Изображения страниц
PDF

to the Brahmans and witnesses present her resolution to burn. As the family was of no small consideration, all the merchants of Cossimbazar, and her relations, left no arguments unessayed to dissuade her from it. Lady Russel, with the tenderest humanity, sent her several messages to the same purpose. The infant state of her children (two girls and a boy, the eldest not four years of age), and the terrors and pain of the death she sought, were painted to her in the strongest and most lively colouring : she was deaf to all. She gratefully thanked Lady Russel, and sent her word she had now nothing to live for, but recommended her children to her protection. When the torments of burning were urged in terrorem to her, she, with a resolved and calm countenance, put her finger into the fire, and held it there aconsiderable time : she then with one hand put fire into the palm of the other, sprinkled incense upon it and fumigated the Brahmans. The consideration of her children left destitute of a parent was again urged to her. She replied, “ he that made them would take care of them.” She was at last given to understand she should not be permitted to burn. This for a short space seemed to give her deep affliction; but soon recollecting herself, she told them death was in her power, and that if she was not allowed to burn according to the principles of her caste, she would starve herself. Her friends, finding her thus peremptory and resolved, were obliged at last to assent.

' “ The body of the deceased was carried down to the water side early the following morning: the widow followed about ten o’clock, accompanied by three very principal Brahmans, her children, parents, and relations, and a numerous concourse of people. The order of leave for her burning did not arrive from Hosseyn Khan, Fouzdar of Moorshedabad, until after one, and it was then brought by one of the Soubah’s own officers, who had orders to see that she burnt voluntarily. The time they waited for the order was employed in praying with the Brahmans and washing in the Ganges. As soon I as it arrived she retired, and stayed for the space of half an hour in the midst of her female relations, amongst whom was her mother. She then divested herself of her ‘bracelets and other ornaments, and tyed them in a cloth which hung like an apron before her, and was conducted vby her

[ocr errors]

female relations to one corner of the pile. On the pile was an arched arbour, formed of dry sticks, boughs, and leaves, open only at one end to admit her entrance: in this the body of the deceased was deposited, his head at the end opposite to the opening. At the corner of the pile to which she had been conducted, the Brahman had made a small fire, round which she and the three Brahmans sat for some minutes. One of them gave into her hands a leaf of the bali tree (the wood commonly consecrated to form part of the funeral pile) with sundry things on it, which she threw into the fire : one of the others gave her a second leaf, which she held over the flame, whilst he dropped three times some ghee (clarified butter) upon it, which melted and fell into the fire (these two operations were preparatory symbols of her approaching dissolution by fire); and whilst they were performing this, the third Brahman read to her, and asked her some questions, to which she answered with a steady and serene countenance ; but the noise was so great we could not understand what she said, although we were within a yard of her. These over, she was led with great solemnity three times round the pile, the Brahmans reading before her. When she came the third time to the small fire she stopped, took the rings of!‘ her toes and fingers and put them to her other ornaments. Here she took a solemn majestic leave of her children, parents, and relations: after which one of the Brahmans dipped a large wick of cotton in some ghee, and gave it ready lighted into her hand, and led her to the open side of the arbour. There all the Brahmans fell at her feet. After she had blessed them they retired weeping. By two steps she ascended the pile and entered the arbour. On her entrance she made a profound reverence at the feet of the deceased, and advanced and seated herself by his head. She looked in silent meditation on his face for the space of a minute, then set fire to the arbour in three places. Observing that she had set fire to leeward, and that the flames blew from her, instantly seeing her error, she rose, and set fire to windward, and resumed her station. Ensign Daniel, with his cane, separated the grass and leaves on the windward side, by which means we had a distinct view of her as she sat. With what dignity and undaunted a countenance she set fire to the pile the last time and assumed her seat, can

only be conceived, for words cannot convey a just idea of her. The pile being of combustible matters, the supporters of the roof were presently consumed and it tumbled upon her.”

Let it not be supposed that this instance of female magnanimity, if this unappalled contempt of death may be so considered, is an uncommon one, as the reverse is the case: but the better feelings of our nature cannot be the less interested, in consequence, to witness the downfall of a superstition which can create such an unshrinking self-devotedness, and make martyrs of beings, whose minds, had they been properly directed, might have formed them to appear among the loveliest and most exemplary ornaments of society.

