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are permitted to perform suttee with the bodies of their deceased husbands, which, however, does not frequently occur.
Their principal festivals are in commemoration of the birth and death of Nanock; and their great annual festival, called Dipu Mata, held at Amrita Suru, when two or three hundred thousand persons are said to assemble to bathe in the sacred pool. This place, in ancient times, was a reservoir of water dedicated to Rama; but was repaired and rendered sacred for the worship of the Shikhs by one of their leaders, Ramdasu. It was made by the Afghans, under Ahmed Shah, a scene of melancholy retribution for the former cruelties of the Shikhs. Pyramids of their heads were erected, and the walls of the Mahomedan mosques, which had been polluted by them, were purified by their blood. The city was razed to the ground, and the sacred waters of the pool choked up with its ruins. The triumph of the Afghans was, however, of short duration. No sooner had Ahmed Shah retired, than the Shikhs descended from their mountain coverts, defeated the remaining Afghans, and exercised a sanguinary vengeance on their late conquerors. They compelled them, in chains, to wash with the blood of (what they most abhorred) hogs the mosques which they had, as they imagined, purified with that of the Shikhs; and to excavate again the sacred reservoir of Amrita Suru, which they had the year before filled up. Nevertheless, says Mr. Foster, although the Afghan atrocities rankled in the minds of the Shikhs, these people did not destroy a single prisoner in cold blood.
The temples of the Shikhs are flat buildings of various dimensions. The ball or place of worship is covered with a carpet, and furnished with several desks, on which are placed their sacred books. Into this room all persons are allowed to enter, the parties (if Europeans) being first required to take off their shoes. Mr. Wilkins, in his account of the college of Shikhs at Patna, describes the hall as being hung with looking-glasses and pictures. “ A little room on the left hand end,” he adds, “is the chancel, and is furnished with an altar covered with cloth of gold, upon which was laid a round black shield over a long broad sword, and on either side a chowry of
peacocks' feathers, mounted in a silver handle. The altar was raised a little above the ground, in a declining position. Before it stood a low kind of throne, plated with silver, but rather too small to be useful. About it were several silver flower-pots and rose-water bottles; and on the left hand stood three small urns, which appeared to be copper, furnished with notches to receive the donations of the charitable. There stood near the altar, on a low desk, a great book of a folio size, from which some portions are daily read in their divine service. It was covered over with a blue mantle, on which were printed, in silver letters, some select passages of their laws.
“ When the service was about to begin, the congregation arranged themselves upon the carpet on each side of the hall, so as to leave a space before the altar from end to end. The great book (desk and all) was brought, with some little ceremony, from the altar, and placed at the opposite extremity of the hall. An old man with a reverend silver beard kneeled down before the desk, with his face towards the altar; and on one side of him sat a man with a small drum, and two or three with cymbals. The book was now opened, and the old man began to chaunt to the tune of the drum and cymbals; and, at the end of every verse, most of the congregation joined chorus in a response, with countenances exhibiting great marks of joy. Their tones were by no means harsh ; the time was quick; and I learnt that the subject was a hymn in praise of the unity, the omnipresence, and the omnipotence of the deity. I was singularly delighted with the gestures of the old man : I never saw a countenance so expressive of infelt joy, whilst he turned about from one to the other, as it were bespeaking their assents to those truths which his very soul seemed to be engaged in chaunting forth. When the hymn was concluded, prayers against temptation, for grace, for the general good of mankind, for particular blessings to the Shikhs, and for the safety of travellers, followed. The old man then blessed them, and invited them to a friendly feast. A cauldron, just taken from the fire, containing a sort of sweetmeat, consisting of flour, sugar, and ghee (or clarified butter), was then brought in. This was put into silver dishes, and each person, without distinction, was served with it on leaves sewed together to resemble
plates. They were then served with sugar-plums, and the ceremonies concluded. The religious part of the ceremonies were repeated daily four times.”
I cannot close my account of these extraordinary people better than by an extract from the sixth volume of the Asiatic Researches, from the pen of the then Captain Hardwicke, as it not only correctly characterizes the sect in question, but the Gosseins, the Sanyasis, Takurs, and other religious persons, who assemble, in almost incredible numbers, at the mela or great fair at Hurdwar. This fair is held annually, and is the resort of parties of every sect, and from every part of India, as well as the countries contiguous to it. The contentions described in the following extract are of common occurrence among this mixed mass. The conflicts between the Vishnaivas and Saivas, respecting the superiority of their deities, are seldom terminated without bloodshed.
“ This mela, or fair, is an annual assemblage of Hindus, to bathe, for a certain number of days, in the waters of the Ganges, at this consecrated spot. The present is one of those periods, and the multitudes collected here, on this occasion, may, I think, with moderation, be computed at two and a half millions of souls. Although the performance of a religious duty is their primary object, yet many avail themselves of the occasion to transact business, and carry on an extensive annual commerce. In this concourse of nations, it is a matter of no small amusement to a curious observer to trace the dress, features, manners, &c., which characterize the people of the different countries of Cabul, Cashmere, Lahore, Bootan, Sirinagur, and the plains of Hindustan. From some of these very distant countries whole families, men, women, and children, undertake the journey; some travelling on foot, some on horseback, and many, particularly women and children, in long heavy carts, railed, and covered with sloping matted roofs, to defend them against the sun and wet weather; and during the continuance of the fair, these serve also as habitations.
“At our tents parties succeeded parties throughout the day; where they would take their stand for hours together, silently surveying every thing they saw. Sometimes more inquisitive visitors approached even to the
doors of the tent, and finding they were not repelled, though venturing within, they generally retired with additional gratification; and frequently returned as introductors to new visitors, whose expectations they had raised by the relation of what themselves had seen.
“ The most troublesome guests were the Goosseyns, who, being the first here in point of numbers and power, thought it warrantable to take more freedoms than others did ; and it was no easy matter to be at any time free from their company : it was, however, politically prudent to tolerate them ; for, by being allowed to take possession of every spot round the tents, even within the ropes, they might be considered as a kind of safeguard against visitors of worse descriptions; in fact, they made a shew of being our protectors.
“ In the early part of the mela or fair this sect of Fakeers erected the standard of superiority, and proclaimed themselves regulators of the police.
“ Apprehending opposition in assuming this authority, they published an edict, prohibiting all other tribes from entering the place with their swords or arms of any other description. This was ill-received at first, and for some days it was expected force must have decided the matter : however, the Byzaagees, who were the next powerful sect, gave up the point, and the rest followed their example. Thus the Goosseyns paraded with their swords and shields, while every other tribe carried only bamboos through the fair.
“The ruling power was consequently held by the appellation of Mehunts, and during the continuance of the mela, the police was under their authority, and all duties levied and collected by them. For Hurdwar, though immediately connected with the Mahratta government, and at all seasons under the rule and control of that state, is, on these occasions, usurped by that party of the Fakeers who prove themselves most powerful: and though the collections made upon pilgrims, cattle, and all species of merchandize, amount to a very considerable sum, yet no part is remitted to the treasury of the Mahratta state.
“These Mehunts meet in council daily, hear and decide upon all complaints brought before them, either against individuals, or of a nature tending to
disturb the public tranquillity and the well management of this immense multitude.
“ The Goosseyns maintained an uncontested authority, till the arrival of about 12 or 14,000 Shikh horsemen, with their families, &c., who encamped on the plains about Jualapore. Their errand here was avowed to be bathing; and soon after their arrival they sent Oodassee, their principal priest or guru, to make choice of a situation on the river side, where he erected the distinguishing flag of their sect, for the guidance and direction of its followers to the spot. It appeared, however, that no compliments or intimation of their intentions had been made to the ruling power; and the Goosseyns, not willing to admit of any infringement of their authority, pulled down the flag and drove out of the place those who accompanied it. Some slight resistance was shewn by the Shikhs, in the support of their priest and the dignity of their flag, but was repelled with much violence, and the Goosseyns, not content with driving them away, abused and plundered the whole party to a considerable amount.
“The old priest Oodassee, on his return to the Shikh camp, complained to Rajah Saheb Sing, their chief, in the name of the body collective, of the insult and violence they had met with from the Goosseyns. A consultation was immediately held by the three chiefs of the Shikh forces, viz. Rajah Saheb Sing, of Puteealah ; Roy Sing, and Shena Sing, of Booreah, who silenced the complainants by promising to demand redress and restitution for what they had been plundered of. A vakeel was immediately dispatched, with a representation from the Shikhs to the Mehunts, or priests of the Goosseyns, pointing out the right they conceived they possessed, in common with all other nations, to have access to the river or place of bathing.
“The Mehunts heard their complaints, expressed their concern at what had happened, and promised their assistance in obtaining the redress sought for: and the matter, for the present, rested here; the Goosseyns giving back to the Shikhs all the plunder they had taken, and admitting of their free ingress and egress to the river. All was pretty quiet during the few remaining days of bathing ; but on the morning of the 10th of April (which