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Letter II[1]

We occupied three small bungalows, lost, like nests, in the garden, their roofs literally smothered in roses blossoming on bushes three sazhens[2] high, and their windows covered only with muslin, instead of the usual panes of glass. The bungalows were situated in the native part of the town, so that we were transported, all at once, into the real India. We were living in India, unlike English people, who are only surrounded by India at a certain distance. We were enabled to study her character and customs, her religion, superstitions and rites, to learn her legends, in fact, to live among Hindus; in an enchanted circle inaccessible to the English, both due to the age-old prejudices of the natives, and due to the arrogance of the Anglo-Saxon race.

Everything in India, this land of the elephant and the poisonous cobra, of the tiger and the unsuccessful English missionary, is original and strange. Everything seems unusual, unexpected, and striking, even to one who has travelled in Turkey, Egypt, Damascus, and Palestine. In these tropical regions the conditions of nature are so various that all the forms of the animal and vegetable kingdoms must radically differ from what we are used to in Europe. Look, for instance, at those women on their way to a well through a garden, which is private and at the same time open to anyone, where somebody's cows are grazing. To whom does it not happen to meet with women, to see cows, and admire a garden? Doubtless these are among the commonest of all things. But a single attentive glance will suffice to show you the difference that exists between the same objects in Europe and in India. Nowhere does man feel so much his insignificance, his weakness, as in front of this majestic nature of the tropics. Straight as arrows, the trunks of coconut trees sometimes reach 200 feet [60.96 m] in height; these "princes of the vegetable kingdom," as Lindley[3] called them, crowned with a wreath of long branches, are the providers and benefactors of the poor people: palm trees provide them with food, clothing, and shelter. Our highest trees would look dwarfed compared with banyans and especially with coconut and other palms. Our European cow, mistaking, at first sight, her Indian sister for a calf, would deny the existence of any kinship between them, as neither the mouse-coloured wool, nor the straight goat-like horns, nor the humped back (like the one of the American bison, but without its mane) would permit her to make such an error. As to the women, each of them would make any artist feel enthusiastic about the gracefulness of her movements and drapery, nevertheless, none of the beauties of Hindustan would have waited for any kindness or greeting from our ruddy and stout Anna Ivanovna: “After all, what a shame, God forgive me, just look: the woman is entirely naked!”

This opinion of Russian woman of year 1879 on the subject is quite comparative with the same one of the famous Russian wanderer, “the sinful slave of God, Afanasy son of Nikita[4] from Tver.” Having made his "sinful travelling" across three seas: the sea of Derbent, that is, "Doria[5] of Khvaliskaya", the sea of India, "Doria of Hiondustanskaya", the Black Sea or "Doria of Stembolskaya" (Istanbul), Afanasy Nikitin arrived in Chaul[6] (or, as he calls it, Chevil) in 1470 and describes India in the following words:

“This is the land of Indians. Its people walk naked, do not cover their heads, with naked breasts, and wear their hair braided in single tress. Women have babies every year and they have many children. Men and women are black. Their prince wears a veil round his head and wraps another veil round his legs. The noblemen wear a veil on one shoulder (i. e. bramins, who wear scarf across the shoulder), and the noblewomen on the shoulders and round the loins, but everyone is barefooted. The women walk about with their hair spread and their breasts naked. The boys and girls, walk totally naked until they are seven years old and do not cover their shame...”

This description is absolutely correct, but as for their costumeless Afanasy Nikitin is not quite correct: his description might concern only the lowest and poorest classes. These really do walk about covered only with a “veil”, which often is so poor that, in fact, it is nothing but a tape. But still, even the poorest woman is clad in a piece of muslin at least 15 arshins [10,67 m, 35 ft] long. One end serves as a sort of short wide trousers, and the other covers the head and shoulders when out in the street, though the faces are always uncovered. The hair is erected into a kind of Greek chignon. The legs above the knees, the arms, and the waist are never covered. Well, not a single honest woman here will agree to put on shoes: the latter is among the belonging and distinctive feature of “dishonourable” native women alone. In southern India, on the other hand, only Brahmins’ wives and daughters are allowed to wear shoes. When, not long ago, the wife of the Madras governor thought of passing a law that should induce native women to cover their breasts, the place was actually threatened with a revolution. A kind of jacket is worn only by public dancing girls. The Government recognized that it would be unreasonable to irritate women (who, very often, are more dangerous than their husbands and brothers) and the custom, based on the law of Manu, and sanctified by three thousand years' observance, remained unchanged.

