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Letter XVIII[1]

We left the thick forest behind us, and reached a deep glen, on three sides bordered with the same thick forest, where even by day the shadows are as dark as by night. We were about 2,000 feet [609.6 m] above the foot of the Vindhya ridge, judging by the ruined wall of Mandu, straight above our heads.

Suddenly a very chilly wind rose that nearly blew our torches out. Caught in the labyrinth of bushes and rocks, the wind angrily shook the branches of the blossoming syringas, then, shaking itself free, it turned back along the glen and flew down the valley, howling, whistling and shrieking, as if all the spirits of the forest together were joining in a funeral song for the mountain witches.

“Here we are,” said Sham Rao, dismounting. “Here is the village and we cannot go any further.”

“Where we are?.. Where is the village… here is but forest.”

“You can not see village and houses at night. Besides, the earth-houses are hidden by the bushes, and many houses, cut into the rocks in such a manner that they hardly could be distinguished from those rocks. No one lights a fire here after sunset... they are afraid of spirits," he explained.

“And where is your witch? Do you mean we are to watch her performance in complete darkness?”

Sham Rao cast a furtive, timid look round him; and his voice, when he answered our questions, was somewhat tremulous.

“I ask and implore you not to call her a dakkin (witch)! She may hear you.... It is not far off, although you will have to walk... half a mile. No elephant, and even no horse, could make its way there. We shall find a light there.... “

The surprise was quite unpleasant. To walk in this gloomy Indian night; to scramble through thickets of cactuses; to venture in a dark forest, full of wild animals – this was too much for Miss B***. She declared that she would go no further. She would wait for us in the howdah, on the elephant's back, and perhaps would go to sleep. So she did.

Narayan was against this parti de plaisir[2] from the very beginning, and now, without explaining his reasons, he said she was the only sensible one among us.

“You won't lose anything by refusing a date with dakkini...” he remarked, “And I only wish everyone would follow your example...”

“But what harm can come out of it?” remonstrated Sham Rao, and a slight note of disappointment rang in his voice, when he saw that the excursion, proposed and organized by himself, threatened to come to nothing. “I won't insist any more that the 'incarnation of gods' is a rare sight, and that the Europeans hardly ever have an opportunity of witnessing it; but, besides, “Kangalimm” is a holy woman… She is a prophetess, and her blessing – although she is a pagan – could not prove harmful to any one... I insisted on this excursion out of pure patriotism...”

“Sahib, if your patriotism consists in displaying before foreigners the worst plagues of our motherland almost suffocated in the mud, then why did you not order all the lepers of your district to assemble and parade before the eyes of our guests? You are a patel, you have the power to do it, ” said Narayan with a strange bitterness in his voice.

Fearing a quarrel between the Hindus, the colonel remarked, in a conciliatory tone, that it was too late for us to reconsider our expedition. Besides, without being a believer in the “incarnation of gods,” he was personally firmly convinced that demoniac – as it called in the West – is a fact. The trial that recently took place in Russia over the Tikhvin peasants who burned Agrafena, the witch, is proof of the existence of a strange and mysterious disease called mediumship in the West, and klikushestvo in Russia. He was eager to study every psychological phenomenon in scientific manner, wherever he met with it, and whatever shape it might assume...

It would have been a striking sight for our European and American friends if they had beheld our procession on that dark night! Our way lay along a narrow winding path up the mountain. Not more than two people could walk together – and we were thirty, including the torch-bearers. Surely some reminiscence of night sallies against the confederate Southerners had revived in the colonel's breast, judging by the readiness with which he took upon himself the leadership of our small expedition. He ordered all the rifles and revolvers to be loaded, despatched three torch-bearers to march ahead of us – something they would do anyway – and commanded: “March!” Under such a skilled chieftain we had nothing to fear from confederation of tigers. Twisting like a fiery snake through the forest, our procession slowly crawled up the path.

It cannot be said that the inquisitive travelers, who appeared later on, in the den of the prophetess of Mandu, shone through the freshness and elegance of their costumes. My gown, as well as the traveling suits of the colonel and of Mr. Y*** were nearly torn to pieces. The cactuses gathered from us whatever tribute they could, and the Babu's disheveled hair swarmed with a whole colony of grasshoppers and fireflies, which, probably, were attracted thither by the smell of cocoa-nut oil. The stout Sham Rao panted like a steam engine. Narayan alone, having said his opinion, was like his usual self; that is to say, like a bronze Hercules, armed with a club. At the last abrupt turn of the path, after having surmounted the difficulty of climbing over huge, scattered stones, we suddenly found ourselves on a path that led further along the flat edge of a dense forest.; our eyes, in spite of our many torches, were dazzled with light; and our ears were struck by a medley of unusual sounds.

A new glen opened before us, the entrance of which, from the valley, was well masked by thick trees. We understood how easily we might have wandered round it for a week, without ever suspecting its existence. At the bottom of the glen we discovered the abode of the celebrated Kangalimm – witch and oracle of the whole neighborhood.

The “den”, as it turned out, was a ruin of an old Hindu temple in tolerably good preservation. In all probability it was built long before the “dead city,” because during the epoch of the latter, the heathen were not allowed to have their own places of worship; and the temple stood quite close to the wall of the town, in fact, right under it. The cupolas of the two smaller lateral pagodas had fallen long ago, and huge bushes grew out of their altars. This evening, their branches were hidden under a mass of bright colored rags, bits of ribbon, little pots, and various other talismans; because, even in them, popular superstition sees something sacred...

“Did not these bushes grow on sacred ground? Is not their sap impregnated with the incense of offerings, and the exhalations of holy anchorites, who once lived and breathed here?” The learned, but superstitious Sham Rao would only answer our questions by new questions.

But the central temple, built of red granite, stood unharmed by time, and, as we learned afterwards, a deep tunnel opened just behind its closely-shut door. What was beyond it no one knew. Sham Rao assured us that no man of the last three generations had ever stepped over the threshold of this thick iron door; no one had seen the subterranean passage for many years. Kangalimm lived there in perfect isolation, and, according to the oldest people in the neighbourhood, she had always lived there. Some people said she was 300 years old; others alleged that a certain old man on his death-bed had revealed to his son that this old woman was no one else than his own uncle. This fabulous uncle had settled in the cave in the times when the “dead city” still counted several hundreds of inhabitants. The hermit, busy paving his road to Moksha, had no intercourse with the rest of the world, and nobody knew how he lived and what he ate. But a good while ago, in the days when the bellati [foreigners] had not yet taken possession of this mountain, the old hermit suddenly was transformed into a hermitess. She continues his pursuits and speaks with his voice, and often in his name; but she receives worshippers, which was not the practice of her predecessor.

We had come too early, and the Pythia did not at first appear. But the square before the temple was full of people, and a wild, though picturesque, scene it was. An enormous bonfire blazed in the center, and round it crowded the naked savages like so many black gnomes, adding whole branches of trees sacred to the “seven sister-goddesses”. Slowly and evenly they all jumped from one leg to another to a tune of a single monotonous musical phrase, which they repeated in chorus, accompanied by several local tambourines and a drum. The hushed trill of the latter mingled with the forest echoes and the hysterical moans of two little girls, who lay under a heap of leaves by the fire. The poor children were brought here by their mothers, in the hope that the goddesses would take pity upon them and banish the two evil spirits under whose obsession they were. Both mothers were quite young, and sat on their heels blankly and sadly staring at the flames. No one paid us the slightest attention when we appeared, and afterwards during all our stay these people acted as if we were invisible. Had we worn a cap of darkness they could not have behaved more strangely.

“They feel the approach of the gods... The atmosphere is full of their sacred emanations!” mysteriously explained Sham Rao, contemplating with reverence the natives, whom his beloved Haeckel might have easily mistaken for his “missing link,” the brood of his “Bathybius Haeckelii.”

“They are simply under the influence of toddy and opium!” retorted the irreverent Babu.

The lookers-on moved as in a dream, as if they all were only half-awakened somnambulists; but the actors reminded us of victims of St. Vitus's dance in the group of Padge. One of them, a tall old man, a mere skeleton with a long white beard, left the ring and began whirling vertiginously, with his arms spread like wings, and loudly grinding his long yellow, wolf-like teeth. He was frightening and disgusting to look at! He soon fell down, and was carelessly, almost mechanically, pushed aside by the feet (!) towards ill girls. But whether it was still waiting for us! After all, our fairy tale is ahead...

Waiting for the appearance of the “prima donna” of this forest opera company, we sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree, at the very portico of the temple, ready to ask innumerable questions of our condescending host. But I was hardly seated, when a feeling of indescribable astonishment and horror made me shrink back...

I beheld the skull of a monstrous animal, the like of which I could not find in my zoological reminiscences. This head was much larger than the head of an elephant skeleton... And still it could not be anything but an elephant, judging by the skillfully restored trunk, which wound down to my feet like a gigantic black leech. But an elephant has no horns, whereas this one had four of them! The front pair stuck from the flat forehead slightly bending forward and then spreading out; and the others had a wide base, like the root of a deer's horn, that gradually decreased almost up to the middle, and bore long branches enough to decorate ten ordinary deer. Pieces of the transparent amber-yellow rhinoceros[3] skin were stretched over the empty eye-holes of the skull, and small lamps burning behind them only added to the horror, the devilish appearance of this head.

“What can this be?” was our unanimous question. None of us had ever met anything like it, and even the colonel looked aghast.

“It is a Sivatherium[4],” said Narayan. “Is it possible you never came across these fossils in European museums?.. It is strange. Their remains are common enough in the Himalayas, though, of course, in fragments... They were called after god Shiva.”

I confess, it was the first time I had seen this monster, which Senkovsky[5] forgot to present to us in his antediluvian novel,[6] where he mentioned the mammoth saving the couple in love. But better late than never. And so, we were now face to face with this interesting monster.

“If the collector of this district ever hears that this antediluvian relic adorns the den of your witch,” remarked the Babu, “it won't adorn it many days longer.”

All round the skull, and on the floor of the portico there were heaps of white flowers, which, though not quite antediluvian, were totally unknown to us, the profane in botany. They were as large as a big rose; and their white petals were covered with a red powder lal, the inevitable concomitant of every Indian religious ceremony. Further on, there were groups of cocoa-nuts, and large brass dishes filled with rice and adorned with the tapers of different colours. In the center of the portico there stood a queer-shaped censer, surrounded with chandeliers. A little boy in a white robe and the same white peggari[7] on his head kept throwing incense and other powders.

“These people, who assemble here to worship Kangalimm,” said Sham Rao, “do not actually belong either to her sect or to any other. They are devil-worshippers. They do not believe in Hindu gods, but live in small communities; they belong to one of the many Indian races, which usually are called the “hill-” or “mountain-tribes”. Unlike the Shanars[8] of Southern Travancore and Tinevelli, they do not use the blood of sacrificial animals; they do not build separate temples to their bhutas[9] (those temples they call pe-kovil, or devil’s house). But they are possessed by the strange fancy that the goddess Kali, the wife of Shiva, from time immemorial has had a grudge against them, and sends her favorite evil spirits to torture them. Save this little difference, they have the same beliefs as the Shanars. God does not exist for them; and even Shiva is considered by them as an ordinary spirit. Their chief worship is offered to the souls of the dead. These souls, however righteous and kind they may be in their lifetime, become after death as wicked as can be; they are happy only when they are torturing living men and cattle. As the opportunities of doing so are the only reward for the virtues they possessed when incarnated, a very wicked man is punished by becoming after his death a very “soft-hearted” devil; he loathes his loss of daring, and is altogether miserable. The results of this strange logic are not bad, nevertheless. These savages and devil-worshippers are the kindest and the most truth-loving of all the hill-tribes. They do whatever they can to be worthy of their ultimate reward – i.e. to become the wickedest of devils.”

And put in good humor by his own wittiness, Sham Rao laughed till his hilarity became offensive, considering the sacredness of the place.

