Mr. Y—— did not answer him. He made an effort to calm his feelings, and bravely stepped on the ferry boat with firm foot. Then he sat down, apart from us all, obstinately looking at the large surface of water round us, and struggling to seem his usual self.
Miss X—— was the first to interrupt the silence.
"Ma chere!" said she to me in a subdued, but triumphant voice. "Ma chere, Monsieur Y—— devient vraiment un medium de premiere force!"
In moments of great excitement she always addressed me in French. But I also was too excited to control my feelings, and so I answered rather unkindly:
"Please stop this nonsense, Miss X——. You know I don't believe in spiritualism. Poor Mr. Y——, was not he upset?"
Receiving this rebuke and no sympathy from me, she could not think of anything better than drawing out the Babu, who, for a wonder, had managed to keep quiet till then.
"What do you say to all this? I for one am perfectly confident that no one but the disembodied soul of a great artist could have painted that lovely view. Who else is capable of such a wonderful achievement?"
"Why? The old gentleman in person. Confess that at the bottom of your soul you firmly believe that the Hindus worship devils. To be sure it is some deity of ours of this kind that had his august paw in the matter."
"Il est positivement malhonnete, ce Negre-la!" angrily muttered Miss X——, hurriedly withdrawing from him.
The island was a tiny one, and so overgrown with tall reeds that, from a distance, it looked like a pyramidal basket of verdure. With the exception of a colony of monkeys, who bustled away to a few mango trees at our approach, the place seemed uninhabited. In this virgin forest of thick grass there was no trace of human life. Seeing the word grass the reader must not forget that it is not the grass of Europe I mean; the grass under which we stood, like insects under a rhubarb leaf, waved its feathery many-colored plumes much above the head of Gulab-Sing (who stood six feet and a half in his stockings), and of Narayan, who measured hardly an inch less. From a distance it looked like a waving sea of black, yellow, blue, and especially of rose and green. On landing, we discovered that it consisted of separate thickets of bamboos, mixed up with the gigantic sirka reeds, which rose as high as the tops of the mangos.
It is impossible to imagine anything prettier and more graceful than the bamboos and sirka. The isolated tufts of bamboos show, in spite of their size, that they are nothing but grass, because the least gush of wind shakes them, and their green crests begin to nod like heads adorned with long ostrich plumes. There were some bamboos there fifty or sixty feet high. From time to time we heard a light metallic rustle in the reeds, but none of us paid much attention to it.
Whilst our coolies and servants were busy clearing a place for our tents, pitching them and preparing the supper, we went to pay our respects to the monkeys, the true hosts of the place. Without exaggeration there were at least two hundred. While preparing for their nightly rest the monkeys behaved like decorous and well-behaved people; every family chose a separate branch and defended it from the intrusion of strangers lodging on the same tree, but this defence never passed the limits of good manners, and generally took the shape of threatening grimaces. There were many mothers with babies in arms amongst them; some of them treated the children tenderly, and lifted them cautiously, with a perfectly human care; others, less thoughtful, ran up and down, heedless of the child hanging at their breasts, preoccupied with something, discussing something, and stopping every moment to quarrel with other monkey ladies—a true picture of chatty old gossips on a market day, repeated in the animal kingdom. The bachelors kept apart, absorbed in their athletic exercises, performed for the most part with the ends of their tails. One of them, especially, attracted our attention by dividing his amusement between sauts perilleux and teasing a respectable looking grandfather, who sat under a tree hugging two little monkeys. Swinging backward and forward from the branch, the bachelor jumped at him, bit his ear playfully and made faces at him, chattering all the time. We cautiously passed from one tree to another, afraid of frightening them away; but evidently the years spent by them with the fakirs, who left the island only a year ago, had accustomed them to human society. They were sacred monkeys, as we learned, and so they had nothing to fear from men. They showed no signs of alarm at our approach, and, having received our greeting, and some of them a piece of sugar-cane, they calmly stayed on their branch-thrones, crossing their arms, and looking at us with a good deal of dignified contempt in their intelligent hazel eyes.
The sun had set, and we were told that the supper was ready. We all turned "homewards," except the Babu. The main feature of his character, in the eyes of orthodox Hindus, being a tendency to blasphemy, he could never resist the temptation to justify their opinion of him. Climbing up a high branch he crouched there, imitating every gesture of the monkeys and answering their threatening grimaces by still uglier ones, to the unconcealed disgust of our pious coolies.
As the last golden ray disappeared on the horizon, a gauze-like veil of pale lilac fell over the world. But as every moment decreased the transparency of this tropical twilight, the tint gradually lost its softness and became darker and darker. It looked as if an invisible painter, unceasingly moving his gigantic brush, swiftly laid one coat of paint over the other, ever changing the exquisite background of our islet. The phosphoric candles of the fireflies began to twinkle here and there, shining brightly against the black trunks of the trees, and lost again on the silvery background of opalescent evening sky. But in a few minutes more thousands of these living sparks, precursors of Queen Night, played round us, pouring like a golden cascade over the trees, and dancing in the air above the grass and the dark lake.
And behold! here is the queen in person. Noiselessly descending upon earth, she reassumes her rights. With her approach, rest and peace spread over us; her cool breath calms the activities of day. Like a fond mother, she sings a lullaby to nature, lovingly wrapping her in her soft black mantle; and, when everything is asleep, she watches over nature's dozing powers till the first streaks of dawn.
Nature sleeps; but man is awake, to be witness to the beauties of this solemn evening hour. Sitting round the fire we talked, lowering our voices as if afraid of awaking night. We were only six; the colonel, the four Hindus and myself, because Mr. Y—— and Miss X—— could not resist the fatigue of the day and had gone to sleep directly after supper.
Snugly sheltered by the high "grass," we had not the heart to spend this magnificent night in prosaic sleeping. Besides, we were waiting for the "concert" which the Takur had promised us.
"Be patient," said he, "the musicians will not appear before the moon rises."
The fickle goddess was late; she kept us waiting till after ten o'clock. Just before her arrival, when the horizon began to grow perceptibly brighter, and the opposite shore to assume a milky, silvery tint, a sudden wind rose. The waves, that had gone quietly to sleep at the feet of gigantic reeds, awoke and tossed uneasily, till the reeds swayed their feathery heads and murmured to each other as if taking counsel together about some thing that was going to happen.... Suddenly, in the general stillness and silence, we heard again the same musical notes, which we had passed unheeded, when we first reached the island, as if a whole orchestra were trying their musical instruments before playing some great composition. All round us, and over our heads, vibrated strings of violins, and thrilled the separate notes of a flute. In a few moments came another gust of wind tearing through the reeds, and the whole island resounded with the strains of hundreds of Aeolian harps. And suddenly there began a wild unceasing symphony. It swelled in the surrounding woods, filling the air with an indescribable melody. Sad and solemn were its prolonged strains; they resounded like the arpeggios of some funeral march, then, changing into a trembling thrill, they shook the air like the song of a nightingale, and died away in a long sigh. They did not quite cease, but grew louder again, ringing like hundreds of silver bells, changing from the heartrending howl of a wolf, deprived of her young, to the precipitate rhythm of a gay tarantella, forgetful of every earthly sorrow; from the articulate song of a human voice, to the vague majestic accords of a violoncello, from merry child's laughter to angry sobbing. And all this was repeated in every direction by mocking echo, as if hundreds of fabulous forest maidens, disturbed in their green abodes, answered the appeal of the wild musical Saturnalia.
The colonel and I glanced at each other in our great astonishment.
"How delightful! What witchcraft is this?" we exclaimed at the same time.
The Hindus smiled, but did not answer us. The Takur smoked his gargari as peacefully as if he was deaf.
There was a short interval, after which the invisible orchestra started again with renewed energy. The sounds poured and rolled in unrestrainable, overwhelming waves. We had never heard anything like this inconceivable wonder. Listen! A storm in the open sea, the wind tearing through the rigging, the swish of the maddened waves rushing over each other, or the whirling snow wreaths on the silent steppes. Suddenly the vision is changed; now it is a stately cathedral and the thundering strains of an organ rising under its vaults. The powerful notes now rush together, now spread out through space, break off, intermingle, and become entangled, like the fantastic melody of a delirious fever, some musical phantasy born of the howling and whistling of the wind.
Alas! the charm of these sounds is soon exhausted, and you begin to feel that they cut like knives through your brain. A horrid fancy haunts our bewildered heads; we imagine that the invisible artists strain our own veins, and not the strings of imaginary violins; their cold breath freezes us, blowing their imaginary trumpets, shaking our nerves and impeding our breathing.
"For God's sake stop this, Takur! This is really too much," shouted the colonel, at the end of his patience, and covering his ears with his hands. "Gulab-Sing, I tell you you must stop this."
