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the great occasion. At length the government offices are by proclamation shut for a whole week! Secular business of every description, public or private, is suspended by land and by water, in town and in country. All things seem to announce the approach of a grand holiday - a season of universal joy and festivity.
It extends altogether over a period of fifteen days. The greater part of that time is occupied with the performance of preliminary ceremonies, previous to the three great days of worship. Early
Early on the morning of the first of the three great days commences the grand rite of consecrating the images. Hitherto these have been regarded merely as combinations of lifeless, senseless matter. Now, however, by the power of the Brahmans, — those vicegerents of deity on earth, — they are to be endowed with life and intelligence. A wealthy family can always secure the services of one or more Brahmans; and of the very poor, a few may always unite, and secure the good offices of one of the sacred fraternity. At length the solemn hour arrives. The officiating Brahman, provided with the leaves of a sacred tree, and other holy accoutrements, approaches the image. With the two forefingers of his right hand he touches the breast, the two cheeks, the eyes, and the forehead of the image, at each successive touch giving audible utterance to the prayer, “Let the spirit of Durga descend, and take possession of this image!” And thus, by the performance of various ceremonies, and the enunciation of various mystical verses or incantations, called muntras, the ghostly officiator is devoutly believed to possess the divine power of bringing down the goddess to take bodily possession of the image. The image is henceforward regarded as the peculiar local habitation of the divinity, and is believed to be really and truly animated by her. In this way, the relation of the visible image to the invisible deity is held to be precisely the same as the relation of the human body to the soul, or subtile spirit, that actuates it. The constant and universal belief is, that when the Brahman repeats the muntras, the deities must come, obedient to his call, agreeably to the favorite Sanskrit sloka, or verse " The universe is under the power of the deities; the deities are under the power of the muntras; the muntras are under the power of the Brahmans; consequently, the Brahmans are gods.” This is the creed of the more enlightened ; but a vast proportion of the more ignorant and unreflecting believe something far more
gross. It is their firm persuasion that, by means of the ceremonies and incantations, the mass of rude matter has been actually changed or transformed, or, if you will, transubstantiated, into the very substance of deity itself. According to either view of the subject, whether more or less rational, the image is believed to be truly animated by divinity, - to be a real, proper, and legitimate object of worship. Having eyes, it can now behold the various acts of homage rendered by adoring votaries; having ears, it can be charmed by the symphonies of music and of song; having nostrils, it can be regaled with the sweet-smelling savor of incense and perfume; having a mouth, it can be luxuriated with the grateful delicacies of the rich banquet that is spread out before it.
Immediately after the consecration of the images, the worship commences, and is continued with numberless rites nearly the whole day. But what description can convey an idea of the multifarious complexity of Indian worship? — worship, too, simultaneously conducted in thousands of separate houses; for on such occasions every house is converted into a temple. To bring the subject within some reasonable compass, you must suppose yourself in the house of a wealthy native. Let it be one which is constructed, as usual, of a quadrangular form, with a vacant area in the centre, open or roofless towards the canopy of heaven. On one side is a spacious hall, opening along the ground floor, by many folding doors, to piazzas or verandas on either side. These are crowded by the more common sort of visitors. Round the greater part of the interior is a range of galleries, with retiring chambers. Part of these is devoted to the reception of visitors of the higher ranks, whether European or native, and part is closed for the accommodation of the females of the family, who, without being seen themselves, may, through the venetians, view both visitors and worshippers, as well as the varied festivities. The walls, the columns, and fronts of the verandas and galleries, are all fantastically decorated with a profusion of tinsel ornaments of colored silk and paper, and glittering shapes and forms of gold and silver tissue. To crown'all, there is, in the genuine Oriental style, an extravagant display of lustres, — suspended from the ceiling, and projecting from the walls, which, when kindled at night, radiate a flood of light enough to dazzle and confound ordinary vision.
At the upper extremity of the hall is the ten-armed image of
the goddess, raised several feet on an ornamented pedestal. On either side of her are usually placed images of her two sons; Ganesha, the god of wisdom, with his elephant head; and Kartikeya, the god of war, riding on a peacock. These are worshipped on this occasion, together with a multitude of demi-goddesses, the companions of Durga in her wars.
In the evening, about eight o'clock, the principal pujah, or worship, is renewed with augmented zeal. But what constitutes pujah, or worship, in that land? Watch the devotee, and you will soon discover. He enters the hall ; he approaches the image, and prostrates himself before it. After the usual ablutions, and other preparatory rites, he next twists himself into a variety of grotesque postures; sometimes sitting on the floor, sometimes standing ; sometimes looking in one direction, and sometimes in another. Then follows the ordinary routine of observances, [by the officiating Brahman;] sprinklings of the idol with holy water ; rinsings of its mouth; washings of its feet ; wipings of it with a dry cloth ; throwings of flowers and green leaves over it; adornings of it with gaudy ornaments; exhalings of perfume ; alternate tinklings and plasterings of the sacred bell with the ashes of sandal wood; mutterings of invocation for temporal blessings; and a winding up of the whole with the lowliest act of prostration, in which the worshipper stretches himself at full length, disposing his body in such a manner as at once to touch the ground with the eight principal parts of his body, viz., the feet, the thighs, the hands, the breast, the mouth, the nose, the eyes, and the forehead !
Then succeeds a round of carousals and festivity. The spectators are entertained with fruits and sweetmeats. Guests of distinction have atar, or the essence of roses, and rich conserves, abundantly administered. Musicians, with various hand and wind instruments, are introduced into the hall. Numbers of abandoned females, gayly attired, and glittering with jewels, are hired for the occasion to exhibit their wanton dances, and rehearse their indecent songs in praise of the idol, amid the plaudits of surrounding worshippers.
Another essential part of the worship consists in the presentation of different kinds of offerings to the idol. These offerings, after being presented with due form and ceremony, are eventually distributed among the attendant priests. No share of them is expected to be returned to the worshipper ; so that, on his part, it is a real sacrifice. Whatever articles are once offered,