The sect founded by Caitanya is connected with eastern India as the Vallabhis are with the west. Bengal is perhaps the native land of the worship of Krishna as the god of love. It was there that Jayadeva flourished in the last days of the Sena dynasty and the lyrical poet Chandidas at the end of the fourteenth century. About the same time the still greater poet Vidyapati was singing in Durbhanga. For these writers, as for Caitanya, religion is the bond of love which unites the soul and God, as typified by the passion that drew together Radha and Krishna. The idea that God loves and seeks out human souls is familiar to Christianity and receives very emotional expression in well-known hymns, but the bold humanity of these Indian lyrics seems to Europeans unsuitable. I will let a distinguished Indian apologize for it in his own words:
"The paradox that has to be understood is that Krishna means God. Yet he is represented as a youth, standing at a gate, trying to waylay the beloved maiden, attempting to entrap the soul, as it were, into a clandestine meeting. This, which is so inconceivable to a purely modern mind, presents no difficulty at all to the Vaishnava devotee. To him God is the lover himself: the sweet flowers, the fresh grass, the gay sound heard in the woods are direct messages and tokens of love to his soul, bringing to his mind at every instant that loving God whom he pictures as ever anxious to win the human heart."
Caitanya was born at Nadia in 1485 and came under the influence of the Madhva sect. In youth he was a prodigy of learning, but at the age of about seventeen while on a pilgrimage to Gaya began to display that emotional and even hysterical religious feeling which marked all his teaching. He swooned at the mention of Krishna's name and passed his time in dancing and singing hymns. At twenty-five he became a Sannyasi, and at the request of his mother, who did not wish him to wander too far, settled in Puri near the temple of Jagannath. Here he spent the rest of his life in preaching, worship and ecstatic meditation, but found time to make a tour in southern India and another to Brindaban and Benares. He appears to have left the management of his sect largely to his disciples, Advaita, Nityananda and Haridas, and to have written nothing himself. But he evidently possessed a gift of religious magnetism and exercised an extraordinary influence on those who heard him preach or sing. He died or disappeared before the age of fifty but apparently none of the stories about his end merit credence.
Although the teaching of Caitanya is not so objectionable morally as the doctrines of the Vallabhis, it follows the same line of making religion easy and emotional and it is not difficult to understand how his preaching, set forth with the eloquence which he possessed, won converts from the lower classes by thousands. He laid no stress on asceticism, approved of marriage and rejected all difficult rites and ceremonies. The form of worship which he specially enjoined was the singing of Kirtans or hymns consisting chiefly in a repetition of the divine names accompanied by music and dancing. Swaying the body and repetition of the same formula or hymn are features of emotional religion found in the most diverse regions, for instance among the Rufais or Howling Dervishes, at Welsh revival meetings and in negro churches in the Southern States. It is therefore unnecessary to seek any special explanation in India but perhaps there is some connection between the religious ecstasies of Vaishnavas and Dervishes. Within Caitanya's sect, caste was not observed. He is said to have admitted many Moslims to membership and to have regarded all worshippers of Krishna as equal. Though caste has grown up again, yet the old regulation is still in force inside the temple of Jagannath at Puri. Within the sacred enclosure all are treated as of one caste and eat the same sacred food. In Caitanya's words "the mercy of God regards neither tribe nor family."
His theology shows little originality. The deity is called Bhagavan or more frequently Hari. His majesty and omnipotence are personified as Narayana, his beauty and ecstasy as Krishna. The material world is defined as bhedabhedaprakasa, a manifestation of the deity as separate and yet not separate from him, and the soul is vibhinnamsa or a detached portion of him. Some souls are in bondage to Prakriti or Maya, others through faith and love attain deliverance. Reason is useless in religious matters, but ruci or spiritual feeling has a quick intuition of the divine.
Salvation is obtained by Bhakti, faith or devotion, which embraces and supersedes all other duties. This devotion means absolute self-surrender to the deity and love for him which asks for no return but is its own reward. "He who expects remuneration for his love acts as a trader." In this devotion there are five degrees: (a) santi, calm meditation, (b) dasya, servitude, (c) sakhya, friendship, (d) vatsalya, love like that of a child for its parent, (e) madhurya, love like that of a woman for a lover. All these sentiments are found in God and this combined ecstasy is an eternal principle identified with Hari himself, just as in the language of the Gospels, God is love. Though Caitanya makes love the crown and culmination of religion, the worship of his followers is not licentious, and it is held that the right frame of mind is best attained by the recitation of Krishna's names especially Hari.
The earlier centre of Caitanya's sect was his birthplace, Nadia, but both during his life and afterwards his disciples frequented Brindaban and sought out the old sacred sites which were at that time neglected. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Lala Baba, a wealthy Bengali merchant, became a mendicant and visited Muttra. Though he had renounced the world, he still retained his business instincts and bought up the villages which contained the most celebrated shrines and were most frequented by pilgrims. The result was a most profitable speculation and the establishment of Caitanya's Church in the district of Braj, which thus became the holy land of both the great Krishnaite sects. The followers of Caitanya at the present day are said to be divided into Gosains, or ecclesiastics, who are the descendants of the founder's original disciples, the Vrikats or celibates, and the laity. Besides the celibates there are several semi-monastic orders who adopt the dress of monks but marry. They have numerous maths at Nadia and elsewhere. Like the Vallabhis, this sect deifies its leaders. Caitanya, Nityananda and Advaita are called the three masters (Prabhu) and believed to be a joint incarnation of Krishna, though according to some only the first two shared the divine essence. Six of Caitanya's disciples known as the six Gosains are also greatly venerated and even ordinary religious teachers still receive an almost idolatrous respect.
Though Caitanya was not a writer himself he exercised a great influence on the literature of Bengal. In the opinion of so competent a judge as Dinesh Chandra Sen, Bengali was raised to the status of a literary language by the Vishnuite hymn-writers just as Pali was by the Buddhists. Such hymns were written before the time of Caitanya but after him they became extremely numerous and their tone and style are said to change. The ecstasies and visions of which they tell are those described in his biographies and this emotional poetry has profoundly influenced all classes in Bengal. But there was and still is a considerable hostility between the Saktas and Vishnuites.
A form of Vishnuism, possessing a special local flavour, is connected with the Maratha country and with the names of Namdev, Tukaram and Ramdas, the spiritual preceptor of Sivaji. The centre of this worship is the town of Pandharpur and I have not found it described as a branch of any of the four Vishnuite Churches: but the facts that Namdev wrote in Hindi as well as in Marathi, that many of his hymns are included in the Granth, and that his sentiments show affinities to the teaching of Nanak, suggest that he belonged to the school of Ramanand. There is however a difficulty about his date. Native tradition gives 1270 as the year of his birth but the language of his poems both in Marathi and Hindi is said to be too modern for this period and to indicate that he lived about 1400, when he might easily have felt the influence of Ramanand, for he travelled in the north.
Most of his poetry however has for its centre the temple of Pandharpur where was worshipped a deity called Vitthala, Vittoba or Pandurang. It is said that the first two names are dialectic variations of Vishnu, but that Pandurang is an epithet of Siva. There is no doubt that the deity of Pandharpur has for many centuries been identified with Krishna, who, as in Bengal, is god the lover of the soul. But the hymns of the Marathas are less sensuous and Krishna is coupled not with his mistress Radha, but with his wife Rukmini. In fact Rukminipati or husband of Rukmini is one of his commonest titles. Namdev's opinions varied at different times and perhaps in different moods: like most religious poets he cannot be judged by logic or theology. Sometimes he inveighs against idolatry—understood as an attempt to limit God to an image—but in other verses he sings the praises of Pandurang, the local deity, as the lord and creator of all. His great message is that God—by whatever name he is called—is everywhere and accessible to all, accessible without ceremonial or philosophy. "Vows, fasts and austerities are not needful, nor need you go on pilgrimage. Be watchful in your heart and always sing the name of Hari. Yoga, sacrifices and renunciation are not needful. Love the feet of Hari. Neither need you contemplate the absolute. Hold fast to the love of Hari's name. Says Nama, be steadfast in singing the name and then Hari will appear to you."
Tukaram is better known than Namdev and his poetry which was part of the intellectual awakening that accompanied the rise of the Maratha power is still a living force wherever Marathi is spoken. He lived from 1607 to 1649 and was born in a family of merchants near Poona. But he was too generous to succeed in trade and a famine, in which one of his two wives died, brought him to poverty. Thenceforth he devoted himself to praying and preaching. He developed a great aptitude for composing rhyming songs in irregular metre, and like Caitanya he held services consisting of discourses interspersed with such songs, prepared or extempore. In spite of persecution by the Brahmans, these meetings became very popular and were even attended by the great Sivaji.
His creed is the same as that of Namdev and finds expression in verses such as these. "This thy nature is beyond the grasp of mind or words, and therefore I have made love a measure. I measure the Endless by the measure of love: he is not to be truly measured otherwise. Thou art not to be found by Yoga, sacrifice, fasting, bodily exertions or knowledge. O Kesava, accept the service which we render."