I now turn me to a different picture, drawn with many others of a similar stamp by the Reverend Missionary Ward; which various other authorities before me, as well as my own local inquiries, oblige me to say is not unfrequent. Probably the excess of violence instanced in this case may be (and it must be hoped is) so: but that a moral, and too often a more positive coercion, to overcome the last lingering love of life has been practised, is unquestionable.

“ Bancha-ramu (says the reverend gentleman), a native of Mujil-poora, a place about a day’s journey from Calcutta, dying, his wife went to be burnt with the body. All the previous ceremonies were performed: she was fastened on the pile, and the fire was kindled; but the night was dark and rainy. When the fire began to scorch this poor woman, she contrived to disentangle herself from the dead body, and creeping from under the pile hid herself among ‘some brushwood. In a little time it was discovered that there was only one body on the pile. The relations immediately took the alarm and searched for the poor wretch. The son soon dragged her forth, and insisted that she should throw herself on the pile again, or hang or drown herself. She pleaded her life at the hands of her own son, and declared that she could not embrace so horrid a death : but she pleaded in vain. The son urged that he should lose his caste,’ and that, therefore,

' This, I imagine, must have been an empty threat; as it does not any where appear, that I am aware of, that a loss of caste can attach itself to the relative of a party so acting.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

he would die or she should. ' Unable to persuade her, the son and others present then tied her hands and feet, and threw her on the funeral pile, when she quickly perished."

We have here two opposite pictures of this abominable rite; but both equally faithful, and equally tending to the same melancholy result. We have, therefore, only to hope that the humane interference of the Indian Government will not be exercised in vain. Certain, I think, we may be, that all which can with safety be done will be done. But let not the ardent and benevolent advocates of this measure, as well as for the suppression of infanticide, and of the other infatuations and horrid practices of the Hindus, untimely press them with too great a degree of fervour, lest their zeal should kindle a flame no less dreadful in its operations, and more extensive in its consequences, than that of the funeral pile. Temper, perseverance, firmness, and a gradual and judicious diffusion of knowledge, will be the wisest, as well as the safest weapons, with which we can combat all opposition to the destruction of this monstrous heap of the abominations of priestcraft, feudal pride, and superstition. If, which heaven forbid, we should determine to crush, summarily, those monstrous practices by other means, we should, in all probability, only rivet firmer chains which we would seek to break, and perpetuate evils, which prudence and judgment might convert into blessings that would encircle the name of Britain with a brighter halo than all the splendour of her power, or the glory of her conquests and renown.

As regards the Suttee, under the Mahomedan government, a Hindu woman was not allowed to burn herself without an official order of leave; and under our own, the same practice has been observed, but with, I believe, still stronger restrictions. To withhold permission has been by both (till lately, as before-mentioned, by us) considered dangerous; as it has been imagined that an act of that nature would be deemed by the Hindus an atrocious and outrageous violation of their most sacred rites and privileges. The attempt has, however, now, for the first time, been made, not only to disallow, but peremptorily to suppress the rite. It need only be

added, that the prayers of the good and wise of every nation and every faith must attend it for success.

Among the J arejahs, women of rank seldom burn on the funeral pile of deceased husbands. This rite is left to their rackelis or mistresses, several of whom sometimes perform suttee with the body of their lord.

Under the head of the funeral pile may be noticed a johéré, or grand funeral pyre, on which the whole are consumed. Major Tod, in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, illustrates it in the following interesting anecdote.

“ Hammir Chahamana, prince of Rin-tham-bhor, gave asylum to a noble of the great Allzi-uddin, when disgraced by his sovereign, who assumed the name of Sikander Séni, or Second Alexander, and who scarcely yielded to him in the rapidity of his conquests. Called on to surrender his supplicant, Hammir thus gives him assurance of protection : ‘ The sun will rise in the west; the sandal-tree be changed into the thorny thi’ir; the streams will cease to flow; Suméru* become level with the earth; the pledge of Parasu-rama be a bye-word, ere Hammir fails in his faith. The walls of Rin-tham-bhor shall fall, and my head be crushed in their ruin; but, till these things occur, security is thine.’ Hammir did fall in defending his guest. On which occasion the grand sacrifice of the

johara was performed, when all the females were immolated, and the males rushed on the destruction which they could not avert.”

LINGA and YONI.

The Linga is the symbol of the regenerator Siva, synonymous with, but divested of the gross appearance of, the Phallic emblem of the Greeks, worshipped by the Saivas. '

Of the origin of the mystic worship of the Linga and the Yom' little appears to be understood. It may be presumed to have been nature, under

" The mountain Meru.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »