from the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan
Chapter Twelve -- Jubblepore
Marble Rocks* -- *Kali* -- *the
Thugs* -- *Shiva* -- *an aged
ex-Thug* -- *Fakirs' Avenue* -- *N.
C. Paul* -- *Bhastrika Kumbhala* -- *the
stage of Dhyana* -- *Samadhi* -- *Raj-Yogis*
-- *spiritualism and science*
Leaving Malva and Indore, the quasi-independent country of Holkar, we found ourselves once more on strictly British territory. We were going to Jubblepore by railway.
This town is situated in the district of Saugor and Nerbudda; once it belonged to the Mahrattis, but in 1817, the English army took possession of it. We stopped in the town only for a short time, being anxious to see the celebrated Marble Rocks. As it would have been a pity to lose a whole day, we hired a boat and started at 2 A.M., which gave us the double advantage of avoiding the heat, and enjoying a splendid bit of the river ten miles from the town.
The neighborhood of Jubblepore is charming;
and besides, both a geologist and a mineralogist would find here the richest
field for scientific researches. The geological formation of the rocks
offers an infinite variety of granites, and the long chains of mountains
might keep a hundred of Cuviers busy for life. The limestone caves of Jubblepore
are a true ossuary of antediluvian India; they are full of skeletons of
monstrous animals now disappeared for ever.
They are there without any apparent reason, as if they were a wart on the smooth cheek of mother nature. White and pure, they are heaped up on each other as if after some plan, and look exactly like a huge paperweight from the writing-table of a Titan. We saw them when we were half-way from the town. They appeared and disappeared with the sudden capricious turnings of the river, trembling in the early morning mist like a distant, deceitful mirage of the desert. Then we lost sight of them altogether. But just before sunrise they stood out once more before our charmed eyes, floating above their reflected image in the water. As if called forth by the wand of a sorcerer, they stood there on the green bank of the Nerbudda, mirroring their virgin beauty on the calm surface of the lazy stream, and promising us a cool and welcome shelter.... And as to the preciousness of every moment of the cool hours before sunrise, it can be appreciated only by those who have lived and traveled in this fiery land.
Alas! in spite of all our precautions, and
our unusually early start, our enjoyment of this cool retreat was very
short-lived. Our project was to have prosaic tea amid these poetic surroundings;
but as soon as we landed, the sun leaped above the horizon, and began shooting
his fiery arrows at the boat, and at our unfortunate heads. Persecuting
us from one place to another, he banished us at last, even from under a
huge rock hanging over the water. There was literally no place where we
could seek salvation. The snow-white marble beauties became golden red,
pouring fire-sparks into the river, heating the sand and blinding our eyes.
For many Yugas this goddess has been engaged
in a desperate contest with her lawful husband Shiva, who in his shape
of Trikutishvara, a three-headed lingam, has dishonestly claimed the rocks
and the river for his own -- the very rocks and the very river over which
Kali presides in person. And this is why people hear dreadful moaning,
coming from under the ground, every time that the hand of an irresponsible
coolie, working by Government orders in Government quarries, breaks a stone
from the white bosom of the goddess. The unhappy stone-breaker hears the
cry and trembles, and his heart is torn between the expectations of a dreadful
punishment from the bloodthirsty goddess, and the fear of his implacably
exacting inspector in case he disobeys his orders.
Only after 1840 was it discovered that its aim was simply robbery and brigandage. The falsely interpreted symbolical meaning of Kali was nothing but a pretext; otherwise there would not have been so many Mussulmans amongst her devotees. When they were caught at last, and had to answer before justice, most of these knights of the rumal -- the handkerchief with which the operation of strangling was performed -- proved to be Mussulmans. The most illustrious of their leaders were not Hindus, but followers of the Prophet, the celebrated Ahmed, for instance. Out of thirty-seven Thugs caught by the police there were twenty-two Mahometans. This proves perfectly clearly that their religion, having nothing in common with the Hindu gods, had nothing to do with their cruel profession; the reason and cause was robbery.
It is true though that the final initiation rite was performed in some deserted forest before an idol of Bhavani, or Kali, wearing a necklace of human skulls. Before this final initiation the candidates had to undergo a course of schooling, the most difficult part of which was a certain trick of throwing the rumal on the neck of the unsuspecting victim and strangling him, so that death might be instantaneous. In the initiation the part of the goddess was made manifest in the use of certain symbols, which are in common use amongst the Freemasons -- for instance, an unsheathed dagger, a human skull, and the corpse of Hiram-Abiff, "son of the widow," brought back to life by the Grand Master of the lodge. Kali was nothing but the pretext for an imposing scenarium.
Freemasonry and Thugism had many points of
resemblance. The members of both recognized each other by certain signs,
both had a pass-word and a jargon that no outsider could understand. The
Freemason lodges receive among their members both Christians and Atheists;
the Thugs used to receive the thieves and robbers of every nation without
any distinction; and it is reported that amongst them there were some Portuguese
and even Englishmen. The difference between the two is that the Thugs certainly
were a criminal organization, whereas the Freemasons of our days do no
harm, except to their own pockets.
Shiva-Sankarin is the destroyer or rather the scatterer; Shiva-Rakshaka is the preserver, the regenerator. He is represented with flames on his left palm, and with the wand of death and resurrection in his right hand. His worshippers wear on their foreheads his sign traced with wet ashes, the ashes being called vibhuti, or purified substance, and the sign consisting of three horizontal parallel lines between the eyebrows. The color of Shiva's skin is rosy-yellow, gradually changing into a flaming red. His neck, head and arms are covered with snakes, emblems of eternity and eternal regeneration. "As a serpent, abandoning his old slough, reappears in new skin, so man after death reappears in a younger and a purer body," say the Puranas.
In her turn, Shiva's wife Kali is the allegory of earth, fructified by the flames of the sun. Her educated worshippers say they allow themselves to believe their goddess is fond of human sacrifices, only on the strength of the fact that earth is fond of organical decomposition, which fertilizes her, and helps her to call forth new forces from the ashes of the dead. The Shivaites, when burning their dead, put an idol of Shiva at the head of the corpse; but when beginning to scatter the ashes in the elements, they invoke Bhavani, in order that the goddess may receive the purified remains, and develop in them germs of new life. But what truth could bear the coarse touch of superstitious ignorance without being disfigured!
The murdering Thugs laid their hands on this
great philosophic emblem, and having understood that the goddess loves
human sacrifice but hates useless blood-shed, they resolved to please her
doubly: to kill, but never to soil their hands by the blood of their victims.
The result of it was the knighthood of the rumal.
We refused to buy the sheep for this old brigand, but we gave him some money. To show his gratitude he offered to demonstrate all the preliminary sensation of the rumal on any English or American neck that was willing. Of course, he said he would omit the final twist. But still none of us were willing; and the gratitude of the repentant criminal found issue in great volubility.
The owl is sacred to Bhavani Kali, and as soon as a band of Thugs, awaiting their victims, had been signalled by the conventional hooting, each of the travelers, let them be twenty and more, had a Thug behind his shoulders. One second more, and the rumal was on the neck of the victim, the well-trained iron fingers of the Thug tightly holding the ends of the sacred handkerchief; another second, the joints of the fingers performed their artistic twist, pressing the larynx, and the victim fell down lifeless. Not a sound, not a shriek! The Thugs worked as swiftly as lightning. The strangled man was immediately carried to a grave prepared in some thick forest, usually under the bed of some brook or rivulet in their periodical state of drought.
Every vestige of the victim disappeared. Who cared to know about him, except his own family and his very intimate friends? The inquests were especially difficult, if not impossible, thirty years ago [in 1879], when there were no regular railway communications, and no regular Government system. Besides, the country is full of tigers, whose sad fate it is to be responsible for every one else's sins as well as for their own. Whoever it was who happened to disappear, be it Hindu or Mussulman, the answer was invariably the same: tigers!
