from the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan
Chapter Ten -- The Caves of Bagh
At four o'clock in the morning we crossed
the Vagrey and Girna, or rather,
comme coloris local [as the locals
have it], Shiva and Parvati. Probably, following the bad example of the
average mortal husband and wife, this divine couple were engaged in a quarrel,
even at this early hour of the day. They were frightfully rough; and our
ferry, striking on something at the bottom, nearly upset us into the cold
embrace of the god and his irate better half.
But on reaching the top of the mountain we stopped grumbling, realizing at the first glance that we should receive our reward. We saw a whole enfilade of dark caves, through regular square openings six feet wide. We felt awestruck with the gloomy majesty of this deserted temple. There was a curious ceiling over the square platform that once served as a verandah; there was also a portico with broken pillars hanging over our heads; and two rooms on each side, one with a broken image of some flat-nosed goddess, the other containing a Ganesha; but we did not stop to examine all this in detail. Ordering the torches to be lit, we stepped into the first hall.
A damp breath as of the tomb met us. At our first word we all shivered: a hollow, prolonged, echoing howl, dying away in the distance, shook the ancient vaults and made us all lower our voices to a whisper. The torch-bearers shrieked "Devi!... Devi!..." -- and kneeling in the dust, performed a fervent puja in honor of the voice of the invisible goddess of the caves, in spite of the angry protestations of Narayan and of the "God's warrior."
The only light of the temple came from the entrance, and so two-thirds of it looked still gloomier by contrast. This hall, or the central temple, is very spacious, eighty-four feet square and sixteen feet high. Twenty-four massive pillars form a square, six pillars at each side, including the corner ones, and four in the middle to prop up the centre of the ceiling; otherwise it could not be kept from falling, as the mass of the mountain which presses on it from the top is much greater than in Karli or Elephanta.
There are at least three different styles
in the architecture of these pillars. Some of them are grooved in spirals,
gradually and imperceptibly changing from round to sixteen-sided, then
octagonal and square. Others, plain for the first third of their height,
gradually finished under the ceiling by a most elaborate display of ornamentation,
which reminds one of the Corinthian style. The third, with a square plinth
and semi-circular friezes. Taking it all in all, they made a most original
and graceful picture. Mr. Y---, an architect by profession, assured us
that he never saw anything more striking. He said he could not imagine
by the aid of what instruments the ancient builders could accomplish such
Then why not suppose that if amongst hundreds of Brahmanical gods, we find one statue of Buddha, it only shows that the masses of half-converts to Buddhism added this new god to the ancient Brahmanical temple. This would be much more sensible than to think that the Buddhists of the two centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian era dared to fill their temples with idols, in defiance of the spirit of the reformer Gautama. The figures of Buddha are easily discerned in the swarm of heathen gods; their position is always the same, and the palm of its right hand is always turned upwards, blessing the worshipers with two fingers. We examined almost every remarkable vihara of the so-called Buddhist temples, and never met with one statue of Buddha which could not have been added in a later epoch than the construction of the temple; it does not matter whether it was a year or a thousand years later.
Not being perfectly self-confident in this matter, we always took the opinion of Mr. Y---, who, as I said before, was an experienced architect; and he invariably came to the conclusion that the Brahmanical idols formed a harmonic and genuine part of the whole -- pillars, decorations, and the general style of the temple; whereas the statue of Buddha was an additional and discordant patch. Out of thirty or forty caves of Ellora, all filled with idols, there is only one, the one called the Temple of the Tri-Lokas, which contains nothing but statues of Buddha, and of Ananda, his favourite disciple. Of course, in this case it would be perfectly right to think it is a Buddhist vihara.
Most probably some of the Russian archeologists will protest against the opinions I maintain -- that is to say, the opinions of the Hindu archeologists -- and will treat me as an ignoramus, outraging science. In self-defence, and in order to show how unstable a ground to base one's opinions upon are the conclusions even of such a great authority as Mr. Fergusson, I must mention the following instance. This great architect, but very mediocre archeologist, proclaimed at the very beginning of his scientific career that "all the cave temples of Kanara, without exception, were built between the fifth and the tenth centuries."