The three Hindus burst out laughing; and even the grave face of the Takur lit up with a merry smile. "Upon my word," said he, "do you really take me for the great Parabrahm? Do you think it is in my power to stop the wind, as if I were Marut, the lord of the storms, in person. Ask for something easier than the instantaneous uprooting of all these bamboos."
"I beg your pardon; I thought these strange sounds also were some kind of psychologic influence."
"So sorry to disappoint you, my dear colonel; but you really must think less of psychology and electrobiology. This develops into a mania with you. Don't you see that this wild music is a natural acoustic phenomenon? Each of the reeds around us—and there are thousands on this island—contains a natural musical instrument; and the musician, Wind, comes here daily to try his art after nightfall—especially during the last quarter of the moon."
"The wind!" murmured the colonel. "Oh, yes! But this music begins to change into a dreadful roar. Is there no way out of it?"
"I at least cannot help it. But keep up your patience, you will soon get accustomed to it. Besides, there will be intervals when the wind falls."
We were told that there are many such natural orchestras in India. The Brahmans know well their wonderful properties, and calling this kind of reed vina-devi, the lute of the gods, keep up the popular superstition and say the sounds are divine oracles. The sirka grass and the bamboos always shelter a number of tiny beetles, which make considerable holes in the hollow reeds. The fakirs of the idol-worshipping sects add art to this natural beginning and work the plants into musical instruments. The islet we visited bore one of the most celebrated vina-devis, and so, of course, was proclaimed sacred.
"Tomorrow morning," said the Takur, "you will see what deep knowledge of all the laws of acoustics was in the possession of the fakirs. They enlarged the holes made by the beetle according to the size of the reed, sometimes shaping it into a circle, sometimes into an oval. These reeds in their present state can be justly considered as the finest illustration of mechanism applied to acoustics. However, this is not to be wondered at, because some of the most ancient Sanskrit books about music minutely describe these laws, and mention many musical instruments which are not only forgotten, but totally incomprehensible in our days."
All this was very interesting, but still, disturbed by the din, we could not listen attentively.
"Don't worry yourselves," said the Takur, who soon understood our uneasiness, in spite of our attempts at composure. "After midnight the wind will fall, and you will sleep undisturbed. However, if the too close neighborhood of this musical grass is too much for you, we may as well go nearer to the shore. There is a spot from which you can see the sacred bonfires on the opposite shore."
We followed him, but while walking through the thickets of reeds we did not leave off our conversation. "How is it that the Brahmans manage to keep up such an evident cheat?" asked the colonel. "The stupidest man cannot fail to see in the long run who made the holes in the reeds, and how they come to give forth music."
"In America stupid men may be as clever as that; I don't know," answered the Takur, with a smile; "but not in India. If you took the trouble to show, to describe, and to explain how all this is done to any Hindu, be he even comparatively educated, he will still see nothing. He will tell you that he knows as well as yourself that the holes are made by the beetles and enlarged by the fakirs. But what of that? The beetle in his eyes is no ordinary beetle, but one of the gods incarnated in the insect for this special purpose; and the fakir is a holy ascetic, who has acted in this case by the order of the same god. That will be all you will ever get out of him. Fanaticism and superstition took centuries to develop in the masses, and now they are as strong as a necessary physiological function. Kill these two and the crowd will have its eyes opened, and will see truth, but not before. As to the Brahmans, India would have been very fortunate if everything they have done were as harmless. Let the crowds adore the muse and the spirit of harmony. This adoration is not so very wicked, after all."
The Babu told us that in Dehra-Dun this kind of reed is planted on both sides of the central street, which is more than a mile long. The buildings prevent the free action of the wind, and so the sounds are heard only in time of east wind, which is very rare. A year ago Swami Dayanand happened to camp off Dehra-Dun. Crowds of people gathered round him every evening. One day he delivered a very powerful sermon against superstition. Tired out by this long, energetic speech, and, besides, being a little unwell, the Swami sat down on his carpet and shut his eyes to rest as soon as the sermon was finished. But the crowd, seeing him so unusually quiet and silent, all at once imagined that his soul, abandoning him in this prostration, entered the reeds—that had just begun to sing their fantastical rhapsody—and was now conversing with the gods through the bamboos. Many a pious man in this gathering, anxious to show the teacher in what fulness they grasped his teaching and how deep was their respect for him personally, knelt down before the singing reeds and performed a most ardent puja.
"What did the Swami say to that?"
"He did not say anything.... Your question shows that you don't know our Swami yet," laughed the Babu. "He simply jumped to his feet, and, uprooting the first sacred reed on his way, gave such a lively European bakshish (thrashing) to the pious puja-makers, that they instantly took to their heels. The Swami ran after them for a whole mile, giving it hot to everyone in his way. He is wonderfully strong is our Swami, and no friend to useless talk, I can tell you."
"But it seems to me," said the colonel, "that that is not the right way to convert crowds. Dispersing and frightening is not converting."
"Not a bit of it. The masses of our nation require peculiar treatment.... Let me tell you the end of this story. Disappointed with the effect of his teachings on the inhabitants of Dehra-Dun, Dayanand Saraswati went to Patna, some thirty-five or forty miles from there. And before he had even rested from the fatigues of his journey, he had to receive a deputation from Dehra-Dun, who on their knees entreated him to come back. The leaders of this deputation had their backs covered with bruises, made by the bamboo of the Swami! They brought him back with no end of pomp, mounting him on an elephant and spreading flowers all along the road. Once in Dehra-Dun, he immediately proceeded to found a Samaj, a society as you would say, and the Dehra-Dun Arya-Samaj now counts at least two hundred members, who have renounced idol-worship and superstition for ever."
"I was present," said Mulji, "two years ago in Benares, when Dayanand broke to pieces about a hundred idols in the bazaar, and the same stick served him to beat a Brahman with. He caught the latter in the hollow idol of a huge Shiva. The Brahman was quietly sitting there talking to the devotees in the name, and so to speak, with the voice of Shiva, and asking money for a new suit of clothes the idol wanted."
"Is it possible the Swami had not to pay for this new achievement of his?"
"Oh, yes. The Brahman dragged him into a law court, but the judge had to pronounce the Swami in the right, because of the crowd of sympathizers and defenders who followed the Swami. But still he had to pay for all the idols he had broken. So far so good; but the Brahman died of cholera that very night, and of course, the opposers of the reform said his death was brought on by the sorcery of Dayanand Saraswati. This vexed us all a good deal."
"Now, Narayan, it is your turn," said I. Have you no story to tell us about the Swami? And do you not look up to him as to your Guru?"
"I have only one Guru and only one God on earth, as in heaven," answered Narayan; and I saw that he was very unwilling to speak. "And while I live, I shall not desert them."
"I know who is his Guru and his God!" thoughtlessly exclaimed the quick-tongued Babu. "It is the Takur—Sahib. In his person both coincide in the eyes of Narayan."
"You ought to be ashamed to talk such nonsense, Babu," coldly remarked Gulab-Sing. "I do not think myself worthy of being anybody's Guru. As to my being a god, the mere words are a blasphemy, and I must ask you not to repeat them... Here we are!" added he more cheerfully, pointing to the carpets spread by the servants on the shore, and evidently desirous of changing the topic. "Let us sit down!"
We arrived at a small glade some distance from the bamboo forest. The sounds of the magic orchestra reached us still, but considerably weakened, and only from time to time. We sat to the windward of the reeds, and so the harmonic rustle we heard was exactly like the low tones of an Aeolian harp, and had nothing disagreeable in it. On the contrary, the distant murmur only added to the beauty of the whole scene around us.
We sat down, and only then I realized how tired and sleepy I was—and no wonder, after being on foot since four in the morning, and after all that had happened to me on this memorable day. The gentlemen went on talking, and I soon became so absorbed in my thoughts that their conversation reached me only in fragments.
"Wake up, wake up!" repeated the colonel, shaking me by the hand. "The Takur says that sleeping in the moonlight will do you harm."
I was not asleep; I was simply thinking, though ex-hausted and sleepy. But wholly under the charm of this enchanting night, I could not shake off my drowsiness, and did not answer the colonel.
"Wake up, for God's sake! Think of what you are risking!" continued the colonel. "Wake up and look at the landscape before us, at this wonderful moon. Have you ever seen anything to equal this magnificent panorama?"
I looked up, and the familiar lines of Pushkin about the golden moon of Spain flashed into my mind. And indeed this was a golden moon. At this moment she radiated rivers of golden light, poured forth liquid gold into the tossing lake at our feet, and sprinkled with golden dust every blade of grass, every pebble, as far as the eye could reach, all round us. Her disk of silvery yellow swiftly glided upward amongst the big stars, on their dark blue ground.