But if he had no use for asceticism he also feared the passions. "The Endless is beyond; between him and me are the lofty mountains of desire and anger. I cannot ascend them and find no pass." In poems which are apparently later, his tone is more peaceful. He speaks much of the death of self, of purity of heart, and of self-dedication to God. "Dedicate all you do to God and have done with it: Tuka says, do not ask me again and again: nothing else is to be taught but this."
Maratha critics have discussed whether Tukaram followed the monistic philosophy of Sankara or not and it must be confessed that his utterances are contradictory. But the gist of the matter is that he disliked not so much monism as philosophy. Hence he says "For me there is no use in the Advaita. Sweet to me is the service of thy feet. The relation between God and his devotee is a source of high joy. Make me feel this, keeping me distinct from thee." But he can also say almost in the language of the Upanishads. "When salt is dissolved in water, what remains distinct? I have thus become one in joy with thee and have lost myself in thee. When fire and camphor are brought together, is there any black remnant? Tuka says, thou and I were one light."
There are interesting Vishnuite sects in Assam. Until the sixteenth century Hinduism was represented in those regions by Saktism, which was strong among the upper classes, though the mass of the people still adhered to their old tribal worships. The first apostle of Vishnuism was Sankar Deb in the sixteenth century. He preached first in the Ahom kingdom but was driven out by the opposition of Saktist Brahmans, and found a refuge at Barpeta. He appears to have inculcated the worship of Krishna as the sole divine being and to have denounced idolatry, sacrifices and caste. These views were held even more strictly by his successor, Madhab Deb, a writer of repute whose works, such as the Namghosha and Ratnavali, are regarded as scripture by his followers. Though the Brahmans of Assam were opposed to the introduction of Vishnuism and a section of them continued to instigate persecutions for two centuries or more, yet when it became clear that the new teaching had a great popular following another section were anxious that it should not pass out of sacerdotal control and organized it as a legitimate branch of Hinduism. While fully recognizing the doctrine of justification by faith, they also made provision for due respect to caste and Brahmanic authority.
According to the last census of India the common view that Sankar Deb drew his inspiration from Caitanya meets with criticism in Assam. His biographies say that he lived 120 years and died in 1569. It has been generally assumed that his age has been exaggerated but that the date of his death is correct. If it can be proved, as contended, that he was preaching in 1505, there would be no difficulty in admitting that he was independent of Caitanya and belonged to an earlier phase of the Vishnuite movement which produced the activity of Vallabha and the poetry of Vidyapati. It is a further argument for this independence that he taught the worship of Vishnu only and not of Radha and discountenanced the use of images. On the other hand it is stated that he sojourned in Bengal and it appears that soon after his death his connection with the teaching of Caitanya was recognized in Assam.
At present there are three sects in Assam. Firstly, the Mahapurushias, who follow more or less faithfully the doctrines of Sankar and Madhab. They admit Sudras as religious teachers and abbots, and lay little stress on caste while not entirely rejecting it. They abstain almost entirely from the use of images in worship, the only exception being that a small figure of Krishna in the form of Vaikuntha Natha is found in their temples. It is not the principal object of veneration but stands to the left of a throne on which lies a copy of the Namghosha. This, together with the foot-prints of Sankar and Madhab, receives the homage of the faithful. The chief centre of the Mahapurushias is Barpeta, but they have also monasteries on the Majuli Island and elsewhere. Secondly, the Bamunia monasteries, with a large lay following, represent a brahmanized form of the Mahapurushia faith. This movement began in the life-time of Madhab. Many of his Brahman disciples seceded from him and founded separate communities which insisted on the observance of caste (especially on the necessity of religious teachers being Brahmans) but tolerated image-worship and the use of some kinds of flesh as food. Though this sect was persecuted by the Ahom kings, they were strong enough to maintain themselves. A compromise was effected in the reign of Rudra Singh (1696-1714), by which their abbots were shown all honour but were assigned the Majuli Island in the upper Brahmaputra as their chief, if not only, residence. This island is still studded with numerous Sattras or monasteries, the largest of which contain three or four hundred monks, known as Bhakats (Bhaktas). They take no vows and wear no special costume but are obliged to be celibate while they remain in the sattra. The Mahapurushia and Bamunia monasteries are of similar appearance, and in externals (though not in doctrine) seem to have been influenced by the Lamaism of the neighbouring regions of Sikhim and Tibet. The temples are long, low, wooden buildings, covered by roofs of corrugated iron or thatched, and containing inside a nave with two rows of wooden pillars which leads to a sanctuary divided from it by a screen. The third sect are the Moamarias, of political rather than religious importance. They represent a democratic element, recruited from non-Hindu tribes, which seceded even in the life-time of Sankar Deb. They appear to reject nearly all Hindu observances and to worship aboriginal deities as well as Krishna. Little is known of their religious teaching, if indeed they have anything worthy of the name, but in the latter half of the eighteenth century they distracted the kingdom of Assam with a series of rebellions which were suppressed with atrocious cruelty.
Caitanya is said to have admitted some Mohammedans as members of his sect. The precedent has not been followed among most branches of his later adherents but a curious half-secret sect, found throughout Bengal in considerable numbers and called Kartabhajas, appears to represent an eccentric development of his teaching in combination with Mohammedan elements. Both Moslims and Hindus belong to this sect. They observe the ordinary social customs of the class to which they belong, but it is said that those who are nominal Moslims neither circumcize themselves nor frequent mosques. The founder, called Ram Smaran Pal, was born in the Nadia district about 1700, and his chief doctrine is said to have been that there is only one God who is incarnate in the Head of the sect or Karta. For the first few generations the headship was invested in the founder and his descendants but dissensions occurred and there is now no one head: the faithful can select any male member of the founder's family as the object of their devotion. The Karta claims to be the owner of every human body and is said to exact rent for the soul's tenancy thereof. No distinction of caste or creed is recognized and hardly any ceremonies are prescribed but meat and wine are forbidden, the mantra of the sect is to be repeated five times a day and Friday is held sacred. These observances seem an imitation of Mohammedanism.
[Footnote 604: See Bhandarkar, Vaishn. and Saivism, pp. 66 ff., Grierson in Ind. Ant. 1893, p. 226, and also in article Ramanandi in E.R.E.; Farquhar, J.R.A.S.1920, pp. 185 ff. Though Indian tradition seems to be unanimous in giving 1299 A.D. (4400 Kali) as the date of Ramanand's birth, all that we know about himself and his disciples makes it more probable that he was born nearly a century later. The history of ideas, too, becomes clear and intelligible if we suppose that Ramanand, Kabir and Nanak flourished about 1400, 1450 and 1500 respectively. One should be cautious in allowing such arguments to outweigh unanimous tradition, but tradition also assigns to Ramanand an improbably long life, thus indicating a feeling that he influenced the fifteenth century. Also the traditions as to the number of teachers between Ramanuja and Ramanand differ greatly.]
[Footnote 605: One of them is found in the Granth of the Sikhs.]
[Footnote 606: Ramanand's maxim was "Jati pati puchai nahikoi: Hari-ku bhajai so Hari-kau hoi." Let no one ask a man's caste or sect. Whoever adores God, he is God's own.]
[Footnote 607: Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, p. 445.]
[Footnote 608: Thus we have the poems of Kabir, Nanak and others contained in the Granth of the Sikhs and tending to Mohammedanism: the hymns wherein Mira Bai, Vallabha and his disciples praised Krishna in Rajputana and Braj: the poets inspired by Caitanya in Bengal: Sankar Deb and Madhab Deb in Assam: Namdev and Tukaram in the Maratha country.]
[Footnote 609: See Beames, J.A. 1873, pp. 37 ff., and Grierson, Maithili Christomathy, pp. 34 ff., in extra No. to Journ. As. Soc. Bengal, Part I. for 1882 and Coomaraswamy's illustrated translation of Vidyapati, 1915. It is said that a land grant proves he was a celebrated Pandit in 1400. The Bengali Vaishnava poet Chandi Das was his contemporary.]
[Footnote 610: See Grierson, Gleanings from the Bhaktamala, J.R.A.S. 1909 and 1910.]
[Footnote 611: Modern Vernacular Literature of Hindustan, 1889, p. 57.]
[Footnote 612: Similarly Dinesh Chandra Sen (Lang, and Lit. of Bengal, p. 170) says that Krittivasa's translation of the Ramayana "is the Bible of the people of the Gangetic Valley and it is for the most part the peasants who read it." Krittivasa was born in 1346 and roughly contemporary with Ramanand. Thus the popular interest in Rama was roused in different provinces at the same time.
He also wrote several other poems, among which may be mentioned the Gitavali and Kavittavali, dedicated respectively to the infancy and the heroic deeds of Rama, and the Vinaya Pattrika or petition, a volume of hymns and prayers.]
[Footnote 613: See Growse's Translation, vol. I. pp. 60, 62.]
[Footnote 614: Ib. vol. III. p. 190, cf. vol. I. p. 88 and vol. III. pp. 66-67.]
[Footnote 615: Ib. vol. II. p. 54.]
[Footnote 616: Ib. vol. I. p. 77.]
[Footnote 617: Growse, l.c. vol. II. p. 200, cf. p. 204. Maya who sets the whole world dancing and whose actions no one can understand is herself set dancing with all her troupe, like an actress on the stage, by the play of the Lord's eyebrows. Cf. too, for the infinity of worlds, pp. 210, 211.]