This theory became generally accepted, when suddenly Dr. Bird found a brass plate in a certain Kanara monument, called a tope. The plate announced in pure and distinct Sanskrit that this tope was erected as a homage to the old temple, at the beginning of 245 of the Hindu astronomical (Samvat) era. According to Prinsep and Dr. Stevenson, this date coincides with 189 A.D., and so it clearly settles the question of when the tope was built. But the question of the antiquity of the temple itself still remains open, though the inscription states that it was an old temple in 189 A.D., and contradicts the above-quoted opinion of Fergusson. However, this important discovery failed to shake Fergusson's equanimity. For him, ancient inscriptions are of no importance, because, as he says, "the antiquity of ruins must not be fixed on the basis of inscriptions, but on the basis of certain architectural canons and rules" discovered by Mr. Fergusson in person. Fiat hypothesis, ruat coelum! [Let the hypothesis exist, though the heavens fall].
And now I shall return to my narrative. Straight before the entrance a door leads to another hall which is oblong, with hexagonal pillars and niches containing statues in a tolerable state of preservation: goddesses ten feet and gods nine feet high. After this hall there is a room with an altar which is a regular hexagon, having sides each three feet long, and protected by a cupola cut in the rock. Nobody was admitted here except the initiates of the mysteries of the adytum. All round this room there are about twenty priests' cells. Absorbed in the examination of the altar, we did not notice the absence of the Colonel, till we heard his loud voice in the distance calling to us: "I have found a secret passage... Come along, let us find where it leads to!"
Torch in hand, the Colonel was far ahead of
us, and very eager to proceed; but each of us had a little plan of his
own, and so we were reluctant to obey his summons. The Babu took upon himself
to answer for the whole party: "Take care, Colonel. This passage leads
to the den of the glamour [=illusory magic tigers]... Mind the tigers!"
Instead of an answer, the legs were convulsed still more violently, and soon disappeared completely, after which we heard the voice of the Colonel, as if coming through a long tube: "A room... a secret cell.... Be quick! I see a whole row of rooms... Confound it! my torch is out! Bring some matches and another torch!" But this was easier said than done. The torch-bearers refused to go on; as it was, they were already frightened out of their wits. Miss X--- glanced with apprehension at the wall thickly covered with soot, and then at her pretty gown. Mr. Y--- sat down on a broken pillar and said he would go no farther, preferring to have a quiet smoke in the company of the timid torch-bearers.
There were several vertical steps cut in the wall; and on the floor we saw a large stone of such a curiously irregular shape that it struck me that it could not be natural. The quick-eyed Babu was not long in discovering its peculiarities, and said he was sure "it was the stopper of the secret passage." We all hurried to examine the stone most minutely, and discovered that though it imitated as closely as possible the irregularity of the rock, its under-surface bore evident traces of workmanship, and had a kind of hinge to be easily moved. The hole was about three feet high, but not more than two feet wide.
The muscular "God's warrior" was the first to follow the colonel. He was so tall that when he stood on a broken pillar the opening came down to the middle of his breast, and so he had no difficulty in transporting himself to the upper story. The slender Babu joined him with a single monkey-like jump. Then, with the Akali pulling from above and Narayan pushing from below, I safely made the passage, though the narrowness of the hole proved most disagreeable, and the roughness of the rock left considerable traces on my hands. However trying archeological explorations may be for a person afflicted by an unusually fine presence, I felt perfectly confident that with two such Hercules-like helpers as Narayan and Ram-Runjit-Das, the ascent of the Himalayas would be perfectly possible for me. Miss X--- came next, under the escort of Mulji, but Mr. Y--- stayed behind.
The secret cell was a room of twelve feet square. Straight above the black hole in the floor there was another in the ceiling, but this time we did not discover any "stopper." The cell was perfectly empty with the exception of black spiders as big as crabs. Our apparition, and especially the bright light of the torches, maddened them; panic-stricken, they ran in hundreds over the walls, rushed down, and tumbled on our heads, tearing their thin ropes in their inconsiderate haste. The first movement of Miss X--- was to kill as many as she could. But the four Hindus protested strongly and unanimously. The old lady remonstrated in an offended voice: "I thought that at least you, Mulji, were a reformer, but you are as superstitious as any idol-worshiper."
