There is a laudable desire to adapt Indian customs to the needs of Indian Christians. The result has not always been the success which was hoped for. The truth is, that what may be advantageous in the heathen world may be quite otherwise when applied to the circumstances of the Christian community. Because it was the old custom in Hindu villages to settle difficulties, secular and religious, by a Panchayat, it was thought that it would be advantageous to exercise discipline in the Church in the same way. It was well to give it a trial, but many begin to doubt its applicability. The Indian often is, like many others, a man of strong prejudices, and even Christianity is not altogether successful in uprooting this fault. His likes and dislikes are pronounced, and are not always according to reason. Certain excellent people will side with a pronounced wrongdoer, for no apparent cause; not necessarily from a charitable desire to give him another chance. Also, the pleasing Indian characteristic of regard for family relationship, which is so strong, leads to an anxiety to belittle the wrongdoings of anyone who can claim kinship, and this may be carried even to the verge of distortion, or suppression of the truth. Anyhow, the conclusions of the Christian Panchayat are, not unfrequently, singularly at variance with what would appear to be the right verdict.
There is another reason why the Panchayat, as applied to Christian congregations, is not altogether wholesome. The true spirit of charity is a difficult virtue to acquire. When two people quarrel, unless they quickly forgive, they are generally anxious to air their grievance. Indians in particular wish the whole matter gone into with elaboration, so that, as they say, justice may be done. The Panchayat gives exactly the opening which they crave. A quarrel between two neighbours, which ought to have been quickly adjusted by mutual forgiveness, becomes a subject of endless discussion. Many others get dragged into it; and the spirit of discord, instead of being laid to rest by the proceedings of the Panchayat, often finds a greatly enlarged scope for mischief.
In bringing a case of immorality before this tribunal the evil is intensified. The matter is gone into minutely, with much freedom of expression. Nor does it end there. The members of the Panchayat return to their homes, and, with the fullest detail, repeat to wife and children the incidents that the inquiry has disclosed. For days it is the all-engrossing subject of conversation. "There is no reserve amongst us in the sense that you English people have it," said a leading Indian Christian to me; "there is nothing which our children do not know." Consulting an intelligent Christian Indian on the difficult question as to how much might be said with safety when warning the young on the subject of purity, he replied: "It is impossible to teach them anything which they do not know already. Other people talk to them, and the youngest know all that there is to be known."
It should be added, that although with very few exceptions this is certainly true, the knowledge of evil does not, as a matter of course, produce evil, and there are many Indian Christian lads who, sustained by the power of sacramental grace, are leading lives of exemplary self-control, while living in circumstances of great temptation.
Whatever may have been the case in years gone by, the out-caste people of a village are not now the downtrodden, servile folk such as they are commonly supposed to be, although there are still instances of individual oppression. Most of them are leading more wholesome lives than those of the richer, self-indulgent men, and this is evidenced by their more vigorous and manly frame. They are, to some extent, at the beck and call of the chief men of the place, and more especially of the Patel, but they are independent in their bearing, and obey cheerfully without cringing. Some of their duties may sound unsavoury. As, for instance, they are responsible for the removal of a dead carcase found within the village boundary. But if it is the body of an animal fit for food, such as a buffalo, sheep, or goat, they feast upon it themselves, quite regardless of what disease it may have died of.
A buffalo belonging to the Mission died from snake-bite, as it was supposed, though that sometimes is only another name for wilful poisoning. The disposal of its immense carcase seemed a perplexity. But just as we were considering this point, we saw the buffalo travelling away at a rapid pace on the shoulders of the village Mahars, who took it as their natural perquisite, and did not think it necessary to wait for leave. The horns, hoofs, skin, and bones are marketable commodities, so that, besides the feast, they often make a good thing out of agricultural tragedies.
The same class of men are responsible for any stray burials, which are not at all uncommon in a country where there are many homeless wanderers, some of whom, when weary and ill, just lie down by the roadside and die. The Mahars of the nearest village bury the nameless corpse. The clothes of the dead man are sufficient recompense for hasty interment in a shallow grave, and the jackals the next night probably discover, and make short work of, the corpse. I have seen the body of some such poor wanderer, with scarcely a rag upon it, slung upon a pole and carried like a dead dog by a couple of Mahars along the high-road to a place of burial.
Many low-caste men have, of late years, grown prosperous and acquired land of their own. In the neighbourhood of cities some of them get well-paid posts as night-watchmen, and as they are often frugal people, they gradually put by a good deal of money. The servants of Europeans are also largely drawn from this class, and a capable servant is able to secure wages which, together with pickings in the shape of tips and perquisites, enable him to save. The low-caste people of a village often present a brilliant appearance when they turn out in holiday attire on some festal day, and the gold ornaments of the women sufficiently indicate their prosperous condition. That they have their own quarter, outside the village proper, does not cause them any searchings of heart. They come into the village freely, and talk and mix with the other people, and Mahar boys often play with the other children. But when there is a village feast they have, of course, to sit quite apart.
There are indications that the village low-caste people are beginning to retaliate for whatever oppression they may have had to undergo, by becoming rather insolent to their betters. Some of them are also using the facilities for education which late years have put within their reach with good effect, and have gradually risen to positions of importance in Government and other service.
Indian titles. The Inamdar. The pan supari party. Mohammedan saints. The nautch; why objectionable. The Inamdar's house; its decorations; furniture. Mohammedan full-dress. The guests; nature of the entertainment. The guests garlanded; no hostess. General conclusions; not an occasion for a missionary.
The titles belonging to Indians of real or imaginary importance take up an astonishing amount of space on paper. I received an invitation to what is called on the card, a pan supari party. The person who issues the invitation is, so the card informs me, "Sardar Khanbahadur Kazi Sayed Azimodin Gulamodin Pirzade Inamdar." His real name is Azimodin. The rest could be dispensed with. He is the Mohammedan chief of Yerandawana. Part of the revenue of that village was, at some distant date, allotted to a mosque in Poona City. It is therefore called an Inam village, and the holder of the grant is called the Inamdar, the word "inam" meaning "grant." A small percentage of the Government land tax is paid over to the Inamdar, and he has other small perquisites, such as the fruit of certain trees. He also has some privileges connected with the river which flows past Yerandawana; as, for instance, gravel cannot be taken from it without paying him a royalty. He also has certain rights over the stone quarries and the pasturage on some of the hills.
Pan supari is the betel nut wrapped up in a leaf, which is distributed to guests on festal occasions, and chewed by those who like it. It is one of the few things which can be accepted and eaten without prejudice to caste. Just as in England you might be asked to a "tea" party, so here in India we were asked to a pan supari party; only, unfortunately, there is nothing very satisfying in the betel nut, although all Indians are fond of it.
Mohammedans have a great respect for the memory of those of their number whom they regard as "saints"; whether they are technically or actually such does not seem to matter much. Many of their tombs may be noticed in cities and villages, or by the roadside under some spreading tree. The festival of each local saint is kept by the Mohammedans of that locality with prayers and feasting and merrymaking for several days. The occasion of the pan supari party was the festival of the local saint of the mosque which adjoined the Inamdar's house in the city. The saint's names and titles were also of formidable dimensions—"Peer Sayed Hisamodin Kattal Junjani Chishte."
I consulted another friendly Mohammedan as to whether I could safely accept the invitation without running the risk of finding myself a sharer in festivities of a doubtful character. He said that these sort of festivals always commenced with great propriety, but often degenerated as they proceeded. But that the pan supari party to which English were invited was sure to be eminently respectable, while the concluding days would probably be devoted to singing and dancing of the usual dubious kind.
Unfortunately, parties to which English are invited by both Hindus and Mohammedans are not always free from objectionable features. Not unfrequently part of the entertainment is dancing, and sometimes singing, by professional performers. English people sometimes plead that there is nothing particularly objectionable in the nature of the dance, and that the singing is in a language which they do not understand. But it is the character of the women who dance and sing which some English people are not aware of. They are invariably professional women of bad character, because no other kind of Indian woman ever takes part in public performances of this nature in the presence of men. And it is on this ground that Christians ought always to refuse invitations to any festivity in which a nautch, or dance, is put down as one of the events, stating politely the reason of refusal. Indians often arrange for entertainments of this kind because they imagine that it is the sort of thing which Europeans enjoy. A few officials of high rank have done good service by intimating that they do not wish to be entertained in this manner.
I accepted the Inamdar's invitation. I thought it might be useful experience. The hour was from five to six. The address was nearly as long as the host's name—"Badi Darga, Riverside, Zuni Mandai, in front of Shanwar Wada, Kasba Peth, Poona City." But, in spite of these precise directions, it would have been a difficult place for anyone to find who was not pretty well acquainted with the labyrinths of the old city.
Sometimes one is tempted to smile as one thinks of the splendour of Eastern entertainments, or of the "gorgeous East," as it exists in the imagination of many English people, or in the mind of the newspaper correspondent of an Eastern tour. The triumphal arch at the entrance of the narrow lane leading to the Inamdar's house might have made an effective Indian photograph for home consumption. But the poles, draped with pink muslin, were a grateful sight only because they told us that we were on the right track. Also, a coat of gravel newly spread along the lane was a welcome indication that there was no need to walk with the caution which is expedient in most of the streets of Poona City.