“A year ago some business matters sent me to Tinevelli,” continued he. “Staying with a friend of mine, who is a Shanar, I was allowed to be present at one of the ceremonies in the honor of devils. No European has as yet witnessed this worship – whatever the missionaries may say; but there are many converts amongst the Shanars, who willingly describe them to the padres. My friend is a wealthy man, which is probably the reason why the devils are especially vicious to him. They poison his cattle, spoil his crops and his coffee plants, and persecute his numerous relations, sending them sunstrokes, madness and epilepsy, over which illnesses they especially preside. These wicked demons have settled in every corner of his spacious landed property – in the woods, the ruins, and even in his stables. To avert all this, my friend covered his land with temples – pyramids of clay, smeared and whitewashed them, and decorated each with a portrait of one of the devils… that is, not a portrait, but only an outline of a human head, and prayed humbly, asking the demons to draw their portraits on the outline, so that he may recognize them and worship each of them separately, as the rightful owner of the pyramid on which they drew their face... And what do you think? Next morning all the pyramids were found covered with drawings. Each of them bore an incredibly good likeness of the dead of the neighbourhood. My friend had known personally almost all of them. He found also a portrait of his own late father amongst the lot!”

“Well?.. And was he satisfied?..”

“Of course he was satisfied. It enabled him to choose the right thing to gratify the personal tastes of each demon, don't you see? He was not vexed at finding his father's portrait. His father was somewhat irascible... once he nearly broke both his son's legs, administering to him fatherly punishment with an iron bar... so, he could not possibly be very dangerous after his death. But another portrait, found on the best and the prettiest of the pyramids, amazed my friend a good deal, and put him in a blue funk... The whole district recognized an English officer, a certain Captain Pole[10], who in his lifetime was as kind a gentleman as ever lived!..”

“What?.. Did he really worship him too?”

“How else? Mister Pole was such a worthy man, such an honest officer, that, after his death, he could not help being promoted to the highest rank of Shanar devils. The pe-kovil sacred to his memory, stands side by side with the pe-kovil Bhadrakali[11] (Hecate[12] of Shanars), which was recently conferred on the wife of a certain German missionary, who also was a most charitable lady and so is very dangerous now… as a feminine devil.”

“But what are their ceremonies? Tell us something about their rites.”

“Their rites consist chiefly of dancing, singing, and sacrificing. The Shanars have no castes, and eat all kinds of meat... The crowd assembles about the pe-kovil, previously designated by the priest; there is a general beating of drums, and slaughtering of fowls, sheep and goats. When Captain Pole's turn came an ox or a cow was killed, as a thoughtful attention to the peculiar tastes of his nation... That evening the rites were performed by the chief priest. He appeared, covered to the knees with jingling bangles, and holding a wand on which tinkled little bells, with his hair down and wearing garlands of red and white flowers round his neck, and a black mantle, on which were embroidered the ugliest fiends you can imagine. Horns were blown and drums rolled incessantly and deep sounds of “devil’s bow”[13] – the secret of which is known only to the Shanar priesthood. He went out and, after waiting a minute for Mr. Pole to move into his unworthy body, suddenly, jumped high on the spot, approached the sacrificial cow and slaughtered it at once. He drank off the hot blood, and then began to dance... But what a fright he was when dancing! You know, I am not superstitious…[14] but when I saw this priest, as if inspired by all the demons of naraka (hell), spinning with the amazing speed of a spinning top in one place, I almost felt sick. The enraged crowd hooted and howled when the priest begun to inflict deep wounds all over his body with the bloody sacrificial knife. To see him, with his hair waving in the wind and his mouth covered with foam; to see him bathing in the blood of the sacrificed animal, mixing it with his own, was more than I could bear. I felt as if hallucinated, I fancied I also was spinning round. Faster and faster...”

Sham Rao stopped abruptly, struck dumb. Kangalimm stood before us!

Her appearance was so unexpected that we all felt embarrassed. Carried away by Sham Rao's description, we had noticed neither how nor whence she came. Had she appeared from beneath the earth we could not have been more astonished. Narayan stared at her, opening wide his big jet-black eyes and the Babu clicked his tongue in utter confusion...

Imagine a skeleton three arhins [2.13 m, 7 feet] high, covered with brown Morocco leather, with a dead child's tiny head stuck on its bony shoulders! The eyes set so deep and at the same time so big, flashing such fiendish burning flames all through your body that you begin to feel your brain stop working, your thoughts become entangled and your blood freezes in your veins... Here I describe my personal impressions, and my description is too weak. But Mr. Y*** and the colonel both grew pale under her stare, and Mr. Y*** even spat out.

