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BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
however, between them and their prototypes, that a very large proportion of Sådhus become devotees more from want of other means of livelihood, or from the attractions of a life which commands universal respect among Indian people, than from the promptings of a deep religious feeling. The decay of the old village handicrafts, largely due to want of proper technical instruction, has greatly helped to swell their numbers. It has been estimated that there are about five millions of them in India, of whom about seventy-five per cent are wholly illiterate.
It is a strange and sad sight, an encampment of these wild-looking mendicants, sometimes accompanied by small children, who, like themselves, are smeared with ashes, and observe all the forins of the sect to which they are attached. There are many different sects of Sådhus, distinguished by the mark on their foreheads and by the symbols they carry with them. Shivaite devotees are generally indicated by three horizontal lines across the forehead, drawn with sacred ashes. They wear round their necks the rosary of rudra berries, and carry with them some of the emblems of Shiva, such as a lingam, a human skull, a trisula or trident, a drum, and perhaps a tiger's skin. The sectarial marks of the followers of Vishnu are nearly all perpendicular in direction, or converging towards the root of the nose, over which there is generally a central line or dot. Their rosary is made of beads, or rough sections of the stem of the tulasi plant, and they carry about with them the sacred symbols of Vishnu, the salagram stone, the white conch shell, and the discus, the emblem of the sun.
The Sådhus mostly spend their time wandering from
monastery to monastery, and from shrine to shrinethrough the country where Râma and Sitâ wandered in their exile, the places where Krishna was born, where he passed his childhood, sported with Radha and the milkmaids, and where he slew the demons which oppressed mankind. They will visit the battle-field of the Mahâbhârata, and places made sacred by the Pândava heroes, holy shrines in every part of India, and even penetrate beyond, into Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and Tibet. The armlets and necklets they wear are tokens of the pilgrimages they have made—a white conch-shell indicates the great temple of Râmêswaram in the extreme south; armlets of iron, brass, and copper, the three Himalayan shrines of Pasupatinath, Kedarnath, and Badrinath.
The Sådhus who come in contact with Europeans do not generally give an impression of earnestness or piety. They are not above a certain vanity in the correctness of their peculiar toilet, which they perform punctiliously with the aid of a mirror, and are evidently flattered by the interest they excite. They are very ostentatious in the performance of their religious duties while they are conscious of being observed, but are much addicted to intoxicating drugs, and have not a high reputation for morality or respect for the law.
But there are undoubtedly many Sådhus who, besides being learned in the ordinary sense, have the breadth of culture which extensive travelling has given them, and live up to the Indian ideal of a holy life. Sometimes they will devote themselves to collecting money for a religious purpose, such as for the repair or building of a temple. A great deal of the real Indian art 146
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
which is unnoticed by Europeans and ignored by the official administration is kept alive in this way. The faith of the genuine Sådhu often shows itself in extreme fanaticism. It is not an uncommon event for one of them, in a state of religious ecstasy, to throw himself into the sacred lake of Pushkar, near Ajmere, to be devoured by the crocodiles, or perhaps jump from a Himalayan precipice. The most tragic end of all, is of those who set themselves to follow that journey of the great Pândava heroes, when, tired of life, they started forth towards Indra's paradise beyond the Himalayan snows, dropping one by one on the way, until Yudhishthira alone was received at the gates of Swarga. Even so the Sådhu, following Yudhishthira's footsteps, will start forth on that last great pilgrimage, toiling on and on until he reaches those mighty snowclad peaks, and is lost to mortal sight for ever.
We will continue on our way down the ghâts, passing Baji Rao Ghât and Ghôsla Ghât, where there are two imposing buildings built by the owner, the Raja of Nagpur. Next we get to Ram Ghât, one of the long stretches of the river bank which are not lined with masonry steps. Wherever these occur we shall probably see some of the low-caste dôms digging in the mud for treasure, in the shape of ornaments, small idols, or sacrificial vessels, which are afterwards brought to the bazaar for sale. Ram Ghât is named in honour of the hero of the Râmâyana, who is worshipped as one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. .
Here a follower of Vishnu has established himself with a shrine containing a small museum of brass and copper images, odd stones and shells, and symbols of the deity. Next to him, in front of a small stone