The Inamdar's house is by the river side, and the river being at that time in flood and full from bank to bank, it would have been a picturesque sight, if it had not been for the colour of the water, which gave the impression of a river of rolling mud. This is the case with most Indian rivers, and detracts a good deal from their beauty. The buildings forming the Inamdar's establishment enclosed an irregular sort of courtyard. On one side of this was the mosque and the tomb of the saint. The residential part of the premises formed another side, into which the mixed assembly of a pan supari party would not be allowed to penetrate. A third side of the courtyard was occupied by a long, low, whitewashed shed, open in front, and with a few small windows at the back looking on to the river, and this was arranged for the reception of the guests. It was elaborately festooned with paper flowers and other adornments, something after the fashion of Christmas-tree decorations. The effect was more gay than artistic. I have never been able to ascertain where the particular sort of furniture originally came from which adorns the reception-rooms of Indians who are in a position to occasionally entertain distinguished guests. It is a little like what is sometimes seen on the stage. The sofas and chairs are very ornate, and equally uncomfortable. The carpets are often really handsome, because their design and manufacture is an art which is thoroughly understood in the East, and in more primitive days they would have formed almost the only furniture of a reception-hall.
Out in the compound were flowers in pots, after the manner of an Indian garden, and a few trees, as well as one or two tombs of Mohammedan saints of a somewhat lower rank than Peer Sayed Hisamodin. A strip of red cloth from the place where carriages were to set down, indicated that visitors were to make their way into the shed. I was amongst the earliest arrivals, and was received by the Inamdar and his son with all that graceful courtesy which no one knows better how to show than an Indian. The full dress of a Mohammedan is striking and effective. They never of course wear the dhota, which is the garment of Hindus, but they wear instead trousers, fitting very close at the foot, but of great width in the upper part.
I thought it prudent to ask what the order of proceedings would be. They told me that there would be a little music, and distribution of garlands and pan supari, and finally dancing. I replied that I could not witness the last item in the programme. The Inamdar's son intimated that this item would not come off till later on in the evening, when the Europeans would have left. I asked him how they could be willing to receive into their house women of the character of the dancers. He looked sheepish, and was no doubt relieved that another arrival called him away.
We presented a curious medley when all were assembled. A Hindu Collector drove up in his motor car, faultlessly dressed in English clothes, and so like a courteous European in his general bearing that, except for his white and gold turban, it might have been difficult to suppose that he was not one. Many Indians are, comparatively speaking, very fair, and if you are living habitually in the country you become almost oblivious to shades of complexion. The English Collector also arrived, with his wife. Collectors are, of course, magistrates and officials of importance. The Commissioner of the division followed, who is senior to a Collector. Mohammedans, Hindus, and a few Parsees arrived, some in smart carriages, a few in hired conveyances, and others on foot. Another motor car with an Indian owner drove up. At present the dash, and go, and smartness of a motor-car seem strangely out of keeping with the spirit of leisure, and delay, and general shabbiness so marked in things Indian.
When the party might be said to be in full swing I do not know that it was much duller, or more pointless, than receptions in England. Certainly a cup of tea is more refreshing than the fragment of betel nut wrapped up in a leaf and enclosed in a piece of gold paper. Few Europeans have courage to eat it, but it should always be accepted, and after your departure you can gladden the heart of any native by giving it to him. A few Indians provide spirituous drinks for their English visitors, under the idea that they cannot exist without a whisky peg. And, indeed, it is said that some young English guests confirm this belief by the use they make of the drinks provided.
A couple of Mohammedan men came forward, and seating themselves on a carpet gave a brief musical performance, after which a man sung a song with an air of such comical affectation that it was difficult to maintain the serious gravity with which the Indian part of the audience listened to him. Preparations for a photograph of the assembled company commencing, it was an indication that it was time for me to depart. All the more distinguished guests had been previously decorated with garlands of pink roses and white jasmine, and in addition they were given a kind of sceptre, made of the same sort of flowers tied to a short stick. The less remarkable people received an inferior garland and a single rose with a few leaves, made up like a button-hole; and a certain unimportant residuum did not receive any decoration at all.
Perhaps what, to English eyes, appeared the most obvious blot in the proceedings was the absence of any hostess. Both the old Inamdar and his son had several wives, but except the English ladies who came as guests, there were no females of any sort visible. One of these ladies asked me whether the Inamdar would be displeased if she suggested a visit to his wife, because she had once met her at one of those parties which some kindly English people have tried to organise for the benefit of the more exclusive women who live behind the purdah, or curtain. So I told the Inamdar that the Madam Sahib would be pleased to visit his Madam Sahib. He smiled, and bowed, and made a little bustle as if he was going to make arrangements for it, but I do not think that anything came of it.
The point that I was anxious to learn from my attendance at the Inamdar's party was whether, on the whole, it is advantageous for English people to accept such invitations or not. The conclusion that I came to was that, since it helps to some extent to bring about a mutual understanding, it is a good thing for kindly Government officials and their ladies to do, but that it is not the sort of occasion when there is scope for a missionary. As a guest he is bound to be courteous to his host, and if any practice is indulged in which may call for rebuke, it is not easy to administer it without the appearance of rudeness. Already some modern-minded Hindus urge that all religions are alike, and that Christianity being suited to Europeans and the Eastern religions to the people of the East, there is no need to change. If the teachers of Christianity share in the social gatherings of educated Indians with the politeness and cordiality which such occasions demand, it may foster the impression that unbelief and idolatry are no real barriers to mutual unity of heart, and that one religion is as good as another.
THE CONVERSION OF INDIA
Missions still in the experimental stage. Effect of education on conversion. Brahmins and conversion. Caution needed in time of famine. People applying for work; caution again necessary. India and dissent; rival organisations, effect on the heathen; dissenters drawing to the Church.
It is an evidence of the perplexity which attends mission work in India that many apparently elementary principles are still undecided questions and subjects of discussion. Things are still in the experimental stage. Almost every conceivable form of missionary enterprise has been attempted; but the result is that no one method in any department stands out as being signally better than another. Perhaps the only definite conclusion that has been arrived at is the obvious one, that the man is of more importance than the method, and where there has been marked progress it has always been the personality of the worker, sanctified and energised by God's grace, which has been the moving power.
The conversion of India has been a slower and more difficult task than some people at one time anticipated. Possibly it has been hindered by too much haste at the outset. India has to be gradually educated up to Christianity. At one time it was thought that the best way to do this was to provide an advanced secular education, and that the mind thus elevated would be ready to grasp and accept spiritual truths. No doubt this has been the result in a few instances, but the more general outcome has been that secular interests have become so absorbing that spiritual matters have been crowded out, and the mind has proved less rather than more receptive.
Great efforts have been made to reach the so-called "high-caste" men of India. This was done, partly under the idea that their traditional intelligence and opportunities of education would make them specially capable of religious thought, and partly because it was felt that the conversion of some of the leading men of India would surely result in the conversion of the rest. There have been many notable conversions of Brahmins, so that these efforts cannot be said to have been wholly without result. But it must be added that the results do not seem commensurate with the amount of labour and money which has been expended in this particular direction. It was, perhaps, not sufficiently taken into account that mere intellect may in itself be a barrier to the reception of spiritual truth, unless there is also the grace of humility and the desire to be taught. A Brahmin who has been trained from his earliest boyhood to think himself worthy of divine honour, naturally finds it difficult to sit at the feet of a foreign teacher who preaches the need of repentance.
Nor does the conversion of a Brahmin lead to the conversion of other Indians to the extent that might have been expected. Possibly the unpopularity of Brahmins as a class, although they are still to some extent venerated and feared, may partly account for the fact that the conversion of some of them has not made others anxious to follow their lead. In the case of low-caste people the conversion of a few has, in many instances, led on to the conversion of large numbers. The multitude of village folk who have, at various times, pressed forward for baptism has been in certain places a real perplexity. The clerical staff has been wholly inadequate to deal with them, and the greater part of their instruction has had to be left to lay teachers, not very competent for the task.
In some of the earlier famines missionaries were not always sufficiently alive to the risk of people professing a desire for Christianity, when their real motive was the hope of getting special consideration when famine relief was distributed. In some districts serious lapses took place after the distress was over. It is now the almost universal rule in missions, in order to avoid the risk of imposture, not to baptize any converts during the period when a district is suffering from famine. The time of probation before baptism has also been gradually prolonged in most Church missions. But some workers, in their natural eagerness for the extension of Christ's kingdom, are perhaps too ready to accept the protestations of ignorant people in poor circumstances who say that they wish to become Christians. The work which is given to them as a test is, almost of necessity, lighter than that which they have previously been accustomed to do. Whether the limited amount of genuine spiritual desire probable in such cases should be accepted as sufficient, is difficult to decide. Some of the older missions, with an experience covering a long period, make it their invariable rule not to accept a religious inquirer for definite instruction if he is out of work. He is told that he must first get work, and then come for instruction.