Many a moonlit night have I seen in India, but every time the impression was new and unexpected. It is no use trying to describe these feerique pictures, they cannot be represented either in words or in colors on canvas, they can only be felt—so fugitive is their grandeur and beauty! In Europe, even in the south, the full moon eclipses the largest and most brilliant of the stars, so that hardly any can be seen for a considerable distance round her. In India it is quite the contrary; she looks like a huge pearl surrounded by diamonds, rolling on a blue velvet ground. Her light is so intense that one can read a letter written in small handwriting; one even can perceive the different greens of the trees and bushes—a thing unheard of in Europe. The effect of the moon is especially charming on tall palm trees. From the first moment of her appearance her rays glide over the tree downwards, beginning with the feathery crests, then lighting up the scales of the trunk, and descending lower and lower till the whole palm is literally bathing in a sea of light. Without any metaphor the surface of the leaves seems to tremble in liquid silver all the night long, whereas their under surfaces seem blacker and softer than black velvet. But woe to the thoughtless novice, woe to the mortal who gazes at the Indian moon with his head uncovered. It is very dangerous not only to sleep under, but even to gaze at the chaste Indian Diana. Fits of epilepsy, madness and death are the punishments wrought by her treacherous arrows on the modern Acteon who dares to contemplate the cruel daughter of Latona in her full beauty. The Hindus never go out in the moonlight without their turbans or pagris. Even our invulnerable Babu always wore a kind of white cap during the night.
As soon as the reeds concert reaches its height and the inhabitants of the neighborhood hear the distant "voices of the gods," whole villages flock together to the bank of the lake, light bonfires, and perform their pujas. The fires lit up one after the other, and the black silhouettes of the worshippers moved about on the opposite shore. Their sacred songs and loud exclamations, "Hari, Hari, Maha-deva!" resounded with a strange loudness and a wild emphasis in the pure air of the night. And the reeds, shaken in the wind, answered them with tender musical phrases. The whole stirred a vague feeling of uneasiness in my soul, a strange intoxication crept gradually over me, and in this enchanting place the idol-worship of these passionate, poetical souls, sunk in dark ignorance, seemed more intelligible and less repulsive. A Hindu is a born mystic, and the luxuriant nature of his country has made of him a zealous pantheist.
Sounds of alguja, a kind of Pandean pipe with seven openings, struck our attention; their music was wafted by the wind quite distinctly from somewhere in the wood. They also startled a whole family of monkeys in the branches of a tree over our heads. Two or three monkeys carefully slipped down, and looked round as if waiting for something.
"What is this new Orpheus, to whose voice these monkeys answer?" asked I laughingly.
"Some fakir probably. The alguja is generally used to invite the sacred monkeys to their meals. The community of fakirs, who once inhabited this island, have removed to an old pagoda in the forest. Their new resting-place brings them more profit, because there are many passers by, whereas the island is perfectly isolated."
"Probably they were compelled to desert this dreadful place because they were threatened by chronic deafness," Miss X—— expressed her opinion. She could not help being out of temper at being prevented from enjoying her quiet slumber, our tents being right in the middle of the orchestra.
"A propos of Orpheus," asked the Takur, "do you know that the lyre of this Greek demigod was not the first to cast spells over people, animals and even rivers? Kui, a certain Chinese musical artist, as they are called, expresses something to this effect: 'When I play my kyng the wild animals hasten to me, and range themselves into rows, spellbound by my melody.' This Kui lived one thousand years before the supposed era of Orpheus."
"What a funny coincidence!" exclaimed I. "Kui is the name of one of our best artists in St. Petersburg. Where did you read this?"
"Oh, this is not a very rare piece of information. Some of your Western Orientalists have it in their books. But I personally found it in an ancient Sanskrit book, translated from the Chinese in the second century before your era. But the original is to be found in a very ancient work, named The Preserver of the Five Chief Virtues. It is a kind of chronicle or treatise on the development of music in China. It was written by the order of Emperor Hoang-Tee many hundred years before your era."
"Do you think, then, that the Chinese ever understood anything about music?" said the colonel, with an incredulous smile. "In California and other places I heard some traveling artists of the celestial empire. Well, I think, that kind of musical entertainment would drive any one mad."
"That is exactly the opinion of many of your Western musicians on the subject of our ancient Aryan, as well as of modern Hindu, music. But, in the first instance, the idea of melody is perfectly arbitrary; and, in the second, there is a good deal of difference between the technical knowledge of music, and the creation of melodies fit to please the educated, as well as the uneducated, ear. According to technical theory, a musical piece may be perfect, but the melody, nevertheless, may be above the understanding of an untrained taste, or simply unpleasant. Your most renowned operas sound for us like a wild chaos, like a rush of strident, entangled sounds, in which we do not see any meaning at all, and which give us headaches. I have visited the London and the Paris opera; I have heard Rossini and Meyer-beer; I was resolved to render myself an account of my impressions, and listened with the greatest attention. But I own I prefer the simplest of our native melodies to the productions of the best European composers. Our popular songs speak to me, whereas they fail to produce any emotion in you. But leaving the tunes and songs out of question, I can assure you that our ancestors, as well as the ancestors of the Chinese, were far from inferior to the modern Europeans, if not in technical instrumentation, at least in their abstract notions of music."
"The Aryan nations of antiquity, perhaps; but I hardly believe this in the case of the Turanian Chinese!" said our president doubtfully.
"But the music of nature has been everywhere the first step to the music of art. This is a universal rule. But there are different ways of following it. Our musical system is the greatest art, if—pardon me this seeming paradox—avoiding all artificiality is art. We do not allow in our melodies any sounds that cannot be classified amongst the living voices of nature; whereas the modern Chinese tendencies are quite different. The Chinese system comprises eight chief tones, which serve as a tuning-fork to all derivatives; which are accordingly classified under the names of their generators. These eight sounds are: the notes metal, stone, silk, bamboo, pumpkin, earthenware, leather and wood. So that they have metallic sounds, wooden sounds, silk sounds, and so on. Of course, under these conditions they cannot produce any melody; their music consists of an entangled series of separate notes. Their imperial hymn, for instance, is a series of endless unisons. But we Hindus owe our music only to living nature, and in nowise to inanimate objects. In a higher sense of the word, we are pantheists, and so our music is, so to speak, pantheistic; but, at the same time, it is highly scientific. Coming from the cradle of humanity, the Aryan races, who were the first to attain manhood, listened to the voice of nature, and concluded that melody as well as harmony are both contained in our great common mother. Nature has no false and no artificial notes; and man, the crown of creation, felt desirous of imitating her sounds. In their multiplicity, all these sounds—according to the opinion of some of your Western physicists—make only one tone, which we all can hear, if we know how to listen, in the eternal rustle of the foliage of big forests, in the murmur of water, in the roar of the storming ocean, and even in the distant roll of a great city. This tone is the middle F, the fundamental tone of nature. In our melodies it serves as the starting point, which we embody in the key-note, and around which are grouped all the other sounds. Having noticed that every musical note has its typical representative in the animal kingdom, our ancestors found out that the seven chief tones correspond to the cries of the goat, the peacock, the ox, the parrot, the frog, the tiger, and the elephant. So the octave was discovered and founded. As to its subdivisions and measure, they also found their basis in the complicated sounds of the same animals."
"I am no judge of your ancient music," said the colonel, "nor do I know whether your ancestors did, or did not, work out any musical theories, so I cannot contradict you; but I must own that, listening to the songs of the modern Hindus, I could not give them any credit for musical knowledge."
"No doubt it is so, because you have never heard a professional singer. When you have visited Poona, and have listened to the Gayan Samaj, we shall resume our present conversation. The Gayan Samaj is a society whose aim is to restore the ancient national music."
Gulab-Lal-Sing spoke in his usual calm voice, but the Babu was evidently burning to break forth for his country's honor, and at the same time, he was afraid of offending his seniors by interrupting their conversation. At last he lost patience.
"You are unjust, colonel!" he exclaimed. "The music of the ancient Aryans is an antediluvian plant, no doubt, but nevertheless it is well worth studying, and deserves every consideration. This is perfectly proved now by a compatriot of mine, the Raja Surendronath Tagor.... He is a Mus. D., he has lots of decorations from all kinds of kings and emperors of Europe for his book about the music of Aryans.... And, well, this man has proved, as clear as daylight, that ancient India has every right to be called the mother of music. Even the best musical critics of England say so!... Every school, whether Italian, German or Aryan, saw the light at a certain period, developed in a certain climate and in perfectly different circumstances. Every school has its characteristics, and its peculiar charm, at least for its followers; and our school is no exception. You Europeans are trained in the melodies of the West, and acquainted with Western schools of music; but our musical system, like many other things in India, is totally unknown to you. So you must forgive my boldness, colonel, when I say that you have no right to judge!"