"Above everything I am a Hindu," answered the "mute general." "And the Hindus, as you know, consider it sinful before nature and before their own consciences to kill an animal put to flight by the strength of man, be it even poisonous. As to the spiders, in spite of their ugliness, they are perfectly harmless."
"I am sure all this is because you think you will transmigrate into a black spider!" she replied, her nostrils trembling with anger.
"I cannot say I do," retorted Mulji, "but if all the English ladies are as unkind as you I should rather be a spider than an Englishman."
This lively answer coming from the usually taciturn Mulji was so unexpected that we could not help laughing. But to our great discomfiture Miss X--- was seriously angry, and under pretext of giddiness said she would rejoin Mr. Y--- below. Her constant bad spirits were becoming trying for our cosmopolitan little party, and so we did not press her to stay.
As to us, we climbed through the second opening, but this time under the leadership of Narayan. He disclosed to us that this place was not new to him; he had been here before, and confided to us that similar rooms, one on the top of the other, go up to the summit of the mountain. Then, he said, they take a sudden turn, and descend gradually to a whole underground palace, which is sometimes temporarily inhabited. Wishing to leave the world for a while and to spend a few days in isolation, the Raj-Yogis find perfect solitude in this underground abode. Our President looked askance at Narayan through his spectacles, but did not find anything to say. The Hindus also received this information in perfect silence.
The second cell was exactly like the first one; we easily discovered the hole in its ceiling, and reached the third cell. There we sat down for a while. I felt that breathing was becoming difficult to me, but I thought I was simply out of breath and tired, and so did not mention to my companions that anything was wrong. The passage to the fourth cell was almost stopped by earth mixed with little stones, and the gentlemen of the party were busy clearing it out for about twenty minutes. Then we reached the fourth cell.
Narayan was right: the cells were one straight over the other, and the floor of the one formed the ceiling of the other. The fourth cell was in ruins. Two broken pillars lying one on the other presented a very convenient stepping-stone to the fifth story. But the colonel stopped our zeal by saying that now was the time to smoke "the pipe of deliberation" after the fashion of red Indians.
"If Narayan is not mistaken,"
he said, "this going up and up may continue till tomorrow morning."
The Colonel grew thoughtful, and stood glancing
at the ceiling in a perplexed and undecided way. We all kept silent, breathing
At this very moment I felt a strange and unexpected sensation, and I sank heavily on the ground. In a second I felt an indescribably delicious, heavenly sense of rest, in spite of a dull pain beating in my temples. I vaguely realized that I had really fainted, and that I should die if not taken out into the open air. I could not lift my finger; I could not utter a sound; and, in spite of it, there was no fear in my soul -- nothing but an apathetic but indescribably sweet feeling of rest, and a complete inactivity of all the senses except hearing. A moment came when even this sense forsook me, because I remember that I listened with imbecile intentness to the dead silence around me. Is this death? was my indistinct wondering thought. Then I felt as if mighty wings were fanning me. "Kind wings, caressing, kind wings!" were the recurring words in my brain, like the regular movements of a pendulum; and interiorily, under an unreasoning impulse, I laughed at these words.
Then I experienced a new sensation: I rather
knew than felt that I was lifted from the floor, and fell down and down
some unknown precipice, amongst the hollow rollings of a distant thunder-storm.
Suddenly a loud voice resounded near me. And this time I think I did not
hear, but felt it. There was something palpable in this voice, something
that instantly stopped my helpless descent, and kept me from falling any
further. This was a voice I knew well, but whose voice it was I could not
in my weakness remember.
But my unfortunate accident, and the pitiable state of the rest of the daring explorers, were enough to stop any further questions and expressions of astonishment. On one side of me the frightened Miss X---, using my nose as a cork for her sal-volatile bottle; on the other the "God's warrior" covered with blood as if returning from a battle with the Afghans; further on, poor Mulji with a dreadful headache. Narayan and the Colonel, happily for our party, did not experience anything worse than a slight vertigo. As to the Babu, no carbonic acid gas could inconvenience his wonderful Bengali nature. He said he was safe and comfortable enough, but awfully hungry.