[Footnote 618: Growse aptly compares St. Paul, "I had not known evil but by the law."]
[Footnote 619: Ib. vol. II. p. 223.]
[Footnote 620: Ib. vol. II. p. 196.]
[Footnote 621: The Vishnuite sect called Nimavat is said to have been exterminated by Jains (Grierson in E.R.E. sub. V. Bhakti-marga, p. 545). This may point to persecution during this period.]
[Footnote 622: For Vallabhacarya and his sect, see especially Growse, Mathura, a district memoir, 1874; History of the sect of the Maharajas in western India (anonymous), 1865. Also Bhandarkar, Vaishn. and Saivism, pp. 76-82 and Farquhar, Outlines of Relig. Lit. of India, pp. 312-317.]
[Footnote 623: The principal of them are the Siddhanta-Rahasya and the Bhagavata-Tika-Subodhini, a commentary on the Bhagavata Purana. This is a short poem of only seventeen lines printed in Growse's Mathura, p. 156. It professes to be a revelation from the deity to the effect that sin can be done away with by union with Brahma (Brahma-sambandha-karanat). Other authoritative works of the sect are the Suddhadvaita martanda, Sakalacaryamatasangraha and Prameyaratnarnava, all edited in the Chowkhamba Sanskrit series.]
[Footnote 624: Cf. the use of the word poshanam in the Bhagavata Purana, II. X.]
[Footnote 625: Growse, Mathura, p. 157, says this formula is based on the Naradapancaratra. It is called Samarpana, dedication, or Brahma-sambandha, connecting oneself with the Supreme Being.]
[Footnote 626: For instance "Whoever holds his Guru and Krishna to be distinct and different shall be born again as a bird." Harirayaji 32. Quoted in History of the Sect of the Maharajas, p. 82.]
[Footnote 627: In the ordinary ceremonial the Maharaj stands beside the image of Krishna and acknowledges the worship offered. Sometimes he is swung in a swing with or without the image. The hymns sung on these occasions are frequently immoral. Even more licentious are the meetings or dances known as Ras Mandali and Ras Lila. A meal of hot food seasoned with aphrodisiacs is also said to be provided in the temples. The water in which the Maharaj's linen or feet have been washed is sold for a high price and actually drunk by devotees.]
[Footnote 628: Strictly speaking the Radha-Vallabhis are not an offshoot of Vallabha's school, but of the Nimavats or of the Madhva-sampradaya. The theory underlying their strange practices seems to be that Krishna is the only male and that all mankind should cultivate sentiments of female love for him. See Macnicol, Indian Theism, p. 134.]
[Footnote 629: But other explanations are current such as Lord of the senses or Lord of the Vedas.]
[Footnote 630: See Growse, Mathura, p. 153. I can entirely confirm what he says. This mean, inartistic, dirty place certainly suggests moral depravity.]
[Footnote 631: His real name was Sahajananda.]
[Footnote 632: Caran Das (1703-1782) founded a somewhat similar sect which professed to abolish idolatry and laid great stress on ethics. See Grierson's article Caran Das in E.R.E.]
[Footnote 633: But Vishnuite writers distinguish kama desire and prema love, just as [Greek: eros] and [Greek: haghape] are distinguished in Greek. See Dinesh Chandra Sen, l.c. p. 485.]
[Footnote 634: Dinesh Chandra Sen, History of Bengali Language and Literature, pp. 134-5.]
[Footnote 635: For Caitanya see Dinesh Chandra Sen, History of Bengali Language and Lit. chap. V. and Jadunath Sarkar, Chaitanya's Pilgrimages and teachings from the Caitanya-Caritamrita of Krishna Das (1590) founded on the earlier Caitanya-Caritra of Brindavan. Several of Caitanya's followers were also voluminous writers.]
[Footnote 636: He married the daughter of a certain Vallabha who apparently was not the founder of the Sect, as is often stated.]
[Footnote 637: The theology of the sect may be studied in Baladeva's commentary on the Vedanta sutras and his Prameya Ratnavali, both contained in vol. V. of the Sacred Books of the Hindus. It would appear that the sect regards itself as a continuation of the Brahma-sampradaya but its tenets have more resemblance to those of Vallabha.]
[Footnote 638: No less than 159 padakartas or religious poets are enumerated by Dinesh Chandra Sen. Several collections of these poems have been published of which the principal is called Padakalpataru.]
[Footnote 639: See Bhandarkar, Vaishn. and Saivism, pp. 87-90, and Nicol, Psalms of Maratha Saints which gives a bibliography. For Namdev see also Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, vol. VI. pp. 17-76. For Ramdas see Rawlinson, Sivaji the Maratha, pp. 116 ff.]
[Footnote 640: Bhandarkar, l.c. p. 92. An earlier poet of this country was Jnanesvara who wrote a paraphrase of the Bhagavad-gita in 1290. His writings are said to be the first great landmark in Marathi literature.]
[Footnote 641: There is no necessary hostility between the worship of Siva and of Vishnu. At Pandharpur pilgrims visit first a temple of Siva and then the principal shrine. This latter, like the temple of Jagannath at Puri, is suspected of having been a Buddhist shrine. It is called Vihara, the principal festival is in the Buddhist Lent and caste is not observed within its precincts.]
[Footnote 642: Quoted by Bhandarkar, p. 90. The subsequent quotations are from the same source but I have sometimes slightly modified them and compared them with the original, though I have no pretension to be a Marathi scholar.]
[Footnote 643: Called Abhangs.]
[Footnote 644: See Eliot, Hinduism in Assam, J.R.A.S. 1910, pp. 1168-1186.]
[Footnote 645: Census of India, 1911, Assam, p. 41.]
[Footnote 646: Some authorities state that the sacred book thus venerated is the Bhagavad-gita, but at Kamalabari I made careful enquiries and was assured it was the Namghosha.]
[Footnote 647: Especially Gadadhar Singh, 1681-96.]
[Footnote 648: See Census of India, 1901, Bengal, pp. 183-4 and Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, pp. 485-488.]
[Footnote 649: Karta, literally doer, is the name given to the executive head of a joint family in Bengal. The sect prefer to call themselves Bhabajanas or Bhagawanis.]
[Footnote 650: Another mixed sect is that of the Dhamis in the Panna state of Bundelkhand, founded by one Prannath in the reign of Aurungzeb. Their doctrine is a combination of Hinduism and Islam, tending towards Krishnaism. See Russell, Tribes and Castes of Central Provinces, p. 217.]
AMALGAMATION OF HINDUISM AND ISLAM. KABIR AND THE SIKHS
The Kartabhajas mentioned at the end of the last chapter show a mixture of Hinduism and Mohammedanism, and the mixture is found in other sects some of which are of considerable importance. A group of these sects, including the Sikhs and followers of Kabir, arose in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Their origin can be traced to Ramanand but they cannot be called Vaishnavas and they are clearly distinguished from all the religious bodies that we have hitherto passed in review. The tone of their writings is more restrained and severe: the worshipper approaches the deity as a servant rather than a lover: caste is rejected as useless: Hindu mythology is eschewed or used sparingly. Yet in spite of these differences the essential doctrines of Tulsi Das, Kabir and Nanak show a great resemblance. They all believe in one deity whom they call by various names, but this deity, though personal, remains of the Indian not of the Semitic type. He somehow brings the world of transmigration into being by his power of illusion, and the business of the soul is to free itself from the illusion and return to him. Almost all these teachers, whether orthodox or heterodox, had a singular facility for composing hymns, often of high literary merit, and it is in these emotional utterances, rather than in dogmatic treatises, that they addressed themselves to the peoples of northern India.
The earliest of these mixed sects is that founded by Kabir. He appears to have been a Mohammedan weaver by birth, though tradition is not unanimous on this point. It is admitted, however, that he was brought up among Moslims at Benares but became a disciple of Ramanand. This suggests that he lived early in the fifteenth century. Another tradition says that he was summoned before Sikander Lodi (1489-1517), but the details of his life are evidently legendary. We only know that he was married and had a son, that he taught in northern and perhaps central India and died at Maghar in the district of Gorakhpur. There is significance, however, in the legend which relates that after his decease Hindus and Mohammedans disputed as to whether his body should be burned or buried. But when they raised the cloth which covered the corpse, they found underneath it only a heap of flowers. So the Hindus took part and burnt them at Benares and the Moslims buried the rest at Maghar. His grave there is still in Moslim keeping.
In teaching Kabir stands midway between the two religions, but leaning to the side of Hinduism. It is clear that this Hindu bias became stronger in his followers, but it is not easy to separate his own teaching from subsequent embellishments, for the numerous hymns and sayings attributed to him are collected in compilations made after his death, such as the Bijak and the Adi-granth of the Sikhs. In hymns which sound authentic he puts Hindus and Moslims on the same footing.
"Kabir is a child of Ram and Allah," he says, "and accepteth all Gurus and Pirs." "O God, whether Allah or Ram, I live by thy name."
"Make thy mind thy Kaaba, thy body its enclosing temple, Conscience its prime teacher. Then, O priest, call men to pray to that mosque Which hath five gates. The Hindus and Mussulmans have the same Lord."
