Life in India/Car-Drawing

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Car-Drawing.

I HAD now seen Christian worship in Madras; and before long an opportunity occurred of seeing idolatry in one of its most common forms–that known to us as CAR-DRAWING.

Juggernaut is a name familiar to the Christian world. The huge car in which this “Lord of the world” (as his name is by interpretation) is drawn, the multitudes who flock to his temple at Cuttack, and the horrors there enacted, have been made familiar. to us by Buchanan and others. It is not so widely known that though this is the most famous, it is not the only scene of the ceremony of car-drawing. On the contrary, almost every temple has its festival day, on which the idol-god is treated to a triumphal ride by its votaries.

A car-drawing was to take place at Mailapur, a suburb of the city. With a friend, I started for the scene of the celebration. Our road lay through the crowded streets. Passing the bazaar with its busy buyers and sellers, the nabob's palace and the mosque, we drove through a vast grave-yard—a city of the dead, with its crowded acres of Mohammedan tombs. Some were old and falling to decay; some, freshly sodded with green turf: some were lowly; others, large buildings with domes and minarets. The inmates of all were returning to dust; their spirits had gone to the judgment-seat of God. I could not but ask, What has the church of God been doing that the gospel was not preached to them?

But the living were about us. As we drew near the scene, troops of men and women, flowing all in one current, showed that we had not missed our way. Here would be a company of young men with the marks of their gods painted fresh and bright upon their foreheads, jesting and laughing, and evidently well pleased with their white robes and jaunty turbans; there, a father leading his boy by the hand, followed by the mother (who always walks behind, and not with her husband) with a babe in her arms. There came other groups, and now and then a pandarum or sunyasee (orders of religious mendicants) with holy ashes not merely on his forehead, but all over his face and person, striding on to the festival as the carrion-vulture speeds to his banquet.

As we came nearer, the road was lined on both sides with rows of the most hideous deformities stretched on their backs and bedaubed with ashes. The poor wretches added to the horrors of their appearance by horrible outcries and writhings. The blind, the maimed, the footless and handless leper, the hunchback, and the cripple lay stretched upon the ground begging for alms. The crowd now grew still more dense, for we were drawing near the temple. A broad street runs beside a noble square tank, with stone steps on every side descending to the water's edge, and below the water to the bottom of the tank. Many Brahmins were standing in the water, busy with their ablutions. Entering and muttering prayers, they took the water in their hands, threw it behind them, crossed themselves, and washed out their mouths; then clapping their fingers to their nose and ears, ducking under the water so as to immerse the whole body, they washed away the impurities of both body and soul in the most orthodox manner. Along the street were temporary sheds and porticos erected for the festival. These were hung with pictures in honour of the god, who was to pass that way, and to be gazed at by the crowd. In one I saw a picture of Christ healing the sick. I longed for the ability to proclaim him as the only Saviour to the ignorant idolaters about me, but the language was yet to be learned. Not far off were exposed to the gaze of all, men, women, and children, paintings of the actions of their gods-pictures too vile and filthy to be described, shamelessly shown as the deeds of the beings whom they worshipped as gods !

Turning into the street upon the opposite side of the tank, we found ourselves before the temple. Here the mass centred, and the religious beggars and devotees were most numerous. Near the temple-gate sat some, wearing the cavi or yellow robe of their order, besmeared all over with ashes, and with their filthy, uncombed hair hanging in clotted strings to their shoulders. Others went through the crowd with wires run through their tongues or cheeks, mincing and dancing with a disgusting air. Attendants carried small brass plates for alms, which they thrust into the faces of the people. Here, too, stood the car, the centre of attraction. It is an unwieldy structure, square and pyramidal, and resting upon four great solid wooden wheels, six feet in diameter. Above, it consists of several stories, growing smaller as they near the top, and ending in a large gilt umbrella. The whole was decorated with bands of coloured cloth, garlands of flowers, streamers, and gilding, so as to have a gay and imposing appearance. In front, green carved horses stood rearing on the platform, and blue elephants, with monsters and gods of every colour, filled up the vacant spaces. Upon the first story of the car was the throne of the god. Here, seated in state, was the senseless idol, to adore which the multitude had come together. Wrapped in costly robes, and adorned with jewels and flowers, it could scarcely be seen for its ornaments. Beside it stood Brahmin priests fanning the silver thing with cow-tail brushes, lest it should be molested by flies or heat.

The firing of a small cannon announced the hour of starting. The Brahmins in the car shouted to the mob, and waving their sacred brushes, incited them to their work. The men, rushing forward, seized the great cables, each as thick as a man's thigh, and laid them on their shoulders. Arrayed in two long lines, they attempt to start the ponderous car. But it does not move. Again the Brahmins shout and cry to the mob, and again the mob, answering to the cry, put forth their strength; they tug; they strain; they yell. The priests urge them on, and now another strain, and the towering pile, grating harshly on its wheels, moves slowly through the street. Their god is propitious; he is moving on his way, and a cry of joy and worship goes up from the labouring and the gazing crowds. Old men, who cannot help, lift up their hands in homage; and mothers, rushing forward, hold up their babes to catch a sight of the god.

In former days, Englishmen high in station did honour to such scenes. They attended them, while their subordinates drove the people to the ropes, and forced them to drag the car. Those were happy days for the Brahmins; but it is so no longer. Those times have gone, we trust, no more to return. The connection of government with idolatry has almost wholly ceased, and soon will be entirely severed. The priests and gods must take care of themselves, for English Christians will no longer suffer them to be propped up by English influence.

Devotees, as is well known, were accustomed to throw themselves under the wheels of the car to be crushed; this is no longer permitted. The police have orders to prevent these suicides, and they now rarely take place. On one occasion, a pilgrim who had thrown himself down before the approaching car, that he might expiate his sins and gain heaven, was spied by an English officer. Riding up, he began to lay his whip upon his naked back. The devotee was ready for martyrdom, but the flogging he had not bargained for; so, betaking himself to his heels, he was soon out of danger. The government tax, formerly paid by pilgrims at the shrine of Juggernaut, is not now collected. It is a great cause for congratulation that England has determined that her great name shall no longer give lustre and dignity to the hideous, cruel, and debasing idolatry of India. The Brahminic priesthood see in this fact one of the symptoms of their approaching downfall. Soon may it come, and Jehovah of hosts alone be known and worshipped as God and Lord of this and every land!

Youth of America ! scenes far different from these surrounded you in childhood. Influences far different from these were made to bear upon your opening minds. Lessons far different from these were those you first learned. Remember, then, that to whom much is given of them will much be required; that for all the high favours you enjoy at the hand of God you must render an account. May your lives answer to your light!