For more than two years before we left America we were in constant correspondence with a certain learned Brahmin, well known even in Europe, whose glory is great at present [1879] all over India. We came to India to study, under his guidance, the ancient country of Aryas, the Vedas, and their difficult language. His name is Dayananda Saraswati, Swami[7]. This Pandit is considered the greatest Sanskritist of modern India and is an absolute enigma to everyone. It is only five years since he appeared on the arena of great reforms, but till then, he lived, entirely secluded, in a jungle, like the ancient gymnosophists mentioned by the Greek and Latin authors; and then he was studying the chief philosophical systems of the “Aryavartta” and the occult meaning of the Vedas with the help of mystics and anchorites.[8] From the first day of his appearance Dayananda Saraswati produced an immense impression and got the surname of the “Luther of India.” Wandering from one town to another, today in the South, tomorrow in the North, and transporting himself from one end of the country to another with incredible quickness, he has visited every part of India, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, and from Calcutta to Bombay. He preaches the One Deity and, with Vedas in hand, proves that in the ancient writings there was not a word that could justify polytheism. Thundering against idol worship, the great orator fights with all his might against caste, infant marriages, and superstitions. Chastising all the evils grafted on India by centuries of casuistry and false interpretation of the Vedas, he blames for them the Brahmins, who, as he openly says before masses of people, are alone guilty of the humiliation of their country, once great and independent, now fallen and enslaved. And yet Great Britain has in him not an enemy, but rather a protector. He says openly – “If you expel the English, then, no later than tomorrow, you and I and everyone who rises against idol worship will have our throats cut like mere sheep. The Mussulmans are stronger than the idol worshippers; but these last are stronger than we.” And yet the English have so little understanding of their benefits that two years ago, in Pune, where the people were divided into two parties: reformers and idolaters-conservatives, when the party of the first carried its preacher with triumph and rejoicing on an elephant, and the other threw stones and mud at him, then instead of protecting Dayananda, it expelled him from the city, forbidding him to appear there in the future.

The Pandit held many a hot dispute with the Brahmins, those treacherous enemies of the people, and has almost always been victorious. In Benares secret assassins were hired to slay him, but the attempt did not succeed. In a small town of Bengal, where he treated fetishism with more than his usual severity, some fanatic deftly threw on his bare feet a huge decapella[9] cobra snake, whose bite causes death in three minutes and from which medicine still knows no remedy. “May the god Vasuki decide our dispute!”[10] exclaimed the worshiper of Shiva, confident that his snake, raised and trained for the mysteries, would immediately put an end to the offender of its shrine. “Well,” Dayananda replied calmly, shaking off the cobra twirling round his leg with a strong movement, “only your god was too slow; it is I who decide the dispute ...” And with a single vigorous movement of his heel, he crushed the head of the snake. “Now go,” added he, addressing the crowd, “and tell everyone how easily perish the false gods.”

Thanks to his excellent knowledge of Sanskrit the Pandit does a great service, not only to the masses, clearing their ignorance about the monotheism of the Vedas, but to science too, showing who, exactly, are the Brahmins, the only caste in India which, during centuries, had the right to study Sanskrit literature and comment on the Vedas, and which used this right solely for its own advantage. Long before the time of such Orientalists as Burnouf, Colebrooke and Max Muller, there have been in India many reformers who tried to prove the pure monotheism of the Vedic doctrines. There have even been founders of new religions who denied the revelations of these scriptures; for instance, the Raja Ram Mohun Roy, and, after him, Babu Keshub Chunder Sen, both Calcutta Bengalees.[11] But neither of them had much success. They did nothing but add new denominations to the numberless sects existing in India. Ram Mohun Roy died in England, having done next to nothing, and his successor Keshub Chunder Sen, having founded the community of “Brahmo-Samaj,” which professes a religion extracted from the depths of the Babu's own imagination, became a mystic of the most pronounced type, and now is only “a berry from the same field,”[12] as the Spiritualists, by whom he is considered to be a medium and a Calcutta Swedenborg.

In short, all the attempts to re-establish the pure primitive monotheism of Aryan India have been more or less a failure until nowadays. They always got wrecked upon the double rock of Brahmanism and of prejudices centuries old. But lo! here appears unexpectedly the Pandit Dayananda. None, even of the most beloved of his disciples, knows who he is and whence he comes. He openly confesses before the crowds that the name under which he is known is not his, but was given to him at the Yogi initiation.[13] However, it is perfectly certain that India never saw a more learned Sanskrit scholar, a deeper metaphysician, a more wonderful orator, and a more fearless denunciator of every evil, than Dayananda, since the time of Sankharacharya, the celebrated founder of the Vedanta philosophy, the most metaphysical of Indian systems, in fact, the crown of pantheistic teaching. Then, Dayananda's personal appearance is striking. He is immensely tall, his complexion is pale (rather European than Indian), his eyes are large and bright, and his greyish hair is long.[14] His voice is clear and loud, well calculated to give expression to every shade of deep feeling, ranging from a gentle almost feminine caressing whisper to thundering wrath against the evil doings and falsehoods of the despicable priests. All this taken together produces an indescribable effect on the impressionable dreamy Hindu. Wherever Dayananda appears crowds prostrate themselves in the dust over his footprints; but, unlike Babu Keshub Chunder Sen, he does not teach a new religion, does not invent new dogmas. He only asks them to renew their half-forgotten Sanskrit studies, and, having compared the doctrines of their forefathers of Aryan India with what they have become in the hands of Indian Brahmins, to return to the pure conceptions of Deity taught by the primitive Rishis: Agni, Vayu, Aditya, and Anghira[15]. He does not even teach (like others do) that the Vedas were received as a, so to say, heavenly revelation, but simply teaches that “every word in Vedas belongs to the highest inspiration possible to the earthly man, an inspiration that is repeated in the history of humanity, when necessary, and may happen to any nation...”

