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Letter XX[1]

A few days before we left Bombay we read in a small local newspaper two announcements of marriages: the first the marriage of a Brahmin heiress, the second of a daughter of the fire-worshipers. The first announcement was something to the following effect:

“The family of Bimbay Mavlankar, etc., etc., are preparing for a happy event. This respectable member of our community, unlike the rest of the less fortunate Brahmins of his caste, has found a husband for his grand-daughter in a rich Gujerat family of the same caste. The little Rama-bai is already five, her future husband is seven. The wedding is to take place in two months and promises to be brilliant.”

The second announcement referred to an accomplished fact. It appeared in a Parsi paper, which strongly insists on the necessity of giving up “disgusting superannuated customs,” and especially the early marriage. It justly ridiculed a certain Gujarati Leaflet, which had just described in very pompous expressions a recent wedding ceremony in Poona... The bridegroom, who had just entered his sixth year “pressed to his heart a blushing bride of two and a half, passed to him by his mother-in-law!..” The usual answers of this couple entering into matrimony proved so indistinct that the priest of Gebras[2] (Mobed) had to address the questions to their parents: “Are you willing to have him for your lawful husband, O daughter of Zaratushta (Zoroaster)?” and “Are you willing to be her husband, O son of Ormazd?”

“Everything went as well as it could be expected,” continued the satirical newspaper; “the bridegroom was led out of the room by the hand in all the bravado of his togae virilis[3] and a tall turban in the form of a sugar loaf, and the bride, who was carried away in arms, greeted the guests, not with smiles, but with a tremendous howl, which made her forget the existence of such a thing as a pocket-handkerchief, and remember only her feeding-bottle; for the latter article she asked repeatedly, half choked with sobs, and throttled with the weight of the family diamonds.” Taking it all in all, it was a Parsi marriage, “which shows the progress of our speedily developing nation with the exactitude of a weather glass,” added the newspaper.

Having read this we laughed heartily, though we did not give full credit to this description, and thought it a good deal exaggerated even for India. We have heard of ten-year-old spouses, but it was the first time we had heard of two-year-old brides. In Bagha we have seen how immeasurable Brahmin ingenuity is. It is not without reason that the Brahmins are fervent upholders of the ancient law which prohibits to everyone, except the officiating Brahmins, the study of Sanskrit and especialy the reading of the Vedas. The Shudras and even the high-born Vaishyas were in olden times were put to shameful death for such a crime. The secret of this rigour lies in the fact that the Vedas do not permit matrimony for women under 15-20 years of age, and for men under 25, or even 30. Eager above all that every religious ceremony should fill Brahmins’ pockets, these parasites reworked their ancient scripture in their own way and, gradually burdening the Hindus with an endless catalog of rituals, ordinances, non-existent holidays and the stupidest ceremonies, so as not to be caught in a false interpretation of the sacred books, cunningly came up with the idea of imputing blasphemy to reading them to anyone who just didn't belong to their camp. Amongst other “criminal inventions,” – to use the expression of Swami Dayananda, – there is a text from the Brahminical books, which contradicts everything that is to be found in the Vedas on this particular matter: I speak of the Kudva Kunbis, the “wedding season” of all the agricultural classes of Central Asia, to which all Zemindars belong. This season is to be celebrated once in every twelve years, but it appears to be a field from which Messieurs les Brahmins gathered the most abundant harvest. At this epoch, all mothers of both adult (that is, ten–year-old) children, as well as babies still in diapers and even unborn children, are obliged to confer with the goddess Mata, the guardian of the newlyweds – of course, through her oracles, Brahmins. Mata is the special patroness of all the four kinds of marriages practised in India: the marriages of teenagers, of children, of babies, and the marriage in a womb.

