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At the great annual festival, one is chosen for a bride to the god, to whom it is supposed he comes in the night and reveals whether it will be a fruitful year, and what kind of feasts, processions, prayers and contributions he requires from the people in order to secure it. She is placed in the chariot with the idol, and as it slowly rolls along, she proclaims these oracles to the believing multitude.
The Devedasses are not allowed to quit the precincts of the temple, or to marry. Some say they are allowed to receive no lovers but Bramins; others declare they are at liberty to choose among any of the three higher castes. The money thus obtained is put into the treasury of the temple. If they have daughters, they are brought up in the same way as themselves; if sons, they are trained to play on musical instruments and assist the priests. When these women become old or unhealthy, or the Bramins wish to have them leave for any reason, they are dismissed; but they are ever after received in society with peculiar respect. A degree of sanctity is attached to them, and it is considered an honour to marry them. Sometimes, however, if they are old when they retire from service, they are reduced to poverty, unless they have a handsome daughter, on whose earnings they can rely.
In no part of the world are suicides so extremely. common as in India. Thousands perish every year by drowning in the sacred rivers, lying in wait for crocodiles, starving, burning, and causing themselves to be buried alive. This doubtless originates in the prevailing idea that the connection of spirit with matter is an evil, and the destruction of the body a sacrifice acceptable to the deities. The number of women who voluntarily seek death is much greater than that of men; for in addition to their belief in the same melancholy creed, life is far less free to them, and their abject situation requires more severe repression of all the natural sentiments and instincts. To be born again into a female form they dread as one of the worst punishments. To avoid it, they perform innumerable religious ceremonies, and subject themselves to most painful penances. When the custom first began of women burning themselves on the funeral pile of their husbands, is unknown. It probably originated in the universal practice of offering sacrifices at funerals, and at tombs, to expiate the sins of the deceased. Perhaps some zealous devotee voluntarily set the example, and many motives would naturally combine to fix it as a custom. This selfimmolation is called Suttee, more properly Sati, a Sanscrit word meaning purification. It is not enjoined in any of their Sacred Writings, but some of their celebrated saints commend it as highly meritorious; as may be seen from the following extracts :—“So long as a woman does not burn herself after the death of her lord, she will be subject to transmigrations into the female form." "The woman who follows her lord in death expiates the sins of three races; her father's line, her mother's line, and the family of him to whom she was given a virgin.” “Even though her husband bad slain a Bramin, or returned evil for good, or killed an intimate friend, the woman expiates his crimes.” “Possessing her husband as her chiefest good, herself the best of women, enjoying the highest delights, she shall partake of bliss with him as long as fourteen Indras reign."
The professed rule is that the immolation must be perfectly voluntary; and since such rewards were offered in Paradise, in addition to the applause of multitudes on earth, while on the other hand law and custom condemned every widow to an extremely secluded and gloomy life, it is not surprising that great numbers rushed on such a fate with religious ecstasy, or the courage of despair. A Bramin of Bagnapore had more than a hundred wives. Twenty-two of them were burned with his corpse, though several of them had seldom even seen the man for whom they died. The fire was kept burning three days, waiting the arrival of successive victims. A woman is never allowed to marry again, or even to mention the name of another man, after the death of her husband or betrothed. As they are often mated by parents in infancy, they may be left widows while very small children: but nevertheless they disgrace themselves if they depart from a life of perpetual chastity. Those who are thus left desolate often sacrifice themselves, either from religious zeal or weariness of life. A girl whose betrothed died when she was six years old, is mentioned as having performed the Sati at fifteen. No entreaties could prevail upon her to relinquish her project. An immolation performed with great firmness was a subject of family pride, and recounted to succeeding generations. Widows sometimes mounted the funeral pile with heroic enthusiasm, laid the husband's head on their knees, and themselves brandished a torch to light the pile. But these sacrifices were not always voluntary, even when they appeared so. Husbands, clinging to the idea of exclusive possession, even after death, often left injunctions to their wives to make the offering, and to their heirs to urge them to it. Women hold no property, and it was the interest of relatives, on whom the widow would depend entirely for support, to excite their religious zeal sufficiently to make them brave the terrors of this fiery ordeal. If the courage of the poor creature failed at the last dreadful moment, and she succeeded in making her escape, she sunk into irretrievable disgrace, which was reflected on her kindred. Therefore, when such symptoms were discovered, Bramins tied down the victim with strong cords, and while the flames rose, her screams were drowned in the din of musical instruments.
After a long contest with Hindoo prejudices, the British government at last succeeded in abolishing this cruel custom wherever they had jurisdiction. The women were generally most grateful to them for the change. They are gentle, affectionate, and devotional; extremely fond of carrying offerings to the temples, and performing religious ceremonies in the sacred groves.
The belief in a universal interchange of souls throughout creation produces singular ideas and customs with regard to animals. Vishnu assumes their shape as frequently as he does that of man. They are not only represented as
constant companions and friends of the deities, but often as being themselves of divine intelligence, dwelling in Paradise, and occasionally incarnated on earth, to assist the god to whose service they were devoted. Garuda, prince of the eagles, is supposed to guard the entrance of Vishnu's Paradise. Hanuman, prince of the monkeys, assumed the form of an ape, and rendered important services to Vishnu while on earth in the person of Rama. There are numerous other similar instances. In the Ramayana it is stated that Garuda, having sinned in thought against bis divine master, went in penitent guise to seek counsel from the crow Bhusanda, who dwelt on the lofty summits of the Blue Mountains, and had been devoted to the service of Rama from his birth. This crow was "experienced in virtues and vices; well acquainted with all that had happened since the beginning of time; sometimes wrapped in profound meditation on the being of God; at others pouring forth invocations, and proclaiming the praises of Vishnu to the birds of land and water." He became the instructor of Garuda, and informed him that he had once been a Bramin, but had passed into a crow, in consequence of maledictions pronounced upon him by a powerful saint. With these ideas, no wonder the brute creation are regarded with tenderness and reverence. Bulls and cows are sacred in the highest degree, especially the latter, on account of a cow in Paradise, styled, “Mother of the gods, and of three worlds.” Even the dung of this animal is sacred, and is used in many religious ceremonies. Hindoos will die rather than taste of beef; a fact which has been often proved on board vessels where all the provisions were expended except salt beef. The pun. ishment for selling a bullock to a European is to be impaled alive. Monkeys are sacred, on account of Hanuman, famous in the exploits of Rama. Rajabs and nobles often expend large sums to celebrate a festival in honour of those animals. A monkey, or an ape, on such occasions, is seated in a splendid palanquin, and followed by musicians, singers, and dancing girls, amid a gorgeous shower of fire-works. Two British officers, who shot a monkey during one of their hunting excursions, were driven by a mob of devotees into the river Jumna, where they perished. In Jafanapatan, an ape's tooth, believed to be Hanuman's, was preserved for centuries as a relic in the temple, and many pilgrimages were made to see it. After the Portuguese conquered that part of the country, the Hindoos sent an embassy to them offering three hundred thousand ducats for the recovery of this treasure. But, by advice of the Catholic Bishop, the tooth was burned in presence of the ambassadors, and its ashes thrown into the sea. A cunning man afterward persuaded them to buy another tooth, representing that an invisible power had substituted a false tooth to be burned by unbelievers, and miraculously saved the true one. The Crocodile is another of their sacred animals. Hindoo mothers are remarkable for passionate love of offspring, yet they often throw their infants into the jaws of these monsters, believing they thus propitiate the deities and secure the child's salvation. The hooded serpent Cobra do Capello is sacred, on account of its association with Vishnu. Some other species of serpents are regarded by them as peculiarly the protecting Spirits of gardens and vineyards, and therefore they will not consent to destroy them. Indeed all animals have a degree of sacredness to a devout Hindoo, arising from the belief that each one is a manifested portion of God. Voracious and unclean creatures they believe to be the residence of malignant Spirits and bad souls. Those that subsist on vegetables are supposed to be favoured by divine beings. They peculiarly venerate ants and bees, conceiving the Spirits which animate them to be gifted with superior intelligence. They believe every animal is endowed with thought and memory, and has some comprehensive mode of communicating ideas to its own species.