The Sundhya, or, the Daily Prayers of the Brahmins
THE DAILY PRAYERS
MRS. S. C. BELNOS
THE DAILY PRAYERS
A SERIES OF ORIGINAL DRAWINGS FROM NATURE, DEMONSTRATING
THEIR ATTITUDES AND DIFFERENT SIGNS AND FIGURES PERFORMED
BY THEM DURING THE CEREMONIES OF THEIR MORNING DEVOTIONS, AND
LIKEWISE THEIR POOJAS.
Tribeni, Junction of the Ganges and the Jumna.—in the bed of the river is a spring well called Suruswuti.
A DESCRIPTIVE TEXT ANNEXED TO EACH PLATE, AND THE
PRAYERS FROM THE SANSCRIT, TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
TWENTY FOUR PLATES
Mrs. S. C. Belnos.
Shortly after my residence in Bengal, my observation was attracted to the many interesting novelties which the habits and manners of the Natives exhibited; and of a few of which I have attempted, in a former work, to offer some illustration. There remained, however, various singular practices connected with their religious system which appeared to me to deserve more careful attention, forming, as they evidently did, an essential element in the daily rituals of the Hindoos, and particularly of the Brahmans.
Upon endeavouring to obtain some precise information regarding these practices, I found that, although various useful publications contained a general description of the Brahmanical ceremonies, and in particular of the Sundhya, or the daily recitals of prayers accompanied with certain gesticulations, I found that mere general description was inadequate to convey an exact notion of the practices which were daily and hourly exhibited on the banks of the Ganges by Hindoo devotees, and that pictorial illustration was indispensably necessary to represent, in an intelligible manner, their actual performance. I therefore resolved to engage in the accomplishment of a task which had hitherto been unattempted, and offer to the public a faithful representation of some of the objects which are most striking to the European traveller as he passes by the landing-places attached to villages and towns along the sandy banks of the rivers of India: at the same time, I determined to ascertain as far as was possible, by one not professing any conversancy with oriental lore beyond the familiar use of the spoken language, the purpose and object of the ceremonial, so as to render the representations the means of conveying some information which might contribute to the better understanding of the motions and practices of the numerous and interesting races of India, which, notwithstanding their differences of creed and complexion, are subjects of the British Crown.
Upon commencing my task, however, I found that I had to encounter difficulties as serious as unexpected, as a mere general sketch of the attitudes and gesticulations of the Brahmans at the season of worship, however graphic, could not express that minute accuracy which it was my great desire faithfully to preserve. It was necessary that the worshipper should deliberately perform his exercises in my presence, so as to afford me time and opportunity to delineate them with precision. That there should have been much reluctance in complying with this requisition was not unnatural, as it was asking the performer to exhibit rites considered by him as solemn and sacred, for a secular and profane purpose; but this natural reluctance became inflexible refusal on the part of the Brahmans of Bengal, none of whom would consent to perform those rites in my presence, or impart to a female, and an impure European, any of the mysteries of their religion. I was therefore unable to make any progress whilst I resided in Calcutta, and awaited the prospect of a visit to the Upper Provinces, and to the Holy City of Benares (the chief seat of Brahmanical learning), where I was led to expect I should meet with individuals less bigoted and intolerant than the Brahmans of Bengal.
Accordingly, as soon as opportunity admitted, and I was settled for some time at Benares, I set on foot an inquiry for such an informant as was required for my investigations. It was not easy to meet with one, as few Brahmans would condescend to enlighten a European female on such grave topics; nor could they comprehend why I should feel any interest in the subject, or take any pains for a purpose (which they considered) so incompatible with my sex and caste. I was not discouraged, however; and by unremitting perseverance, and by liberal remunerations, I at length prevailed on a Brahman, who professed to be acquainted with Sanscrit literature, and who officiated as a Priest in one of the Temples of Benares, to go through all the ceremonial of his daily worship in my presence, and to furnish me with the prayers used on these occasions. Accordingly, I delineated the positions through which he went in the course of his adorations with the most careful exactness, and translated, from his explanations in the vernacular Hindoostani, the names and attributes of the Deities addressed, and the prayers by which they were propitiated. I also received from the Pundit copies of the original texts, which I have submitted to the perusal of Professor Wilson, who has expressed himself satisfied with their general authenticity and correctness, but has not considered them to be sufficiently accurate for publication; as the Pundit, although possessed of the average popular attainments of the class to which he belonged, and thoroughly master of the practices of his religion, was evidently not a profound Sanscrit scholar. The translations which I made have been also revised by the same Gentleman, and are considered by him to convey an accurate expression of the sense and purport of the originals.
In undertaking to delineate and describe this portion of the religious ceremonies of the Hindoos I have not intended to do more than communicate a correct idea of the practices which are obvious to the daily observer, and not to enter into the recondite subject of the religion itself. It must be sufficiently apparent that the observances which it authorises are of the most puerile and absurd nature; but they are not the less deserving of notice, when we find them taking a firm hold of the minds of otherwise intelligent individuals, and exercising so much influence over their belief and conduct. For however absurd, and, to Europeans, ridiculous, these practices may appear; however unmeaning the prayers and stanzas which are repeated may be; yet there is no doubt that the Brahmans are in earnest in performing the one and reciting the other, from the unmoved gravity of demeanour and the solemn tone in which the mysterious Slokas are repeated; imparting to the whole an air of solemnity strangely at variance with the frivolous gesticulations and empty repetitions by which they are accompanied, and which are so unworthy of rational and intellectual beings, the performance of all which, there is reason to believe, is unsanctioned by their oldest and most weighty authorities, and have sprung up, in comparatively recent times, from a corrupted and questionable source. At any rate the more precise and accurate the knowledge which Europeans acquire of the deformities and absurdities of the Hindoo religion, the more competent will they be to contend with those by whom they are held in mistaken veneration, to convince them of their errors, and ultimately lead them to the adoption of a purer and more holy faith.
Although I had no reason to doubt that the Pundit whom I had employed was fully capable of giving me the information I required; yet, having had ample experience of the native character to know that implicit reliance is not to be placed upon any Native of India, I took every opportunity I could of verifying the fidelity of my representations; and in the course of a tour to Mathura, Goverddhun, and Budrabinn, all places of great holiness in the eyes of the Hindoos of the Vaishnava sects, and the residence and resort of numerous religious characters, I exhibited my drawings to several Brahmans and ascetics. They all expressed the greatest surprise—and some no little indignation—at my being in possession of such particulars; but they admitted, without exception, their truth and accuracy. I placed the drawings also before several eminent Oriental scholars in India, who likewise expressed their entire conviction of their correctness. I may add to this the testimony of the most competent judges in this country; and I may therefore venture to claim the merit of truthfulness, at least, for the work which I now offer to the public, as an humble contribution to that elucidation of the religion and the manners of the Hindoos, which has been thought worthy of the talents of so many eminent scholars, both in India and in Europe.
- April 1851.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.