The latter is the queerest of all, because the feelings it excites are so very like gambling. In this case, the marriage ceremony is celebrated between the mothers of the future children. Many a curious incident is the result of these matrimonial parodies. But a true Brahmin will never allow the derision of fate to shake his dignity, and the docile population never will doubt the infallibility of these “elect of the gods.” An open antagonism to the Brahminical institutions is more than rare; the feelings of reverence and dread the masses show to the Brahmins are so blind and so sincere, that an outsider cannot help smiling at them and respecting them at the same time. If both the mothers have children of the same sex, it will not upset the Brahmin in the least; he will say this was the will of the goddess Mata, it shows that she desires the new-born babies to be two loving brothers, or two loving sisters, as the case may be, in future. And if the children grow up, they will be acknowledged heirs to the properties of both mothers. In this case, the Brahmin breaks the bonds of the marriage by the order of the goddess, is paid for doing so, and the whole affair is dropped altogether. But if the children are of different sexes these bonds cannot be broken, even if one of them is born cripple, or with chronic disease, or idiot...

While I am dealing with the family life of India, I had better mention some other features, not to return to them any more. No Hindu has the right to remain single. The only exceptions are, in case the child is destined to monastic life from the first days of his existence, and in case the child is consecrated to the service of one of the gods of the Trimurti even before he is born. Religion insists on matrimony for the sake of having a son, whose duty it will be to perform some prescribed rite, in order that his departed father may enter Swarga, or paradise. Even the caste of Brahmacharyas, who take vows of chastity, but take a part and interest in worldly life – and so are the unique lay-celibates of India – are bound to adopt sons. The rest of the Hindus must remain in matrimony till the age of forty; after which they earn the right to leave the world, – with the consent of the wife and family, – and to seek salvation, leading an ascetic life in some jungle. If a member of some Hindu family happens to be afflicted from birth with some organic defect, this will not be an impediment to his marrying, on the condition that his wife should be also a cripple, if she belongs to the same caste. The defects of husband and wife must be different: if he is blind, she must be hump-backed or lame, and vice versa. But if the young man in question is prejudiced, and wants a healthy wife, he must condescend to make a mesalliance; he must stoop to choose a wife in a caste that is exactly one degree lower than his own. But in this case his kinsmen and associates will not acknowledge her; the parvenue will not be received on any conditions whatever. Besides, all these exceptional instances depend entirely on the family Brahmin (guru), who is inspired by the gods.

This is the part of men. But what a strange, incredibly unfair fate has befallen the unfortunate woman of India in all living conditions! The life of an honest and especially pious, believing woman is nothing but a long series of fatal events for her. The higher she stands by birth and her social position, the more bitter her fate. Only the nautches – dancing girls consecrated to gods, and living in temples – can be said to be free, happy, and live in great honor. Their occupation is hereditary, but they are vestals and daughters of vestals, however strange this may sound to a European ear. But the notions of the Hindus, especially on questions of morality, are quite independent, and even anti-Western, if I may use this expression. The Hindus' view, especially in matters of morality, is original and, in any case, "anti-Western", if I may say so. No one is more severe and exacting in the questions of feminine honor and chastity; but the Brahmins proved to be more cunning than even the Roman augurs. Rhea Sylvia of the ancient Romans, for instance, the mother of Romulus and Remus, was buried alive, – according to the vestal’s custom for such a misconduct, – in spite of the god Mars taking an active part in her faux pas[4]. Numa and Tiberius took exceedingly good care that the good morals of their priestesses should not become merely nominal. But the “vestals” on the banks of the Ganges and the Indus understand the question differently from those on the banks of the Tiber. The intimacy of the nautch-girls with the gods (whose proxy in the court are Brahmins), which is generally accepted, cleanses them from every sin and makes them in every one's eyes irreproachable and infallible. A nautcha cannot be a "fallen woman" like other mortals, in spite of the crowd of the “celestial musicians” who swarm in every pagoda, in the form of baby-vestals and their little brothers. No virtuous Roman matron, not even the most chaste Lucrezia, was ever so respected as the pretty little nautcha. This great reverence for the happy “brides of the gods” is especially striking in the purely native towns of Central India, where the population has preserved intact their blind faith in the Brahmins.

But the fate of an honest woman of Hindustan is quite different. Every nautcha can read, and receives the highest Hindu education. They all read and write in Sanskrit, and study the best literature of ancient India, and her six chief philosophies, but especially music, singing and dancing. Besides these “godborn” priestesses of the pagodas, there are also public nautches, who, like the Egyptian almehas[5], are within the reach of ordinary mortals, not only of gods; they also are in most cases women of a certain culture. That is why married women are so afraid of resembling the professional dancing girls, that they cannot be persuaded to learn anything of what those creatures unaware of gods are taught. If a Brahmin woman is rich her life is spent in demoralizing idleness; if she is poor, so much the worse, her earthly existence is concentrated in monotonous performances of mechanical rites. There is no past, and no future for her; only a tedious present, from which there is no possible escape. And this only if everything be well, if her family be not visited by sad losses. Needless to say that, amongst Brahmin women, marriage is not a question of free choice, and still less of affection. Her choice of a husband is restricted by the caste to which she belongs; and so, to find a suitable match for a girl is a matter of great difficulty, as well as of great expense. In India, the high-caste woman is not bought, but she has to buy the right to get married. Accordingly, the birth of a girl is not a joy, but a sorrow, especially if her family is not rich. She must be married not later than when she is seven or eight; a little girl of nine is an old maid in India, she is a discredit to her parents and is the miserable butt of all her more fortunate contemporaries.

One of the few noble achievements of Englishmen in India which have succeeded is the decrease of infanticide, which some time ago was a daily practice, and still is not quite got rid of. Little girls were killed by their parents everywhere in India; but this dreadful custom was especially common amongst the tribes of Jadej, once so powerful in Sindh, and now reduced to petty brigandage. Probably these tribes were the first to spread this practice. Obligatory marriage for little girls is a comparatively recent invention, and it alone is responsible for the parents' decision rather to see them dead than unmarried. The ancient Aryans knew nothing of it. Even the ancient Brahminical literature shows that, amongst the pure Aryans, woman enjoyed the same privileges as man. Her voice was listened to by the statesmen; she was free either to choose a husband, or to remain single. Many a woman's name plays an important part in the chronicles of the ancient Aryan land; many women have come down to posterity as eminent poets, astronomers, philosophers, and even sages and lawyers.

But with the invasion of the Persians, in the seventh century, and later on of the fanatical, all-destroying Mussulmans, all this changed. Woman became enslaved, and the Brahmins did everything to humiliate her. In towns, the position of the Hindu woman is still worse than amongst agricultural classes. Let's take a look at one such endless rigmarole of ceremonies and rituals.

The wedding ceremonies are very complicated and numerous. They are divided into three groups: the rites before the wedding; the rites during the ceremony; and the rites after the celebration has taken place. The first group alone consists of eleven ceremonies: the asking in marriage; the comparison of the two horoscopes; the sacrifice of a goat; the fixing of a propitious day according to stars; the invitation of guests; the building of the altar; the purchase of the sacred pots for household use; the sacrifices to the household gods; and finaly mutual presents. All this must be accomplished as a religious duty, and is full of entangled rites. As soon as a little girl in some Hindu family is four years old, her father and mother send for the family Guru, give him her horoscope, drawn up previously by the astrologer of their caste (a very important post), and send the Guru to this or that inhabitant of the place who is known to have a son of appropriate age. The father of the little boy has to put the horoscope on the altar before the family gods and to answer: “I am well disposed towards the Panigrahan[6]; let Rudra (The Supreme Being) help us.” The Guru must ask when the lagna (union) is to take place, after which he is bowed out. A few days later the father of the little boy takes the horoscope of his son as well as of the little girl to the chief astrologer. If the latter finds them propitious to the intended marriage, it will take place; if not, his decision is immediately sent to the father of the little girl, and the whole affair is dropped. If the astrologer's opinion is favorable, however, the bargain is concluded on the spot. The astrologer offers a cocoa-nut and a handful of sugar to the father, after which nothing can be altered; otherwise a Hindu vendetta[7] will be handed down from generation to generation. After the obligatory goat-sacrifice, the couple are irrevocably betrothed, and the astrologer fixes the day of the wedding.