Not unfrequently people who come to a mission applying for work, say that if this is provided they are willing to become Christians. When the village church of St Crispin was building, quite a number of Hindus at different times asked for the post of caretaker of the building when completed. And when it was urged in reply that a Christian church ought to have a Christian caretaker, several of them said that if the post was given to them, they were ready to conform as regards Christianity. Some dissenters still baptize rashly, with scarcely any probation and less teaching, and some have drifted so far from gospel truth that they receive converts into their society without baptizing them at all.
India has both suffered and gained from the number of religious sects who have sent missionaries to convert her. No religious society seems to think its machinery complete unless it has a mission in India. The point of view from which she may be said to have gained from this is, that where the need of workers is so great, any Christian teachers who are in earnest are, in a sense, welcome. Nor are theological differences so acute in the pioneer stage of work, when only elementary principles are being taught. But, on the other hand, the result is a bewildering multiplication of missionary efforts. Apart from the amount of conflicting and erroneous teaching which is ultimately the inevitable outcome, there is a great waste of energy and funds in the support of a number of organisations which might be concentrated into one. Also, rivalry amongst missions of conflicting opinions has resulted in mission stations being planted in close proximity to each other. Roman Catholics in particular are offenders in this respect. The consequence is that, while on the one hand some districts are overdone with mission workers, on the other hand there are vast tracts of country without any.
The varied forms in which Christianity is thus presented is not so great a stumbling-block to the heathen people as might be thought likely. Hindus and Mohammedans are themselves divided up into such numerous sects that they are not much surprised to find that such is the case amongst Christians. But it is amongst earnest-minded Indians who have been baptized by dissenters that difficulties develop. As the spiritual energies of the convert from Hinduism become more pronounced, he often begins to crave for what the religious system in which he finds himself is unable to give. If such souls come into touch with Catholic influences, they often discover that it is the grace of the sacraments which their souls are needing, and there is amongst Indian Christians a fairly steady flow from dissent into the Church.
MISSION WORK IN INDIA
Transfer of responsibility to Indians. Clergy desiring independence. Indian characteristics will remain. Want of tidiness; experiences in an Indian Priest's parish. English stiffness. Indian Suffragan Bishops. The Indian Bishop's Confirmation. Changes of head in a mission. English workers losing sympathy; consequent loss; need for prayer concerning this. The opinion of an old missionary; "too much of the individual, too little of the Holy Spirit."
One of the perplexities of mission work in India is how best to gradually transfer European responsibility and control to the people of the country. Some of the attempts in this direction not having been altogether a success, there have been missionaries who, despairing of any other arrangement, went into the opposite extreme and endeavoured to keep everything in their own hands. Their attitude also towards their native workers, and even towards their brother priests, was not of a nature calculated to draw out loyal and cheerful service.
Amongst Indian clergy there is a widespread desire for greater independence and responsibility, backed up by many of the laity, and unless it can be rightly met in some way, it might easily become a serious danger. If people are ever to learn to run alone, they must be given the opportunity of doing so. If some stumble in the attempt, that is only what must be expected at first. Amongst a few failures, there are other instances in which the experiment of leaving the management of affairs to Indians has been all that could be wished. Indian priests have been put in charge of wide districts which they have shepherded with unwearied labour; and when congregations are apparently backward in the financial support of their church, they will nearly always rise to the occasion manfully and do all that is required, if the management of the church funds is definitely put into their own hands.
It is a mistake to expect to find in the government of affairs by Indians certain characteristics which are essentially English. The Indian Christian remains an Indian, and from some points of view it is best that so it should be. Exactness and order and punctuality are matters which most Englishmen think much of. Most Indians think little of them, and few pay much attention to them. A really neat house or field is rarely to be seen in native India. The sort of neatness and order which an English priest thinks of importance in the church under his care would never be found in the church of even the most conscientious Indian priest. It usually takes a long course of patient training before the Indian representative of the English parish clerk learns how to lay a carpet, or to put kneelers or chairs, straight. And though he learns his lesson at last, and then for ever does it rightly in the prescribed way, he does not himself see any benefit in it. And the crooked carpet and irregular row of chairs, which would disturb the devotions of the lady workers in the mission, would never be noticed by a single member of the Indian congregation.
I once spent a night in the village of a devout and widely-known and highly-respected Indian priest, now gone to his rest. Evensong was held in the open air in front of his house, because of certain insect intruders which had taken possession of the room which, at that time, did duty as a church. Since those days a permanent church has been built. Goats and cattle coming home, and taking short cuts to their quarters, were a little disconcerting to the preacher, inexperienced in interruptions of the kind, but the regular congregation took it as a matter of course.
The next morning I was to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which, of course, had to be in the church, in spite of the intruders. I went at the appointed hour and found the Indian priest just beginning to make preparations. Vestments and altar linen and many other things were mixed up in a box, in complete disorder, and it took him a long time to sort out what was needed, and when at last all was ready, the result would have been heart-breaking to an English sacristan. Service necessarily began long after the proper time, but that created neither surprise nor annoyance. The fact being that defects of the kind are not felt to be such by an Indian congregation, so that they did not in any way diminish the influence for good of this excellent priest.
It is often the very stiffness and rigidity of English methods which hinders their acceptability amongst Indian people. On the other hand, the Indian priest is more patient in dealing with the people's difficulties. Rustics in England relate the history of a quarrel, or sickness, or death at great length. But their tale is brevity itself compared to the Indian's story of a grievance, and he expects to be listened to patiently till he has had his full say. This the Indian priest readily does, and he himself is not wearied by the recital. But the English priest, even before the end of the preface, has probably said that he has no time to listen to all these details, and that they must settle the matter amongst themselves.
The circumstances of the country at its present stage of development, with a certain number of English, mostly official, gathered into cantonments, or scattered here and there in isolated places, and a limited but steadily increasing number of Indian Christians, who are for the most part not in touch with the European element, make an Indian bishop for any of the dioceses as at present constituted out of the question. But there are certain country districts covering a wide area in which the number of Indian Christians is very great. An Indian suffragan bishop might well be given jurisdiction over one of these areas. There are certainly some Indian priests fitted for such a trust. The result would probably be a great growth of spiritual life, and wholesome church organisation, and self-support. The tradition of an Indian bishop for Indians getting established in this way there would eventually, if he acquitted himself well in his limited sphere, be no difficulty about his ministering to English congregations when it was convenient that he should do so.
But it should be observed that the Indian bishop must be allowed to retain his own individuality, and to do his diocesan work in his own Eastern way. Very possibly he will arrive for his Confirmation long after the appointed time, even if he does not send a message at the last moment to say that he will come to-morrow. If, by any misfortune, there should be a European in the expectant congregation, he will say indignantly that this is what comes of appointing Indian bishops. But the Indian congregation will be quite undisturbed. Those who happen to have come punctually will sit about in the church compound, in the sun or shade according to the time of day, and chat happily till the bishop arrives. His lateness would not create the least shade of annoyance. He himself will probably have to wait in his turn for the candidates from a neighbouring village who were vague about the time. But he will do so with the utmost cheerfulness. Except that unpunctuality means waste of time, it will have no other drawback.
When the actual Confirmation takes place after these possible delays, it will be carried out by the Indian bishop with the greatest solemnity. He and the candidates will have the fullest faith in the wondrous Gift bestowed by means of the imposition of the Apostolic hands. His address will be powerful and persuasive, and given with full knowledge of the characteristics of the people of his own country. Everyone will return to their homes happy and thankful, and in telling their tale of the wonders of the day it will not probably occur to anybody to mention that the bishop arrived late.
Now and then mission stations suffer, somewhat in the same way as a parish here and there in England does, from the change of policy brought about by a change of head. It is in practical, rather than in religious matters, that a new head is sometimes the cause of unrest. Missions being at present chiefly worked by societies which have their own theological bias, the new-comer is generally of the same way of thinking as his predecessor. But anyone coming to India for the first time, in spite of everything being new and strange, is apt to think that he sees his way clearly, and that the work has got into a rut and that a general upheaval is necessary. The tendency of the Indian is to be conservative of established traditions. He does not say much, but he has his own way of showing the new head that he does not approve of his changes. Some resign office, of others it is decided that they have been too long at their posts, and the result is that a certain number of old and faithful workers cut themselves, or are themselves cut adrift. The new head ultimately establishes his position, and many of his changes are probably improvements, but this has been accomplished at considerable sacrifice. Missions worked by communities are not wholly free from the same defect, though they suffer less than others.
English workers do not always retain the spirit of sympathy and graciousness with which they began their ministry in India. The defects of the Indian character are particularly galling to some Englishmen. The sort of faults which the average Englishman is least willing to condone are unpunctuality, untidiness, promises not kept, inexact answers and false excuses, forgetfulness of favours received but fresh favours asked for, slovenly work, laziness, and obstinacy. When the missionary first meets his flock he sees pleasant and courteous manners, and readiness to please and to obey, a certain aptitude and handiness in work, a real spirit of devotion, and many such-like qualities. The dark skin, the picturesque dress or absence of dress, the bare feet and light graceful walk, all these things appeal to the new-comer.
