India—are bound to adopt sons. The rest of the Hindus must remain in matrimony till the age of forty; after which they earn the right to leave the world, and to seek salvation, leading an ascetic life in some jungle. If a member of some Hindu family happens to be afflicted from birth with some organic defect, this will not be an impediment to his marrying, on the condition that his wife should be also a cripple, if she belongs to the same caste. The defects of husband and wife must be different: if he is blind, she must be hump-backed or lame, and vice versa. But if the young man in question is prejudiced, and wants a healthy wife, he must condescend to make a mesalliance; he must stoop to choose a wife in a caste that is exactly one degree lower than his own. But in this case his kinsmen and associates will not acknowledge her; the parvenue will not be received on any conditions whatever. Besides, all these exceptional instances depend entirely on the family Guru—on the priest who is inspired by the gods.
All the above holds good as far as the men are concerned; but with the women it is quite different.
Only the nautches—dancing girls consecrated to gods, and living in temples—can be said to be free and happy. Their occupation is hereditary, but they are vestals and daughters of vestals, however strange this may sound to a European ear. But the notions of the Hindus, especially on questions of morality, are quite independent, and even anti-Western, if I may use this expression. No one is more severe and exacting in the questions of feminine honor and chastity; but the Brahmans proved to be more cunning than even the Roman augurs. Rhea Sylvia, for instance, the mother of Romulus and Remus, was buried alive by the ancient Romans, in spite of the god Mars taking an active part in her faux pas. Numa and Tiberius took exceedingly good care that the good morals of their priestesses should not become merely nominal. But the vestals on the banks of the Ganges and the Indus understand the question differently from those on the banks of the Tiber. The intimacy of the nautch-girls with the gods, which is generally accepted, cleanses them from every sin and makes them in every one's eyes irreproachable and infallible. A nautcha cannot sin, in spite of the crowd of the "celestial musicians" who swarm in every pagoda, in the form of baby-vestals and their little brothers. No virtuous Roman matron was ever so respected as the pretty little nautcha. This great reverence for the happy "brides of the gods" is especially striking in the purely native towns of Central India, where the population has preserved intact their blind faith in the Brahmans.
Every nautcha can read, and receives the highest Hindu education. They all read and write in Sanskrit, and study the best literature of ancient India, and her six chief philosophies, but especially music, singing and dancing. Besides these "godborn" priestesses of the pagodas, there are also public nautches, who, like the Egyptian almeas, are within the reach of ordinary mortals, not only of gods; they also are in most cases women of a certain culture.
But the fate of an honest woman of Hindostan is quite different; and a bitter and incredibly unjust fate it is. The life of a thoroughly good woman, especially if she happens to possess warm faith and unshaken piety, is simply a long chain of fatal misfortunes. And the higher her family and social position, the more wretched is her life. Married women are so afraid of resembling the professional dancing girls, that they cannot be persuaded to learn anything the latter are taught. If a Brahman woman is rich her life is spent in demoralizing idleness; if she is poor, so much the worse, her earthly existence is concentrated in monotonous performances of mechanical rites. There is no past, and no future for her; only a tedious present, from which there is no possible escape. And this only if everything be well, if her family be not visited by sad losses. Needless to say that, amongst Brahman women, marriage is not a question of free choice, and still less of affection. Her choice of a husband is restricted by the caste to which her father and mother happen to belong; and so, to find a suitable match for a girl is a matter of great difficulty, as well as of great expense. In India, the high-caste woman is not bought, but she has to buy the right to get married. Accordingly, the birth of a girl is not a joy, but a sorrow, especially if her parents are not rich. She must be married not later than when she is seven or eight; a little girl of ten is an old maid in India, she is a discredit to her parents and is the miser-able butt of all her more fortunate contemporaries.
One of the few noble achievements of Englishmen in India which have succeeded is the decrease of infanticide, which some time ago was a daily practice, and still is not quite got rid of. Little girls were killed by their parents everywhere in India; but this dreadful custom was especially common amongst the tribes of Jadej, once so powerful in Sindh, and now reduced to petty brigandage. Probably these tribes were the first to spread this heartless practice. Obligatory marriage for little girls is a comparatively recent invention, and it alone is responsible for the parents' decision rather to see them dead than unmarried. The ancient Aryans knew nothing of it. Even the ancient Brahmanical literature shows that, amongst the pure Aryans, woman enjoyed the same privileges as man. Her voice was listened to by the statesmen; she was free either to choose a husband, or to remain single. Many a woman's name plays an important part in the chronicles of the ancient Aryan land; many women have come down to posterity as eminent poets, astronomers, philosophers, and even sages and lawyers.
But with the invasion of the Persians, in the seventh century, and later on of the fanatical, all-destroying Mussulmans, all this changed. Woman became enslaved, and the Brahmans did everything to humiliate her. In towns, the position of the Hindu woman is still worse than amongst agricultural classes.
The wedding ceremonies are very complicated and numerous. They are divided into three groups: the rites before the wedding; the rites during the ceremony; and the rites after the celebration has taken place. The first group consists of eleven ceremonies: the asking in marriage; the comparison of the two horoscopes; the sacrifice of a goat; the fixing of a propitious day; the building of the altar; the purchase of the sacred pots for household use; the invitation of guests; the sacrifices to the household gods; mutual presents and so on. All this must be accomplished as a religious duty, and is full of entangled rites. As soon as a little girl in some Hindu family is four years old, her father and mother send for the family Guru, give him her horoscope, drawn up previously by the astrologer of their caste (a very important post), and send the Guru to this or that inhabitant of the place who is known to have a son of appropriate age. The father of the little boy has to put the horoscope on the altar before the family gods and to answer: "I am well disposed towards the Panigrhana; let Rudra help us." The Guru must ask when the union is to take place, after which he is bowed out. A few days later the father of the little boy takes the horoscope of his son as well as of the little girl to the chief astrologer. If the latter finds them propitious to the intended marriage, it will take place; if not, his decision is immediately sent to the father of the little girl, and the whole affair is dropped. If the astrologer's opinion is favorable, however, the bargain is concluded on the spot. The astrologer offers a cocoa-nut and a handful of sugar to the father, after which nothing can be altered; otherwise a Hindu vendetta will be handed down from generation to generation. After the obligatory goat-sacrifice, the couple are irrevocably betrothed, and the astrologer fixes the day of the wedding.
The sacrifice of the goat is very interesting, so I am going to describe it in detail.
A child of the male sex is sent to invite several married ladies, old women of twenty or twenty-five, to witness the worship of the Lares and Penates. Each family has a household goddess of its own—which is not impossible, since the Hindu gods number thirty-three crores. On the eve of the sacrificial day, a kid is brought into the house, and all the family sleep round him. Next morning, the reception hall in the lower story is made ready for the ceremony. The floor is thickly covered with cow-dung, and, right in the middle of the room a square is traced with white chalk, in which is placed a high pedestal, with the statue of the goddess. The patriarch of the family brings the goat, and, holding him by the horns, lowers his head to salute the goddess. After this, the "old" and young women sing marriage hymns, tie the legs of the goat, cover his head with red powder, and make a lamp smoke under his nose, to banish the evil spirits from round him. When all this is done, the female element puts itself out of the way, and the patriarch comes again upon the stage. He treacherously puts a ration of rice before the goat, and as soon as the victim becomes innocently absorbed in gratifying his appetite, the old man chops his head off with a single stroke of his sword, and bathes the goddess in the smoking blood coming from the head of the animal, which he holds in his right arm, over the idol. The women sing in chorus, and the ceremony of betrothal is over.
The ceremonies with the astrologers, and the exchange of presents, are too long to be described. I shall mention only, that in all these ceremonies the astrologer plays the double part of an augur and a family lawyer. After a general invocation to the elephant-headed god Ganesha, the marriage contract is written on the reverse of the horoscopes and sealed, and a general blessing is pronounced over the assembly.
Needless to say that all these ceremonies had been accomplished long ago in the family to whose marriage party we were invited in Bagh. All these rites are sacred, and most probably we, being mere strangers, would not have been allowed to witness them. We saw them all later on in Benares—thanks to the intercession of our Babu.
When we arrived on the spot, where the Bagh cere-mony was celebrated, the festivity was at its height. The bridegroom was not more than fourteen years old, while the bride was only ten. Her small nose was adorned with a huge golden ring with some very brilliant stone, which dragged her nostril down. Her face looked comically piteous, and sometimes she cast furtive glances at us. The bridegroom, a stout, healthy-looking boy, attired in cloth of gold and wearing the many storied Indra hat, was on horseback, surrounded by a whole crowd of male relations.