But the formalities of both creeds are impartially condemned. "They are good riders who keep aloof from the Veda and Koran." Caste, circumcision and idolatry are reprobated. The Hindu deities and their incarnations are all dead: God was not in any of them. Ram, it would seem, should be understood not as Ramacandra but as a name of God.
Yet the general outlook is Hindu rather than Mohammedan. God is the magician who brings about this illusory world in which the soul wanders. "I was in immobile and mobile creatures, in worms and in moths; I passed through many various births. But when I assumed a human body, I was a Yogi, a Yati, a penitent, a Brahmacari: sometimes an Emperor and sometimes a beggar." Unlike the Sikhs, Kabir teaches the sanctity of life, even of plants. "Thou cuttest leaves, O flower girl: in every leaf there is life." Release, as for all Hindus, consists in escaping from the round of births and deaths. Of this he speaks almost in the language of the Buddha.
"Though I have assumed many shapes, this is my last. The strings and wires of the musical instrument are all worn out: I am now in the power of God's name. I shall not again have to dance to the tune of birth and death. Nor shall my heart accompany on the drum."
This deliverance is accomplished by the union or identification of the soul with God.
"Remove the difference between thyself and God and thou shalt be united with him.... Him whom I sought without me, now I find within me.... Know God: by knowing him thou shalt become as he. When the soul and God are blended no one can distinguish them."
But if he sometimes writes like Sankara, he also has the note of the Psalms and Gospels. He has the sense of sin: he thinks of God in vivid personal metaphors, as a lord, a bridegroom, a parent, both father and mother.
"Save me, O God, though I have offended thee.... I forgot him who made me and did cleave unto strangers." "Sing, sing, the marriage song. The sovereign God hath come to my house as my husband.... I obtained God as my bridegroom; so great has been my good fortune."
"A mother beareth not in mind All the faults her son committeth. O, God, I am thy child: Why blottest thou not out my sins?" ...
"My Father is the great Lord of the Earth; To that Father how shall I go?"
The writings of Kabir's disciples such as the Sukh Nidhan attributed to Srut Gopal (and written according to Westcott about 1729) and the still later Amar Mul, which is said to be representative of the modern Kabirpanth, show a greater inclination to Pantheism, though caste and idolatry are still condemned. In these works, which relate the conversion of Dharm Das afterwards one of Kabir's principal followers, Kabir is identified with the Creator and then made a pantheistic deity much as Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. He is also the true Guru whose help is necessary for salvation. Stress is further laid on the doctrine of Sabda, or the divine word. Hindu theology was familiar with this expression as signifying the eternal self-existent revelation contained in the Vedas. Kabir appears to have held that articulate sound is an expression of the Deity and that every letter, as a constituent of such sound, has a meaning. But these letters are due to Maya: in reality there is no plurality of sound. Ram seems to have been selected as the divine name, because its brevity is an approach to this unity, but true knowledge is to understand the Letterless One, that is the real name or essence of God from which all differentiation of letters has vanished. Apart from some special metaphors the whole doctrine set forth in the Sukh Nidhan and Amar Mul is little more than a loose Vedantism, somewhat reminiscent of Sufiism.
The teaching of Kabir is known as the Kabirpanth. At present there are both Hindus and Mohammedans among his followers and both have monasteries at Maghar where he is buried. The sect numbers in all about a million. It is said that the two divisions have little in common except veneration of Kabir and do not intermix, but they both observe the practice of partaking of sacred meals, holy water, and consecrated betel nut. The Hindu section is again divided into two branches known as Father (Bap) and Mother (Mai).
Though there is not much that is original in the doctrines of Kabir, he is a considerable figure in Hindi literature and may justly be called epoch-making as marking the first fusion of Hinduism and Islam which culminates and attains political importance in the Sikhs. Other offshoots of his teaching are the Satnamis, Radha-swamis and Dadupanthis. The first were founded or reorganized in 1750 by a certain Jag-jivan-das. They do not observe caste and in theory adore only the True Name of God but in practice admit ordinary Hindu worship. The Radha-swamis, founded in 1861, profess a combination of the Kabirpanth with Christian ideas. The Dadupanthis show the influence of the military spirit of Islam. They were founded by Dadu, a cotton weaver of Ahmedabad who flourished in Akbar's reign and died about 1603. He insisted on the equality of mankind, vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol and strict celibacy. Hence the sect is recruited by adopting boys, most of whom are trained as soldiers. In such conditions the Dadupanthis cannot increase greatly but they number about nine thousand and are found chiefly in the state of Jaipur, especially in the town of Naraina.
The Sikh religion is of special interest since it has created not only a political society but also customs so distinctive that those who profess it rank in common esteem as a separate race. The founder Nanak lived from 1469 to 1538 and was born near Lahore. He was a Hindu by birth but came under Mohammedan influence and conceived the idea of reconciling the two faiths. He was attracted by the doctrines of Kabir and did not at first claim to teach a new religion. He wished to unite Hindus and Moslims and described himself simply as Guru or teacher and his adherents as Sikhs or disciples.
He spent the greater part of his life wandering about India and is said to have reached Mecca. A beautiful story relates that he fell asleep with his feet turned towards the Kaaba. A mollah kicked him and asked how he dared to turn his feet and not his head towards God. But he answered, "Turn my feet in a direction where God is not." He was attended on his wanderings by Mardana, a lute-player, who accompanied the hymns which he never failed to compose when a thought or adventure occurred to him. These compositions are similar to those of Kabir, but seem to me of inferior merit. They are diffuse and inordinately long; the Japji for instance, which every Sikh ought to recite as his daily prayer, fills not less than twenty octavo pages. Yet beautiful and incisive passages are not wanting. When at the temple of Jagannath, he was asked to take part in the evening worship at which lights were waved before the god while flowers and incense were presented on golden salvers studded with pearls. But he burst out into song.
"The sun and moon, O Lord, are thy lamps, the firmament thy salver and the orbs of the stars the pearls set therein.
"The perfume of the sandal tree is thy incense; the wind is thy fan; all the forests are thy flowers, O Lord of light."
Though Nanak is full of Hindu allusions he is more Mohammedan in tone than Kabir, and the ritual of Sikh temples is modelled on the Mohammedan rather than on the Hindu pattern. The opening words of the Japji are: "There is but one God, whose name is true, the Creator" and he is regarded rather as the ruler of the world than as a spirit finding expression in it. "By his order" all things happen. "By obeying him" man obtains happiness and salvation. "There is no limit to his mercy and his praises." In the presence of God "man has no power and no strength." Such sentiments have a smack of Mohammed and Nanak sometimes uses the very words of the Koran as when he says that God has no companion. And though the penetrating spirit of the Vedanta infects this regal monotheism, yet the doctrine of Maya is set forth in unusual phraseology: "God himself created the world and himself gave names to things. He made Maya by his power: seated, he beheld his work with delight."
In other compositions attributed to Nanak greater prominence is given to Maya and to the common Hindu idea that creation is a self-expansion of the deity. Metempsychosis is taught and the divine name is Hari. This is characteristic of the age, for Nanak was nearly a contemporary of Caitanya and Vallabhacarya. For Kabir, the disciple of Ramananda, the name was Ram.
Nanak was sufficiently conscious of his position as head of a sect to leave a successor as Guru, but there is no indication that at this time the Sikhs differed materially from many other religious bodies who reprobated caste and idolatry. Under the fourth Guru, Ram Das, the beginnings of a change appear. His strong personality collected many wealthy adherents and with their offerings he purchased the tank of Amritsar and built in its midst the celebrated Golden Temple. He appointed his son Arjun as Guru in 1581, just before his death: the succession was made hereditary and henceforth the Gurus became chiefs rather than spiritual teachers. Arjun assumed some of the insignia of royalty: a town grew up round the sacred tank and became the centre of a community; a tax was collected from all Sikhs and they were subjected to special and often salutary legislation. Infanticide, for instance, was strictly forbidden. With a view of providing a code and standard Arjun compiled the Granth or Sikh scriptures, for though hymns and prayers composed by Nanak and others were in use there was as yet no authorized collection of them. The example of Mohammedanism no doubt stimulated the desire to possess a sacred book and the veneration of the scriptures increased with time. The Granth now receives the same kind of respect as the Koran and the first sight of a Sikh temple with a large open volume on a reading-desk cannot fail to recall a mosque.
Arjun's compilation is called the Adi-granth, or original book, to distinguish it from the later additions made by Guru Govind. It comprises hymns and prayers by Nanak and the four Gurus who followed him (including Arjun himself), Ramanand, Kabir and others, amounting to thirty-five writers in all. The list is interesting as testifying to the existence of a great body of oral poetry by various authors ranging from Ramanand, who had not separated himself from orthodox Vishnuism, to Arjun, the chief of the Sikh national community. It was evidently felt that all these men had one inspiration coming from one truth and even now unwritten poems of Nanak are current in Bihar. The Granth is written in a special alphabet known as Gurmukhi and contains both prose and poetical pieces in several languages: most are in old western Hindi but some are in Panjabi and Marathi.