During his five years of work Swami Dayananda made about two million proselytes, chiefly amongst the higher castes. Judging by appearances, they are all ready to sacrifice to him their lives and souls and even their earthly possessions, which are often more precious to them than their lives. But Dayananda as a real Yogi, never touches money, and despises pecuniary affairs. He contents himself with a few handfuls of rice per day. One is inclined to think that this wonderful Hindu bears a charmed life, so careless is he of rousing the worst human passions, and stirring in his enemies the most furious wrath, which is so dangerous in India. A marble statue could not be less calm than Dayananda in a moment of the most horrible danger. We saw him once at work. He sent away all his faithful followers and forbade them either to watch over him or to defend him, and stood alone before the infuriated crowd, facing calmly the monster ready to spring upon him and tear him to pieces… Two years ago, he began to translate the Vedas from Sanskrit into Hindi, the most widespread dialect, adding his own completely new commentaries. His Veda Bhashya[16] in the translation of the German Sanskritologist Max Müller serves as an inexhaustible source of the scholarship of very Sanskritologist, who constantly corresponds and consults with Dayananda. Another luminary in the sphere of Orientalism – Monier Williams, a professor at Oxford, also owes him much; he visited India and personally met Pandit Dayananda and his disciples.[17]

Here a short explanation is necessary.

About five years ago a society of well-informed, energetic and determined people was formed in New York. A certain sharp-witted savant surnamed them “the members of Society des Malcontents du Spiritisme.” The founders of this club were people who, believing in the phenomena of spiritualism as much as in the possibility of every other phenomenon in Nature, still denied the theory of the “spirits.” They considered that the modern psychology was a science still in the first stages of its development, in total ignorance of the nature of the psychic man, and denying, as many of its representatives do, all that cannot be explained according to its own particular theories.

From the very first days of its existence some of the most learned Americans joined the (Theosophical) Society. Its members differed on many points, much as do the members of any other Society, Geographical or Archeological, which fights for years over the sources of the Nile, or the Hieroglyphs of Egypt. But everyone is unanimously agreed that, as long as there is water in the Nile, its sources must exist somewhere, and since there are pyramids, so the key to Hieroglyphs must exist also. So much about the phenomena of spiritualism and mesmerism. These phenomena were still waiting their Champollion[18], but the Rosetta stone[19] was to be searched for neither in Europe nor in America, but in those countries where they still believe in magic, where “wonders” are performed by the native priesthood (in which public did not believe), and where the cold materialism of science has never yet reached, in one word – in the East.

The Council of the Society knew that the Lama-Buddhists, for instance, though not believing in God, and denying the personal immortality of the soul, are yet celebrated for their “phenomena,” and that mesmerism was known and daily practised in China for many thousands of years under the name of yin and yang. In India they fear and hate the very name of the spirits whom the Spiritualists venerate so deeply, yet many an ignorant fakir can perform “miracles” calculated to turn upside-down all the notions of a scientist and to be the despair of the most celebrated of European prestidigitators. Many members of the Theosophical Society have visited India, many were born there and have themselves witnessed the “sorceries” of the Brahmins. The founders of the Club, well aware of the depth of modern ignorance in regard to the spiritual man, were most anxious that Cuvier's method of comparative anatomy should acquire rights of citizenship among metaphysicians, and, so, progress from regions physical to regions psychological on the same inductive and deductive foundation as in former case. Otherwise, psychology will be unable to move forward a single step, and may even obstruct every other branch of Natural History. We already see how physiology little by little captures the rights that do not belong to it to hunt in the realm of purely metaphysical, abstract knowledge, while pretending all the time that it does not want to know anything about the latter, and, having pushed them into the Procrustean[20] bed of natural history, which does not yield to its attempts, is seeking to class psychology with the hard sciences.