As time goes on he has to deal with the realities of things. Difficulties, failures, disappointments have to be faced. A reaction sets in. He thinks that the people need a firmer hand, that they have been dealt with too lightly. He no longer keeps the good side uppermost, and begins to see only the defects. He gets the mission possibly into good external order, but much of the grace and beauty of his ministry goes out in the process, and there will be no attractive force at work to draw in the heathen. The worker in India needs to pray constantly that the spirit of love and sympathy, and the yearning to help souls with which he began, may never be allowed to grow less; that he may retain his spirit of buoyancy; that he may keep hopeful and expectant; and that while firm and strong with the people who need his support, he may only love them the more when he has learnt really to understand and know them.
A missionary in India of long and wide experience wrote that he had often pondered as to the reason why the Church in that land has never become a real indigenous plant. He went on to say—"Even if we were to put aside the tradition of St Thomas having preached here, we know that, at any rate from the eighth century onwards, with only a few intermissions, there has been Christian effort at work in the country." The conclusion that he came to was that "there has been too much of the individual and too little of the Holy Spirit. St Francis Xavier baptized thousands of children, and then went his way. The Church has always depended on foreign aid, and when left to itself has either died away or kept itself alive by maintaining a sort of Christian caste. The Eastern people are, to a certain extent, pliant and easily led. The somewhat masterful foreign missionary had bent the people to his will and his ways. The house has been built square and solid, and finished in appearance. But it is a building, not a plant. It has not within it the power of life and growth. There has been more building than sowing. It depends on the force of the individual, and but little room is left for the power of the Holy Spirit to make it really fruitful."
Women singing as they grind. Singing to the bullocks. Singing on the road. The rest-house. Soldiers singing. Palanquin bearers. Indian taste in music. Indian musical instruments. The native band. The "Europe" band. Sir G. Clarke on Indian music. Evil associations of native tunes. Indian choir-boys.
One of the commonest sounds in India is that of women grinding at the mill. You not only hear the grating of the revolving stone, but since it is a hard and monotonous task, the toilers almost invariably enliven it by singing. They do so rather melodiously, and it sounds pleasant in the distance. Their songs are to a large extent made up on the spur of the moment, and form a sort of running comment on what they are doing, or on what is going on around them.
This custom of singing in order to relieve the monotony of labour is universal in certain departments, and even the beasts get to look upon it as a stimulus to work. When drawing water from the wells, the man in charge of the operation invariably encourages the bullocks with a cheery sing-song, at the critical moment when they are raising the heavy leather pouch of water from the well, and if he was to remain silent, the Indian bullock, who is a strong conservative, would certainly refuse to start. When they travel round and round, working the mill which squeezes the juice out of the sugar cane, or, in the same fashion, causing the great stone wheel to revolve which grinds the mortar, their master alternately whips them and sings to them. I once listened to the song which the man sung when they were making mortar. It was something like this—"Oh bullocks! what a work you are doing. Going round and round making mortar for the masons. Oh bullocks! go faster, go faster! The masons will cry out, oh bullocks, for more mortar—more mortar. So, go faster, go faster," etc., etc.
On bright moonlight nights large parties of men and women come trotting briskly along the Yerandawana road, bearing baskets of fruit on their heads for the Poona market. Indians nearly always go at a trot if they have an unusually heavy burden to carry far, and it appears to make their task easier. I do not know whether other nations have the same custom. There are many reasons why travelling by night is preferable. The air is cool and pleasant, there is no scorching sun to injure the fruit, and it gets into market in good time before the rush of business commences. A charitable Hindu has built a rest-house for the benefit of travellers, just opposite the gateway of the village mission. Such rest-houses are to be found all over India. They are only what we in England would call a shed, but they provide as much shelter as the climate demands, and they are a great boon to the many who travel the roads on business or pleasure. The Yerandawana rest-house is often thronged with people, because it is so near Poona that they can get some hours sleep, and yet get into market early. But the travellers, who go swiftly along the road with their burden of fruit, often sing delightfully in chorus for the greater part of the way, so that what is really a task of great toil seems almost transformed into a cheerful excursion.
Indian soldiers on the march are sometimes allowed to sing as they go, or occasionally to whistle, which has a delightful effect. Some years back, when visitors could only reach certain hill-stations by being carried in a palanquin, unless they were sturdy climbers, because the steep paths were not practicable for wheels, the team of six or eight coolies who acted as bearers, turn and turn about, sung a good deal, especially in the more difficult parts of the journey. They did not realise that the Sahib they were carrying sometimes understood the vernacular, and was able to appreciate their poetical comments on his weight, or their musical speculations as to what sort of tip he was likely to give them at the end of the journey.
People sometimes ask whether Indians are musical. It is difficult to say. Indian taste in music is certainly peculiar, and perhaps deserves greater study than it has yet secured. But it would lead the casual listener to suppose that music amongst them is still in the elementary stage, corresponding somewhat to the scales and time exercises of the beginner. At the Inamdar's afternoon party, the musical performance given by the two Mohammedans (p. 80) was probably a fair sample of what would be considered refined music. One of the performers had a kind of guitar with a large body, made out of a gourd with a section sliced off and then faced with wood, and with a very long stem. The whole instrument, with all its fittings, was exquisitely made.
The other man had a large and peculiar instrument, called a bin, in which the long keyboard is supported at each end with a big gourd. There dried gourds are largely in request for musical purposes. The bin was also artistically finished, and adorned with brasswork and inlaid woods. It had five or six strings. The performer played on it with his fingers after the manner of a guitar, one of the gourds resting on his shoulder. These instruments being so attractive in appearance, and apparently large and powerful, and the two Mohammedans setting to work with great solemnity, and a commendable hush coming over the assembled company, I expected a musical treat. The performers began by tuning up with great care; but the tuning continued so long that I began to wonder how soon the real music would begin. Just then the musicians ceased, and I found that the apparent tuning was the actual performance and that it was all over. The audience appeared to be pleased with what they heard.
For the more popular kind of music you must go to the native band, which is the universal adjunct to every sort of entertainment, great or small. The members of the band are unwearied in their exertions on small drums and shrill pipes. The tune, which never seems to vary whatever the occasion, consists of almost as few notes as the song of an Indian bird, and it is played over and over again and no one grows weary of it. Even the performers play it for the thousandth time with almost as much enthusiasm as when they first began. When they have played far into the night, and fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, they wake up in the morning to begin again.
Though native instruments and the method of playing them does not usually appeal to the English ear, except for condemnation, it must also be said that Indians in general assert that they do not recognise any particular beauty in English melodies; and the wealth of sound of a full band, performing the composition of some great master, only suggests to the Eastern mind a confused medley of meaningless noise. At the weddings of wealthy men who wish to make a special display, there sometimes appears what they call a "Europe" band, which consists of Indian performers, dressed in cast-off uniforms and with Western instruments, on which they play what are meant to be English popular airs. But there is usually the old-fashioned band also in attendance, and there is no question as to which band the guests really cared to listen.
The truth appears to lie in the fact that the two nations are looking for different effects in music. Europeans value the melody, and the harmony which enriches it. Easterns care little for the melody, dislike the harmony, but think everything of the time. It is the unvaried repetition of the same meagre tune, repeated over and over again with apparently wearisome monotony, which is the attractive feature. And the amount of pleasure to be found in listening to any musical exercise is proportionate to the skill of the performer in beating out his even measure on drum, or pipe, with unwearied pertinacity.
Sir George Clarke, Governor of Bombay, at a meeting of an Indian Choral Society in Poona, in August 1911, in sketching the diverse developments of Eastern and Western music, suggested that the tones of the instruments in vogue had affected the art of singing, and that the falsetto style, common amongst Indians, is in imitation of the shrillness of their reed instruments, while the fuller voice, cultivated in Europe, follows the development of the ampler harmonies of Western instruments. Each style of music represents a cultivation of certain qualities with a neglect of others. The ultimate result of intelligent study should be the combination of the great qualities of both into a richer music than either East or West has known hitherto. Sir George Clarke went on to say that, before Indian music could develop or become widely known, it must be reduced to some intelligible method of writing. Progress in this direction seems rather slow at present, and Indian music is really in the position of an illiterate struggling against a highly educated competitor.
Some attempt has been made to adapt Indian tunes to the translations of English hymns, but without signal success. Also, Indian Christian converts do not encourage the attempt. They say that the few popular native tunes are so suggestive of the indecent songs to which they are generally sung, that it is impossible to use them safely. English popular melodies which some people, especially dissenters, have adapted for religious use have no associations of this kind. The only doubtful point in their adaptation is the risk of introducing an element of comedy.
Christian Indians get to like the tunes usually associated with the English hymns which have been translated into their vernacular, and they sing them with spirit. Indian choir-boys often give sufficient promise to indicate that, if they could be given the skilled training which is generally lacking, they would not fall behind their English brothers in sweetness of voice and delicacy of expression.
Stones for grinding grain. Exclusively women's work. Elaborate inspection of the grain. Food a matter of much interest. The meals of a Hindu. Difference between Indian and English custom. Even beggars fastidious. Refinement of native dishes. What the daily bread is like. Hindu caution after the bath.
