Page images
PDF
EPUB

carried from Arabia to Hindostam st a period so remote that the use of it is mentioned in the ancient poem, Ramayan. Among consecrated plants, the Soma, or Moon Plant, is pecu.iurly sacred The juice is a holy drink which Bramans taste on certain religious occasions, after having offered prescribed prayers. They say it is nos Docessary to understand the prayers which they mechanically repeat from the Vedas. It is sufficient to know what deity is sddressed, and what event is the occasion for supplication or thanksgiving. In many cases, mysterious virtue is sscribed to reciting the form of words alternately backward and forward

Religious models for the people are of a lower character than they were in the ancient times. There are now few devotees who attempt to copy the sustere virtue of old hermits; but popular reverence for such characters has produced a swarm of mendicants who imitate only their extravagancies. These are often described by travellers under the name of Fakeers, or Yogees. On their forehead and arms they usually wear the perpendicular line emblematie of Sivaites, or the horizontal line of Vishnuites. It is marked by the priests with a composition made of burnt sandal-wood, tumerie, and cow-dung. Doubtless many of these devotees sincerely believe that they expiate their own sins and those of others, by their severe suffer ings. Some dig a grave and remain buried in the earth, leaving only a small aperture for the admission of food An English gentleman in the neighbourhood of Calcutts, perceiving a strange-looking creature in a hole of the ground, beat it till the blood flowed, without causing any movement, or any remonstrance. It was a Fakeer who had vowed himself to that mode of torture. Some stand in one constrained posture for years and years Others crawl on their hands and knees round an extensive empire Some roll their bodies over the ground from Indus to Ganges, collecting money to dig a well

, or build a temple, in atonement for some sin. Many of them go entirely naked, and come to look like wild beasts, with nails of twenty years growth, dirty matted hair, and arms withered by being held aloft for years. Women of distinction compete with each other for the honour of feeding such saints.

All of this class do not renounce the world so completely. There are communities of them, on whom the devout bestow houses and lands. They make money by agricul- . ture and trade, and send out beggars to procure alms. There is a community of Sivaite saints, who are accustomed to sell their military services to the highest bidder; being willing to fight against everything but their own religion. They stimulate their courage by excessive use of intoxicating herbs and drinks, though wine and spirituous liquors are strictly forbidden by their Sacred Books, and ceremonies of purification are prescribed for a religious man who has merely drank water from vessels that have contained such liquors. Associations of female devotees, said to be far from austere in their lives, reside in some of the temples of Siva. The Fakeers usually wear garments of yellowish red, similar in colour to the bark-cloth worn by ancient anchorites. There appears to be sacredness attached to the colour; for there is an express law forbidding Bramins to sell red cloth, or woven bark.

