Shoshee Chunder Dutt.

The young Zemindár : his erratic wanderings and eventual return : being a record of life, manners, and events in Bengal of from forty to fifty years ago online

. (page 10 of 28)
Online LibraryShoshee Chunder DuttThe young Zemindár : his erratic wanderings and eventual return : being a record of life, manners, and events in Bengal of from forty to fifty years ago → online text (page 10 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" Are you in doubts about the enterprise at all then ? "
" No, not at present ; but, seeing how we have fared
in our previous undertakings, we cannot, I think, be too
careful in catching the bait a third time, though I do
not dissuade you from doing so cautiously/'

Mocohur did not quite relish the over-care and delay
which the Sunyasi's suggestions involved ; but he could
not, of course, think of pulling different-wise from him ;
and they went down the path in silence, slackening their
steps somewhat, as if to enjoy more fully the invigorating
tranquillity of the place.

"The sun is fast going down, Babajee, and we have
not secured a safe place yet for the night," observed
Monohur, breaking the muteness after a time.

" That was just what I was thinking of/' replied the
Sunyasi. " We should not be longer on the road now,
and are besides tired enough to need rest. But I am
afraid we must proceed a little further before we can find
suitable quarters for us."

" I have no objection to go as far further as you wish,
Babajee ; but there are high words going on in that hut
over the hedge somebody is threatening there that he
would beat some woman or child to death. Had we not
better look in to see what the difference is about ? "

" Wherefore ? What have we to do with the quarrels
of other people, my son ? But perhaps you are right,
Monohur. We may possibly be able to prevent mischief
if it be threatened, and at the same time probably secure
the shelter we seek."

The hut they approached belonged to a family of


Goars, or Goalahs, a common class in Orissa. The
quarrellers were man and wife. The husband was a
middle-aged man, named Dabra, and the woman, his
second wife, was called Bhago. Though Dabra had re-
married after the death of his first wife, he loved his son
by the latter a boy of twelve years far better than he
loved his new wife, and this Bhago was unable to endure.
Father and son had just returned from ploughing, and
the boy being hungry had asked for food. His step-
mother had thereupon given him a dish of Khichrec
or Chow-Dallia, as they call it, and had directed him to
eat it in the kitchen.

" How can I eat it in the dark ? " said the boy ; and,
unmindful of her order, he had taken oufc the dish into
the compound where there was light yet to see.

" There is something yellow in the middle of the dish/'
observed the boy, looking at the platter intently ; and,
having taken a mouthful of the Khichree, he added that
it was bitter, and spat it out. His father coming up gave
the remainder of the dinner to a dog that was near, and
the animal had no sooner eaten of it than it was seized
with convulsions and began to roll upon the ground.

" How, bitch ? "What did you dare to give my son to
eat ? Shall I not thrash your life out of you for attempt-
ing to poison him ? "

The woman protested at first that she had given nothing
harmful to the boy ; but, finding that she was not believed,
she became as clamorous as her husband, who at last
brought out a thick cane to thrash her with. It was at
this juncture that Monohur and the Sunyasi entered their
hut, which the absorbing nature of their altercation had
rendered them incapable to observe.

" I will kill thee, bitch, with this stick," exclaimed


the infuriated husband ; but Monohur caught hold of the
cane before it could descend, while Bissonath, availing
himself of his sacred character, came forward with a
benediction on the house in regular Sunyasi fashion, and
deprecated the anger and violence of its owner in the
mildest terms.

" Hear me out first, Thakoorjee ! " said Dabra, " and
you will be aghast at the crime which the woman had

But the woman denied the charge that was brought
against her, when, to her confusion and the triumph of
her accuser, the proof of it was made manifest by the
death of the dog.

" Don't try to deny your guilt, woman," said the
Sunyasi, " but rather be thankful to Heaven that your
attempt has not succeeded. And you, friend," added he,
turning to her husband, "must not retaliate, for your
wife seems now to be with child. Listen to a story
which I will tell you, which almost sets forth your own
case in different words, and it may be that you shall be
able to shape your course aright after you have heard it.

" A man married a second time after the death of his
first wife, as you have done ; he loved his second wife,
bat his son by his first wife was not less dear to him.
In time the second wife gave birth to a son, just as yours
will within four or five months ; but the husband loved
his first son best of all.

