from the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan
Chapter Two -- On the Way to Karli
It is an early morning near the end of March. A light breeze caresses with its velvety hand the sleepy faces of the pilgrims, and the intoxicating perfume of tuberoses mingles with the pungent odors of the bazaar. Crowds of barefooted Brahman women, stately and well-formed, direct their steps, like the biblical Rachel, to the well, with brass water pots bright as gold upon their heads. On our way lie numerous sacred tanks filled with stagnant water, in which Hindus of both sexes perform their prescribed morning ablutions. Under the hedge of a garden somebody's tame mongoose is devouring the head of a cobra. The headless body of the snake convulsively but harmlessly beats against the thin flanks of the little animal, which regards these vain efforts with an evident delight. Side by side with this group of animals is a human figure: a naked mali (gardener), offering betel and salt to a monstrous stone idol of Shiva, with the view of pacifying the wrath of the "Destroyer" -- excited by the death of the cobra, which is one of his favourite servants.
A few steps before reaching the railway station, we meet a modest Catholic procession, consisting of a few newly converted pariahs and some of the native Portuguese. Under a baldachin is a litter, on which swings to and fro a dusky Madonna dressed after the fashion of the native goddesses, with a ring in her nose. In her arms she carries the holy Babe, clad in yellow pyjamas and a red Brahmanical turban. "Hari, hari, devaki!" ("Glory to the holy Virgin!") exclaim the converts, unconscious of any difference between the Devaki, mother of Krishna, and the Catholic Madonna. All they know is that, excluded from the temples by the Brahmans on account of their not belonging to any of the Hindu castes, they are admitted sometimes into the Christian pagodas, thanks to the "padris," a name adopted from the Portuguese padre, and applied indiscriminately to the missionaries of every European sect.
At last, our gharis -- native two-wheeled vehicles drawn by a pair of strong bullocks -- arrived at the station. English employees open wide their eyes at the sight of white-faced people travelling about the town in gilded Hindu chariots. But we are true Americans, and we have come hither to study not Europe, but India and her products, on the spot.
If the tourist casts a glance on the shore
opposite to the port of Bombay, he will see a dark blue mass rising like
a wall between himself and the horizon. This is Parbul, a flat-topped mountain
2,250 feet high. Its right slope leans on two sharp rocks covered with
woods. The highest of them, Mataran, is the object of our trip. From Bombay
to Narel, a station situated at the foot of this mountain, we are to travel
four hours by railway, though as the crow flies the distance is not more
than twelve miles. The railroad wanders round the foot of the most charming
little hills, skirts hundreds of pretty lakes, and pierces with more than
twenty tunnels the very heart of the rocky ghats.
I shall dwell upon his personality more than on any of the others, because the most wonderful and diverse stories were in circulation about this strange man. It was asserted that he belonged to the sect of Raj-Yogis, and was an initiate of the mysteries of magic, alchemy, and various other occult sciences of India. He was rich and independent, and rumour did not dare to suspect him of deception; the more so because though quite full of these sciences, he never uttered a word about them in public, and carefully concealed his knowledge from all except a few friends.
He was an independent Takur from Rajistan, a province the name of which means the land of kings. Takurs are, almost without exception, descended from the Surya (sun), and are accordingly called Suryavansa. They are prouder than any other nation in the world. They have a proverb, "The dirt of the earth cannot stick to the rays of the sun." They do not despise any sect except the Brahmans, and honor only the bards who sing their military achievements. Of the latter Colonel Tod writes somewhat as follows,/1/
"The magnificence and luxury of the Rajput courts in the early periods of history were truly wonderful, even when due allowance is made for the poetical license of the bards. From the earliest times Northern India was a wealthy country, and it was precisely here that was situated the richest satrapy of Darius. At all events, this country abounded in those most striking events which furnish history with her richest materials. In Rajistan every small kingdom had its Thermopylae, and every little town has produced its Leonidas. But the veil of the centuries hides from posterity events that the pen of the historian might have bequeathed to the everlasting admiration of the nations. Somnath might have appeared as a rival of Delphi, the treasures of Hind might outweigh the riches of the King of Lydia, while compared with the army of the brothers Pandu, that of Xerxes would seem an inconsiderable handful of men, worthy only to rank in the second place."England did not disarm the Rajputs, as she did the rest of the Indian nations, so Gulab-Sing came accompanied by vassals and shield-bearers.
Possessing an inexhaustible knowledge of legends, and being evidently well acquainted with the antiquities of his country, Gulab-Sing proved to be the most interesting of our companions. "There, against the blue sky," said Gulab-Lal-Sing, "you behold the majestic Bhao Mallin."
"That deserted spot was once the abode of a holy hermit; now it is visited yearly by crowds of pilgrims. According to popular belief the most wonderful things happen there -- miracles. At the top of the mountain, two thousand feet above the level of the sea, is the platform of a fortress. Behind it rises another rock two hundred and seventy feet in height, and at the very summit of this peak are to be found the ruins of a still more ancient fortress, which for seventy-five years served as a shelter for this hermit. Whence he obtained his food will for ever remain a mystery. Some think he ate the roots of wild plants, but upon this barren rock there is no vegetation. The only mode of ascent of this perpendicular mountain consists of a rope -- and holes, just big enough to receive the toes of a man, cut out of the living rock. One would think such a pathway accessible only to acrobats and monkeys. Surely fanaticism must provide wings for the Hindus, for no accident has ever happened to any of them.
"Unfortunately, about forty years ago, a party of Englishmen conceived the unhappy thought of exploring the ruins, but a strong gust of wind arose and carried them over the precipice. After this, General Dickinson gave orders for the destruction of all means of communication with the upper fortress; and the lower one, once the cause of so many losses and so much bloodshed, is now entirely deserted, and serves only as a shelter for eagles and tigers."
Listening to these tales of olden times, I
could not help comparing the past with the present. What a difference!
But all this is only en passant. Compared with the mysterious and grandiose past of India, the ancient Aryavarta, her present is a natural Indian-ink background, the black shadow of a bright picture, the inevitable evil in the cycle of every nation. India has become decrepit and has fallen down, like a huge memorial of antiquity, prostrate and broken to pieces. But the most insignificant of these fragments will forever remain a treasure for the archeologist and the artist, and in the course of time, may even afford a clue to the philosopher and the psychologist.
"Ancient Hindus built like giants and finished
their work like goldsmiths," says Archbishop Heber, describing his travel
in India. In his description of the Taj-Mahal of Agra, that veritable
eighth wonder of the world, he calls it "a poem in marble." He might have
added that it is difficult to find in India a ruin in the least state of
preservation that cannot speak, more eloquently than whole volumes, of
the past of India, her religious aspirations, her beliefs and hopes.
The Vedanta has taught for thousands of years what some of the German philosophers began to preach at the end of last century and the beginning of this one: namely, that everything objective in the world, as well as the world itself, is no more than an illusion, a Maya, a phantom created by our imagination, and as unreal as the reflection of the moon upon the surface of the waters. The phenomenal world, as well as the subjectivity of our conception concerning our Egos, are nothing but, as it were, a mirage. The true sage will never submit to the temptations of illusion. He is well aware that man will attain to self-knowledge, and become a real Ego, only after the entire union of the personal fragment with the All, thus becoming an immutable, infinite, universal Brahma. Accordingly he considers the whole cycle of birth, life, old age, and death, as the sole product of imagination.
Generally speaking, Indian philosophy, split up as it is into numerous metaphysical teachings, possesses, when united to Indian ontological doctrines, such a well developed logic, such a wonderfully refined psychology, that it might well take the first rank when contrasted with the schools, ancient and modern, idealist or positivist, and eclipse them all in turn. That positivism expounded by Lewis, that makes each particular hair on the heads of Oxford theologians stand on end, is ridiculous child's play compared with the atomistic school of Vaisheshika, with its world divided like a chessboard into six categories of everlasting atoms, nine substances, twenty-four qualities, and five motions.
And however difficult and even impossible may seem the exact representation of all these abstract ideas, idealistic, pantheistic, and sometimes purely material, in the condensed shape of allegorical symbols, India nevertheless has known how to express all these teachings more or less successfully. She has immortalized them in her ugly, four-headed idols; in the geometrical, complicated forms of her temples; and even in the entangled lines and spots on the foreheads of her sectaries.
We were discussing this and other topics with our Hindu fellow-travellers when a Catholic padre, a teacher in the Jesuit College of St. Xavier in Bombay, entered our carriage at one of the stations. Soon he could contain himself no longer, and joined in our conversation. Smiling and rubbing his hands, he said that he was curious to know on the strength of what sophistry our companions could find anything resembling a philosophical explanation "in the fundamental idea of the four faces of this ugly Shiva, crowned with snakes," pointing with his finger to the idol at the entrance to a pagoda.
"It is very simple," answered the Bengali Babu. "You see that its four faces are turned towards the four cardinal points, South, North, West, and East -- but all these faces are on one body and belong to one god."
"Would you mind explaining first the philosophical idea of the four faces and eight hands of your Shiva?" interrupted the padre.
"With great pleasure. Thinking that our great Rudra (the Vedic name for this god) is omnipresent, we represent him with his face turned simultaneously in all directions. Eight hands indicate his omnipotence, and his single body serves to remind us that he is One, though he is everywhere, and nobody can avoid his all-seeing eye, or his chastising hand."
The padre was going to say something when
the train stopped; we had arrived at Narel.
But evening, after the scorchingly hot day, was so tempting, and held out to us from the distance such promise of delicious coolness, that we decided upon risking our fate. In the heart of this wondrous nature one longs to shake off earthly chains, and unite oneself with the boundless life, so that death itself has its attractions in India.
Besides, the full moon was about to rise at
eight p.m. Three hours' ascent of the mountain, on such a moonlit tropical
night as would tax the descriptive powers of the greatest artists, was
worth any sacrifice. Apropos, among the few artists who can fix upon canvas
the subtle charm of a moonlit night in India, public opinion begins to
name our own V.V. Vereshtchagin.
Thanks to the achievements of Rama's ally, monkeys are sacred in India. The Government, emulating the earlier wisdom of the East India Company, forbids everyone to molest them, not only when met with in the forests, which in all justice belong to them, but even when they invade the city gardens. Leaping from one branch to another, chattering like magpies, and making the most formidable grimaces, they followed us all the way, like so many midnight spooks. Sometimes they hung on the trees in full moonlight, like forest nymphs of Russian mythology; sometimes they preceded us, awaiting our arrival at the turns of the road as if showing us the way. They never left us. One monkey babe alighted on my knees. In a moment the authoress of his being, jumping without any ceremony over the coolies' shoulders, came to his rescue, picked him up, and after making the most ungodly grimace at me, ran away with him.
"Bandras (monkeys) bring luck with their presence,"
remarked one of the Hindus, as if to console me for the loss of my crumpled
topee. "Besides," he added, "seeing them here, we may be sure that there
is not a single tiger for ten miles round."
One felt sick at heart and ashamed of belonging to that human race, one part of which makes of the other mere beasts of burden. These poor wretches are paid for their work four annas a day all the year round. Four annas for going eight miles upwards and eight miles downwards not less than twice a day; altogether thirty-two miles up and down a mountain 1,500 feet high, carrying a burden of two hundredweight! However, India is a country where everything is adjusted to never-changing customs, and four annas a day is the pay for unskilled labor of any kind.
Gradually open spaces and glades became more frequent, and the light grew as intense as by day. Millions of grasshoppers were shrilling in the forest, filling the air with a metallic throbbing, and flocks of frightened parrots rushed from tree to tree. Sometimes the thundering, prolonged roars of tigers rose from the bottom of the precipices thickly covered with all kinds of vegetation. Shikaris assure us that on a quiet night, the roaring of these beasts can be heard for many miles around. The panorama, lit up as if by Bengal fires changed at every turn. Rivers, fields, forests, and rocks, spread out at our feet over an enormous distance, moved and trembled, iridescent in the silvery moonlight, like the tides of a mirage. The fantastic character of the pictures made us hold our breath. Our heads grew giddy if by chance we glanced down into the depths by the flickering moonlight. We felt that the precipice, 2,000 feet deep, was fascinating us. One of our American fellow travelers, who had begun the voyage on horseback, had to dismount, afraid of being unable to resist the temptation to dive head foremost into the abyss.