In a short time the Theosophical Society counted its members, not by hundreds, but by thousands. All the “malcontents” of American Spiritualism – and there were at that time 12 million Spiritualists – joined the Society. Collateral branches were formed in London, Corfu, Australia, Spain, Cuba, California, etc.[21] Everywhere experiments were being performed, and the conviction that it is not spirits alone who are the causes of the phenomena was becoming general.

In course of time branches of the Society were in India and in Ceylon.[22] The Buddhist and Brahmanical members gradually became more numerous than the Europeans. A league was formed, and to the name of the Society was added the subtitle: “The Brotherhood of Humanity.” After an active correspondence between religious and reformative leaders of the Arya-Samaj (that is the Aryan Society), founded by Swami Dayananda, and the Theosophical Society, all has merged in the latter. Then the Chief Council of the New York branch decided upon sending a special delegation to India, for the purpose of studying, on the spot, the ancient language of the Vedas and the manuscripts and the “wonders” of Yogism. For this, the President, two secretaries and two members of the Council of the New York Theosophical Society have been elected. And on December 17, 1878, the “mission” departed from New York to London and then to Bombay, where it arrived in February 1879.

It may easily be conceived that, under these circumstances, the members of the delegation were better able to study the country and to make fruitful researches than might anyone else, not belonging to the Society. They are looked upon as “brothers” and aided by the most influential natives of India. They count among the members of their society pandits of Benares and Calcutta, and Buddhist priests of the Ceylon viharas – amongst others the learned Sumangala, mentioned by Minayev[23] in the description of his visit to Adam's Peak – and Lamas of Tibet, Burma, Travancore and elsewhere. The members of the delegation are admitted to sanctuaries where, as yet, no European has set his foot. Consequently they may hope to render many services to Humanity and Science, in spite of the ill will which the representatives of positive science bear to them.

Immediately upon our arrival in Bombay we intended to go personally to meet Dayananda and therefore sent a telegram to him at once. In reply, he said that he was obliged to go immediately to Hardwar, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were expected to assemble, but he insisted on our remaining behind, since cholera was certain to break out among the devotees. He appointed a certain spot, at the foot of the Himalayas, in Punjab, where we were to meet in a month's time.[24] So we had enough time to explore all the sights of Bombay and its outskirts.

Deciding to have a quick look at the former, we agreed to go later, without wasting time, to the Deccan, to a big temple festival in Karli,[25] an ancient cave temple of Buddhists, according to some, or of Brahmans, as others prove. Then, having visited the city of Thane, on the Salsette Island, and the Kanheri temple, we intended to go to Chaul, made so famous by Athanasius Nikitin.

In the meantime, we will climb to the top of the Malabar hill, to the “Tower of Silence”, the last dwelling for each of the sons of Zoroaster.

The “Tower of Silence” is said to be a Parsi cemetery. Here their dead, rich and poor, nabob[26] and coolie[27], men, women and children, are all laid in a row, and in a few minutes nothing remains of them but bare skeletons. A strange and dismal impression is made upon a foreigner by these towers, where absolute silence has reigned for centuries, indeed. This kind of building is very common in every place were Parsis live and die, especially in Surat. But in Bombay, of six towers, the largest was built 250 years ago, and the next largest one – just recently. They are round or sometime square in shape, from 20 to 40 feet high, without roof, window, or door, but with a single small thick iron gate opening towards the East, hidden by bushes. The first corpse brought to a new tower dakhma (so they call these towers) must be the body of the innocent child, and certainly of a mobed (priest). No one, not even the chief watcher, is allowed to approach within a distance of thirty paces of these towers. Of all living human beings the Nassesalars (corpse-carriers)[28] alone enter and leave the “Tower of Silence,” their craft is hereditary and the law strictly prohibits them speaking with the living, touching or even approaching them. Entering the tower with a corpse, covered (it doesn't matter whether a rich or a poor person) with old white rags, they undress it and place it, in silence, on one of the three circles and preserving the same silence, they come out, shut the gate until the next corpse, and burn the rags without a delay.