" ' This must not be, J said the wife to herself. * There
is a Rakshasi in the forest who is related to me. I shall
send my step-son to her, and she will eat him up/

" She called the boy to her, and told him to go to her
aunt in the forest. ' Carry this basket of sweetmeats to
her and remind her of me, and bring me word how she is.'


" The boy was pleased with the mission intrusted to
him, being anxious to secure the good graces of his step-
mother, and went off as directed with speed.

" ' Are you my step-mother's aunt ? ' asked he of the
R'akskasi, on arriving at her place.

" ' Yes, that am I. What have you got for me ? '

" ' 0, all these presents here, and she wants to be re-
membered with love. Now say what I am to tell her
from you, for I must go back quickly against my father's

" ' Not quickly, my child ; you must first eat and drink
here. Sit down for a while and amuse yourself, while I
get things ready for you/

" The boy pressed hard to go, but found that he was
detained and fell crying. The Rakshasi had feasted that
day already, and had reserved him for her next meal.

" ' What are you crying for, boy ? ' asked a little
ringdove that was perched on the nearest tree.

" ' I can't go home; I am detained/

' ' ' Knowest thou what for ? Thy step-mother's aunt is
a Rakshasi, and you were sent here that she might eat
you up/

" ( How shall I escape then ? '

" ' Take this twig, this leaf, and this wisp of straw
that I have brought for you. The doors will open when
you touch them with the twig, after which you are to
run for your life. If the Rakshasi discovers your escape,
and pursues you, throw this leaf before her and a river
will intervene. If she crosses the river and threatens to
overtake you, throw the wisp of straw at her and it will
become a dense forest which will effectually cover your

" The boy took the gifts the ringdove gave him, and


while the Rakshasi was asleep he touched the doors with
the twig and they flew ajar. He ran out as he had
never run in play, and had already cleared half the
distance home when he saw that the Rakshasi had awoke
and was coming after him. He was much agitated and
frightened, but remembered to throw the leaf at her,
and it became a wide river. The Rakshasi thereupon
flung herself into the stream, and began to swim over
with the celerity of an otter. The boy had run fast in
the meantime, and was very near home ; but the Rakshasi
had already crossed over, and was bounding recklessly
after him. He now threw the wisp of straw at her, and,
while she vainly attempted to penetrate the forest that
arose between them, the boy reached home.

" ' Whence, boy ? ' asked his father of him angrily, for
he had been awaiting his return with impatience.

"The boy related the story of his adventures faith-
fully, upon which the father got so angry with his wife
that he took up his hatchet to kill her. But the dove
that had helped the boy out of his danger was now sitting
on the thatch of their hut, and came forward as peace-
maker between man and wife.

" ' Your wife has borne you a second son, and you
must not kill her. Make her a necklace of betel-nuts,
and she will live in the house as a cat ;' and the second
wife, converted into a cat, lived purring and snarling all
the rest of her life, without being able to do any further
harm to her step-sou."

" How am I to dispose of my wife then to make
her as harmless for the future ? " asked Dabra of the

" Excuse her the offence she has committed, and she
will remain bound to you for ever; and you, woman,


if you try to harm your step-son again I shall have your
body, and the body of the child in your womb, covered
with leprosy by my imprecations/ 5

" O, father, I shall never think of injuring my step-son
any further, since you have saved me. Don't, for heaven's
sake, curse the child in my womb."




HAVING patched up a truce between husband and wife,
the travellers had little difficulty in making good their
quarters with them for the night ; and, in fact, the pro-
posal that they should do so came from Dabra himself,
though in a rather ungracious way.

" It is not the custom with us/ ; said he, " to receive
guests at this late hour. But we have given you so
much trouble with our affairs, and you have been so long
delayed thereby, that it would scarcely be kind now to
send you away; so you may as well put down your
wallets where you are, and rest here for the night."

" So be it," answered the Sunyasi, stopping the reply
of Monohur, who was about to refuse an asylum so un-
generously offered. " We are pilgrims only, and will not
require much attention from you or your family ; and we go
out very early to-morrow, as time is of much value to us."

But Dabra, though rough in manners, was not naturally
an inhospitable man. He had a young wife at home,
and did not care therefore to receive strangers indis-
criminately at night; but, having allowed the pilgrims
to stay, he attended to all their wants cheerfully, while
Bhago, grateful for the service they had rendered to her,
was particularly assiduous in performing those functions
which women are always best able to discharge.


fc After all, Babajee/' said Monohur, " these people
are not really so churlish as they appeared to me at first,
and we would have acted foolishly indeed had we refused
the shelter they have given us only for the words in
which the offer was made/''

" Just so, my son. Wayfarers, like ourselves, should
never quarrel with mere words. If we had refused their
offer we might have been faring worse elsewhere at this
moment, or perhaps not have found any shelter anywhere
at all."

They ate and slept well there in the night, and were
up very early next morning, ready to depart.

" I pronounced a blessing on the house when I entered
it," said the Sunyasi, addressing Dabra and his wife,
" and will bless it again in departing from it. Do you
live in concord and peace evermore, my friends, putting
up with each other's infirmities, and frequently forgiving
each other, which is, I assure you, the only way of living
happily on the earth.'"

They were out of the house the next moment, and,
directing their steps towards the main road to Pooree,
came up to it at about a mile beyond the town of Cuttack.
There are passengers on this road day and night through-
out every month of the year, though more so during the
festival seasons than at other times ; and every village on
the road-side has its pilgrim encampments. The parties
vary in number from thirty to three hundred men, and
neai-ly ninety per cent, of the pilgrims are females. They
are collected by Pandas, or touters, who visit every part
of India to bring them together. These allurers do not
go about preaching like Peter the Hermit, but simply
seek the women in their retirement when their husbands
are away from home, and there work both on their


fears and hopes fears as regards their future salvation,
hopes connected with their worldly happiness and exal-
tation. The bait thus held out is irresistible. Young
women are easily induced by the very novelty of the
journey to undertake it; widows snap at the idea of looking
about them in the world with avidity ; while barren wives,
unfortunate mothers, and all in distress of mind are
easily persuaded to proceed in person to the " Lord of
the Universe," 1 and pour forth all their sorrows before
Him. The women hooked, the men follow like so many
sheep ; and at the time of the great festivals the stream
of pilgrims is literally continuous.

Monohur was astonished at the number of men he saw
on the road, and the variety they represented.

" 0, Babajee ! where do so many people come from ?
Is all India on the move at this season of the year ? "

" Yes, my son, almost all who can afford to do so, and
many even of those who cannot afford the expenditure
take advantage of the festivals to run over to Pooree ;
and by far the greater portion of them come from our own
province of Bengal, and, next to it, from the North- West.
The number is so considerable, in fact, that it frequently
causes an artificial famine where the pilgrims halt ; and
you will find high prices the rule throughout their line of

Monohur gazed on the crowd with extreme surprise, for
he had never in his life seen such numbers on the move
before. " Jagganath ke jai ! " "Purushuttom Swami Ice
jail" were the only cries bawled out by the passengers as
they trudged along, each party distinguished from the rest
by some striking peculiarity of its own. The white-dressed

1 Jaggat-Ndth, or Jaggandih.


and diminutive females from Bengal moved with slow and
languid steps, but yielded not to any in the fervour of
their faith ; more bravely jogged on the females of Upper
India, dressed in all the colours of the rainbow, though
their rags were coarse, dirty, a ad full of vermin ; while
mixed with both were to be seen bands of Sunyasis
covered with ashes, and some of them completely naked,
all armed with stout staffs for extorting that charity which
might otherwise have been refused to them.

Generally, all the passengers were on foot, but,
occasionally, covered waggons were seen carrying the
women of the higher classes, whose smiling faces were
ever and anon visible through the canvas parted by
curious hands. At greater intervals came down trains of
pi'dlds carrying over the rich ladies of Calcutta and its
immediate neighbourhood, the good-natured inmates
always keeping the sliding doors of their prison-house
partially open, that they might see and be seen by the
other travellers on the road. More rarely still passed
caravans of elephants, camels, and led horses taking down
north-country Rajahs and their seraglio, the latter carrv-
ing on their flirtations under the very nose of the chu-
prassis set over them.

" I thought that the journey would be fatiguing,
Babajee, but find it on the contrary to be exceedingly

" Of course you do, for you have no knowledge of its
disagreeable side yet. There are many disadvantages
connected with it which, I hope, it will not fall to our lot
to encounter."