The altar, especially erected for this occasion, presented a queer sight. Its regulation height is three times the length of the bride's arm from the shoulder down to the middle finger. Its materials are bricks and white-washed clay. Forty-six earthen pots painted with red, yellow and green stripes—the colors of the Trimurti—rose in two pyramids on both sides of the "god of marriages" on the altar, and all round it a crowd of little married girls were busy grinding ginger. When it was reduced to powder the whole crowd rushed on the bridegroom, dragged him from his horse, and, having undressed him, began rubbing him with wet ginger. As soon as the sun dried him he was dressed again by some of the little ladies, whilst one part of them sang and the other sprinkled his head with water from lotus leaves twisted into tubes. We understood that this was a delicate attention to the water gods.
We were also told that the whole of the previous night had been given up to the worship of various spirits. The last rites, begun weeks ago, were hurriedly brought to an end during this last night. Invocations to Ganesha, to the god of marriages; to the gods of the elements, water, fire, air and earth; to the goddess of the smallpox and other illnesses; to the spirits of ancestors and planetary spirits, to the evil spirits, good spirits, family spirits, and so on, and so on. Suddenly our ears were struck by strains of music.... Good heavens! what a dreadful symphony it was! The ear-splitting sounds of Indian tom-toms, Tibetan drunis, Singalese pipes, Chinese trumpets, and Burmese gongs deafened us on all sides, awakening in our souls hatred for humanity and humanity's inventions.
"De tous les bruits du monde celui de la musique est le plus desagreable!" was my ever-recurring thought. Happily, this agony did not last long, and was replaced by the choral singing of Brahmans and nautches, which was very original, but perfectly bearable. The wedding was a rich one, and so the "vestals" appeared in state. A moment of silence, of restrained whispering, and one of them, a tall, handsome girl with eyes literally filling half her forehead, began approaching one guest after the other in perfect silence, and rubbing their faces with her hand, leaving traces of sandal and saffron powders. She glided towards us also, noiselessly moving over the dusty road with her bare feet; and before we realized what she was doing she had daubed me as well as the colonel and Miss X——, which made the latter sneeze and wipe her face for at least ten minutes, with loud but vain utterances of indignation.
The Babu and Mulji offered their faces to the little hand, full of saffron, with smiles of condescending generosity. But the indomitable Narayan shrank from the vestal so unexpectedly at the precise moment when, with fiery glances at him, she stood on tiptoe to reach his face, that she quite lost countenance and sent a full dose of powder over his shoulder, whilst he turned away from her with knitted brow. Her forehead also showed several threatening lines, but in a moment she overcame her anger and glided towards Ram-Runjit-Das, sparkling with engaging smiles. But here she met with still less luck; offended at once in his monotheism and his chastity, the "God's warrior" pushed the vestal so unceremoniously that she nearly upset the elaborate pot-decoration of the altar. A dissatisfied murmur ran through the crowd, and we were preparing to be condemned to shameful banishment for the sins of the warlike Sikh, when the drums sounded again and the procession moved on. In front of everyone drove the trumpeters and the drummers in a car gilded from top to bottom, and dragged by bullocks loaded with garlands of flowers; next after them walked a whole detachment of pipers, and then a third body of musicians on horseback, who frantically hammered huge gongs. After them proceeded the cortege of the bridegroom's and the bride's relations on horses adorned with rich harness, feathers and flowers; they went in pairs. They were followed by a regiment of Bhils in full disarmour—because no weapons but bows and arrows had been left to them by the English Government. All these Bhils looked as if they had tooth-ache, because of the odd way they have of arranging the ends of their white pagris. After them walked clerical Brahmans, with aromatic tapers in their hands and surrounded by the flitting battalion of nautches, who amused themselves all the way by graceful glissades and pas. They were followed by the lay Brahmans—the "twice born." The bridegroom rode on a handsome horse; on both sides walked two couples of warriors, armed with yaks' tails to wave the flies away. They were accompanied by two more men on each side with silver fans. The bridegroom's group was wound up by a naked Brahman, perched on a donkey and holding over the head of the boy a huge red silk umbrella. After him a car loaded with a thousand cocoa-nuts and a hundred bamboo baskets, tied together by a red rope. The god who looks after marriages drove in melancholy isolation on the vast back of an elephant, whose mahout led him by a chain of flowers. Our humble party modestly advanced just behind the elephant's tail.
The performance of rites on the way seemed endless.
We had to stop before every tree, every pagoda, every sacred tank and bush, and at last before a sacred cow. When we came back to the house of the bride it was four in the afternoon, and we had started a little after six in the morning. We all were utterly exhausted, and Miss X—— literally threatened to fall asleep on her feet. The indignant Sikh had left us long ago, and had persuaded Mr. Y—— and Mulji—whom the colonel had nicknamed the "mute general"—to keep him company. Our respected president was bathed in his own perspiration, and even Narayan the unchangeable yawned and sought consolation in a fan. But the Babu was simply astonishing. After a nine hours' walk under the sun, with his head unprotected, he looked fresher than ever, without a drop of sweat on his dark satin-like forehead. He showed his white teeth in an eternal smile, and chaffed us all, reciting the "Diamond Wedding" of Steadman.
We struggled against our fatigue in our desire to wit-ness the last ceremony, after which the woman is forever cut off from the external world. It was just going to begin; and we kept our eyes and ears wide open.
The bridegroom and the bride were placed before the altar. The officiating Brahman tied their hands with some kus-kus grass, and led them three times round the altar. Then their hands were untied, and the Brahman mumbled a mantram. When he had finished, the boy husband lifted his diminutive bride and carried her three times round the altar in his arms, then again three turns round the altar, but the boy preceding the girl, and she following him like an obedient slave. When this was over, the bridegroom was placed on a high chair by the entrance door, and the bride brought a basin of water, took off his shoes, and, having washed his feet, wiped them with her long hair. We learned that this was a very ancient custom. On the right side of the bridegroom sat his mother. The bride knelt before her also, and, having performed the same operation over her feet, she retired to the house. Then her mother came out of the crowd and repeated the same ceremony, but without using her hair as a towel. The young couple were married. The drums and the tom-toms rolled once more; and half-deaf we started for home.——
In the tent we found the Akali in the middle of a sermon, delivered for the edification of the "mute general" and Mr. Y——. He was explaining to them the advantages of the Sikh religion, and comparing it with the faith of the "devil-worshipers," as he called the Brahmans.
It was too late to go to the caves, and, besides, we had had enough sights for one day. So we sat down to rest, and to listen to the words of wisdom falling from the lips of the "God's warrior." In my humble opinion, he was right in more than one thing; in his most imaginative moments Satan himself could not have invented anything more unjust and more refinedly cruel than what was invented by these "twice-born" egotists in their relation to the weaker sex. An unconditioned civil death awaits her in case of widowhood—even if this sad fate befalls her when she is two or three years old. It is of no importance for the Brahmans if the marriage never actually took place; the goat sacrifice, at which the personal presence of the little girl is not even required—she being represented by the wretched victim—is considered binding for her. As for the man, not only is he permitted to have several lawful wives at a time, but he is even required by the law to marry again if his wife dies. Not to be unjust, I must mention that, with the exception of some vicious and depraved Rajas, we never heard of a Hindu availing himself of this privilege, and having more than one wife.
At the present time, the whole of orthodox India is shaken by the struggle in favor of the remarriage of widows. This agitation was begun in Bombay, by a few reformers, and opponents of Brahmans. It is already ten years since Mulji-Taker-Sing and others raised this question; but we know only of three or four men who have dared as yet to marry widows. This struggle is carried on in silence and secrecy, but nevertheless it is fierce and obstinate.
In the meanwhile, the fate of the widow is what the Brahmans wish it to be. As soon as the corpse of her husband is burned the widow must shave her head, and never let it grow again as long as she lives. Her bangles, necklaces and rings are broken to pieces and burned, together with her hair and her husband's remains. During the rest of her life she must wear nothing but white if she was less than twenty-five at her husband's death, and red if she was older. Temples, religious ceremonies, society, are closed to her for ever. She has no right to speak to any of her relations, and no right to eat with them. She sleeps, eats and works separately; her touch is considered impure for seven years. If a man, going out on business, meets a widow, he goes home again, abandoning every pursuit, because to see a widow is accounted an evil omen.
