India is pre-eminently a Land of Idols and of strange gods. Polytheism and its never-failing attendant, idolatry, which in modern times have disappeared so much from the face of the earth, still exist in pristine vigour in the Indian peninsula. Bred in our northern homes, where one or two circles of rude stone pillars—the roofless temples of the Druids—are the sole relics of a paganism almost prehistoric in date and too bald for idols, the sons of England stand aghast as for the first time they open their eyes upon the Hindoo world which Providence has placed in our keeping. Graven images and heathen temples—we had heard of such things with the hearing of the ear, and read of them in Bible story at our mother's knee; but no sooner does youthful soldier or civilian land in India, than lo! his eye beholds them everywhere around, endless in number, unchallenged in prestige, as if he had been carried back three thousand years into the past. The denunciations of the Prophets and the irony of the Psalmist of Israel rise into his memory as he sees the idol-maker at work in his shop, or the image-god led about in its painted car, with gay or frenzied crowds bowing themselves before the work of their own hands—gods that "have mouths, but speak not; eyes, but see not; ears, but hear not; noses, but smell not; hands, but handle not; feet, but walk not; neither have any breath in their mouths." A many-coloured paganism, alike gay and terrible—mingled light and darkness—is around him, fresh and vigourous; and, startled, he asks himself—Has time stood still here? or are there indeed nations with whom existence has been stagnation for two thousand years, and which, like earth's poles, remain forever stationary while all else whirls onward in the march of Time?
Even the stern Monotheists of the Judaean hills, lofty worshippers of the viewless Jehovah, with all their intensity of hatred to idol-worship, must have wrung from poetry more fervid anathemas had their rapt gaze extended to the peninsula of Ind. The lowlands of Tyre and Philistia might bow to the fish-god Dagon,—the banks of Abana and Pharpar and the groves of the Orontes might be gay with the licentious rites of Ashtaroth,—memories of the gods of Egypt stood recorded in the Pentateuch,—and in the dark hours of the Captivity the Hebrew looked with heightened hatred upon the nobler symbol-worship of Assyria; but not Syria, Assyria, and Egypt combined would have equalled that stupendous development of paganism and idolatry which still exists as a spectacle for Man's humiliation and instruction, upon the plains of India. Nowhere else did a polytheistic worship rear itself on so grand a scale or in such vivid colours. Greece idolised men— Egypt animals—Africa has its fetishes of stocks and stones; but India has idolised all. Only one other civilised country in the world continues pagan—namely, China; but India and the land of Confucius are the very opposites of each other in the forms and characters of their religion. Roam through China, and although Buddhist pagodas dot the country, you will find that the idols—or rather the ever-lasting one, of Buddha—excite little or no veneration in the people; and Confucianism, the State and national creed, ignores symbol-worship altogether. The people of the Flowery Land venerate, and present symbolic trifles to, the viewless manes of their ancestors; the Emperor, as the high-priest of the nation, offers upon an altar fruits of the earth to the sun and other skyey influences; and a vague notion prevails of an impersonal god or divine law which they call "heaven." It is a paganism of matter-of-fact men; and idol- worship, virtually ignored by the State, languishes amongst the people. But cross the Himilayas, and what a contrast appears! In India it is the positive, not the negative, side of paganism that presents itself. Imagination there supersedes Reason,—Personality replaces the more abstract feeling of Law,—Polytheism supersedes Deism,—GOD is fractured into a thousand minor deities, representative of his varied attributes,—for every god there is an idol, and for every idol myriads of worshippers! Instead of the bald humanity of the reverent Confucius, who confessed that he knew little about the Supreme, in India imagination has run riot, and enveloped the gods with an atmosphere of stupendous fable, in which the sublime alternates with the grotesque, and the gigantic and superhuman is mingled with puerilities which could only have proceeded from the low imagination of rustic bards. This is not the whole truth,—a world of high speculation lies behind or soars above this crowded region of idols, monsters, and fables; but such unquestionably are the features of Indian religion which are the most obvious and universal, and hence most expressive of the national character.
How striking a proof it is of the strength of the adoring principle in human nature—what an illustration of mankind's sense of dependence upon an unseen Supreme—that the grandest works which the nations have reared are those connected with Religion! Were a Spirit from some distant world to look down upon the surface of our planet as it spins round in the solar rays, his eye would be most attracted, as the morning light passed onward, by the glittering and painted pagodas of China, Borneo, and Japan—the richly- ornamented temples and stupendous rock-shrines of Indian—the dome-topped mosques and tall slender minarets of Western Asia—the pyramids and vast temples of Egypt, with their mile- long avenues of gigantic statues and sphinxes—the graceful shrines of classic Greece—the basilicas of Rome and Byzantium—the semi-oriental church-domes of Moscow—the Gothic cathedrals of Western Europe—and as the day closed, the light would fall dimly upon the ruins of the grand sun-temples of Mexico and Peru, where, in the infancy of reason and humanity, human sacrifices were offered up, as if the All-Father were pleased with the agony of his creatures! Nowhere has that adoring principle reared grander temples than in India. Egypt may surpass them in vastness, and Greece outdoes them in lovely symmetry; but as exhibiting a marvellous combination of grandeur, beauty, and variety, the religious edifices of India find no parallel in any single country. The stupendous rock- temples of Bombay—the magnificent and lofty-domed topes of Ceylon—the gorgeous sculpture-covered shrines of Southern India—the tall elliptical temples of Orissa—the lovely and exquisitely finished ones of Guzerat, combine with the Mahometan mosques and minarets of Hindostan to form an unsurpassable assemblage of architectural art and skill.
Visit some of those TEMPLES, that we may better see their varying characters; as well as the idol-gods within them; and thereafter, when we come to the Festivals, we shall know better what to think of the adoring crowds without.
Hire a boat at Bombay in the early morning, ere the heat grows oppressive, and row seven miles across the harbour to the beautiful island of Elephanta. Ascend the path leading upwards through the narrow valley that separates the two long hills which constitute the island; and as you keep to the left along the bend of the hill, suddenly you find yourself in an open space, and before you the entrance to a rock-hewn temple, whose huge columns seem to support the whole mountain that rises above. Brushwood and wild shrubs crown the brow of the scarped face of the porphyry-like rock; beneath extends the facade of the temple 130 feet long, with its massive pillars and pilasters, leaving three wide openings or vistas, through which the eye seeks to penetrate the gloomy grandeur of the interior. The temple fronts the north, so that the sun gives you little help, and though there are two side-fronts identical in form with the main one (but approached by different paths), still the light within is considerably more dim than religious. Light a torch, and pass in and onwards beneath the flat far-spreading roof, and between the rows of pillars, whose cushion-like capitals seem pressed down by the weight of the mountain; until, passing gigantic figures sculptured in high relief on the side walls, you at length reach the back of the cave, and behold in a recess a colossal figure, three heads on one bust, representing the god Siva. In other sculptures on the walls appears the four-faced Brahma riding on his swan—the elephant-headed Ganesa—and a company of nymphs or celestial choristers. But the presiding deity is Siva, the god alike of destruction and reproduction, and incidents of his life are sculptured around. In one group he appears in a hermaphrodite form, with one breast, and holding a trident; in another he appears as the destroyer, wearing a necklace of human skulls, with the cobra beside him, and brandishing a sword, while the victim of his wrath trembles before him. The Lingam, too, symbol of generation, appears in one of the side-apartments, and serves still further to assure us that this great cave-temple was the work of a people devoted to the Saiva worship. It is polytheistic Hindooism with Siva in the ascendant.
For another type of the rock-temple, let us go to Karli, and see one very different, both in form and object, from that above described. There are no idols here, no sculptured gods. Entering by a grand front, now defaced by the falling away of portions of the rock, we pass through arched doorways, beneath a gallery corresponding to an English rood-loft, and, in surprise, find ourselves as if in the interior of an early Christian church! For a hundred and thirty feet before us extends the nave or body of the temple, with rows of thick close-set pillars separating it from the narrow side- aisles—overhead a high-arching vaulted roof—and at the inner end, beneath an apex or demidome, stands the relic-shrine or altar, upon which the whole light from the large window above the entrance is made to fall at an angle with most striking effect. No Siva, no Vishnoo, no Brahma! How opposite from modern Hindooism! Not even a Protestant church could be freer from imagery. It was the religion of Buddha—so practical in its morality, so abstract in its creed—that inspired the architects of that temple, and eighteen centuries have passed since first it was hewn imperishably in the rock. The Buddhists were the main formers of the rock-structures of India; and so numerous are these, that not less than forty distinct groups of them are to be found, comprehending about a thousand individual specimens. All these rock-structures are connected with one or other of the religions of Indian—Buddhist, Jain, or Brahminical—but four-fifths of them are not temples, but viharas, or monasteries for the once numerous priesthood of Buddha. Specimens of the this latter kind we find in abundance at Salsette. A twenty miles journey from Bombay brings one to the place, where, after passing through some miles of jungle, precipitous rocks are seen covering the hill-sides, and in these precipices excavations for the most part rising in stories above one another, connected by flights of steps cut in the face of the rock. Enter, and you find that these viharas consist of a central hall supported by four to twenty or more pillars, with small cells all round it for the priests, and a sanctuary containing an image of Buddha. Here again, as at Karli and other places, occurs the curious apparition of a rock-hewn temple in the exact form of a Christian church, but with two colossal statues of Buddha on either side of the portico. Ajunta is another locality where these viharas abound. And it is pleasing to note that Art went with the Buddhist monk into his rock-halls, in some of which the fresco paintings on the walls remain fresh as the day they were limned, representing the manners and customs of India, ten or fifteen hundred years ago. In some of the older rock-halls, not only the walls and roof, but even the pillars are wholly covered with stucco, and ornamented with painting. On the walls are extensive compositions of figures and landscapes; on pillars, either Buddha or Buddhist saints; while the paintings on the roof are almost invariably architectural frets and scrolls, often of extreme beauty and elegance, rivalling many of those at Pompeii and the Baths of Titus; a threefold division which Fergusson, the highest authority in such matters, pronounces to be "the only one admissible in good taste."1 No eye regards those pleasant frescoes now. This frailest of the arts has here seen a whole religion pass away before it, like a scroll, from the land of its birth. Priests and worshippers have alike departed. Buddha himself is a forgotten name in India, although once he was adored from the Himalayas to Ceylon. These rock- temples have long survived the worship which inspired their constructors, and promise to outlast even Hindooism itself.
Turn southwards across the peninsula, and other kinds of temple- building, and other phases of religion, present themselves. The south of India is the stronghold of that extraordinary melange of polytheistic belief which is called Hindooisn; and there its temples, festivals, and superstitions are to be seen on a grander scale than elsewhere. Here is the region or headquarters of the Tamul race, to which people, we incline to believe, Hindooism owes the greatest part of its externals and extravagances. There are no cave-temples in this region—they are almost entirely structural edifices, with several remarkable monoliths, or temples carved out of single rocks. Not forty miles south of Madras stands Maliveram, the ruined "city of the great Bali," close by the sea, which is swallowing up the wondrous monuments with its encroaching waves. Half- submerged, a granite column rises above the waters; close to the shore stand two monolithic temples, covered with exquisite carving, but with the sea already dashing against their walls. Five others are said to have been long ago submerged—a belief which has procured for the place, from British sailors, to whom it is a landmark, the name of "the Seven Pagodas." A wilderness of rock-temples and monoliths spreads around, sculptured on which appear some of the chief stories in Hindoo mythology. Vishnoo, Siva, Krishna, and the goddess Durga are the leading deities of the place, and figure as heroes or heroine of the grotesque and monstrous myths sculptured on the walls. Here we have Vishnoo lying on the great snake Sesha with the thousand heads; here also we see him in his first avatar as the fish, in his second as the tortoise, his fourth as the boar, and his fifth as the dwarf. Here, too, is Krishna, like an Apollo kicked out of Olympus, playing his tricks on the shepherdesses of Muttra, whose hearts he stole, whose butter he ran off with, and whose jars of milk it was his divine pleasure to upset; and in one sculpture we see him in a tree with the milkmaids' clothes, which he had run off with when their owners were bathing, and for the restoration of which they beseech him, standing below in various moods of bashfulness or unconcern. Siva, with his wife Parvati, and their son, are also there, with the sacred bull Nandi lying at their feet; while before them and in various places stands the Lingam. The goddess Durga or Kali appears in various of the sculptures, and most memorably in the one which represents her famous combat with the buffalo-headed monster Mahashasura, whom she attacks riding on her lion. This is the finest monument of art in these ruins, and the figures of the monster, the lion and the goddess, are admirably arranged and full of spirit. Of this figure of Durga it has been observed: "Her whole person, the fine fall of the shoulders, the moderately luxuriant bosom, and the sudden tapering off of the leg below the knee, contrasting with the remarkable largeness of the thigh, presents the perfect picture of a beautiful Indian woman."2 Yet this is Kali, the bloody goddess, represented in other places as black and terrible in appearance, and surrounded with symbols of the most ferocious cruelty!—but many such startling contradictions are to be met with in Hindoo theology. The elephant-headed Ganesha, god of wisdom—perhaps the most popular idol in India—appears frequently in these rock-temples, blackened by smoke and ghee; being still propitiated every Friday with lustrations of ghee, cocoa-nut oil, and certain rites and prayers. Another rock is sculptured all over with innumerable figures of gods, men, and beasts, representing the story of "the penance of Arjuna," one of the noblest and most famous in all Hindoo legend. How long those structures have stood it is hard to say,—for on some of the temples inscriptions are to be met with in a language now unintelligible, even to scholars, in the south of India. A vast population and wealthy civilization must once have existed there; but naught remains save the deserted temples and luxurious beauty of the spot—thick-green shrubbery, a-glow with flowers of the most brilliant colours, everywhere obstructing the paths; while overhead the palm-trees wave their graceful branches, "like a beautiful woman nodding with drowsiness."
But if here, too, the worship has forsaken the shrines, it is a transference only, not (as in the case of the rock-temples of Bombay) an extinction. Though Buddhism have vanished, the worship of Siva, Vishnoo, Kali, and countless minor deities—constituting the popular religion of the Hindoos—is as prevalent as ever in Southern India. And though new temples are but rarely erected, and not a few of the old one suffer from want of repairs, the number, magnitude, and magnificence of those existing are calculated to fill with amazement the mind of the beholder. The country, says Fergusson, "is covered with temples, which, for extent, and the amount of labour bestowed on them, may rival Karnac, and most extensive temples of Egypt, and surpass even the cathedrals of the middle ages in complexity of design and variety of detail. Their relative merit as works of art is another question, which I fear must be decided against them; but as specimens of patient devotional labour, they stand as yet unrivalled in the architectural history of the world." Rising from a square base, the larger temples tower aloft story above story, in an elongated pyramid capped by a kind of small florid dome. In the centre of the ground-story is the cube-shaped sanctuary, containing an idol or symbol of the god; the rest of the ground-story consists of pillared spaces and enclosures, for the services of the temple; while the entire external surface of these edifices is covered with elaborate carvings and sculpture, in which may be seen all the strange stories of the Hindoo pantheon. The great temple at Tanjore, the finest in the South (being almost the only one in which the vimana or actual temple is the principle object, round which the subordinate ones are grouped in such a manner as to make a great and consistent whole), rises through no less than fourteen stories to a height of 200 feet. These temples do not stand by themselves, but each is enclosed in a rectangular court or series of courts, sometimes covering an immense extent of ground, and enclosing lesser temples and buildings of various shape and size. The gateways to these courts (called gopuras)—which resemble the vimanas, or temples, only being oblong instead of square—and the vast pillared halls within (called choultries), some of them comprising 1000 columns, are the most striking adjuncts to the temples, and sometimes throw it entirely into the shade. The temple at Seringham has no less than seven enclosures, adorned by twenty-three gateways—the outermost of these enclosures being nearly 1000 yards square, and its gateways being among the most stupendous buildings in the south of India—towering buildings 130 feet wide by 100 deep, pierced in the ground-story with an entrance the jambs of which are single granite slabs upwards of forty feet in height, roofed by others twenty-four feet long! Viewed externally, however, such a temple is a congeries of gate-pyramids without object; and on entering (as the lesser enclosures have lesser gateways), you pass from the most magnificent structures to those which are less and less so, till the minimum is reached in the temple itself. The vast colonnades or pillared halls at Tinnevelly, Chillumbrum, Seringham, Ramisseram, and other places, vary in the number of their pillars from 600 to 1000; that of Trimul Naik at Madura cost nearly a million sterling, and took twenty-two years for its erection. These pillars almost always consist of a hard close-grained granite, yet are convered with sculpture from the base to the capital; and in most instances no two pillars are alike—thus combining a symmetry of general effect with an endless and bewildering variety in the detail. In these colonnades the dancing-girls attached to the temple at times dance and sing, or the idol-gods at stated seasons take an airing; but by far the most important purpose which they serve is when used as nuptial halls, in which the mystic union of the male and female divinities is celebrated once a-year!
Having seen the shrines, behold the FESTIVALS. Unlike the silent and long-forsaken temples of Egypt, Greece, and Italy, the architectural grandeur of these Hindoo pagodas is enhanced by the presence of enthusiastic crowds of worshippers. The sound of a bell or gong, or of the sacred shell, or the shrill pipe, generally indicates the hours of the priests' attendance at the temples. At such times the priests are to be seen officiating at the shrines, where, amid a din of music and the smoke of fragrant incense, they are uttering sacred invocations or incantations, and presenting the offerings of the worshippers; while attendant votaries occupy the courts and corridors, and the ghâts of the beautiful tanks are thronged with men and women engaged in their ablutions. But it is during the great festivals, which sometimes last eight or ten days, that one gets the best idea of the spirit as well as ceremonial of the Hindoo religion. On these occasions the people throng together in myriads, sometimes to the number of a hundred thousand—all dressed in their best, as for a holiday where enjoyment is devotion. To see such festivals in their full glory, one should go to Juggernaut, in Orissa, or Conjeveram, and the other holy cities of the south. In Conjeveram alone there are no less that 126 temples, small and great, of which 108 are dedicated to Siva, and the remainder to Vishnoo; and as the pretty cottages of the inhabitants are over-topped by stately trees, the whole city, at a little distance, presents to the eye a crowd of magnificent white temples, mingled with the freshly-green foliage of the palm-trees. It is worth while to journey from Madras to witness a festival in the "golden city," or a shorter drive may suffice to Trivatore or other neighboring place. If you approach the scene of the festival at night, you find the road illuminated by lanterns hung on garlands stretched across it from tree to tree; and booths erected along the road-side, with figures and paintings of gods and goddesses in them, perhaps not of the most delicate description. Probably you are the only European amongst the crowds who, on foot or in all variety of Oriental cars, throng the way; but you have nothing to fear—your things may lie unguarded all night, and it will be unusual if even the smallest trifle be abstracted,—the natives will rather take your presence as a compliment than as an intrusion, and probably garlands of flowers will be thrown round your neck next day as you walk about to see the sights. The houses are fresh painted and decorated with garlands, while floral arches span the streets, which are crowded with the joyous worshippers. The women wear flowers, and especially the white blossoms of the jasmine, in their beautiful hair; and their arms, neck, and ankles are loaded with jewellery. The men are likewise in their gayest attire; and nowhere do the rich colours of Oriental costume appear in such brilliant variety. The main feature in these festivals is the processions of the idol-gods. The idols, decked with flowers, are carried about in gorgeously-painted cars, generally with two priests fanning them,—preceded by dancing-girls, a band of noisy musicians, bareheaded Brahmins walking hand-in-hand and singing hymns in honour of the god, and the elephants of the temple, gay with crimson and orange trappings, their very trunks elaborately painted for the occasion! Sometimes cannon fire at intervals and as the idol-god, thus escorted, approaches, the people shout, and in long lines throw themselves down before him in reverence. Half-festival and half-fair, it is a curious scene that spreads around. Toys, luscious sweet-meats, and betel are sold at the stalls—numerous go-rounds and swinging-boats perform their evolutions, filled with beautiful and artistically-dressed children,—dancing-girls in their peculiar costume mingle in the crowd or dance before the idol,—youths leap past you with towers of flowers on their heads,—and boys, dressed up like tigers, go springing about, the crowd rushing to and fro as if threatened by the actual animal. Other spectacles there are of a less pleasing kind, but met with at almost all public assemblages in India. Fakirs go amongst the crowds with shoes stuck full of nails, but singing lustily and playing on the vina all the while,—others dance about, extinguishing torches against their bare breasts,—others swing to and fro aloft with a rope round their waist; and beggars and deformed or diseased children are to be seen, hideously painted, for the purpose of attracting notice. At night fireworks of the most beautiful kind are set off in vast quantities; rockets course through the air, and pyrotechnic devices, sometimes showing the figure of the god, blaze off in front of the temple or choultry where the idol reposes. The little temples in the middle of the tanks are illuminated as the god is carried, amid the clash of cymbals, in nocturnal processions around the basin of flashing waters; while the glare of innumerable torches, and the blaze of Indian lights—white, blue, orange, crimson, and green—change the darkness into an almost insufferable light.
Such is worship in Southern India, where Hindooism exists in greatest pomp and circumstance. The temples of India, like those of all ancient nations, are regarded as the abodes of the gods; and the IDOLS obtain various degrees of veneration,—some classes worshipping them as actual gods, others as full of the divine presence, and others as mere symbols or venerated accessories of devotion. Idol-shops are very common in Hindoo towns and villages. In passing along the streets, you may see the idol-maker—perhaps a Brahmin, with the sacred cord round his neck and the sectarial marks on his forehead—sitting in his shop, smoking his hookah, and waiting for a customer, or else engaged in the actual manufacture of the images. These are of all sizes and of any material—metal, wood, stucco—the latter kind quite resembling the common painted casts sold in streets of England, and, if unconsecrated, bringing about the same price. You may buy one for a halfpenny—so that the poorest can purchase them; but the rich Hindoos spend vast sums on idols, which are frequently made of the most costly materials, inlaid with precious stones. The consecration of the idol is effected by the utterance of sacred texts, and by the touch of the priest,—also by washing the image with the water of the Ganges. The idols, or symbols, thus sanctified, are placed in the adyta of the temples, or in that part of a private house which is set apart to religion. Sometimes temporary idols are made by the worshippers themselves. A Brahmin, after squeezing a lump of the Ganges mud in his hands into something like an image, with set it up on the bank, offering it rice, fruit, flowers, and oil,—reverently bowing to it, with his hands closed together in the attitude of prayer, and with many ejaculations and invocations; and then, after a little pause, he will throw it away. In this way, also, females make a lingam for worship, and then cast it away. Such practices serve to illustrate the fact that, with a large proportion of Hindoos, idols are no more to be regarded as actual gods than is the crucifix in Roman Catholic countries,—sometimes less so. Doubtless there are Hindoos who imagine that the consecrated idols are transubstantiated into the very deity,—that having ears, they may be charmed with music; having eyes, they may behold the prostrations and gesticulations of the worshippers; having nostrils, they may be regaled with odours, whether of flower or incense; and having mouths, may partake of the viands that are spread before them. But such are not the notions of the educated and intelligent classes of the Indian population. These regard the divinity as present in the visible flower,—as fire is present in the heated metal,—as magnetic influence pervades steel. And many, like the Brahmin with his mud-idol of the banks of the Ganges, hold that the image is a mere symbol, possessed of no essential sanctity, and representing the god merely as a letter stands for an audible sound—in other words, simply by conventional usage.
The Hindoos have been called the most religious people on the face of the earth; and it is hard to deny that the feelings of devotion, and of reliance on a higher Power, which constitute the very essence of religion (considered as distinct from morality), are to be found in India as in any country in the world. The whole system of his temple-worship is regarded by the Hindoo as of divine appointment, and therefore efficacious for the ends contemplated. Just as the southern nations of Christendom, in an hour of pressing grief or danger, throw themselves down before a crucifix, a Madonna, or the image of a saint,—or repair to the solemn solitudes of their ever-open cathedrals to implore help from above in prayer; in a similar spirit, and in an almost identical form, does the Hindoo resort to his temples for divine help amidst the exigencies common to all humanity. "In the countless vicissitudes of life," says the Rev. Mr Perceval, "the Hindoo confidently relies on the unfailing and ever-present lord and guide locally present in the venerated fane. That shrine is his light in darkness, his salvation, his stay, his succour, his bliss, his all. In extremity, as when a woman is in labour, or when dangerous symptoms threaten a fatal termination to disease, some member of the family, probably its head, will even in the dead of night hasten to the village shrine—possibly a mere mud hut—and in lowly reverence supplicate in a hasty petition the beneficent intervention of the powerful being whom he believes to be there specially present."3 Was it not the same with the Hebrews of old, who went up to pray in the Temple at Jerusalem as if that were the only place in all the earth where God could be effectually addressed! It was reserved for Christianity to make the whole world a temple, and to the reveal the Heavenly Father as equally near to us at all times and in all places.
Every nation has certain constitutional peculiarities, which give rise to practices and phases of thought very startling to others who are in such points differently constituted. The most remarkable peculiarity of this kind in the Hindoo character is its power of ASCETICISM, and its occasional delight in what, to ordinary humanity, would be severe self-torture. Monks and saints of Christendom have often subjected the body to grievous penance—secluding themselves from the happy communion of their fellows—fasting oft—and daily kneeling on the rocky floor of their cells before a crucifix, while they lacerated their backs with stripes. But all such triumphs over the instincts of our nature fade out of sight before the tremendous self-imposed tortures to be witnessed among the Indian population. Asceticism there counts its votaries by thousands, the greater proportion of whom perambulate the country as solitary mendicants. Some of these strange beings keep one or both arms extended above their heads till the muscles become so rigid and fixed as to be incapable of motion;—some keep their hands closed till the nails make their way through the flesh, and completely perforate the hand;—others hold up their faces to the sky till the muscles of the neck contract so as to retain the head in that position. These fanatics usually belong to the Saiva sect; they mat or twist their hair so as to make it rise above their head, and go about either in a state of nudity, or with only a small wrapper stained with ochre. The extraordinary practices of these fanatics are well exemplified by what Mr Perceval saw at Ramisseram, on occasion of one of the great periodic festivals. "Some were literally interred in an ordinary posture,—others were buried with the head downwards, and only the legs from the knees above ground; one sat on an iron frame in which were fixed iron spikes which pierced his flesh; some had a pan of burning coal on the head, and bore it along in the crowd,—while others lay prostrate on their backs, with a vessel full of burning embers placed on the breast; and one was performing the penance of the Five Fires, being seated in the midst of four, with the fifth, the burning sun, pouring its rays on his naked head. One man had an iron collar round his neck, on whose margin were planted iron spikes." Sometimes a devotee, stretching himself on the ground on his back, and placing a handful of moist earth on his under- lip, plants in it some grains of mustard-seed; and then, lying perfectly motionless, without food or drink, he exposes himself to the heat of the day and dews of the night till the seed germinates, which is generally about the fourth day! The variety of these feats or penances is endless, and their nature is very astounding. But it is absurd to regard them as torture, in the ordinary meaning of the word, to those who practice them. The Hindoo of a fanatical temperament takes to such practices from his a native instinct; he trains himself with as much satisfaction as our pugilists and athletes practice their various forms of gymnastics; and the crowds at the festivals look upon these exhibitions of the triumph of the soul over the flesh with as much hilarity and complacency as an English assembly witness the feats of the circus. We Britons do not understand how this can be; but quite as little to the quiescent Hindoos understand how reasonable beings can have a passion for running, leaping, cricketing, fox-hunting, and other violent and fatiguing pursuits, which would be worse than torture to the Hindoo than an occasional turn on the swinging-hooks! As the Englishman, by native instinct, delights to develop in skilful exercise the muscular strength of his body, so the Hindoo passionately seeks to develop the powers of the soul—of the spirit within, which he holds to be a power superior to those by which nature works in the world around him. Many of the feats performed by these yogees or devotees are really marvellous—indeed incredible to Europeans who have not witnessed them, or who are not conversant with the abundance of testamony by which even the most startling are attested. How may man become superhuman? how may he become God?—is, in fact, the great question which the religious philosophy of India seeks to answer; and it is amazing to what triumphs of the spirit over the flesh this idea has given birth. We cannot stop at present to show the connection between this constitutional peculiarity and the various creeds and philosophies of India; but we would suggest, in regard to such violations of one half of our nature, whether it be not a necessary consequence, that when man seeks to make himself more than man, he generally sinks into something less.
It is at festivals in honour of the goddess Kali that exhibitions of devotional self-torture are most frequent. Kali is the most horrible of all the Hindoo idols. Brahma is a deity of too neutral a character to be much thought of,—Vishnoo is essentially a beneficent and joyous deity,—Siva, though a monster in his character of the Destroyer, is most useful and popular as the god of reproduction and sexualism. But Kali, as it seems to an English mind, has not one good point about her. She is usually represented as a black or dark-blue female, with blood-streaked countenance and dishevelled hair, dancing on the prostrate body of her husband Siva! One of her arms (of which she has four) holds a sword, another grasps by the hair a human head; all her three eyes (she has one in her forehead) are full of wrath—human victims dangle as ornaments from her ears, and her necklace and girdle are composed of skulls. But mankind, instead of being logical, are in the mass highly inconsequential beings; and however dismal we may take the goddess Kali to be, it is certain that the Hindoos flock to her festivals as to scenes of enjoyment. It must be said, too, that however ferocious the appearance of her idol, it represents her fresh from the beneficent deed of slaying the giants, whose blood she has drunk; and the lolling of her tongue is held emblematic of her shame on discovering that, in her blind fury, she is trampling on her husband. The third hand of the image, too, which is spread open, indicates her bestowal of blessings upon her worshippers, while with the fourth she is forbidding fear; so that, in truth, like most of the Hindoo gods, she is better than she looks—and much need! The worship of Durga, one form of Kali, which is celebrated in autumn, ushers in a season of the greatest rejoicing amongst her followers. "Durga is then believed, to the great joy of the world, to be married; and the voluptuous and indelicate dances which are performed before her, are meant to entice her to the propagation of children, who are to fight with and overcome the evil spirits who injure mankind."4 This is the most splendid and expensive of the Hindoo festivals. Numerous animals—buffaloes, sheep, goats, &c.—are sacrificed on each of the three days of the festival; and after all the animals have been slain, the multitude daub their bodies with the mud and gore, and then dance about like Bacchanalian furies. During this festival all business is suspended throughout the country, and universal festivity, for the most part of a lascivious complexion, prevails. The houses of the wealthy Hindoos are at night splendidly illuminated, and thrown open to visitors of all kinds,—respectable Europeans being always welcomed with attention and gratitude. Immense sums of money are expended on these festivals,—much being given to charity, and in feeding and clothing priests and beggars—much in feasting—and not a little is lavished on the nautch girls, or bayadères, who dance before the idol, to satisfy the devotion and gratify the senses of the company.
The general character of the worship of Kali, however, is of a different kind. It is in her honour that the Saiva sect perform the Churruk Pooja, or "whirling worship,"—the most common religious martyrdom in India, and which is to be witnessed nearly all over India, from the banks of the Ganges to Cape Comorin. The devotees at this festival allow two large iron hooks to be fastened into the fleshy part of their backs, immediately below the shoulder-blades; a linen bandage is then frequently (but not always) tied over the part to prevent the flesh giving way; after which the devotees are hoisted, by means of a rope attached to a high pole erected on a platform, to a fearful height in the air, and made to gyrate in wide circles. They generally remain up, swinging about, for fifteen or twenty minutes, but they are lowered at any time on their making a sign. Instances sometimes occur in which the flesh and muscles of the back give way, and the devotee is dashed to the ground with fatal violence; but accidents are rare, and the ordeal is not regarded with the apprehension or aversion which we should expect. In many cases the saints are "old hands," who perform the rite from motives of gain and reputation, and who go through their martyrdom with great cheerfulness and self-satisfaction. Seldom do even novices wince when the hooks are fastened, and the subsequent swinging in the air is invariably borne with composure, often with enthusiasm. Sometimes the devotee smokes his pipe while whirling in his lofty gyrations! It is usual for the devotee to take up with him fruits and flowers in his girdle, which he throws down to the crowd, who—especially the female portion—laughing and shouting with delight, rush eagerly to catch them in their hands, or in umbrellas inverted to receive them. Sterile women are especially anxious to obtain the fruit scattered by these devotees of Siva, as a means of wiping away their reproach; and wealthy childless ladies frequently send their servants to the festival to procure some of the auspicious fruit for their mistresses to eat. Rewards in a future life are thought to attend the performance of this singular worship; but with the exception of what may be called the professional martyrs, the greater portion of those who go through the Churruk Pooja do so in fulfilment of a vow made to obtain some temporal good. The purely disinterested motives and tender affection displayed in many of these cases cannot fail to excite our warmest sympathy. Among the votaries at of these festivals, we read of a man who, though childless himself, had vowed to undergo the torture in order to save the life of a younger sister's child. "The sister, with her little one in her arms, perfectly restored to health, was present; and her looks sufficiently bespoke her intense gratitude and love for the self-denying brother who thus redeemed the vow he had made for her sake." The next was "a young, delicately- formed, sweet-looking woman, who offered herself to this exposure and agony for the sake of a relative no more nearly connected with her than her husband's brother." Another votary was an aged mother, whose prayers (she believed) had saved the life of her son. "The vow had been made, and the deliverance effected, eleven years before; but the poor people had never been able till then to incur the expenses of the offering to the god, and the feat with which these solemnities are always closed. With the utmost heroism this aged woman endured the whole, shouting aloud with the spectators, and scattering her flowers with flurried enthusiasm. Her son, a man of thirty years, was present; and in a state of greater excitement than his mother, to whom he paid the most anxious attention, and to whose devotion he evidently believed he owed the continuance of his life."5
A faith in penances seems deeply rooted in the human mind, departing only as our views of God become higher and holier. And while we shudder at the Churruk Pooja of India, we must not forget that it proceeds from no other principle than that which produced the Flagellants and the many other mistaken devotees and ascetics of the Christian Church. And with this difference, that over these Indian tortures there is thrown a joyousness and enthusiasm which never characterised asceticism in Europe. In truth, as ordinarily witnessed, the Churruk Pooja savours more of sport than of martyrdom,—the votaries are cheerful, do not complain, and the crowds look on with delight, in a more edifying and not more concerned spirit than we do in witnessing the painful gymnastic feats and dizzy gyrations of the circus. Such spectacles, however, cannot but fill the European beholder with deep regret at the existence of rites so cruel and superstitious, mingled with admiration and sympathy for the noble motives which often inspire the ignorant devotees, and with astonishment at the singular firmness and peculiar constitution which enable the Hindoo to bear so unflinchingly these many and terrible forms of self-torture.
But to understand the hideousness of the Kali worship, one must witness the proceedings which, during the Churruk Pooja festival, take place in her temple at Calcutta—the celebrated Kali Ghat. The swinging on the hooks may be a mere outburst of misguided asceticism, kindred to the penances practised of old in Europe; but the rites we are about to describe manifestly have been derived from some primitive DEMON WORSHIP:—On entering the precincts of the temple (which has no attractions of an architectural kind), Brahmins are seen standing to receive the free-will offerings of the people, who flow past in eager crowds, receiving in return for their money consecrated flowers. Within is the hideous image of the goddess; and hard by the shrine some men stand with iron spikes, canes, rods, &c. Groups of devotees—ten or a dozen at a time—come up to these men to be operated on. One man is pierced through in either side; a couple of canes are then inserted, and, their ends being held by two of his companions, he dances away as if in a frenzy. Another has his tongue pierced, and passes through the aperture a living snake; another has his arm perforated, and passes through it an iron rod; and another passes an iron rod through his protruded tongue. Group after group press forward to be thus treated. At length, all the groups being conspicuously arranged on the platform, the goats for the sacrifice are decapitated, and the court swims in blood. Strange ingredients are then thrown on the fire. As the smoke and flame ascend, discordant instruments clash forth uproarious music; and in the midst of the din, the chief actors commence their gesticulations, and heighten their voluntary inflictions, by pulling the rods, canes, spikes, snakes, to and fro in the lacerated flesh, till fresh streams of blood pour forth afresh; and the crowd become frantic with excitement, and shout, "Victory to Kali! victory to the great Kali!" Afterwards they leave the temple to parade in similar fashion in the streets; and nothing can be more unearthly than to witness these hideous processions, accompanied by a horrid din of trumpets, gongs, fifes, and cymbals, parading in the chief thoroughfares of Calcutta.
This bloody rite—so different from the worship of the pure Brahminical race in northern and central India, or even of the Brahminised Tamul race in the south—seems to us to be a remnant of the virtual demon-worship of the aboriginal inhabitants of the peninsula. The Brahminical faith abhors all bloodshed; and its sacrificial offerings consist only of fruits, flowers, and other vegetable substances. And if we unhesitatingly ascribe the gorgeous pomp of modern Hindooism, especially as witnessed in the south, to the gay and pomp-loving Tamul race, we have still less hesitation in ascribing the demoniacal rites of the Kali Ghat to a still earlier race, who have left their blood as a bad leaven in the population of Lower Bengal. Kali and her worship clearly belong to the rude aborigines of India, who still linger in various parts of the country, and who almost everywhere exhibit a religion of demon-worship conjoined with bloody and often human sacrifices. Indeed, it seems to us to be within the limits of fair conjecture that Kali, that hideous relic of savagery, is the dread Nirritti mentioned in the Vedas—goddess of the "black Asuras," whom the "white-complexioned friends of Indra" found in possession of the Gangetic valley; a deity so terrible, that even the stout-hearted Aryans have left on record the following,—"Keep far from us Nirritti with repellant looks!" "Let not the most powerful and indestructible Nirritti destroy us!"
Hindooism—we speak of its religious externals—is a strange medley, varying in complexion from province to province, and in some places exhibiting features directly opposed to its general character. Wherever the aboriginal element predominates, the religion is dark and bloody; wherever the Tamul race extends, it is cheerful, gorgeous, and licentious; wherever the pure Hindoo is in the ascendant, it is lofty in speculation and gentle in its rites, but overlaid with absurd prescriptions of ritual and social usage, which are inculcated as divine. Passing from the tinge of demon-worship in Lower Bengal, we find this grim aboriginal element deepening as we enter the hilly province of Orissa, forming the little-know border region between the presidencies of Bengal and Madras. On the sea-coast of that region, guarded from holiday visitors by the terrible Coromandel surf, stands the famous Black Pagoda, covered from base to summit with sculptures, grossly lascivious even for India; and a little further south, on low sand-hills backed by most luxuriant woods, rise the still more celebrated temples of Juggernaut, which when viewed from the sea, appear three lofty circular buildings surrounded by several smaller ones. Every foot of the town is holy ground; and the whole of the land for twenty miles around is held free of rent, on the tenure of performing certain services connected with the temple. Maths, or religious establishments, having low-pillared verandas in front, line the principle street, with clumps of trees intersperced and at the end of the street, which is very wide, rises the grand temple within a spacious square area enclosed by a lofty wall. The enclosure is entered by a grand gateway, from which a broad flight of steps leads up to a terrace one hundred and fifty yards square; and upon this platform stands the great pagoda, thirty feet square at the base, and rising in a tapering elliptical curve to the height of two hundred feet from the ground, or one hundred and eighty from the terrace. Several other temples of all sizes, dedicated to various deities, stand within the enclosure, most of them conical in shape, and crowned with white domes. Krishna (one of the incarnations of Vishnoo) is the chief object of worship here; and from his title, Juggernaut, or Lord of the World, the great temple is denominated; but it is shared in joint tenancy with Siva, and his wife and sister Subhadra, which is but another name for Kali. The three idols which represent these deities are blocks of wood about six feet high, each surmounted by a frightful human countenance—Krishna's block being painted dark-blue, Siva's white, Subhadra's yellow. Each is provided with a rude chariot, or lofty platform mounted on wheels—that of Juggernaut being eighty-four feet square and forty-four feet high, mounted on sixteen wheels; while those of the other two idols are almost as large. A dozen festivals are held here in the course of the year; but the chief one is the Rath Jatra, which takes place every spring, when the idols are taken on their raths or cars to visit their country-house, about a mile and a half distant. Thousands of men, women, and children draw them along by means of cables fastened to the cars; while Brahmins, stationed on the platforms beside the idols, sing and recite lascivious stories, accompanied by gestures, amid the shouts and applause of the multitudes. A hundred thousand people usually assemble at this festival, many of whom come from great distances; and partly from their poverty and willingness to pay all the exactions of the priests, and partly from the natural perils and hardships of the journey, no inconsiderable number of votaries—some allege about ten thousand—annually perish in making this pilgrimage. Every year, in former times, devotees used to sacrifice their lives in honour of the idols by throwing themselves under the moving wheels; but the humanity of the British Government put a stop to such fanatical practices.
Self-immolation is not foreign to modern Brahminism; nevertheless, in order to view in their true relation the human sacrifices once prevalent at Juggernaut, it should be kept in mind that by far the greater portion of Orissa is peopled by aboriginal tribes,—the Hindoo or Brahminical race being confined to the sea- coast and some of the valleys. Indeed, the great seat of the remnants of the aboriginal races of India is in the Vindhya mountain-range, of which the Orissa hills are the eastern extremity, and which extends in a broad belt from sea to sea, separating Hindostan (northern India) from the southern and peninsular portion of the country. It is in this upland but luxuriant region that the Koles, Beels, Khonds, and other tribes are to be found, existing in peaceful and settled communities, over which the Brahminical race never acquired any ascendancy, and some of which are still unsubdued even by the all-penetrating arms and influence of the British. The religion of the Khonds, which is the best known to us, illustrates that tendency to a cruel demon-worship which we have mentioned as characteristic of the primitive population of India. No idols or temples are to be seen amongst the Khonds; they regard such things as absurd, and prefer to connect the special presence of their gods with certain groves, fountains, and rocks. The priesthood may be assumed by any one who asserts that he has been divinely called to the office, and who authenticates his pretensions by lying in a state of stupor or trance for ten or fourteen days, during which period his soul is supposed to be absent, and in the divine presence. They believe in a Supreme Being, the God of Light, who made to himself a consort, the Earth-goddess, who, on the creation of man, became so jealous that she has ever continued to contend with the power, and thwart the beneficent designs, of the Supreme. In short this rebellious deity, Tari Pennu, stands in nearly the same relation to Boora Pennu, the God of Light, as Satan does to God in the Christian theology. Kali also figures among their divinities. Animal sacrifices are offered to the Supreme; and the chief feast in honour of him is held about the time of the rice harvest, when for five days every one eats freely of fermented rice, which produces an intoxicating effect; wild dances, accompanied by stunning music, are kept up day and night, and lascivious enjoyment of all kinds is indulged in as right and pleasing in the sight of God. The worship of the evil Earth-goddess is of another sort, and embraces as its chief rite human sacrifices, which are made periodically by the tribes, and also on special occasions, in order to appease the wrath of the cruel Tari. The victims (called Meriahs) must not be Khonds, but are purchased or kidnapped, generally when children, from the lower class of the Hindoos. They may be of either sex, and, as consecrated persons, are treated with the greatest kindness. To a Meriah youth a portion of land with farming stock may be assigned, also a wife, herself a victim; or if he form an attachment for the wife or daughter of a Khond, the relatives regard it as a special favour. What a strange life is this!—reared for death, yet treated with all that usually makes life happy! The Meriahs almost never attempt to escape. When sacrificed, the victim is cut into pieces; and each head of a family obtains a shred of flesh to bury in his fields, in order to mollify the Earth-goddess, and make them fertile. Efforts have been made by the British Government to procure the discontinuance of these savage rites, and in part with success; several of the sacrificing tribes having been converted to the theology of their non-sacrificing brethren, which maintains that the Earth-goddess, though opposed to the Supreme, is so subordinated to his will that she cannot hurt those whom he protects. But several generations must probably elapse before the rude population of this extensive and secluded hill-region can be brought fully under the controlling power and influence of British civilisation.
Having seen the worship of the gay Tamul race of the south, and glanced at the bloody rites which mark the presence of the aboriginal tribes, let us descend from the broad region of the Vindhya hills into the immense plains of Bengal and Upper India. Here we find ourselves in "Hindoostan," the country of the pure Hindoos and native seat of BRAHMINISM. On the advance of this invading people, thirty- five centuries ago, into the Gangetic plains, they appear to have gradually swept the aboriginal tribes southwards into the Vindhya hills, and eastwards into the cul-de-sac of lower Bengal. We have already remarked on the tinge which this aboriginal leaven has imparted to Hindoo worship in the delta of the Ganges; so we shall at once take our way up that stream to Benares, the fountain-head of Brahminical learning, and alma mater of rigid Hindooism. It is a city of temples, pundits, and devotees. Besides 330 intrusive Mahometan mosques, there are no less than 1000 Hindoo temples, some of these of good size and appearance, others stuck like shrines at the angles of the streets, and others on the ghats or broad flights of steps which for nearly three miles line the bank of the river. In the streets, which are narrow as alleys, and nearly roofed in by the projecting upper stories of the houses, ever and anon one meets a Brahmin with the sacred bull; while around the shrines are posted ascetics of as revolting appearance as chalk, cow-dung, matted locks, twisted limbs, and other hideous attitudes of penance can show. Formerly this sacred city was a favourite place for the performance of suttee, or the burning of widows; and at the time of Heber's visit, self-immolation by drowning in the Ganges was likewise not infrequent. On many of the house-fronts, besides fantastic paintings of men, women, bulls, elephants, &c., gods and goddesses appear in gaudy colours. Here, as elsewhere, the multitude take great delight in the religious festivals; the chief of them being the Ram Lila, which represents the triumph of Rama over the gigantic demon Ravan, who is personated by a huge ogre-like figure, filled with explosive combustibles, and blown up at the close of the performance. At the Duwallee festival, which marks the close of the mercantile year, those engaged in commerce carefully cleanse and decorate the exteriors of their houses, and at night there is a universal illumination. "The city then appears like a creation of the Fire-king, the view from the water affording the most superb and remarkable spectacle imaginable. The outlines of the whole city are marked in streams of fire; and the coruscations of light shoot up into the dark-blue sky above, and tremble in long undulations on the rippling waves below." Muttra, on the Jumna, the birthplace of Krishna, is a still more sacred city to the Hindoo than Benares, which place it much resembles in the style of its streets and buildings. Here, as in all the famous cities of Hindoostan, the pomp and glory of Hindooism have long been on the wane, and indeed were damaged irreparably eight centuries ago on the invasion of the Mahometans. To have an idea of this sacred city in its prime, we must recur to what Mahmous of Ghuznee wrote of it in the year 1017:—"There are here, said that arch-destroyer of Hindoo idols and temples, "1000 edifices, as firm as the faith of the faithful, most of them marble; besides innumerable temples; nor is it likely this city has attained its present condition but at the expense of many millions of dinars; nor could such another be constructed under a period of two centuries." In the course of his plundering, Mahmous found here five golden idols, with eyes of rubies, valued at 50,000 dinars; another image, when melted, produced 98,300 miskals of pure gold; and besides these there were about 100 idols of silver, which loaded as many camels. A century ago Muttra was again ravaged by the Affghans, so that we need not be surprised that this most sacred of Hindoo cities should not now appear equal to its reputation. Numbers of sacred bulls here go at large without owners; peacocks and paroquets flutter about; and monkeys swarm in the ruins, sitting, running, or playing on the tops of the houses, and skipping from roof to roof across the streets,—these latter animals being protected and fed in honour of the monkey-god Hanuman, who assisted Rama in his conquest of Ceylon.
The Hindoo temples of northern India are greatly inferior in number and splendour to those of the south. The conquests and long- enduring rule of the Mahometans in the former region may, to a considerable extent, account for this inferiority in religious architecture. For besides the fact that, beneath the cold shade of a hostile religion, much money and patronage that would have been devoted to the native religion would be diverted into other channels, so as to hinder the waste and accidents of time from being adequately repaired, it must be remembered that the Mahometans, when fierce in the zeal of their new faith, were fanatic destroyers of the temples of the subjugated population; and afterwards, when they came to take a calmer view of things, they saw no better way of rearing noble mosques to Allah than by reconstructing the beautiful temples which the Hindoos had erected to Vishnoo or Siva. The Hindoo builders gave to all parts of their work an unsurpassable finish. Granite and marble were the materials on which they worked; and even on the imperishably hard surface of gigantic temples of the former stone, we often find every inch covered with carvings and sculptures, every line of which is still as sharp as the day it was cut. They were a race that "built like giants, and finished like jewelers." Every block of stone in their stately buildings whether of marble or of granite, was made to fit into the adjoining blocks with the most perfect nicety, so that mortar was hardly needed; and the pillars, friezes, domes, indeed the whole structure, might be taken down without difficulty. This is what the Mahometans did; and some of the finest mosques in northern India, says Fergusson, are just Hindoo temples with a new arrangement of the pillars. But apart from these causes for the inferiority of the religious architecture of Hindooism to the north of the Vindhya mountains, there is much reason to beilieve that the main cause is to be found in a diversity of national character. The pure Brahminical people, who, bringing with them their Vedas, settled in Oude and the whole region between Benares and the Sutlej, had a type of mind of a much more spiritual kind than the pomp-loving race who built the gorgeous temples of the south. The typical Brahmin was a man of more abstract cast of mind than the Tamulee, more enamoured of the spirit than of the external pomps of religion, and gave more of his strength to the rearing of lofty speculations than to the building of vast temples. The Mussulman also, compared with the Tamul race, is restrained in the character of his religious architecture; and, from his intense aversion to everything like idolatry, he wholly abjures the representations of men and animals, which give so much richness to the architecture of the Hindoos.
Modern Hindooism is quite a medley. In appearance, the number of the deities worshipped is very great; but most of these are but other names for the same god, the smaller being incarnations or transformations of the greater. This peculiar feature—so characteristic of Hindooism—gives to Indian mythology a haziness and maziness which set arrangement and strict definition at defiance. When you grasp a go, you are almost sure to find him somebody else. The very monkey-god Hanuman seems at times to be Rama—Rama is Krishna—Krishna is Vishnoo—Vishnoo a phase of the Supreme. It is the most Protean mythology in the world. It is Pantheism personified. All the attributes of the ONE, and the leading phenomena of his work the Universe, are regarded as individual deities by the multitude; but the more enlightened, better able to discern the one in the many, have fewer gods; while the most enlightened see in the All only the ONE—whom they style Brahm. It is wonderful how widespread in India is this knowledge of the one God, and how noble a philosophy is associated with it; but in the faith of the multitudes, the outer crust of the Indian religions, to which we at present chiefly restrict our view, the grand summit or crowning dome of the Hindoo pantheon is the divine Triad, consisting of Brahma, Vishnoo, and Siva. The first of these is regarded as the creator, the other two as the gerents or active principles by which the world is ruled; and as Brahma's work, to common eyes, was long ago done, while the other two deities are ever present and in action in the world around, the former has been virtually shelved. Although reverenced at a spot in Ajmere, and also at that hyena's den, Bithoor, there are no temples erected to Brahma in any part of India, and Vishnoo and Siva divide the worship of the Hindoos. All beings of things of a neutral complexion make little impression on the world; it is ever the opposite poles or forces—the Vishnoo and Siva, the benignly beautiful and the fiercely powerful, which divide the homage of mankind. It is remarkable that although the temples of India are distinguished by their grandeur and beauty, the idols are the most frightful and grotesque in the world. Why the one should be so noble and other so despicable, we shall not attempt to explain; but taking the temple and the idol together, we find in the religious art and architecture of India the same perplexing incongruity, the same medley of the grand and beautiful with the mean and repulsive, which characterises its religious literature. The Hindoo is a more deeply religious being than was the ancient Greek. The latter was too much impressed with the dignity of man to be so open to a sense of supernatural powers as the Hindoo, to whom man is but a leaf blown to and fro by the breath of Omnipotence, a mere atom of a thought in the mind of the Supreme. In his exquisitely noble and beautiful idols the Greek adored the divinity of his own nature—of humanity; whereas the Hindoo's awful sense of the superhuman, of something unutterably superior to mortals, renders the workmanship of the idol a thing of no moment, and he bows before the painted block of wood with deeper sense of a divine presence than the Greek had when in ecstasy before his sublime Zeus or his radiant Apollo. Doubtless a decline in the arts—a torpor of the aesthetic faculty, which has been stealing over the subjugated Hindoos for centuries—may have something to do with this; but it is quite possible that ten or twenty centuries ago, when the art of sculpture was practised with much success, the idols of the multitude carried about on the raths, were just as rude and hideous as now.
The Hindoos are fond of symbolism, but in their idols it is of a rude and commonplace kind. The Greek in his idol made the face and form of the god expressive of his character; but modern Hindooism tags on its symbols to the figure as accessories. A multiplicity of arms is the common form of symbolising power and divinity. All the leading gods—Brahma, Vishnoo, Siva, Kali—are represented with four arms. Brahma has also four faces, and is generally pictured riding on a swan, holding a copy of the Veda,—his colour being red, possibly in reference to his emblem the sun. Vishnoo is represented of the colour of a dark cloud,—is ornamented with jewels and garlands—and rides on a mythical animal, half-eagle and half- man, having in his hands a lotus and other emblems. His avatars, or interpositions in human form for the benefit of mankind, are variously spoken of as ten or twenty-four; and for each of these he is differently represented. Siva is three-eyed,6 wears a tiger's skin and a necklace of skulls, and is represented by the poets as delighting in warfare and blood. But, though normally regarded as the god of destruction, the homage generally paid to him is quite of a different kind—as presiding over reproduction or generation; in token of which he is represented as riding on a white bull, and his emblem the Lingam receives the homage of both sexes in all parts of India. Each of these deities is represented accompanied by his goddess-wife, who is always depicted sitting in his arms little bigger than a doll. Brahma, we have said, has no sect; but the followers of the two other deities distinguish themselves by sectarial marks on the forehead,—the Varishnavas being marked with a tridents, all white but the middle prong, which is bright yellow; and the Saivas having three horizontal stripes of white, with a dark circle in the centre. In the writings of these two sects there is a good deal of mutual abuse and denunciation. "Those who profess the worship of Siva, and those who follow this doctrine, are heretics," says the Bhagavat. "From even looking at Vishnoo the wrath of Siva is kindled, and from his wrath we fall assuredly into a horrible hell; let not, therefore, the name of Vishnoo ever be pronounced," retorts a Purana of the Saiva sect. But whatever hard sayings may appear in their writings, these pagan sects agree excellently,—each frequently takes part in the festivals of the other, and not a few persons wear on the forehead the sectarial marks of Vishnoo and Siva united. In truth polytheism is, by its nature, ever tolerant; monotheism, almost necessarily, is the reverse. The former recognises gods of all nature, and of every character; one more or less is of no consequence, and the polytheist lets every one (like himself) choose the deity most in consonance with his own character. You may speak of Jesus beside the car of Juggernaut. The monotheist, on the other hand, holding that there is but one God, cannot admit of any other, and seldom of any ideas of that one but his own. Thus, in India, where these two opposite faiths come in contact, we see the Mussulman, stern and rigid in his faith of the one God, looking with scowling abhorrence upon the rites of the Hindoos, and ever wishing at heart that he were able to convert all those pagans at the sword's point; while the polytheistic Hindoos, although inflexible in their socio-religious system of caste, regard with perfect tolerance the worship of Allah, and often mingle in crowds in the festivals of Islam.
The ritual of Brahminism is too burdensome to be attended to by ordinary human nature. As set forth in the Code of Menoo, it appears rather an ideal model than as the actual ritual of a class, much less of a nation. Such a ritual, however, was typical of the people; for if ever there were a people possessed of the personal self-denial and religious devotedness equal to cope with burdens so onerous, it is the Hindoos. In India, as in other countries, the services of religion are more or less attended to according to the social position and greater or less Zeal on the part of its votaries. In Bengal and the northern provinces, bathing of a morning in the river, and the offering up of water to ancestors, with the reading of a portion of the Vedas, are very generally observed. Many content themselves with applying consecrated ashes to the person, or with imprinting on the forehead and other parts of the body the marks of their sect—with the offering of flowers and water to the deity whom they regard as supreme, Vishnoo or Siva, and the repetition of his name as their divine guardian. Persons in business rarely do more than form the seectarial marks, with invocations and the uplifting of the hands to the invisible object of their worship. The banks of a sacred river, a portico in a temple, or the margin of a tank, are favourite places for religious exercises; and on beholding the crowds that assemble on the beautiful ghats of the rivers, we are reminded that in India, as in Mahometan countries and under the Mosaic economy, religious and cleanliness go hand-in-hand, and sanitary requirements are invested with the force of divine law. The mystic syllable AUM—so sacred that no Soodra dare repeat it—name of deity, and emblem of the Triad (which, contracted into OM, is prefixed to all prayers, and many of the writings of the Hindoos), is of special and frequent repetition in the morning ritual of the Brahmin. And the most sacred and efficacious of his prayers is the Gayatri, the holiest text in the Vedas, which says, "Let us meditate on the supreme splendour of the divine Sun, that he may illuminate our understandings." The deity is regarded as the great spiritual sun of the universe, who supports and enlightens every one who comes into the world. Perhaps the rite most characteristic of India and Brahminism is the morning adoration of the sun, where the worship has regard both to the orb itself and to the great Being which it symbolises. While the day is yet young, you may see the Brahmin standing on one foot, resting the other on his thigh, and holding in his hands a cup containing a lighted wick floating in clarified butter; while his calm intelligent adoring face is turned upwards to the east, as he repeats inaudibly an ascription of praise to the resplendent fount of light. An oblation, consisting of flowers, barley, water, &c., in a boat-shaped vessel is then presented by being placed on his head,—the worshipper then repeating holy texts, and saluting the mighty luminary as the cause of day, the foe of darkness, and the destroyer of every sin. He then walks towards the south, in imitation of the sun's course, and so terminates his morning's devotions.
As may be presumed, in a country where there are so many deities to worship, and where ritualism is so esteemed, the number of holidays is excessive. In this, religion merely gives effect to the national temperament; for the Hindoo is a dreamy unenergetic being, and he willingly accepts as divine any injunction to shut his shop or quit his labour, and repair for pleasure and sight-seeing to the festivals of the temple. For, as we have said, whatever be the nature of the festival, it is always flocked to with eagerness. All the Hindoos' holy-days are holidays. And so numerous are they, that at one time the British found it difficult to get the natives in their employment to give their services for more than two hundred days in the year. It was an indolent pleasure-seeking, however, rather than the exactions of their religion, which made so many blank days in the working year; and a Government inquiry into the subject, and subsequent threat of dismissal, enabled the Hindoo officials materially to curb their passion for devotional exercises. From seventy or eighty, the "red-letter days" have now fallen to less than twenty; the great poojas ("worships") are limited to two or three; and it is only upon the occasion of the Doorga festival—called the Dusserah in western India—that several days of entire absence from public duties are permitted. Religious pilgrimages are much in vogue among the Hindoos. Besides the ordinary festivals observed in most of the temples, to which all the pious of the adjoining districts flock, there are special festivals at particular places—such as the great festivals at Ramisseram, held at intervals of twelve and sixty years respectively—to which pious Hindoos flock from a great distance. Attendance at the car- festival at Juggernaut is thought to emancipate the soul at death from the evils of future birth. Sacred spots and places are likewise made the object of pilgrimage. Such is Hurdwar, where the Ganges emerges from the Himalaya into the plains,—such are the holy cities of Benares and Allahabad,—such also is the spot in southern India where Sita, the consort of Rama, went through the ordeal of fire to test her conjugal purity. At this latter spot multitudes flock together from every part of India, on the auspicious occasions, to bathe in the sea, in the full belief of attaining special favour from heaven. There is a temple at Gungotri, far up in the Himalayas, to which pilgrims resort, though they find there no other shelter than a few wooden sheds, and caves in the adjoining cliffs. Kedernath, in the same snowy locality, is also visited by pilgrims; and here a score of devotees annually sacrifice their lives, either by precipitating themselves from a certain precipice, or by proceeding into the snowy mountain-wastes until they perish from cold and hunger. Still higher in the mountains, and consequently deserted for half the year, is another goal of pilgrimage, the lonely temple of Badrinath,—standing with its glittering gilded spire and balls amidst the snows, with the icy peaks of Roodroo Himala towering above it to the height of twenty-three thousand feet. The annual number of pilgrims to this shrine is about fifteen thousand; and every twelfth year, when the Kumbh Mela is celebrated here, the number rises to fifty thousand. Adoration of the idol, liberal fees to the attendant Brahmins, and ablution in a thermal spring formed into a bath, in which both sexes bathe indiscriminately, are believed to be efficacious in cleansing from past offences. The officiating priests are Brahmins from the Deccan, of which caste there are no women at Badrinath, so that they cannot marry; but, like not a few priestly celibats, they are a very profligate set. The great object of all Hindoo pilgrimages is to obtain purification from past sins, and exemption in the future life from transmigration. These pilgrimages often occupy months in the performance, and to meet their expenses the Hindoo sometimes borrows money at high interest, pledges his jewels, &c., and becomes impoverished for life. Thousands never return, perishing by the way, and leaving their bodies to be devoured by the vulture and the jackal. But their fate deters no one,—so great is the glory of those who return in safety. Shaving all the hair off their heads and bodies, and rubbing themselves with holy ashes, the returned pilgrim-devotees march stark-naked through the town, accompanied by flags and music, and followed by crowds of admiring young people of both sexes, who offer to them incense and presents, say prayers to them, and regard them as superior beings. To the Hindoos, it has been truly said, immortality is not so much a belief as a certainty. In consequence, the present life appears a smaller thing to them than any to any people in the world; and what is it to risk the fleeting breath of earthly life in pilgrimages, when the spiritual recompense is believed to be so great, and when the personal ovation upon return is so excessively flattering and full of worldly advantage?
Next to its asceticism, the external feature of the Hindoo religion which most startles and shocks a European is its lasciviousness. Greek mythology is certainly not very pure, but its amorous tales of the gods of Olympus appear refined when compared with the wanton mythology of the Hindoo Pantheon. Krishna and the Shepherdesses might have figured in the lax but graceful myths of the Hellenic race; but there is an abundance of such gross prurience in the popular sacred tales of the Hindoos as never has been paralleled elsewhere. These legends, among others, form the subject of the sculptures with which most of the Indian temples are covered from head to foot; and the priests often chant or recite them during the processions of the idols and the great car-festivals. In truth—as might be inferred from this state of matters—the Indian mind regards the passion of sex from a point of view the very opposite of that adopted by the British conquerors. It is not merely a difference of conventionality. It is not merely that amongst a people wearing the scantiest clothing, the notions of propriety must be widely different from those of a northern race who go buttoned or mantled up to the throat. When that is all the difference, we must beware of forming harsh and absurd judgments,—as if the rule of righteousness for all humanity was to be circumscribed by the climatic conditions and social usage of any one particular country. Yet the generality of mankind judge in this way; and hence the Indo-Mahometan is as much shocked by the frank relationship which exists between the sexes in the British race, as the latter are at witnessing the indecent sculptures and recitations not infrequent in India. The Mahometan, who shuts up his own women, and who never lets them out unless carefully guarded and veiled up to the eyes, thinks all Englishwomen "no better than they should be," when he sees their outdoor habits and frank intercourse with the male sex; and as for low gowns and bare arms, not to speak of the waltz and polka, a Mussulman regards them as signs of most unblushing profligacy. Such is conventionality. But there is a far more than conventional difference between our views and those of the Hindoos upon this subject. They see nothing wrong or strange in their sculptured or other displays of the sexual passion. They simply regard that passion as they would any other great fact or law of nature. And the most convincing proof of this is the manner in which it is connected with their religion. Forgetting the analogous practice amongst the ancient Assyrians, we stand aghast to find that the dancing-girls of the temples, called the "daughters of the idol," are the prostitutes of India. Such is the melancholy case. But we are all better at denouncing our neighbours' sins than confessing our own; and truly it is a humiliating and distressing thought that, in our own Christian country, there are myriads of females living in what we scruple to call the most degraded form in which sexual profligacy appears anywhere in the world; and with this fearful difference, that almost all these unfortunates are convinced that their profession is a sinful as well as a degraded one, whereas the same class in India regard it in no such light.
These extraordinary ideas and social usages can only be explained by reference to the joint influence of polytheism and CASTE. India is truly a land of marvels, but the greatest wonder of all is the gigantic system of social subdivision and exclusiveness, by which the national unity has been fractured, individual action fettered, and community of feeling rendered impossible. Rich and poor, noble and roturier, in all countries have been chary of intermingling; but nowhere can be found anything to the least degree parallel to the system of caste as it exists in India. Its ramifications spread over the whole country; no one is too great or too small not to be embraced by its fetters. It seems a national monomania—for even the Pariahs, or outcasts, have instituted castes for themselves! In origin and essence, caste is not a religious but a social usage; nevertheless, for thirty centuries its social character has been lost sight of in the religious character which has been superimposed upon it. When they settled in India as conquerors, the Hindoos, like most ancient nations, consisted of three well-defined classes—priests, warriors, and the industrial class; while below them spread the conquered Soodra race, whom they regarded much as Frankish barons of the middle ages regarded the vilains or serfs of the countries which they entered as lords. As it was convenient for the dominant Hindoos, and especially for the priestly class, to perpetuate and intensify this social gradus, in due time the Brahmins, by wresting texts and inventing fables, succeeded in giving this classification a sanction expressly divine. Brahma, they feigned, created four distinct kinds of men: first, the Brahmins, who came from his mouth; second, the military class, who emanated from his arms; third, the agricultural and mercantile classes, who originated from his body; and fourth, the labouring classes, who were produced from his feet. All history is full of examples of such procedure. In a certain stage of society, wherever any social usage or distinction is found to work well for the dominant or priestly class, an effort is always made (sometimes in perfect good faith) to procure for it a divine authority, and so put the usage or principle beyond the reach of cavil and opinion: just as the divine right of kings, the infallibility of the Pope, the celibacy of the Romish priesthood, &c., are points or principle of which the greater part of enlightened Europe still believes to be founded on the Scriptures, and thus enjoined by God himself. The first division of caste established in India were wide and simple, and, though tyrannical towards the Soodras or conquered people, not very fettering. But in the thirty centuries which have elapsed since then, the system has increased most fatally in its complexity,—and this in circumstances which might have been expected to produce a different result, and which consequently prove that the system finds some strong echo in the Hindoo character. Two of the original castes, the second and third, have almost disappeared; and for all practical purposes the entire Hindoo race might now be divided into the two great castes of Brahmins and Soodras. Whence, then, the complexity? The caste of the Brahmins, although now comprising about forty modifications, in some respects preserves its unity; but the Soodras have split up into an endless number of subdivisions, each of which considers itself, and is considered by the other, quite as divinely sanctioned as were the original castes. The preservation of caste by each and all of these manifold subdivisions of the population, is now the most practical point in the Hindoo religion. It is true that the religious character of caste is a mere fiction,—but the Hindoo does not so regard it; and a Roman Catholic may as soon be argued out of his belief in the infallibility of the Pope, or of the divine sanction for priestly celibacy, as the Hindoo be convinced that caste is of merely human origin, and therefore to be maintained or rejected according to the dictates of his own reason or choice. Moral guilt has no effect in producing loss of caste; but each caste is fettered by rules of the most absurd kind, any transgressions of which makes a man an outcast, and is esteemed a more heinous crime than even murder.
Like other usages of Indian life, the prescriptions of caste are modified by locality. To the Brahmins all animal food, except that of fishes and kids, is forbidden; yet in some districts they will eat the flesh of any animal, if only (as is the case with all Hindoos) it is not killed with their own hands. In southern India, too, they partake, without scruple, of spirituous liquors, although these are in general only allowed to Pariahs. Hindoos consider themselves defiled by contact with feathers; but among the tribes at the foot of the Himalayas, who are in other respects strict Hindoos, this prejudice does not exist. Where every little class is resolved to hedge itself in by particular distinctions, many of these distinctions must be of the most arbitrary and trivial character. Many castes are only to be known from one another by the cut and colour of their clothes, the shape and arrangement of their trinkets, or some other equally frivolous and unimportant distinction. The Rajpoots, and many other castes, eat mutton, venison, and fish; while beef, pork, and fowls, are held by them in abomination; but with some castes pork is prohibited. "The Rohillas will submit to be flogged within an inch of their lives with a leathern martingale, but to be struck with a whip or cane would be an indelible disgrace, and very likely to be resented with a bullet or a stab. Collies will carry any load, however offensive, upon their heads; bid them carry a man for a few paces, and, though it be a matter of life and death, they will answer you that it is the business of another caste."7
As further specimens of the absurd and vexatious character of caste-regulations, take the following:—
"A native carpenter must not use grease to his saw; a native smith must only work with his body in a particular position; a native sawyer must only cut wood according to a certain fashion; they must only eat a particular kind of food, cooked in a particular manner and at a particular time, and in a particular kind of vessel; the lowest caste man will not allow another of his fellows to see him eat; no man will drink even water out of another's vessel, and every one carries about with him his own little brass pot. No stranger must cross the threshold of his little hut for fear of defiling it, and low caste men must not approach nearer than a certain number of paces to persons of higher caste; his miserable garments must be worn only in a particular manner; he will not take a morsel of any kind of refreshment from a person of a different creed, even if ever so destitute; he will not allow a man of inferior caste to take water from the same well as himself. If of high caste, he will never drink from a public pump or fountain; he will not touch a dead body, or the bone of an animal; he will not allow salt, or vinegar, or any kind of spirit, to enter his mouth; neither will he eat anything that has life. In many places whole villages are set apart for particular castes, and no stranger is allowed even to walk into the village, if they can prevent him. If he meets with any accident, he cannot go to the European hospitals, nor allow a European doctor to enter his house. He must not enter a new workshop, not even a new shed, nor use a new tool, without the performance of a ceremony, such as sacrificing a black sheep, and smearing its blood upon all around."8
Caste is the great incubus upon India. It is the most serious barrier to the inroad of new ideas, and the inauguration of a better state of society. Caste, such as it now prevails, could only have grown up in a country where the means of locomotion were rare, and where tribal diversities of race fostered the spirit of isolation; and the spread of railways, the growth of free thinking, and increased intercommunion, which are marking the British rule, must in the end prove subversive of this pernicious and most obstructive system. Probably a perception of this truth had no small influence in inciting the Brahmins, who benefit most by the principle of caste, to the late revolt, as the only means of averting the subversion of their social status and privileges. But this revolt, by directing special attention to the subject of caste, cannot fail to accelerate its overthrow. It is the greatest obstacle which European civilisation encounters in India, and it will be a happy day for the Hindoos themselves when they abandon it. But how to proceed against it is, we confess, a difficult and serious question; for every part of the system is regarded as equally divine, and myriads of the Hindoos would rather perish than violate it.