" Disadvantages ? I can scarcely conceive what they
can be."

" Want of food, want of water, mortality ; all these are


felt by those who have to make a continuous journey for
months almost for the first time in their lives, and are
not accustomed to privations as we have become. In
their onward journey they have funds with them, and
perhaps do not suffer very much, except in the purse ;
but on the return journey, when their purses have got
lightened, they suffer so much as to die off by thousands
every week."

" Why, that is horrible to think of," exclaimed Monohur,
as the brightness of the picture he was painting got
clouded. " How many come to Pooree then annually, aud
how many out of them die on the road ? "

" I really don't know. I doubt if there be any data
anywhere to show that. But it is said that at this Car
festival, that we are proceeding to witness, somewhere
near a hundred and fifty thousand men will be con-
gregated, of whom not more than three-fourths will ever
get back to their homes."

Monohur was almost terrified into silence, and avoided
further conversation until late in the evening, when he
heard some pilgrims complaining of an extortionate
ferryman who had fleeced them.

" How is that, Babajee ? Are not the ferry rates fixed ?
I have often seen you to part with ferrymen on the best
terms, without complaining that you were cheated."

" O, my son, I am a man of the world as well as a
Sunyasi, and put up cheerfully with impositions which
it is not in my power to prevent. The rates, as you say,
are fixed, and, what is more, they are always posted up
at a prominent place near every ferry. But look at the
bulk of pilgrims before you, and say how many of them
you think can read and write. How, then, are they to
dispute the demands made of them ? "


" But you can read and write, Babajee ; why have you
never complained of the imposition which, you say, it was
not in your power to prevent ? }>

" Have we not always been fleeing for our lives ?
Even if it were otherwise, who would wish to leave his
occupation or business, or to postpone his journey, to
prosecute an extortionate farmer ? "

" And this, of course, emboldens the fellows to wrench
out whatever rates they choose ? "

" It does ; and they vary their demands only according
to the head-force of the men they have to deal with, of
which they are excellent judges."

Monohur felt that his bright picture was, one after
another, losing all its roseate hues. The downright
realities before him, deprived of the unreal lights in
which he had hitherto viewed them, now looked as ugly
and frightful daubs ; and his uneasiness was yet further
augmented when he heard a short while after that, on the
previous day, there had been a case of poisoning on the road .

" This is what I could never have dreamt of," exclaimed
he. " How in such a frequented road can any attempt to
poison be made ? "

" 0, nothing is easier," answered the Sunyasi. " When
people who don't know one another, have to eat and sleep
almost side by side at so many places, what so easy for
the poisoner than, under the veil of fellowship, to mix
dhatoord, arsenic, or aconite with the food of his fellow-
travellers ? "

" But, surely, the chances of escape, after commission
of the crime, are less in a crowded road than elsewhere ?"

" They ought to be ; but as the effect of dhatoord is
only giddiness or partial stupefaction to begin with, that
is often attributed to mere weariness, and passes un-


noticed till the poisoners have had time to place a con-
siderable distance between themselves and their victims."

" Ah ! your pilgrimages, then, are productive of fright-
ful atrocities and crimes, Babajee. The gain per contra
must be great indeed to tempt so many to prosecute
them under such risks with so much enthusiasm."

"The gain? Of course the gain is great, my son.
Don't you know what it is ? ' Rathay Bahmana dristay
poonarjanma nabidatay ! ' e He that has seen the Dwarf*
face to face at the time of the Car festival has no further
births to pass through ! '

A brisk walk brought our travellers to the city of
Pooree, where, lost in the great wave of pilgrims, they
put up for the night openly with others, without any fears
or misgivings.

" You may rest here in peace with us/' said the Panda
who found accommodation for them, " musing on the
Great Creator whom you shall see in the flesh to-morrow ;
and, if you are not niggardly in your charities, nor in
your offerings to the Deity, there is no reason why you
should not secure a straight and easy path to heaven."

" O, priest," said the Sunyasi, " I am but half a beggar
by trade, and possess little indeed, of the treasures of the
world, and this youth is my chelah, or disciple, having, at
present at least, no other person to befriend him. But
what little we have with us we shall certainly pour out
freely to secure our salvation ; and we shall do it in such
manner as you yourself may direct."

The Panda was fully gratified, and left them with a
smiling face, to speak in the same sense to the many other
pilgrims he had brought together on the same errand,
and to the same spot.

2 An Avatar of Vishnu.




THE night was passed pleasantly, the pilgrims sitting up
to a late hour to listen to the story of Jagganath, which
was narrated by the Panda for their edification.

" In the golden age the Lord of the Universe was
worshipped in Orissa by the name of Nilmadhava, or the
Blue God, and dwelt in a large forest near to the sea-
shore. His reputation was so great that a puissant Rajah
of Oujein, named Indradyamna, came with a large follow-
ing to see him. But the god was wroth at his ostenta-
tion and pride, and said ' Thou surely shalt not see me
till I have cured thee of thy self-esteem ;' and the blue
stone vanished from the forest it had inhabited, and was
nowhere to be found.

"'Gone!' exclaimed the Rajah, in blank dismay.
' Evanished, just when, after years of anxious thought, I
had come out hither to see him ! 0, merciful Heaven !
why was such grievous disappointment reserved for me ? '

" Sore, sore grieved the Rajah, that his heart's wish
could not be gratified. Hot tears ran thick and fast from
his eyes, and he sobbed almost like a child. For years
and years he had thought of nothing but how he should
approach the deity, and this, the sole wish of his heart,
was now hopelessly frustrated.

" ' Build him a temple/ said the priest of Nilmadhava,



' and the god will surely come to inhabit it. You have
wealth, position, and honour; how can he meet such a
man in the forest, under the hedges, where men in rags
and tatters only come to seek for him ? '

" The king snatched up the idea with great eagerness,
and a grand temple was built on the sea-shore within the
shortest time. But still the god came not, and the Rajah
clasped his hands vainly in despair.

" ' O, king ! ' said the priest to him once more, ' if
your faith and love be really so great, and worthy of the
deity you seek, build him a city round the temple. How
can he inhabit a temple built on a waste ? '

"'I shall certainly do so/ said the king; and they
had not to wait long before a large city arose around the
wild spot where the temple had been raised, and a large
and glorious city it was, even this city of Pooree.

" But the god was still as obdurate as ever, and even
his priest knew not what further suggestions to offer.

" ' Must we go back, then, without seeing him ? ' asked
the Rajah's wife, in a plaintive voice of complaint.

" ' Not so, my beloved ! ' said the king decisively. ' I
have read the Veds and the Purans, and know how to
perform those austerities which it is not given even unto
the gods to disregard or repel / and he sat down to per-
form Jloms and Jagyas which shook the deep foundations
of heaven.

" ' This man will surely force me to reveal myself to
him/ observed Nilmadhava, in a cogitative mood. ' He
has thought for nothing else in his heart but me. How
is such a devotee to be gainsaid ? '

" Thus compelled to appear the god made himself
visible to the king in a dream, in the form of a Neem-
wood log, which was decked with all the insignia of


Vishnu. The Rajah awoke with irrepressible feelings;
and the block of wood seemed as if it were vanishing
before his eyes, and lo, it was gone !

" Sore, sore grieved was the Rajah again that it was
only a dream; but when he spoke of the vision to his
courtiers and servants, and when the news of it was car-
ried far and wide, the response came quickly that just
such a block of wood as that described by the king had
made its appearance on the sea-shore, having been thrown
up by the tide. The Rajah now cried out in an agony of
joy ' 0, my heart's wish ! 0, Saviour of my race ! hast
thou descended to me at last ? ' and all his retinue were
set to draw up the wood from the beach, and were
helped by the labouring population of the place with
great enthusiasm.

" ' There it is up at last ! ' exclaimed the king with
ecstasy, 'the emblem of the deity that has been sent
down to us from heaven ! ' and his wife and relatives
joined him with eager voices to raise the song of exultation
and love.

" ' 0, king ! ' said the priest of Nilmadhava, ' it be-
hoves you now to give this shapeless wood a form. You
have built a temple for the deity. Will you set up this

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryShoshee Chunder DuttThe young Zemindár : his erratic wanderings and eventual return : being a record of life, manners, and events in Bengal of from forty to fifty years ago → online text (page 10 of 28)