Of course, this impression lasted no longer than a few seconds and vanished as swiftly as it had come, right after she tore away her deathly-intent and at the same time burning gaze from us and turned to the kneeling crowd. But still all our attention was fixed on this remarkable creature...

Three hundred years old? Who can tell? Judging by her appearance, we might as well conjecture her to be a thousand. We beheld a genuine living mummy, or rather a mummy endowed with motion. She seemed to have been withering since the creation. Neither time, nor the ills of life, nor the elements could ever affect this living statue of death. The all-destroying hand of time had touched her and stopped short. Time could do no more, and so had left her. This is how the witch of the "Dead City" appeared before our eyes.

And with all this, not a single grey hair. Her long black locks glistening with coconut oil shone with a greenish sheen, and fell in heavy masses along her back and down to her knees... To my great shame, I must confess that a disgusting reminiscence flashed into my memory. I thought about the hair and the nails of corpses growing in the graves, and tried to examine the nails of the old woman... What about her?

Meanwhile, she stood motionless as if suddenly transformed into an ugly bronze idol. In one hand she held a small dish with a big piece of burning camphor, in the other a handful of rice, and she never removed her burning eyes from the crowd lying servilely in the dust at her feet. The pale yellow flame of the camphor flickered in the wind, and lit up her deathlike head, almost touching her chin; but she paid no heed to it. Her neck, as wrinkled as a mushroom, as thin as a stick, was surrounded by three rows of medallions made of copper or gold. Her head was adorned with a snake of the same material. Her grotesque, hardly human body was covered by a piece of saffron-yellow muslin; the same around the protruding ribs...

The demoniac little girls raised their heads from beneath the leaves, and set up a prolonged animal-like howl. Their example was followed by the old man, who lay exhausted by his frantic dance. Then the witch tossed her head convulsively, and began her invocations, rising on tiptoe, as if moved by some external force.

“Angatti anne-angatti!..”[15] whispered Sham Rao, with a large sweat pouring from him. “The goddess... one of the seven sisters, begins to take possession of her... Look!..”

This advice was quite superfluous. We stared with all our eyes.

At first, the movements of the witch were slow, unequal, somewhat convulsive; then, gradually, they became less angular; at last, as if catching the cadence of the drums, leaning all her long body forward, and writhing like an eel, she rushed with incredible speed round and round the blazing bonfire... A dry leaf caught in a hurricane could not fly swifter. Her bare bony feet trod noiselessly on the rocky ground. The long locks of her hair flew round her like snakes, writhing as if they were alive and lashing the spectators, who knelt, stretching their trembling arms towards her... Whoever was touched by one of this Fury's black curls, fell down on the ground, moaning with happiness, shouting thanks to the goddess, and considering himself cured. It was not human hair that touched the happy elect, it was the goddess herself, one of the “seven”.

Swifter and swifter fly her decrepit legs; the young, vigorous hands of the drummer can hardly follow her; but the old woman is still rushing forward... Staring with her expressionless, motionless orbs at something before her, at something that is not visible to our mortal eyes, she hardly glances at her worshippers; then her look becomes full of fire; and whoever she looks at feels burned through to the marrow of his bones. At every glance she throws a few grains of rice. The small handful seems inexhaustible, as if the wrinkled palm contained the bottomless bag of Prince Fortunatus[16]. Suddenly she stops as if thunderstruck. The mad race round the bonfire had lasted twelve minutes, but we looked in vain for a trace of fatigue on the deathlike face of the witch. She stopped only for two seconds to give the goddess the necessary time to release her. Then, by a single effort she jumped over the fire and plunged into the deep tank by the portico, up to the neck in water. This time, she plunged only once; and whilst she stayed under the water, the second sister-goddess entered her body. The little boy in white produced another dish, with a new piece of burning camphor, just in time for the witch to take it up, and to rush again with her Medusa-like[17] head.

The colonel sat with his watch in his hand. During the second obsession the witch ran, leaped, and raced for exactly 14 minutes. After this, she plunged twice in the tank, in honor of the second sister; and with every new “obsession” the number of her plunges increased, till it became six.

We haven't heard her voice yet. Her lips are tightly compressed, and she hasn't opened them yet. It was already an hour and a half since the race began. All this time the witch never rested, stopping only six times for a few seconds each time… “Sister” do not hesitate, they know their business… That's why they are goddesses!

