Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

sons of the Ganges, men who gain their livelihood by the offerings made by worshippers at the gháts of the sacred stream and at certain sacred pools in the city. There is a celebrated reservoir in Benares, where some forty thousand pilgrims, from all parts of India, annually present sacrifices to their ancestors, and bathe. Not more than five or six head-priests direct the religious ceremonies of this host. And it must be borne in mind that the ceremony, once performed, need never be repeated here; so that the pilgrims are renewed every year. It has been the custom, for several years past, for this tank to be visited, occasionally, by missionaries and native evangelists from the missions in the city, for the purpose of preaching to both priests and pilgrims. In this way several of the priests became well acquainted with Christianity, and also personally attached to ourselves. But I must confess that we were greatly astonished, one day, at receiving a visit from two head-priests, accompanied by some seven or eight disciples. These had come to the mission, professedly for the purpose of confessing their belief in Christianity, and of making arrangements for publicly abandoning Hinduism and embracing the true religion. I regard the circumstance as one of incalculable significance, as indicative of the influence which the Christian religion is exerting on the people, even on that class most difficult to reach and most wedded to superstition. Nor is its significancy at all diminished by the fact that not one of these persons persisted in his determination, and that all, startled by the obstacles in the way,—not raised by the missionaries, but entirely by themselves, -after a short interval, re

28

turned to their temples, and to their idolatrous practices, as before.

On the 24th of December, 1866, a lecture was delivered before the Benares Institute by a Hindu,---not a Christian, nor a member of the Brahmo Samáj,– named Pandit Lingam Lakshmají Pantlu Garu, private secretary to his Highness the Maharaja of Vizianagram, on "The Social Status of the Hindus,” in which some very remarkable statements were made on a great variety of topics connected with the social usages and inner life of his fellow-countrymen. It is, astonishing that a Brahman, before a company of Brahmans and others, forming the élite of native society in the holy city, should have had the courage to utter sentiments like the following, striking at the root of the prevalent philosophy and religion of the land. At page 27, the

Pandit says:

“Then we come to the Augean stables of our religion —the never failing source of all our misery, of all our demoralization, of all our deterioration, in short, of our ruin and fall. Our faith, as all of you are aware, is of two kinds, one idolatrous and the other monotheistic; yet both are so intermixed that it is impossible to treat of the one without touching the other. We ‘have, indeed, a trinity, to represent the creating, the preserving, and the destroying powers; and we are charitable enough to give to each of these gods a wife. Then we have the ten incarnations of the preserving power ... Then we have idolized and deified everything possible; giving, at the same time, with sedulous care, a wife to each god. This is the Puranic account of our popular faith. In

[graphic]

regard every idol we worship as the self-existent, eternal, Supreme Being, who is the cause of everything, and into whom everything is finally absorbed.

“Purity of personal character is nothing to many of us: the Gangá (Ganges) and our idols help us to heaven! But, sir, we are not free agents; what we do, we do prompted by the divine essence implanted in us. Yet we enjoy the fruits of our good acts, and suffer punishment for our sins! Our souls pass through a series of births, according to our actions, over which we have no control! If we do everything prompted by the implanted divine essence, and if unreasonably God punishes us for our sins, and rewards our merits, all by carrying our souls through a series of corporeal existences, then what need have we of a God ? Does not this throw us into the dark abyss of atheism? We do nothing of our. own accord, not even the act of worshipping our favourite idols! All this nonsense is the fruit of endless and superstitious priestcraft under which we groan."

Although, in the actual prosecution of Missionary labour, not only in Benares, but also in other places in India, there are many difficulties and discouragements to encounter, both in the opposition of idolaters, and in the not infrequent inconsistency of native Christians, yet the results are most extensive and extraordinary. Considering the small amount of money which has been expended, the limited means which have been employed, and the brief space of time which has elapsed since the Missionary enterprise was inaugurated in the sacred city, and bearing in mind, likewise, the stern fact that Christianity has there met with its

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »