Curiosities of the census—Quaint characters—The Bohemians of
the East — Mendicant friars—Actors and jugglers—The Story Teller—"After a
wary day"—A visitor in camp—His appearance—His receptii in—The gaping circle
of listeners—The story—"Petumber and Mahaboobun"— The story of their love—A
rival- —Plot and counterplot—The drama develops—Petumber's sudden
return—Confusion of the wicked plotter— Jealousy—Wifely fidelity—The
darkened bath chamber—Assumption of a strange character—The furious
sandal—Crack!—"T mg-ng-ng!" —Acting up to his character—"Ulug-glug-glng!" —
Another good story—"The Brahmin and the Bunneah"--Sanctity and pretensions
of the Brahmins—Their pow er on the wane—Progress of mi idem thought—An
enlightened Hindoo on the decadence of priestcraft— Bentlicence of British
a trite observation that "one half the world does not know how the other
half live," and certainly it is very applicable in regard to many of the
modes of livelihood practised in what the poet calls the "gorgeous East." To
the student of human nature, or to a contemplative philosopher, the mere
nomenclature of callings in the Indian census would give rise to many
There is, for instance, the Haddick, or
Bone-setter, corresponding to our veterinary
surgeon, but with this difference, that the Indian bone-setter relies
chiefly on the efficacy of certain mantras or
charms, and curious medicaments which have been handed down to him through a
long series of generations, and which are supposed to possess some, occult
virtue, which, when applied under certain conditions which are rigidly
prescribed by tradition, -will effect a cure. Matrimonial agents are quite
common. Public scriveners, or writers of correspondence for love-sick swains
and modest maidens, may be found in every bazaar.
Of course the snake-charmer is a character which is never by
any chance left out of any book treating of the East. Professional
they are called—are also common to every village community, although to
English readers they recall a state of things now happily passed away from
Byragees, jogees, fakirs, the
whole fraternity, that is, of mendicant monks, hare-brained religions
enthusiasts, begging friars, and transcendental nostrum-mongers, come across
your path in every direction, and number frequently among their ranks some
of the veriest scoundrels in all the Eastern world, who find the garb of the
religious anchorite a convenient cloak to cover designs of the deepest
Even amongst these wandering devotees there are numberless
orders and sub-sections, all of whom have well-defined and specific
Some are known by marks peculiar to the worship of certain
gods and goddesses emblazoned on some prominent part of their
persons—breast, forehead, arms, &c.,
Many of these wandering mendicants doubtless belong to
organised gangs, affiliated to each other by passwords and signs.
Put in all large aggregations of humanity in the East they
are sure to catch the eye by reason of their wild outlandish look, their
strange manners or extravagant dress, or some distinctive difference winch
separates them from the common herd.
Then there is the counterpart of the old Roman augur or
soothsayer, one of whom is attached to every menage of
any great importance in an Indian province.
There are beings like the old witch of Endor, who profess
to be able "to summon spirits from the vasty deep," and whose
services are more often called into requisition than the casual observer
There is the Master of Ceremonies, who will take charge of
any feast or merry-making you may wish to give to your retainers or friends.
There is the Bam
literally, the man of twelve changes, who will masquerade for
you or your guests in twelve or more guises. He will assume all sorts of
characters: make himself, by a Protean twist of countenance, or readjustment
of dress, a lady of fashion, a woman of low degree, a hireling dancer, a
policeman, a planter, an angel or a demon, just as may suit the whim of the
actor, or the requirements of the audience.
Then there is the professional well-sinker, who does nothing
but sink wells, diving down in the water like a seal or an otter, scooping
out the sand or soil from beneath the massive wooden plates from which the
superincumbent girth of the well is made, thus allowing it to sink by slow
There is the bear leader, with his muzzled great brown bear
from the mountain districts, trained to dance for the delectation of the
village youngsters. There is the professional hawker—not the pedlar who
peddles wares as with us "Western nations, but the man who hawks—who trains
the gerfalcon and the kestrel, and who is in fact the modern prototype of
the old falconer of mediaival story.
The dyer, the potter, the weaver, the Nooneah,
or saltpetre maker, the caster of nets, the weaver of the same, the mender
of ditto, the village barber, the man who pares your nails, the professor of
heraldry who will write you out a genealogy suitable to your circumstances
ami varying in splendour according to the amount of our remuneration, are of
course common occupations, and such as might be expected.
All these, and numberless other castes and subdivisions of
castes, ply their busy vocations in the populous East, and are all
recognised under the iron thraldom of that curious caste system which is at
once the wonder and reproach, the shackle and the salvation, according as it
is looked at by different minds, of the marvellous social cosmogony of the
Hindoo world. But among all the multifarious occupations which come under
the purview of an observant "dweller in tents " in an Indian district, none
appeal more quickly to a man of keen observation than the numerous classes
who make their livelihood (often very precarious) by ministering to the
amusement of the people.
The musicians, the astrologers, the wizards, the enchanters,
the quacks, the acrobats, the bear leaders, the prophets and soothsayers,
the dancers and posture-makers, the snake-charmers, sword-swallowers,
fire-eaters, bards, improvisatores, reciters of ancient legends, the
singers, and the thousand-and-one Bohemians, who drift about in the by-wash
of the great surging flood of humanity that rolls ceaselessly around the
dweller in the East—all these appeal at once to your sense of the
incongruous, to your sense of the picturesque, and being so utterly
different from anything we have in our conventional Western civilisation,
they challenge the attention, and attract the inquiry of the observer at
once. Whole chapters could be written describing their peculiarities,
whimsical instances connected with the pursuit of their vocations; and,
indeed, many a time in my lonely life in India I have been under a deep debt
of gratitude to many a one of these poor wandering performers, who have
wooed me out of sad reflections or gloomy meditations by their
mirth-inspiring antics, or their clever impersonations and really marvellous
tricks. Of the jugglers alone, a whole book might be written.
The sleight of hand of the East is incomparably more finished
and artistic, seeing that it is done in most cases with the aid of no
paraphernalia whatever, than anything we are accustomed to in Europe.
But I never remember to have enjoyed a more hearty laugh than
at the recital on one memorable occasion of a most ridiculous story by one
of these wandering professional
which I will, with the reader's permission, now endeavour to reproduce.
hope to give it with the same drawling mimetic
art, which made it so funny in the narration the first time I heard it; but
as I have never seen it in print, and think it is new to collectors of these
quaint old tales, I venture to give it here.
One night, after a long, weary, hot day's hard work in one of
my Belahie villages, trying to come to some settlement with a lot of
refractory assaviies, who
would neither pay rent nor take advances, and who had subjected my good
temper and patience to a prolonged and severe strain, I had gone out in the
evening to have a shot at some ducks which had been observed by my servants
in the vicinity of a shallow lagoon near my camp. I had found the brutes shy
and wary. I had shot at several snipe and missed everyone, and had got
bogged up to the middle in a quaking miry clinging morass. My gun had been
badly cleaned, and was kicking like a borrowed horse. The fact is,
everything had gone against me. My liver was out of order, I was in a
despondent frame of mind, and—must I confess it?—in a desperately bad
To add to my troubles, my dakman had not brought my usual
mail from the head factory. I had nothing to read, and, saddest fate of all,
had nothing to drink and was short of tobacco.
I had got back to the tents, bathed, had dinner and lay down
on my camp bed, restless, discontented and weary, but withal in a very
sleepless mood. The dogs were all tied up at some distance away, and had
been fed by the mahter or
sweeper. My servants had finished their evening meal, and with the points of
sort of tight boddice— unloosed, were enjoying the otium
cum dignitate of
a well-earned rest, and were chatting together narrating the events of the
day; when suddenly on my irritated nerves there broke the sound of a cheery
persistent voice, trolling the well-known patter, in a sing-song nasal tone,
of one of these professional story-tellers.
My first impulse was to get up and kick the fellow out of the
precincts of the camp.
I felt so thoroughly "hipped" myself, that I seemed to take
it as a personal insult that anybody in such a weary hot night, amid all the
depressing surroundings, should dare to be cheerful.
There must, however, have been some subtle magnetic influence
or spell in the very tones of the fellow's voice; as presently, raising
myself languidly on my elbow, I found myself surveying with some little
interest, through the open sides of the tent, the appearance of the
He was a grizzled, sun-dried, weather-beaten old fellow, clad
in the most tattered raiment possible, having a greasy skull cap on his
head, merry eyes peeping over a network of wrinkles on each cheek, a broken
nose surmounting a gaping cavern of a mouth, in the inner excavations of
which could be seen two or three yellow glimmering stumps, and altogether
the man looked like a good-natured gnome, some such apparition as might have
been expected to have jumped out bodily from a page of Hans Andersen; and
before I well knew whether to forbid his nearer approach or not, he,
seemingly quite oblivious of my presence, passed the door of the tent, and
with an air of easy familiarity, making himself quite at home, squatted down
by the side of my retainers, who were now wide awake, and gave the man all
the hearty welcome due to an old acquaintance, and one who was evidently a
well known character amongst them.
I lay back and watched.