In the past all this was seldom practised, and concerned only the rich widows, who refused to be burned; but now, since the Brahmans have been caught in the false interpretation of the Vedas, with the criminal intention of appropriating the widows' wealth, they insist on the fulfilment of this cruel precept, and make what once was the exception the rule. They are powerless against British law, and so they revenge themselves on the innocent and helpless women, whom fate has deprived of their natural protectors. Professor Wilson's demonstration of the means by which the Brahmans distorted the sense of the Vedas, in order to justify the practice of widow-burning, is well worth mentioning. During the many centuries that this terrible practice prevailed, the Brahmans had appealed to a certain Vedic text for their justification, and had claimed to be rigidly fulfilling the institutes of Manu, which contain for them the interpretation of Vedic law. When the East India Company's Government first turned its attention to the suppression of suttee, the whole country, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, rose in protest, under the influence of the Brahmans. "The English promised not to interfere in our religious affairs, and they must keep their word!" was the general outcry. Never was India so near revolution as in those days. The English saw the danger and gave up the task. But Professor Wilson, the best Sanskritist of the time, did not consider the battle lost. He applied himself to the study of the most ancient MSS., and gradually became convinced that the alleged precept did not exist in the Vedas; though in the Laws of Manu it was quite distinct, and had been translated accordingly by T. Colebrooke and other Orientalists. An attempt to prove to the fanatic population that Manu's interpretation was wrong would have been equivalent to an attempt to reduce water to powder. So Wilson set himself to study Manu, and to compare the text of the Vedas with the text of this law-giver. This was the result of his labors: the Rig Veda orders the Brahman to place the widow side by side with the corpse, and then, after the performance of certain rites, to lead her down from the funeral pyre and to sing the following verse from Grhya Sutra:
Arise, O woman! return to the world of the living! Having gone to sleep by the dead, awake again! Long enough thou hast been a faithful wife To the one who made thee mother of his children.
Then those present at the burning were to rub their eyes with collyrium, and the Brahman to address to them the following verse:
Approach, you married women, not widows, With your husbands bring ghi and butter. Let the mothers go up to the womb first, Dressed in festive garments and costly adornments.
The line before the last was misinterpreted by the Brahmans in the most skillful way. In Sanskrit it reads as follows:
Arohantu janayo yonim agre.....
Yonina agre literally means to the womb first. Having changed only one letter of the last word agre, "first," in Sanskrit [script], the Brahmans wrote instead agneh, "fire's," in Sanskrit [script], and so acquired the right to send the wretched widows yonina agneh—to the womb of fire. It is difficult to find on the face of the world another such fiendish deception.
The Vedas never permitted the burning of the widows, and there is a place in Taittiriya-Aranyaka, of the Yajur Veda, where the brother of the deceased, or his disciple, or even a trusted friend, is recommended to say to the widow, whilst the pyre is set on fire: "Arise, O woman! do not lie down any more beside the lifeless corpse; return to the world of the living, and become the wife of the one who holds you by the hand, and is willing to be your husband." This verse shows that during the Vedic period the remarriage of widows was allowed. Besides, in several places in the ancient books, pointed out to us by Swami Dayanand, we found orders to the widows "to keep the ashes of the husband for several months after his death and to perform over them certain final rituals."
However, in spite of the scandal created by Professor Wilson's discovery, and of the fact that the Brahmans were put to shame before the double authority of the Vedas and of Manu, the custom of centuries proved so strong that some pious Hindu women still burn themselves whenever they can. Not more than two years ago the four widows of Yung-Bahadur, the chief minister of Nepal, insisted upon being burned. Nepal is not under the British rule, and so the Anglo-Indian Government had no right to interfere.
The Caves Of Bagh
At four o'clock in the morning we crossed the Vagrey and Girna, or rather, comme coloris local, Shiva and Parvati. Probably, following the bad example of the average mortal husband and wife, this divine couple were engaged in a quarrel, even at this early hour of the day. They were frightfully rough, and our ferry, striking on something at the bottom, nearly upset us into the cold embrace of the god and his irate better half.
Like all the cave temples of India, the Bagh caverns are dug out in the middle of a vertical rock—with the intention, as it seems to me, of testing the limits of human patience. Taking into consideration that such a height does not prevent either glamour or tigers reaching the caves, I cannot help thinking that the sole aim of the ascetic builders was to tempt weak mortals into the sin of irritation by the inaccessibility of their airy abodes. Seventy-two steps, cut out in the rock, and covered with thorny weeds and moss, are the beginning of the ascent to the Bagh caves. Footmarks worn in the stone through centuries spoke of the numberless pilgrims who had come here before us. The roughness of the steps, with deep holes here and there, and thorns, added attractions to this ascent; join to this a number of mountain springs exuding through the pores of the stone, and no one will be astonished if I say that we simply felt faint under the weight of life and our archeological difficulties. The Babu, who, taking off his slippers, scampered over the thorns as unconcernedly as if he had hoofs instead of vulnerable human heels, laughed at the "helplessness of Europeans," and only made us feel worse.
But on reaching the top of the mountain we stopped grumbling, realizing at the first glance that we should receive our reward. We saw a whole enfilade of dark caves, through regular square openings, six feet wide. We felt awestruck with the gloomy majesty of this deserted temple. There was a curious ceiling over the square platform that once served as a verandah; there was also a portico with broken pillars hanging over our heads; and two rooms on each side, one with a broken image of some flat-nosed goddess, the other containing a Ganesha; but we did not stop to examine all this in detail. Ordering the torches to be lit, we stepped into the first hall.
A damp breath as of the tomb met us. At our first word we all shivered: a hollow, prolonged echoing howl, dying away in the distance, shook the ancient vaults and made us all lower our voices to a whisper. The torch-bearers shrieked "Devi!... Devi!..." and, kneeling in the dust, performed a fervent puja in honor of the voice of the invisible goddess of the caves, in spite of the angry protestations of Narayan and of the "God's warrior."
The only light of the temple came from the entrance, and so two-thirds of it looked still gloomier by contrast. This hall, or the central temple, is very spacious, eighty—four feet square, and sixteen feet high. Twenty-four massive pillars form a square, six pillars at each side, including the corner ones, and four in the middle to prop up the centre of the ceiling; otherwise it could not be kept from falling, as the mass of the mountain which presses on it from the top is much greater than in Karli or Elephanta.
There are at least three different styles in the architecture of these pillars. Some of them are grooved in spirals, gradually and imperceptibly changing from round to sixteen sided, then octagonal and square. Others, plain for the first third of their height, gradually finished under the ceiling by a most elaborate display of ornamentation, which reminds one of the Corinthian style. The third with a square plinth and semi-circular friezes. Taking it all in all, they made a most original and graceful picture. Mr. Y——, an architect by profession, assured us that he never saw anything more striking. He said he could not imagine by the aid of what instruments the ancient builders could accomplish such wonders.
The construction of the Bagh caves, as well as of all the cave temples of India, whose history is lost in the darkness of time, is ascribed by the European archeologists to the Buddhists, and by the native tradition to the Pandu brothers. Indian paleography protests in every one of its new discoveries against the hasty conclusions of the Orientalists. And much may be said against the intervention of Buddhists in this particular case. But I shall indicate only one particular. The theory which declares that all the cave temples of India are of Buddhist origin is wrong. The Orientalists may insist as much as they choose on the hypothesis that the Buddhists became again idol-worshipers; it will explain nothing, and contradicts the history of both Buddhists and Brahmans. The Brahmans began persecuting and banishing the Buddhists precisely because they had begun a crusade against idol-worship. The few Buddhist communities who remained in India and deserted the pure, though, maybe—for a shallow observer—somewhat atheistic teachings of Gautama Siddhartha, never joined Brahmanism, but coalesced with the Jainas, and gradually became absorbed in them. Then why not suppose that if, amongst hundreds of Brahmanical gods, we find one statue of Buddha, it only shows that the masses of half-converts to Buddhism added this new god to the ancient Brahmanical temple. This would be much more sensible than to think that the Buddhists of the two centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian era dared to fill their temples with idols, in defiance of the spirit of the reformer Gau-tama. The figures of Buddha are easily discerned in the swarm of heathen gods; their position is always the same, and the palm of its right hand is always turned upwards, blessing the worshipers with two fingers. We examined almost every remarkable vihara of the so-called Buddhist temples, and never met with one statue of Buddha which could not have been added in a later epoch than the construction of the temple; it does not matter whether it was a year or a thousand years later. Not being perfectly self-confident in this matter, we always took the opinion of Mr. Y——, who, as I said before, was an experienced architect; and he invariably came to the conclusion that the Brahmanical idols formed a harmonic and genuine part of the whole, pillars, decorations, and the general style of the temple; whereas the statue of Buddha was an additional and discordant patch. Out of thirty or forty caves of Ellora, all filled with idols, there is only one, the one called the Temple of the Tri-Lokas, which contains nothing but statues of Buddha, and of Ananda, his favourite disciple. Of course, in this case it would be perfectly right to think it is a Buddhist vihara.
