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Every Brahman may perform the ceremonies of his religion, and may become an officiating priest, if he is acquainted with the different formulas of worship. The four principal orders of priests are the Acharyas, who teach and read the Veda; the Sudushyus, who regulate the ceremonies of worship; the Brumhas, who sit near the fire at a burnt offering, and supply it with wood; and the Hota, who throws the clarified butter on the fire in the burnt offering. In sacrifices of animals the Hota is also the sacrificial priest.
There are various orders of Brahmans, the chief of which are the Kulenas, the Vangshujas, and the Shrotujas, the Rarhees, and the Vordikas, &c. &c. The divisions and subdivisions of the different castes are also numerous. The Sudras are said to have nearly fifty. Purity of caste is held of the highest consequence among the Ilindus. Loss of caste may be caused by various means. It can be regained only by atonement and fasting on the part of the offender, together, as will be presently instanced, with a liberal expenditure in presents and feasting towards the Brahman priests : fifty and even one hundred thousand rupees have been known to have been expended on such occasions.
The Kulena or Culena Brahmans are a superior order, to whom the seat of honour is, on all occasions, yielded. A Kulena may marry his son to a daughter of a Brahman of a lower class, but can only marry his daughters to those of his own order. It was formerly (and still is to a less extent) considered a distinguished honour to unite a daughter to a Kulena, who on such occasions receives large presents from the father of the bride. Many Kulenas have, in consequence, a number of wives ; sometimes marrying into thirty, fifty, and even a hundred families, in various parts of Hindustan. With each of these wives the Kulena receives a portion ; and also, as he leaves them after marriage with their parents, a handsome present when he may, occasionally, condescend to visit them. Sometimes he never sees them after the marriage ceremony, and sometimes visits them once in three or four years; but does not always, in doing so, cohabit with them, as he dreads having a female offspring, whom he can only marry to a Kulena; which, as these Brahmans receive, as before observed, large portions from
those of inferior orders, is commonly a matter of some difficulty. The evils arising from these circumstances, and the neglect of the married females, are manifold. Profligacy, adultery, and a consequent destruction of unborn children, are of common occurrence among the Kulenas.
“ The Brahman,” says the Abbé Dubois, who, probably, knew the Hindus better than any European, “ lives but for himself. Bred in the belief that the whole world is his debtor, and that he himself is called upon for no return, he conducts himself in every circumstance of his life with the most absolute selfishness. The feelings of commiseration and pity, as far
see an unhappy being perish on the road, or even at his own gate, if belonging to another caste, and will not stir to help him to a drop of water, though it were to save his life. There is no country on earth in wlich the sanction of an oath is less respected, and particularly amongst the Brahmans. That high caste is not ashamed to encourage falsehood, and even perjury, under certain circumstances, and to justify them openly; as vices, no doubt, when used for ordinary purposes, but as virtuous in the highest degree, when employed for the advantage of the caste.”
Of the Kurradee Brahmans the following is related in the Transactions of the Bombay Literary Society, from the pen of Sir John Malcolm : “As connected with the Dusrahs, by the festival being the period at which they were celebrated, I cannot refrain from mentioning the horrid human sacrifices (now, I hope, no longer in existence) formerly offered by the Kurradee Brahmans to the sactis at the close of this feast. I had often heard this sect accused of having made human sacrifices, and I asked my Brahman friend if it was true. “There is,' said he, ‘not the slightest doubt of it; and still more horrible, sometimes the victim is nearly connected with the person hy whom he is sacrificed to the infernal and sanguinary gods. These sacrifices,' continued he, 'were often made at Poonah, till put an end to by Balajee Badjerow.' He promised to note down for me all the particulars he knew; and I was soon presented with an account, of which the following is a literal translation :
" " The tribe of Brahmans called Kurradee had formerly a horrid custom
of annually sacrificing to their deities (sactis) a young Brahman. The sacti is supposed to delight in human blood, and is represented with three fiery eyes, and covered with red flowers. This goddess holds in one hand a sword, and in the other a battle-axe. The prayers of her votaries are directed to her during the first nine days of the Dusrah feast; and on the evening of the tenth day a grand repast is prepared, to which the whole family is invited. An intoxicating drug is contrived to be mixed with the food of the intended victim, who is often a stranger whom the master of the house has for several months, perhaps years, treated with the greatest kindness and attention ; and sometimes, to lull suspicion, gives him his daughter in marriage. As soon as the poisonous and intoxicating drug operates, the master of the house, unattended, takes the devoted person into the temple, leads him three times round the altar, and on his prostrating himself before
ferocious goddess, and then sprinkles it over her body; and a hole having been dug at the feet of the idol for the corpse, he deposits it with great care to prevent discovery. After the perpetration of this horrid act, the Kurradee Brahman returns to his family, and spends the night in mirth and revelry, convinced that by this praiseworthy act he has propitiated the favour of his bloodthirsty deity for twelve years. On the morning of the following day the corpse is taken from the hole in which it had been thrown, and the idol is deposited till the next Dusrah, when a similar sacrifice is made.'