The usual salutations passed. The new-comer, with the
dexterous ease of a man who knows human nature thoroughly well, and as if by
the exercise of some magic art, was presently the recipient of a bit of
native leaf tobacco from this one, a little chunam from
that one, and betel mit from a third, and indeed all seemed anxious to press
something upon him.
My old bearer gravely
took the mouth-piece of his hubble
from his lips, and offered it to the old fellow, who took two or three
The old Khansammah, or Butler, Mussulman though he was, came
over with Ins attendant, from where they had been lying apart; and tying up
the points of his chupkum as
he advanced, he made the usual grave Mussulman's salutation, and stroking
his beard with the air of one who is expecting to hear some good thing, he
joined the gathering circle.
My syce and "grass
had been busy combing their well-oiled locks and titivating themselves
generally, suspended the operations of their toilet and gathered around.
Even my grave and dignified old raoonshec seemed
to have felt the impulse of some subtle charm, for he too, with one or two
of the village patwarris, or accountants, came up i 1 their reverent
fashion, with their flowing white robes around them, and gave a pleasant nod
of welcome to the merry-looking little dried chip, who seemed so suddenly to
have become the cynosure of all eyes. By this time my mearims had almost
vanished. I had forgotten all about my liver, and I found myself sitting up
on my pallet, with my ears and my senses on the qui
the endeavour to find out what was going on.
Through the half-open Khanats, I
could see without being myself perceived.
The servants seemed to fancy that I must be sound asleep, and
after cracking sundry jokes which seemed to put all his audience in a good
humour, a supplicatory chorus went up from every voice, beseeching him to
tell them a story.
Now I cannot hope, as I have said, to reproduce the action,
the gestures, the facial expression, the inimitable drollery of the raconteur.
The man was a horn actor. Two or three times I found myself
heaving with silent laughter, as he illustrated the various points of his
narration. But this was the story—and you must just take it in my halting
imperfect way; and indeed my only object in occupying your time by giving
it, is because I think the whole picture is one peculiarly characteristic of
tent life in an Indian frontier district, and may serve a useful purpose in
bringing strongly before the mental eye of the reader, some presentment of
the living reality of the life we lead in the remote villages of such an
Indian planting district as I have been endeavouring to describe.
The old fellow had a curious habit, when he seemed to be
searching for a word, of making a quaint clicking sound with his tongue,
then lie would cock his head to one side like a magpie. lie would wag his
old noddle, loll Ins tongue out from amid his gleaming stumps, moistening
lis dry lips, leeringly roll his beady twinkling eyes around, winking at his
audience ; shrug his shoulders like a French dancing-master, sway his body
in unison with the incidents of the story ; and altogether seemed to
mesmerize his audience into complete accord with the varying developments of
his plot; and to tell the honest truth, I must confess that I never heard a
story better told, sweeping as the assertion may appear, and J never enjoyed
any narration with a keener relish, than that of this cunning old artist as
he related the following tale. Thus he began:
"There was once in a village, which I will not name, a man
whom I shall call Petumber." I must give it in the following words but
naturally the story loses a great deal of force by the translation.
"Petumber was a great strong soft-hearted fellow, who was the
best runner and the best wrestler, but the kindest-hearted young man in the
village, always willing to help a neighbour in a difficulty."
And here followed a long description of the various kindly
acts Petumber was wont to do to his neighbours.
For instance this was one. An old woman who was shrewdly
suspected of being a witch, had a favourite nanny-goat which had fallen into
a well, and at the risk of his life Petumber had been lowered down, and
rescued the unfortunate beast.
"Well, time went on, and, as will happen to young men,
Petumber fell in love—with whom think ye? Maii.vbooulN, the
loveliest fay of all the village, daughter of a rich freeholder; and being a
finely-made, good-looking young man, having a fair patrimony, numerous cows
and a fair amount of plough bullocks, his suit was looked upon with some
degree of favour by Malraboobun's relations, and he had reason to believe he
was not altogether uninteresting to the fair Maliaboobun herself."
Put there was an Iago in the case.
Of course he was the exact antithesis of Petumber. This rival
was a swarthy, beetled-browed, bandy-legged character, whose name was Bal
Khrishun, and he also had set his affections on the peerless Mahaboobun. In
the wrestling matches in the village arena, things were so equally balanced,
that although Petumber was the stronger of the two, Bal Khrishun knew more
tricks of the ring, and sometimes was able to snatch a dubious victory from
the broad-chested, open-hearted Petumber by cunning and stratagem, but never
by fair and open play.
Of course Bal Khrrishun was painted as a very Machiavelli—a
double-faced, cowardly, chicken-hearted, scheming scoundrel.
Then came a recountal of all the black deeds he had done.