In the last chapter we spoke of the women singing when they are grinding at the mill. The grinding-stones of their handmills are of various sizes. The smaller ones are rather more than a foot in diameter, and can be worked by one person. The lower millstone is let into the ground. The upper one has an upright wooden handle stuck into it near the edge. The grinder sits on the ground close to the stones, and grasping the handle causes the upper stone to revolve vigorously. The larger stones have two handles, and then two women work together. They often go on grinding for some hours, generally beginning in the early morning while it is still cool. By preference they only grind what is required for the day's use, because the freshly-ground flour is thought to make the best bread. But in the case of schools, or the large composite families of prosperous Hindus, a large quantity of flour is needed daily.
The custom of grinding the grain at home is almost universal, because of the adulteration of flour sold ready ground. There are numbers of working women whose sole occupation is that of grinding at various people's houses, and though it is hard work, they earn in return what is to them a pretty good living. It is curious that men apparently never lend a hand in this department, even if the wife is poor and sickly, and sorely in need of help. It appears to be regarded as such an absolutely feminine employment, that a man would be disgraced if he put his hand to the mill at all. Even Christians have not quite succeeded in shaking off this idea.
Careful housewives go over all the grain minutely before it is ground, so as to make quite sure that no bit of husk, or defective grain, finds its way into the mill. This is a long and troublesome process. Watching a Christian woman engaged in this occupation, I said something to her husband with reference to its being rather a toil. "I always have the grain prepared in this way," he said cheerfully. "Do you never help your wife?" I asked. "No," he smilingly answered, "but our little girl does."
Ever since the earth began to be inhabited by man and woman, food has been a delicate subject to deal with, and probably the larger number of domestic quarrels find their origin in this department of the household. In India, certainly, food is a subject of prominent importance in the minds of the people of the country. Well-to-do Hindus find their chief interest and pleasure in the two big meals of the day. Very few practise any real asceticism concerning food. An orthodox Hindu does not break his fast until he has taken his bath and worshipped his household gods, so that he is habitually fasting till nearly noon. But those who have been always accustomed to this say that it causes them no inconvenience. It must also be remembered that their evening meal is nearly always very late. If guests are expected, and the preparations more elaborate than usual in consequence, the meal may be delayed till ten o'clock or later.
But at these two principal meals the Indian, if he can afford it, eats a large quantity. It is not merely that his appetite should be satisfied, but if the meal is to be regarded as a satisfactory one there must be the physical sensation of repletion, and the diner does not need to eat again for several hours. Nevertheless he nibbles odds and ends of spices and fruits and sweets a good deal in the course of the day. The custom of early tea, with some accompaniment, has become general with Indians who have got a little familiar with English ways.
Easterns are astonished at the frequency of English meals, under the idea apparently that we eat to repletion three or four times a day, instead of only twice as they do. The breakfast bell rang when two or three young Indian students were talking in the verandah, and they asked if they might come and see our table spread for the meal. We gladly assented, and explained the use and nature of the things set upon it. Fortunately it was not a beef day, and they seemed relieved to find that there was nothing terrible on view. But they expressed great surprise at what appeared to them the small amount of food provided, and we were able to point out the difference between English and Indian customs in this respect, and that though our number of meals daily is greater, we eat less than they do on each occasion.
A very large number of Indians, both Christian and heathen, live on poor fare and go to bed hungry. This is from necessity, not from choice. The poorest man is particular in his degree as to what he eats, more especially as to the manner in which his food has been prepared. Even the beggar off the road will unblushingly and loudly grumble if the fare at a feast to which he has been invited by some wealthy man is not exactly to his mind. The children of mission schools, many of whom have come out of lives of real privation, are sometimes very critical about their meals, and more especially as to how it has been cooked, and they will leave a good supper uneaten and go hungry to bed because of some trifling defect in the manner of its preparation.
Most Indian women have been taught how to cook from early childhood, and many of them are experts and take much pleasure in their art. Some of the native dishes take a great deal of care and toil to prepare, and except that their tendency is to be rather too pungent for the English palate, a really first-class Indian dinner is refined in appearance; and in the variety of dishes, provided there are always certain things which can be eaten with pleasure. The varied objects which make up the meal are neatly grouped before each guest, and they are meant to be taken in a certain order, so that the palate will be constantly renovated for the next dish which it is to taste.
Even the ordinary daily bread, in the form in which Indians like to eat it, gives a great deal of trouble to those who have to get it ready. Not only is there the grinding of the flour to be done, but it has next to be made up into thin flat cakes which look something like pancakes, which are then lightly baked on a hot plate, and are eaten at once by preference while hot. The preparation and baking of these means that the women of the household have been busy in the kitchen from an early hour, especially in Christian schools, where the children's day begins earlier than in most Hindu households. Hindu schools and colleges commence work very late in the day, because of the necessity of getting the bathing and feeding over first.
Even the most orthodox Hindus have now no scruples about touching Christians, except after they have taken their bath, but previous to their meal. Having occasion to consult a Brahmin pleader rather frequently concerning the purchase of some land, he always made a point of shaking hands rather effusively, with an eye to business. But I called one morning when he had just emerged from his bath, and he was then careful to keep at a safe distance, because contact would have involved the necessity of bathing again before he took his food, in order to get rid of the ceremonial pollution.
The barrenness of Hinduism. The Golden Threshold; its authoress—her poetry; the four kinds of religion; her motherly instincts; her letters; her father; her search for beauty; her portrait. Rarity of happy Hindu faces. The picture of "Jerome."
People sometimes say, when asking about Hinduism, "Surely if the idolatry, and folly, and indecency, which we know exists in the religion as it now is could be cleared away, we should find remaining some deep philosophic thoughts and mystical poetical fancies which we might admire?"
The reply to this question is that, if Hinduism was subjected to this purging process, what would be left would be practically nothing at all. This can be strikingly illustrated in the following way.
An Indian lady, Mrs Sarojini Naidu, has published a little volume of poems called The Golden Threshold. There is an introduction to the book by Mr Arthur Symons, giving a few particulars of the life of the authoress. She is apparently a thoroughgoing Hindu, although one of sufficient independence of character to marry another Hindu who was not a Brahmin like herself, and on that account meeting with obloquy from her own people. She is evidently a highly cultivated lady, knowing English perfectly. But though she has lived in England, and travelled much, there is nothing to indicate that she has been touched in any way by Christianity. She has had, therefore, only Hinduism from which to get poetic thoughts connected with religion. She is evidently a true poet, and if there had been anything in the religion capable of suggesting poetic ideas she would have certainly found it. She has undoubtedly a mind of great refinement, so that all that is otherwise in connection with Hinduism has to be eliminated from the field in which she could gather poetic thought. What, then, is the result? While there is a distinct charm in the rhythm of her verses, their utter emptiness makes them of no real value. The only poem, curiously enough, in which a deeper note is struck is when she describes the four kinds of religion which flourish under the kindly rule of H.H. the Nizam of Hyderabad: the Mohammedan, the Hindu, the Parsee, and the Christian. The verse is as follows:—
"The votaries of the Prophet's faith, Of whom you are the crown and chief; And they who bear on Vedic brows Their mystic symbols of belief; And they who worshipping the sun, Fled o'er the old Iranian sea; And they who bow to Him who trod The midnight waves of Galilee."
Each religion is happily touched with a delicate hand. To get a suitable idea concerning each into a couple of lines of real poetry shows a gifted mind, and the two last lines are specially happy. (The capital letter in the pronoun is so printed in the book.) Her mind coming thus into brief contact with higher and truer things, she rises in the concluding verse to a kind of benediction on this beneficent Mohammedan ruler, which almost approaches the nature of a prayer:—
"God give you joy, God give you grace, To shield the truth and smite the wrong, To honour Virtue, Valour, Worth, To cherish faith and foster song. Your name within a nation's prayer, Your music on a nation's tongue."
The only other poem which rises above the mere commonplace is that in which Queen Gulnaar expresses the unsatisfied condition of her heart because she has no rival to her beauty, and with none to envy, life has no savour. Although seven beautiful brides are sent for and brought before her, she remains without a rival. Finally, with delight, she finds what she sought for in her own little two-year-old daughter. But it was not her religion which supplied the poetess with this pretty fancy. It arose out of her own motherly instincts, which amongst Easterns are charmingly dominant.
There are in the Introduction some extracts from Mrs Naidu's letters which show that if there was anyone who might have been expected to discover anything beautiful in Hinduism, or suggestive of true philosophy, or capable of being idealised in any way, she was the person who would have done so. She says herself: "My ancestors for thousands of years have been lovers of the forest and mountain caves, great dreamers, great scholars, great ascetics. My father is a dreamer himself, a great dreamer.... I suppose in the whole of India there are few men whose learning is greater than his.... He holds huge courts every day in his garden, of the learned men of all religions. Rajahs and beggars and saints, and downright villains all delightfully mixed up. And then his alchemy!... But this alchemy is only the material counterpart of a poet's craving for beauty, the eternal beauty.... What in my father is the genius of curiosity, is in me the desire for beauty."
She is described as being the embodiment of the wisdom of the East, her intellectual development such as to make her a wise counsellor, combined with "passionate tranquillity of mind."
