Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/March 1873/Regarding Matters in India

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IN describing the various views, the lecturer said: I beg to ask your assistance this evening in what I am going to do. I want you to use your imagination, and fancy yourselves on board ship, and—so that it may be pleasant and agreeable—in one of these new Bessemer ships, where you have no sea-sickness to endure. We will go down the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea where the heat is frightful, and the thermometer 120° on deck and any number below, in fact perfectly suffocating to Aden. We will not stay there, but press on to Ceylon, where we shall arrive in ten days, and where the beauty of tropical vegetation is seen for the first time—lovely beyond description. Thence we go on to Madras; but before we arrive I will show you the god Ganesa. There he is, in all his glory. He is the god most worshipped of all the Hindoo gods a—beauty, you see. His history is as follows: For certain reasons it was considered necessary that Siva should marry, and as he was an old bachelor he did not like it. However, the marriage took place between him and Parvatee, who unfortunately gave birth to a son. Parvatee had a brother, called Vishnu, who was always upbraiding her, and Ganesa, who was a most lovely child, always took his mother's part. At last, Vishnu one day began upbraiding her again, and Ganesa threatened to thrash him, and the result was that they had a fight, and Ganesa got a tremendous thrashing instead, and Vishnu, with one blow of his cimeter, cut off his head. Parvatee took a fit of the sulks at this; but in the end Siva was asked to restore Ganesa to life. Siva at last consented to do so; but on looking for him they could only find his body, but no head. Here was a difficulty. The gods were consulted as to what was to be done, and the result was that a god was sent to bring the head of the first animal he saw and put it on Ganesa's body; and this animal, unfortunately, was an old elephant, with one tooth. They took his head and stuck it on to Ganesa's body, and you see the result. Parvatee did not like this, and in return, to pacify her, Brahma said that Ganesa should be most worshipped of all the gods. Before a Hindoo builds a temple, or a house, or goes a journey, he prays to Ganesa. And so I say: "O Ganesa—glorious and honorable Ganesa—grant me success this evening. May I please all this people! All reverence to you, Ganesa."

I will now go back to our steamer, and we must fancy ourselves coming into Madras. There is the steamer just as she appears soon after daylight off the roads. Madras has no harbor whatever, and so every captain arrives as early as possible, to get away before night; as soon after daylight as he can he casts anchor in the roads, and if you come on deck in the morning you will see round the vessel the boats in which you will be expected to land, one of which you are now looking at. I leave you to imagine the effect when an English lady sees for the first time twenty or thirty of these fellows in the morning. The boat is called a catamaran, and it is the only chance you have of landing if the surf is high. You are lashed to this thing, and they bring you to shore. The sea washes right over you, but, as the water is warm, except that you do not like the ducking, it does not much hurt you. These fellows are off the boat, and in the water, and on to the boat again in a moment. Although they say the sea abounds in sharks, they are never eaten, and they actually say the sharks will not touch a black man.

Well, the first thing you do, having landed, is to go to an hotel, and find yourself a carriage. There are three kinds you can choose from. There is the old palanquin, put upon wheels, called the palanquin coach, which is what Europeans generally use. The horse looks sorry, but he can go; every horse has his ghora-walla to attend him, and a woman too. You buy the ghora-walla and the woman when you buy the horse. It is the man's business to clean and feed the horse, and the woman's to cut grass for him. The next carriage is called a shigrampoo. You pay 1s. 6d. an hour for this, and have to pay beforehand, and whether the pony goes or not it is all the same. The Hindoo has no idea of time; he prefers that the pony should not go, and so Europeans seldom use this. The next is a bullock bandy—no springs. The bullocks come from Mysore, and are admirable goers. The native standing by the side is the owner, and the other is the fellow that drives. The natives are all vain, and want to be photographed, and are sure to stand wherever they see a camera. Now we start on our way to the hotel, having chosen one of the conveyances. We shall not have gone far before we see something of this sort at the corner of nearly every street—an almost naked barber, engaged in the act of shaving, all for one penny. They say they are most wonderful fellows at it. They actually shave people while they are asleep. I found them very indifferent hands. If they are not engaged in that, these very fellows are shaving the natives' heads. It is wonderful to relate that, although there is the most intense heat, the natives invariably shave their hair off. They say it cools them. You never hear of a sunstroke.