The Thugs possessed a wonderfully good organization. Trained accomplices used to tramp all over India, stopping at the bazaars, those true clubs of Eastern nations, gathering information, scaring their listeners to death with tales of the Thugs, and then advising them to join this or that travelling party, who of course were Thugs playing the part of rich merchants or pilgrims. Having ensnared these wretches, they sent word to the Thugs, and got paid for the commission in proportion to the total profit.
During many long years these invisible bands, scattered all over the country and working in parties of from ten to sixty men, enjoyed perfect freedom; but at last they were caught. The inquiries unveiled horrid and repulsive secrets: rich bankers, officiating Brahmans, Rajas on the brink of poverty, and a few English officials, all had to be brought before justice. This deed of the East India Company truly deserves the popular gratitude which it receives.
= = = = = = = = = = =
On our way back from the Marble Rocks we saw Muddun-Mahal, another mysterious curio; it is a house built -- no one knows by whom, or with what purpose -- on a huge boulder. This stone is probably some kind of relative to the cromlechs of the Celtic Druids. It shakes at the least touch, together with the house and the people who feel curious to see inside it. Of course we had this curiosity, and our noses remained safe only thanks to the Babu, Narayan, and the Takur, who took as great care of us as if they had been nurses, and we their babies.
Natives of India are truly a wonderful people. However unsteady the thing may be, they are sure to walk on it, and sit on it, with the greatest comfort. They think nothing of sitting whole hours on the top of a post -- maybe a little thicker than an ordinary telegraph post. They also feel perfectly safe with their toes twisted round a thin branch and their bodies resting on nothing, as if they were crows perched on a telegraph wire.
"Salam, sahib!" said I
once to an ancient, naked Hindu of a low caste, seated in the above described
fashion. "Are you comfortable, uncle? And are you not afraid of falling
After this astounding physiological information, we parted. He would not talk any more, evidently fearing to endanger his comfort. At that time we did not receive any more explanations on the subject, but this incident was enough to disturb the scientific equanimity of our minds.
Till then, we were so naive as to fancy that
only sturgeons and similar aquatic acrobats were clever enough to learn
how to fill up their insides with air in order to become lighter, and to
rise to the surface of the water. What is possible to a sturgeon is impossible
to man, speculated we in our ignorance. So we agreed to look upon the revelation
of the above described "uncle" in the light of a brag, having no other
aim but to chaff the "white sahibs." In those days, we were still inexperienced,
and inclined to resent this kind of information, as coming very near to
mockery. But later on, we learned that his description of the process necessary
to keep up this birdlike posture was perfectly accurate.
One of them, literally leaning only on the palm of his right hand, was poised with his head downwards and his legs upwards; his body was as motionless as if he were the dry branch of a tree. Just a little above the ground his head rose in the most unnatural position, and his eyes were fixed on the glaring sun. I cannot guarantee the truthfulness of some talkative inhabitants of the town, who had joined our party, and who assured us that this fakir daily spends in this posture all the hours between noon and the sunset. But I can guarantee that not a muscle of his body moved during the hour and twenty minutes we spent amongst the fakirs.
Another fakir stood on a "sacred stone of Shiva," a small stone about five inches in diameter. One of his legs was curled up under him, and the whole of his body was bent backwards into an arc; his eyes also were fixed on the sun. The palms of his hands were pressed together as if in prayer. He seemed glued to his stone. We were at a loss to imagine by what means this man came to be master of such equilibration.
The third of these wonderful people sat crossing his legs under him; but how he could sit was more than we could understand, because the thing on which he sat was a stone lingam, not higher than an ordinary street post and little wider than the "stone of Shiva," that is to say, hardly more than five or seven inches in diameter. His arms were crossed behind his back, and his nails had grown into the flesh of his shoulders. "This one never changes his position," said one of our companions. "At least, he has not changed for the last seven years."
His usual food, or rather drink, is milk, which is brought to him once in every forty-eight hours and poured into his throat with the aid of a bamboo. Every ascetic has willing servants, who are also future fakirs, whose duty it is to attend on them; and so the disciples of this living mummy take him off his pedestal, wash him in the tank, and put him back like an inanimate object, because he can no longer stretch his limbs.