Most probably, some of the Russian archeologists will protest against the opinions I maintain, that is to say, the opinions of the Hindu archeologists, and will treat me as an ignoramus, outraging science. In self-defence, and in order to show how unstable a ground to base one's opinions upon are the conclusions even of such a great authority as Mr. Fergusson, I must mention the following instance. This great architect, but very mediocre archeologist, proclaimed at the very beginning of his scientific career that "all the cave temples of Kanara, without exception, were built between the fifth and the tenth centuries." This theory became generally accepted, when suddenly Dr. Bird found a brass plate in a certain Kanara monument, called a tope. The plate announced in pure and distinct Sanskrit that this tope was erected as a homage to the old temple, at the beginning of 245 of the Hindu astronomical (Samvat) era. According to Prinsep and Dr. Stevenson, this date coincides with 189 A.D., and so it clearly settles the question of when the tope was built. But the question of the antiquity of the temple itself still remains open, though the inscription states that it was an old temple in 189 A.D., and contradicts the above-quoted opinion of Fergusson. However, this important discovery failed to shake Fergusson's equanimity. For him, ancient inscriptions are of no importance, because, as he says, "the antiquity of ruins must not be fixed on the basis of inscriptions, but on the basis of certain architectural canons and rules," discovered by Mr. Fergusson in person. Fiat hypothesis, ruat coelum!
And now I shall return to my narrative.
Straight before the entrance a door leads to another hall, which is oblong, with hexagonal pillars and niches, containing statues in a tolerable state of preservation; goddesses ten feet and gods nine feet high. After this hall there is a room with an altar, which is a regular hexagon, having sides each three feet long, and protected by a cupola cut in the rock. Nobody was admitted here, except the initiates of the mysteries of the adytum. All round this room there are about twenty priests' cells. Absorbed in the examination of the altar, we did not notice the absence of the colonel, till we heard his loud voice in the distance calling to us:
"I have found a secret passage.... Come along, let us find where it leads to!"
Torch in hand, the colonel was far ahead of us, and very eager to proceed; but each of us had a little plan of his own, and so we were reluctant to obey his summons. The Babu took upon himself to answer for the whole party:
"Take care, colonel. This passage leads to the den of the glamour.... Mind the tigers!"
But once fairly started on the way to discoveries, our president was not to be stopped. Nolens volens we followed him.
He was right; he had made a discovery; and on entering the cell we saw a most unexpected tableau. By the opposite wall stood two torch-bearers with their flaming torches, as motionless as if they were transformed into stone caryatides; and from the wall, about five feet above the ground, protruded two legs clad in white trousers. There was no body to them; the body had disappeared, and but that the legs were shaken by a convulsive effort to move on, we might have thought that the wicked goddess of this place had cut the colonel into two halves, and having caused the upper half instantly to evaporate, had stuck the lower half to the wall, as a kind of trophy.
"What is become of you, Mr. President? Where are you?" were our alarmed questions.
Instead of an answer, the legs were convulsed still more violently, and soon disappeared completely, after which we heard the voice of the colonel, as if coming through a long tube:
"A room... a secret cell.... Be quick! I see a whole row of rooms.... Confound it! my torch is out! Bring some matches and another torch!" But this was easier said than done. The torch-bearers refused to go on; as it was, they were already frightened out of their wits. Miss X—— glanced with apprehension at the wall thickly covered with soot and then at her pretty gown. Mr. Y—— sat down on a broken pillar and said he would go no farther, preferring to have a quiet smoke in the company of the timid torch-bearers.
There were several vertical steps cut in the wall; and on the floor we saw a large stone of such a curiously irregular shape that it struck me that it could not be natural. The quick-eyed Babu was not long in discovering its peculiarities, and said he was sure "it was the stopper of the secret passage." We all hurried to examine the stone most minutely, and discovered that, though it imitated as closely as possible the irregularity of the rock, its under surface bore evident traces of workmanship and had a kind of hinge to be easily moved. The hole was about three feet high, but not more than two feet wide.
The muscular "God's warrior" was the first to follow the colonel. He was so tall that when he stood on a broken pillar the opening came down to the middle of his breast, and so he had no difficulty in transporting himself to the upper story. The slender Babu joined him with a single monkey-like jump. Then, with the Akali pulling from above and Narayan pushing from below, I safely made the passage, though the narrowness of the hole proved most disagreeable, and the roughness of the rock left considerable traces on my hands. However trying archeological explorations may be for a person afflicted by an unusually fine presence, I felt perfectly confident that with two such Hercules-like helpers as Narayan and Ram-Runjit-Das the ascent of the Himalayas would be perfectly possible for me. Miss X—— came next, under the escort of Mulji, but Mr. Y—— stayed behind.
The secret cell was a room of twelve feet square. Straight above the black hole in the floor there was another in the ceiling, but this time we did not discover any "stopper." The cell was perfectly empty with the exception of black spiders as big as crabs. Our apparition, and especially the bright light of the torches, maddened them; panic-stricken they ran in hundreds over the walls, rushed down, and tumbled on our heads, tearing their thin ropes in their inconsiderate haste. The first movement of Miss X—— was to kill as many as she could. But the four Hindus protested strongly and unanimously. The old lady remonstrated in an offended voice:
"I thought that at least you, Mulji, were a reformer, but you are as superstitious as any idol-worshiper."
"Above everything I am a Hindu," answered the "mute general." "And the Hindus, as you know, consider it sinful before nature and before their own consciences to kill an animal put to flight by the strength of man, be it even poisonous. As to the spiders, in spite of their ugliness, they are perfectly harmless."
"I am sure all this is because you think you will transmigrate into a black spider!" she replied, her nostrils trembling with anger.
"I cannot say I do," retorted Mulji; "but if all the English ladies are as unkind as you I should rather be a spider than an Englishman."
This lively answer coming from the usually taciturn Mulji was so unexpected that we could not help laugh-ing. But to our great discomfiture Miss X—— was seriously angry, and, under pretext of giddiness, said she would rejoin Mr. Y—— below.
Her constant bad spirits were becoming trying for our cosmopolitan little party, and so we did not press her to stay.
As to us we climbed through the second opening, but this time under the leadership of Narayan. He disclosed to us that this place was not new to him; he had been here before, and confided to us that similar rooms, one on the top of the other, go up to the summit of the mountain. Then, he said, they take a sudden turn, and descend gradually to a whole underground palace, which is sometimes temporarily inhabited. Wishing to leave the world for a while and to spend a few days in isolation, the Raj-Yogis find perfect solitude in this underground abode. Our president looked askance at Narayan through his spectacles, but did not find anything to say. The Hindus also received this information in perfect silence.
The second cell was exactly like the first one; we easily discovered the hole in its ceiling, and reached the third cell. There we sat down for a while. I felt that breathing was becoming difficult to me, but I thought I was simply out of breath and tired, and so did not mention to my companions that anything was wrong. The passage to the fourth cell was almost stopped by earth mixed with little stones, and the gentlemen of the party were busy clearing it out for about twenty minutes. Then we reached the fourth cell.
Narayan was right, the cells were one straight over the other, and the floor of the one formed the ceiling of the other. The fourth cell was in ruins. Two broken pillars lying one on the other presented a very convenient stepping-stone to the fifth story. But the colonel stopped our zeal by saying that now was the time to smoke "the pipe of deliberation" after the fashion of red Indians.
"If Narayan is not mistaken," he said, "this going up and up may continue till tomorrow morning."
"I am not mistaken," said Narayan almost solemnly. But since my visit here I have heard that some of these passages were filled with earth, so that every communication is stopped; and, if I remember rightly, we cannot go further than the next story."
"In that case there is no use trying to go any further. If the ruins are so shaky as to stop the passages, it would be dangerous for us."
"I never said the passages were stopped by the hand of time.... They did it on purpose...."
"Who they? Do you mean glamour?..."
"Colonel!" said the Hindu with an effort. "Don't laugh at what I say. ... I speak seriously."
"My dear fellow, I assure you my intention is neither to offend you nor to ridicule a serious matter. I simply do not realize whom you mean when you say they."
"I mean the brotherhood.... The Raj-Yogis. Some of them live quite close to here."
By the dim light of the half-extinguished torches we saw that Narayan's lips trembled and that his face grew pale as he spoke. The colonel coughed, rearranged his spectacles and remained silent for a while.