All these ceremonies have been performed for a long time in the family to which we went to the wedding in Bagha. These rites are considered especially sacred, and we probably would not be allowed to be present at their performance. But we saw them later in Benares, thanks to Babu's intercession.The sacrifice of the poor goat is very interesting, so I am going to describe it in detail.

A child of the male sex is sent to invite several married ladies, “old women” (of twenty or twenty-five), to witness the worship of the lares[8] (domestic goddess-supervisor) and spirits. Each family has a household goddess of its own – which is really not difficult to have, since the Hindu have 333 millions of gods and goddesses. On the eve of the sacrificial day, a kid is brought into the house, and all the family sleep round him. Next morning, the reception hall on the ground floor is made ready for the ceremony. The floor is thickly covered with cow-dung (the most beloved by the Hindu goddesses incense), and right in the middle of the room a square is traced with white chalk, in which is placed a high pedestal, with the statue of the goddess. Then the goat is brought and the oldest man in family, holding him by the horns, lowers his head to salute the goddess. After this, the “old” and young women sing marriage hymns, wash the legs of the goat, cover his head with red powder (while the future victim is strongly butting), and make a lamp smoke under his nose, to banish the evil spirits from round him. When all this is done, the female element puts itself out of the way, and the patriarch comes again upon the stage and stands to the right from the goat. He treacherously puts a ration of rice before him, and as soon as the victim becomes innocently absorbed in gratifying his appetite, the old man chops his head off with a single stroke of his sword, and bathes the goddess in the smoking blood coming from the head of the animal, which he holds in his right arm, over the idol... Everyone sings in chorus, and the ceremony of betrothal is over.

The ceremonies with the astrologers, and the exchange of presents, are too long to be described. I shall mention only, that in all these ceremonies the astrologer plays the double part of an augur and a family lawyer. After a general invocation to the elephant-headed god Ganesha, the marriage contract is written on the reverse of the horoscopes and sealed, the happy constellations of the bride and groom are recorded, and a general blessing is pronounced over the assembly. Now I turn directly to the marriage ceremony, which we witnessed in Bagha.

The bridegroom was not more than fourteen years old, while the bride was only ten. She was sitting on a high seat in a velvet skirt embroidered with gold, all in flowers and gold jewelry. Her small nose was adorned with a huge golden ring with some very brilliant stone, which dragged her nostril down. Her face looked comically piteous, and sometimes she cast furtive glances at us. The bridegroom, a stout, healthy-looking boy, attired in cloth of gold and wearing the many storied Indra hat, was on horseback, surrounded by a whole crowd of male relations. The altar was especially erected for this occasion infront of the house. In size it is built three times the length of the bride's arm from the shoulder down to the middle finger. Its materials are bricks and white-washed clay. Forty-six earthen pots painted with red, yellow and green stripes – the colors of the Trimurti – rose in two pyramids on both sides of the “god of marriages” on the altar, and all round it a crowd of little married girls were busy grinding ginger. When it was reduced to powder the whole crowd of these Amazons rushed on the bridegroom, dragged him from his horse, and, having stripped him naked, began rubbing him with wet ginger. As soon as the sun dried him he was dressed again by some of the little ladies, whilst one part of them sang and the other sprinkled his head with water from lotus leaves twisted into tubes – an offering to the water gods.