He was a usurer; he was constantly fomenting strife among
parties in the village, and altogether quite up to the usual three-volume
touch as the villain of the piece.
seemed however to have acquired some strange malign ascendency over the
gentle Maliaboobun, by working on her fears and her timid half-confessed
preference for Petumber, inasmuch as he continually let drop veiled threats
and vague hints as to some evil that he could bring over Petumber, and he
skilfully contrived to make the poor girl to some extent put herself in a
false position by his cunning strategy, that she appeared to listen to his
addresses, while in reality she only dissembled, to appease if she might his
This part of the story was very cleverly worked out, and the
old man managed to bring his hearers, and myself too, to a perfect pitch of
interest as he described how on one occasion Petumber came upon Bal Khrishun
making overtures to his lady love, which she with tears feebly endeavoured
to resist, anil Petumber's righteous indignation being roused at the sight
of Mahahoobun's evident perturbation, he smote his cowardly rival to the
earth, and left him muttering dire threats of revenge.
Subsequently the two young lovers were united in the sacred
bonds of wedlock, and Bal Khrishun registered his vow of vengeance, and
commenced to scheme against the wedded peace of the loving couple.
a series of skilful combinations, by hints and innuendoes and
cunningly-contrived stratagems, he succeeded in making Maliaboobun rather
jealous of her lord.
Then he contrived to beguile Petumber away to a distant part
of the country, on a pretext that a distant relation was at the point of
death, and wished to leave Petumber some money.
Meanwhile a kindly fairy in the shape of the old woman, whose
goat had been rescued from the well, appeared on the scene, and began to
play a hand in the game.
She had not been an unobservant spectator of the duplicity
that was being practised by the wily and unscrupulous, yet cowardly Bal
Petumber's rascally rival hail in fact arranged to carry off
A litter borne by soxne "lewd fellows of the baser sort," who
were in his pay, and attached to his service, was to be in readiness in the
mango tope, at
a given hour, and under the pretext that Petumber had sustained a severe
accident, and was wishful to see his loved Maliaboobun before he died, she
was to be inveigled into the litter away from her home, under the charge of
the seemingly good Samaritan, the perfidious Bal Khrishum.
The old woman, however, had got an inkling of what was going
on, and intercepting Petumber on his journey, gave him sufficient warning of
the plot that was being hatched against his domestic peace, to make him at
once change his plans and hurry back.
All this was sketched out with infinite art, by the merry old
story-teller, and I had, as I hope my reader has, become quite interested in
the development of the plot.
My group of servants were listening with open mouths. Now and
then they would laugh heartily at some quaint allusion, or some skilful
touch thrown off by the story-teller, and anon they would hold their breath
as the interest of the drama thickened.
And so we come back to the habitation of Petumber, which was,
as Eastern houses go, large and commodious, with several apartments, and
attached to the sleeping-room, one of those cool, retiring resorts, known as
bath-room. Around one side of this room were ranged a number of tall, portly
brass water pots or jars, quite such as we have been accustomed to read
about in the good old story of Ali Paba or the Forty Thieves—just such jars
as Ali Paha hid the robbers in, when he scalded them to death with boiling
Well, the wily Bal Khridiun, dressed in his best, and taking
advantage of Petumber's absence, came up to put his nefarious scheme into
execution. With I suppose a not unnatural coquetry, the fair Maliaboobun,
mindful that this was an old flame of hers, and not wishing to ihe too hard
upon him, met him with the utmost kindness, and this so raised the wicked
desires and vain hopes of the evil-minded Bal Klirishun, that he began to
venture on rather dangerous retrospections and began to press his claims
upon Maliaboobun's regard, with a slightly greater degree of amorous ardour
than was strictly compatible with the relationship winch actually existed
Just at this critical moment, with his heart full of
conflicting emotions, boiling with indignation at the duplicity and trickery
to which he had so nearly been a victim ; having been fully informed of the
plot that was being hatched against his domestic peace by the treacherous
Bal Khrishun; Petumber came rushing up to the house in a state of pent-up
fury; and Pal Klirishun's coward conscience taking alarm at the sight of the
indignant husband striding towards the house, he exclaimed in accents of
horror-stricken inquietude, "Arrec
Petumber!! What is to be done ?! I Alas! I am a dead man, and you are a
ruined woman, unless you hide me from the wrath of your incensed husband."
The situation was too critical to allow of calm reflection 01-philosophic
Maliaboobun, not unnaturally, felt to some extent the
prickings of conscience, and with a woman's natural wish to avoid bloodshed
and strife, acting upon the impulse of the moment, she hurried Bal Klirishun
into the ghoosal
him down with trembling and hurried fingers among the row of brass pots, and
told him for Heaven's sake to assume the character of a brass pot himself,
as his very life depended upon it, and if he did not want to ruin her
altogether, she would dissemble and find some way of getting him out of this
perplexing predicament. Then with a parting injunction to keep up his
assumed character, and with a very portentous reminder that Petumber would
not hesitate at taking life when once his passions were roused, she left the
cowering, trembling, cowardly rascal in the semi-obscurity of the damp ghoosal
hurried out with palpitating heart to meet her incensed lord.
His first word convinced her that concealment was useless,
and that he knew all that had transpired.
With choking accents of jealous rage, he demanded that she
should produce the miscreant who was endeavouring to sap the foundations of
his domestic tranquillity; and she, beseeching him to restrain his
impetuosity, made a clean breast of it, and while heaping every epithet of
womanly scorn on the head of the miserable Bal Khrishun, whose
double-dealing and vile treachery she now clearly saw, she so contrived to
reassure her husband of her fidelity and love, that the first quick mad
current of his wrath was turned aside, and he determined not to take the
life of his rival, but to teach him a lesson which he would not readily
You must bear in mind that alb this was recounted as an
The story-teller, if I have succeeded in impressing the
reader sufficiently with an estimate of his wonderful skill had now reached
the very climax- of his dramatic art.
The auditors were agape with eager interest and attention.
Being informed by the clinging wife that the hated rival was
even now in the gfamal
strode to the aperture in the wall leading into the inner darkened room,
swept aside the drapery which depended from the arch, and bending upwards
his brawny leg he took from its place upon his shapely foot the heavy wooden
sandal which he wore (a high-heeled, brass-bound, heavy galbadunec, which
is worn by travellers when going through the jungles. It has a large wooden
stud, which goes between the great toe and the next-one to it, and is very
useful in keeping the wearer's bare foot off the ground in going through
grass or jungle where snakes might he numerous).
With this in his hand, the angry Petumber, peering into the
obscurity, saw the green glare in the eyes of the abject, cowering, and
hated Bal Khrishun.
His teeth were chattering with fright, and knowing that his
very life depended on his remaining undiscovered, he bent all his thoughts
to keep up the assumption of the character of the brass pot, and determined
at all hazards to act as if he really were one.
Of course he was in ignorance that Maliaboobun had already
divulged his secret. He felt, naturally enough, that his very life depended
on his seeming to be for the time a very brass pot, and nothing else. And
here the original conception and intense dry humour of the situation comes
As quick as thought, Petumber, with unerring aim, launched
his heavy sandal straight between the eyes of the luckless Bal Khrishun.
The crack started the blood flowing from his unlucky sconce,
but he, true to his assumed character, responded with a loud, sonorous,
reverberative "Tung!—tung—ng—ng!"— as the sandal rattled on his skull.
Petumber, thinking that he was being mocked, fancying that he
was being made a butt of, and experiencing a redoubled intensity of wrath,
took up the other sandal, and sent it flying after its fellow, propelled
with all the force of his powerful arm, right between the eyes once again of
the hapless Pal Khrishun. This time he could not altogether suppress a
stifled groan; but, shaking with terror, and still true to the character he
had assumed, lie again sang out " Tung—ng—ng—ng!" The wrath of Petumber now
knew no bounds.
Forgetful of prudence and his promise to his wife, and all
else, except to thrash his adversary, he seized a stout bamboo stick which
stood handy against the wall, and rushed upon the prostrate Bal Khrislmn and
with lusty whacks began to belabour his luckless carcase. Still keeping to
his self-imposed character, the hapless Lothario began rolling about,
imitating a brass pot when it is half full of water and overturned upon the
At every whack "Tung—ng, glug—glug!—tung—ng, glug glug!" came
from his miserable lips, until at length human nature could stand it no
longer; and after having his body whacked and battered, and Ins nose and
face bruised beyond all recognition, he emitted a dismal yell, and rushed
from the house as if all the furies were after him, ami was never again seen
in the village.
There is such a vein of humour pervading the whole story that
I have thought it well to give it at some length. The general idea, I know,
is that the village Hindoo is rather a melancholy, saturnine creature, with
no sense of humour, but any one who has lived as long as I have amongst the
merry residents of the upland districts of Parneah and Bhairgulpore, would
soon know how erroneous an estimate this is of native character.
With this, however, I think we may take our leave of the
hapless Bal Khrishun. and only hope that Petumber and Maliaboobun lived to a
good old age, and saw troops of children growing around them, in peace and
It is only fair to state that I gave the narrator a handsome bucksheesh, and
certainly felt quite indebted to him for one of the pleasantest evenings I
ever remember to have spent in my tent life.
Perhaps it would, not be out of place to conclude this
chapter by another rather good story which illustrates the marvellous way in
which Western ideas are making progress in the minds of the natives.
It is all very well for half-informed critics at a distance
to decry the efforts of missionaries, of schoolmasters, civil servants,
planters and merchants, and of the many institutions which,, under the
fostering beneficence of British rule, are slowly but surely effecting a
real revolution in native modes of life and thought. The influence of
Western civilisation is evident in every department of industry in India.
The very food and clothing of this most interesting and
conservative people is being affected by the introduction of Western
All the modern appliances in the arts and sciences are being
Municipal institutions flourish in most of the towns, and the
criminal law is being administered under a penal code, which, for
comprehensiveness and excellence in its provisions, can hardly be excelled
in any part of the civilised world. With all this, however, the contrasts
one meets with in every Indian district are, as I have already observed,
Within the sound of the shrill whistle of the locomotive, yon
will find a temple dedicated to some horrible eight-armed idol, or possibly
decorated with the most obscene sculptures, and consecrated to the
procreative forces in nature, within the shelter of whose courtyard deeds of
infamy are perpetrated, incredible almost in their horrible obscenity.
These are the dark shades of Paganism, but happily evidences
are not wanting to show that the bright beams of "the Sun of Righteousness"
are splintering and shivering the gloomy mass of shadow.
Within a few hundred yards of the busy clank of the
engine-room of an indigo factory you may haply find a reputed witch, a
witch-tinder, a wizard, a magician, an astrologer, or one of these strange
and curious castes, a description of which I gave in the opening of this
chapter, and the simple villagers are quite ready still to believe that
through the mantras or
spells of some of these uncanny practitioners, he or she can blight their
crops, destroy their cattle, influence their destiny, cast spells, work
divinations, and "raise the devil generally."
The Brahmins are of course the reputedly holy and sacred
As among the Levites of old there were different grades, so
are there different binds of Brahmins. There are wandering Brahmins, who
lead a lazy, vagabondish, itinerant life, certain of a meal wherever they
halt for the night, and sure to be made a guest, by virtue of their caste,
at any house where they may sojourn, at any time whenever the whim seizes
Others are attached to various temples, hold and cultivate
the various temple lands, amass wealth from the rich endowments, and, like "Jeshurnn"
of old, "wax fat," although they get too lazy even to " kick." Others again
officiate as fuinily priests, purohits as
they are called.
These get attached to wealthy families, and perform a rule corresponding
exactly to that of a domestic chaplain in a wealthy nobleman's family at
Brahminism under various modifications is no doubt the
religion of the vast mass of Hindoos generally.
The sanctity of the Brahmin, the necessity for his priestly
office in all the duties of life, forms the fundamental basis of the
gigantic system of sacerdotal supremacy which their superior cunning and
organisation have established during the long course of centuries. To refuse
a Brahmin food is to call down condign punishment from the skies. To beat
him is to consign yourself to an eternity of woe; but to spill his blood, or
even to be the remote cause of having his blood spilt, brings down upon your
head eternal wrath, which is shared by all your relations who have preceded
or may come after you, and actually includes even your neighbours in the
evil consequences of such awful impiety. Such is the orthodox faith re Brahmins.
An amusing incident in exemplification of the fact I have
just stated, that Western ideas are beginning to permeate the masses, and an
illustration of "the little leaven that will finally leaven the whole lump"
of Oriental superstition and credulity, occurred not long ago.
One of these oleaginous, self-complacent, peripatetic,
sacerdotal "loafers," on a begging expedition, like a mendicant friar of
old, came one day and set him down at the door of a grain-seller who was
reputed to be wealthy, but was also suspected of being rather heterodox—in
other words a freethinker, and a dissident from the old school of Hindoo
The lazy, fat Brahmin was determined to test the Bunncalis orthodoxy,
and, sitting down by the door, demanded, with all the haughty imperiousness
of a high-caste Brahmin, some refreshment.
The Bunneah, however,
had determined that he would no longer pander to this constant drain upon
his resources, for he remembered that he had a family to support, and taxes
to pay, and had to work hard himself for his living.
He was not averse to alms-giving in the abstract, and indeed,
as a rule, the better classes of Hindoos are conspicuously benevolent.
So he did not stint Ins charity when a deserving object was
presented to his notice, but he justly thought that this perpetual blackmail
levied by able-bodied but indolent priests, be they Byragee,
Movlvie, or Brahmin, was
but a premium on laziness, and altogether "too much of a good thing."
So that, being in this mood, it was in vain that the Brahmin
clamoured for a meal. The Bunneah, like
John Grundy's wife in the song, "heard as if he heard him not."