"My dear Narayan," at last said the colonel, "I do not want to believe that your intention is to make fun of our credulity. But I can't believe either, that you seriously mean to assure us that any living creature, be it an animal or an ascetic, could exist in a place where there is no air. I paid special attention to the fact, and so I am perfectly sure I am not mistaken: there is not a single bat in these cells, which shows that there is a lack of air. And just look at our torches! you see how dim they are growing. I am sure, that on climbing two or three more rooms like this, we should be suffocated!"
"And in spite of all these facts, I speak the truth," repeated Narayan. "The caves further on are inhabited by them. And I have seen them with my own eyes."
The colonel grew thoughtful, and stood glancing at the ceiling in a perplexed and undecided way. We all kept silent, breathing heavily.
"Let us go back!" suddenly shouted the Akali. "My nose is bleeding."
At this very moment I felt a strange and unexpected sensation, and I sank heavily on the ground. In a second I felt an indescribably delicious, heavenly sense of rest, in spite of a dull pain beating in my temples. I vaguely realized that I had really fainted, and that I should die if not taken out into the open air. I could not lift my finger; I could not utter a sound; and, in spite of it, there was no fear in my soul—nothing but an apathetic, but indescribably sweet feeling of rest, and a complete inactivity of all the senses except hearing. A moment came when even this sense forsook me, because I remember that I listened with imbecile intentness to the dead silence around me. Is this death? was my indistinct wondering thought. Then I felt as if mighty wings were fanning me. "Kind wings, caressing, kind wings!" were the recurring words in my brain, like the regular movements of a pendulum, and interiorily under an unreasoning impulse, I laughed at these words. Then I experienced a new sensation: I rather knew than felt that I was lifted from the floor, and fell down and down some unknown precipice, amongst the hollow rollings of a distant thunder-storm. Suddenly a loud voice resounded near me. And this time I think I did not hear, but felt it. There was something palpable in this voice, something that instantly stopped my helpless descent, and kept me from falling any further. This was a voice I knew well, but whose voice it was I could not in my weakness remember.
In what way I was dragged through all these narrow holes will remain an eternal mystery for me. I came to myself on the verandah below, fanned by fresh breezes, and as suddenly as I had fainted above in the impure air of the cell. When I recovered completely the first thing I saw was a powerful figure clad in white, with a raven black Rajput beard, anxiously leaning over me. As soon as I recognized the owner of this beard, I could not abstain from expressing my feelings by a joyful exclamation: "Where do you come from?" It was our friend Takur Gulab-Lal-Sing, who, having promised to join us in the North-West Provinces, now appeared to us in Bagh, as if falling from the sky or coming out of the ground.
But my unfortunate accident, and the pitiable state of the rest of the daring explorers, were enough to stop any further questions and expressions of astonishment. On one side of me the frightened Miss X——, using my nose as a cork for her sal-volatile bottle; on the other the "God's warrior" covered with blood as if returning from a battle with the Afghans; further on, poor Mulji with a dreadful headache. Narayan and the colonel, happily for our party, did not experience anything worse than a slight vertigo. As to the Babu, no carbonic acid gas could inconvenience his wonderful Bengali nature. He said he was safe and comfortable enough, but awfully hungry.
At last the outpour of entangled exclamations and unintelligible explanations stopped, and I collected my thoughts and tried to understand what had happened to me in the cave. Narayan was the first to notice that I had fainted, and hastened to drag me back to the passage. And this very moment they all heard the voice of Gulab-Sing coming from the upper cell: "Tum-hare iha aneka kya kam tha?" "What on earth brought you here?" Even before they recovered from their astonishment he ran quickly past them, and descending to the cell beneath called to them to "pass him down the bai" (sister). This "passing down" of such a solid object as my body, and the picture of the proceeding, vividly imagined, made me laugh heartily, and I felt sorry I had not been able to witness it. Handing him over their half-dead load, they hastened to join the Takur; but he contrived to do without their help, though how he did it they were at a loss to understand. By the time they succeeded in getting through one passage Gulab-Sing was already at the next one, in spite of the heavy burden he carried; and they never were in time to be of any assistance to him. The colonel, whose main feature is the tendency to go into the details of everything, could not conceive by what proceedings the Takur had managed to pass my almost lifeless body so rapidly through all these narrow holes.
"He could not have thrown her down the passage before going in himself, for every single bone of her body would have been broken," mused the colonel. "And it is still less possible to suppose that, descending first himself, he dragged her down afterwards. It is simply incomprehensible!"
These questions harassed him for a long time afterwards, until they became something like the puzzle: Which was created first, the egg or the bird?
As to the Takur, when closely questioned, he shrugged his shoulders, and answered that he really did not remember. He said that he simply did whatever he could to get me out into the open air; that all our traveling companions were there to watch his proceedings; he was under their eyes all the time, and that in circumstances when every second is precious people do not think, but act.
But all these questions arose only in the course of the day. As to the time directly after I was laid down on the verandah, there were other things to puzzle all our party; no one could understand how the Takur happened to be on the spot exactly when his help was most needed, nor where he came from—and everyone was anxious to know. On the verandah they found me lying on a carpet, with the Takur busy restoring me to my senses, and Miss X—— with her eyes wide open at the Takur, whom she decidedly believed to be a materialized ghost.
However, the explanations our friend gave us seemed perfectly satisfactory, and at first did not strike us as unnatural. He was in Hardwar when Swami Dayanand sent us the letter which postponed our going to him. On arriving at Kandua by the Indore railway, he had visited Holkar; and, learning that we were so near, he decided to join us sooner than he had expected. He had come to Bagh yesterday evening, but knowing that we were to start for the caves early in the morning he went there before us, and simply was waiting for us in the caves.
"There is the whole mystery for you," said he.
"The whole mystery?" exclaimed the colonel. "Did you know, then, beforehand that we would discover the cells, or what?"
"No, I did not. I simply went there myself because it is a long time since I saw them last. Examining them took me longer than I expected, and so I was too late to meet you at the entrance."
"Probably the Takur-Sahib was enjoying the freshness of the air in the cells," suggested the mischievous Babu, showing all his white teeth in a broad grin.
Our president uttered an energetic exclamation. "Exactly! How on earth did I not think of that before?... You could not possibly have any breathing air in the cells above the one you found us in.... And, besides,... how did you reach the fifth cell, when the entrance of the fourth was nearly stopped and we had to dig it out?"
"There are other passages leading to them. I know all the turns and corridors of these caves, and everyone is free to choose his way," answered Gulab-Sing; and I thought I saw a look of intelligence pass between him and Narayan, who simply cowered under his fiery eyes. "However, let us go to the cave where breakfast is ready for us. Fresh air will do all of you good."
On our way we met with another cave, twenty or thirty steps south from the verandah, but the Takur did not let us go in, fearing new accidents for us. So we descended the stone steps I have already mentioned, and after descending about two hundred steps towards the foot of the mountain, made a short reascent again and entered the "dining-room," as the Babu denominated it. In my role of "interesting invalid," I was carried to it, sitting in my folding chair, which never left me in all my travels.
This temple is much the less gloomy of the two, in spite of considerable signs of decay. The frescoes of the ceiling are better preserved than in the first temple. The walls, the tumbled down pillars, the ceiling, and even the interior rooms, which were lighted by ventilators cut through the rock, were once covered by a varnished stucco, the secret of which is now known only to the Madrasis, and which gives the rock the appearance of pure marble.
We were met by the Takur's four servants, whom we remembered since our stay in Karli, and who bowed down in the dust to greet us. The carpets were spread, and the breakfast ready. Every trace of carbonic acid had left our brains, and we sat down to our meal in the best of spirits. Our conversation soon turned to the Hardwar Mela, which our unexpectedly-recovered friend had left exactly five days ago. All the information we got from Gulab-Lal-Sing was so interesting that I wrote it down at the first opportunity.
After a few weeks we visited Hardwar ourselves, and since I saw it, my memory has never grown tired of recalling the charming picture of its lovely situation. It is as near a primitive picture of earthly Paradise as anything that can be imagined.
Every twelfth year, which the Hindus call Kumbha, the planet Jupiter enters the constellation of Aquarius, and this event is considered very propitious for the beginning of the religious fair; for which this day is accordingly fixed by the astrologers of the pagodas. This gathering attracts the representatives of all sects, as I said before, from princes and maharajas down to the last fakir. The former come for the sake of religious discussions, the latter, simply to plunge into the waters of Ganges at its very source, which must be done at a certain propitious hour, fixed also by the position of the stars.