We were also told that the whole of the previous night had been given up to the worship of various spirits. The last rites, begun weeks ago, were hurriedly brought to an end during this last night. Invocations to Ganesha, to the god of marriages; to the gods of the elements, water, fire, air and earth; to the goddess of the smallpox and other illnesses; to the spirits of ancestors and planetary spirits, to the evil spirits, good spirits, family spirits, and so on, and so on... Suddenly our ears were struck by strains of music.... Good heavens! what a dreadful symphony it was! The ear-splitting sounds of Indian tom-toms, Tibetan drunis, Singalese pipes, Chinese trumpets, and Burmese gongs deafened us on all sides, awakening in our souls hatred for humanity and humanity's inventions. “De tous les bruits du monde celui de la musique est le plus desagreable![9] was my ever-recurring thought. Happily, this agony did not last long, and was replaced by the choral singing of Brahmins and nautches, which was very original, but perfectly bearable. The wedding was a rich one, and so the “vestals” appeared in state. A moment of silence, of restrained whispering... and one of them, a tall, beautiful girl with eyes literally filling half her forehead, began approaching one guest after the other in perfect silence, and rubbing their faces with her hand, leaving traces of sandal and saffron powders. She glided towards us also, noiselessly moving over the dusty road with her bare feet; and before we realized what she was doing she had daubed me as well as the colonel and Miss B***, which made the latter sneeze and wipe her face for at least ten minutes, with loud but vain utterances of indignation...

The Babu and Mulji offered their faces to the little hand, full of saffron, with smiles of condescending generosity. But the indomitable Narayan shrank from the vestal so unexpectedly at the precise moment when, with fiery glances at him, she stood on tiptoe to reach his face, that she quite lost countenance and sent a full dose of powder over his shoulder, whilst he turned away from her with knitted brow. Her forehead also showed several threatening lines, but in a moment she overcame her anger and glided towards Ram-Runjit-Das, sparkling with engaging smiles. But here she met with still less luck; offended at once in his monotheism and his chastity, the “God's warrior” pushed the vestal so unceremoniously that she nearly upset the elaborate pot-decoration of the altar. A dissatisfied murmur ran through the crowd, and we were preparing to be condemned to shameful banishment for the sins of the warlike Sikh, when the drums sounded again and the procession moved on. In front of everyone drove the trumpeters and the drummers in a car gilded from top to bottom, and dragged by bullocks loaded with garlands of flowers; next after them walked a whole detachment of pipers, and then a third body of musicians on horseback, who blew at the top of their lungs to gongs. After them proceeded the cortege of the bridegroom's and the bride's relations on horses adorned with rich harness, feathers and flowers; they went in pairs. They were followed by a regiment of Bhils in full disarmour – because no weapons but bows and arrows had been left to them by the English Government. All these Bhils looked as if they had tooth-ache, because of the odd way they have of arranging the ends of their white pagris. After them walked clerical Brahmins, with aromatic tapers in their hands and surrounded by the flitting battalion of vestals, who amused themselves all the way by graceful glissades and pas. They were followed by the lay Brahmins – the “twice born.” The bridegroom rode on a handsome horse; on both sides walked two couples of warriors, armed with yaks' (Tibetian bulls) tails to wave the flies away. They were accompanied by two more men on each side with silver fans. The bridegroom's group was wound up by a naked Brahmin, perched on a donkey and holding over the head of the boy a huge red silk umbrella. After him a car loaded with a thousand cocoa-nuts and a hundred bamboo baskets, tied together by a red rope. The god who looks after marriages drove in melancholy isolation on the vast back of an elephant, whose mahout led him by a chain adorned with flowers. Our humble party modestly advanced just behind the elephant's tail, being the last of the procession...

The performance of rites on the way seemed endless. Unspeakably strange to us seemed the solemn "mantras" chanted before every tree, every pagoda, every sacred tank and bush, and at last before a sacred cow. When we came back to the house of the bride it was four in the afternoon, and we had started a little after six in the morning... Miss B*** literally threatened to fall asleep on her feet because of tiredness and heat. The indignant Sikh had left us long ago, and had persuaded Mr. W*** and Mulji – whom the colonel had nicknamed the “mute general”, remembering his gloomy president Grant, – to keep him company. Our respected president was bathed in his own perspiration, and even Narayan the unchangeable yawned and sought consolation in a fan. But the Babu was simply astonishing. After a ten hours' walk under the sun, with his head unprotected, he looked fresher than ever, without a drop of sweat on his dark satin-like forehead. He showed his white teeth in an eternal smile, and chaffed us all, reciting the “Diamond Wedding” of Steadman...