"And what if I were to push one of these fakirs?" asked I. "I daresay the least touch would upset them."
"Try!" laughingly advised the Takur. "In this state of religious trance it is easier to break a man to pieces than to remove him from his place."
To touch an ascetic in the state of trance is a sacrilege in the eyes of the Hindus; but evidently the Takur was well aware that under certain circumstances, there may be exceptions to every Brahmanical rule. He had another aside with the chief Brahman, who followed us, darker than a thundercloud; the consultation did not last long, and after it was over Gulab-Sing declared to us that none of us was allowed to touch the fakirs, but that he personally had obtained this permission, and so was going to show us something still more astonishing.
He approached the fakir on the little stone, and carefully holding him by his protruding ribs, he lifted him and put him on the ground. The ascetic remained as statuesque as before. Then Gulab-Sing took the stone in his hands and showed it to us, asking us, however, not to touch it for fear of offending the crowd. The stone was round, flattish, with rather an uneven surface. When laid on the ground it shook at the least touch.
"Now, you see that this pedestal is far from being steady. And also you have seen that, under the weight of the fakir, it is as immovable as if it were planted in the ground."
When the fakir was put back on the stone, he and it at once resumed their appearance as of one single body, solidly joined to the ground, and not a line of the fakir's body had changed. By all appearance, his bending body and his head thrown backward sought to bring him down; but for this fakir there was evidently no such thing as the law of gravity. What I have described is a fact, but I do not take upon myself to explain it.
At the gates of the pagoda we found our shoes, which we had been told to take off before going in. We put them on again, and left this "holy of holies" of the secular mysteries, with our minds still more perplexed than before. In the Fakirs' Avenue we found Narayan, Mulji, and the Babu, who were waiting for us. The chief Brahman would not hear of their entering the pagoda. All the three had long before released themselves from the iron claws of caste; they openly ate and drank with us, and for this offence they were regarded as excommunicated, and despised by their compatriots much more than the Europeans themselves. Their presence in the pagoda would have polluted it for ever, whereas the pollution brought by us was only temporary; it would evaporate in the smoke of cow-dung -- the usual Brahmanical incense of purification -- like a drop of muddy water in the rays of the sun.
India is the country for originalities, and everything unexpected and unconventional. From the point of view of an ordinary European observer, every feature of Indian life is contrary to what could be expected. Shaking the head from one shoulder to another means no in every other country, but in India it means an emphatic yes. If you ask a Hindu how his wife is, even if you are well acquainted with her, or how many children he has, or whether he has any sisters, he will feel offended in nine cases out of ten. So long as the host does not point to the door, having previously sprinkled the guest with rose-water, the latter would not think of leaving. He would stay the whole day without tasting any food, and lose his time, rather than offend his host by an unauthorized departure.
Everything contradicts our Western ideas.
The Hindus are strange and original, but their religion is still more original.
It has its dark points, of course. The rites of some sects are truly repulsive;
the officiating Brahmans are far from being without reproach. But these
are only superficialities. In spite of them the Hindu religion possesses
something so deeply and mysteriously irresistible that it attracts and
subdues even unimaginative Englishmen. The following incident is a curious
instance of this fascination:
It was his great friendship with Captain Seymour chiefly which helped him to penetrate some mysteries, which till then were supposed to be impenetrable. The history of this English gentleman is truly incredible, and produced, about twenty-five years ago, an unprecedented scandal in the records of the British army in India. Captain Seymour, a wealthy and well-educated officer, accepted the Brahmanical creed and became a Yogi. Of course he was proclaimed mad, and having been caught, was sent back to England. Seymour escaped, and returned to India in the dress of a Sannyasi. He was caught again, and shut up in some lunatic asylum in London. Three days after, in spite of the bolts and the watchmen, he disappeared from the establishment.