At last the outpour of entangled exclamations and unintelligible explanations stopped, and I collected my thoughts and tried to understand what had happened to me in the cave. Narayan was the first to notice that I had fainted, and hastened to drag me back to the passage. And this very moment they all heard the voice of Gulab-Sing coming from the upper cell: "Tumhare iha aneka kya kam tha?" ("What on earth brought you here?"). Even before they recovered from their astonishment he ran quickly past them, and descending to the cell beneath called to them to "pass him down the bai" (sister). This "passing down" of such a solid object as my body, and the picture of the proceeding, vividly imagined, made me laugh heartily, and I felt sorry I had not been able to witness it.
Handing him over their half-dead load, they hastened to join the Takur; but he contrived to do without their help, though how he did it they were at a loss to understand. By the time they succeeded in getting through one passage Gulab-Sing was already at the next one, in spite of the heavy burden he carried; and they never were in time to be of any assistance to him. The Colonel, whose main feature is the tendency to go into the details of everything, could not conceive by what proceedings the Takur had managed to pass my almost lifeless body so rapidly through all these narrow holes.
"He could not have thrown her down the passage before going in himself, for every single bone of her body would have been broken," mused the Colonel. "And it is still less possible to suppose that, descending first himself, he dragged her down afterwards. It is simply incomprehensible!" These questions harassed him for a long time afterwards, until they became something like the puzzle: Which was created first, the egg or the bird?
As to the Takur, when closely questioned, he shrugged his shoulders, and answered that he really did not remember. He said that he simply did whatever he could to get me out into the open air; that all our traveling companions were there to watch his proceedings, he was under their eyes all the time; and that in circumstances when every second is precious people do not think, but act.
But all these questions arose only in the course of the day. As to the time directly after I was laid down on the verandah, there were other things to puzzle all our party: no one could understand how the Takur happened to be on the spot exactly when his help was most needed, nor where he came from -- and everyone was anxious to know. On the verandah they found me lying on a carpet, with the Takur busy restoring me to my senses, and Miss X--- with her eyes wide open at the Takur, whom she decidedly believed to be a materialized ghost.
However, the explanations our friend gave us seemed perfectly satisfactory, and at first did not strike us as unnatural. He was in Hardwar when Swami Dayanand sent us the letter which postponed our going to him. On arriving at Kandua by the Indore railway, he had visited Holkar; and learning that we were so near, he decided to join us sooner than he had expected. He had come to Bagh yesterday evening, but knowing that we were to start for the caves early in the morning he went there before us, and simply was waiting for us in the caves. "There is the whole mystery for you," said he.
"The whole mystery?" exclaimed the Colonel."Did you know, then, beforehand that we would discover the cells, or what?"
"No, I did not. I simply went there myself because it is a long time since I saw them last. Examining them took me longer than I expected, and so I was too late to meet you at the entrance."
"Probably the Takur-Sahib was enjoying the freshness of the air in the cells," suggested the mischievous Babu, showing all his white teeth in a broad grin.
Our President uttered an energetic exclamation. "Exactly! How on earth did I not think of that before?... You could not possibly have any breathing air in the cells above the one you found us in.... And, besides,... how did you reach the fifth cell, when the entrance of the fourth was nearly stopped and we had to dig it out?"
"There are other passages leading to them. I know all the turns and corridors of these caves, and everyone is free to choose his way," answered Gulab-Sing; and I thought I saw a look of intelligence pass between him and Narayan, who simply cowered under his fiery eyes. "However, let us go to the cave where breakfast is ready for us. Fresh air will do all of you good."
On our way we met with another cave, twenty or thirty steps south from the verandah, but the Takur did not let us go in, fearing new accidents for us. So we descended the stone steps I have already mentioned; and after descending about two hundred steps towards the foot of the mountain, made a short reascent again and entered the "dining-room," as the Babu denominated it. In my role of "interesting invalid," I was carried to it, sitting in my folding chair, which never left me in all my travels.