The last marriage ceremony began, after which the whole world is closed for a woman, but before which we opened our eyes and ears and began to observe more closely than before. The bridegroom and the bride were placed before the altar. The officiating Brahmin tied their hands with some kus-kus grass, and led them three times round the altar. Then their hands were untied, and the Brahmin mumbled a mantram again. When he had finished, the boy-husband lifted his diminutive bride and carried her three times round the altar in his arms, then again three turns round the altar, but the boy preceding the girl, and she following him like an obedient wife. When this was over, the bridegroom was placed on a high chair by the entrance door, and the bride brought a basin of water, took off his shoes, and, having washed his feet, wiped them with her long hair. We learned that this was a very ancient custom. On the right side of the bridegroom sat his mother. The bride knelt before her also, and, having performed the same operation over her feet, she retired to the house. Then her mother came out of the crowd and repeated the same ceremony, but without using her hair as a towel. The young couple were married. The drums and the tom-toms rolled once more; and half-deaf we started for home.

In the tent we found the akali in the middle of a sermon, delivered for the edification of the “mute general” and Mr. W***. He was explaining to them the religion of “Nanaka” and advantages of the Sikh religion, and comparing it with the faith of the “devil-worshipers,” as he called the Brahmins. He was right: in his most imaginative moments Satan himself could not have invented anything more unjust and more refinedly cruel than what was invented by these “twice-born” infernal rascals in their relation to the women. An unconditioned civil death awaits her in case of widowhood – even if this sad fate befalls her when she is five or two years old or even if she just went through the rite of betrothal, in which, as we have seen, she is not present, but only a goat appears as a victim. As for the man, he is permitted to have several lawful wives at a time. Not to be unjust, I must mention that, – with the exception of the dissolute princes and maharajas, accustomed by the residents and guardians of the British to drunkenness and other delights of Western civilization, – we never heard of a Hindu availing himself of this privilege, and having more than one wife. In the case of widowhood, a man is obliged to enter into a second and third marriage. But there is no such law for a woman. For her, remarriage is considered the greatest sin, an unheard-of shame.

At the present time, – while I’m writing these lines, – the whole of orthodox India is shaken by the struggle in favor of the remarriage of widows. This agitation was begun in Bombay, by a few reformers, and opponents of Brahmins. It is already more then ten years since Mulji-Taker-Sing and others raised this question; but we know only of three or four men who have dared as yet to marry widows. This struggle is carried on in silence and secrecy, but nevertheless it is fierce and obstinate.

In the meanwhile, the fate of the widow is what the Brahmins wish it to be. As soon as the corpse of her husband is burned the widow must shave her head, and never let it grow again as long as she lives. Her bangles, necklaces and rings are broken to pieces and burned, together with her hair and her husband's remains. During the rest of her life she must wear nothing but white if she was less than twenty-five at her husband's death, and red if she was older. Temples, religious ceremonies, society, are closed to her for ever. She has no right to speak to any of her relations, and no right even to eat with them. She sleeps, eats and works separately; her touch is considered impure for seven years. If a man, going out on business at morning, meets a widow, he returns home, abandoning every pursuit for the next day, because to see a widow is accounted an evil omen.

In the past all this was seldom practised, and concerned only the rich widows, who refused to be burned; but now, since the Brahmins have been caught in the false interpretation of the Vedas, with the criminal intention of appropriating the widows' wealth, they insist on the fulfilment of this cruel precept, and make what once was the exception the rule. They are powerless against British law, and so they revenge themselves on the innocent and helpless women, whom fate has deprived of their natural protectors.

