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sacrifices offered ; the mantras sung ; the two bodies
placed upon the pyre, and the pujari was on the point
of lighting the wood, when the foreigner came and
carried her away ! "

" And the foreigner who was he ? " she asked
eagerly.

" One who lived on a peak of the Black Hills. One
who from being a great fighter for the foreign lords had
become a seeker after fine stones for the Rajahs. The
gods curse him for the evils which he brought upon our
country and for polluting this ancient temple of Shiva !
May his atma come back among the jackals and pigs
to be eaten by his own father and mother ! May moun-
tains of misery fall down upon his people so that they
become like dust trodden under the 'feet of elephants !
May their land be devoured by Durga as the long grass
in the dry season is licked up by the forest flame !
Ha, ha ! Let Shiva's vengeance fall without pity on
all his enemies as it fell on the white thief who stole a
jewel more precious to his servants than fine stones ! "

" Whither went the warrior of the white rajahs.



H2 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

with the jewel that belonged to thy caste, O Guru ? "
she asked, ignoring the curses in the latter part of his
speech.

" Back to his mountain refuge, as a hyena that
creepeth back to its den with a corpse. But the
occasion cometh to him who watcheth, and, though
it was long in coming, we waited not in vain."

" And when the time came, Shivite priest, what
did he ? "

" Ah ! little thought the foreign devil that it was in
our power to strike at any moment. We hated his
presence from the beginning, and, before ever the
suttee ceremony had come to pass, we had placed
with him one of our own people who knew something
of his strange ways and speech. 'Twas through him
that we learnt of his coming and going, and his hopes
in Sita, whom he called Sundaram. 'Twas he also
who removed out of our way all that might interfere
with our revenge when the time was ripe for it.
Patiently we bided our time till his happiness seemed
complete then we struck. My heart had burnt with
anger for two years against Sita, and I had begun
to think that she was no longer anything to me. But
I found her even more beautiful than before, and, as I
wished not to see her die, we offered her life to work
our will upon the foreigner. She would not even
listen to our offer. Thou wert a child playing at her
feet ; we picked thee up and threatened to kill thee.
But though she grew wild with fear, and pleaded with
tears for thee to be spared, she would not listen to
my words. So we carried thee away for the temple,
leaving thy mother without the prattling tongue which
the mountain thief loved, and with only enough life
that he might see her beauty fade before his eyes."

The girl's heart burnt with anger and sorrow at
the picture of her mother's sufferings. She had
inherited the instincts of the west, with all their finer
sentiments, and her soul suddenly longed to twine



SHADOWS AND DREAMS 113

itself around this child-wife who had suffered so much
through no fault of her own. Though she would have
gladly hidden her feelings from this human parasite
before her, she could not keep back the tears that
sprang to her eyes, or the bitter words that came to
her lips.

" O pitiless priest ! thy face is that of an evil atma
and thy heart as bloodthirsty as the goddess whom
the Vamacharins worship. Take heed lest thine own
fate be not more terrible than that which thou hast
wrought for others. Thou hast cursed the white
warrior, and his people, as thy mouth is ever ready
to do with those whom thou hatest. But do not even
the Tantras say that ' He that curseth is cursed,' and
it may be that the God of the white maharajahs will, as
I have heard, demand back drop for drop of the blood
that has been shed."

" What hast thou to do with the white man's God ? "
demanded the priest through his teeth. " Hast not
heard that thy lot is to serve the temple god ? To
pay off the debt thy mother owed wert thou brought
here, and the old priest, my half-brother, would have
had thee pay it long ago had it not been for the yogi's
words, which bade us wait patiently for the auspicious
moment. To keep thee from the knowledge of the
stranger, and from their prying eyes, hast thou been
closely purdahed from thy childhood. But now that
the time draws near I am reluctant to see thee suffer
that which the oracles have pointed out as thy destiny ;
for thou hast brought back the memory of thy mother
made more beautiful, and I would, if possible, save
thee for a kinder fate. The way is still open the
priests are, as thou canst hear, under the spirit of the
goddess ; the festival is drawing near, and to-morrow
may be too late. Choose thy fate and forget not
that the gods are still more cruel than men ? "

The girl stepped back with a look of scorn as the
priest made his final appeal. Again she stood proudly



ii4 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

amidst the folds of her white trailing cloth, like some
eastern queen making a momentous decision.