Later on his acquaintances saw him in Benares, and the governor-general received a letter from him from the Himalayas. In this letter he declared that he never was mad, in spite of his being put into a hospital; he advised the governor-general not to interfere with what was strictly his own private concern, and announced his firm resolve never to return to civilized society. "I am a Yogi," wrote he, "and I hope to obtain before I die what is the aim of my life -- to become a Raj-Yogi." After this letter he was left alone, and no European ever saw him except Dr. Paul, who, as it is reported, was in constant correspondence with him, and even went twice to see him in the Himalayas under the pretext of botanic excursions.
I was told that the pamphlet of Dr. Paul was ordered to be burned "as being offensive to the science of physiology and pathology." At the time I visited India, copies of it were very great rarities. Out of a few copies still extant, one is to be found in the library of the Maharaja of Benares, and another was given to me by the Takur.
This evening we dined at the refreshment rooms of the railway station. Our arrival caused an evident sensation. Our party occupied the whole end of a table at which were dining many first-class passengers, who all stared at us with undisguised astonishment. Europeans on an equal footing with Hindus! Hindus who condescended to dine with Europeans! These two were rare and wonderful sights indeed. The subdued whispers grew into loud exclamations. Two officers who happened to know the Takur took him aside, and having shaken hands with him, began a very animated conversation, as if discussing some matter of business; but, as we learned afterwards, they simply wanted to gratify their curiosity about us.
Here we learned, for the first time, that we were under police supervision, the police being represented by an individual clad in a suit of white clothes, and possessing a very fresh complexion and a pair of long moustaches. He was an agent of the secret police, and had followed us from Bombay. On learning this flattering piece of news, the colonel burst into a loud laugh; which only made us still more suspicious in the eyes of all these Anglo-Indians enjoying a quiet and dignified meal. As to me, I was very disagreeably impressed by this bit of news, I must confess, and wished this unpleasant dinner was over.
The train for Allahabad was to leave at eight P.M., and we were to spend the night in the railway carriage. We had ten reserved seats in a first-class carriage, and had made sure that no strange passengers would enter it, but nevertheless, there were many reasons which made me think I could not sleep this night. So I obtained a provision of candles for my reading lamp, and making myself comfortable on my couch, began reading the pamphlet of Dr. Paul, which interested me greatly.
Amongst many other interesting things, Dr.
Paul explains very fully and learnedly the mystery of the periodical suspension
of breathing, and some other seemingly impossible phenomena practised by
The means by which they acquire it -- known under the name of Bhastrika Kumbhala -- consist of the following: The Yogi isolates himself in an underground cave, where the atmosphere is more uniform and more damp than on the surface of the earth; this causes the appetite to grow less. Man's appetite is proportionate to the quantity of carbonic acid he exhales in a certain period of time. The Yogis never use salt, and live entirely on milk, which they take only during the night. They move very slowly in order not to breathe too often. Movement increases the exhaled carbonic acid, and so the Yoga practice prescribes avoidance of movement. The quantity of exhaled carbonic acid is also increased by loud and lively talking, so the Yogis are taught to talk slowly and in subdued tones, and are even advised to take the vows of silence. Physical labor is propitious to the increase of carbonic acid, and mental to its decrease; accordingly the Yogi spends his life in contemplation and deep meditation. Padmasana and Siddhasana are the two methods by which a person is taught to breathe as little as possible.
Suka-Devi, a well-known miracle-monger of
the second century B.C., says: "Place the left foot upon the right thigh,
and the right foot upon the left thigh; straighten the neck and back; make
the palms of the hands rest upon the knees; shut the mouth; and expire
forcibly through both nostrils. Next, inspire and expire quickly until
you are fatigued. Then inspire through the right nostril, fill the abdomen
with the inspired air, suspend the breath, and fix the sight on the tip
of the nose. Then expire through the left nostril, and next, inspiring
through the left nostril, suspend the breath... " and so on.
