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miraculous events.

There was no fourth entrance. The temple itself,
or main pagoda, stood before the fourth wall, and,
together with its many appendages, occupied nearly
the whole of the court on that side of the pool.



THE TEMPLE 19

From three sides of the sacred pool the surplus
water was allowed to escape through flood gates the
stream where Duncan had seen the girl being supplied
by one of them.

There was a legend that far back in time there had
been a fourth outlet, but evil things were said about
it, and its history had long been lost in myth.

Outside the court walls, and some distance away
there was a treacherous-looking pool in a deep hollow.
This hollow was by no means inconsiderable, but so
thickly was the upper part of it surrounded by trees
and undergrowth that people often passed close by it
without even suspecting its existence.

It was generally considered that this was supplied
by the lost stream. But the people were prevented
from looking for its source by a prophecy which said
that he who found it should find the way to death.
And as Hindus are easily frightened by the mysterious,
and as none was eager to find the way to death, the
hollow was carefully avoided by those who were aware
of its existence, and the pool itself remained a mystery.

There was another important feature about this
evil-looking spot. Although apparently unconnected
with the temple, those who were officially in touch
with the latter held that it was temple property, and
an oracle through which Shiva condescended at times
to make known his will.

On three sides, marble steps ascended from the base
of the central gopuram to a deep colonnade. To reach
the entrance of the temple it was necessary to climb
the steps and then pass under the colonnade. The
entrance stood immediately above the flight of steps
that ran down into the sacred pool, and opened into
a small chamber called the Garbhaliam the secret
residence of the god.

The only things worthy of notice inside the garb-
haliam were a Buddha-like idol apparently representing
the god Shiva, a female figure as Durga his wife, the



20 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

favourite Lingam of the Shivites, a few immoral scenes
carved upon the dirty walls, a thurible containing
incense, and some mud saucers for burning-wicks.
The little chamber regarded as the holy of holies of
Shivite worshippers was low, dark and dingy, with
no claim to art or beauty, and without any of the
soul-inspiring features which one usually associates
with sacred spots. The place was so small that it
could not have provided sufficient shelter for more
than half a dozen people at one and the same time.

There was a legend, more or less connected with
this temple, which runs as follows : A girl of the hill-
tribe was to be married, but as yet a suitable spouse
had not been found for her. She was therefore con-
ducted in state down to the temple, in order that she
might beg Durga, the wife of Shiva, to grant her a
good husband. The goddess refused to hear her ; so
in despair she turned to Shiva himself, and persisted
so entreatingly that at last the god determined to take
her to himself. He, therefore, snatched the maid up
while she was performing her puja, and carried her
to one of the highest points of her native hills, where
he married her. Proofs of this marriage are still
preserved in the smaller temple built on the spot
where the marriage was consummated.

Thus the temple and its history were shrouded in
myth, miracles and mysteries, and, in consequence,
was the most famous of its kind in that part of the
country, and seldom failed to attract large multitudes
of devotees during its great festivals. As regards the
priests and leading worshippers of the temple, these
were all that is in so far as they were initiated into
the rites Vamacharins, left-hand worshippers, fol-
lowers of the goddess rather than the god, who aim
at acquiring magical and mystical powers by the use
of mantras and yantras, or charms and incantations,
and are the adherents of the most immoral practices
of Saivism.



CHAPTER III THE SANNYASI

THE fourth and last earthly state into which a perfect
Brahmin should enter, according to the directions of
the Hindu Sastras, is that of a Sannyasi or Ascetic.
Consequently, India is more or less overrun with
would-be ascetics.

Most of these pretended Sannyasis are flagrant
frauds disguised dacoits, murderers, refugees from
justice, sellers of charms, love philtres and strange
medicines, or sycophants, panderers, and extortioners
while others are little more than interesting maniacs.
Nevertheless it is possible, here and there, to find
individual cases of genuine Yoga, as this system of
self-effacement is called.