" Guru, thy soul is too dark to understand anything
of the visions that pass through mine. Each word
thou utterest adds to the flame that burns in it against
thee the slayer of my little mother. See," she cried,
pointing to the pagoda, under whose shadow they were
standing ; " better far that that should crumble on
my head than that I should pass behind thy purdah
as one of thy women. I have spoken 1 "

For a moment there was a tense pause between
them ; then : " 'Tis true thou hast spoken," replied
Ramayya, in a voice trembling with fury, " but thy
words are empty. Thou canst not escape me as thy
mother did. The temple walls are high, the white
jackal is licking his poisoned wounds, and the priests
are waiting for thee behind the garbhaliam. Come ! "
he cried, as he sprang towards her.

But, with a cry of terror, pain and baulked desire
that rang weirdly through the forest, he bounded
back again, for his arm had crossed the bright gleam
of the hillman's gift.



CHAPTER XIII AN EVIL GENIUS

IT was some time now since Ramayya, the priest's
brother, had slunk off towards the dark colonnades of
the temple. That swift and effective repulse with
which the girl had met his attack had completely taken
him by surprise. For a few seconds they had faced
each other ; the man like a beast of prey hesitating to
spring ; the girl outwardly calm, but with a sinking
heart, as she wondered what his next move would be.
Her quick imagination at once suggested half a dozen
ways by which he might outwit and disarm her. But
some deeper plan of vengeance must have crossed his



AN EVIL GENIUS 115

evil vision, for, with quivering features and a scoffing
laugh, he had turned abruptly away and disappeared
in the direction of the eldritch sounds to which he had
called her attention.

Since then silence had reigned over the place, but
it was not the silence that brings peace only that
intense stillness that tells of a coming storm. And
Nakshatram, the unwilling high-priestess of the temple,
knew it. The look of supreme scorn with which she
had faced her foe had given place to one of painful
apprehension. The small white face, with its high-
typed Eastern mould and its European touch, which
had seemed so wonderfully bewitching to Duncan in
repose, would now have touched him to the quick
with its drawn and haggard appearance. She knew
that Ramayya would return. When he did, what
could she do ? What means of escape could she find ?
As he had scornfully pointed out, the walls were high
and the entrances barred. After all, had she not
done foolishly in coming back into this tangle of
treacheries ? Surely it would have been better to have
listened to the passionate entreaties of her white lover ;
with him she would at least have tasted the sweetness
of danger or death. Whereas now only the great
God knew !

Though the Temple in the Tope was, strictly speak-
ing, only a Shivite rendezvous and even then the
peculiar possession of a Tantric sect efforts had been
made, in accordance with a common practice of Hindu
sacred places, to make the shrine as universally attrac-
tive as possible, by including deities of all shades of
belief. Consequently, besides the many and varied
representations of the god and goddess of the temple,
other popular objects of worship could be found within
its walls. In one secluded corner might be seen the
war-like Rama the great hero-god of India's millions
and by his side his friend and ally Hanuman,
the Monkey-god ; in another corner Brahma the



n6 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

lotus-born of Nadayana, and the first in the Hindu Triad
was immorally depicted as a god persecuting his own
daughter ; over the mantapam or porch of the gopurams
were sculptured scenes connected with Vishnu ; the
man-lion tearing his enemy to pieces, Krishna (another
incarnation) as a child stealing from the Gopis, and,
again, as a youth, tempting the virtues of the shepherd
wives ; throughout the choultries the coarse, brutal
forms of village deities had been set up, as, for instance,
those of the goddess of cholera, the goddess of floods,
and the goddess of crops ; while all over the court
might be seen the more primitive carvings of the
totemistic forest tribes.

Conspicuous, however, beyond all others, and
infinitely more sinister in appearance, was a life-sized
idol of the goddess Durga representing not so much
the female counterpart of Shiva, as the entity Maha-
devi, goddess of blood, revealer of magic, and supreme
female deity of the Hindu Pantheon. This, if rumour
carried truth, was the evil genius of the temple the
moving spirit behind all the terrible deeds said to have
been enacted around the shrine.