“ The discontinuance of this horrid custom, however, of late years, is said principally to have arisen from the following circumstance. At Poonah a young and handsome Carnatic Brahman, fatigued with travel, and oppressed by the scorching heat of the sun, sat himself down in the verandah of a rich Brahman, who chanced to be of the Kurradee sect. The Brahman shortly after passing by, and perceiving that the youth was a stranger, kindly invited him to his house, and requested him to remain till perfectly recovered from the fatigues of his journey. The unsuspecting Brahman youth readily accepted this apparently kind invitation, and was for several days treated with so much attention and kindness that he shewed no inclination to depart. He had seen also the Kurradee Brahman's beautiful daughter, and conceived for her a violent attachment. Before a month had elapsed he asked and obtained her in marriage. They lived happily together till the time of the Dussarah's arrival, when the deceitful old Brahman, according to his original intention, determined to sacrifice his son-in-law to the goddess of his sect. Accordingly, on the tenth day of the feast he mixed an intoxicating poisonous drug in his victuals, not, however, unperceived by his daughter. She being passionately fond of her husband, contrived, unobserved, to exchange the dish with that of her brother, who in a short time became senseless. The unlucky father seeing the hapless state of his son, and despairing of his recovery, carried him to the temple, and with his own hands put him to death. This being perceived by the young Brahman, he asked his wife the meaning of so shocking and unnatural an action. She replied by informing him of his recent danger, and the particulars of the whole affair. Alarmed for his own safety, and desirous that justice should be inflicted on the cruel Brahman, he effected his escape, and repairing to the Peishwa, fell at his feet and related the whole affair. Orders were instantly given to seize every Kurradee Brahman in the city of Poonah, and particularly the infamous perpetrator of the horrible deed. He was, with a number of others similarly convicted, put to death; and all the sect were expelled the city, and strict injunctions laid on the inhabitants, to have, in future, as little connection with them as possible. By this well-timed severity (says my authority) Balajee Badjerow effectually prevented the recurrence of similar crimes, and the Kurradee Brahmans now content themselves with sacrificing a sheep or buffalo.”
To the inviolability of a Brahman, and to the sin which is attached to causing the death of one, in any way, may, according to Sir William Jones, be traced “the practice called dherna, which was formerly familiar at Benares, and may be translated caption or arrest. It is used by the Brahmans to gain a point which cannot be accomplished by any other means; and the process is as follows:- The Brahman who adopts this expedient for the purpose mentioned, proceeds to the door or house of the person against whom it is directed, or wherever he may most conveniently intercept him. He there sits down in dherna, with poison or a poignard, or some other instrument of suicide in his hand, and threatening to use it if his adversary should attempt to molest or pass him, he thus completely arrests him. In this situation the Brahman fasts; and by the rigor of the etiquette, which is rarely infringed, the unfortunate object of his arrest ought also to fast; and thus they both remain until the institutor of the dherna obtains satisfaction. In this, as he seldom makes the attempt without resolution to persevere, he rarely fails; for if the party thus arrested were to suffer the Brahman sitting in dherna to perish by hunger, the sin would for ever be upon his head. This practice has been less frequent of late years, but the interference of our courts have often proved insufficient to check it; as it has been deemed in general most prudent to avoid for this purpose the use of coercion, from an apprehension that the first appearance of it might drive the sitter in dherna to suicide. The discredit of the act would not only fall upon the officers of justice, but upon the government itself.
“ The practice of sitting in dherna is not confined to male Brahmans only, which the following instance will at once prove and exemplify: Beenoo Bhai, the widow of a man of the Brahminical tribe, had a litigation with her brother-in-law, Balkishen, which was tried by arbitration; and the trial and sentence were revised by the court of justice at Benares, and again in appeal. The suit of Beenoo involved a claim of property and
The decision was favourable to her, but not to the extent of her wishes, and she resolved therefore to procure by the expedient of the dherna, as above explained, what neither the award of arbitration nor the judicial decision had granted. In conformity to this resolution, Beenoo sat down in dherna on Balkishen; and he, after a perseverance of several days, apprehensive of her death, repaired with her to a Hindu temple in Benares, where they both continued to fast some time longer. Thirteen days had elapsed from the commencement of Balkishen's arrest, when he yielded