The greater part of these Yogis or Sannyasis, belong
to the Saiva sect referred to in the last chapter ; but,
professedly, they are not left-handed worshippers
their worship is connected solely with the god Shiva,
and not with the female element represented by Durga
his wife. In fact, they are supposed to have nothing
whatever to do with the sakti puja of the goddess, or
the licentious ritual of Tantrism, as in doctrine they
profess to believe in the opposite extreme. Their
aim is, by means of every form of physical suffering
and mental suppression, to attain to (in Brahminical
language) the four stages of spiritual perfection
entrance into Shiva's world, then into his near presence,
then to the likeness of his form, and finally absorption
into his essence.

To attain to these they are directed to practise in-
cessantly physical restraints of all kinds suppression

21



22 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

of breath, motionless postures, increasing periods of
fasting, unbroken contemplation upon the similarity of
mystical sounds, or the esoteric interpretations of a
series of interchangeable letters.

The more fanatical, who seek to accumulate wealth
and fame rather than spiritual freedom by their
austerities, permit themselves to be buried alive for
long periods in specially prepared graves, or have their
limbs contorted and swathed in tight bands, their flesh
cut with knives, or their cheeks pierced by iron rods ;
the result being, in most cases, not contemplation in
a higher sphere, as the Indian spectator thinks, but
simply physical unconsciousness, or vacuity of mind.

Very seldom, indeed, does the intellectual and
philosophically advanced Indian indulge in this species
of ethical training ; more seldom still can those who
do so be considered moral examples to their neigh-
bours during their intervals of rest.

Thus, the moving factor behind the religious men-
dicant's methods is, more often than not, either
unreasoning fanaticism or roguish duplicity.

As regards this old Yogi friend whom Duncan was
on his way to visit, humbugging and dirt seemed to
vie with each other for his predominant characteristic.
Apparently he delighted in mother earth, for he per-
mitted it to remain wherever it would stick. Having
long passed the social need of clothing, his only adorn-
ment was a large number of hieroglyphic stains, the
Shivite symbol on his brow, and the saffron daubs
which covered his body. Upon his head embedded
in a mass of verminous hair, which straggled whither
the breeze led it was the red-stained half of a coco-
nut shell, while a long patriarchal beard fell far below
his breast.

During festival seasons it was his custom to entertain
the gaping crowds with a number of Yogi practices ;
sometimes he would take up a prominent position in
the temple court, and, after taking a little milk, fix his



THE SANNYASI 23

eyes upon the sun as it rose over one side of the court,
and, without moving his body, follow it with his eyes
until it was lost to sight on the other ; sometimes he
would place his forehead on the ground and remain in
that position from the rising of the sun till the going
down thereof ; at other times, having closed his ears
with his thumbs and fastened his eyelids, nostrils and
lips with his ringers for a considerable time, he would
begin to describe in lyrical form the battle which he
had seen raging between the moon and the stars ; and
at times he would mystify them by the subtle sleight-of
hand of the charlatan, while posing as a miracle- worker
possessed by the spirit of the temple goddess.

His poverty-stricken appearance was as it is with
most of his kind part of his stock-in-trade. For years
he had received valuable gifts of money and ornaments
from the thousands of boon-seeking pilgrims to the
shrine, and, though outwardly poor and destitute, must
have had a princely hoard stowed away in some secret
place in the temple or its neighbourhood.

His face was not attractive ; it was the face of one
who had drunk deeply from the cup of lawlessness and
was now entering upon the first stage of a doubtful
form of idiocy.

On this particular morning he was standing near
the main entrance to the temple court, and, when he
saw Duncan approaching, he at once assumed a look
of stolidity. The latter made him the usual salaam
and uttered a few words of greeting ; but the man still
continued to stare into vacancy.

Percival, however, was in no mood to be trifled
with ; for the moment forgetting Hindu exclusiveness
and the native language in which he was a fluent
speaker, he touched the man with his stick and said :
" See here, old man ! Do you wish to earn a few
rupees ? "

The man could not have understood what he had
said, but he had heard the word rupee, and, Sannyasi



24 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

as he pretended to be, he could not suppress the little
green flash that came into his eyes at the significant
sound.