The truth is that, whatever the early traditions
connected with this temple might have been, the
ritual and worship were no longer Shivite ; they were,
and had been for some generations, almost solely
Durgite.

This particular icon of the goddess was certainly
unique both in appearance and effect. It stood out
by contrast in every way imaginable from the cruder
specimens of art around it, and in features and pose
there was something inexpressibly diabolical.

Cut from a fine block of black marble, it presented
in perfect detail the outlines of a female form, and was
so beautifully finished that it might well have been
the prize possession of a museum of classical art.
One foot of the image rested upon the breast of a head-
less corpse, while the other was poised as if in the wild



AN EVIL GENIUS 117

swirl of a religious dance. In one of its hands it held
the bleeding head of the slain giant, and in the other
a great sacrificial knife. Two other arms were so
arranged that one appeared to beckon, while the other
madly gesticulated.

Around the neck of the goddess hung a ghastly
necklace of small ivory skulls, whose teeth gleamed
with gilt and whose eyes flashed with some sort of
iridescent glass.

Her own head, small, slightly tilted backward, and
inset with two large rubies for eyes, to represent her
under the influence of " soma," was a masterpiece of
Aryan beauty sensual, cruel, revengeful. Moreover,
genius seemed to have spent itself in intricate devices
to give the single headpiece a multiple of characters,
and, according to the delusive suggestion, it might be
a nautch girl in her wild self-abandonment, a murderess
amidst her crimes, a goddess inviting passion, a human
being depraved and unsexed, or a demon at large,
and, in turn, it seemed to leer, lure, cajole or lash with
curses.

Its effect upon its devotees, as seen in the licentious
orgies of the Durgite festivals, was indescribably
demoralising ; and, by way of proving that her power
extended over the unbeliever, the priests were accus-
tomed to relate instances of sceptics who had come to
scoff, but had returned slaves to the passions she
embodied.

Consequently, year after year, enamoured lovers,
disappointed women, tottering cripples, decayed
senility, thieves, thugs, usurers, litigants, astrologers,
quack-doctors, refugees, and a host of others came
with their gifts of jewels and money to crave her help
through the magical rites of her priests ; and, in her
name and under the cloak of the idol's religious sanctity,
violence, rapine, dacoity, human sacrifices, and un-
bridled orgies were organised and carried out.

The more illicit the boon craved for, the more ready,



u8 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

it would seem, the goddess was to be favourable
provided always that the offerings were commensurate
with the thing desired.

" O Devi, eat, cut and destroy !
Cut with thine axe, drink the blood drawn ! "

Such was the special mantra which the priests sang
to her in their sonorous Sanskrit, when she had been
adorned in her magnificent jewels. It was then, also,
that they chanted from her own special sacred book
the Kali Purana about the varying merits of sacrifice
until the grand climax was reached and the people,
maddened to fanaticism by the description of a human
sacrifice ; to meditate and drink " soma " at her feet
was to desire her mystic circle ; to offer the flesh of
an animal was to obtain blessings in proportion to
its value ; but to smear her breast with blood the
blood of the offerer or his enemy was to gain a portion
of her power and to enter partly into her essence.

And now as she stood there under her gilded canopy,
in the moonlit space between the central pagoda and
the colonnade where the scene described in the last
chapter had taken place, there was something unusually
evil about her appearance.

At least, so it seemed to Nakshatram, who, in spite
of her horror and fear of the idol, had been irresistibly
drawn nearer to inspect it. As she stood before it,
trying to read the enigma of its being and influence,
she began to imagine that the eyes of the goddess
were gloating over her as over a destined victim.
Hardly had the uncanny idea formed itself in her
mind when an unearthly noise caused her hand to
move suddenly to her heart and an aguish spasm to
sweep over her frame. That fiendish chant, which she
had heard with the priest, had again broken out upon
the stillness of the night. This time, however, it was
much more ominous ; and it seemed to the unfortunate
girl as though the ancient vaults of the place had opened



DEVA-DASIS 119

to reveal some of their ghastly secret rites. The fear
that had seized her was quickly justified ; for, a moment
later, a number of forms began to approach from behind
the temple, and, as they came towards her, with the
priest's brother at their head, she knew that the latter
was revelling in the prospect of an immediate vengeance.