This temple is much the less gloomy of the
two, in spite of considerable signs of decay. The frescoes of the ceiling
are better preserved than in the first temple. The walls, the tumbled-down
pillars, the ceiling, and even the interior rooms, which were lighted by
ventilators cut through the rock, were once covered by a varnished stucco,
the secret of which is now known only to the Madrasis, and which gives
the rock the appearance of pure marble.
Every twelfth year, which the Hindus call
Kumbha, the planet Jupiter enters the constellation of Aquarius, and this
event is considered very propitious for the beginning of the religious
fair; for which this day is accordingly fixed by the astrologers
of the pagodas. This gathering attracts the representatives of all sects,
as I said before, from princes and maharajas down to the last fakir. The
former come for the sake of religious discussions; the latter, simply to
plunge into the waters of Ganges at its very source, which must be done
at a certain propitious hour, fixed also by the position of the stars.
The town is situated in a charming flowery valley, at the foot of the southern slope of the Sivalik ridge, between two mountain chains. In this valley, raised 1,024 feet above the sea level, the northern nature of the Himalayas struggles with the tropical growth of the plains, and in their efforts to excel each other they have created the most delightful of all the delightful corners of India. The town itself is a quaint collection of castle-like turrets of the most fantastical architecture -- of ancient viharas, of wooden fortresses so gaily painted that they look like toys, of pagodas with loopholes and overhanging curved little balconies, and all this over-grown by such abundance of roses, dahlias, aloes, and blossoming cactuses that it is hardly possible to tell a door from a window. The granite foundations of many houses are laid almost in the bed of the river, and so during four months of the year they are half covered with water.
And behind this handful of scattered houses, higher up the mountain slope, crowd snow-white, stately temples. Some of them are low, with thick walls, wide wings, and gilded cupolas; others rise in majestical many-storied towers; others again with shapely pointed roofs, which look like the spires of a bell tower. Strange and capricious is the architecture of these temples, the like of which is not to be seen anywhere else. They look as if they had suddenly dropped from the snowy abodes of the mountain spirits above -- standing there in the shelter of the mother mountain, and timidly peeping over the head of the small town below at their own images reflected in the pure, untroubled waters of the sacred river.
Here the Ganges is not yet polluted by the dirt and the sins of her many million adorers. Releasing her worshipers, cleansed from her icy embrace, the pure maiden of the mountains carries her transparent waves through the burning plains of Hindostan; and only three hundred and forty-eight miles lower down, on passing through Cawnpore, do her waters begin to grow thicker and darker; while on reaching Benares, they transform themselves into a kind of peppery pea soup.
Once, while talking to an old Hindu, who tried to convince us that his compatriots are the cleanest nation in the world, we asked him: "Why is it then that in the less populous places, the Ganges is pure and transparent, whilst in Benares, especially towards evening, it looks like a mass of liquid mud?"
"O sahibs!" answered he mournfully, "it is not the dirt of our bodies, as you think, it is not even the blackness of our sins, that the devi (goddess) washes away... Her waves are black with the sorrow and shame of her children. Her feelings are sad and sorrowful; hidden suffering, burning pain and humiliation, despair and shame at her own helplessness, have been her lot for many past centuries. She has suffered all this till her waters have become waves of black bile. Her waters are poisoned and black, but not from physical causes. She is our mother, and how could she help resenting the degradation we have brought ourselves to in this dark age."
This sorrowful, poetical allegory made us feel very keenly for the poor old man; but however great our sympathy, we could not but suppose that probably the woes of the maiden Ganga do not affect her sources. In Hardwar the color of Ganges is crystal aqua-marina, and the waters run gaily murmuring to the shore-reeds about the wonders they saw on their way from the Himalayas.
The beautiful river is the greatest and the purest of goddesses, in the eyes of the Hindus; and many are the honors given to her in Hardwar. Besides the Mela celebrated once every twelve years, there is a month in every year when the pilgrims flock together to the Harika-Paira, stairs of Vishnu. Whosoever succeeds in throwing himself first into the river at the appointed day, hour, and moment, will not only expiate all his sins, but also have all bodily sufferings removed. This zeal to be first is so great that owing to a badly-constructed and narrow stair leading to the water, it used to cost many lives yearly; until in 1819 the East India Company, taking pity upon the pilgrims, ordered this ancient relic to be removed, and a new stairway one hundred feet wide and consisting of sixty steps, to be constructed.