But though in compiling a sacred book and in uniting the temporal and spiritual power Arjun was influenced by the spirit of Mohammedanism, this is not the sort of imitation which makes for peace. The combination of Hinduism and Islam resulted in the production of a special type of Hindu peculiarly distasteful to Moslims and not much loved by other Hindus. Much of Arjun's activity took place in the later years of the Emperor Akbar. This most philosophic and tolerant of princes abandoned Mohammedanism after 1579, remitted the special taxes payable by non-Moslims and adopted many Hindu observances. Towards the end of his life he promulgated a new creed known as the Din-i-ilahi or divine faith. This eclectic and composite religion bears testimony to his vanity as well as to his large sympathies, for it recognized him as the viceregent or even an incarnation of God. It would appear that the singular little work called the Allopanishad or Allah Upanishad was written in connection with this movement. It purports to be an Upanishad of the Atharva Veda and can hardly be described as other than a forgery. It declares that "the Allah of the prophet Muhammad Akbar is the God of Gods" and identifies him with Mitra, Varuna, the sun, moon, water, Indra, etc. Akbar's religion did not long survive his death and never flourished far from the imperial court, but somewhat later (1656) Muhammad Dara Shukoh, the son of Shah Jehan, caused a Persian translation of about fifty Upanishads, known as the Oupnekhat, to be prepared. The general temper of the period was propitious to the growth and immunity of mixed forms of belief, but the warlike and semi-political character of the Sikh community brought trouble on it.
Arjun attracted the unfavourable attention of Akbar's successor, Jehangir, and was cast into prison where he died. The Sikhs took up arms and henceforth regarded themselves as the enemies of the government, but their strength was wasted by internal dissensions. The ninth Guru, Teg-Bahadur, was executed by Aurungzeb. Desire to avenge this martyrdom and the strenuous character of the tenth Guru, Govind Singh (1675-1708), completed the transformation of the Sikhs into a church militant devoted to a holy war.
Though the most aggressive and uncompromising features of Sikhism are due to the innovations of Govind, he was so far from being a theological bigot that he worshipped Durga and was even said to have offered human sacrifices. But the aim of all his ordinances was to make his followers an independent body of fighting men. They were to return the salutation of no Hindu and to put to death every Mohammedan. The community was called Khalsa: within it there was perfect equality: every man was to carry a sword and wear long hair but short trousers. Converts, or recruits, came chiefly from the fighting tribes of the Jats, but in theory admission was free. The initiatory ceremony, which resembled baptism, was performed with sugar and water stirred with a sword, and the neophyte vowed not to worship idols, to bow to none except a Sikh Guru, and never to turn his back on the enemy. To give these institutions better religious sanction, Govind composed a supplement to the Granth, called Dasama Padshah ka Granth or book of the tenth prince. It consists of four parts, all in verse, and is said to inculcate war as persistently as Nanak had inculcated meekness and peace. To give his institutions greater permanence and prevent future alterations Govind refused to appoint any human successor and bade the Sikhs consider the Granth as their Guru. "Whatsoever ye shall ask of it, it will show you" he said, and in obedience to his command the book is still invested with a kind of personality and known as Granth Sahib.
Govind spent most of his time in wars with Aurungzeb marked by indomitable perseverance rather than success. Towards the end of his life he retired into Malwa and resided at a place called Damdama. The accounts of his latter days are somewhat divergent. According to one story he made his peace with the Mughals and accepted a military command under the successor of Aurungzeb but it is more commonly asserted that he was assassinated by a private enemy. Even more troublous were the days of his successor Banda. Since Govind had abolished the Guruship, he could not claim to be more than a temporal chief, but what he lacked in spiritual authority he made amends for in fanaticism. The eight years of his leadership were spent in a war of mutual extermination waged with the Moslims of the Panjab and diversified only by internal dissensions. At last he was captured and the sect was nearly annihilated by the Emperor Farukhsiyar. According to the ordinary account this victory was followed by an orgy of torture and Banda was barbarously executed after witnessing during seven days the torments of his followers and kinsmen. We read with pleasure but incredulity that one division of the Sikhs believe that he escaped and promulgated his peculiar doctrines in Sind. Asiatics do not relish the idea that the chosen of God can suffer violent death.
The further history of the Sikhs is political rather than religious, and need not detain us here. Despite the efforts of the Mughals to exterminate them, they were favoured by the disturbed state of the country in the early decades of the eighteenth century, for the raids of Afghans and Persians convulsed and paralyzed the empire of Delhi. The government of the Khalsa passed into the hands of a body of fanatics, called Akalis, but the decision of grave matters rested with a council of the whole community which occasionally met at Amritsar. Every Sikh claimed to have joined the confederacy as an independent soldier, bound to fight under his military leaders but otherwise exempt from control, and entitled to a share of land. This absolute independence, being unworkable in practice, was modified by the formation of Misals or voluntary associations, of which there were at one time twelve. From the middle of the eighteenth century onwards the Sikhs were masters of the Panjab and their great chief Ranjit Singh (1797-1839) succeeded in converting the confederacy into a despotic monarchy. Their power did not last long after his death and the Panjab was conquered by the British in the two wars of 1846 and 1849.
With the loss of political independence, the differences between the Sikhs and other Hindus tended to decrease. This was natural, for nearly all their strictly religious tenets can be paralleled in Hinduism. Guru Govind waged no war against polytheism but wished to found a religious commonwealth equally independent of Hindu castes and Mohammedan sultans. For some time his ordinances were successful in creating a tribe, almost a nation. With the collapse of the Sikh state, the old hatred of Mohammedanism remained, but the Sikhs differed from normal Hindus hardly more than such sects as the Lingayats, and, as happened with decadent Buddhism, the unobtrusive pressure of Hindu beliefs and observances tended to obliterate those differences. The Census of India, 1901, enumerated three degrees of Sikhism. The first comprises a few zealots called Akalis who observe all the precepts of Govind. The second class are the Guru Govind Sikhs, who observe the Guru's main commands, especially the prohibition to smoke and cut the hair. Lastly, there are a considerable number who profess a respect for the Guru but follow Hindu beliefs and usages wholly or in part. Sikhism indeed reproduces on a small scale the changeableness and complexity of Hinduism, and includes associations called Sabha, whose members aim at restoring or maintaining what they consider to be the true faith. In 1901 there was a tendency for Sikhs to give up their peculiarities and describe themselves as ordinary Hindus, but in the next decade a change of sentiment among these waverers caused the Sikh community as registered to increase by thirty-seven per cent. and a period of religious zeal is reported.
[Footnote 651: It is exemplified by the curious word an-had limitless, being the Indian negative prefix added to the arabic word had used in the Sikh Granth and by Caran Das as a name of God.]
[Footnote 652: See especially G.H. Westcott, Kabir and the Kabir Panth, and Macauliffe, Sikh Religion, vol. vi. pp. 122-316. Also Wilson, Essays on the religion of the Hindus, vol. I. pp. 68-98. Garcin de Tassy, Histoire de la Litterature Hindoue, II. pp. 120-134. Bhandarkar, Vaishn. and Saivism, pp. 67-73.]
[Footnote 653: The name Kabir seems to me decisive.]
[Footnote 654: Dadu who died about 1603 is said to have been fifth in spiritual descent from Kabir.]
[Footnote 655: From a hymn in which the spiritual life is represented as a ride. Macauliffe, VI. p. 156.]
[Footnote 656: But Hari is sometimes used by Kabir, especially in the hymns incorporated in the Granth, as a name of God.]
[Footnote 657: Though Kabir writes as a poet rather than as a philosopher he evidently leaned to the doctrine of illusion (vivartavada) rather than to the doctrine of manifestation or development (Parinamavada). He regards Maya as something evil, a trick, a thief, a force which leads men captive, but which disappears with the knowledge of God. "The illusion vanished when I recognized him" (XXXIX.).]
[Footnote 658: He even uses the word nirvana.]
[Footnote 659: From Kabir's acrostic. Macauliffe, VI. pp. 186 and 188. It is possible that this is a later composition.]
[Footnote 660: Macauliffe, vi. pp. 230. 209, 202, 197.]
[Footnote 661: Westcott, l.c. p. 144, "I am the creator of this world.... I am the seed and the tree ... all are contained in me—I live within all and all live within me" and much to the same effect. Even in the hymns of the Adi Granth we find such phrases as "Now thou and I have become one." (Macauliffe, vi. p. 180.)
This identification of Kabir with the deity is interesting as being a modern example of what probably happened in the case of Krishna. Similarly those who collected the hymns which form the sacred books of the Sikhs and Kabirpanthis repeated the process which in earlier ages produced the Rig Veda.]
[Footnote 662: "The Atma mingles with Paramatma, as the rivers flow into the ocean. Only in this way can Paramatma be found. The Atma without Sabda is blind and cannot find the path. He who sees Atma-Ram is present everywhere. All he sees is like himself. There is nought except Brahma. I am he, I am the true Kabir." Westcott, p. 168.]
[Footnote 663: The Census of 1901 gives 843,171 but there is reason to think the real numbers are larger.]
[Footnote 664: Consecrated by washing in it wooden sandals supposed to represent the feet of Kabir. It is stated that they believe they eat the body of Kabir at their sacred meal which perhaps points to Christian influence. See Russell, l.c. pp. 239-240.]