Ganges is a name invented in Europe. The natives always say Ganga, and consider this river to belong strictly to the feminine sex. Ganges is sacred in the eyes of the Hindus, because she is the most important of all the fostering goddesses of the country, and a daughter of the old Himavat (Himalaya), from whose heart she springs for the salvation of the people. That is why she is worshiped, and why the city of Hardwar, built at her very source, is so sacred.
Hardwar is written Hari-avara, the doorway of the sun-god, or Krishna, and is also often called Gangadvara, the doorway of Ganga; there is still a third name of the same town, which is the name of a certain ascetic Kapela, or rather Kapila, who once sought salvation on this spot, and left many miraculous traditions.
The town is situated in a charming flowery valley, at the foot of the southern slope of the Sivalik ridge, between two mountain chains. In this valley, raised 1,024 feet above the sea-level, the northern nature of the Himalayas struggles with the tropical growth of the plains; and, in their efforts to excel each other, they have created the most delightful of all the delightful corners of India. The town itself is a quaint collection of castle-like turrets of the most fantastical architecture; of ancient viharas; of wooden fortresses, so gaily painted that they look like toys; of pagodas, with loopholes and overhanging curved little balconies; and all this over-grown by such abundance of roses, dahlias, aloes and blossoming cactuses, that it is hardly possible to tell a door from a window. The granite foundations of many houses are laid almost in the bed of the river, and so, during four months of the year, they are half covered with water. And behind this handful of scattered houses, higher up the mountain slope, crowd snow-white, stately temples. Some of them are low, with thick walls, wide wings and gilded cupolas; others rise in majestical many-storied towers; others again with shapely pointed roofs, which look like the spires of a bell tower. Strange and capricious is the architecture of these temples, the like of which is not to be seen anywhere else. They look as if they had suddenly dropped from the snowy abodes of the mountain spirits above, standing there in the shelter of the mother mountain, and timidly peeping over the head of the small town below at their own images reflected in the pure, untroubled waters of the sacred river.
Here the Ganges is not yet polluted by the dirt and the sins of her many million adorers. Releasing her worshipers, cleansed from her icy embrace, the pure maiden of the mountains carries her transparent waves through the burning plains of Hindostan; and only three hundred and forty-eight miles lower down, on passing through Cawnpore, do her waters begin to grow thicker and darker, while, on reaching Benares, they transform themselves into a kind of peppery pea soup.
Once, while talking to an old Hindu, who tried to convince us that his compatriots are the cleanest nation in the world, we asked him:
"Why is it then that, in the less populous places, the Ganges is pure and transparent, whilst in Benares, especially towards evening, it looks like a mass of liquid mud?"
"O sahibs!" answered he mournfully, "it is not the dirt of our bodies, as you think, it is not even the blackness of our sins, that the devi (goddess) washes away... Her waves are black with the sorrow and shame of her children. Her feelings are sad and sorrowful; hidden suffering, burning pain and humiliation, despair and shame at her own helplessness, have been her lot for many past centuries. She has suffered all this till her waters have become waves of black bile. Her waters are poisoned and black, but not from physical causes. She is our mother, and how could she help resenting the degradation we have brought ourselves to in this dark age."
This sorrowful, poetical allegory made us feel very keenly for the poor old man; but, however great our sympathy, we could not but suppose that probably the woes of the maiden Ganga do not affect her sources. In Hardwar the color of Ganges is crystal aqua marina, and the waters run gaily murmuring to the shore-reeds about the wonders they saw on their way from the Himalayas.
The beautiful river is the greatest and the purest of goddesses, in the eyes of the Hindus; and many are the honors given to her in Hardwar. Besides the Mela celebrated once every twelve years, there is a month in every year when the pilgrims flock together to the Harika-Paira, stairs of Vishnu. Whosoever succeeds in throwing himself first into the river, at the appointed day, hour and moment, will not only expiate all his sins, but also have all bodily sufferings removed. This zeal to be first is so great that, owing to a badly-constructed and narrow stair leading to the water, it used to cost many lives yearly, until, in 1819, the East India Company, taking pity upon the pilgrims, ordered this ancient relic to be removed, and a new stairway, one hundred feet wide, and consisting of sixty steps, to be constructed.
The month when the waters of the Ganges are most salutary, falls, according to the Brahmanical computation, between March 12th and April 10th, and is called Chaitra. The worst of it is that the waters are at their best only at the first moment of a certain propitious hour, indicated by the Brahmans, and which sometimes happens to be midnight. You can fancy what it must be when this moment comes, in the midst of a crowd which exceeds two millions. In 1819 more than four hundred people were crushed to death. But even after the new stairs were constructed, the goddess Ganga has carried away on her virgin bosom many a disfigured corpse of her worshipers. Nobody pitied the drowned, on the contrary, they were envied. Whoever happens to be killed during this purification by bathing, is sure to go straight to Swarga (heaven). In 1760, the two rival brotherhoods of Sannyasis and Bairagis had a regular battle amongst them on the sacred day of Purbi, the last day of the religious fair. The Bairagis were conquered, and there were eighteen thousand people slaughtered.
"And in 1796," proudly narrated our warlike friend the Akali, "the pilgrims from Punjab, all of them Sikhs, desiring to punish the insolence of the Hossains, killed here about five hundred of these heathens. My own grandfather took part in the fight!"
Later on we verified this in the Gazetteer of India, and the "God's warrior" was cleared of every suspicion of exaggeration and boasting.
In 1879, however, no one was drowned, or crushed to death, but a dreadful epidemic of cholera broke out. We were disgusted at this impediment; but had to keep at a distance in spite of our impatience to see Hardwar. And unable to behold distant summits of old Himavat ourselves, we had in the meanwhile to be contented with what we could hear about him from other people.
So we talked long after our breakfast under the cave vault was finished. But our talk was not so gay as it might have been, because we had to part with Ram-Runjit-Das, who was going to Bombay. The worthy Sikh shook hands with us in the European way, and then raising his right hand gave us his blessing, after the fashion of all the followers of Nanaka. But when he approached the Takur to take leave of him, his countenance suddenly changed. This change was so evident that we all noted it. The Takur was sitting on the ground leaning on a saddle, which served him as a cushion. The Akali did not attempt either to give him his blessing or to shake hands with him. The proud expression of his face also changed, and showed confusion and anxious humility instead of the usual self-respect and self-sufficiency. The brave Sikh knelt down before the Takur, and instead of the ordinary "Namaste!"—"Salutation to you," whispered reverently, as if addressing the Guru of the Golden Lake: "I am your servant, Sadhu-Sahib! give me your blessing!"
Without any apparent reason or cause, we all felt self-conscious and ill at ease, as if guilty of some indiscretion. But the face of the mysterious Rajput remained as calm and as dispassionate as ever. He was looking at the river before this scene took place, and slowly moved his eyes to the Akali, who lay prostrated before him. Then he touched the head of the Sikh with his index finger, and rose with the remark that we also had better start at once, because it was getting late.
We drove in our carriage, moving very slowly because of the deep sand which covers all this locality, and the Takur followed us on horseback all the way. He told us the epic legends of Hardwar and Rajistan, of the great deeds of the Hari-Kulas, the heroic princes of the solar race. Hari means sun, and Kula family. Some of the Rajput princes belong to this family, and the Maharanas of Oodeypur are especially proud of their astronomical origin.
The name of Hari-Kula gives to some Orientalists ground to suppose that a member of this family emigrated to Egypt in the remote epoch of the first Pharaonic dynasties, and that the ancient Greeks, borrowing the name as well as the traditions, thus formed their legends about the mythological Hercules. It is believed that the ancient Egyptians adored the sphinx under the name of Hari-Mukh, or the "sun on the horizon." On the mountain chain which fringes Kashmir on the north, thirteen thousand feet above the sea, there is a huge summit, which is exactly like a head, and which bears the name of Harimukh. This name is also met with in the most ancient of the Puranas. Besides, popular tradition considers this Himalayan stone head to be the image of the setting sun.
Is it possible, then, that all these coincidences are only accidental? And why is it that the Orientalists will not give it more serious attention? It seems to me that this is a rich soil for future research, and that it is no more to be explained by mere chance than the fact that both Egypt and India held the cow sacred, and that the ancient Egyptians had the same religious horror of killing certain animals, as the modern Hindus.
An Isle of Mystery
When evening began to draw on, we were driving beneath the trees of a wild jungle; arriving soon after at a large lake, we left the carriages. The shores were overgrown with reeds—not the reeds that answer our European notions, but rather such as Gulliver was likely to meet with in his travels to Brobdingnag. The place was perfectly deserted, but we saw a boat fastened close to the land. We had still about an hour and a half of daylight before us, and so we quietly sat down on some ruins and enjoyed the splendid view, whilst the servants of the Takur transported our bags, boxes and bundles of rugs from the carriages to the ferry boat. Mr. Y—— was preparing to paint the picture before us, which indeed was charming.