CHAPTER XIV DEVA-DASIS

NAKSHATRAM'S first impulse was to hurry away and
hide herself from this approaching batch of incarnate
fiends whose ghastly appearance realised all her fears
and gave a pandemonium-like reality to the weird
suggestiveness of the moonlit court ; but she made no
effort to do so. Her limbs seemed powerless to obey
her instincts. Spellbound, like one in the clutch of
a painful nightmare, she stood listening, wondering,
dreading.

The hypnotic influence of the lifelike image and the
increasing phantasmagorical effect of the scene were
strangely combined to suspend the freedom of her
thought and action. Moreover, when the confused
thoughts surged up in her mind they were decidedly
unpleasant and only increased her unnerving per-
plexity: whither could she go except to the solitude
of dark retreats where greater danger lurked ? Why
prolong the resistance against her fate, when the
impending struggle was inevitable ? Ramayya, her
hereditary foe, was no doubt at the bottom of any evil
that was being specially directed against herself, so
would it not be better to meet him openly ? Surely
there must be a little humanity amongst the others
which she might yet be able to call up in her favour ?
Then again, was there not the coming festival in which
she was expected to play an important part ? What



120 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

that part was she did not yet understand, but it must
be something of vital interest to some of them especi-
ally to the old priest who had so jealously watched
over her since she was a child. That was perhaps
a card which she might try to play as a last stake in
order to delay the evil hour. If only she could avoid
the conflict till dawn, her lover by then would probably
have found some means of escape for her.

Buoyed by this glimmer of hope her mind became
more lucid and her thoughts more distinct, and, with
a desperate effort, she fought against the feeling of
faintness which had begun to paralyse her senses.
And it was well that she did so, for during the
momentary hesitation the band of temple sycophants
had drawn so near to her that she could now even
feel the contamination of their hot breath upon the air
as they crowded around the Durga idol. With features
and limbs working convulsively and brains burning
with incipient madness caused by the horrible mixture
which they had just been drinking, they were indeed
a dreadful sight for any woman to behold, and well
might a sterner nature than Nakshatram's have shrunk
with fear and loathing from their wild and debauched
looks.

As her glance swept swiftly over the priestly band
she caught the bright glitter and gleam of jewels
beyond, and realised that there were women also
coming from behind the temple to join in whatever
mad freak was about to be committed. But the fact
brought her neither hope nor comfort ; if possible her
unsullied womanhood shrank still further inwardly.
It was worse than useless expecting any help or pro-
tection from these. She had seen one or two of them
since she had come to the temple, and knew what they
were to some extent. Instinct filled in what the
purdah had whispered with bated breath, sometimes
with envy, sometimes with horror. They were Deva-
dasis temple slaves. Their darkened eyelids, bold



DEVA-DASIS 121

stare, insidious perfumes, dissolute gestures, the lyric
they were lisping, would have warned even the most
unsophisticated that there was something radically
wrong in their nature. And most certainly there was ;
for by character and vocation they were little better
than a species of human vampire that wallowed amidst
the ruins of a great people.

Like the priests, they too were labouring under the
influence of some powerful excitant, which was gradually
working their minds into a furious condition and dis-
turbing the equilibrium of their movements. With
much greater justice, then, than she herself was even
aware of, had Nakshatram shrunk away in doubt and
fear from those who ought to have formed for her a
natural bodyguard.

As though irresistibly drawn that way, Nakshatram 's
glance passed on from the Deva-dasis to a man who
was evidently different from all the others a great,
powerful individual, as black as a negro. This man,
with a skull in his right hand and a small drum in
his left, had gone straight up to the idol, and after
prostrating himself before it, had risen and cried
" Drink, Kali drink ! 'Tis that which thou lovest ! "
He was performing the great sacrificial rite to the
mother of earth ; for, though he was no Brahmin, yet
he was a member of one of the aboriginal tribes whose
pujaris claim, and are granted, precedence over Brahmin
priests, during certain blood sacrifices to the goddess.
Having uttered his Bacchanalian petition to the idol
he proceeded to sprinkle it with the red fluid in the
skull, then, after touching his own forehead and
throat with it, put the ghastly vessel to his mouth
and passed it on to the others. Each of these in turn
touched their thumbs, toes and ears with the liquid,
and, before handing the skull to the next, drank
from it.