“Who is she, a devil or a woman!” exclaimed the colonel, seeing the head of the witch immersed for the sixth time in the water.

“I'll be damned if I know!” grumbled Mr. Y***, nervously pulling his beard. “The only thing I know is that a grain of her cursed rice entered my throat and stuck there... I can't spit it out...”

“Hush!.. Please, do be quiet!..” whispered Sham Rao. “You will spoil the whole business!”

I glanced at Narayan and lost myself in conjectures... His features, which usually were so calm and even severe, were quite altered at this moment, by a deep shadow of suffering. His lips trembled, and the pupils of his eyes were dilated, as if by a dose of morphine. His eyes are looking somewhere far away into unknown and, perhaps, unseen countries...

“What is the matter with him?” was my thought, but I had no time to ask him, because the witch was again in full swing, chasing her own shadow, leaving behind streams of water.

But with the seventh goddess the programme was slightly changed. The running of the old woman changed to leaping. Sometimes bending down to the ground, like a black panther, she leaped up to some worshipper, and halting before him touched his forehead with her finger, while her long, thin body shook with inaudible laughter. Then, again, as if shrinking back playfully from her shadow, and chased by it, in some uncanny game, the witch appeared to us like a horrid caricature of Dinorah[18], dancing her “waltz with a shadow”. Suddenly she straightened herself to her full height, darted to the portico and crouched before the smoking censer, beating her forehead against the granite steps. Another jump, and she is before the head of the monstrous Sivatherium. She knelt down before it and smashes the stones with her forehead again, with the thud of an empty barrel on the pavement. The last leap, and she stands erect to her full enormous height, on the head of the sivaterium between its four horns...

With a feeling of horror and disgust, which we no longer try to hide, we all quickly back away, all except Narayan. He remains alone near the monstrous head; folding his arms on his chest, he looks straight into the face of the frightful sorceress...

But what was this? Who spoke in those deep manly tones? Her lips were moving, from the breast of this terrible old woman were issuing those quick, abrupt phrases, but the voice sounded hollow as if coming from beneath the ground.

“Hush, hush!” whispered Sham Rao again, his whole body trembling. “She is going to prophesy!..”

“May be she… may be an ‘uncle’...” muttered Mr. Y***, baring his teeth and with a smile that should seem purely demonic to a fat man at this solemn moment.

“Woe, woe... to you!” boomed the voice. “Woe to you, children of the impure Jaya and Vijaya[19]! of the mocking, unbelieving lingerers round great Shiva's door![20] Ye, who are cursed by eighty thousand sages! Woe to you who believe not in the goddess Kali, and you who deny us, her seven divine Sisters!.. Asuras… flesh-eating, yellow-legged vultures!.. Friends of the oppressors of our land!.. dogs who are not ashamed to eat from the same trough with the bellati!!..”

“It seems to me that your prophetess only foretells the past...” said Mr. Y***, philosophically putting his hands in his pockets. “I should say that she is hinting at you, my dear Sham Rao...”

“Ahem!.. Yes, and it seems at us also,” murmured the colonel, who was evidently beginning to feel uneasy.

As to the unlucky Sham Rao, he broke out in a cold sweat. He ran between us under the black shadow of the forest where we are sheltered away from the witch and tried to assure us that we were mistaken, that we did not fully understand her language...

“It is not about you… believe me, not about you!.. It is of me she speaks, because I am in [Government] service... Oh, she is inexorable!..”

“Rakshasas!.. Asuras!!..” thundered the voice. “How dare you appear before us, the goddesses? How dare you to stand on this holy ground in boots made of a cow's sacred skin? Be cursed, you...”

But her curse was not destined to be finished. In an instant the Hercules-like Narayan had fallen on the Sivatherium, and upset the whole pile, the skull, the horns and the demoniac Pythia included. A second more, and we thought we saw the witch flying in the air (with or without a broom – Sham Rao knows better) towards the portico. And some stout, shaven brahmin, is rolling head over heels down into the hole.