The Indian peninsula is a huge cul-de-sac, into which race after race, or at least tribe after tribe, has poured in succession from immemorial times, without the possibility of any egression. None of these peoples appear to have wholly perished. All of them belong to the same generic stock—even the rudest aborigines showing some affinity to the Indo-European race,—so that there has not arisen amongst them that internecine contest which always occurs when very opposite race (such as the British and Red Indians or Kaffirs) come into contact. And so they remain, in widely different proportions whether in regards numbers or influence, imparting to the population of Indian a tesselated character,—or rather the appearance of a mosaic, in which analogous colours are grouped together, and from which time has in some places effaced the sharp outlines. These racial diversities are reflected in the character of the religion, which, as we have seen, varies from region to region, both in spirit and in externals. And if we examine these religious phases, we will find that Hindooism becomes grosser and more overlaid, or indeed identified, with externalism and extravagance, as we approach the south; while, conversely, as we proceed northwards from Cape Comorin to Calcutta, and thence north-westwards to the Affghan mountains, we find externalism diminishing, and the creed growing purer—(the Vindhyan chain forming a dark belt across the middle, in which, though there be little pomp or ritual, there is much blood). In accordance with this gradus, further to the north-west than the Brahminical nation, we find a kindred but later-arrived people, the Jats, who form the flower of the confederated tribes who profess the Sikh religion,—a faith which is by far the purest and freest from the burden of forms and ritual of any in India. It is only four centuries old—a mere infant of days compared even to that theological and chronological medley, existing Hindooism. It was originally a pure deism, inculcating the wildest charity and a pure morality; but it has degenerated in so far as the Sikhs now consider their founder, Nanak, as a mediator with God, and entitled to divine honours. They agree with their fellow Hindoos in believing in the transmigration of souls, either as punishment or as a means of moral purification, and in regarding it as a horrible impiety to kill kine. But Nanak, like Buddha, was a strong protester against the system of caste, which is repudiated by the Sikhs—a circumstance which has proved of the greatest service to us during the terrible crisis of the Sepoy revolt, throughout which the Sikh regiments as a body have remained faithful amidst the universal defection of their Hindoo comrades. We may add that the rise of the pure creed of Nanak, in defiance of the religious monstrosities and social absurdities of Hindooism, gives a cheering hope of what, in course of time, may yet be accomplished in Hindostan by the preaching of the Gospel.
Still farther to the north-west we find the Patans, immigrants from the Affghan mountains, the latest wave of population (except the British) that has forced its way into the Indian territories, who line the banks of the Indus, permeate in the Punjab, and form the bulk of the population in the region around Mooltan. Other waves of Mahometan immigration—Arab, and Mongol—preceded them, commencing soon after the Hejira, and assuming formidable proportions in the eleventh century, when Mahmoud of Ghuznee led the way into the golden realms of Hindostan. From that time down to the period of the British conquest, Mahometanism was the religion of the sovereigns of India; and at various times efforts were made to convert the Hindoos to that faith at the point of the sword. Partly owing to this compulsion, and partly from motives of worldly advancement, a considerable body of the native population became Mahometans, so that a large proportion of the Mussulmans of India are in no way related to the Mussulman conquerors of that country, but are pure Hindoos, descended from ancestors who embraced the foreign faith. But religion, like everything else, varies in complexion with the country and people amidst which it is established. Christianity in the British Isles wears a different look from what it does in Italy. Spain and Germany are hardly less diverse in their respective phases of the same faith; and in France and Russia Christianity notably differs in complexion. Plant the identically same creed in different countries or peoples, and the result will be different in each. This is the case with Mahometanism in India. The worshippers of Allah in that country are different from their co- religionists in other parts of the world. They are Indo- Mahometans, and the practice of their faith is tinged with the peculiarities of the Indian race. It is the least stern and the most pomp-loving of all the forms of Mahometanism; and the grave solemn Turk would turn with anger and contempt from the "vain shows" in which his co-religionist indulges on the banks of the Ganges, and much more on those of the Cauvery and Kistna. If, for illustration's sake, we were to liken the grave Soonnee form of Mahometanism, followed by the Turks and western Asiatics, to the Protestantism of Christendom, then the Sheite faith of Persia, with its greater love of show and externalism, would find a parallel in the Catholic Church; while Indo-Mahometanism, with its still leaning to show and superstition, may be likened to that oriental form of Christianity which is embodied in the Greek Church. The great festival of the Mohurrum, though a fast of the most mournful kind, is in India accompanied by so much pomp and splendour, that strangers might be at a loss to distinguish it from an occasion of pure rejoicing; while in their Hindoo-like reverence for the Imaums, Hossein and Housein, the Indo-Mahometans have introduced rites and ceremonies savouring of idolatry, or actual worship of those sons of Ali. Of the out-door celebration of the Mohurrum at Madras, Mr Bruce says that "the entertainments were quite at variance with the idea of a lamentation." In truth we find Mahometanism is India exhibiting the same notable and highly suggestive phases as Hindooism: to wit, varying in the complexion of its ritual in different localities,—comparatively pure and grave towards the north-west, and becoming full of pageant and gaiety as we approach the southern extremity of the peninsula. Mahometanism never made much way beyond the limits of Hindostan; and its religious buildings, even in northern India, if we except the Jumma Musjid at Delhi, cannot vie with those of the natives. And yet some of the finest mosques were erected on the site and out of the materials of demolished Hindoo temples,—the mosques of Aurungzebe at Muttra and Benares being illustrations of this very common practice. As it is only Indo-Mahometanism with which we have to do, we pass over the religious beliefs and practices of that faith, except as they are modified by the influences of the Indian clime. The festivals of the Mohurrum and the Buckra-Eade, therefore, we leave undescribed; but the festival of the Bhearer calls for a word in passing, as both in origin and character it belongs to India. It is an annual festival, held at night; and the scene which is exhibited during its celebration is exceedingly beautiful. The banks of the Ganges are brilliantly lighted up; and accompanied and announced by numerous flights of rockets, a floating palace, built on a raft, comes sailing down the stream, preceded by thousands of small lamps, each wreathed with a chaplet of flowers, which cover with gay brilliance the surface of the flashing water. The raft, which is formed of plantain trees fastened together, is of considerable extent; and the structure which it bears is such as Titania herself might delight to inhabit. Towers, gates, and pagodas rise in fantastic array, bright with a thousand colours, and shining in the light of numberless glittering cressets. And so the fairy-like spectacle moves on, while admiring crowds throng the banks of the river. The Hindoos, we may add, never object, and generally delight, to join in the festivals of their Mahometan brethren—indeed the festivals of the latter owe very much of their eclat to the presence and co- operation of the Hindoo population, who are almost as ready to salaam the tazees of Hossein and Houssein as to bow before the images of Siva and Vishnoo.
The last religious sect we require to notice in modern India are the Parsees—descendants of the ancient Fire-worshippers of Persia, who, though exiled for ten centuries from their native land, still maintain the faith of Zoroaster after it has vanished from the region of its origin. They form an important portion of the population of Bombay and Surat, and are as much distinguished from the natives of India by their personal traits as by their religious rites and ceremonies. All that we need to note of them here is the reverence which they pay to fire (inter alia, regarding as a heinous sin and defilement of the sacred element to blow it with the breath), and the peculiar mode in which they treat the bodies of the dead. The Parsees believe in the Resurrection, a final Judgment, and a future state of rewards and punishments; but they evidently do not hold that the resurrection is to be made in the actual body which the soul has worn in this life, but in an etherialised form of it, or, as St Paul says, a "spiritual" body. Their reverence follows the soul and not the flesh; and hence the corpse is disregarded by the survivor, having been abandoned by its own life or spiritual tenant. The dead bodies of the Parsees are not consumed by fire, according to the custom of the Hindoos, nor interred according to the practice of the Mahometans, Christians, and Chinese. They hold burial, cremation, or the confiding of the ashes or corpse to the waters, to be a sacrilege against the elements; and they have cemeteries situated at a distance from any inhabited spot—such as the one on Malabar Hill, at Bombay—whither the corpses are conveyed and exposed on iron gratings, where they are soon devoured by vultures, kites, and other carnivorous birds. This singular practice was followed by the ancient Parthians, Bactrians, and cognate tribes, amongst whom, says Justin, "burial was effected by dogs and birds;" and in Tartary, at the present day, says Huc, "the true nomadic tribes convey the dead to the tops of hills, or bottoms of ravines, there to be devoured by the birds and beasts of prey." This practice, and the creed or ideas upon which it rests, we may remark, are the very antipodes of those prevailing in ancient Egypt, where every effort was made to preserve the soulless corpse, in the belief that the spirit would return at some far distant time to reinhabit its old earthly tabernacle.
Here we conclude our sketch of the Religions of India, as they are to be seen at the present day. The task of moralising, for which there is such ample scope, we must leave for the present to the reader; but on another occasion we may complete the subject, by passing in review the creeds and philosophies upon which this strange and varied superstructure of outward religion rests.
Last modified 8 October 2007