Page images
[blocks in formation]

habiliments of the people. Not a trace of that element is to be discovered for many miles around. The mountain-torrents draining the tract leave off their beds after the rains. There occur no fens and marshes, as in the sea-level districts of Lower Bengal. Cranes and herons are birds unknown here. In the whole serai is a single well. The crowd round this well presents an animated scene. Groups of tall Beharee women pass and

repass there the whole day with pitchers on their heads. Their foreheads are painted with vermilion, and adorned with rows of coins and beads. One or two of them might not be unworthy of a reputation for beauty.

Nearly a whole poultry was killed this morning to get up our breakfast—the sacrifice well chiming with the ceremonies of this Hindoo Nobomce-Poojah day. Beyond the mountains and deserts that separate us, our relatives and friends are sacrificing goats and buffaloes to Doorga; we here are imitating Socrates in paying off the debt of fowls.

The arrival of a doctor had got bruited in the serai. As we sat on a charpoy, enjoying the luxury of a leisurely smoke at the hooka after breakfast, a man made his appearance with a little boy on his arms. The poor child, hardly two years old, was turned sallow, and wasted with a fever almost to the very bones. He had several amulets and spells hanging from his neck. No pains had been spared to treat the boy with all the medicines in the pharmacopeia of the local peasantry. The doctor, patiently listening to the long tale of the father, examined the boy, and, after making the dia


gnosis, was sorry to have only a few grains of quinine to spare to the boy.

There are about two hundred shops and huts in the serai, all facing each other in two long rows on the two sides of the road. The population is some three to four hundred souls. You are now in Behar, and hardly observe a man with a bare head, or hear anybody speak a word of the Bengalee language. Poverty of food easily accounts for the ill-developed growth of the men living in this mountainous clime. From a failure of

. the rains, they express grave apprehensions of a famine. Coarse rice, wheat, pulse, raw sugar, and one or two kinds of vegetable, are all the items in the commissariat of this bazar,

Outwardly, the Goolsukree and Lelajan are now quite dry streams. But an under-current always per

. colates their sandy beds. Four or five years ago the bridge over the Lelajan went down by the weight of a large number of pilgrims passing over it to Juggernauth, and to this day it is remaining in its broken state. The Lelajan is better known to the Hindoo under the name of Fulgoo. The banished Rama, with Seeta and Luchmun, had retired to a spot upon its bank. One day, when the two brothers had gone out to the forest in search of fruit, a voice from heaven warned their deceased father to make haste to Swerga, or otherwise the gates of that blessed region would be fast barred and bolted against his approach. In all haste the spirit of Rajah Dasarath repaired to the spot where his sons lived in exile. Finding them away Legend of the River Lelajan.


from home, he requested Seeta to do the needful in their absence. The daughter-in-law hesitated to officiate in the duty of her husband. She, moreover, pleaded the absolute want of the wherewithal to perform the ceremony. But Dasarath urged the jeopardy of his beatitude as the consequence of delay, and enjoined Seeta to offer a pind (funeral cake) of sand in lieu of rice. She kept as witnesses the river Fulgoo, a Brahmin, a toolsee plant, and a banyan tree, to justify her proceedings under a necessity that admitted of no procrastination. On the return of the brothers, Seeta related to them the adventure of their father. But Rama disbelieving her, she called upon Fulgoo to bear its testimony. The river kept mute, and was cursed to lose its stream. The Brahmin and the toolsee plant, failing to give a faithful evidence, were respectively doomed—the one to be a mendicant, and the other to suffer from the urinary abomination of dogs and cats. The banyan tree alone confirmed the truth of Seeta's story, and was blessed to have a long life and perennial vigour. Originally the Lelajan was a sacred river of the Buddhists, on account of Buddha's ablutions in that stream. It is identified with the ‘Nirajuna’ of the Thibetan Buddhists. But on the triumph of the Brahmins, the Pouranic authors claimed it as a holy river of their own, and connected it with fables, the invention of which has effaced all remembrance of its previous Buddhistical sanctity. Here and there, in the dry bed of the stream, are small pools of limpid water. Howbeit, its extra-aqueous properties, its immediate benefit


of a delicious beverage in a hot sun, are beyond question.

Towards Shergotty the road is lined with trees. Literally interpreted, Shergotty means the Tiger Pass. Fifty years ago travellers had to hire tom-tom men to keep off the tigers infesting the road. The town stands on a narrow slip of land separating the Boodiah from the Morhur. Compared with the desolate hill-tracts, this is a swarming hive of men. It is on this side of the hills, as Raneegunge is on the other. But it is not, like Raneegunge, a young town just emerging from its teens. It is an aged centenarian, bowed down with the weight of years and calamities, and with but a slight

a prospect of having new life and vigour breathed into it again. Its foundation dates, we think, from an early epoch. The place may have existed in the time of Ajata Satru, of Buddha, and of Asoca, though it is now difficult to ascertain the name by which it was then known. It may happen to be traced in Fa Hian, under a curious Chinese orthography. Shergotty was a large, populous, and flourishing town in the time of the Patan governors of Behar. Mention is made of it in the route of Meer Jumla to Rajmahal, when that Mogul general had been sent to attack Prince Shooja. The only remains of its antiquity are a few tombs and mosques. It is now slowly recovering from the effects of the depopulation in the great famine of 1770. Marks of that terrible calamity are borne even yet by the surrounding country, which is in a state of jungle.

From Shergotty, as from the centre of a radius,

Shergotty,—the Gayalese.



diverge roads towards Calcutta, Hazareebaugh, Benares, and Gaya. The last place is a journey only of twenty miles. Gaya is Fa Hian's 'Kia-ye. It is famous for the Hindoo Vishnupud. The great strength of the Gaya-Asura is but a figurative allusion to the great strength of the Buddhistic sect; and the story of all the divinities failing to subdue the monster till he was put down by the weight of Vishnu's foot is evidently an allegory of the final triumph of the Vishnuvites over the Buddhists, Brahminites, Shivites, and other sects. The Vishnupud is a rival counterpart of the

. impression of Buddha's foot--and Gaya and BoodhGaya, in each other's proximity, point out the alternate predominance of the antagonistic sects. The Vishnupud had been set up prior to Fa Hian's visit.

It is very singular with the Gayalese, that their widowers are barred the privilege of wiving after the death of their first wife, as Hindoo widows are barred the privilege of taking a husband after the death of their first lord. This is certainly putting the neck in the halter of one's own choice. It is man who has always played the tyrant over woman.

Civilized Asia, as well as civilized Europe, has in all ages treated

as the tendril, and man the tree, and taken advantage of the weaker sex to place her under a yoke of restriction. The custom of the Gayalese is without a precedent. It savours of the celibacy of the Buddhaio priests. The Gayalese may be regarded as demi-Brahmins and demi-Buddhists—Brahminical by birth and faith and Buddhistical by manners and customs.



« PreviousContinue »