But, alas! after the third second had passed, we all came to the embarrassing conclusion that, judging from the loud clang of the door of the cave, the representative of the “seven goddesses” had ignominiously fled, disappeared forever from our inquisitive eyes in her subterranean domain!.. And we realized that her deep unearthly and subterranean voice is indeed the voice of somebody’s “uncle”!..

. . .

Oh, Narayan!.. How carelessly, how disorderly the worlds rotate around us! I begin to seriously doubt their reality. From this moment I shall earnestly believe that all things in the universe are nothing but illusion, a mere Maya! I am becoming a Vedantin... I doubt that in the whole universe there may be found anything more objective than a Hindu witch flying up the spout!

. . .

Miss B*** woke up, and asked what was the meaning of all this noise. She was awakened by the noise of many voices and the sounds of the many retreating footsteps, the general rush of the naked crowd, had frightened her. She relieved herself by describing her impressions, showed us the rows of her teeth in star light in a slow motion from benevolent smiling to yawning and fell asleep peacefully again.

Next morning, at daybreak, we gently bade good-bye to the kind-hearted, good-natured Sham Rao. The confoundingly easy victory of Narayan hung heavily on his mind. His faith in the holy hermitess and the “seven goddesses” was a good deal shaken by the shameful capitulation of the “sisters”, who had surrendered at the first blow from a mere mortal. Therefore Sham Rao looked a little bit confused when he shook hands with us at parting, and expressed to us the best wishes of his family and himself.

As to the heroes of this truthful narrative, they mounted their elephants once more, and directed their heavy steps towards the high road to Jabalpur.



  1. Moscow News, No. 80, 21.03.1880, pp. 3-4, No. 81, 22.03.1880, p. 4, No. 85, 26.03.1880, pp. 2-3, No. 88, 29.03.1880, p. 5; Russian Herald, January 1883, Supplement, vol. 163, pp. 163-178.
  2. Pleasure party [trip] (Fr.) – Ed.
  3. In Rajasthan, shields are made of such leather. They are very expensive and are worn only by the wealthy Rajput class.
  4. Sivatherium ("Shiva's beast") is an extinct genus of giraffids that ranged throughout Africa to the Indian subcontinent. – Ed.
  5. Osip Senkovsky (1800-1858) was a Polish-Russian orientalist, journalist, and editor of Biblioteka Dlya Chteniya (The Reader's Library), the first big monthly magazine for readers in Russia. – Ed.
  6. A Scientific Journey to Bear Island by O. I. Senkovsky, 1833. – Ed.
  7. Peggari is a kind of turban, representing a long scarf wrapped around the head. – Ed.
  8. The Shannars (Skt. Shânâr) are one of the lowest castes in south India; the main hereditary occupation of its members is the cultivation of coconut and palmyra palms and the extraction of their juice. – Ed.
  9. These “devils”, according to the concepts of Shanar, are not special spirits, but simply the souls of dead evil people.
  10. This is a historical fact known to everyone in India. Captain Pole is still their main demon.
  11. Bhadrakali (Skt. good Kali) is one of the hypostases of the goddess Kali, created by Shiva in anger. – Ed.
  12. Hecate (Greek Ἑκάτη) is the ancient Greek goddess of moonlight, the underworld and all the mysterious. – Ed.
  13. A kind of balalaika with three thick strings of human – as they say – veins, which are guided by a bow made of bamboo.
  14. I was glad, at this moment, that Miss B*** was half a mile off, asleep on elephant.
  15. Literally "enters a person." The expression itself means that a spirit, a demon, or some other invisible force begins to enter his chosen body.
  16. Fortunatus is a German proto-novel or chapbook about a legendary hero popular in 15th- and 16th-century Europe and usually associated with a magical inexhaustible purse. – Ed.
  17. In Greek mythology Medusa was one of the three monstrous Gorgons, generally described as winged human females with living venomous snakes in place of hair. – Ed.
  18. Dinora is the heroine of the opera (1859) of the same name by the German and French composer J. Meyerbeer (1791-1864).
  19. The history of these rakshasas, fallen spirits, will be found further. It is very interesting.
  20. Jaya and Vijaya are two servants of Vishnu who insulted the great sages of the four kumaras and, as punishment for this, were forced to be born three times on earth as asuras and fight Vishnu in one of his incarnations. – Ed.