Repressing any feelings of anger which the pollution
of an outcast's stick had roused in him, and pretending
to come out with difficulty from deep meditation, he
said :

" The spirit of the Sannyasi is not always in the
body ; but as it wanders here and there seeking Mukti,
it hears the request of those in need and returns to
help them. Was the white swami seeking the heaven-
bound Yogi's help ? "

" As in the past," answered Duncan, " so again
now, the foreigner would learn wisdom from the
Sannyasi and test his power over the unseen."

" The Maharajah knows whither the knowledge of
the Sannyasi leads him, and he will no doubt under-
stand why he cannot follow far in the footsteps of the
twice-born. Nevertheless let him say what is in his
mind," answered the man.

" The wise Yogi is too good to his disciple," replied
Duncan in the figurative speech of the East. " How-
beit he will be bold and tell what it is he seeks to know
more fully. Whether in a dream or out of a dream,
he saw last night what he would see again."

For a few seconds the ascetic remained silent,
watching Duncan's face as he tried to peer into the
court.

" Men sooner or later seek the same thing," he at
last replied.

" And that ? "

" Woman ! "

" The Sannyasi is wise," replied Duncan, pleased
with the progress he was making. " Perhaps he can
now tell me who the woman was, and whence she
came ? "

" All men's minds run on woman except the Yogi's.
To him they are all alike they are Maya (illusion)



THE SANNYASI 25

and he sees them not. How then shall I tell the Rajah
what he would know ? "

Though his words suggested indifference, the in-
flection in his voice, as he ceased speaking, was evidently
intended to give the impression that he could if he
desired to, or if it were made worth his while to do so.

He had no doubt seen the change which had taken
place in Duncan's face as he gazed towards the central
pagoda, and, in spite of the sleepy look in his eyes,
had probably noted the involuntary movement of the
tall slim figure standing under the colonnade near
the temple door as the mutual glance of recognition
flashed across the temple court.

For a moment the girl hesitated above the marble
steps that led from the temple door to the sparkling
pool below, looking towards Duncan with an expression
which he was unable to understand, but which he
thought was the result of mingled doubt and fear.
As she turned away from the steps which she had been
on the point of descending, he turned swiftly towards
the Sannyasi.

" Look, friend," he cried, pointing to the retreating
figure. " See'st thou that woman entering the temple ?
Tell me what thou knowest of her. See ! " and holding
out a number of rupees, he added : " This is thine,
and much more, if thou tellest me that which is true,
and helpest me to understand that of which I have
spoken to thee. Is she whom I saw last night in my
vision and whom I think I see again over there a
wife ? "

A sly, crafty look passed over the usually impassive
face of the Sannyasi. Intrigue was not only a source
of revenue, but the very breath of this temple's life.
The powers of darkness alone knew what had taken
place there in the past.

' Why does the great white man wish to know ?
There can be nothing in common twixt him and one of
our race, even though their spirits cross in vision."



26 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

' True, thou learned ascetic," answered Duncan.
" But the vision sometimes weighs heavily with those
unable to understand it."

" Maybe 'tis as thou sayest," replied the man.
" But visions and dreams are best left in the hands of
the jyothis. Yet as thou hast sought at the feet of
knowledge, so hast thou thine answer for what it is
worth : She was, she is not, and she shall be."

' Thy speech, I fear, is more of a riddle than an
answer," replied Duncan.

" It may be so to him that listeneth."

" Perchance thy disciple is wrong in thinking so, but
to him she seemeth like a Brahmin."

" Nay, thou art not wrong. The woman belongeth
to a high caste even among Brahmins."

" Then if, as thou sayest, she hath been a wife, and
be no longer so, her husband must be dead. How
cometh it then that against the custom of Brahmin
widowhood she still weareth her hair ? And what
meanest thou by ' shall be,' when no widow of her
caste may marry again ? "

" Again thou hast answered justly in part," replied
the Sannyasi with an assumed look of wisdom. " Now,
thou canst hearken how the gurus make plain that which
is hidden from their pupils :

" Nearly twenty years ago a child was born to two
rich, holy Brahmins, and for two reasons it received
the name of Nakshatram (a brilliant star or constella-
tion). On the night that she was born there was a
strange conjunction between the moon and the brightest
of the twenty-seven constellations in which the jyothi
or astrologer found a wonderful destiny for the child.
She would never become a widow, but, as her horoscope
foretold many adverse circumstances, every precaution
must be taken to preserve her from harm until a certain
mysterious point in her course was reached after this,
care would be unnecessary as her special star foretold
an exalted career from this point. That was the first



THE SANNYASI 27

reason for her name. The second was on account of
the brilliancy of her eyes, which shone like stars.
Their colour is not known, for when one looks into
them it is as though one looks into two lakes and there
is no word in our language, as the Rajah knows, to
express such a colour.

" For some reason the goddess of cholera slew both
her parents when she was scarcely three years old,
and the high priest of the temple, being a relative,
took her, and when she was about seven, betrothed her
to his only son.

" When his only child died during the betrothal
ceremony, the heart of the high priest turned like stone
against the girl ; but her mother-in-law, or rather she
who was to have been her mother-in-law, instead of
blaming Nakshatram for her son's death, and ill-
treating her according to custom, loved her for her
beauty ; and, being afraid of the astrologer's words,
took great care of her till about her thirteenth year,
when the wife of the high priest also died.

" The priest, though old in years, had taken a young
wife, but having no children by her, and seeing that
as his years increased, his troubles also increased, he
began to inquire through all the oracles why it was
so, and what the will of the god was with regard to
him. For some time the temple god took no notice of
his sacrifices or prayers ; but at last, by his favour,
an old yogi came begging at the door of the priest's
house. On account of the kindness which the priest
had shown him, the yogi blessed his house, and before
he departed told him as follows :

" That Shiva the great god of the temple was about
to take another wife and for this purpose had preserved
Nakshatram even at the expense of other people's
suffering. The god had watched her jealously for ages,
and that was how she had such wonderful eyes and why
her fairness was like unto that of the early Brahmins.
If the girl were brought before she was twenty years



28 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

old, and dedicated with all the grand old ritual of the
ancients on some propitious occasion, then the god
would come and carry her off as his bride, as he had
once done with a girl of the Hills. Then after the god
had taken the girl to himself all the troubles of the
old priest would end and the great blessings of long
life and riches which he coveted would be granted to
him. ' But/ said the yogi before he departed, ' thou
must do nothing until thou hast received a message
from the holy city of Benares telling thee the propitious
occasion on which thou art to bring the girl and the
manner of her dedication. For last night, as I was
making a journey to the nether world, Shiva's boon-cow
appeared to me, and, when it asked me what I would
have in return for all my devotion, I said youth,
strength and wisdom for myself, and long life and
great riches and a son for the man who is giving me
hospitality. My requests were granted on condition
that I performed a pilgrimage round the Ganges and
returned in time to assist at the dedication of the girl
Nakshatram to Shiva before the completion of her
twentieth summer.'

" So the old yogi departed on his six years' weary
walk round the Ganges, and the priest guarded the girl
and waited for the promised message, but the twentieth
year drew nearer and nearer and still the old yogi had
not come. Indeed, the priest had begun to fear that
he must have died on his way, when one day the message
came. The old yogi, it seemed, had performed his
pilgrimage, but he was now so weak that he could come
no farther than Benares. Benares, as the white ruler
knows, is a very holy city, and if he died there he could
enter into moksha. So he was afraid to leave the city
lest he should die on the way, and so lose both the bliss
at hand and also the youth and strength he coveted.
He had met many learned sastris on the great journey,
and had consulted with all of them regarding the
interpretation of the horoscope and the girl's destiny



THE SANNYASI 29

as shown by his own dream ; and they had all agreed
that the dedication should take place on some night
between the full moon before the Shiva-ratri and the
Shiva-ratri itself, when the same conjunction of the
moon, constellation, and planet would occur that had
taken place on the night of the girl's birth.

" They must, however, take great care in the exact
observance of the details of the festival, which was to
be kept in much the same way as the great sacred night
of the god. That is, a strict fast must be observed all
day ; the great Shivite symbols must be decorated with
their gold and silver ornaments ; milk and ghee were
to be freely used before the garlanded idols, but above
all the jealousy of Durga the god's wife must be
guarded against by adorning her in her most magnifi-
cent jewellery and by making her new offerings of
costly ornaments and precious stones.

" They must further take care that no one, excepting
the girl, such Brahmins as were priests, Sannyasis of
the Tantric sect, and temple slaves, should enter the
temple before the propitious moment, which would be
soon after moonrise.

" If everything went well, and the god showed his
favour to his new wife, the temple bells were to be
clanged, the gates opened and the people allowed to
observe the festival with all the freedom of their ancient
nature-worship which had known no restrictions
before the coming of the white raj."

At this point the garrulity of the Sannyasi suddenly
ceased. Duncan waited a little to see if he would
continue, but he seemed unwilling to do so.

" Who is that ? " he asked directly, indicating a
priest-like Brahmin who was coming towards them.

" Sri Ramayya, a younger brother of the priest,"
answered the Sannyasi.

The Brahmin glanced at Duncan with a quick,
suspicious look as he passed. He was nearly as tall
as Percival himself, and was the incarnation of priestly



3 o THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

craft and malignity. His lips were very thin and
tightly locked together. Every sign of hair on his
head and face had been carefully removed. The cord
of the twice-born hung proudly over his shoulder.
Duncan's mental summary of the man in that swift
interchange of glances was a treacherous friend and
an implacable foe.

" When," asked Duncan, after the priest had passed
out of hearing, " does this festival in honour of Shiva
take place ? "

But the Sannyasi made no answer ; either the coming
of the priest had frozen his fluency or he had told all
that he had intended to tell.

" Do you expect many to come to this festival, seeing
that it is not one of the regular ones ? " he asked in a
tone of indifference, but with the hope of drawing on
the Sannyasi to speak again.

' Yes : it is a great event and many will come.
There are many people who know about the horoscope
and the Yogi's dream. Even according to our Puranas
and Tantras, Shiva may appear on such occasions. If
there were no foreigners in our country, and if the
sacrifices were properly performed, such as the
Jyothishtoma and Agnishtoma and Asvameda, he would
most certainly appear more often. But why does the
Dora trouble about these things, when they are nothing
to him ? "

Percival questioned the yogi further, but he soon
realised that for the time being at least his inquiries
were useless, as the man was beginning again to assume
his stolid looks. After giving him a few more rupees
he left him, and, filled with conflicting emotions,
walked back to the tent.

The girl was not a wife after all ! What then was
all this story about her birth and marriage with the
temple god ? Was there any truth in it or was it just
a string of lies ? He had heard of strange things in
India, yet he could think of nothing which would



THE SANNYASI 31

explain this extraordinary affair. The Sannyasi's story,
to some extent, gave a plausible interpretation to the
girl's peculiar dress, but what was the real intention
of those priests, and especially of that evil-looking
Brahmin who had just passed him ? Personally he
had known of more than one instance of human life
being offered to Durga or Kali in the hope of the
fulfilment of a required boon. Had these priests some
such diabolical scheme on hand ? or was it merely
some great, clever ruse to trick the people into giving
large gifts of money and jewels to the temple ? And
was the girl herself a willing tool in these miserable
schemes by which the priests tried to drag gifts from
the superstitiously inclined ? Was, after all, the
lovely and apparently innocent face, which had set
his blood on fire, simply the mask of one versed in the
by-ways of duplicity and fraud and perhaps in some-
thing even worse ? All his feelings revolted at the
bare suggestion of such a thing. The reference to the
revival of the dreadful nature worship of the Sakti of
the god in connection with which rite nothing was
permitted to stand in the way of licentiousness, and
which was gradually being suppressed by European
influence and authority startled him. He had heard
indirectly from his peons and officials that a festival
was going to take place ; but, as it was not yet time
for the great festival called the Shiva-Ratri, he had
not troubled himself very much about the matter.
But now, what evil was on foot ?

He was determined, as he walked away from the
temple, by some means or other to get nearer to the
truth of the mystery surrounding the girl.



CHAPTER IV A CURIOUS EXPERIENCE

AFTER returning from his somewhat unsatisfactory
interview with the Sannyasi, Duncan had proceeded to
question his people about the coming festival. His
retinue of servants and coolies, however, was largely
made up of Mohammedans and low-caste Hindus, who



Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 2 of 24)