Amongst the fire-worshippers, Death is divested of all his majesty and is a mere object of disgust. As soon as the last hour of a sick person seems to approach, everyone leaves the person alone, as to avoid impeding the departure of the soul from the body, so to shun the risk of polluting the living by contact with the dead. The mobed alone stays with the dying man for a while, and having whispered into his ear the Zend-Avesta precepts: “Ashem-Vohu” and “Yato-Ahuvarie,” leaves the room while the patient is still alive. Then a dog is brought and made to look straight into his face. This ceremony is called sas-did (the dog's gaze), since a dog is the only living creature that the drux-nassu (the evil demon) fears, and that is able to prevent him from taking possession of the body... It must be strictly observed though that no one's shadow lies between the dying man and the dog, otherwise the whole strength of the dog's gaze will be lost, and the demon will profit by the occasion. The body remains on the spot wherever Parsi dies, until the nassesalars appear with their arms hidden up to the shoulders under old bags, to take it away. Having deposited it in a covered iron coffin – one for everybody – they carry it to the dakhma. If any one, who has once been carried thither, should happen to revive – which happens quite often – he will not come out anymore for nassesalars are bound to kill him. For such a person, who has been polluted by one touch of the dead bodies in the “tower”, has thereby lost all right to return to the living, by doing so he would contaminate the whole community.[29] Relatives follow the coffin at a distance and stop 90 paces away from the “tower”. After a last prayer at the gate of the dakhma, pronounced from afar by the mobed, and repeated in chorus by the nassesalars, the dog ceremony is repeated. In Bombay there is a dog, trained for this purpose, at the entrance to the tower. Finally, the body is taken inside and placed on one or other spot, according to its sex and age.

We have twice been present at the ceremonies of “dying,” and once of “burial,” if I may be permitted to use such an incongruous term in this case. In this respect the Parsis are much more tolerant than the Hindus, who are offended by the mere presence at their religious rites of an European. N. Bayranji, a chief watcher of the tower, invited us to his house to be present at the burial of some rich woman. So we witnessed all the rituals at a distance of about forty paces, on bungalow’s verandah of our obliging host. He himself, although he had served at the “tower” for many years, never entered it and did not even come close. While the dog was gazing into the dead woman's face, we were gazing, as intently, but with much more disgust, at the huge flock of vultures above the dakhma, that kept entering the tower, and flying out again with pieces of human flesh in their beaks... These birds, that build their nests in hundreds round the Tower of Silence, have been purposely imported from Persia, since Indian vultures proved to be too weak, and not sufficiently bloodthirsty, to perform the process of stripping the bones with the dispatch prescribed by law of Zoroaster. We were told that the entire operation of denuding the bones occupies no more than a few minutes...

As soon as the ceremony was over, we were led into another building, where a model of the dakhma with all its inner facilities was to be seen. We could now very easily imagine what was to take place presently inside the tower. Imagine a quadrangular chimney standing on the ground, and you will get the right idea about the structure of an empty “tower”. In the granite platform, in the very center, there is a deep, waterless well covered, like a drain, with an iron grating. Around, on a slope constantly rising to the wall, surrounding the well with a triple ring, three wide circles were dug; in each of them, separated from one another by a thin wall about two vershoks [4 inches] high, there are coffin-like receptacles for bodies. There are 365 such places. The first circle or dent (2 feet width) near the well is destined for children, the middle one (4 feet width) is for women, and the third one (5 feet width) near the wall is for men. This threefold circle is symbolical of three cardinal Zoroastrian virtues – “good actions, kind words, and pure thoughts”. The last circle belongs to children, the first one – to man.

Thanks to the flocks of hungry vultures, the bones are gnawed round till the last atom in less than an hour, and, in two or three weeks, the tropical sun scorches them into such a state of fragility, that the slightest touch ruins them down to powder, it is when they are carried down into the well. No slightest smell is left behind, no source of plagues or other epidemic. Perhaps this method is preferable to cremation, which leaves in the air about the ghat[30] a faint but disagreeable odour. Instead of feeding “Mother Wet Earth”[31] with carrion, Parsis give to Armaiti (earth)[32] pure dust. Accordingly, the worship of Earth is so sacred among the Parsis, that they take all possible precautions against polluting the “fostering cow” that gives them “a hundred golden grains for every single grain.” In the season of the Monsoon, when, during four months, the rain pours incessantly down and washes into the well everything that is left by the vultures, the water absorbed by the earth is filtered, for the bottom of the well, the walls of which are built of granite, is, to this end, covered with sand and charcoal.

