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BATHING AND ABLUTIONS
even the order and sequence of each ceremonial act, have their proper mystical significance. A wrong word, mispronunciation or false intonation, an error in. the order or manner of the performance will vitiate the efficacy of the whole and bring mislortune on the performer. Hence the intense earnestness and absorption with which the bathers go through these ceremonies. Their usual curiosity at the sight of a European stranger is entirely suppressed; they seem not to see the passing boats or to heed the inquisitive traveller. Daily on the banks of the Ganges the pious Brahmin, who observes the strict rule of the twice-born caste, fullls with the most scrupulous exactitude the prescribed order and detail of his sandhya, laid down by traditions jealously guarded through thousands of years. Then with mind and body thus prepared, folding his yellow robe about him, he will sit like a living Buddha motionless on the edge of the sacred river, with closed eyes and an expression of profound tranquillity on his face, absorbed in meditation on the Supreme Soul, Brahman, the Only Reality—THAT WHICH IS.
It is not to be supposed that every bather goes through the complicated ritual which I have just described, or that every Hindu on the banks of the Ganges takes the high spiritual-stand-point of the philosophic Brahmin. Almost every sect and caste of Hinduism are represented among the thousands of worshippers, differing in race, language, and customs, who daily throng the ghâts. Many are simple, ignorant peasants, coming on a pilgrimage to the sacred city, who go through the traditional form of sandhya adopted by their caste, or only repeat a mantra, or
100 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY mystic formula, prescribed for them by their Brahmin gurus, acting as their spiritual physicians. Others, again, are there in fulfilment of a vow, or to cleanse themselves by bathing from some ceremonial pollution. High-caste and low-caste, Brahmin and Sudra, bathe side by side, for the holy Ganges, descending from heaven and falling over Shiva's brow, not only effaces caste distinctions, but affords a panacea for most of the ills, bodily and spiritual, which afflict the distressed Hindu. The water is taken: in brass and copper vessels for use in the endless ceremonies of the household, for sprinkling on holy shrines, or for drinking. It is carried away by pilgrims in sealed jars to their distant homes, for a few drops of the precious liquid on a dying man's lips have all the virtues of the sacred stream itself. Bathing in the Ganges is a part of many domestic ceremonies. You may observe a young couple, lately married, entering the water hand in hand, a corner of the bride's sari tied to the bridegroom's cloth; or perhaps, a gray-haired pair, who thus, celebrate an anniversary, or return thanks for recovery from illness—praying that in their next incarnations on earth they may be happily united once again.
Happy is the Hindu who dies in Benares, for he is transported at once to Shiva's Himalayan paradise, on Mount Kailasa, north of Lake Mânasa, where the great three-eyed ascetic, seeing the past, the present, and the future, sits in profound meditation—the type of spiritual power gained by restraint of bodily passions. To win this easy passport to heaven, old men and women, who have left the world behind them, come to spend their last days within the boundaries