Like the ascetic sages of ancient time, these modern Fakeers are great travellers. They are met everywhere, from the confines of Russia to Cape Comorin, from China to Bombay. They wander about in armed troops, on pilgrimages to holy cities and sacred wells, levying contributions as they go. To extort charity from passengers, they stun their ears with loud bells, or strike together plates of brass. Some of them are handsome, robust men. They eat everything but beef, and are often immoderate in the use of food and intoxicating liquors. When they arrive at villages, they dance and sing songs describing the amours of Siva or Crishna, for which they receive a reward of food or money. On one occasion, Bombay was so infested by these mendicants, that they became an intolerable nuisance. The governor deemed it imprudent to make any direct attempt to disperse them. But he issued an order that all beggars and idlers should be set to cleaning the great ditch surrounding the fortifications, and the next day not one of the saintly fraternity was to be found. Bishop Heber, speaking of the sacred city of Benares, says: “Fakeers' houses occur at every turn, adorned with idols, and sending out an unceasing tinkling of discordant instruments; while religious mendicants of every sect, offering every conceivable deformity, which chalk, cow-dung, disease, matted locks, distorted limbs, and disgusting attitudes of penance, could show, literally line the principal streets on both sides. I saw repeatedly men who had kept their hands clenched till the nails grew out at the backs; or hopping on one foot, the other having shrunk close up to the hams, from a vow never to use it. Devotees go about with small spears thrust through their tongues and arms, or with hot irons pressed against their sides. Their countenances denote suffering, but they evidently glory in patient endurance, thinking doubtless that they are expiating sins by their agony. These beggars keep up the most pitiful cry for alms." Among some sects, persons of every caste, even Pariahs, can become Fakeers. These are little respected by the higher classes of Hindostan, and the Bramins especially avoid them. Yet some of the Bramins themselves are by no means worthy of the reverence which their station and office demands. Within the temples they not unfrequently fight and scratch each other, scrambling for the fees and offerings. In days of primitive simplicity a Bramin was not allowed to take a second wife, unless the first bore him no children, or committed some great misdemeanor; but they now marry fifteen, twenty, or a hundred wives, as suits their convenience. The Code of Menu strictly forbids receiving money or gifts in exchange for a daughter or female relative; but in these days, parents, even of the highest castes, do not scruple to dispose of young daughters to whoever will pay the most, though he be old or diseased. The expenses for the maintenance of the priesthood are enormous. One temple in the Deccan maintained forty thousand officiating Bramins besides a great number of Devedasses. Of course it is for their interest to inculcate a blind unquestioning faith in all they teach, and to load popular worship with images and ceremonies, for all of which they receive pay. It being admitted that images were necessary for the ignorant, as pictures are for children, and these images commanding a ready sale, they of course multiplied rapidly. They are of every variety of size and material, from gold to wood and clay, from thirty feet high to a finger in length. They are generally grotesque, deformed things, made by the smith and the potter, or rudely fashioned by the humble worshippers in preparation for some festival. The Bramins reconcile this with the Veda doctrine of God's unity, by saying these are mere subordinate agents fulfilling various offices in the universe under One Ruler. But the populace have no such idea. They believe all these gods and goddesses to be independent deities, with supreme power over the departments they govern. When a Hindoo buys an image, he goes to the priest to have certain ceremonies performed over it, which are supposed to endow it not only with life, but with supernatural power. If the idol be masculine, another ceremony must be performed to marry him to the image of some goddess. Not only their temples but their houses are full of these idols, some of which are extremely hideous. They offer them a portion of their food, fan them in warm weather, cover them from cold, and put them to bed every night. The Bramins tell many legends of their assuming various shapes and colours, and working miracles; all of which are readily believed.

There is universal belief in Evil Spirits, of various ranks and degrees of power, from gigantic demons, who attack the orbs of light, down to the malicious little Pucks, who delight in small mischief. They suppose these enter the minds of men, producing bad thoughts and criminal actions, and also take possession of the body, producing insanity, fits, and all manner of diseases. They can be cast out only by some form of holy words pronounced by the priest, with ceremonies prescribed for such occasions.

VOL. I.-11

While Sir James Forbes was presiding judge in a Hindoo district, a petition was sent to him stating that a certain woman had been for a long time possessed by two Evil Spirits; and that the petitioner's daughter, having been with this woman, and witnessed certain conjuring tricks, and heard the devils talk, came home and fell down on the bed without sense or motion, and continued so for hours. She continued to have these fits for two months; at the end of which time, she told her parents that one of the devils had come out of the woman and entered into her, tormenting her all the time to offer it food and sacrifices. Dr. Buchanan mentions a man in Mysore supposed to be possessed by one of these demons, which caused him to fall down in fits. The whole village was in an uproar, and could only be appeased by the presence of a Bramin, who recited prayers, and strewed consecrated ashes over the individual. Amulets and charms, duly prepared by religious ceremonies, are worn as a protection against Evil Spirits, likewise against witchcraft. They have many magicians, most of whom are women. It is said they can bewitch people by keeping their eyes steadfastly fixed on them; that they can travel through the air invisibly; can bring intelligence from remote places with incredible swiftness; can read secret thoughts; and if thrown into the river with a stone tied to them, they will not sink.

Sir James Forbes mentions several individuals who were in possession of a singular power, seemingly supernatural; particularly a Bramin, who could see what was occurring in distant places, and read the thoughts of people who came into his presence. He confesses himself much puzzled by prophecies and revelations of this kind, which most undoubtedly occurred during his residence in India.

Some degree of chemical knowledge has existed among the Bramins for many ages. They are acquainted with the antidotes to many poisons, and have a chemical preparation, called Tantra, with which they rub the skin to enable it to resist the action of fire. When people are suspected of crime, Bramins are often called in to determine

« PreviousContinue »