Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

the fanatics of the Yoga school, who go through all kinds of fearful bodily tortures to attain this end, are too well known to need description, but among the exercises which are not performed in public, except in very special circumstances, is one by which, according to the sacred books of the Hindus, the Yogi, in a kind of trance, can overcome the law of gravity and remain suspended, or seated in the air, at a lower or higher altitude, according to the force of the Yogic power he may have acquired. Educated Indians of the present day consider these extraordinary attainments as beyond the reach of this materialistic age, but there are a few sannyâsin at Benares who pretend to possess them. I have never succeeded in persuading any of them to submit to a test which would satisfy scepticism; but in 1887, when presiding over the celebration of the Queen Victoria jubilee, at a remote village in the Kurnool district of Madras, I saw a performance by a Yogi, held in great respect in the neighbourhood, who as a special favour had consented to exhibit his powers in public to honour the occasion. He placed himself behind a curtain, and when it was drawn, the Yogi was seen, as if in a trance, apparently poised in the air, several feet above the ground, cross-legged and absolutely motionless. He remained in this position for perhaps fifteen minutes, when the curtain was again drawn in front of him.

A case is recorded in the Asiatic Monthly Journal for March, 1829, and referred to by Sir Monier Williams in his Indian Wisdom, in which a Brahmin created some excitement in Madras, and exhibited himself before the Governor, apparently poised in the air, for forty minutes. But neither did this Yogi, nor

AS S

CCO

118

BENARES, THE SACRED CITY

the one who honoured the Queen Victoria jubilee in a similar fashion, dispense with the screen, which to ordinary intelligences gives an unfortunate aspect of conjuring to the performance.

Proceeding up the river, the next ghất of interest is

CARVED SNAKES AT CHAUKI GHÂT

Chauki Ghât, where, under a fine old pippal-tree, there is a small shrine and a great number of old carved stones, some of snakes, twined together like Mercury's caduccus, with the lingam placed between. The worship of snakes, especially as emblems of the Earth Goddess, is one of the most ancient of Indian cults, CHAUKI AND BURNING GHÂTS

119

and these stones, together with some fine figure-sculptures let into the upright face of the platform which surrounds the tree, are probably relics of the early Buddhist period.

The pippal ( ficus religiosa) has been associated with the religious ceremonies of the Hindus from the earliest Vedic times. Its wood was used in the making of the drill which produced the sacred fire of Agni, and for various sacrificial vessels. Philosophers and holy men in all ages have chosen its leafy shade as a fit place for meditation. Among Buddhists it is especially venerated as the Bodhi tree --the tree of wisdom-under which their great leader obtained enlightenment. In popular imagination it is regarded as the Brahmin among trees. In southern India it is sometimes invested with the sacred cord of the Brahmins, and with the same ceremonies as used by them. The banyan-tree, another kind of fig, is frequently seen growing next to the pippal, and receives almost equal veneration.

Beyond Chauki Ghât is the burning ghât of the southern part of the city. Close by it, in a stone cell raised high above the ghất, lives a sannyâsî of the Aghori sect, the name of which, meaning “horrible", sufficiently indicates their ideas. The Aghoris give an extreme interpretation to the Vedantic doctrine of the Universal Soul. As all things proceed from and are part of Brahman, nothing, they argue, is really impure, and they are prepared to prove the strength of their convictions by eating everything commonly considered abominable, even putrid corpses. It must be said, however, that the revolting practices com:

* Dubois, Vol. II, Beauchamp's edition, p 660. .

120

120

BENARES, THE SACRED CITY

.

monly attributed to the Aghoris do not seem to be committed by the black-robed ascetic devoutly reading at this ghất, who bestows his blessing on the prying

[ocr errors][merged small]

tourist, but contemptuously refuses to accept any of the usual bakshish.

Near his cell is a suttee stone of unusually elaborate construction, on which is carved with much quaint grace and feeling a youthful couple who shared the funeral pyre together at this ghất. The husband has one arm affectionately clasped round the neck of his unfortunate bride.

KEDARNATH GHÂT

121

Kedarnath Ghât, which is immediately above this burning ghât, is named after Shiva's shrine of Kedarnath, high up among the Himalayan glaciers, and one of the most sacred places of Hindu pilgrimage. Here there is nothing to suggest the grandeur of the Hima

[graphic][merged small]

layan snows, the noble deodars, “the tree of the gods", and the beauty of the wild flowers; only a plain temple crowns the lofty pile of steps, and a small reservoir of dirty water, alive with myriads of frogs. The latter goes by the name of Gauri-kund, the tank of Gauri—another name of Durgâ, the wife of Shiva and is supposed to possess all sorts of healing virtues.

Sess

« PreviousContinue »