The month when the waters of the Ganges are most salutary falls, according to the Brahmanical computation, between March 12th and April 10th, and is called Chaitra. The worst of it is that the waters are at their best only at the first moment of a certain propitious hour indicated by the Brahmans, and which sometimes happens to be midnight. You can fancy what it must be when this moment comes, in the midst of a crowd which exceeds two millions. In 1819 more than four hundred people were crushed to death. But even after the new stairs were constructed, the goddess Ganga has carried away on her virgin bosom many a disfigured corpse of her worshipers. Nobody pitied the drowned; on the contrary, they were envied. Whoever happens to be killed during this purification by bathing, is sure to go straight to Swarga (heaven).
In 1760, the two rival brotherhoods of Sannyasis and Bairagis had a regular battle amongst them on the sacred day of Purbi, the last day of the religious fair. The Bairagis were conquered, and there were eighteen thousand people slaughtered.
"And in 1796," proudly narrated our warlike friend the Akali, "the pilgrims from Punjab, all of them Sikhs, desiring to punish the insolence of the Hossains, killed here about five hundred of these heathens. My own grandfather took part in the fight!" Later on we verified this in the Gazetteer of India, and the "God's warrior" was cleared of every suspicion of exaggeration and boasting.
In 1879, however, no one was drowned or crushed to death, but a dreadful epidemic of cholera broke out. We were disgusted at this impediment, but had to keep at a distance in spite of our impatience to see Hardwar. And unable to behold distant summits of old Himavat ourselves, we had in the meanwhile to be contented with what we could hear about him from other people.
= = = = = = = = = = =
So we talked long after our breakfast under the cave vault was finished. But our talk was not so gay as it might have been, because we had to part with Ram-Runjit-Das, who was going to Bombay. The worthy Sikh shook hands with us in the European way, and then raising his right hand gave us his blessing, after the fashion of all the followers of Nanaka. But when he approached the Takur to take leave of him, his countenance suddenly changed. This change was so evident that we all noted it.
The Takur was sitting on the ground leaning on a saddle, which served him as a cushion. The Akali did not attempt either to give him his blessing or to shake hands with him. The proud expression of his face also changed, and showed confusion and anxious humility instead of the usual self-respect and self-sufficiency. The brave Sikh knelt down before the Takur, and instead of the ordinary "Namaste!" ("Salutation to you"), whispered reverently, as if addressing the Guru of the Golden Lake: "I am your servant, Sadhu-Sahib! give me your blessing!"
Without any apparent reason or cause, we all
felt self-conscious and ill at ease, as if guilty of some indiscretion.
But the face of the mysterious Rajput remained as calm and as dispassionate
as ever. He was looking at the river before this scene took place, and
slowly moved his eyes to the Akali, who lay prostrated before him. Then
he touched the head of the Sikh with his index finger, and rose with the
remark that we also had better start at once, because it was getting late.
The name of Hari-Kula gives to some Orientalists ground to suppose that a member of this family emigrated to Egypt in the remote epoch of the first Pharaonic dynasties; and that the ancient Greeks, borrowing the name as well as the traditions, thus formed their legends about the mythological Hercules. It is believed that the ancient Egyptians adored the sphinx under the name of Hari-Mukh, or the "sun on the horizon." On the mountain chain which fringes Kashmir on the north, thirteen thousand feet above the sea, there is a huge summit which is exactly like a head, and which bears the name of Harimukh. This name is also met with in the most ancient of the Puranas. Besides, popular tradition considers this Himalayan stone head to be the image of the setting sun.
Is it possible, then, that all these coincidences are only accidental? And why is it that the Orientalists will not give it more serious attention? It seems to me that this is a rich soil for future research, and that it is no more to be explained by mere chance than the fact that both Egypt and India held the cow sacred, and that the ancient Egyptians had the same religious horror of killing certain animals, as the modern Hindus.