Page images


(From an old Indian picture)

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a drawing of Ravana which Sitâ had scrawled on the floor while conversing with her handmaids about her captivity. Sitâ was banished to the forest, where she gave birth to two sons, Lava and Kusha, who were brought up by the hermit Valmiki. They were recognized by Hanuman as the sons of Râma. According to one version, Sitâ and her sons then returned to Ayodhya and passed the rest of her days in happiness with her husband; but another story is that the boys wandered into Ayodhya accidentally, and were recognized and acknowledged by Râma, who sent for Sitâ, and in public assembly called upon her to attest her innocence.

Sitâ in an agonized appeal invokes her Mother Earth to come to her aid and be witness of her purity. “Then the earth was rent and parted, and a golden throne arose; Held aloft by jewelled Någas as the leaves enfold the rose, And the mother in embraces held her spotless, sinless child."

Sitâ sank back into the earth, and Râma in despair sacrificed himself in the river Sarayu.

Mr. Romesh Chandra Dutt, whose abridged English translation I have quoted, says of the Mahâbhârata and Râmâyana: “It is not an exaggeration to say that the two hundred millions of Hindus of the present day cherish in their hearts the story of their ancient epics. The Hindu scarcely lives, man or woman, high and low, educated or ignorant, whose earliest recollections do not cling round the story and the characters of the great epics. An almost illiterate oil - manufacturer of Bengal spells out some modern translation of the Mahâbhârata to while away his leisure hour. The tall and stalwart peasantry of the north



[blocks in formation]


[ocr errors]

west know of the five Pandav brothers and of their friend the righteous Krishna. ... The morals inculcated in these tales sink into the hearts of a naturally religious people, and form the basis of their moral education.”

The sentiment of hero-worship is still as strong in the Hindu mind as it was three thousand years ago, and the philosophy of Hinduism finds nothing unreasonable in according divine honours to a man, woman, or child, alive or dead, who is considered to have manifested in some special sense the nature of the supreme soul which is believed to be a part of every individual.

The extremes to which this doctrine can be pushed by Hindus of the present day is described by Mr. H. H. Risley in the report of the last census:

“Priests and priestesses, pious ascetics and successful dacoits, Indian soldiers of fortune and British men of action, bridegrooms who met their death on their wedding day and virgins who died unwed, jostle each other in a fantastic Walpurgis dance, where new performers are constantly joining and old ones seldom go out. ...

"In 1884 Keshub Chandra Sen, the leader of the Brahmo Somaj, narrowly escaped something closely resembling deification at the hands of a section of his disciples. A revelation was said to have been received enjoining that the chair used by him during his life should be set apart and kept sacred, and the legal member of the Viceroy's council was invited to arbitrate in the matter. Sir Courtenay Ilbert discreetly refused 'to deal with testimony of a kind inadmissible in a court of justice'. ... Sivaji, the founder of the

DEIFICATION OF HEROES Mahratta confederacy, has a temple and image in one of the bastions of the fort at Malvan in the Ratnagiri district, and is worshipped by the caste of fishermen. This seems to be a local cult imperfectly developed, as there are no priests and no regular ritual. ... Portraits of Yashvantrao, a subordinate · revenue officer in Khandesh, who ruined himself by promiscuous alms - giving and sacrificed his official position to his reluctance to refuse the most impossible requests, are worshipped to-day by thousands of devout householders. Far down in the south of India I have come across cheap lithographs of a nameless Bombay ascetic, the Swami of Akalkot in Sholapur, who died about twenty years ago. In life the Swami seems to have been an irritable saint, for he is said to have pelted with stones any ill-advised person who asked questions about his name and antecedents. As he was reported to be a Mutiny refugee, he may have had substantial reasons for guarding his incognito. He is now revered from the Deccan to Cape Comorin as Dattatreya, a sort of composite incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and has a temple and monastery of his own.”

It should be stated, however, that the original Dattatreya, who has gained so much veneration, is not the Swami of Akalkot, but a much older saint, or previous incarnation, who is said to have been a son of one of the Vedic Rishis..

« PreviousContinue »