After this, the Yogi practises Pratyahara,
a kind of voluntary trance, which is recognizable by the full suspension
of all the senses. After this stage the Yogis study the process of Dharana;
this not only stops the activity of physical senses, but also causes the
mental capacities to be plunged into a deep torpor. This stage brings abundant
suffering; it requires a good deal of firmness and resolution on the part
of a Yogi, but it leads him to Dhayana, a state of perfect, indescribable
bliss. According to their own description, in this state they swim in the
ocean of eternal light, in Akasha, or Ananta Jyoti, which they call the
"Soul of the Universe." Reaching the stage of Dhyana, the Yogi becomes
a seer. The Dhyana of the Yogis is the same thing as Turiya Avastha of
the Vedantins, in the number of whom are the Raj-Yogis.
However, all these are physical phenomena
produced by Hatha-Yogis. Each of them ought to be investigated by physical
science, but they are much less interesting than the phenomena of the region
of psychology. But Dr. Paul has next to nothing to say on this subject.
During the thirty-five years of his Indian career, he met only three Raj-Yogis;
but in spite of the friendliness they showed to the English doctor, none
of them consented to initiate him into the mysteries of nature, a knowledge
of which is ascribed to them. One of them simply denied that he had any
power at all; the other did not deny, and even showed Dr. Paul some very
wonderful things, but refused to give any explanations whatever; the third
said he would explain a few things on the condition that Dr. Paul must
pledge himself never to repeat anything he learned from him. In acquiring
this kind of information, Dr. Paul had only one aim -- to give these secrets
publicity, and to enlighten the public ignorance -- and so he declined
Here are a few deep words of Professor Boutleroff, a Russian scientist whom I, in common with all Russians, greatly respect: "....All this belongs to knowledge; the increase of the mass of knowledge will only enrich and not abolish science. This must be accomplished on the strength of serious observation, of study, of experience, and under the guidance of positive scientific methods, by which people are taught to acknowledge every other phenomenon of nature. We do not call you blindly to accept hypotheses, after the example of bygone years, but to seek after knowledge; we do not invite you to give up science, but to enlarge her regions... "This was said about spiritualist phenomena. As to the rest of our learned physiologists, this is approximately what they have the right to say: "We know well certain phenomena of nature which we have personally studied and investigated, under certain conditions, which we call normal or abnormal, and we guarantee the accuracy of our conclusions."
However, it would be very well if they added: "But having no pretensions to assure the world that we are acquainted with all the forces of nature, known and unknown, we do not claim the right to hold back other people from bold investigations in regions which we have not reached as yet, owing to our great cautiousness and also to our moral timidity. Not being able to maintain that the human organism is utterly incapable of developing certain transcendental powers, which are rare and observable only under certain conditions unknown to science, we by no means wish to keep other explorers within the limits of our own scientific discoveries."
By pronouncing this noble, and at the same time modest speech, our physiologists would doubtless gain the undying gratitude of posterity. After this speech there would be no fear of mockery, no danger of losing one's reputation for veracity and sound reason; and the learned colleagues of these broad-minded physiologists would investigate every phenomenon of nature seriously and openly. The phenomena of spiritualism would then transmigrate from the region of materialized "mothers-in-law" and half-witted fortune-telling to the regions of the psycho-physiological sciences.
The celebrated "spirits" would probably evaporate, but in their stead the living spirit, which "belongeth not to this world," would become better known and better realized by humanity, because humanity will comprehend the harmony of the whole only after learning how closely the visible world is bound to the world invisible.
After this speech, Haeckel at the head of the evolutionists, and Alfred Russel Wallace at the head of the spiritualists, would be relieved from many anxieties, and would shake hands in brotherhood.
Seriously speaking, what is there to prevent humanity from acknowledging two active forces within itself -- one purely animal, the other purely divine?
It does not behove even the greatest amongst scientists to try to "bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades," even if they have chosen "Arcturus with his sons" for their guides. Did it never occur to them to apply to their own intellectual pride the questions the "voice out of the whirlwind" once asked of long-suffering Job: "where were they when were laid the foundations of the earth? and have the gates of death been opened unto them?" If so, only then have they the right to maintain that here and not there is the abode of eternal light.