Yet with this long ancestry of dreamers, and her own intellectual capacity, and her poetic craving to find beauty, which even Nature did not satisfy (because what is Nature without Nature's God?), she obviously finds Hinduism completely barren of what she was yearning for, and apparently not having searched for it anywhere else except in Nature, she never comes at it at all. She appears to have been struck by something in the faces of the monks that she saw in Italy, and she "at one moment longs to attain to their peace by renunciation." But as the secret of their peace was not known to her, it only makes her long for Nirvana, or final nothingness.
Her portrait at the beginning of the book represents a touching type of face which one meets with not unfrequently in India. The expression is dull and lifeless. There is none of the light which shines out of the face of a Christian Indian. But there is at the same time an expression of wistful longing for that hidden treasure which Hinduism could not give her, even when purged of its defilements. The result of which is, that her poetic mind has had to waste itself upon such themes as nightfall at Hyderabad, or the alabaster box in which she treasures her spices, or the bride weeping because her lord is dead.
It is no exaggeration to say that a really happy-looking Hindu is a rare sight, even when on pleasure bent. Childhood in the Hindu world has its flashes of fun, but except in the passing excitement of some romping game, the faces of the children are usually as dull as those of their elders. Two Hindu boys were looking at the picture in the story-book of "Jerome, the Brahmin boy," in which the photographs taken on his first arrival is reproduced, showing his Hindu pigtail, and the paint marks on his forehead, and his sacred thread. Contrasted with this is the photograph taken soon after his baptism. I do not suppose that the boys understood the full significance of the pictures, and this made the comment of one of them the more valuable. "There is a great difference," he said, "between these two pictures. In the first the boy has a very bad face. But in the other picture it is very good." An English boy, writing in a letter on the subject of the same picture, says of Jerome as a Christian, "He looks twice as happy as when he was a heathen."
HINDUS AND RELIGION
Irreverence in Hindu temples. Robbing the god. Burial of gods. Justice in native states. Giving the title of "god" to people. The god's relations. Hindu conception of god; of prayer. Nominal Hindus. The old army pensioner. The "thread" ceremony.
Whatever the Hindu conception of a god may be, their behaviour in their temples shows that it is something entirely different to the ideas which a Christian associates with the name of God. The greatest irreverence, from our point of view of what irreverence means, is continually going on in a Hindu temple in the presence of the idol, to which homage is done as to a god, and which is the object of a good deal of ceremonial attention from the person whose business it is to pay it. Talking loudly, and laughing and joking, children romping about; all this is evidently not felt to be out of place in the temple, because it goes on habitually, and apparently unrebuked. Card-playing is constantly carried on in those larger temples in which there is a space in front of the idol, and evidently nobody objects. Indians are great card-players, and they play with a persistency and absorbed interest such as the most inveterate bridge-player could scarcely emulate. They often play for the greater part of the day and half the night, and generally for stakes of some sort, however small.
Nor does even robbing the god involve the idea that the god has power to take revenge, because some of the village boys have told me, as a huge joke, of their exploits in robbing their idol of the offerings made to it. People bring small gifts of money, or fruit, or sweetmeats, and deposit them near the idol. These are the recognised perquisites of the custodian of the temple. But in the case of a village temple this official is often also engaged in secular business, so that the boys watch their opportunity and, in his absence, appropriate the offering before he returns.
Apparently burial in a river is a seemly way of disposing of a god. A man was anxious to sell us a plot of land in a certain village, but there was on it a very primitive temple, fenced in with a few sticks and stones. Within this enclosure were several shapeless stone gods, painted with vermilion. We said that if we bought the site the temple would have to be removed first. The man replied that there would be no difficulty about that, because the gods could be buried in the river. The god is then supposed to leave the stone and pass out into the sacred stream. The mud figures of the god Gunpatti, which people annually enshrine in their houses for ten days, are then taken in procession to the river and placed in the water, where, of course, they quickly dissolve.
That even the word God has for Hindus an entirely different significance to that which it has for us, indicates how hopelessly misleading our theological expressions may be in the mouths of English-speaking Hindus. A small party of Hindus called at the Mission bungalow to make a request on behalf of a friend who lived in one of the native states. They affirmed that it was an impossibility to get justice in a law-court in one of these states, except through the intervention of the British Resident. They therefore asked me for a letter of introduction to this official, with a request that justice might be done them. The fact that I did not know the Resident, or the applicant, or any of the facts of the case did not appear to them to be an obstacle to my granting them their petition.
So hoping to attain their end by ingratiating themselves with me, they began by adopting the methods which presumably are found to be efficacious amongst Easterns. After profound salaams on all sides, they refused to sit on the chairs which I offered them, but chose humbler seats instead as a tribute to my own greatness. Flattery was the next process, and after descanting on my accomplishments the chief spokesman finished up by saying, "In fact I may say you are god." When I pointed out the monstrosity of Hindu teaching which could possibly allow the word to be applied to any human being, the Hindu explained that anyone whom you hold in estimation may be called god.
Looking at the large framed photograph of the Indian editor, Mr Tilak, who was deported out of the country for several years on account of the seditious nature of his newspaper, the owner of the photograph said to me, "He is a very good man; in fact he is our god."
A young student sat talking till dusk began to fall. The interval between light and darkness is brief in tropical India. The student got up and said he must hasten home. I asked him if he was afraid of the dark. He said, "No, my god takes care of me." I asked him which of his many gods would do this. He said, "Very likely Mahadeva." I asked him where all the millions of gods lived. He said, "In heaven." I asked if they all got on happily together. He said, "Of course." But then he added, "There is only one real god; the others may, as it were, be regarded as his relations"—which was a novel explanation of Hindu mythology.
Though the ordinary Hindu conception of the characteristics of a god does not include holiness, the sort of characteristic which may be looked for can be illustrated by a question which an intelligent Hindu lad asked me when I was showing him the church. "And what battles did your Christ fight?" said the boy. His visit to the church was apparently his first contact with Christianity, and he listened with respectful attention as I told him of the Son of God coming as the Prince of Peace.
Asking an intelligent Brahmin convert what is the Hindu conception of prayer, he replied that with them its object is entirely a selfish one. A Hindu prays for his own worldly prosperity—that his crops may be good, that his business may succeed, that his children may marry well and become rich. Asking the same informant whether Hindus pray for others, he laughed and said, "No, never; except for the members of their own family."
The number of Hindus who are only nominal adherents is probably much greater than is generally supposed, because many of them still retain the outward marks of a religion in which they have ceased to believe. Most of these have not become atheists, but they are feeling after a true God, and those who are in earnest in their search come as near to Him as their imperfect knowledge allows.
An old Brahmin came into the verandah of the Mission bungalow, and sitting down, said very seriously, "Now tell me about your Christ." He was an army pensioner with two medals. He was seventy-five years of age, which is considered very old for an Indian. His only knowledge of Christianity had been gathered up in a vague way from the few Christians he had rubbed up against in the course of military wanderings, including a few missionaries. Yet even the amount of contact had been a help to him. Hindus sometimes are drawn towards Christianity by contact with even rather nominal Christians.
I asked the old Brahmin if he ever went to the village temple. "There is no temple," he replied rather fiercely. On my assurance that he was mistaken, he said: "Then if there is one, I have never seen it. I go to no temple. I pray to God in heaven." "The one God," he added with emphasis. Yet he had the usual red paint marks neatly inscribed on his forehead, and his Brahmin's thread, like a long skein of cotton, was worn sash-like next his skin, but just peeping out a little at the neck for the people to see. Anyone meeting him would have taken him for a most uncompromising and orthodox Hindu.
[Footnote 1: His portrait is to be found opposite p. 23, in Thirty-Four Years in Poona City.]
After I had explained to another Brahmin the meaning of baptism, and that no one is a Christian until he is baptized, the Brahmin said: "Baptism seems very similar to our thread ceremony. Till a boy has received his thread he is not permitted to read the sacred scriptures or to take part in religious functions. He may be the son of Hindu parents, but he does not become a real Hindu until he has been invested with the thread."
I asked what then was the condition of those castes who are not entitled to wear the thread. He said that there was no ceremony of initiation for them, and so that they remained outside. I replied that, if this was so, it was very hard that the large majority of Indians should be left out in the cold. He agreed, and said that this undoubtedly was one of the weak points in their religion.
RELIGIOUS PHASES IN INDIA
Hindus and Roman Catholicism. Parsees and Christianity. Their works of charity. Persian visitors. Religious controversy. Mr Hole's pictures. Hindu family quarrels. Indian repartee. Appreciation of the dignity of labour.
English-speaking Hindus, who are often eager to talk about religious matters, are inclined to take up the cudgels in favour of Protestantism, as compared with Roman Catholicism. But meeting an intelligent Brahmin in a train in the Mysore State, he did just the reverse, showing an unusual knowledge of ecclesiastical affairs. "Do you know how the Pope is elected?" he asked of an old engine-driver who happened to be a fellow-traveller, who seemed rather embarrassed by such an unlooked-for question from such a source. "It is the most extraordinary thing on earth," the Brahmin went on to say, and he proceeded to describe pretty accurately the process of election.
"Now if the Pope was to come to St Paul's Cathedral, would your Archbishop of Canterbury receive him with due respect as the greatest dignitary on earth?" asked the Brahmin.