"Don't be in a hurry to take down this view," said Gulab-Sing. "In half an hour we shall be on the islet, where the view is still lovelier. We may spend there the night and tomorrow morning as well."
"I am afraid it will be too dark in an hour," said Mr. Y——, opening his color box. "And as for tomorrow, we shall probably have to start very early."
"Oh, no! there is not the slightest need to start early. We may even stay here part of the afternoon. From here to the railway station it is only three hours, and the train only leaves for J ubbulpore at eight in the evening. And do you know," added the Takur, smiling in his usual mysterious way, "I am going to treat you to a concert. Tonight you shall be witness of a very interesting natural phenomenon connected with this island."
We all pricked up our ears with curiosity.
"Do you mean that island there? and do you really think we must go?" asked the colonel. "Why should not we spend the night here, where we are so deliciously cool, and where..."
"Where the forest swarms with playful leopards, and the reeds shelter snug family parties of the serpent race, were you going to say, colonel?" interrupted the Babu, with a broad grin. "Don't you admire this merry gathering, for instance? Look at them! There is the father and the mother, uncles, aunts, and children.... I am sure I could point out even a mother-in-law."
Miss X—— looked in the direction he indicated and shrieked, till all the echoes of the forest groaned in answer. Not farther than three steps from her there were at least forty grown up serpents and baby snakes. They amused themselves by practising somersaults, coiled up, then straightened again and interlaced their tails, presenting to our dilated eyes a picture of perfect innocence and primitive contentment. Miss X—— could not stand it any longer and fled to the carriage, whence she showed us a pale, horrified face. The Takur, who had arranged himself comfortably beside Mr. Y—— in order to watch the progress of his paint-ing, left his seat and looked attentively at the dangerous group, quietly smoking his gargari—Rajput narghile—the while.
"If you do not stop screaming you will attract all the wild animals of the forest in another ten minutes," said he. "None of you have anything to fear. If you do not excite an animal he is almost sure to leave you alone, and most probably will run away from you."
With these words he lightly waved his pipe in the direction of the serpentine family-party. A thunderbolt falling in their midst could not have been more effectual. The whole living mass looked stunned for a moment, and then rapidly disappeared among the reeds with loud hissing and rustling.
"Now this is pure mesmerism, I declare," said the colonel, on whom not a gesture of the Takur was lost. "How did you do it, Gulab-Sing? Where did you learn this science?"
"They were simply frightened away by the sudden movement of my chibook, and there was no science and no mesmerism about it. Probably by this fashionable modern word you mean what we Hindus call vashi-karana vidya—that is to say, the science of charming people and animals by the force of will. However, as I have already said, this has nothing to do with what I did."
"But you do not deny, do you, that you have studied this science and possess this gift?"
"Of course I don't. Every Hindu of my sect is bound to study the mysteries of physiology and psychology amongst other secrets left to us by our ancestors. But what of that? I am very much afraid, my dear colonel," said the Takur with a quiet smile, "that you are rather inclined to view the simplest of my acts through a mystical prism. Narayan has been telling you all kinds of things about me behind my back.... Now, is it not so?"
And he looked at Narayan, who sat at his feet, with an indescribable mixture of fondness and reproof. The Dekkan colossus dropped his eyes and remained silent.
"You have guessed rightly," absently answered Mr. Y——, busy over his drawing apparatus. "Narayan sees in you something like his late deity Shiva; something just a little less than Parabrahm. Would you believe it? He seriously assured us—in Nassik it was—that the Raj-Yogis, and amongst them yourself—though I must own I still fail to understand what a Raj-Yogi is, precisely—can force any one to see, not what is before his eyes at the given moment, but what is only in the imagination of the Raj-Yogi. If I remember rightly he called it Maya.... Now, this seemed to me going a little too far!"
"Well! You did not believe, of course, and laughed at Narayan?" asked the Takur, fathoming with his eyes the dark green deeps of the lake.
"Not precisely... Though, I dare say, I did just a little bit," went on Mr. Y——, absently, being fully engrossed by the view, and trying to fix his eyes on the most effective part of it. "I dare say I am too scep-tical on this kind of question."
"And knowing Mr. Y—— as I do," said the colonel, I can add, for my part, that even were any of these phenomena to happen to himself personally, he, like Dr. Carpenter, would doubt his own eyes rather than believe."
"What you say is a little bit exaggerated, but there is some truth in it. Maybe I would not trust myself in such an occurrence; and I tell you why. If I saw something that does not exist, or rather exists only for me, logic would interfere. However objective my vision may be, before believing in the materiality of a hallucination, I feel I am bound to doubt my own senses and sanity.... Besides, what bosh all this is! As if I ever will allow myself to believe in the reality of a thing that I alone saw; which belief implies also the admission of somebody else governing and dominating, for the time being, my optical nerves, as well as my brains."
"However, there are any number of people, who do not doubt, because they have had proof that this phenomenon really occurs," remarked the Takur, in a careless tone, which showed he had not the slightest desire to insist upon this topic.
However, this remark only increased Mr. Y——'s excitement.
"No doubt there are!" he exclaimed. "But what does that prove? Besides them, there are equal numbers of people who believe in the materialization of spirits. But do me the kindness of not including me among them!"
"Don't you believe in animal magnetism?"
"To a certain extent, I do. If a person suffering from some contagious illness can influence a person in good health, and make him ill, in his turn, I suppose somebody else's overflow of health can also affect the sick person, and, perhaps cure him. But between physiological contagion and mesmeric influence there is a great gulf, and I don't feel inclined to cross this gulf on the grounds of blind faith. It is perfectly possible that there are instances of thought-transference in cases of somnambulism, epilepsy, trance. I do not positively deny it, though I am very doubtful. Mediums and clairvoyants are a sickly lot, as a rule. But I bet you anything, a healthy man in perfectly normal conditions is not to be influenced by the tricks of mesmerists. I should like to see a magnetizer, or even a Raj-Yogi, inducing me to obey his will."
"Now, my dear fellow, you really ought not to speak so rashly," said the colonel, who, till then, had not taken any part in the discussion.
"Ought I not? Don't take it into your head that it is mere boastfulness on my part. I guarantee failure in my case, simply because every renowned European mesmerist has tried his luck with me, without any result; and that is why I defy the whole lot of them to try again, and feel perfectly safe about it. And why a Hindu Raj-Yogi should succeed where the strongest of European mesmerists failed, I do not quite see...."
Mr. Y—— was growing altogether too excited, and the Takur dropped the subject, and talked of something else.
For my part, I also feel inclined to deviate once more from my subject, and give some necessary explanations.
Miss X—— excepted, none of our party had ever been numbered amongst the spiritualists, least of all Mr. Y——. We Theosophists did not believe in the playfulness of departed souls, though we admitted the possibility of some mediumistic phenomena, while totally disagreeing with the spiritualists as to the cause and point of view. Refusing to believe in the interference, and even presence of the spirits, in the so-called spiritualistic phenomena, we nevertheless believe in the living spirit of man; we believe in the omnipotence of this spirit, and in its natural, though benumbed capacities. We also believe that, when incarnated, this spirit, this divine spark, may be apparently quenched, if it is not guarded, and if the life the man leads is unfavorable to its expansion, as it generally is; but, on the other hand, our conviction is that human beings can develop their potential spiritual powers; that, if they do, no phenomenon will be impossible for their liberated wills, and that they will perform what, in the eyes of the uninitiated, will be much more wondrous than the materialized forms of the spiritualists. If proper training can render the muscular strength ten times greater, as in the cases of renowned athletes, I do not see why proper training should fail in the case of moral capacities. We have also good grounds to believe that the secret of this proper training—though unknown to, and denied by, European physiologists and even psychologists—is known in some places in India, where its knowledge is hereditary, and entrusted to few.
Mr. Y—— was a novice in our Society and looked with distrust even on such phenomena as can be pro-duced by mesmerism. He had been trained in the Royal Institute of British Architects, which he left with a gold medal, and with a fund of scepticism that caused him to distrust everything, en dehors des mathematiques pures. So that no wonder he lost his temper when people tried to convince him that there existed things which he was inclined to treat as "mere bosh and fables."
Now I return to my narrative.