[Footnote 665: See Russell, Tribes and Castes of Central Provinces, p. 217, where it is said that some of them are householders.]
[Footnote 666: See especially Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, six volumes.]
[Footnote 667: Macauliffe, I. p. 82.]
[Footnote 668: The original is Karta purukh (=purusha), the creative male. This phrase shows how Hindu habits of thought clung to Nanak.]
[Footnote 669: The Guru of the Sikhs are: (a) Nanak, 1469-1538, (b) Angada, 1538-1552, (c) Amardas, 1552-1575, (d) Ramdas, 1575-1581, (e) Arjun, 1581-1606, (f) Har-Govind, 1606-1639, (g) Har-Rai, 1639-1663, (h) Har-Kisan, 1663-1666, (i) Teg-Bahadur, 1666-1675, (j) Govind Singh, 1675-1708.]
[Footnote 670: Amritasaras the lake of nectar.]
[Footnote 671: It appears to be an arbitrary adaptation of the Deva-nagari characters. The shape of the letters is mostly the same but new values are assigned to them.]
[Footnote 672: This is the description of the dialect given by Grierson, the highest authority in such matters.]
[Footnote 673: See Rajendrala Mitra's article in J.A.S.B. XL. 1871, pp. 170-176, which gives the Sanskrit text of the Upanishad. Also Schrader, Catalogue of Adyar Library, 1908, pp. 136-7. Schrader states that in the north of India the Allopanishad is recited by Brahmans at the Vasantotsava and on other occasions: also that in southern India it is generally believed that Moslims are skilled in the Atharva Veda.]
[Footnote 674: I.e., not the Allah of the Koran.]
[Footnote 675: This Persian translation was rendered word for word into very strange Latin by Anquetil Duperron (1801-2) and this Latin version was used by Schopenhauer.]
[Footnote 676: He is said to have prayed for the success of the Emperor's rebellious son.]
[Footnote 677: This Arabic word is interpreted in this context as meaning the special portion (of God).]
[Footnote 678: Census of India, 1901, Panjab report, p. 122.]
[Footnote 679: Provincial Geographies of India, Panjab, Douie, 1916, p. 117.]
Among the principal subdivisions of Hinduism must be reckoned the remarkable religion known as Saktism, that is the worship of Sakti or Siva's spouse under various names, of which Devi, Durga and Kali are the best known. It differs from most sects in not being due to the creative or reforming energy of any one human founder. It claims to be a revelation from Siva himself, but considered historically it appears to be a compound of Hinduism with un-Aryan beliefs. It acquired great influence both in the courts and among the people of north-eastern India but without producing personalities of much eminence as teachers or writers.
It would be convenient to distinguish Saktism and Tantrism, as I have already suggested. The former means the worship of a goddess or goddesses, especially those who are regarded as forms of Siva's consort. Vishnuites sometimes worship female deities, but though the worship of Lakshmi, Radha and others may be coloured by imitation of Saktist practices, it is less conspicuous and seems to have a different origin. Tantrism is a system of magical or sacramental ritual, which professes to attain the highest aims of religion by such methods as spells, diagrams, gestures and other physical exercises. One of its bases is the assumption that man and the universe correspond as microcosm and macrocosm and that both are subject to the mysterious power of words and letters.
These ideas are not modern nor peculiar to any Indian sect. They are present in the Vedic ceremonial, in the practices of the Yoga and even in the teaching of the quasi-mussulman sect of Kabir, which attaches great importance to the letters of the divine name. They harmonize with the common Indian view that some form of discipline or physical training is essential to the religious life. They are found in a highly developed form among the Nambuthiris and other Brahmans of southern India who try to observe the Vedic rules and in the Far East among Buddhists of the Shingon or Chen-yen sect. As a rule they receive the name of Tantrism only when they are elaborated into a system which claims to be a special dispensation for this age and to supersede more arduous methods which are politely set aside as practicable only for the hero-saints of happier times. Tantrism, like salvation by faith, is a simplification of religion but on mechanical rather than emotional lines, though its deficiency in emotion often finds strange compensations.
But Tantrism is analogous not so much to justification by faith as to sacramental ritual. The parallel may seem shocking, but most tantric ceremonies are similar in idea to Christian sacraments and may be called sacramental as correctly as magical. Even in the Anglican Church baptism includes sprinkling with water (abhisheka), the sign of the cross (nyasa) and a formula (mantra), and if any one supposes that a child so treated is sure of heaven whereas the future of the unbaptized is dubious, he holds like the Tantrists that spiritual ends can be attained by physical means. And in the Roman Church where the rite includes exorcism and the use of salt, oil and lights, the parallel is still closer. Christian mysticism has had much to do with symbolism and even with alchemy, and Zoroastrianism, which is generally regarded as a reasonable religion, attaches extraordinary importance to holy spells. So Indian religions are not singular in this respect, though the uncompromising thoroughness with which they work out this like other ideas leads to startling results.
The worship of female deities becomes prominent somewhat late in Indian literature and it does not represent—not to the same extent as the Chinese cult of Kwan-yin for example—the better ideals of the period when it appears. The goddesses of the Rig Veda are insignificant: they are little more than names, and grammatically often the feminine forms of their consorts. But this Veda is evidently a special manual of prayer from which many departments of popular religion were excluded. In the Atharva Veda many spirits with feminine names are invoked and there is an inclination to personify bad qualities and disasters as goddesses. But we do not find any goddess who has attained a position comparable with that held by Durga, Cybele or Astarte, though there are some remarkable hymns addressed to the Earth. But there is no doubt that the worship of goddesses (especially goddesses of fertility) as great powers is both ancient and widespread. We find it among the Egyptians and Semites, in Asia Minor, in Greece, Italy, and among the Kelts. The goddess Anahit, who was worshipped with immoral rites in Bactria, is figured on the coins of the Kushans and must at one time have been known on the north-western borders of India. At the present day Sitala and in south India Mariamman are goddesses of smallpox who require propitiation, and one of the earliest deities known to have been worshipped by the Tamils is the goddess Kottavai. Somewhat obscure but widely worshipped are the powers known as the Mothers, a title which also occurs in Keltic mythology. They are groups of goddesses varying in number and often malevolent. As many as a hundred and forty are said to be worshipped in Gujarat. The census of Bengal (1901) records the worship of the earth, sun and rivers as females, of the snake goddesses Manasa and Jagat Gauri and of numerous female demons who send disease, such as the seven sisters, Ola Bibi, Jogini and the Churels, or spirits of women who have died in childbirth.
The rites celebrated in honour of these deities are often of a questionable character and include dances by naked women and offerings of spirituous liquors and blood. Similar features are found in other countries. Prostitution formed part of the worship of Astarte and Anahit: the Tauric Artemis was adored with human sacrifices and Cybele with self-inflicted mutilations. Similarly offerings of blood drawn from the sacrificer's own body are enjoined in the Kalika Purana. Two stages can be distinguished in the relations between these cults and Hinduism. In the later stage which can be witnessed even at the present day an aboriginal goddess or demon is identified with one of the aspects (generally a "black" or fierce aspect) of Siva's spouse. But such identification is facilitated by the fact that goddesses like Kali, Bhairavi, Chinnamastaka are not products of purely Hindu imagination but represent earlier stages of amalgamation in which Hindu and aboriginal ideas are already compounded. When the smallpox goddess is identified with Kali, the procedure is correct, for some popular forms of Kali are little more than an aboriginal deity of pestilence draped with Hindu imagery and philosophy.
Some Hindu scholars demur to this derivation of Saktism from lower cults. They point to its refined and philosophic aspects; they see in it the worship of a goddess, who can be as merciful as the Madonna, but yet, since she is the goddess of nature, combines in one shape life and death. May not the grosser forms of Saktism be perversions and corruptions of an ancient and higher faith? In support of this it may be urged that the Buddhist goddess Tara is as a rule a beautiful and benevolent figure, though she can be terrible as the enemy of evil and has clear affinities to Durga. Yet the history of Indian thought does not support this view, but rather the view that Hinduism incorporated certain ancient ideas, true and striking as ancient ideas often are, but without purging them sufficiently to make them acceptable to the majority of educated Indians.
The Yajur Veda associates Rudra with a female deity called Ambika or mother, who is however his sister, not his spouse. The earliest forms of the latter seem to connect her with mountains. She is Uma Haimavati, the daughter of the Himalayas, and Parvati, she of the mountains, and was perhaps originally a sacred peak. In an interesting but brief passage of the Kena Upanishad (III. 12 and IV. 1) Uma Haimavati explains to the gods that a being whom they do not know is Brahman. In later times we hear of a similar goddess in the Vindhyas, Maharani Vindhyesvari, who was connected with human sacrifices and Thugs. Siva's consort, like her Lord, has many forms classified as white or benignant and black or terrible. Uma belongs to the former class but the latter (such as Kali, Durga, Camunda, Canda and Karala) are more important. Female deities bearing names like these are worshipped in most parts of India, literally from the Himalaya to Cape Comorin, for the latter name is derived from Kumari, the Virgin goddess. But the names Sakta and Saktism are usually restricted to those sects in Bengal and Assam who worship the Consort of Siva with the rites prescribed in the Tantras.