I said that the circumstances were not very likely to occur, but that if they did, I had no doubt the Pope would be received with the respect due to his office.
"And if your Archbishop went to Italy, would he stay with the Pope?" said the Brahmin.
I replied that I did not think it likely that he would get an invitation, but that if he did, he would probably accept it. The Brahmin at times made use of semi-profane expressions when talking English. "Good Lord! what a crowd," he said, putting his head into the window of a carriage when we were changing at a junction. But in spite of his knowledge of ecclesiastical affairs, he called on the Hindu god Rama when settling down for the night.
Meeting a Parsee, who having been educated at a Roman Catholic school knew something of Christianity, I asked him how it was that this knowledge had borne no practical fruit. His reply was that when in Christian colleges attendance at a religious class is compulsory, it makes the heathen boys hate Christianity.
Very few Parsees have become Christians. I asked another Parsee the cause of this. He said that their religion was so pure that they did not need to seek a better, and that they only looked upon light as a symbol of God. But when the electric light was turned on in the railway carriage where we were sitting, another old Parsee, looking up at it, put his hands together and touched his forehead, after the manner of a Hindu saluting an idol.
The real secret of their want of interest in Christianity probably lies in the fact that they are the successful business people of India, and their minds being much engrossed in worldly affairs there is little room left for religious thought. Some of the richest people in India are to be found amongst them. You seldom see a poor-looking Parsee, partly perhaps because they have the reputation of being very charitable towards their own people, and so they will not suffer one of their number to feel the pinch of real poverty. They are also lavish in their gifts for public purposes, although their act would have more grace if the name of the donor was less prominent.
One day two Persian ladies came to see the village church, with an English lady as their companion. The latter said that one of the Persians was a big personage, and did not wish her name to be known. They had noticed the boys playing about as they were passing by, and, attracted by their faces, came in. On entering the church, the chief Persian lady seeing the embroidered picture of the Crucifixion, genuflected, and sending a little boy of hers to put some money on the altar, she told him to kiss it and return. On leaving, she asked that two candles should be burnt for her on the altar the next Sunday.
The effect that the church has upon visitors has been described already, and how the din of controversy dies down within its walls. In discussing theology with people of an entirely different religion to one's own, it is almost inevitable that the conversation should gradually become controversial; and when it reaches that stage, all power for good in the intercourse is at an end. The proximity of the church can then be turned to good account. "Would you like to see the church?" is a question which nearly always draws out a ready assent, and the pending risk is averted.
Many of Mr Hole's beautiful pictures illustrating the Life of our Lord are framed and hanging round the walls of the church, something after the fashion of the Stations of the Cross. In a church which Hindus often frequent the Stations are not suitable, not merely because they only represent the suffering side of our Lord's life, but because they leave Him dead and buried. A selection from Mr Hole's pictures, from the Annunciation to the Ascension, enables us to take a Hindu round the church and tell him our Lord's life delightfully in picture story. The best testimonial to the fidelity and correctness of detail in these pictures is that they commend themselves entirely to the Eastern mind. Even quite young Indian boys will turn away from large and gay cartoons supposed to illustrate correctly some Scripture subject, and will eagerly study its smaller and more sober counterpart, often pointing out with much discrimination wherein the large cartoon errs, and the particular points in which the smaller painting excels.
A young Hindu, who began by being very controversial, after visiting the church and expressing extreme pleasure at what he saw there, finished up by saying as he went away: "You Christians believe in your religion. We Hindus don't believe in ours, and so we are all divided up."
I asked one of our visitors what work he was doing. He said that as he had not been able to qualify for Government service, he was not doing any work. It transpired that he possessed some land, and I asked why he did not occupy himself usefully by cultivating it. He replied that he had quarrelled with all his relations, and so there was no one to help him in its cultivation. As he was married, I said that in the north of England a farmer and his wife were quite capable of cultivating a small plot like his, without relations at their elbow. He said that in India this would be impossible.
As it appeared that he had not been on good terms with his relations for some years, I said that Hindus were habitually quarrelling and refusing to forgive, but that a true religion would teach the sin of remaining for long periods at enmity with others. He answered that this was one of the weak spots in their religion; that India needed reform in its methods of trade and other matters; that when it had been reformed its religion would improve.
I replied that that was beginning at the wrong end, and that before an effectual reform of morals could take place there must be the foundation of a true religion.
"Then is Hinduism not the true religion?" he asked.
On my replying in the negative, he said: "If I had time I would prove to you that it is, only unfortunately my brother will be home presently and I must go to meet him." And he went away.
Indians, nowadays, are rather inclined to back out when it comes to solid argument, but they are often clever in rapid repartee and in scoring a point quickly. A Hindu boy having been rude and troublesome, I said that he must not come again for pictures for three months, and that if he came I should not give him any. "Not if I come on the King's Coronation Day?" (which was close at hand) he asked promptly. And I was obliged to smile and say that if he came on that day it would be all right.
Indians are beginning to understand something of what is meant by the dignity of labour, although they are slow in making personal application of the lesson. I was pointing out to a middle-aged visitor the Boys' Home in the distance, on the other side of the compound. Looking across, he caught sight of one of the Sisters carrying a pail of water for the garden. "Why, the Sister is working!" he said with eager astonishment and approval. "That is what we need to learn to do in India, instead of sitting about talking or sleeping."
GAMES IN INDIA
Cricket and football. Use of English cricket terms. Each game has its season. Marbles. The Indian method. Spinning-tops. Splitting your opponent's top. Kite-flying. Battles in the air. Final result. Itte-dhandu; how played. The Indian "Tom Tiddler's ground."
Indian children are fond of games, and many Indians, until quite advanced in life, continue to play games of a nature which are usually associated with childhood. Cricket has become widely popular in all the larger schools and colleges, and football also, but to a less degree. Christian boys of all ages play these two games everywhere with great zest, and the Hindu boys in their neighbourhood, stimulated by the sight, follow their example to some extent. But they are hindered by the scarcity of the necessary apparatus, which costs more than most Indian boys can possibly afford. If schools and colleges in England would systematically send their cast-off gear for games, carriage paid, to foreign missions they would do a good work in helping to keep young lives in wholesome and happy occupation. Even an old tennis ball is received as a real treasure by an Indian boy, and any number of balls would be gratefully welcomed by every mission.
In playing cricket it is almost a matter of necessity that the English expressions connected with the game should be used, even by those who know no other English. Out in a village, where English is never spoken, it sounds curious suddenly to hear from the cricket field, "How's that?" pronounced sharply and clearly; and then the prompt and equally incisive reply, "Not out." Wonderful to say, the decisions of the umpires are accepted with tolerable readiness, except when they are flagrantly contrary to fact, as they sometimes are. A few of the politically disaffected students have tried to boycott the game as a foreign importation, but they have not met with much success.
There is a proper season for all the purely Indian games, and to play any of them out of season is almost as great an enormity as to shoot a partridge in England before the 1st of September. If you ask an Indian boy if he has been playing a certain game, and if it happens not to be in season, he will look at you with an air of pained surprise, and briefly saying "No," he will change the subject.
Indians of almost any age play marbles, and there are many divers ways of doing this, the rules of which are clearly established by an unwritten tradition and are strictly adhered to. If a disputed point arises when a company of boys are playing, an appeal to a senior bystander is always conclusive. Games between experts are watched with interest by quite a number of lookers-on, of every age. The Indian method of shooting a marble is to use the middle finger of the right hand as a sort of catapult. The marble is held with the left hand against this finger, and bending it back, it is suddenly let go. The effect of this is to volley the marble with great force and accuracy. The English boy's method is tame by comparison. The prevailing gambling instinct finds scope in this game, because the marbles are generally kept by the winners, and experts amass great stores. Some schoolboys, with a money-lender's disposition, make a fortune by selling marbles cheap to small and inexperienced boys and then promptly winning them back again.
Spinning tops is an amusement of which the Indian boy never grows weary, and he only leaves off regretfully because its season comes to an end. If he has nothing else to do he will be happy spinning his top, on and off, from morning until nightfall, and naturally grows skilful in the art, although, if he has no companion, it does not admit of much variety. His chief exploit is to scoop up the top while it is still spinning, on to the palm or back of his hand, or on to his arm. But there are exciting contests, when one boy endeavours to spin his top with all his force on to the revolving top of an opponent, because if successfully accomplished the defeated top splits. A scarred veteran sometimes becomes quite an honoured hero from the number of its victims.
Some of the tops are of the roughest description, made by the village carpenter. More finished ones can be bought in the native bazaar for a farthing. But often a hopelessly disreputable-looking top, with an old nail for its spike, has a better record for deeds done than a more showy one bought in a shop. Those that are spun with the view of splitting their opponent often have, instead of a spike, a flattened bit of iron like a little chisel, which the boys sharpen on a stone, and with these they do great execution. Sometimes somebody's foot is seriously wounded in case of a miss-fire. Now and then, for a change, a boy will play with a whip-top.