Others of the more pious or less enlightened villagers
pressed their presents of food on the clamorous Brahmin, but his obstinacy
and priestly intolerance were now roused, and lie was determined to
vindicate his arrogant pretensions, and break the spirit of the recalcitrant Bunncoth.
So passed the first day—hierarchical statement of right on
the one hand, against modern heterodox defiance on the other.
On the second day the Brahmin, still persistent, but now
really hungry, poured forth all the curses and comminations of his
stock-in-trade upon the Bunneah's devoted
head, accompanying these with mantras, muttered
spells, and open objurgations.
Still obdurate was the Oriental John Knox.
Finding that the Bunneah did
not care so much as he expected for his ban and malison, the chagrined
Brahmin began to lacerate his arms, cutting himself like one of the priests
of Baal, no doubt thinking that the awful consequences resulting from having
the blood of a Brahmin at his door would break the proud spirit of the
grain-dealer, and force him into submission.
a bit of it.
The hard-hearted Bunneah was
determined to maintain the position which he had taken, and although the
roused and horror-stricken neighbours crowded around him, and piteously
implored him to make his peace, with the Brahmin, and so avert the dire
consequences, so they imagined, of having sacred blood spilt among
them—that, in fact, their unhappy village might not be consigned with all
its inhabitants to dreadful pains and penalties. Still, however, the
undaunted grain-seller turned a deaf ear to their imploring entreaties.
On the third day the oily old priest, now goaded to
desperation, possibly maddened into an excess of Oriental fury—one of those
paroxysms which come upon Easterns in moments of strong excitement—and
thinking, by a bold move—a coup
dc main, as
it were—to terrify the Bunneah into
submission, be, after solemnly abjuring the obstinate heretic by the names
of all the gods, calling down upon him and upon all the villagers the dire
penalties due to one who was guilty of the death of a heaven-descended
Brahmin, made for a deep well that was situated in the courtyard, and (the
proceedings having attracted nearly all the inhabitants), amid
horror-stricken cries from the crowd of onlookers, and agonising wailings
and a thrill of superstitious dread, plunged down sheer into the gloomy
depths of the well.
The pious villagers were paralysed with horror.
The men tore their hair and their garments, the women
screamed and beat their breasts, and every one in horror-stricken accents
Would nothing move the obduracy of this determined old
Yes; the Bunneah seemed
at last to relent.
His face betrayed conflicting emotions.
He rushed to the well, the excited crowd gazing with intense
interest at his every action.
Bending over the well, in whose humid depths the floating
form of the discomfited priest was dimly discernible, he besought the
Bralmrin not to drown himself.
You can fancy how the heart of the half-submerged
sacerdotalist leaped for joy at having at length, as he exultantly thought,
established the triumph of orthodoxy.
Behold, now, the reward of his persistency had come after all
Ins long fasting, humiliation, and suffering.
Unwinding his long, strong silken puggree, the Bunneah lowers
it slowly down. With trembling eager fingers it is grasped by the Brahmin.
The Bunneah hauls
up the spluttering unfortunate; but when he reached the top of the well,
guess the awful revulsion of feeling, the supreme dumbfouiiderment he must
have felt, as the strong, vigorous fingers of the Bunneah tightened
on his wrists, and deftly tied these with the puggree which
had just served as a draw-rope; and then, amid the outcries and lamentations
of the shrieking crowd, he hauled the half-drowned and wholly crestfallen
Brahmin off to the nearest police station, and charged him under the l'enal
Code with an attempt to commit suicide.
The sequel is short.
Under the Indian Penal Code this offence is visited with a
minimum punishment of two years imprisonment.
As the case was so clear, the full penalty was inflicted.
This did more to break down the absurd pretensions of the
Brahmins in that village than many a long argument could ever have done.
But this is only one of a hundred indirect ways in which
missionary teaching and English example are bearing fruit.
Doubtless the Brahmin reflected in his cell on the mutability
of human affairs, and must have come to the orthodox conclusion that "the
Church was going to the dogs" altogether.
If I might be permitted the obvious reflection, is not this
an expressed idea with sacerdotalists in other latitudes, and with priests
who are not Brahmins?
Take some of our advanced ritualists, for instance, with
their vain equipments and foolish ceremonies, really offering a "stone" to
the people in place of the Bread of Life, giving the " serpent" of priestly
arrogance and pretentiousness instead of the wholesome "fish" of Divine
Truth, and estranging from the Church the sympathies and support of aB those
in the community who, like our bunneah, are
perhaps not the least advanced and intelligent in their ideas. Possibly so.
But on these matters I am old-fashioned.
The moral is perhaps worthy of some little consideration.