Saktism regards the goddess as the active manifestation of the godhead. As such she is styled Sakti, or energy (whence the name Sakta), and is also identified with Maya, the power which is associated with Brahman and brings the phenomenal world into being. Similar ideas appear in a philosophic form in the Sankhya teaching. Here the soul is masculine and passive: its task is to extricate and isolate itself. But Prakriti or Nature is feminine and active: to her is due the evolution of the universe: she involves the soul in actions which cause pain but she also helps the work of liberation. In its fully developed form the doctrine of the Tantras teaches that Sakti is not an emanation or aspect of the deity. There is no distinction between Brahman and Sakti. She is Parabrahman and paratpara, Supreme of the Supreme.
The birthplace of Saktism as a definite sect seems to have been north-eastern India and though it is said to be extending in the United Provinces, its present sphere of influence is still chiefly Bengal and Assam. The population of these countries is not Aryan (though the Bengali language bears witness to the strong Aryan influence which has prevailed there) and is largely composed of immigrants from the north belonging to the Tibeto-Burman, Mon-Khmer and Shan families. These tribes remain distinct in Assam but the Bengali represents the fusion of such invaders with a Munda or Dravidian race, leavened by a little Aryan blood in the higher castes. In all this region we hear of no ancient Brahmanic settlements, no ancient centres of Vedic or even Puranic learning and when Buddhism decayed no body of Brahmanic tradition such as existed in other parts of India imposed its authority on the writers of the Tantras. Even at the present day the worship of female spirits, only half acknowledged by the Brahmans, prevails among these people, and in the past the national deities of many tribes were goddesses who were propitiated with human sacrifices. Thus the Chutiyas of Sadiya used to adore a goddess, called Kesai Khati—the eater of raw flesh. The rites of these deities were originally performed by tribal priests, but as Hindu influence spread, the Brahmans gradually took charge of them without modifying their character in essentials. Popular Bengali poetry represents these goddesses as desiring worship and feeling that they are slighted: they persecute those who ignore them, but shower blessings on their worshippers, even on the obdurate who are at last compelled to do them homage. The language of mythology could not describe more clearly the endeavours of a plebeian cult to obtain recognition.
The Mahabharata contains hymns to Durga in which she is said to love offerings of flesh and wine, but it is not likely that Saktism or Tantrism—that is a system with special scriptures and doctrines—was prevalent before the seventh century A.D. for the Tantras are not mentioned by the Chinese pilgrims and the lexicon Amara Kosha (perhaps c. 500 A.D.) does not recognize the word as a designation of religious books. Bana (c. 630) gives more than once in his romances lists of sectaries but though he mentions Bhagavatas and Pasupatas, he does not speak of Saktas. On the other hand Tantrism infected Buddhism soon after this period. The earlier Tibetan translations of the Tantras are attributed to the ninth century. MSS. of the Kubjikamata and other Tantras are said to date from the ninth and even from the seventh century and tradition represents Sankaracarya as having contests with Saktas. But many Tantras were written in the fifteenth century and even later, for the Yogini Tantra alludes to the Koch king Bishwa Singh (1515-1540) and the Meru Tantra mentions London and the English.
From the twelfth to the sixteenth century, when Buddhism, itself deeply infected with Tantrism, was disappearing, Saktism was probably the most powerful religion in Bengal, but Vishnuism was gaining strength and after the time of Caitanya proved a formidable rival to it. At the beginning of the fifteenth century we hear that the king of the Ahoms summoned Brahmans to his Court and adopted many Hindu rites and beliefs, and from this time onward Saktism was patronized by most of the Assamese Rajas although after 1550 Vishnuism became the religion of the mass of the people. Saktism never inspired any popular or missionary movement, but it was powerful among the aristocracy and instigated persecutions against the Vishnuites.
The more respectable Tantras show considerable resemblance to the later Upanishads such as the Nrisinhatapaniya and Ramata-paniya, which mention Sakti in the sense of creative energy. Both classes of works treat of magical formulae (mantras) and the construction of mystic diagrams or yantras. This resemblance does not give us much assistance in chronology, for the dates of the later Upanishads are very uncertain, but it shows how the Tantras are connected with other branches of Hindu thought.
The distinction between Tantras and Puranas is not always well-marked. The Bhagavata Purana countenances tantric rites and the Agni Purana (from chapter XXI onwards) bears a strong resemblance to a Tantra. As a rule the Tantras contain less historical and legendary matter than the Puranas and more directions as to ritual. But whereas the Puranas approve of both Vedic rites and others, the Tantras insist that ceremonies other than those which they prescribe are now useless. They maintain that each age of the world has its own special revelation and that in this age the Tantra-sastra is the only scripture. Thus in the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva says: "The fool who would follow other doctrines heedless of mine is as great a sinner as a parricide or the murderer of a Brahman or of a woman.... The Vedic rites and mantras which were efficacious in the first age have ceased to have power in this. They are now as powerless as snakes whose fangs have been drawn and are like dead things." The Kularnava Tantra (I. 79 ff.) inveighs against those who think they will obtain salvation by Vedic sacrifices or asceticism or reading sacred books, whereas it can be won only by tantric rites.
Various lists of Tantras are given and it is generally admitted that many have been lost. The most complete, but somewhat theoretical enumeration divides India and the adjoining lands into three regions to each of which sixty-four Tantras are assigned. The best known names are perhaps Mahanirvana, Saradatilaka, Yogini, Kularnava and Rudra-Yamala. A Tantra is generally cast in the form of a dialogue in which Siva instructs his consort but sometimes vice versa. It is said that the former class are correctly described as Agamas and the works where the Sakti addresses Siva as Nigamas. Some are also called Yamalas and Damaras but I have found no definition of the meaning of these words. The Prapancasara Tantra professes to be a revelation from Narayana.
Saktism and the Tantras which teach it are generally condemned by Hindus of other sects. It is arguable that this condemnation is unjust, for like other forms of Hinduism the Tantras make the liberation of the soul their object and prescribe a life of religious observances including asceticism and meditation, after which the adept becomes released even in this life. But however much new tantric literature may be made accessible in future, I doubt if impartial criticism will come to any opinion except that Saktism and Tantrism collect and emphasize what is superficial, trivial and even bad in Indian religion, omitting or neglecting its higher sides. If for instance the Mahanirvana Tantra which is a good specimen of these works be compared with Sankara's commentary on the Vedanta Sutras, or the poems of Tulsi Das, it will be seen that it is woefully deficient in the excellences of either. But many tantric treatises are chiefly concerned with charms, spells, amulets and other magical methods of obtaining wealth, causing or averting disease and destroying enemies, processes which even if efficacious have nothing to do with the better side of religion.
The religious life prescribed in the Tantras commences with initiation and requires the supervision of the Guru. The object of it is Siddhi or success, the highest form of which is spiritual perfection. Siddhi is produced by Sadhana, or that method of training the physical and psychic faculties which realizes their potentialities. Tantric training assumes a certain constitution of the universe and the repetition in miniature of this constitution in the human body which contains various nervous centres and subtle channels for the passage of energy unknown to vulgar anatomy. Thus the Sakti who pervades the universe is also present in the body as Kundalini, a serpentine coil of energy, and it is part of Sadhana to arouse this energy and make it mount from the lower to the higher centres. Kundalini is also present in sounds and in letters. Hence if different parts of the body are touched to the accompaniment of appropriate mantras (which rite is called nyasa) the various Saktis are made to dwell in the human frame in suitable positions.
The Tantras recognize that human beings are not equal and that codes and rituals must vary according to temperament and capacity. Three conditions of men, called the animal, heroic and divine, are often mentioned and are said to characterize three periods of life—youth, manhood and age, or three classes of mankind, non-tantrists, ordinary tantrists, and adepts. These three conditions clearly correspond to the three Gunas. Also men, or rather Hindus, belong to one of seven groups, or stages, according to the religious practices which it is best for them to follow. Saktists apparently demur to the statement commonly made by Indians as well as by Europeans that they are divided into two sects the Dakshinacarins, or right-hand worshippers, whose ritual is public and decent, and the Vamacarins who meet to engage in secret but admittedly immoral orgies. But for practical purposes the division is just, although it must not be supposed that Dakshinacarins necessarily condemn the secret worship. They may consider it as good for others but not for themselves. Saktists apparently would prefer to state the matter thus. There are seven stages of religion. First come Vedic, Vishnuite and Sivaite worship, all three inferior, and then Dakshinacara, interpreted as meaning favourable worship, that is favourable to the accomplishment of higher purposes, because the worshipper now begins to understand the nature of Devi, the great goddess. These four kinds of worship are all said to belong to pravritti or active life. The other three, considered to be higher, require a special initiation and belong to nivritti, the path of return in which passion and activity are suppressed. And here is propounded the doctrine that passion can be destroyed and exhausted by passion, that is to say that the impulses of eating, drinking and sexual intercourse are best subjugated by indulging them. The fifth stage, in which this method is first adopted, is called Vamacara. In the sixth, or Siddhantacara, the adept becomes more and more free from passion and prejudice and is finally able to enter Kaulacara, the highest stage of all. A Kaula is one who has passed beyond all sects and belongs to none, since he has the knowledge of Brahman. "Possessing merely the form of man, he moves about this earth for the salvation of the world and the instruction of men."