"Don't get so excited, Babu," said the Takur. "Every one has the right, if not to discuss, then to ask questions about a new subject. Otherwise no one would ever get any information. If Hindu music belonged to an epoch as little distant from us as the European—which you seem to suggest, Babu, in your hot haste; and if, besides, it included all the virtues of all the previous musical systems, which the European music assimilates; then no doubt it would have been better understood, and better appreciated than it is. But our music belongs to prehistoric times. In one of the sarcophagi at Thebes, Bruce found a harp with twenty strings, and, judging by this instrument, we may safely say that the ancient inhabitants of Egypt were well acquainted with the mysteries of harmony. But, except the Egyptians, we were the only people possessing this art, in the remote epochs, when the rest of mankind were still struggling with the elements for bare existence. We possess hundreds of Sanskrit MSS. about music, which have never been translated, even into modern Indian dialects. Some of them are four thousand and eight thousand years old. Whatever your Orientalists may say to the contrary, we will persist in believing in their antiquity, because we have read and studied them, while the European scientists have never yet set their eyes on them. There are many of these musical treatises, and they have been written at different epochs; but they all, without exception, show that in India music was known and systematized in times when the modern civilized nations of Europe still lived like savages. However true, all this does not give us the right to grow indignant when Europeans say they do not like our music, as long as their ears are not accustomed to it, and their minds cannot understand its spirit.... To a certain extent we can explain to you its technical character, and give you a right idea of it as a science. But nobody can create in you, in a moment, what the Aryans used to call Rakti; the capacity of the human soul to receive and be moved by the combinations of the various sounds of nature. This capacity is the alpha and omega of our musical system, but you do not possess it, as we do not possess the possibility to fall into raptures over Bellini."
"But why should it be so? What are these mysterious virtues of your music, that can be understood only by yourselves? Our skins are of different colors, but our organic mechanism is the same. In other words, the physiological combination of bones, blood, nerves, veins and muscles, which forms a Hindu, has as many parts, combined exactly after the same model as the living mechanism known under the name of an American, Englishman, or any other European. They come into the world from the same workshop of nature; they have the same beginning and the same end. From a physiological point of view we are duplicates of each other."
"Physiologically yes. And it would be as true psychologically, if education did not interfere, which, after all is said and done, could not but influence the mental and the moral direction taken by a human being. Sometimes it extinguishes the divine spark; at other times it only increases it, transforming it into a lighthouse which becomes man's lodestar for life."
"No doubt this is so. But the influence it has over the physiology of the ear cannot be so overpowering after all."
"Quite the contrary. Only remember what a strong influence climatic conditions, food and everyday surroundings have on the complexion, vitality, capacity for reproduction, and so on, and you will see that you are mistaken. Apply this same law of gradual modification to the purely psychic element in man, and the results will be the same. Change the education and you will change the capacities of a human being.... For instance, you believe in the powers of gymnastics, you believe that special exercise can almost transform the human body. We go one step higher. The experience of centuries shows that gymnastics exist for the soul as well as for the body. But what the soul's gymnastics are is our secret. What is it that gives to the sailor the sight of an eagle, that endows the acrobat with the skill of a monkey, and the wrestler with muscles of iron? Practice and habit. Then why should not we suppose the same possibilities in the soul of the man as well as in his body? Perhaps on the grounds of modern science—which either dispenses with the soul altogether, or does not acknowledge in it a life distinct from the life of the body...."
"Please do not speak in this way, Takur. You, at least, ought to know that I believe in the soul and in its immortality!"
"We believe in the immortality of spirit, not of soul, following the triple division of body, soul and spirit. However, this has nothing to do with the present discussion.... And so you agree to the proposition that every dormant possibility of the soul may be led to perfected strength and activity by practice, and also that if not properly used it may grow numb and even disappear altogether. Nature is so zealous that all her gifts should be used properly, that it is in our power to develop or to kill in our descendants any physical or mental gift. A systematic training or a total disregard will accomplish both in the lifetime of a few generations."
"Perfectly true; but that does not explain to me the secret charm of your melodies...."
"These are details and particulars. Why should I dwell on them when you must see for yourself that my reasoning gives you the clue, which will solve many similar problems? Centuries have accustomed the ear of a Hindu to be receptive only of certain combinations of atmospheric vibrations; whereas the ear of a European is used to perfectly different combinations. Hence the soul of the former will be enraptured where the soul of the latter will be perfectly indifferent. I hope my explanation has been simple and clear, and I might have ended it here were it not that I am anxious to give you something better than the feeling of satisfied curiosity. As yet I have solved only the physiological aspect of the secret, which is as easily admitted as the fact that we Hindus eat by the handful spices which would give you inflammation of the intestines if you happened to swallow a single grain. Our aural nerves, which, at the beginning, were identical with yours, have been changed through different training, and became as distinct from yours as our complexion and our stomachs. Add to this that the eyes of the Kashmir weavers, men and women, are able to distinguish three hundred shades more than the eye of a European.... The force of habit, the law of atavism, if you like. But things of this kind practically solve the apparent difficulty. You have come all the way from America to study the Hindus and their religion; but you will never understand the latter if you do not realize how closely all our sciences are related, not to the modern ignorant Brahmanism, of course, but to the philosophy of our primitive Vedic religion."
"I see. You mean that your music has something to do with the Vedas?"
"Exactly. It has a good deal—almost everything—to do with the Vedas. All the sounds of nature, and, in consequence, of music, are directly allied to astronomy and mathematics; that is to say, to the planets, the signs of the zodiac, the sun and moon, and to rotation and numbers. Above all, they depend on the Akasha, the ether of space, of the existence of which your scientists have not made perfectly sure as yet. This was the teaching of the ancient Chinese and Egyptians, as well as of ancient Aryans. The doctrine of the 'music of the spheres' first saw the light here in India, and not in Greece or Italy, whither it was brought by Pythagoras after he had studied under the Indian Gymnosophists. And most certainly this great philosopher—who revealed to the world the heliocentric system before Copernicus and Galileo—knew better than anyone else how dependent are the least sounds in nature on Akasha and its interrelations. One of the four Vedas, namely, the Sama-Veda, entirely consists of hymns. This is a collection of mantrams sung during the sacrifices to the gods, that is to say, to the elements. Our ancient priests were hardly acquainted with the modern methods of chemistry and physics; but, to make up for it, they knew a good deal which has not as yet been thought of by modern scientists. So it is not to be wondered at that, sometimes, our priests, so perfectly acquainted with natural sciences as they were, forced the elementary gods, or rather the blind forces of nature, to answer their prayers by various portents. Every sound of these mantrams has its meaning, its importance, and stands exactly where it ought to stand; and, having a raison d'etre, it does not fail to produce its effect. Remember Professor Leslie, who says that the science of sound is the most subtle, the most unseizable and the most complicated of all the series of physical sciences. And if ever this teaching was worked out to perfection it was in the times of the Rishis, our philosophers and saints, who left to us the Vedas."
"Now, I think I begin to understand the origin of all the mythological fables of the Greek antiquity," thoughtfully said the colonel; "the syrinx of Pan, his pipe of seven reeds, the fauns, the satyrs, and the lyre of Orpheus himself. The ancient Greeks knew little about harmony; and the rhythmical declamations of their dramas, which probably never reached the pathos of the simplest of modern recitals, could hardly suggest to them the idea of the magic lyre of Orpheus. I feel strongly inclined to believe what was written by some of our great philologists: Orpheus must be an emigrant from India; his very name [greek script], or [greek script], shows that, even amongst the tawny Greeks, he was remarkably dark. This was the opinion of Lempriere and others."
"Some day this opinion may become a certainty. There is not the slightest doubt that the purest and the highest of all the musical forms of antiquity belongs to India. All our legends ascribe magic powers to music; it is a gift and a science coming straight from the gods. As a rule, we ascribe all our arts to divine revelation, but music stands at the head of everything else. The invention of the vina, a kind of lute, belongs to Narada, the son of Brahma. You will probably laugh at me if I tell you that our ancient priests, whose duty it was to sing during the sacrifices, were able to produce phenomena that could not but be considered by the ignorant as signs from supernatural powers; and this, remember, without a shadow of trickery, but simply with the help of their perfect knowledge of nature and certain combinations well known to them. The phenomena produced by the priests and the Raj-Yogis are perfectly natural for the initiate—however miraculous they may seem to the masses."
"But do you really mean that you have no faith what-ever in the spirits of the dead?" timidly asked Miss X——, who was always ill at ease in the presence of the Takur.
"With your permission, I have none."
"And... and have you no regard for mediums?"
"Still less than for the spirits, my dear lady. I do believe in the existence of many psychic diseases, and, amongst their number, in mediumism, for which we have got a queer sounding name from time immemorial. We call it Bhuta-Dak, literally a bhuta-hostelry. I sincerely pity the real mediums, and do whatever is in my power to help them. As to the charlatans, I despise them, and never lose an opportunity of unmasking them."