The Babu and Mulji left us to help the servants to transport our luggage to the ferry boat. The remainder of the party had grown very quiet and silent. Miss X—— dozed peacefully in the carriage, forgetting her recent fright. The colonel, stretched on the sand, amused himself by throwing stones into the water. Narayan sat motionless, with his hands round his knees, plunged as usual in the mute contemplation of Gulab Lal-Sing. Mr. Y—— sketched hurriedly and diligently, only raising his head from time to time to glance at the opposite shore, and knitting his brow in a preoccupied way. The Takur went on smoking, and as for me, I sat on my folding chair, looking lazily at everything round me, till my eyes rested on Gulab-Sing, and were fixed, as if by a spell.
"Who and what is this mysterious Hindu?" I wondered in my uncertain thoughts. "Who is this man, who unites in himself two such distinct personalities: the one exterior, kept up for strangers, for the orld in general, the other interior, moral and spiritual, shown only to a few intimate friends? But even these intimate friends do they know much beyond what is generally known? And what do they know? They see in him a Hindu who differs very little from the rest of educated natives, perhaps only in his perfect contempt for the social conventions of India and the demands of Western civilization.... And that is all—unless I add that he is known in Central India as a sufficiently wealthy man, and a Takur, a feudal chieftain of a Raj, one of the hundreds of similar Rajes. Besides, he is a true friend of ours, who offered us his protection in our travels and volunteered to play the mediator between us and the suspicious, uncommunicative Hindus. Beyond all this, we know absolutely nothing about him. It is true, though, that I know a little more than the others; but I have promised silence, and silent I shall be. But the little I know is so strange, so unusual, that it is more like a dream than a reality."
A good while ago, more than twenty-seven years, I met him in the house of a stranger in England, whither he came in the company of a certain dethroned Indian prince. Then our acquaintance was limited to two conversations; their unexpectedness, their gravity, and even severity, produced a strong impression on me then; but, in the course of time, like many other things, they sank into oblivion and Lethe. About seven years ago he wrote to me to America, reminding me of our conversation and of a certain promise I had made. Now we saw each other once more in India, his own country, and I failed to see any change wrought in his appearance by all these long years. I was, and looked, quite young, when I first saw him; but the passage of years had not failed to change me into an old woman. As to him, he appeared to me twenty-seven years ago a man of about thirty, and still looked no older, as if time were powerless against him. In England, his striking beauty, especially his extraordinary height and stature, together with his eccentric refusal to be presented to the Queen—an honour many a high-born Hindu has sought, coming over on purpose—excited the public notice and the attention of the newspapers. The newspapermen of those days, when the influence of Byron was still great, discussed the "wild Rajput" with untiring pens, calling him "Raja-Misanthrope" and " Prince Jalma-Samson," and in-venting fables about him all the time he stayed in England.
All this taken together was well calculated to fill me with consuming curiosity, and to absorb my thoughts till I forgot every exterior circumstance, sitting and staring at him in no wise less intensely than Narayan.
I gazed at the remarkable face of Gulab-Lal-Sing with a mixed feeling of indescribable fear and enthusiastic admiration; recalling the mysterious death of the Karli tiger, my own miraculous escape a few hours ago in Bagh, and many other incidents too many to relate. It was only a few hours since he appeared to us in the morning, and yet what a number of strange ideas, of puzzling occurrences, how many enigmas his presence stirred in our minds! The magic circle of my revolving thought grew too much for me. "What does all this mean!" I exclaimed to myself, trying to shake off my torpor, and struggling to find words for my meditation. "Who is this being whom I saw so many years ago, jubilant with manhood and life, and now see again, as young and as full of life, only still more austere, still more incomprehensible. After all, maybe it is his brother, or even his son?" thought I, trying to calm myself, but with no result. "No! there is no use doubting; it is he himself, it is the same face, the same little scar on the left temple. But, as a quarter of a century ago, so now: no wrinkles on those beautiful classic features; not a white hair in this thick jet-black mane; and, in moments of silence, the same expression of perfect rest on that face, calm as a statue of living bronze. What a strange expression, and what a wonderful Sphinx-like face!"
"Not a very brilliant comparison, my old friend!" suddenly spoke the Takur, and a good-natured laughing note rung in his voice, whilst I shuddered and grew red like a naughty schoolgirl. "This comparison is so inaccurate that it decidedly sins against history in two important points. Primo, the Sphinx is a lion; so am I, as indicates the word Sing in my name; but the Sphinx is winged, and I am not. Secondo, the Sphinx is a woman as well as a winged lion, but the Rajput Sinhas never had anything effeminate in their characters. Besides, the Sphinx is the daughter of Chimera, or Echidna, who were neither beautiful nor good; and so you might have chosen a more flattering and a less inaccurate comparison!"
I simply gasped in my utter confusion, and he gave vent to his merriment, which by no means relieved me. "Shall I give you some good advice?" continued Gulab-Sing, changing his tone for a more serious one. "Don't trouble your head with such vain speculations. The day when this riddle yields its solution, the Rajput Sphinx will not seek destruction in the waves of the sea; but, believe me, it won't bring any profit to the Russian Oedipus either. You already know every detail you ever will learn. So leave the rest to our respective fates."
And he rose because the Babu and Mulji had informed us that the ferry boat was ready to start, and were shouting and making signs to us to hasten.
"Just let me finish," said Mr. Y——, "I have nearly done. Just an additional touch or two."
"Let us see your work. Hand it round!" insisted the colonel and Miss X——, who had just left her haven of refuge in the carriage, and joined us still half asleep.
Mr. Y—— hurriedly added a few more touches to his drawing and rose to collect his brushes and pencils.
We glanced at his fresh wet picture and opened our eyes in astonishment. There was no lake on it, no woody shores, and no velvety evening mists that covered the distant island at this moment. Instead of all this we saw a charming sea view; thick clusters of shapely palm-trees scattered over the chalky cliffs of the littoral; a fortress-like bungalow with balconies and a flat roof, an elephant standing at its entrance, and a native boat on the crest of a foaming billow.
"Now what is this view, sir?" wondered the colonel. "As if it was worth your while to sit in the sun, and detain us all, to draw fancy pictures out of your own head!"
"What on earth are you talking about?" exclaimed Mr. Y——. "Do you mean to say you do not recognize the lake?"
"Listen to him—the lake! Where is the lake, if you please? Were you asleep, or what?"
By this time all our party gathered round the colonel, who held the drawing. Narayan uttered an exclamation, and stood still, the very image of bewilderment past description.
"I know the place!" said he, at last. "This is Dayri—Bol, the country house of the Takur-Sahib. I know it. Last year during the famine I lived there for two months."
I was the first to grasp the meaning of it all, but something prevented me from speaking at once.
At last Mr. Y—— finished arranging and packing his things, and approached us in his usual lazy, careless way, but his face showed traces of vexation. He was evidently bored by our persistency in seeing a sea, where there was nothing but the corner of a lake. But, at the first sight of his unlucky sketch, his countenance suddenly changed. He grew so pale, and the expression of his face became so piteously distraught that it was painful to see. He turned and returned the piece of Bristol board, then rushed like a madman to his drawing portfolio and turned the whole contents out, ransacking and scattering over the sand hundreds of sketches and of loose papers. Evidently failing to find what he was looking for, he glanced again at his sea-view, and suddenly covering his face with his hands totally collapsed.
We all remained silent, exchanging glances of wonder and pity, and heedless of the Takur, who stood on the ferry boat, vainly calling to us to join him.
"Look here, Y——!" timidly spoke the kind-hearted colonel, as if addressing a sick child. "Are you sure you remember drawing this view?"
Mr. Y—— did not give any answer, as if gathering strength and thinking it over. After a few moments he answered in hoarse and tremulous tones:
"Yes, I do remember. Of course I made this sketch, but I made it from nature. I painted only what I saw. And it is that very certainty that upsets me so."
"But why should you be upset, my dear fellow? Collect yourself! What happened to you is neither shameful nor dreadful. It is only the result of the temporary influence of one dominant will over another, less powerful. You simply acted under 'biological influence,' to use the expression of Dr. Carpenter."
"That is exactly what I am most afraid of.... I remember everything now. I have been busy over this view more than an hour. I saw it directly I chose the spot, and seeing it all the while on the opposite shore I could not suspect anything uncanny. I was perfectly conscious... or, shall I say, I fancied I was conscious of putting down on paper what everyone of you had before your eyes. I had lost every notion of the place as I saw it before I began my sketch, and as I see it now.... But how do you account for it? Good gracious! am I to believe that these confounded Hindus really possess the mystery of this trick? I tell you, colonel, I shall go mad if I don't understand it all!"
"No fear of that, Mr. Y——," said Narayan, with a triumphant twinkle in his eyes. "You will simply lose the right to deny Yoga-Vidya, the great ancient science of my country."