Lest some of my readers may think the story of the Brahmin
and the Bunneah overdrawn, and as further illustrative of the change in the
mental attitude of the more progressive and liberal-minded natives towards
their old faith and old caste exactions, let me give an extract or two from
a most interesting book written by Sahib Chunder Bose, of Calcutta, himself
formerly, I believe, a high caste Hindoo, and which is well worth the
perusal of any one who wishes to see "The Hindoos as they are." Indeed, that
is the title of the book, published in 1881. Loudon: Edward Stanford, 55
Charing Cross, and Newman and Co., Calcutta.
At page 108, speaking of Doorga Poojah Festival, the learned
"On the third or last day of the Poojah, being the ninth day
of the increase of the moon, the prescribed ritualistic ceremonies having
been performed, the officiating priests make the hoam and dlwjcinanto, a
rite, the meaning of which is to present farewell offerings to the goddess
for one year, adding in a suitable prayer that she will be graciously
pleased to forgive the present shortcomings on the part of her devotees, and
vouchsafe to them her blessings in this world as well as in the world to
come. "This," says the Baboo, "is a very critical time for the priests,
because the finale of
the ceremony involves the important question of their respective gains." He
then shows how the priests—generally three in number—fight among themselves
for the biggest share of the fees, and will not complete the ceremony by
pronouncing the last prayer till the knotty question of the distribution of
fees is satisfactorily settled. He thus proceeds: "It is necessary to add
here that the presents of rupees which the numerous guests offered to the
goddess during the three days of the Poojah, go to swell the fund of the
priest, to which the worshipper of the idol must add a separate sum, without
which this act of merit loses its final reward in a future state. The
devotee must satisfy the cupidity of the priests or run the Ash of
forfeiting divine inerey. "When
the problem is ultimately solved in favour of the officiating priest
who actually makes the Poojah, and sums of money are put into
the hands of the Bralnnins, the last prayer is read. It is not perhaps
generally known," adds the writer, "that the income the Indian ecclesiastics
thus derive from this source supports them for the greater part of the year,
with a little gain in money or kind from the land they own."
At page 155, speaking of the Saraswati Poojah, the following
very suggestive sentences occur: "In every chatoospah, or
school, the Brahmin Pundit and his pupils worship this goddess with
religious strictness. The Pundit, setting up an image, invites all his
patrons, neighbouring friends and acquaintances on this occasion. Every one
who attends must make a present of one or a half rupee to the goddess, and
returns home with
the hollow benediction of the Brahmin." (The
italics are mine.) "To so miserable a strait have the learned Pundits been
reduced of late years, that they anxious!} look forward to the anniversary
of this festival as a small harvest of gain to them as the authoritative
ministers of the goddess. They make from fifty to one hundred rupees a year
by the celebration of this Poojah, which keeps them for six months; should
any of their friends fail to make the usual present to the goddess, they are
sure to demand it as a right." And in a pregnant footnote he adds :
"A gift once made to a Brahmin must be continued from year to
year till the donor dies; in some cases it is tenable from one generation to
At page 187 he says: "If Manu were to visit Bengal now, his
indignation and amazement would know no bounds in witnessing the sacerdotal
class reduced to the humiliating position of a servile, cringing and
mercenary crowd of men. Their original prestige has suffered a total
shipwreck. Generally speaking, a Brahmin of the present day is practically a
Soodra (the most inferior class) of the past age, irretrievably sunt in
honour and dignity. Indeed it was one of the curses of the Vedic period that
to be a Brahmin of the present, Kaliyagu, would
be an impersonation of corruption, baseness and venality."
And he sums up by saying:
"He" (the Brahmin) "can no longer plume-himself on his
religious purity and mental superiority, once so pre-eminently
characteristic of the order. The spread of English education has sounded the
death-knell of his spiritual ascendency. In short, his fate is doomed; he
must bear or must forbear, as seems to him best. The tide of improvement
will continue to roll on uninterruptedly," etc., etc.
So much for Baboo Sahib Chunder Bose, His view is undoubtedly
the correct one in great measure, and little wonder need be felt that the
erstwhile " lordly Brahmin " bitterly hates the white-faced beefeaters from
across the "Black Water," and would hail the day with glad acclaim that
would see the last of our red-coats swept into the river or the sea.
The classes like the Bunneah, however—the trading, industrial
and cultivating classes—do not, I am willing and glad to believe, share in
this dislike of British rule; and after all, these are the people,
the mainstay of any system of government; and our chiefest and proudest
boast as conquerors of India is, that we have consolidated the rule we won
by the sword through the grateful recognition of an
emancipated people, that we seek to do justly by them, and endeavour to
reign in their affections, and govern by their free good will!