These are aspirations common to all Indian religion. The peculiarity of the Tantras is to suppose that a ritual which is shocking to most Hindus is an indispensable preliminary to their attainment. Its essential feature is known as pancatattva, the five elements, or pancamakara the five m's, because they all begin with that letter, namely, madya, mamsa, matsya, mudra, and maithuna, wine, meat, fish, parched grain and copulation. The celebration of this ritual takes place at midnight, and is called cakra or circle. The proceedings begin by the devotees seating themselves in a circle and are said to terminate in an indiscriminate orgy. It is only fair to say that some Tantras inveigh against drunkenness and authorize only moderate drinking. In all cases it is essential that the wine, flesh, etc., should be formally dedicated to the goddess: without this preliminary indulgence in these pleasures is sinful. Indeed it may be said that apart from the ceremonial which they inculcate, the general principles of the Tantras breathe a liberal and intelligent spirit. Caste restrictions are minimized: travelling is permitted. Women are honoured: they can act as teachers: the burning of widows is forbidden: girl widows may remarry and the murder of a woman is peculiarly heinous. Prostitution is denounced. Whereas Christianity is sometimes accused of restricting its higher code to Church and Sundays, the opposite may be said of Tantrism. Outside the temple its morality is excellent.
A work like the Mahanirvana Tantra presents a refined form of Saktism modified, so far as may be, in conformity with ordinary Hindu usage. But other features indubitably connect it with aboriginal cults. For instance there is a legend which relates how the body of the Sakti was cut into pieces and scattered over Assam and Bengal. This story has an uncouth and barbarous air and seems out of place even in Puranic mythology. It recalls the tales told of Osiris, Orpheus and Halfdan the Black and may be ultimately traceable to the idea that the dismemberment of a deity or a human representative ensures fertility. Until recently the Khonds of Bengal used to hack human victims in pieces as a sacrifice to the Earth Goddess and throw the shreds of flesh on the fields to secure a good harvest. In Sanskrit literature I have not found any authority for the dismemberment of Sati earlier than the Tantras or Upapuranas (e.g. Kalika), but this late appearance does not mean that the legend is late in itself but merely that it was not countenanced by Sanskrit writers until medieval times. Various reasons for the dismemberment are given and the incident is rather awkwardly tacked on to other stories. One common version relates that when Sati (one of the many forms of Sakti) died of vexation because her husband Siva was insulted by her father Daksha, Siva took up her corpse and wandered distractedly carrying it on his shoulder. In order to stop this penance Vishnu followed him and cut off pieces from the corpse with his quoit until the whole had fallen to earth in fifty-one pieces. The spots where these pieces touched the ground are held sacred and called piths. At most of them are shown a rock supposed to represent some portion of the goddess's body and some object called a bhairabi, left by Siva as a guardian to protect her and often taking the form of a lingam. The most important of these piths are Kamakhya near Gauhati, Faljur in the Jaintia Parganas, and Kalighat in Calcutta.
Though the Sakti of Siva is theoretically one, yet since she assumes many forms she becomes in practice many deities or rather she is many deities combined in one or sometimes a sovereign attended by a retinue of similar female spirits. Among such forms we find the ten Mahavidyas, or personifications of her supernatural knowledge; the Mahamatris, Matrikas or the Great Mothers, allied to the aboriginal goddesses already mentioned; the Nayakas or mistresses; the Yoginis or sorceresses, and fiends called Dakinis. But the most popular of her manifestations are Durga and Kali. The sects which revere these goddesses are the most important religious bodies in Bengal, where they number thirty-five million adherents. The Durgapuja is the greatest festival of the year in north-eastern India and in the temple of Kalighat at Calcutta may be seen the singular spectacle of educated Hindus decapitating goats before the image of Kali. It is a black female figure with gaping mouth and protruded tongue dancing on a prostrate body, and adorned with skulls and horrid emblems of destruction. Of her four hands two carry a sword and a severed head but the other two are extended to give blessing and protection to her worshippers. So great is the crowd of enthusiastic suppliants that it is often hard to approach the shrine and the nationalist party in Bengal who clamour for parliamentary institutions are among the goddess's devotees.
It is easy to criticize and condemn this worship. Its outward signs are repulsive to Europeans and its inner meaning strange, for even those who pray to the Madonna are startled by the idea that the divine nature is essentially feminine. Yet this idea has deep roots in the heart of Bengal and with it another idea: the terrors of death, plague and storm are half but only half revelations of the goddess-mother who can be smiling and tender as well. Whatever may be the origin of Kali and of the strange images which represent her, she is now no she-devil who needs to be propitiated, but a reminder that birth and death are twins, that the horrors of the world come from the same source as its grace and beauty and that cheerful acceptance of the deity's terrible manifestations is an essential part of the higher spiritual life. These ideas are best expressed in the songs of Rama Prasada Sen (1718-1775) which "still reign supreme in the villages" of Bengal and show that this strange worship has really a hold on millions of Indian rustics. The directness and childlike simplicity of his poems have caused an Indian critic to compare him to Blake. "Though the mother beat the child," he sings, "the child cries mother, mother, and clings still tighter to her garment. True, I cannot see thee, yet I am not a lost child. I still cry mother, mother."
"All the miseries that I have suffered and am suffering, I know, O mother, to be your mercy alone."
I must confess that I cannot fully sympathize with this worship, even when it is sung in the hymns of Rama Prasada, but it is clear that he makes it tolerable just because he throws aside all the magic and ritual of the Tantras and deals straight with what are for him elemental and emotional facts. He makes even sceptics feel that he has really seen God in this strange guise.
The chief sanctuary of Saktism is at Kamakhya (or Kamaksha) on a hill which stands on the banks of the Brahmaputra, about two miles below Gauhati. It is mentioned in the Padma Purana. The temples have been rebuilt several times, and in the eighteenth century were munificently endowed by an Ahom king, and placed under the management of a Brahman from Nadia in Bengal, with reversion to his descendants who bear the title of Parbatiya Gosains. Considerable estates are still assigned to their upkeep. There are ten shrines on the hill dedicated to various forms of the Sakti. The situation is magnificent, commanding an extensive prospect over the Brahmaputra and the plains on either bank, but none of the buildings are of much architectural merit. The largest and best is the temple dedicated to Kamakhya herself, the goddess of sexual desire. It is of the style usual in northern India, an unlighted shrine surmounted by a dome, and approached by a rather ample vestibule, which is also imperfectly lighted. An inscription has been preserved recording the restoration of the temple about 1550 but only the present basement dates from that time, most of the super-structure being recent. Europeans may not enter but an image of the goddess can be seen from a side door. In the depths of the shrine is said to be a cleft in the rock, adored as the Yoni of Sakti. In front of the temple are two posts to which a goat is tied, and decapitated daily at noon. Below the principal shrine is the temple of Bhairavi. Human sacrifices were offered here in comparatively recent times, and it is not denied that they would be offered now if the law allowed. Also it is not denied that the rites of the "five m's" already mentioned are frequently performed in these temples, and that Aghoris may be found in them. The spot attracts a considerable number of pilgrims from Bengal, and a wealthy devotee has built a villa on the hill and pays visits to it for the purpose of taking part in the rites. I was informed that the most esteemed scriptures of the sect are the Yogini Tantra, the Mahanirvana Tantra, and the Kalika Purana. This last work contains a section or chapter on blood, which gives rules for the performance of human sacrifices. It states however that they should not be performed by the first three castes, which is perhaps a way of saying that though they may be performed by non-Aryans under Brahmanic auspices they form no part of the Aryan religion. But they are recommended to princes and ministers and should not be performed without the consent of princes. The ritual bears little resemblance to the Vedic sacrifices and the essence of the ceremony is the presentation to the goddess of the victim's severed head in a vessel of gold, silver, copper, brass or wood but not of iron. The axe with which the decapitation is to be performed is solemnly consecrated to Kali and the victim is worshipped before immolation. The sacrificer first thinks of Brahma and the other gods as being present in the victim's body, and then prays to him directly as being all the gods in one. "When this has been done" says Siva, who is represented as himself revealing these rules, "the victim is even as myself." This identification of the human victim with the god has many analogies elsewhere, particularly among the Khonds.
It is remarkable that this barbarous and immoral worship, though looked at askance except in its own holy places, is by no means confined to the lower castes. A series of apologies composed in excellent English (but sometimes anonymous) attest the sympathy of the educated. So far as theology and metaphysics are concerned, these defences are plausible. The Sakti is identified with Prakriti or with the Maya of the Advaita philosophy and defined as the energy, coexistent with Brahman, which creates the world. But attempts to palliate the ceremonial, such as the argument that it is a consecration and limitation of the appetites because they may be gratified only in the service of the goddess, are not convincing. Nor do the Saktas, when able to profess their faith openly, deny the nature of their rites or the importance attached to them. An oft-quoted tantric verse represents Siva as saying Maithunena mahayogi mama tulyo na samsayah. And for practical purposes that is the gist of Saktist teaching.