Professor Wilson's demonstration of the means by which the Brahmins distorted the sense of the Vedas, in order to justify the practice of widow-burning, is well worth mentioning. During the many centuries that this terrible practice prevailed, the Brahmins had appealed to a certain Vedic text for their justification, and had claimed to be rigidly fulfilling the institutes of Manu, which contain for them the interpretation of Vedic law. Manu is considered an "infallible" interpreter of the Vedas. When for the first time the British government wanted to rebel against the burning of widows, the whole country, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, rose in protest, under the influence of the Brahmins. “The English promised not to interfere in our religious affairs, and they must keep their word!” was the general outcry. Never was India so near revolution as in those days. The English saw the danger and gave up the task. But Professor Wilson, the best Sanskritist of the time, did not consider the battle lost. He applied himself to the study of the most ancient MSS., and gradually became convinced that the alleged precept did not exist in the Vedas; though in the Laws of Manu it was quite distinct, and had been translated accordingly by T. Colebrooke and other Orientalists. An attempt to prove to the fanatic population that Manu's interpretation was wrong would have been equivalent to an attempt to reduce water to powder. So Wilson set himself to study Manu, and to compare the text of the Vedas with the text of this law-giver. This was the result of his labors: the Rig Veda orders the Brahmin to place the widow side by side with the corpse before the fire is lit, and then, after the performance of certain rites, to lead her down from the funeral pyre and to sing the following verse from Grhya Sutra:

“Arise, O woman! return to the world of the living!
Having gone to sleep by the dead, awake again!
Long enough thou hast been a faithful wife
To the one who made thee mother of his children.”

Then those women present at the burning were to rub their eyes with “collyrium”[10], and the Brahmin to address to them the following verse:

“Approach, you married women, not widows,
With your husbands bring ghi[11] and butter.
Let the mothers go up to the womb first,
Dressed in festive garments and costly adornments.”

The line before the last was misinterpreted by the Brahmins in the most skillful way. In Sanskrit it reads as follows:

“Arohantu janayo yonim agre…” –

which literally means “let the mothers go up to the womb first,” (yonim agre means inside altar). Having changed only one letter of the last word agre, “first,” the Brahmins wrote instead agne, “fire's,” and so acquired the right to send the wretched Malabar widows yonina agne – to the womb of fire. It is difficult to find on the face of the world another such fiendish deception.

The Vedas never permitted the burning of the widows, and there is a place in Taittiriya-Aranyaka, of the Yajur Veda, where the brother of the deceased, or his disciple, or even a trusted friend, is recommended to say to the widow, whilst the pyre is set on fire: “Arise, O woman! do not lie down any more beside the lifeless corpse; return to the world of the living, and become the wife of the one who holds you by the hand, and is willing to be your husband.” This verse shows that during the Vedic period the remarriage of widows was allowed. Besides, in several places in the ancient books, pointed out to us by Swami Dayananda, we found orders to the widows “to keep the ashes of the husband for several months after his death and to perform over them certain final rituals...”

However, in spite of the scandal created by Professor Wilson's discovery, and of the fact that the Brahmins were put to shame before the double authority of the Vedas and of Manu, the custom of centuries proved so strong that some supras (pious Hindu women) still burn themselves whenever they can. Not later than in the late seventies of the last century the four widows of Yung-Bahadur, the chief minister of Nepal, insisted upon being burned. Nepal is not under the British rule, and so the Anglo-Indian Government had no right to interfere.



  1. Moscow News, No. 112, 24.04.1880, pp. 3-4, No. 115, 27.04.1880, pp. 3-4; Russian Herald, January 1883, Supplement, vol 163, pp. 196-210.
  2. Zoroastrians. – Ed.
  3. Toga of maturity (Latin); worn by young Romans upon reaching adulthood, at the age of 16. – Ed.
  4. A rash act (Fr.). – Ed.
  5. Almeh is a dancer, singer and a high-ranking female musician who was supposed to entertain the women of rich and noble gentlemen in Arab Egypt in harems. – Ed.
  6. Panigrahan is a Sanskrit word meaning "hand in hand".
  7. Vendetta (It.) – blood feud. – Ed.
  8. Lares (Lat.) are the household deities of the Romans, the patrons of the hearth and the whole house. – Ed.
  9. Among all the sounds in the world, the most unpleasant is the sound of music (Fr.). – Ed.
  10. Collirio (It.) is eye ointment. – Ed.
  11. Ghi (Sanskrit) is the melted butter.