The sight of the Pinjarapala is less lugubrious and much more amusing. The Pinjarapala is the Bombay Hospital for decrepit animals, but a similar institution exists in every town where Jainas dwell, about whom it is a right time to say several words. Being undoubtedly one of the most ancient, this is also one of the most interesting, of the sects of India. It is much older than Buddhism, (which took its rise about 543 to 477 B.C.). Jainas boast that Buddhism is nothing more than a mere heresy of Jainism, Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, having been a disciple and follower of one of the main Jaina Gurus. The customs, rites, and philosophical conceptions of Jainas place them midway between the Brahmins and the Buddhists. In view of their social arrangements, they more closely resemble the former, but in their religion they incline towards the latter. Their caste divisions, their total abstinence from flesh, and their non-worship of the relics of the saints, are as strictly observed as the similar tenets of the Brahmins, but, like Buddhists, they deny the Hindu gods and the authority of the Vedas, and adore their own twenty-four Tirthankaras, or Jinas, who belong to the Host of the Blissful. Their priests, like the Buddhists', never marry, they live in isolated viharas (cells) and monasteries, choosing their successors from among the members of any social class. Considering Pali as a sacred language, they use it alone in their sacred literature (as well as in Ceylon). Jainas and Buddhists have the same traditional chronology. As Buddhists do, they do not eat after sunset, and carefully sweep any place before sitting down upon it, that they may not crush even the tiniest of insects. Both systems, or rather both schools of philosophy, teach the theory of eternal indestructible atoms, following the ancient atomistic school of Kanada[33]. They assert that the universe never had a beginning and never will have an end. “The world and everything in it is but an illusion, a Maya,” say the Vedantists, the Buddhists, and the Jainas; but, whereas the followers of Sankaracharya preach Parabrahm (a deity devoid of will, understanding, and action),[34] and Ishwara emanating from It, the Jainas and the Buddhists believe in no Creator of the Universe, but teach only the existence of Svabhâvat, a mutable, infinite, self-created principle in Nature. Still they firmly believe, as do all Indian sects, in the transmigration of souls. Their fear, lest, by killing an animal or an insect, they may, perchance, destroy the life of an ancestor, develops their love and care for every living creature to an almost incredible extent. Not only is there a hospital for invalid animals in every town and village, but their priests always wear a muslin muzzle (I trust they will pardon the disrespectful expression), in order to avoid destroying even the smallest animalcule, by inadvertence in the act of breathing. The same fear impels them to drink only filtered water. There are several millions of Jainas in Gujerat, Bombay, Konkan, and some other places.

The Bombay Pinjarapala occupies a whole quarter of the town, and is separated into big and small yards, meadows and gardens, with ponds, cages for dangerous beasts, and enclosures for tame animals. This institution would have served very well for a model of Noah's Ark. In the first yard, however, we saw no animals, but, instead, a few hundred human skeletons – old men, women and children. They were the remaining natives of the, so-called, famine districts, who had crowded into Bombay to beg their bread. The country government, having kicked them out of the last hovels for arrears of taxes collected during the famine, just as in the most fruitful years,[35] crowned its Christ-loving care of the pagans, giving them a place at the animal hospital. Thus, while, a few yards off, the official veterinaries were busily bandaging the broken legs of jackals, pouring ointments on the backs of mangy dogs, and fitting crutches to lame storks, human beings were dying, at their very elbows, of starvation. Happily for the famine-stricken, there were at that time fewer hungry animals than usual, and so they were fed at the expense of animal benefactors. No doubt many of these wretched sufferers would have consented to transmigrate instantly into the bodies of any of the animals who were ending so snugly their earthly careers...

But even the Pinjarajala roses are not without thorns. The grass-eating “subjects,” of course, could not wish for anything better; but I doubt very much whether the carnivorous, such as tigers, hyenas, and wolves, are content with the rules and the forcibly prescribed diet. Jainas themselves turn with disgust even from eggs and fish, and, in consequence, all the animals of which they have the care must keep the fast. We were present when an old tiger, wounded by an English bullet, was fed. Having sniffed at a kind of rice soup which was offered to him, he lashed his tail, snarled, showing his yellow teeth, and with a weak roar turned away from the food. What a look he cast askance upon his fat keeper, who was meekly trying to persuade him to “eat”! Only the strong bars of the cage saved the Jaina from a vigorous protest by “action” of this veteran of the forest. A hyena, with a bleeding head and an ear half torn off, began by sitting in the trough filled with this Spartan sauce, and then, without any further ceremony, upset it, as if to show its utter contempt for the mess. The wolves and some hundreds of dogs raised such disconsolate howls that they attracted the attention of two inseparable friends, an old elephant with a wooden leg and a sore-eyed ox, the veritable Castor and Pollux of this institution. In accordance with his noble nature, the first thought of the elephant concerned his friend. He wound his trunk round the neck of the ox, in token of protection, and both moaned dismally. But parrots, storks, pigeons, flamingos – the whole feathered tribe – revelled in their breakfast. Monkeys were the first to answer the keeper's invitation and greatly enjoyed themselves. Further on we were shown a holy man, who was feeding insects with his own blood. He lay with his eyes shut, and the scorching rays of the sun striking full upon his naked body. He was literally covered with flies, mosquitoes, ants and bugs...

“All these are our brothers,” mildly observed the keeper, pointing to the hundreds of animals and insects. “How can you Europeans kill and even devour them?”

“What would you do,” I asked, “if this snake were about to bite you? Is it possible you would not kill it, if you had time?”

“Not for all the world. I should cautiously catch it, and then I should carry it to some deserted place outside the town, and there set it free.”

