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    Chapter 52

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    Chapter 53
    Previous Chapter
    Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    In one of those Benares temples we saw a devotee working for salvation in
    a curious way. He had a huge wad of clay beside him and was making it up
    into little wee gods no bigger than carpet tacks. He stuck a grain of
    rice into each--to represent the lingam, I think. He turned them out
    nimbly, for he had had long practice and had acquired great facility.
    Every day he made 2,000 gods, then threw them into the holy Ganges. This
    act of homage brought him the profound homage of the pious--also their
    coppers. He had a sure living here, and was earning a high place in the
    hereafter.

    The Ganges front is the supreme show-place of Benares. Its tall bluffs
    are solidly caked from water to summit, along a stretch of three miles,
    with a splendid jumble of massive and picturesque masonry, a bewildering
    and beautiful confusion of stone platforms, temples, stair-flights, rich
    and stately palaces--nowhere a break, nowhere a glimpse of the bluff
    itself; all the long face of it is compactly walled from sight by this
    crammed perspective of platforms, soaring stairways, sculptured temples,
    majestic palaces, softening away into the distances; and there is
    movement, motion, human life everywhere, and brilliantly costumed
    --streaming in rainbows up and down the lofty stairways, and massed in
    metaphorical flower-gardens on the miles of great platforms at the
    river's edge.

    All this masonry, all this architecture represents piety. The palaces
    were built by native princes whose homes, as a rule, are far from
    Benares, but who go there from time to time to refresh their souls with
    the sight and touch of the Ganges, the river of their idolatry. The
    stairways are records of acts of piety; the crowd of costly little
    temples are tokens of money spent by rich men for present credit and hope
    of future reward. Apparently, the rich Christian who spends large sums
    upon his religion is conspicuous with us, by his rarity, but the rich
    Hindoo who doesn't spend large sums upon his religion is seemingly
    non-existent. With us the poor spend money on their religion, but they
    keep back some to live on. Apparently, in India, the poor bankrupt
    themselves daily for their religion. The rich Hindoo can afford his
    pious outlays; he gets much glory for his spendings, yet keeps back a
    sufficiency of his income for temporal purposes; but the poor Hindoo is
    entitled to compassion, for his spendings keep him poor, yet get him no
    glory.

    We made the usual trip up and down the river, seated in chairs under an
    awning on the deck of the usual commodious hand-propelled ark; made it
    two or three times, and could have made it with increasing interest and
    enjoyment many times more; for, of course, the palaces and temples would
    grow more and more beautiful every time one saw them, for that happens
    with all such things; also, I think one would not get tired of the
    bathers, nor their costumes, nor of their ingenuities in getting out of
    them and into them again without exposing too much bronze, nor of their
    devotional gesticulations and absorbed bead-tellings.

    But I should get tired of seeing them wash their mouths with that
    dreadful water and drink it. In fact, I did get tired of it, and very
    early, too. At one place where we halted for a while, the foul gush from
    a sewer was making the water turbid and murky all around, and there was a
    random corpse slopping around in it that had floated down from up
    country. Ten steps below that place stood a crowd of men, women, and
    comely young maidens waist deep in the water-and they were scooping it up
    in their hands and drinking it. Faith can certainly do wonders, and this
    is an instance of it. Those people were not drinking that fearful stuff
    to assuage thirst, but in order to purify their souls and the interior of
    their bodies. According to their creed, the Ganges water makes
    everything pure that it touches--instantly and utterly pure. The sewer
    water was not an offence to them, the corpse did not revolt them; the
    sacred water had touched both, and both were now snow-pure, and could
    defile no one. The memory of that sight will always stay by me; but not
    by request.

    A word further concerning the nasty but all-purifying Ganges water. When
    we went to Agra, by and by, we happened there just in time to be in at
    the birth of a marvel--a memorable scientific discovery--the discovery
    that in certain ways the foul and derided Ganges water is the most
    puissant purifier in the world! This curious fact, as I have said, had
    just been added to the treasury of modern science. It had long been
    noted as a strange thing that while Benares is often afflicted with the
    cholera she does not spread it beyond her borders. This could not be
    accounted for. Mr. Henkin, the scientist in the employ of the government
    of Agra, concluded to examine the water. He went to Benares and made his
    tests. He got water at the mouths of the sewers where they empty into
    the river at the bathing ghats; a cubic centimetre of it contained
    millions of germs; at the end of six hours they were all dead. He caught
    a floating corpse, towed it to the shore, and from beside it he dipped up
    water that was swarming with cholera germs; at the end of six hours they
    were all dead. He added swarm after swarm of cholera germs to this
    water; within the six hours they always died, to the last sample.
    Repeatedly, he took pure well water which was bare of animal life, and
    put into it a few cholera germs; they always began to propagate at once,
    and always within six hours they swarmed--and were numberable by millions
    upon millions.