Several times we met with lonely pedestrians, men and young women, coming down Mataran on their way home after a day's work. It often happens that some of them never reach home. The police unconcernedly report that the missing man has been carried off by a tiger, or killed by a snake. All is said, and he is soon entirely forgotten. One person more or less, out of the two hundred and forty millions who inhabit India, does not matter much! But there exists a very strange superstition in the Deccan about this mysterious, and only partially explored, mountain. The natives assert that in spite of the considerable number of victims, there has never been found a single skeleton. The corpse, whether intact or mangled by tigers, is immediately carried away by the monkeys -- who, in the latter case, gather the scattered bones and bury them skillfully in deep holes, that no traces ever remain.
Englishmen laugh at this superstition, but the police do not deny the fact of the entire disappearance of the bodies. When the sides of the mountain were excavated, in the course of the construction of the railway, separate bones, with the marks of tigers' teeth upon them, broken bracelets, and other adornments, were found at an incredible depth from the surface. The fact of these things being broken showed clearly that they were not buried by men, because neither the religion of the Hindus, nor their greed, would allow them to break and bury silver and gold. Is it possible then that, as amongst men one hand washes the other, so in the animal kingdom one species conceals the crimes of another?
Having spent the night in a Portuguese inn, woven like an eagle's nest out of bamboos, and clinging to the almost vertical side of a rock, we rose at daybreak; and having visited all the points de vue famed for their beauty, made our preparations to return to Narel. By daylight the panorama was still more splendid than by night; volumes would not suffice to describe it. Had it not been that on three sides the horizon was shut out by rugged ridges of mountain, the whole of the Deccan plateau would have appeared before our eyes. Bombay was so distinct that it seemed quite near to us, and the channel that separates the town from Salsetta shone like a tiny silvery streak. It winds like a snake on its way to the port, surrounding Kanari and other islets, which look the very image of green peas scattered on the white cloth of its bright waters; and finally joins the blinding line of the Indian Ocean in the extreme distance. On the outer side is the northern Konkan, terminated by the Tal-Ghats, the needle-like summits of the Jano-Maoli rocks, and lastly the battlemented ridge of Funell, whose bold silhouette stands out in strong relief against the distant blue of the dim sky, like a giant's castle in some fairy tale.
Further on looms Parbul, whose flat summit,
in the days of old, was the seat of the gods; whence, according to the
legends, Vishnu spoke to mortals. And there below, where the defile widens
into a valley, all covered with huge separate rocks, each of which is crowded
with historical and mythological legends, you may perceive the dim blue
ridge of mountains, still loftier and still more strangely shaped. That
is Khandala, which is overhung by a huge stone block, known by the name
of the Duke's Nose. On the opposite side, under the very summit of the
mountain, is situated Karli -- which, according to the unanimous opinion
of archeologists, is the most ancient and best preserved of Indian cave
But in India, the Himalayas excepted, mountains produce quite a different impression. The highest summits of the Deccan, as well as of the triangular ridge that fringes Northern Hindostan, and of the Eastern Ghats, do not exceed 3,000 feet. Only in the Ghats of the Malabar coast, from Cape Comorin to the river Surat, are there heights of 7,000 feet above the surface of the sea. So that no comparison can be drawn between these and the hoary-headed patriarch Elbruz, or Kasbek, which exceeds 18,000 feet.
The chief and original charm of Indian mountains wonderfully consists in their capricious shapes. Sometimes these mountains -- or rather, separate volcanic peaks standing in a row -- form chains; but it is more common to find them scattered, to the great perplexity of geologists, without visible cause, in places where the formation seems quite unsuitable. Spacious valleys surrounded by high walls of rock, over the very ridge of which passes the railway, are common. Look below, and it will seem to you that you are gazing upon the studio of some whimsical Titanic sculptor, filled with half-finished groups, statues, and monuments. Here is a dream-land bird, seated upon the head of a monster six hundred feet high, spreading its wings and widely gaping its dragon's mouth; by its side the bust of a man, surmounted by a helmet, battlemented like the walls of a feudal castle; there again, new monsters devouring each other, statues with broken limbs, disorderly heaps of huge balls, lonely fortresses with loopholes, ruined towers and bridges. All this scattered and intermixed with shapes changing incessantly like the dreams of delirium.
And the chief attraction is that nothing here is the result of art, everything is the pure sport of Nature, which however has occasionally been turned to account by ancient builders. The art of man in India is to be sought in the interior of the earth, not on its surface. Ancient Hindus seldom built their temples otherwise than in the bosom of the earth, as though they were ashamed of their efforts, or did not dare to rival the sculpture of nature. Having chosen, for instance, a pyramidal rock, or a cupola-shaped hillock like Elephanta, or Karli, they scraped away inside, according to the Puranas, for centuries, planning on so grand a style that no modern architecture has been able to conceive anything to equal it. Fables (?) about the Cyclops seem truer in India than in Egypt.
The marvellous railroad from Narel to Khandala reminds one of a similar line from Genoa up the Apenines. One may be said to travel in the air, not on land. The railway traverses a region 1,400 feet above Konkan, and in some places while one rail is laid on the sharp edge of the rock, the other is supported on vaults and arches. The Mali Khindi viaduct is 163 feet high. For two hours we hastened on between sky and earth, with abysses on both sides thickly covered with mango trees and bananas. Truly English engineers are wonderful builders.
The pass of Bhor-Ghat is safely accomplished, and we are in Khandala. Our bungalow here is built on the very edge of a ravine, which nature herself has carefully concealed under a cover of the most luxuriant vegetation. Everything is in blossom, and in this unfathomed recess a botanist might find sufficient material to occupy him for a lifetime. Palms have disappeared; for the most part they grow only near the sea. Here they are replaced by bananas, mango trees, pipals (ficus religiosa), fig trees, and thousands of other trees and shrubs unknown to such outsiders as ourselves. The Indian flora is too often slandered and misrepresented as being full of beautiful but scentless flowers. At some seasons this may be true enough, but as long as jasmines, the various balsams, white tuberoses, and golden champa (champaka or frangipani) are in blossom, this statement is far from being true. The aroma of champa alone is so powerful as to make one almost giddy. For size, it is the king of flowering trees, and hundreds of them were in full bloom just at this time of year, on Mataran and Khandala.
We sat on the verandah, talking and enjoying the surrounding views, until well-nigh midnight. Everything slept around us.
Khandala is nothing but a big village, situated
on the flat top of one of the mountains of the Sahiadra range, about 2,200
feet above the sea level. It is surrounded by isolated peaks, as strange
in shape as any we have seen. One of them, straight before us, on the opposite
side of the abyss, looked exactly like a long, one-storied building, with
a flat roof and a battlemented parapet. The Hindus assert that somewhere
about this hillock there exists a secret entrance, leading into vast interior
halls, in fact to a whole subterranean palace, and that there still exist
people who possess the secret of this abode.
The basis of this hero's fame is the fact
that he, the son of a poor officer in the service of a Mogul emperor, like
another David, slew the Mussulman Goliath, the formidable Afzul Khan. It
was not, however, with a sling that he killed him; he used in this combat
the formidable Mahratti weapon vaghnakh, consisting of five long steel
nails, as sharp as needles and very strong. This weapon is worn on the
fingers, and wrestlers use it to tear each other's flesh like wild animals.
The Deccan is full of legends about Sivaji, and even the English
historians mention him with respect. Just as in the fable respecting Charles
V, one of the local Indian traditions asserts that Sivaji is not dead,
but lives secreted in one of the Sahiadra caves. When the fateful hour
strikes (and according to the calculations of the astrologers the time
is not far off), he will reappear, and will bring freedom to his beloved
"Shri!" (an untranslatable greeting). "Let it be known unto every one that this epistle, traced in the original in golden letters, came down from Indra-loka (the heaven of Indra), in the presence of holy Brahmans, on the altar of the Vishveshvara temple, which is in the sacred town of Benares.The further career of this ignorant and cunning epistle is not known to me. Probably the police put a stop to its distribution; this only concerns the wise administrators. But it splendidly illustrates from one side the credulity of the populace, drowned in superstition; and from the other, the unscrupulousness of the Brahmans.