“Nevertheless; suppose it bit you?”

“Then I should recite a mantram, and, if that produced no good result, I should be fair to consider it as the finger of Fate, and quietly leave this body for another.”

These were the words of a man who was educated to a certain extent, and very well read. When we pointed out that no gift of Nature is aimless, and that the human teeth are all devouring, he answered by quoting whole chapters of Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection and Origin of Species. “It is not true,” argued he, “that the first men were born with canine teeth. It was only in course of time, with the degradation of humanity, – only when the appetite for flesh food began to develop – that the jaws changed their first shape under the influence of new necessities.”

I could not help asking myself, “Ou la science va-t'elle se fourrer?”[36]



  1. Moscow News, № 309, 04.12.1879, p. 4, № 310, 05.12.1879, p. 4-5; Russian Herald, January 1883, Supplement, vol 163, pp. 16-35.
  2. Sazhen (Rus. сажень – fathom) – Russian native measure unit of length, now obsolete; 1 sazhen = 2.13 m = 7 ft. – Ed.
  3. John Lindley (1799 –1865) was an English botanist, gardener and orchidologist. – Ed.
  4. Afanasy Nikitin (died 1475) – a Russian merchant from Tver and one of the first Europeans (after Niccolò de' Conti) to travel to and document his visit to India. He described his trip in a narrative known as The Journey Beyond Three Seas. – Ed.
  5. Daria (Persian دریا) – a sea. – Tr.
  6. 30 miles from Bombay. Chaul was a prospering and wealthy town under the Portuguese.
  7. Swami is the name of the learned anchorites who are initiated into mysteries of their religion unattainable by common mortals. They are monks who never marry, but are quite different from other mendicant brotherhoods, the so-called Sannyasi and Hossein.
  8. There is an ancient believe implanted among Hindus that on the Bhadrinath Mountains (22,000 feet above the level of the sea) there exist spacious caves, inhabited, now for many thousand years, by these anchorites. Bhadrinath is situated in the north of Hindustan on the river Bishegunj, and is celebrated for its temple of Vishnu right in the heart of the town. Inside the temple there are hot mineral springs, visited yearly by about 50,000 pilgrims, who come to be purified by them.
  9. Literally “snake with a hood” (Port. cobra de capello) or cobra. – Ed.
  10. Vasuki is a snake that twirls round the neck of the god Shiva on idols and is deified by the mythology of the Brahmins, just like the snake Ananda, which is presented as a couch for the god Vishnu. At the end of July, when the festival of Nagas, or serpents, is celebrated, cups with milk are prepared in all squares and streets, and hundreds of snakes are brought by professional “snake charmers” to all towns and villages. On this day, India feeds its reptile “gods”, and Europeans are afraid to leave their houses.
  11. At present, the latter has completely lost his mind, has become some kind of dancing dervish and, sitting in a dirty pool, glorifies Chaitanya, the Koran and Buddha, and calls himself a prophet; dressed in a woman's attire in the name of some “female god”, he dances a mystical dance with his followers and calls this god “mother, father and elder brother!”
  12. Russian idiom and saying, which means “of the same kind”. – Ed.
  13. The mystical “School of Yogis” was established by Patanjali, the founder of one of the six philosophical systems of ancient India. It is supposed that the Neo-platonists of the second and third Alexandrian Schools were the followers of Indian Yogis, especially their theurgy, which was brought from India by Pythagoras, according to the tradition. There still exist in India hundreds of Yogis who zealously follow the system of Patanjali, and (if to trust them) have a communication with Brahma. Nevertheless, most of them are do-nothings, mendicants by profession, and great frauds, thanks to the insatiable longing of the Hindus for miracles. The real Yogis avoid appearing in public, and spend their lives in secluded retirement and studies, except when, as in Dayananda's case, they come forth in time of need to rescue their country.
  14. The Yogis and Dikshatas (initiated) never cut either their hair or beard.
  15. According to tradition four books of Vedas were given to humanity by these four patriarchs.
  16. Published monthly in Bombay; the subscription fee is spent to organize schools and libraries for Arya Samaj, Bombay. Arya Samaj means literally “society” or rather, “brotherhood of the Aryans.” Over 60 such schools and libraries have been established by Pandit Dayananda throughout India. All of them are supported by their own funds; Sanskrit is required in them.
  17. During his two-year stay in India, Williams strenuously sought an assistant for translating from Sanskrit. He finally managed to attract the best of Dayananda's disciples, the young Pandit Shyamji Krishna Varma. A young Indian has recently gone to Oxford to reap the laurels for an English Sanskrit scholar. He is now an Oxford celebrity. For two years he studied excellently Latin and Greek and passed brilliantly a difficult exam, leaving far behind all young lords. English magazines are constantly reporting about him.