Kite-flying amongst Indians is an exciting sport, quite different to the tame amusement of merely seeing how high a kite will go. The Indian kites are nearly always quite small, made of thin coloured paper pasted on to a frame of very slender wooden splints. The better kites are made of paper of several different colours tastefully combined, and often decorated with gold. Strong thread is used, of which the enthusiastic flyer has a large store on a wooden roller, which he intrusts to some small confederate who pays it out or takes it in as required, and is proud to be allowed to have this share in the sport.
But the real purpose of Indian kite-flying is to do battle with somebody else's kite up in the air. You have to try and so manoeuvre your kite that its thread crosses that of your opponent, who may be stationed quite a long way off and out of sight. He on his part will try and avoid you and get the upper hand himself. In the hands of expert flyers the contest is most exciting. Crowds will gather and watch the result with intense interest. The kites dodge, and rush upwards, and dive downwards, as if they were alive, and the fight often goes on for a long time. The thread is doctored with glass which has been pounded into fine dust and mixed with gum. This gives the thread great cutting capacity, so that if it fairly crosses that of its opponent, by a dexterous sawing movement the thread is cut, and the liberated kite sails away on its own account.
Then follows intense excitement amongst the crowds of onlookers far and near. The kite, without the support of its line, soon begins to flutter downwards. It is an established tradition that it becomes the property of the person into whose hands it falls. The original owner is rarely able to get near enough to secure it. Its zigzag course makes it problematical where it will fall. Generally those who think they are going to get it are disappointed by a final flutter, which takes it out of their reach into another pair of outstretched hands. Not unfrequently nobody gets it, because it is torn to shreds amongst the many hands held up to grasp it.
Some schoolboys spend on kites, during their season, every farthing that comes to them; and kites can be bought from a farthing upwards. They have not a long life, even at the best of times. Frequently they get torn by the wind on their first journey heavenwards, and a torn kite can rarely be repaired to much purpose. Flying competitions on a large scale, with substantial prizes for the winners, are organised, and attract crowds of spectators. The competitors are for the most part men, some being of mature age. It is a wholesome and entirely harmless form of amusement, except for the betting which takes place at the big contests.
There is a fine game called itte-dhandu, after the names of the two pieces of wood with which it is played. It is a little like tip-cat. The itte is a rounded bit of wood 2-1/2 inches long and perhaps an inch in diameter. Sometimes the ends are made to taper, but experts say that this is not correct. The dhandu is a stick of similar diameter and about 15 inches long. It is a most exciting game, with an elaborate code of unwritten rules. It can be played by any number of persons from two onwards. The whole field is kept in constant occupation, movement, and excitement. I have in vain tried to get some one to commit the rules to paper. While the game is in season there is no anxiety about how to provide for the wholesome amusement of schoolboys, because they play it in every vacant interval, from early morning till they go tired and happy to bed. But directly the proper season has ended, the game is dropped till the next year. One of its many advantages is that almost any jungle will provide wood from which the itte and the dhandu are easily shaped with a pocket knife.
A game, not unlike "Tom Tiddler's ground," is very popular, chiefly on moonlight nights, amongst men and boys. It is often played in the streets of cities when traffic has ceased. The ground is divided into squares, either by scraping boundaries in the dust, which lies thick in the streets of a native city; or else at night by pouring water along the lines, which makes a very conspicuous mark on the dusty surface in the vivid moonlight of the East. This childish game is played with great delight by people whom you might think were much too old for such amusement, and it nearly always forms part of the programme of any village festival.
Wrestling. Village gymnasiums. Wrestling contests. The prizes. Rustic festivals. Modern novelties. Mineral waters. Ice cream. Incandescent lights. The music. Absence of merriment. The dull crowd. Return of the victor. National characteristics apparent when playing games.
Wrestling is the chief indigenous athletic exercise of India. Nearly every village has its band of wrestlers and its gymnasium. The latter is often a substantial house as village houses go, much decorated with wall paintings inside and out. Besides the wrestling-pit, with its thick layer of soft earth, it often contains Indian clubs, large stones with which the young men exercise their muscles after the manner of dumb-bells, the post round which they twist and twirl to develop their arms and legs, and the drums which they beat in the temple and elsewhere on festivals.
Every village of importance has its annual wrestling day, to which people come from many miles round. Prizes are given from a fund subscribed by the villagers. It is a point of honour that no one competes in his own village, so that all the prizes may go to outsiders. The wrestling is conducted with much decorum, in accordance with exact and well-recognised rules. The decision of the referee appears to be nearly always accepted without dispute; or if ever there is a difference of opinion, the arbitration of one or two of the elders amongst the villagers is generally sufficient. If arbitration fails, a free fight is the only way of settling the matter; but such incidents are rare.
The prize is generally a turban, and however many turbans a man already possesses he likes to add to their number. Sometimes there is a good deal of very audible grumbling if the quality of the turban is thought to be defective. Now and then important contests between champions in the world of wrestlers are held in cities like Poona, and there is a charge for admission, and the prizes are of value, gold and silver rings and sums of money. Wrestlers train carefully when they are preparing for a contest, according to their own ideas of training, and they drink a great deal of milk. The best side of Indian village life is to be found in this sport, and as it is one of the few things which is not tainted by idolatry, I could always accept with pleasure an invitation to the gymnasium, or to be present on the annual sports day.
In our village little dinner-parties take place in the houses (or, rather, outside the houses) of the principal farmers, the evening before the annual wrestling competition. Feasts are nearly always held in the open air, partly because most of the houses are so small that there is not room inside to seat the guests; and also because low-caste people, who would not be allowed to come indoors, can be fed in the open so long as they sit a little apart from the rest.
Modern novelties are creeping into rustic festivals. Mineral waters of native manufacture, and often astonishingly brilliant in colour, have become a recognised luxury at such times; especially since it has become an understood thing that no breach of caste is involved if you drink your soda-water direct from the bottle. Enclosed in its glass case the liquid could not have been contaminated by any external touch, and there is no need to go so far back in its history as to ask who made the soda-water. The ice-cream man, calling out his wares in what is meant to be English, does a large trade in spite of the microscopic nature of his helpings. Native torches are being supplanted by the powerful incandescent lights of recent times, and one or two of these are hired for the occasion, and are brought out from Poona on the heads of coolies, and burn all night somewhere in the centre of the village. It is an essential element of all Indian festal enjoyments that they should begin in the evening and last all night. Extremes meet, and this is a peculiarity which the Indian social world seems to share, at any rate to a large extent, with the fashionable world in England. Of course a band is also a necessary feature.
I went down into the village one morning, after one of their festal nights, and found most of the villagers seated under the shade of a large tree listening to the band which, usually so indefatigable, was strumming rather feebly after its all-night exertions. It was accompanying a poor, faded-looking woman, who was singing in a peculiar hoarse voice, with a slight attempt at action, and a feeble sort of skip at the end of each stanza. I did not understand what she was singing, but I soon withdrew, because the songs sung at such times are said to be nearly always bristling with improprieties.
But Indians take most of their pleasures sadly, and the curious feature of the whole scene was the complete absence of anything corresponding to fun or merriment. Both the singer and the members of the band were evidently meaning to be funny, but the audience might have been listening to a dull sermon in church, so far as their grave and uninterested faces were concerned. A visitor at any time almost during the festivities would have found them in the same condition. Even when feasting, beyond a certain enjoyment in the process, there is no indication of merriment in the silent meal.
The wrestling competitions began in the late afternoon, when the power of the sun had a little moderated, and lasted until dusk. They were held in a field just outside the village, on newly ploughed land, which affords a soft bed for the combatants when they fall. Many large and beautiful mango-trees gave welcome shade to the two or three thousand spectators, who formed an immense and deep ring round the arena. Some of the young men of the place, armed with sticks, displayed much energy in keeping the ground clear. The elders of the village arranged the order of proceedings, and who was to compete with who. But in spite of the great assembly taking evident interest in what was going on, and especially in the spirited contests between boy-wrestlers, it was a distinctly dull crowd, and there was little animation in the faces of those who were watching the events closely. The only group in which something approaching to cheerfulness was visible was in the knot of customers gathered round the sellers of fruit and drinks. On the road home the crowd sometimes shows a measure of joviality, and it is always customary to usher victorious wrestlers into their own village with shouts and loud proclamation of what has been accomplished. After a victory in one of the big city contests the hero may even be escorted home with lights and music.
It is in games, perhaps, more than in anything else, that national characteristics make themselves apparent. This is specially noticeable in India when anyone gets injured in sports or cricket, or if he has run an exhausting race. The Englishman hates to be fussed over, says that his injury is nothing, and that he can walk home quite easily, when perhaps his leg is broken; and he feels dreadfully ashamed of himself if he collapses at the finish of a race. The Indian, on the contrary, makes extraordinary demonstrations over a slight injury; he flings himself on the ground, and is apparently at the point of death. His friends rush for water, and chafe his hands and legs, and they think the Englishman unfeeling if he ventures to say that he thinks the sufferer will soon be better. After these performances have gone on for a sufficient time, the injured man quietly gets up and resumes the game.
Almost invariably, at the end of any race, the winner thinks it necessary to put on the appearance of great exhaustion as long as anyone is looking at him. But when interest is diverted by preparations for the next race, the fit of exhaustion is easily concluded, and the sufferer joins the crowd as if nothing had happened.