Concerning the word Patala, which literally means the opposite side, a recent discovery of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, whom I have already mentioned in the preceding letters, is interesting, especially if this discovery can be accepted by philologists, as the facts seem to promise. Dayanand tries to show that the ancient Aryans knew, and even visited, America, which in ancient manuscripts is called Patala, and out of which popular fancy constructed, in the course of time, something like the Greek Hades. He supports his theory by many quotations from the oldest MSS., especially from the legends about Krishna and his favourite disciple Arjuna. In the history of the latter it is mentioned that Arjuna, one of the five Pandavas, descendants of the moon dynasty, visited Patala on his travels, and there married the widowed daughter of King Nagual, called Illupl. Comparing the names of father and daughter we reach the following considerations, which speak strongly in favour of Dayanand's supposition.
(1) Nagual is the name by which the sorcerers of Mexico, Indians, and aborigines of America, are still designated. Like the Assyrian and Chaldean Nargals, chiefs of the Magi, the Mexican Nagual unites in his person the functions of priest and of sorcerer, being served in the latter capacity by a demon in the shape of some animal, generally a snake or a crocodile. These Naguals are thought to be the descendants of Nagua, the king of the snakes. Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg devotes a considerable amount of space to them in his book about Mexico, and says that the Naguals are servants of the evil one; who, in his turn, renders them but a temporary service. In Sanskrit, likewise, snake is Naga, and the "King of the Nagas" plays an important part in the history of Buddha; and in the Puranas there exists a tradition that it was Arjuna who introduced snake worship into Patala. The coincidence, and the identity of the names are so striking that our scientists really ought to pay some attention to them.
(2) The Name of Arjuna's wife Illupl is purely old Mexican, and if we reject the hypothesis of Swami Dayanand it will be perfectly impossible to explain the actual existence of this name in Sanskrit manuscripts long before the Christian era. Of all ancient dialects and languages, it is only in those of the American aborigines that you constantly meet with such combinations of consonants as pl, tl, etc. They are abundant especially in the language of the Toltecs, or Nahuatl, whereas neither in Sanskrit nor in ancient Greek are they ever found at the end of a word. Even the words Atlas and Atlantis seem to be foreign to the etymology of the European languages. Wherever Plato may have found them, it was not he who invented them. In the Toltec language we find the root atl, which means water and war, and directly after America was discovered Columbus found a town called Atlan, at the entrance of the Bay of Uraga. It is now a poor fishing village called Atlo. Only in America does one find such names as Itzcoatl, Zempoaltecatl, and Popocatepetl. To attempt to explain such coincidences by the theory of blind chance would be too much; consequently, as long as science does not seek to deny Dayanand's hypothesis, which as yet, it is unable to do we think it reasonable to adopt it, be it only in order to follow out the axiom "one hypothesis is equal to another." Amongst other things, Dayanand points out that the route that led Arjuna to America five thousand years ago was by Siberia and Behring's Straits.
It was long past midnight, but we still sat listening to this legend and others of a similar kind. At length the innkeeper sent a servant to warn us of the dangers that threatened us if we lingered too long on the verandah on a moonlit night. The programme of these dangers was divided into three sections -- snakes, beasts of prey, and dacoits. Besides the cobra and the "rock-snake," the surrounding mountains are full of a kind of very small mountain snake, called furzen, the most dangerous of all. Their poison kills with the swiftness of lightning. The moonlight attracts them, and whole parties of these uninvited guests crawl up to the verandahs of houses in order to warm themselves. Here they are more snug than on the wet ground. The verdant and perfumed abyss below our verandah happened, too, to be the favorite resort of tigers and leopards, who come thither to quench their thirst at the broad brook which runs along the bottom, and then wander until daybreak under the windows of the bungalow. Lastly, there were the mad dacoits, whose dens are scattered in mountains inaccessible to the police; who often shoot Europeans simply to afford themselves the pleasure of sending ad patres one of the hateful bellatis (foreigners). Three days before our arrival the wife of a Brahman disappeared, carried off by a tiger, and two favorite dogs of the commandant were killed by snakes. We declined to wait for further explanations, but hurried to our rooms. At daybreak we were to start for Karli, six miles from this place.