  18. Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832) – a French scholar, philologist and orientalist, known primarily as the decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphs and a founding figure in the field of Egyptology. – Ed.
  19. The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele found near the town of Rashid (Rosetta in the Nile Delta), inscribed with a decree issued in Memphis, Egypt (in 196 BC) in three versions: in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic and Demotic scripts and in Ancient Greek. This made the Rosetta Stone a key to deciphering the Egyptian scripts. – Ed.
  20. Procrustes (in Greek mythology) was a host who put his guests into a bed, but only after trimming or stretching the poor guest so as to fit the bed exactly. – Ed.
  21. The Theosophical Societies of London have at least seven members of the Royal Society among hundreds of others people known in the field of science and literature. They add F.Т.S. (Fellow of the Theosophical Society) to F.R.S. (Fellow of the Royal Society). The son of a prominent member of parliament is the president of the London Society, and the president of Simla's “Eclectic Theosophical Society” is former Secretary for India, A. O. Hume.
  22. In 1882 there were 36 Theosophical Societies in India and 8 in Ceylon, founded by the American Society.
  23. Ivan Pavlovich Minayev (1840-1890) – the first Russian Indologist, who made three journeys into the region (1874-1875, 1880, 1885-1886), visiting India, Ceylon, Burma and Nepal. – Ed.
  24. Alas! It was written in 1879, and since then much water has flowed under the bridge. Swami Dayananda has changed – and from an ally and friend turned into a sworn enemy of the Theosophical Society and its two founders – Colonel Olcott and the author of these letters. The fact is that, entering into an “offensive and defensive” alliance with the Theosophical Society, Swami cherished the hope that all members – Christians, Brahmans and Buddhists – would recognize him as their supreme leader and teacher and go over to “Ariarism”. Needless to say, the latter turned out to be impossible. The Theosophical Society is based on the strictest rules of non-interference with the religious beliefs of its members. Religious tolerance in him is brought to the last limits, since this Society pursues purely philosophical objects, preaching the brotherhood of all mankind regardless of caste, faith and skin colour (that is, nationality), and it does not care about private religions. This did not please Swami. He demanded that all members either submit to him or be expelled from the Society. It is clear that neither the President nor the Council could agree to this. The British, both Christians and free-thinkers, Buddhists and especially the Brahmans, rebelled and demanded the dissolution of the alliance. Then Swami, seeing that power was slipping out of his hands, anathematized the Society, and his agents disgraced it from the house-tops. In the end, the entire intelligentsia of Arya Samaj went over to the Theosophical Society and broke off all relations with the fanatic Swami, and Swami called the Society “infidel Ferings.”
  25. These religious festivals (Mela) are celebrated in turn at different places of India and always in cities whose history is associated with some particularly sacred tradition. In Hardwar, a similar “Mela” is celebrated every 12 years. Representatives of all sorts of sects throng to this religious fair and hold debates, after writing scholarly dissertations, each in defense of their particular sect. There were Sannyasis – “friars” – alone there this [1879] year up to 35,000. Cholera did appear.
  26. Nabob – a governor in India during the Mogul empire. – Ed.
  27. Coolie – an unskilled Asian laborer. – Ed.
  28. The life these men lead is simply wretched. No European executioner's position is worse. They live quite apart from the rest of the world, in whose eyes they are the most abject of beings. Being forbidden to enter the markets, they must get their food as they can. They are born, marry, and die, perfect strangers to all except their own class, passing through the streets only to fetch the dead and carry them to the tower.
  29. As some such cases have occurred, the Parsis are trying to get a new law passed, that would firstly allow the revival to come back to the world of living ones, and secondly compel the nassesalars to leave the only gate of the dakhma unlocked, so that ex-dead might find a way of retreat open to them. It is curious that the vultures, which devour without hesitation the corpses, will never touch those who are only apparently dead, but fly away uttering loud shrieks.
  30. The Ghat is a place by the sea, or river shore, where Hindus burn their dead.
  31. Mother Wet Earth (Rus. Мать сыра земля) – Slavonic deity of fertile earth. – Ed.
  32. Armaiti means, literally, “fostering cow,” and Zoroaster teaches that the cultivation of land is the noblest of all occupations in the eyes of God. – Yasna (hymns)
  33. Kanada (III–II centuries B.C.) – an Indian natural scientist and philosopher who founded the Vaisheshika school; also known as Kashyapa, Ulūka, Kananda and Kanabhuk. – Ed.
  34. Brahm – without understanding, mind or will, “because It is absolute understanding, mind and will.”
  35. Several years ago taxes were collected with peasants in kind, but now the peasants must pay them in cash, no matter what.
  36. And where does science take all this? (Fr.)