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MORNING ON THE RIVER bringing passengers to the holy city from the unhallowed ground on the opposite shore, where no Hindu will care to die, for fear of being re-incarnated as an ass.
The light brightens as Ushas, the lovely dawnmaiden, beloved of the Vedic poets, clad in robes of saffron and rose-colour, throws open the doors of the sky. Now the details of the ghâts can be more clearly distinguished --the colossal flights of stone steps, great stone piers and wooden platforms jutting out into the sacred stream, dotted over with palm-leaf umbrellas, like gigantic toad-stools, under which the ghitiyas are sitting to render various services to the bathers—the countless spires of Hindu temples, dominated by the losty minarets of Aurangzib's mosque. At last, Surya, the Sun, appears, glowing with opal fire above the cloudy bars of night. The miasmatic mists, like evil spirits-the wicked Asuras--shrink and shrivel and vanish into thin air, as he pierces them through and through and Aings his victorious ray's across the river, lighting up the recesses of the cave-like shrines, flashing on the brass and copper vessels of the bathers and on the gilded metal flags and crescents which surmount the temples of Shiva. It seems, at first, as if the whole amphitheatre, about two miles in circuit, glittering in the sunlight, were one vast sun-temple: the priests, the Brahmins who are muttering the holiest of their mantras, the mysterious sun-invocation from the Rig Veda—the famous Gayatri —the priestesses, the
It has been translated as follows:-“Let us adore the light of the Divine Sun. May it enlighten our minds." But in Ilindu ritual a mystic significance has been atlached to it as a mantram especially addressed to the Supreme Soul—Brahman. It is said that Brahmâ composed it and taught it to Indra, who taught it to Yama; Yama taught it to Shira, who taught it to the Brahmins.
women whose saris repeat the colours of the dawn, fast fading now in the white light of day; the votiveofferings, the golden marigolds and rose-petals which are piled in baskets on the ghât steps, and float on the surface of the water.
But this is not the simple nature-worship of the early Aryan patriarchs, who three thousand years before recited their odes to Ushas, Surya, and Agni, lighted the sacred fire, and pressed the soma-juice on the banks of the Ganges. The smoke which ascends from Manikarnika Ghât is from the funeral pyres of dead Hindus. Two vultures in mid-stream are fighting over a carcass, perhaps the corpse of a sannyâsî which was thrown into the river a few days ago. It is Shiva, the Destroyer, the principle of Life in Death, who is now worshipped at Benares, under his symbol of the serpent and his phallic emblem, which appears in every temple and is piled in thousands in the shrines along the ghâts. And, truly, the whole scene presents a wonderful picture of the Hindu conception of the Divine essence: on every ghât an ever-changing multitude of men, women, and children; cattle sunning themselves on the steps, goats and monkeys climbing on the cornices of the temples; kites, pigeons, and parrots flying overhead—but, here, a corpse laid down by the water's edge; a young woman distracted, her head buried in her mother's lap, and three sad-eyed grand-dames, wrapped in widow's' saris, gazing dreamily into space. Yonder, the funeral pyres where three more corpses are already burning.
If we observe the bathers more closely, we can see that, besides the ordinary ablutions, many of them are performing mysterious rites of different kinds. Some
BATHING AND ABLUTIONS 95 are saluting the sun by splashing water towards it with both hands, or pouring out water from vessels of various shape, of brass, copper, and of a kind of cocoanut shell. Others take up water in the palms of their hands and pour it over the top of their heads. This is to free the body from the pollution of sins. Again, others, wearing the sacred upavita, or Brahminical thread, will first change it from the right shoulder to the left, and then, taking up water in the right hand, they will let it fall over their extended fingers. Next, placing the thread on their necks, they will let the water run over the side of the hand, between the thumb and bent forefinger. These are rites addressed to the Devas and Rishis—the gods and the sages. Many are counting the beads of their rosaries, muttering some mysterious formulary, others are rubbing their bodies with ashes from the sacrificial fire, or putting the symbol of Shiva or Vishnu on their foreheads. Here you will see a Brahmin performing what is known as “the exercise of breathing" (prânâyama). Stopping the right nostril with the thumb, he expels the breath through the left. Then he inhales through the left nostril, and compressing it inhales through the
A SANNYâsi's WATER-VESSEL
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY right. Finally he stops inspiration completely with thumb and forefinger, and holds his breath as long as he can. You will see him later on cover his right hand with his cloth, or thrust it into a red bag. He
then begins to make symbolic signs with his fingers and thumb to represent the ten incarnations of Vishnu..The words he is muttering in undertones, lest the uninitiated or low-caste should overhear, are mantras, sacred texts and formulas, passages from the Vedas, the names or attri. bytes of deities repeated in various ways; or invocations to the Supreme Being in his endless manifestations, prefixed by the mystic syllable AUM, representing the Hindu trinity – Brahmâ, the Creator, Vishnu, the Preserver, and Shiva, the Destroyer, or the three worlds—Earth, Air, and Heaven. All these complicated cere·monies form part of the Brahmin's sandhya, the form of prayer which he is enjoined to repeat three times daily--in the morning, at mid-day, and in the evening. But the sandhya is something more than prayer.
It is a spiritual exercise which is believed A SHIVAITE to free 'the individual · human soul from ROSARY
earthly. contaminations, to place it in direct relation with the super-physical world, and to prepare it for the ultimate goal of all Hindu ritual—meditation. These rites and mantras, according to Hindu theories, are based on the science of the worlds invisible; but to attain the desired end they must be performed with absolute exactitude. Every mantra, every movement,