We will now turn into the main street of Madras. The large building to the left is a sort of emporium, where every thing is sold. The building on the right is the Bank of Madras. Passing through this, at the end we come to the bazaar, and we will just pass through a corner of it and see one or two of the shops, such as everybody is obliged to use if he is not prepared to go to one of the few Europeans in the place. There you see the cap used by the natives as a substitute for a hat—it is nothing but a piece of linen folded in a peculiar shape. You see the two men who are making these caps are wearing similar ones. Another shop is that of a native tailor. The natives themselves never wear much that requires any shaping, and consequently there is little for them to do in the way of cutting out. But they are wonderfully good hands, nevertheless.

Having passed these, we soon get to the hotel, hoping to find peace and rest. But when the Peninsular and Oriental steamers come in everybody knows it, and hundreds of the natives are on the lookout to get money. They see what hotel you go to, and then begins the cry for bakshish—nothing but bakshish. But first of all let us look at the picota, the machine that is used for drawing water. There it is, and the natives run along the top of the long pole to press it down, and then they turn round and run backward and foreward, keeping the machine at work all day; and in the rice-season it is very disagreeable, and even perfect purgatory, to live near where one of these machines is, and hear the two bits of wood rubbing together, and going on "cah, cah" all night and all day. It drives you almost mad. Woe betide the unhappy fellow who gets a bed near one of these picotas.

Arrived at the hotel, you find a lot of fellows asking for bakshish, and playing drums. You give them some money, only too glad to be rid of them. They are succeeded by fellows who play tricks with some stuff dipped in turpentine, through which a man jumps backward and forward. When they are gone, they are succeeded by a conjurer who shows you the way to get rid of your wife if you have got one; or, if you have not, the way you can if you get one and don't like her. He ties the woman up tightly in a net first, and, when he has done that, he puts a basket on the ground. He then takes the top off, and proceeds to put her into the basket. There is the unhappy wife in the basket. The little boy plays the tom-tom, beating it all the time, the fellow standing looking on. As soon as the woman is packed up, he covers up the basket, and, seizing a sword, he plunges it in. The woman shrieks and yells frightfully, the blood pours out in torrents, the ladies who are looking on faint, and the gentlemen curse and swear, and pull him away. When they tear open the basket, they find it empty, and the woman comes out of the house where you are staying and asks for bakshish. This fellow is succeeded by two other jugglers, who spread a cloth before you over the sand, and in some mysterious way cause a fine large branch of the mango-tree to appear, and grow up under the cloth. It is a curious fact that in Egyptian history we read of the same trick with the lotus-tree as this with the mango-tree.

Now we come to the snake-charmers, the most wonderful race of men in the whole of India. They take up a cobra, the most deadly of all reptiles, and still hardly ever are bitten. There is the photograph of these snake-charmers before you. The snakes are never still. The poison-bag is in the roof of the mouth; and, by certain means, this bag is pressed, and the poison ejected. But, when you remember that two hours is about the limit one lives after the bite of a cobra, you cannot help wondering at the carelessness of these fellows. And though nowadays they say that by ejecting certain alkali, ammonia, or something of the kind, into the blood, the bite can be cured and the poison destroyed, yet still, in the wilds of India, who would be able to do this in the short space of time allowed to live after having been bitten? There is one little animal alone that enjoys exemption from the fearful bite of the deadly cobra. It is a favorite amusement to some people to watch the struggle. They will turn a large cobra loose in the room, and then immediately place a mongoose before it. The mongoose instantly attacks the cobra, and a desperate fight ensues; the cobra bites the mongoose over and over again, but the poison seems not to have the slightest effect on it, and the battle will certainly result in the death of the cobra. If the mongoose dies, it is from sheer loss of blood and exhaustion, and not from the effects of the poison, as thousands can testify. Dr. Short has held for many minutes the mouth of a cobra fixed on to a mongoose, but it has got up and run away, without any hurt. What peculiar antidote he possesses science has not yet been able to discover.

Having now taken a cursory view of Madras and its people, and the jugglers, such as they are, we pass on to consider their religion and their temples.

First, I must tell you that the word temple does not exist in India. It is merely a word imported by us. The word they use is devila, and means the house of God. A temple does not consist of one, but four component parts. What we generally call a pagoda is nothing but the gopurum, answering to the Egyptian pylon over the door. The four parts of each temple are the gopurum, or door; the mundapum the teppa kolum, or tank; the vimanum, or sanctuary.

Now, I propose to show you these, and give you some idea of what they are. We will take the train at night from Madras, and at twelve next day we find ourselves at Trichinopoly, close to which is one of the largest and finest temples in all India. The view is taken from the gateway at the south entrance. The pyramids are called the gopura, and mark the entrance into each separate court. The houses are inhabited by 8,000 Bramins, who are not all necessarily priests; but, like the tribe of Levi among the Jews, from whom the priests were taken, so among the Hindoos the priests are taken from among the Bramins. The others hold their shops in the temple. There are 21 of these gopura; the large gopurum to the right is 300 feet high. The next view gives the gopurum more in detail, and shows it exactly as it is. The lower part is of stone, the upper part of brick, and this is covered with figures, representing different scenes in their holy history. Sometimes these gopura are very much more ornamented than others; but they are always for the same purpose, that is, to cover the entrance into the different parts of the temple.

We now come to a mundapum. A mundapum may be composed of simply eight stones. Take four stones and put them upright in the ground, about eight feet high; put the other four along the top, and you have got a mundapum, and such exist in thousands all over India; and, whether elaborate as this is, or perfectly plain, whether square, or round, the result is the same, and you have a mundapum. In this case each pillar is one single block of granite, out of which those figures 15 feet high have been carved; it is covered with a flat stone roof. It constitutes one of the finest mundapa in India.

We next proceed to look at a teppa kolum, or tank, as you see here. The god not only is treated in every way like a human being, but he must have his excursion in the water, and his ride in the car—21 times he goes round that centre pavilion you see in the middle. On the left and on the right you see mundapa, and the small gopurum covers the entrance into the sanctuary.

I may as well tell you that the sanctuary is nothing but an oblong building, perfectly plain, dark as pitch, not the smallest glimmer of light being admitted. No European is ever allowed to enter it, except a prince of royal blood, and he must enter it alone; and, if any other European, or heathen, or low-caste man, dares to put his foot inside the sacred portals, the temple must be abandoned, or the man must die. Such is the rule of the Hindoos.

I will just show you, in passing, the interior of a mundapum—that is, a very plain one—one of those we just saw the outside of. That curious thing in the middle, called a flag-staff, was used formerly to mark the distance a man was allowed to approach toward the sanctuary. He was not allowed to pass nearer than that. But gradually it has fallen into disuse, and now he may walk within three or four yards of the sanctuary-door. It is so dark, though, that nothing can be seen.

Passing from Trichinopoly we here leave the railway, and have to choose the way we will travel. There are three ways before us. We can go on horseback, and, starting an hour before sunrise, and galloping all the time till the sun rises, accomplish 12 or 14 miles at the outside. The next way, which is more comfortable by far, is by the palanquin, carried by men on their shoulders, and you go along very easily. But if you are heavy it is a great misfortune, for more bearers are required to carry it, and consequently more money to pay them. But this is now almost obsolete, except in the native states, and so you are obliged to fall back upon the bullock-coach, which I will show you.

That is the vehicle in which you have to travel all over the south of India, except on the few spots where there may be railroads. This one is occupied by natives; turn them out and get in, and be sure to sleep with one eye open, or you will not travel very far. If you close your eyes the man will immediately stop, and the bullocks will lie down and go to sleep too, and the man will get under the carriage, and you will be lucky if you get over two miles instead of twenty. I have known a native go three times round his own village, and come back to his own door, and when you awoke, thinking you were twenty miles on the road, and routed him out from his own house, and asked him where it was, he would tell you it was a village eight or nine miles off, but you saw it was the same man and the same bullocks, which you ought to have changed long before getting that distance.

Nominally, there are plenty of roads in India, and good ones, too. The government pay enormous sums to keep them in repair. The contractors are natives, and they keep them in good order for five or six miles out of the town where the Europeans are likely to drive, because if they saw bad roads they would make a row; but nothing is more execrable than they are farther on; there are holes big enough and deep enough to bury a man in; you will often be 24 hours doing 12 miles.

However, we go on to Madura, the Rome of India. It is one of the largest and most noted places, and has one of the richest temples. The first building we are going to see is a mundapum. Opposite the entrance to all these mundapa are what are called the guardians of the gods, of which you see one here. There he stands, carved out of a single block of granite 15 feet high, beckoning with one hand, and with the other warning you not to come unless you are properly prepared, with his foot on the head of a cobra—whether typical of the triumph of the Hindoo religion over the worship of the serpent, is a question I dare not go into, for it is enough to mention that one subject among savants and you set them all arguing. However, passing in beyond this, we see one of the most beautiful buildings in the whole of India. It is a mundapum, and was built by the last King of Madura before we took it. It cost one million of money, and took 22 years to build. The story is, that the reason of his doing so was that he asked the god to come and pay him a visit. The god said he had no objection, but he had not a house fit to receive him in. So the king at once set to work and built what you see, and, though he is long since dead and gone, the god is brought ten days every year to pay a visit to this mundapum. It is 333 feet long and 84 feet wide, and is considered by all to be one of the finest in India. It is built of pure gray granite. Every pillar in it to the right and left is whitewashed. The natives always whitewash them to a certain height. On each side are representations of the king and his successors. You see him on the right under his canopy, and beside him his two wives. The story goes that Trimul Nayak married a daughter of the Rajah of Tanjore. The day after he brought her home he took her to see this magnificent building, which was just completed. After walking through it, as she did not say a word, he asked her why she had not spoken, and what she thought of it. She answered that her father had a better stable for his horses. In a fury he drew his dagger and stabbed her in the side, and it is said that, when the pillar was cut, and they sculptured the figure of the wife, the hole appeared in the side; and, although they changed the pillar three times, every morning after, they found the hole still there, as a warning to passionate husbands to keep their tempers. One of the pillars outside this temple, being very much exposed to the weather, is consequently much damaged. It represents Vishnu giving his sister in marriage to Siva, and every year there is a ceremony of marriage performed. But, while the ceremony is going on, a Bramin invariably sneezes, and as that is an omen of bad auspices, the marriage is postponed, and, as this has been going on year after year, it probably will to all eternity. That sneezing puts a stop to it.

The outside of this celebrated mundapum is similar to that we saw before at Trichinopoly, the two side-pillars being carved differently, the one on the right being Ravana, the celebrated giant, who was condemned to bear a mountain on his back in punishment for his sins. Exactly opposite is situated the celebrated Temple of Madura, the richest in India, with an income of £4,000 a year, and an enormous number of priests. The difference between this and the other at Trichinopoly is that this is all covered over, while that is uncovered. That one is very poor, while this is enormously rich. I ought to have said a few words here respecting Hindoo worship. There is not a single Hindoo temple dedicated to the worship of the one God, and they have no representation of Him. He is something too awful for that. They never address Him except through a priest, or one of his personifications, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. These are the three principal deities. Brahma is Creation, Vishnu is Preservation, and Siva Destruction. And, although it is said that there are 330,000,000 gods in India, yet the simple truth is, all these are only names given to one or other of these in any particular place where the god is worshipped. He is always named for some act or other which he is supposed to have performed at or near the place of worship. One or other of these three is the god, and there are 330,000,000 names of these gods. That is the whole secret of the Hindoo religion.

Passing into this celebrated temple, we come to the golden lotus-tank, one of the most celebrated tanks in India. It is supposed that in this temple originally there was no tank, and so Siva was obliged to make a passage under the sea to allow the water of the Ganges to come a thousand miles and supply this tank with water. Alongside this tank there was a bench, and there was a sect of holy men who had a right to sit upon it. This bench had the peculiar faculty of elongating itself at pleasure, or becoming shorter, as the case might be, and therefore, when anybody applied to be admitted a member of this holy sect, he was ordered to sit on the bench. If the bench elongated, he was to be received as a member; if the bench became shorter, he went head over heels into the water, and could not become a member; and, as the water was in a very foul state, he did not have a very pleasant bath.

Now we come to the Palace of Madura. It formerly covered a square mile of ground, and was a most splendid building. Every pillar you see is 50 feet high. There is very little of it left now, and what little there is, is used as a court of justice every day in the season. The next view will give you a better idea of this wonderful place. It is taken from the inside, looking outward, and gives a side-face view of the square, three sides of which still stand. The interior of one of the colonnades also gives a very good idea of the grandeur of the place.

We now strike across the sea-shore, and on going a little to the north we cross a small arm of the sea, and come to Ramisseram, which has the most celebrated temple in the south, if not in the whole of India. Its corridors are considered the finest in the south—the door at the end marks the entrance to the sanctuary—they are 300 feet long; each pillar is one block of solid gray granite. Unfortunately, from its being whitewashed, much of the beauty is hidden. If at any future day it should be cleaned, it will, of course, be in a better state of preservation thereby.

This gives, an idea of the strange way the Hindoos sculpture the pillars in their temples. The figure is nothing but that of a juggler, and yet he is carved out of one of the pillars in one of the most sacred temples in India. The side-aisle of the Temple of Ramisseram is 700 feet long; the window at the end is five feet high, and gives some idea of its length. When we consider that the pillars are of granite, and the enormous time it must have taken to build such a temple, and carve such a wonderful corridor, I think you will agree with me that it is a work which the world can hardly excel. Four thousand feet is the aggregate length of the corridors. The temple is situated at the edge of the sea, and receives the pilgrim after his long and toilsome march of 3,000 miles from the north. Only those who know what Indian travel is can conceive what he must have gone through; when he leaves the Ganges he is laden with bottles, one of which he is bound to leave at every temple till he arrives here, and leaves the last, and here he hopes for rest. But he has no rest yet, for the Bramins take him to the sea, and the actions they make him go through at daylight are very absurd. Then, between here and Ceylon, is a long sand-bank, seven miles long, which formerly was a portion of the land, and through this the pilgrim is condemned to wade to a temple built on a rock. At last the Bramins have done with him, and he finds rest and repose here. He wanders through the splendid corridor late in the evening in the dark night and knows he has earned the right to remain. He feels that he has insured to himself beatitude hereafter, and, he hopes, prosperity in this world.

Before finishing, I must ask you to understand what Indian caste is. It is compared to our society, but in reality is very different from it. A high-caste man, no matter what his position, though he may be a beggar and perform the most extraordinary offices, still always has the right of entrée into the houses of the richest natives, and is welcomed wherever he goes, and always received well. On the other hand, a low-caste man, though with millions of money, is never allowed to enter a temple. Among the higher caste are the fakirs. There is one, such as I saw him. He confessed to me that water had never touched his body, his nails had never been cut, he had never been shaved, and his hair was bound up with rags, and was a solid mass of dirt and filth, and yet this man was received with open arms in the magnificent palaces of the rich natives, where he was always welcome Such as I saw him I show him to you.