Nakshatram shuddered and turned away in disgust.
She did not know what the red liquid was, nor the



122 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

inner meaning of the sacrificial ceremony, but the
whole scene was revolting beyond endurance. Had she
known the truth, she would have shuddered still more,
for it was the priest's pretended " soma " drink a drink
said to be of celestial origin, but in this instance a
concoction of ganja or bhang mixed with the life stream
drawn at the primitive rite of alchemy in the secret
recess of the temple.

" Let Ida deal with her," cried a woman's voice.

" Yes, yes let Ida give her the wine of the goddess
to make her dance merrily," murmured a swaying
priest, who was making unsuccessful efforts to set fire
to some incense on an iron thurible.

Ida was the woman whom Duncan had met on
the jungle footpath. She was the great favourite of
the temple, and had practically been queen of the
Deva-dasis since she had come to the shrine. As a
dasi she had always been known in the temple as Ida,
and was called so after the wife of Manu the ancient
Hindu law-giver because she was supposed to assist
the priests in the interpretations of their oracles by
means of her powers of pyromancy which she had
inherited from a long line of ancestral temple-slaves.
She was, as many had found to their sorrow, un vrai
dragon cruel, capricious, imperious and woe betide
the man who refused her the desired allegiance, or
the rival that crossed her whims. Terrible indeed
were the stories that were whispered of her mad freaks
in the temple during the festivals, and of the deeds
which she had done in the company of a bold dacoit
who lived in a secret hold somewhere in the hills
behind the temple.

'Tis said, amma, that thou art to be given in
marriage to the god, so to-night thou canst learn with
us the duty of a wife."

The words were soft and musical ; but in the eyes
of the woman who spoke them there was a cold evil
glitter that Nakshatram might have interpreted as the



DEVA-DASIS 123

sign of a triumphant revenge had she only remained
long enough to see the vindictive look that was on
Ida's face when the latter watched her pass through
the temple door at the time that Duncan carried away
her discarded flowers.

As it was, she could only draw herself away from
the baneful glare of the woman, as one might do on
suddenly meeting with a snake across the path.

Ida saw the shrinking movement and laughed
sarcastically.

" Thou art proud, amma, for for a would-be
Deva-dasi," she said in the same soft voice as she
drew near again. " But thou wilt soon get over that
see ! " And the next moment Nakshatram felt an
excruciating pain pass through her brain from some-
where beneath the ear, which brought tears to her
eyes and would have made her shriek out in agony had
she not clenched her little white teeth in a vice to
prevent herself from doing so.

" Now thou wilt drink to the goddess, perhaps, and
let the priests proceed with the ceremony is't not
so ? " asked the same voice.

Nakshatram held out her hands for the skull, and,
when she had received it, raised it, then, as she watched
the sneering smiles of the Deva-dasis, hurled it with
all her might over their heads into the temple pool.

Something like consternation seized the crowd of
intoxicated temple servers at the sight of this sacrilege,
which might well rouse the anger of the goddess.
Even Ida seemed speechless for the moment as they
turned their eyes questioningly towards Ramayya.

" It matters not," he said in a voice of restrained
fury. " The goddess has drunk and is evidently filled.
Let her have her joy now before she sleeps. See to it
that her new dasi learns obedience in her mystic circle."

The sound of the drum increased steadily in its evil
insistence ; the swaying body of the pujari moved
more rapidly to its wild accompaniment ; gold and



i2 4 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

silver ornaments began to click and tinkle sharply ;
there were swift sinuous movements and a deep in-
spiration of breath, and, before the girl could make
any form of resistance whatever, she found herself the
centre of a double ring, the inner part of which was
formed by the dasis who were beginning to intertwine
their fingers in a mystical way called the mudra with
those of the priests who formed the outer circle.

At first slowly, then with increasing rapidity, the
double ring moved round with Nakshatram as its pivot,
and with greater and greater viciousness the dasis
twined and untwined their fingers as the volume of
their warlike cry increased.

Suddenly the inner circle became merged in the
outer ; the pujari was beating his drum furiously, the
voices of the temple women were singing in fierce
short outbursts, and Nakshatram felt herself dizzily
swaying to the gyratory motion the fatal immoral



Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 9 of 24)