The witch's den near the "dead city" suddenly flashed into my mind; the fat Brahman, who played the oracle in the head of the Sivatherium, caught and rolling down the hole; the witch herself suddenly taking to her heels. And with this recollection also occurred to me what I had never thought of before: Narayan had acted under the orders of the Takur—doing his best to expose the witch and her ally.
"The unknown power which possesses the mediums (which the spiritualists believe to be spirits of the dead, while the superstitious see in it the devil, and the sceptics deceit and infamous tricks), true men of science suspect to be a natural force, which has not as yet been discovered. It is, in reality, a terrible power. Those possessed by it are generally weak people, often women and children. Your beloved spiritualists, Miss X——, only help the growth of dreadful psychic diseases, but people who know better seek to save them from this force you know nothing whatever about, and it is no use discussing this matter now. I shall only add one word: the real living spirit of a human being is as free as Brahma; and even more than this for us, for, according to our religion and our philosophy, our spirit is Brahma himself, higher than whom there is only the unknowable, the all-pervading, the omnipotent essence of Parabrahm. The living spirit of man cannot be ordered about like the spirits of the spiritualists, it cannot be made a slave of... However, it is getting so late that we had better go to bed. Let us say good-bye for tonight."
Gulab-Lal-Sing would not talk any more that night, but I have gathered from our previous conversations many a point without which the above conversation would remain obscure. The Vedantins and the followers of Shankaracharya's philosophy, in talking of themselves, often avoid using the pronoun I, and say, "this body went," "this hand took," and so on, in everything concerning the automatic actions of man. The personal pronouns are only used concerning mental and moral processes, such as, "I thought," "he desired." The body in their eyes is not the man, but only a covering to the real man.
The real interior man possesses many bodies; each of them more subtle and more pure than the preceding; and each of them bears a different name and is independent of the material body. After death, when the earthly vital principle disintegrates, together with the material body, all these interior bodies join together, and either advance on the way to Moksha, and are called Deva (divine), though it still has to pass many stadia before the final liberation, or is left on earth, to wander and to suffer in the invisible world, and, in this case, is called bhuta. But a Deva has no tangible intercourse with the living. Its only link with the earth is its posthumous affection for those it loved in its lifetime, and the power of protecting and influencing them. Love outlives every earthly feeling, and a Deva can appear to the beloved ones only in their dreams—unless it be as an illusion, which cannot last, because the body of a Deva undergoes a series of gradual changes from the moment it is freed from its earthly bonds; and, with every change, it grows more intangible, losing every time something of its objective nature. It is reborn; it lives and dies in new Lokas or spheres, which gradually become purer and more subjective. At last, having got rid of every shadow of earthly thoughts and desires, it becomes nothing from a material point of view. It is extinguished like a flame, and, having become one with Parabrahm, it lives the life of spirit, of which neither our material conception nor our language can give any idea. But the eternity of Parabrahm is not the eternity of the soul. The latter, according to a Vedanta expression, is an eternity in eternity. However holy, the life of a soul had its beginning and its end, and, consequently, no sins and no good actions can be punished or rewarded in the eternity of Parabrahm. This would be contrary to justice, disproportionate, to use an expression of Vedanta philosophy. Spirit alone lives in eternity, and has neither beginning nor end, neither limits nor central point. The Deva lives in Parabrahm, as a drop lives in the ocean, till the next regeneration of the universe from Pralaya; a periodical chaos, a disappearance of the worlds from the region of objectivity. With every new Maha-yuga (great cycle) the Deva separates from that which is eternal, attracted by existence in objective worlds, like a drop of water first drawn up by the sun, then starting again downwards, passing from one region to another, and returning at last to the dirt of our planet. Then, having dwelt there whilst a small cycle lasted, it proceeds again upwards on the other side of the circle. So it gravitates in the eternity of Parabrahm, passing from one minor eternity to another. Each of these "human," that is to say conceivable, eternities consists of 4,320,000,000 years of objective life and of as many years of subjective life in Parabrahm, altogether 8,640,000,000 years, which are enough, in the eyes of the Vedantins, to redeem any mortal sin, and also to reap the fruit of any good actions performed in such a short period as human life. The individuality of the soul, teaches the Vedanta, is not lost when plunged in Parabrahm, as is supposed by some of the European Orientalists.
Only the souls of bhutas—when the last spark of repentance and of tendency to improvement are extinguished in them—will evaporate for ever. Then their divine spirit, the undying part of them, separates from the soul and returns to its primitive source; the soul is reduced to its primordial atoms, and the monad plunges into the darkness of eternal unconsciousness. This is the only case of total destruction of personality.
Such is the Vedanta teaching concerning the spiritual man. And this is why no true Hindu believes in the disembodied souls voluntarily returning to earth, except in the case of bhutas.
Leaving Malva and Indore, the quasi-independent country of Holkar, we found ourselves once more on strictly British territory. We were going to Jubblepore by railway.
This town is situated in the district of Saugor and Nerbudda; once it belonged to the Mahrattis, but, in 1817, the English army took possession of it. We stopped in the town only for a short time, being anxious to see the celebrated Marble Rocks. As it would have been a pity to lose a whole day, we hired a boat and started at 2 A.M., which gave us the double advantage of avoiding the heat, and enjoying a splendid bit of the river ten miles from the town.
The neighborhood of Jubblepore is charming; and besides, both a geologist and a mineralogist would find here the richest field for scientific researches. The geological formation of the rocks offers an infinite variety of granites; and the long chains of mountains might keep a hundred of Cuviers busy for life. The limestone caves of Jubblepore are a true ossuary of antediluvian India; they are full of skeletons of monstrous animals, now disappeared for ever.
At a considerable distance from the rest of the mountain ridges, and perfectly separate, stand the Marble Rocks, a most wonderful natural phenomenon, not very rare, though, in India. On the flattish banks of the Nerbudda, overgrown with thick bushes, you suddenly perceive a long row of strangely-shaped white cliffs.
They are there without any apparent reason, as if they were a wart on the smooth cheek of mother nature. White and pure, they are heaped up on each other as if after some plan, and look exactly like a huge paperweight from the writing-table of a Titan. We saw them when we were half-way from the town. They appeared and disappeared with the sudden capricious turnings of the river; trembling in the early morning mist like a distant, deceitful mirage of the desert. Then we lost sight of them altogether. But just before sunrise they stood out once more before our charmed eyes, floating above their reflected image in the water. As if called forth by the wand of a sorcerer, they stood there on the green bank of the Nerbudda, mirroring their virgin beauty on the calm surface of the lazy stream, and promising us a cool and welcome shelter.... And as to the preciousness of every moment of the cool hours before sunrise, it can be appreciated only by those who have lived and traveled in this fiery land.
Alas! in spite of all our precautions, and our unusually early start, our enjoyment of this cool retreat was very short-lived. Our project was to have prosaic tea amid these poetic surroundings; but as soon as we landed, the sun leaped above the horizon, and began shooting his fiery arrows at the boat, and at our unfortunate heads. Persecuting us from one place to another, he banished us, at last, even from under a huge rock hanging over the water. There was literally no place where we could seek salvation. The snow-white marble beauties became golden red, pouring fire-sparks into the river, heating the sand and blinding our eyes.
No wonder that legend supposes in them something between the abode and the incarnation of Kali, the fiercest of all the goddesses of the Hindu pantheon.
For many Yugas this goddess has been engaged in a desperate contest with her lawful husband Shiva, who, in his shape of Trikutishvara, a three-headed lingam, has dishonestly claimed the rocks and the river for his own—the very rocks and the very river over which Kali presides in person. And this is why people hear dreadful moaning, coming from under the ground, every time that the hand of an irresponsible coolie, working by Government orders in Government quarries, breaks a stone from the white bosom of the goddess. The unhappy stone-breaker hears the cry and trembles, and his heart is torn between the expectations of a dreadful punishment from the bloodthirsty goddess and the fear of his implacably exacting inspector in case he disobeys his orders.
Kali is the owner of the Marble Rocks, but she is the patroness of the ex-Thugs as well. Many a lonely traveler has shuddered on hearing this name; many a bloodless sacrifice has been offered on the marble altar of Kali. The country is full of horrible tales about the achievements of the Thugs, accomplished in the honor of this goddess. These tales are too recent and too fresh in the popular memory to become as yet mere highly-colored legends. They are mostly true, and many of them are proved by official documents of the law courts and inquest commissions.
If England ever leaves India, the perfect suppression of Thugism will be one of the good memories that will linger in the country long after her departure. Under this name was practised in India during two long centuries the craftiest and the worst kind of homicide. Only after 1840 was it discovered that its aim was simply robbery and brigandage. The falsely interpreted symbolical meaning of Kali was nothing but a pretext, otherwise there would not have been so many Mussulmans amongst her devotees. When they were caught at last, and had to answer before justice, most of these knights of the rumal—the handkerchief with which the operation of strangling was performed—proved to be Mussulmans. The most illustrious of their leaders were not Hindus, but followers of the Prophet, the celebrated Ahmed, for instance. Out of thirty-seven Thugs caught by the police there were twenty-two Mahometans. This proves perfectly clearly that their religion, having nothing in common with the Hindu gods, had nothing to do with their cruel profession; the reason and cause was robbery.
It is true though that the final initiation rite was performed in some deserted forest before an idol of Bhavani, or Kali, wearing a necklace of human skulls. Before this final initiation the candidates had to undergo a course of schooling, the most difficult part of which was a certain trick of throwing the rumal on the neck of the unsuspecting victim and strangling him, so that death might be instantaneous. In the initiation the part of the goddess was made manifest in the use of certain symbols, which are in common use amongst the Freemasons—for instance, an unsheathed dagger, a human skull, and the corpse of Hiram-Abiff, "son of the widow," brought back to life by the Grand Master of the lodge. Kali was nothing but the pretext for an imposing scenarium. Freemasonry and Thugism had many points of resemblance. The members of both recognized each other by certain signs, both had a pass-word and a jargon that no outsider could understand. The Freemason lodges receive among their members both Christians and Atheists; the Thugs used to receive the thieves and robbers of every nation without any distinction; and it is reported that amongst them there were some Portuguese and even Englishmen. The difference between the two is that the Thugs certainly were a criminal organization, whereas the Freemasons of our days do no harm, except to their own pockets.
Poor Shiva, wretched Bhavani! What a mean interpretation popular ignorance has invented for these two poetical types, so deeply philosophical and so full of knowledge of the laws of nature. Shiva, in his primitive meaning is "Happy God"; then the all-destroying, as well as the all-regenerating force of nature. The Hindu trinity is, amongst other things, an allegorical representation of the three chief elements: fire, earth and water. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva all represent these elements by turns, in their different phases; but Shiva is much more the god of the fire than either Brahma or Vishnu: he burns and purifies; at the same time creating out of the ashes new forms, full of fresh life. Shiva-Sankarin is the destroyer or rather the scatterer; Shiva-Rakshaka is the preserver, the regenerator. He is represented with flames on his left palm, and with the wand of death and resurrection in his right hand. His worshippers wear on their foreheads his sign traced with wet ashes, the ashes being called vibhuti, or purified substance, and the sign consisting of three horizontal parallel lines between the eyebrows. The color of Shiva's skin is rosy-yellow, gradually changing into a flaming red. His neck, head and arms are covered with snakes, emblems of eternity and eternal regeneration. "As a serpent, abandoning his old slough, reappears in new skin, so man after death reappears in a younger and a purer body," say the Puranas.
In her turn, Shiva's wife Kali is the allegory of earth, fructified by the flames of the sun. Her educated worshippers say they allow themselves to believe their goddess is fond of human sacrifices, only on the strength of the fact that earth is fond of organical decomposition, which fertilizes her, and helps her to call forth new forces from the ashes of the dead. The Shivaites, when burning their dead, put an idol of Shiva at the head of the corpse; but when beginning to scatter the ashes in the elements, they invoke Bhavani, in order that the goddess may receive the purified remains, and develop in them germs of new life. But what truth could bear the coarse touch of superstitious ignorance without being disfigured!
The murdering Thugs laid their hands on this great philosophic emblem, and, having understood that the goddess loves human sacrifice, but hates useless blood-shed, they resolved to please her doubly: to kill, but never to soil their hands by the blood of their victims. The result of it was the knighthood of the rumal.
One day we visited a very aged ex-Thug. In his young days he was transported to the Andaman Islands, but, owing to his sincere repentance, and to some services he had rendered to the Government, he was afterwards pardoned. Having returned to his native village, he settled down to earn his living by weaving ropes, a profession probably suggested to him by some sweet reminiscences of the achievements of his youth. He initiated us first into the mysteries of theoretic Thugism, and then extended his hospitality by a ready offer to show us the practical side of it, if we agreed to pay for a sheep. He said he would gladly show us how easy it was to send a living being ad patres in less than three seconds; the whole secret consisting in some skillful and swift movements of the righthand finger joints.
We refused to buy the sheep for this old brigand, but we gave him some money. To show his gratitude he offered to demonstrate all the preliminary sensation of the rumal on any English or American neck that was willing. Of course, he said he would omit the final twist. But still none of us were willing; and the gratitude of the repentant criminal found issue in great volubility.
The owl is sacred to Bhavani Kali, and as soon as a band of Thugs, awaiting their victims, had been signalled by the conventional hooting, each of the travelers, let them be twenty and more, had a Thug behind his shoulders. One second more, and the rumal was on the neck of the victim, the well-trained iron fingers of the Thug tightly holding the ends of the sacred handkerchief; another second, the joints of the fingers performed their artistic twist, pressing the larynx, and the victim fell down lifeless. Not a sound, not a shriek! The Thugs worked, as swiftly as lightning. The strangled man was immediately carried to a grave prepared in some thick forest, usually under the bed of some brook or rivulet in their periodical state of drought. Every vestige of the victim disappeared. Who cared to know about him, except his own family and his very intimate friends? The inquests were especially difficult, if not impossible, thirty years ago , when there were no regular railway communications, and no regular Government system. Besides, the country is full of tigers, whose sad fate it is to be responsible for every one else's sins as well as for their own. Whoever it was who happened to disappear, be it Hindu or Mussulman, the answer was invariably the same: tigers!
The Thugs possessed a wonderfully good organization. Trained accomplices used to tramp all over India, stopping at the bazaars, those true clubs of Eastern nations, gathering information, scaring their listeners to death with tales of the Thugs, and then advising them to join this or that travelling party, who of course were Thugs playing the part of rich merchants or pilgrims. Having ensnared these wretches, they sent word to the Thugs, and got paid for the commission in proportion to the total profit.
During many long years these invisible bands, scattered all over the country, and working in parties of from ten to sixty men, enjoyed perfect freedom, but at last they were caught. The inquiries unveiled horrid and repulsive secrets: rich bankers, officiating Brahmans, Rajas on the brink of poverty, and a few English officials, all had to be brought before justice.
This deed of the East India Company truly deserves the popular gratitude which it receives.——
On our way back from the Marble Rocks we saw Muddun-Mahal, another mysterious curio; it is a house built—no one knows by whom, or with what purpose—on a huge boulder. This stone is probably some kind of relative to the cromlechs of the Celtic Druids. It shakes at the least touch, together with the house and the people who feel curious to see inside it. Of course we had this curiosity, and our noses remained safe only thanks to the Babu, Narayan and the Takur, who took as great care of us as if they had been nurses, and we their babies.
Natives of India are truly a wonderful people. However unsteady the thing may be, they are sure to walk on it, and sit on it, with the greatest comfort. They think nothing of sitting whole hours on the top of a post—maybe a little thicker than an ordinary telegraph post. They also feel perfectly safe with their toes twisted round a thin branch and their bodies resting on nothing, as if they were crows perched on a telegraph wire.
"Salam, sahib!" said I once to an ancient, naked Hindu of a low caste, seated in the above described fashion. "Are you comfortable, uncle? And are you not afraid of falling down?"
"Why should I fall?" seriously answered the "uncle," expectorating a red fountain—an unavoidable result of betel-chewing. "I do not breathe, mam-sahib!"
"What do you mean? A man cannot do without breathing!" exclaimed I, a good deal astonished by this wonderful bit of information.
"Oh yes, he can. I do not breathe just now, and so I am perfectly safe. But soon I shall have to fill up my breast again with fresh air, and then I will hold on to the post, otherwise I should fall."
After this astounding physiological information, we parted. He would not talk any more, evidently fearing to endanger his comfort. At that time, we did not receive any more explanations on the subject, but this incident was enough to disturb the scientific equanimity of our minds.
Till then, we were so naive as to fancy that only sturgeons and similar aquatic acrobats were clever enough to learn how to fill up their insides with air in order to become lighter, and to rise to the surface of the water. What is possible to a sturgeon is impossible to man, speculated we in our ignorance. So we agreed to look upon the revelation of the above described "uncle" in the light of a brag, having no other aim but to chaff the "white sahibs." In those days, we were still inexperienced, and inclined to resent this kind of information, as coming very near to mockery. But, later on, we learned that his description of the process necessary to keep up this birdlike posture was perfectly accurate. In Jubblepore we saw much greater wonders. Strolling along the river bank, we reached the so-called Fakirs' Avenue; and the Takur invited us to visit the courtyard of the pagoda. This is a sacred place, and neither Europeans nor Mussulmans are admitted inside. But Gulab-Sing said something to the chief Brahman, and we entered without hindrance.
The yard was full of devotees, and of ascetics. But our attention was especially attracted by three ancient, perfectly naked fakirs. As wrinkled as baked mushrooms, as thin as skeletons, crowned with twisted masses of white hair, they sat or rather stood in the most impossible postures, as we thought. One of them, literally leaning only on the palm of his right hand, was poised with his head downwards and his legs upwards; his body was as motionless as if he were the dry branch of a tree. Just a little above the ground his head rose in the most unnatural position, and his eyes were fixed on the glaring sun. I cannot guarantee the truthfulness of some talkative inhabitants of the town, who had joined our party, and who assured us that this fakir daily spends in this posture all the hours between noon and the sunset. But I can guarantee that not a muscle of his body moved during the hour and twenty minutes we spent amongst the fakirs. Another fakir stood on a "sacred stone of Shiva," a small stone about five inches in diameter. One of his legs was curled up under him, and the whole of his body was bent backwards into an arc; his eyes also were fixed on the sun. The palms of his hands were pressed together as if in prayer. He seemed glued to his stone. We were at a loss to imagine by what means this man came to be master of such equilibration.
The third of these wonderful people sat crossing his legs under him; but how he could sit was more than we could understand, because the thing on which he sat was a stone lingam, not higher than an ordinary street post and little wider than the "stone of Shiva," that is to say, hardly more than five or seven inches in diameter. His arms were crossed behind his back, and his nails had grown into the flesh of his shoulders.
"This one never changes his position," said one of our companions. "At least, he has not changed for the last seven years."
His usual food, or rather drink, is milk, which is brought to him once in every forty-eight hours and poured into his throat with the aid of a bamboo. Every ascetic has willing servants, who are also future fakirs, whose duty it is to attend on them; and so the disciples of this living mummy take him off his pedestal, wash him in the tank, and put him back like an inanimate object, because he can no longer stretch his limbs.
"And what if I were to push one of these fakirs?" asked I. "I daresay the least touch would upset them."
"Try!" laughingly advised the Takur. "In this state of religious trance it is easier to break a man to pieces than to remove him from his place."
To touch an ascetic in the state of trance is a sacrilege in the eyes of the Hindus; but evidently the Takur was well aware that, under certain circumstances, there may be exceptions to every Brahmanical rule. He had another aside with the chief Brahman, who followed us, darker than a thundercloud; the consultation did not last long, and after it was over Gulab-Sing declared to us that none of us was allowed to touch the fakirs, but that he personally had obtained this permission, and so was going to show us something still more astonishing.
He approached the fakir on the little stone, and, carefully holding him by his protruding ribs, he lifted him and put him on the ground. The ascetic remained as statuesque as before. Then Gulab-Sing took the stone in his hands and showed it to us, asking us, however, not to touch it for fear of offending the crowd. The stone was round, flattish, with rather an uneven surface. When laid on the ground it shook at the least touch.
"Now, you see that this pedestal is far from being steady. And also you have seen that, under the weight of the fakir, it is as immovable as if it were planted in the ground."
When the fakir was put back on the stone, he and it at once resumed their appearance, as of one single body, solidly joined to the ground, and not a line of the fakir's body had changed. By all appearance, his bending body and his head thrown backward sought to bring him down; but for this fakir there was evidently no such thing as the law of gravity.
What I have described is a fact, but I do not take upon myself to explain it. At the gates of the pagoda we found our shoes, which we had been told to take off before going in. We put them on again, and left this "holy of holies" of the secular mysteries, with our minds still more perplexed than before. In the Fakirs' Avenue we found Narayan, Mulji and the Babu, who were waiting for us. The chief Brahman would not hear of their entering the pagoda. All the three had long before released themselves from the iron claws of caste; they openly ate and drank with us, and for this offence they were regarded as excommunicated, and despised by their compatriots much more than the Europeans themselves. Their presence in the pagoda would have polluted it for ever, whereas the pollution brought by us was only temporary; it would evaporate in the smoke of cow-dung—the usual Brahmanical incense of purification—like a drop of muddy water in the rays of the sun.
India is the country for originalities and everything unexpected and unconventional. From the point of view of an ordinary European observer every feature of Indian life is contrary to what could be expected. Shaking the head from one shoulder to another means no in every other country, but in India it means an emphatic yes. If you ask a Hindu how his wife is, even if you are well acquainted with her, or how many children he has, or whether he has any sisters, he will feel offended in nine cases out of ten. So long as the host does not point to the door, having previously sprinkled the guest with rose-water, the latter would not think of leaving. He would stay the whole day without tasting any food, and lose his time, rather than offend his host by an unauthorized departure. Everything contradicts our Western ideas. The Hindus are strange and original, but their religion is still more original. It has its dark points, of course. The rites of some sects are truly repulsive; the officiating Brahmans are far from being without reproach. But these are only superficialities. In spite of them the Hindu religion possesses something so deeply and mysteriously irresistible that it attracts and subdues even unimaginative Englishmen.
The following incident is a curious instance of this fascination:
N.C. Paul, G.B.M.C., wrote a small, but very interesting and very scientific pamphlet. He was only a regimental surgeon in Benares, but his name was well known amongst his compatriots as a very learned specialist in physiology. The pamphlet was called A Treatise on the Yoga Philosophy, and produced a sensation amongst the representatives of medicine in India, and a lively polemic between the Anglo-Indian and native journalists. Dr. Paul spent thirty-five years in studying the extraordinary facts of Yogism, the existence of which was, for him, beyond all doubt. He not only described them, but explained some of the most extraordinary phenomena, for instance, levitation, the seeming evidence to the contrary of some laws of nature, notwithstanding. With perfect sincerity, and evident regret, Dr. Paul says he could never learn anything from the Raj-Yogis. His experience was almost wholly limited to the facts that fakirs and Hatha-Yogis would consent to give him. It was his great friendship with Captain Seymour chiefly which helped him to penetrate some mysteries, which, till then, were supposed to be impenetrable.
The history of this English gentleman is truly incredible, and produced, about twenty-five years ago, an unprecedented scandal in the records of the British army in India. Captain Seymour, a wealthy and well-educated officer, accepted the Brahmanical creed and became a Yogi. Of course he was proclaimed mad, and, having been caught, was sent back to England. Seymour escaped, and returned to India in the dress of a Sannyasi. He was caught again, and shut up in some lunatic asylum in London. Three days after, in spite of the bolts and the watchmen, he disappeared from the establishment. Later on his acquaintances saw him in Benares, and the governor-general received a letter from him from the Himalayas. In this letter he declared that he never was mad, in spite of his being put into a hospital; he advised the governor-general not to interfere with what was strictly his own private concern, and announced his firm resolve never to return to civilized society. "I am a Yogi," wrote he, "and I hope to obtain before I die what is the aim of my life—to become a Raj-Yogi." After this letter he was left alone, and no European ever saw him except Dr. Paul, who, as it is reported, was in constant correspondence with him, and even went twice to see him in the Himalayas under the pretext of botanic excursions.
I was told that the pamphlet of Dr. Paul was ordered to be burned "as being offensive to the science of physiology and pathology." At the time I visited India copies of it were very great rarities. Out of a few copies still extant, one is to be found in the library of the Maharaja of Benares, and another was given to me by the Takur.
This evening we dined at the refreshment rooms of the railway station. Our arrival caused an evident sensation. Our party occupied the whole end of a table, at which were dining many first-class passengers, who all stared at us with undisguised astonishment. Europeans on an equal footing with Hindus! Hindus who condescended to dine with Europeans! These two were rare and wonderful sights indeed. The subdued whispers grew into loud exclamations. Two officers who happened to know the Takur took him aside, and, having shaken hands with him, began a very animated conversation, as if discussing some matter of business; but, as we learned afterwards, they simply wanted to gratify their curiosity about us.
Here we learned, for the first time, that we were under police supervision, the police being represented by an individual clad in a suit of white clothes, and possessing a very fresh complexion, and a pair of long moustaches. He was an agent of the secret police, and had followed us from Bombay. On learning this flattering piece of news, the colonel burst into a loud laugh; which only made us still more suspicious in the eyes of all these Anglo-Indians, enjoying a quiet and dignified meal. As to me, I was very disagreeably impressed by this bit of news, I must confess, and wished this unpleasant dinner was over.
The train for Allahabad was to leave at eight P.M., and we were to spend the night in the railway carriage. We had ten reserved seats in a first-class carriage, and had made sure that no strange passengers would enter it, but, nevertheless, there were many reasons which made me think I could not sleep this night. So I obtained a provision of candles for my reading lamp, and making myself comfortable on my couch, began reading the pamphlet of Dr. Paul, which interested me greatly.
Amongst many other interesting things, Dr. Paul explains very fully and learnedly the mystery of the periodical suspension of breathing, and some other seemingly impossible phenomena, practised by the Yogis.
