Page images

former world by a deluge, this divinity, whose name is Vishnu, composed himself to sleep on a thousand-headed serpent, which floated upon the surface of the waters ; during a nap of some millions of years, a water-lily grew from his body; from this flower issued Brahma, the Creator. Having formed the world anew and created many of the gods, he proceeded to create man, when the four classes or castes into which the Hindus are divided issued from different parts of his body : the Brahmins from his head, the Kshutryus from his arms, the Voishnus from his breast, while the Shudras had their ignoble origin in his feet ; agreeably to which legend, the Brahmins are supposed to be entitled to a very high rank, while the Shudras are hardly regarded as human beings. These four classes have, from various causes, been divided into more than two hundred distinct castes. If one of high caste violate the rules of his community, he cannot receive an honorable dismission, and enter a lower caste, but is forever excluded from all respectable society; repentance and reformation have no tendency to restore him. One of low caste, though ever so learned, wise, or virtuous, can make no approximation to a higher caste. The distance between the Shudra, the lowest caste, and the Brahmin, is immeasurably great ; the Brahmin cannot even instruct the Shudra, but with the greatest precaution, lest he should be defiled. But, low as the Shudra is, he has an honorable standing in society when compared with the Parriahs, a race who are not regarded as having any caste. They, when walking in the street, must keep on the side opposite the sun, lest their filthy shadows should fall upon the consecrated Brahmin. It is not uncommon to see the lower castes prostrating themselves as worshippers at the feet of the Brahmin, and greedily drinking the water which he has condescended to sanctify by the immersion of his great toe.

The pernicious influence of caste is strikingly illustrated by ar. incident related to me by Rev. Mr. Day, a missionary at Madraz. As he was riding through a native village, he saw a woman .ying by the side of the street, apparently in the agonies of death; she had lain there about twenty-four hours, and, during all this time, the villagers had been constantly passing and repassing, without manifesting the least interest or sympathy. When Mr. Day asked them why they thus neglected this woman, and suffered her to lie there and die, they replied, “Why should we take care of her? She does not belong to our caste.” A little rice-water, it appears, had been offered her, but she would not drink it, simply because the person offering it belonged to a lower caste. Had she tasted the rice

water, or eaten any food cooked by these villagers, or even drank pure water from their vessels, she would have lost caste. And what then? Her own children would have fled from her as from one infected with the plague; her husband would not have permitted her to enter his house ; even the parental roof would not have afforded her an asylum for a single moment; had any friends or relatives dared to associate with her, they too would have lost caste and been involved in the same disgrace. Thus she would necessarily become an outcast and a vagabond.

In most of the large houses in India, there is an apartment which serves as a family chapel. Engraving, No. 27 represents such an apartment in a very elegantly-finished house in the city of Benares. In the farther part of the chapel is the altar or shrine on which the idols are placed. Each member of the family is expected to offer up his devotions to these idols every morning and evening.

According to their own standard, the Hindus are preëminently a religious people. The number of their gods, as stated in their Shasters, is three hundred and thirty millions. These fabled gods are not represented as acting in concert; they fight and quarrel with each other, and with their wives and children, murder the innocent for the sake of plunder, and commit crimes, the bare recital of which to a Christian audience would excite the utmost horror and disgust.

It is generally admitted, that neither nations nor individuals aim at greater purity of morals than their religion requires. We may expect to find any community below, rather than above this standard. This is true in regard to the Hindus. Their gods and goddesses being extremely vicious, the manner in which they are worshipped must correspond with their character; it cannot be expected that the moral character of the people should be other than it is, a compound of every thing that is debasing. Gross and polluted as their divinities are, they are yet too refined and elevated, in their estimation, to be worshipped without imagery. Images are made in forms as various, unnatural, and horrid, as the imagination can conceive. When one of them is consecrated by the Brahmin, the divinity for whom it is designed is supposed to take up his abode in it, and is propitious or unpropitious according to the manner in which it is worshipped.

The goddess Kali, (See Number 29) is represented as a woman of a dark blue color, with four arms, in the act of trampling under her feet her prostrate and supplicating husband. In hand

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][graphic][subsumed]

No. 27. Interior of a House in the City of Benares.

she holds the bloody head of a giant, and in another an exterminating sword. Her long, dishevelled hair reaches to her feet; her tongue protrudes from her distorted mouth; and her lips, eyebrows, and breast, are stained with the blood of the victims of her fury, whom she is supposed to devour by thousands. Her ear ornaments are composed of human carcasses. The girdle about her waist consists of the bloody hands of giants slain by her in single combat, and her necklace is composed of their skulls. This monster divinity is one of the most popular objects of Hindu worship. She calls forth the shouts, the acclamations, and the free-will offerings of myriads of infatuated worshippers. Her temples are continually drenched with the blood of victims; even human victims are occasionally sacrificed to her. In 1828, the Rajah of the Goands sacrificed twenty men at one time, as the promised reward of her supposed assistance in a single enterprise.

The Hindus, like the inhabitants of more civilized countries, have secret societies. The most remarkable of these is the society of the Thugs, which boasts of great antiquity. In some respects, it is a religious society; for its members believe that they are under the immediate guidance and protection of Kali, and that she permits them to obtain their livelihood by murdering travellers on the highway and then taking their property. It would be quite inconsistent with their religious principles, to rob any person until he is first deprived of life by strangulation. They affirm that this system was instituted by Kali, and is consequently of divine origin; that, for many thousands of years, she assisted them in escaping detection, by devouring the dead bodies of their victims; but, on a certain occasion, a Thug, contrary to her command, looked back to see how she disposed of the corpses, and saw her feasting on them. This circumstance so offended her, that she declared she would no longer devour those whom they murdered. They believe, however, that she still continues to assist them, and that she directs their movements by certain omens. When, therefore, they are about to commence their excursions, in order to propitiate the favor of Kali, they sacrifice a sheep, by cutting off its nead, upon which the priest pours water and repeats the following prayer: “Great Goddess ! Universal Mother! If this our meditated expedition is fitting in thy sight, vonchsafe us thine help and the signs of thy approbation.” While repeating this invocation, they watch the head of the victim ; if they observe tremulous or convulsive motions in the mouth and nostrils, it is to them the sign th:t Kali approves their expedition. When about to

« PreviousContinue »