Here is his theory in brief. The Yogis have discovered the reason of the wondrous capacity of the chameleon to assume the appearance of plumpness or of leanness. This animal looks enormous when his lungs are filled with air, but in his normal condition he is quite insignificant. Many other reptiles as well acquire the possibility of swimming across large rivers quite easily by the same process. And the air that remains in their lungs, after the blood has been fully oxygenated, makes them extraordinarily lively on dry land and in the water. The capacity of storing up an extraordinary provision of air is a characteristic feature of all the animals that are subjected to hibernation.
The Hindu Yogis studied this capacity, and perfected and developed it in themselves.
The means by which they acquire it—known under the name of Bhastrika Kumbhala—consist of the following: The Yogi isolates himself in an underground cave, where the atmosphere is more uniform and more damp than on the surface of the earth: this causes the appetite to grow less. Man's appetite is proportionate to the quantity of carbonic acid he exhales in a certain period of time. The Yogis never use salt, and live entirely on milk, which they take only during the night. They move very slowly in order not to breathe too often. Movement increases the exhaled carbonic acid, and so the Yoga practice prescribes avoidance of movement. The quantity of exhaled carbonic acid is also increased by loud and lively talking: so the Yogis are taught to talk slowly and in subdued tones, and are even advised to take the vows of silence. Physical labor is propitious to the increase of carbonic acid, and mental to its decrease; accordingly the Yogi spends his life in contemplation and deep meditation. Padmasana and Siddhasana are the two methods by which a person is taught to breathe as little as possible.
Suka-Devi, a well-known miracle-monger of the second century B.C. says:
"Place the left foot upon the right thigh, and the right foot upon the left thigh; straighten the neck and back; make the palms of the hands rest upon the knees; shut the mouth; and expire forcibly through both nostrils. Next, inspire and expire quickly until you are fatigued. Then inspire through the right nostril, fill the abdomen with the inspired air, suspend the breath, and fix the sight on the tip of the nose. Then expire through the left nostril, and next, inspiring through the left nostril, suspend the breath..." and so on.
"When a Yogi, by practice, is enabled to maintain himself in one of the above-mentioned postures for the period of three hours, and to live upon a quantity of food proportional to the reduced condition of circulation and respiration, without inconvenience, he proceeds to the practice of Pranayama," writes Dr. Paul. "It is the fourth stage or division of Yoga."
The Pranayama consists of three parts. The first excites the secretion of sweat, the second is attended by convulsive movements of the features, the third gives to the Yogi a feeling of extraordinary lightness in his body.
After this, the Yogi practises Pratyahara, a kind of voluntary trance, which is recognizable by the full suspension of all the senses. After this stage the Yogis study the process of Dharana; this not only stops the activity of physical senses, but also causes the mental capacities to be plunged into a deep torpor. This stage brings abundant suffering; it requires a good deal of firmness and resolution on the part of a Yogi, but it leads him to Dhayana, a state of perfect, indescribable bliss. According to their own description, in this state they swim in the ocean of eternal light, in Akasha, or Ananta Jyoti, which they call the "Soul of the Universe." Reaching the stage of Dhyana, the Yogi becomes a seer. The Dhyana of the Yogis is the same thing as Turiya Avastha of the Vedantins, in the number of whom are the Raj-Yogis.
"Samadhi is the last stage of self-trance," says Dr. Paul. "In this state the Yogis, like the bat, the hedge-hog, the marmot, the hamster and the dormouse, acquire the power of supporting the abstraction of atmospheric air, and the privation of food and drink. Of Samadhi or human hibernation there have been three cases within the last twenty-five years. The first case occurred in Calcutta, the second in Jesselmere, and the third in the Punjab. I was an eyewitness of the first case. The Jesselmere, the Punjab, and the Calcutta Yogis assumed a death-like condition by swallowing the tongue. How the Punjabi fakir (witnessed by Dr. McGregor), by suspending his breath, lived forty days without food and drink, is a question which has puzzled a great many learned men of Europe.... It is on the principle of Laghima and Garima (a diminution of one's specific gravity by swallowing large draughts of air) that the Brahman of Madras maintained himself in an aerial posture..."
However, all these are physical phenomena produced by Hatha-Yogis. Each of them ought to be investigated by physical science, but they are much less interesting than the phenomena of the region of psychology. But Dr. Paul has next to nothing to say on this subject. During the thirty-five years of his Indian career, he met only three Raj-Yogis; but in spite of the friendliness they showed to the English doctor, none of them consented to initiate him into the mysteries of nature, a knowledge of which is ascribed to them. One of them simply denied that he had any power at all; the other did not deny, and even showed Dr. Paul some very wonderful things, but refused to give any explanations whatever; the third said he would explain a few things on the condition that Dr. Paul must pledge himself never to repeat anything he learned from him. In acquiring this kind of information, Dr. Paul had only one aim—to give these secrets publicity, and to enlighten the public ignorance, and so he declined the honor.
However, the gifts of the true Raj-Yogis are much more interesting, and a great deal more important for the world, than the phenomena of the lay Hatha-Yogis. These gifts are purely psychic: to the knowledge of the Hatha-Yogis the Raj-Yogis add the whole scale of mental phenomena. Sacred books ascribe to them the following gifts: foreseeing future events; understanding of all languages; the healing of all diseases; the art of reading other people's thoughts; witnessing at will everything that happens thousands of miles from them; understanding the language of animals and birds; Prakamya, or the power of keeping up youthful appearance during incredible periods of time; the power of abandoning their own bodies and entering other people's frames; Vashitva, or the gift to kill, and to tame wild animals with their eyes; and, lastly, the mesmeric power to subjugate any one, and to force any one to obey the unexpressed orders of the Raj-Yogi.
Dr. Paul has witnessed the few phenomena of Hatha-Yoga already described; there are many others about which he has heard, and which he neither believes nor disbelieves. But he guarantees that a Yogi can suspend his breath for forty-three minutes and twelve seconds.
Nevertheless, European scientific authorities maintain that no one can suspend the breath for more than two minutes. O science! Is it possible then that thy name is also vanitas vanitatum, like the other things of this world?
We are forced to suppose that, in Europe, nothing is known about the means which enabled the philosophers of India, from times immemorial, gradually to transform their human frames.
Here are a few deep words of Professor Boutleroff, a Russian scientist whom I, in common with all Russians, greatly respect: "....All this belongs to knowledge; the increase of the mass of knowledge will only enrich and not abolish science. This must be accomplished on the strength of serious observation, of study, of experience, and under the guidance of positive scientific methods, by which people are taught to acknowledge every other phenomenon of nature. We do not call you blindly to accept hypotheses, after the example of bygone years, but to seek after knowledge; we do not invite you to give up science, but to enlarge her regions..."
This was said about spiritualist phenomena. As to the rest of our learned physiologists, this is, approximately, what they have the right to say: "We know well certain phenomena of nature which we have personally studied and investigated, under certain conditions, which we call normal or abnormal, and we guarantee the accuracy of our conclusions."
However, it would be very well if they added:
"But having no pretensions to assure the world that we are acquainted with all the forces of nature, known and unknown, we do not claim the right to hold back other people from bold investigations in regions which we have not reached as yet, owing to our great cautiousness and also to our moral timidity. Not being able to maintain that the human organism is utterly incapable of developing certain transcendental powers, which are rare, and observable only under certain conditions, unknown to science, we by no means wish to keep other explorers within the limits of our own scientific discoveries."
By pronouncing this noble, and, at the same time, modest speech, our physiologists would doubtless gain the undying gratitude of posterity.
After this speech there would be no fear of mockery, no danger of losing one's reputation for veracity and sound reason; and the learned colleagues of these broad-minded physiologists would investigate every phenomenon of nature seriously and openly. The phenomena of spiritualism would then transmigrate from the region of materialized "mothers-in-law" and half-witted fortune-telling to the regions of the psycho-physiological sciences. The celebrated "spirits" would probably evaporate, but in their stead the living spirit, which "belongeth not to this world," would become better known and better realized by humanity, because humanity will comprehend the harmony of the whole only after learning how closely the visible world is bound to the world invisible.
After this speech, Haeckel at the head of the evolutionists, and Alfred Russel Wallace at the head of the spiritualists, would be relieved from many anxieties, and would shake hands in brotherhood.
Seriously speaking, what is there to prevent humanity from acknowledging two active forces within itself; one purely animal, the other purely divine?
It does not behove even the greatest amongst scientists to try to "bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades," even if they have chosen "Arcturus with his sons" for their guides. Did it never occur to them to apply to their own intellectual pride the questions the "voice out of the whirlwind" once asked of long-suffering Job: "where were they when were laid the foundations of the earth? and have the gates of death been opened unto them?" If so, only then have they the right to maintain that here and not there is the abode of eternal light.