    For ages and ages the Hindoos have had absolute faith that the water of
    the Ganges was absolutely pure, could not be defiled by any contact
    whatsoever, and infallibly made pure and clean whatsoever thing touched
    it. They still believe it, and that is why they bathe in it and drink
    it, caring nothing for its seeming filthiness and the floating corpses.
    The Hindoos have been laughed at, these many generations, but the
    laughter will need to modify itself a little from now on. How did
    they find out the water's secret in those ancient ages? Had they
    germ-scientists then? We do not know. We only know that they had a
    civilization long before we emerged from savagery. But to return to
    where I was before; I was about to speak of the burning-ghat.

    They do not burn fakeers--those revered mendicants. They are so holy
    that they can get to their place without that sacrament, provided they be
    consigned to the consecrating river. We saw one carried to mid-stream
    and thrown overboard. He was sandwiched between two great slabs of
    stone.

    We lay off the cremation-ghat half an hour and saw nine corpses burned.
    I should not wish to see any more of it, unless I might select the
    parties. The mourners follow the bier through the town and down to the
    ghat; then the bier-bearers deliver the body to some low-caste natives
    --Doms--and the mourners turn about and go back home. I heard no crying
    and saw no tears, there was no ceremony of parting. Apparently, these
    expressions of grief and affection are reserved for the privacy of the
    home. The dead women came draped in red, the men in white. They are
    laid in the water at the river's edge while the pyre is being prepared.

    The first subject was a man. When the Doms unswathed him to wash him, he
    proved to be a sturdily built, well-nourished and handsome old gentleman,
    with not a sign about him to suggest that he had ever been ill. Dry wood
    was brought and built up into a loose pile; the corpse was laid upon it
    and covered over with fuel. Then a naked holy man who was sitting on
    high ground a little distance away began to talk and shout with great
    energy, and he kept up this noise right along. It may have been the
    funeral sermon, and probably was. I forgot to say that one of the
    mourners remained behind when the others went away. This was the dead
    man's son, a boy of ten or twelve, brown and handsome, grave and
    self-possessed, and clothed in flowing white. He was there to burn his
    father. He was given a torch, and while he slowly walked seven times
    around the pyre the naked black man on the high ground poured out his
    sermon more clamorously than ever. The seventh circuit completed, the
    boy applied the torch at his father's head, then at his feet; the flames
    sprang briskly up with a sharp crackling noise, and the lad went away.
    Hindoos do not want daughters, because their weddings make such a ruinous
    expense; but they want sons, so that at death they may have honorable
    exit from the world; and there is no honor equal to the honor of having
    one's pyre lighted by one's son. The father who dies sonless is in a
    grievous situation indeed, and is pitied. Life being uncertain, the
    Hindoo marries while he is still a boy, in the hope that he will have a
    son ready when the day of his need shall come. But if he have no son, he
    will adopt one. This answers every purpose.

    Meantime the corpse is burning, also several others. It is a dismal
    business. The stokers did not sit down in idleness, but moved briskly
    about, punching up the fires with long poles, and now and then adding
    fuel. Sometimes they hoisted the half of a skeleton into the air, then
    slammed it down and beat it with the pole, breaking it up so that it
    would burn better. They hoisted skulls up in the same way and banged and
    battered them. The sight was hard to bear; it would have been harder if
    the mourners had stayed to witness it. I had but a moderate desire to
    see a cremation, so it was soon satisfied. For sanitary reasons it would
    be well if cremation were universal; but this form is revolting, and not
    to be recommended.

    The fire used is sacred, of course--for there is money in it. Ordinary
    fire is forbidden; there is no money in it. I was told that this sacred
    fire is all furnished by one person, and that he has a monopoly of it and
    charges a good price for it. Sometimes a rich mourner pays a thousand
    rupees for it. To get to paradise from India is an expensive thing.
    Every detail connected with the matter costs something, and helps to
    fatten a priest. I suppose it is quite safe to conclude that that
    fire-bug is in holy orders.

    Close to the cremation-ground stand a few time-worn stones which are
    remembrances of the suttee. Each has a rough carving upon it,
    representing a man and a woman standing or walking hand in hand, and
    marks the spot where a widow went to her death by fire in the days when
    the suttee flourished. Mr. Parker said that widows would burn themselves
    now if the government would allow it. The family that can point to one
    of these little memorials and say: "She who burned herself there was an
    ancestress of ours," is envied.

    It is a curious people. With them, all life seems to be sacred except
    human life. Even the life of vermin is sacred, and must not be taken.
    The good Jain wipes off a seat before using it, lest he cause the death
    of-some valueless insect by sitting down on it. It grieves him to have
    to drink water, because the provisions in his stomach may not agree with
    the microbes. Yet India invented Thuggery and the Suttee. India is a
    hard country to understand. We went to the temple of the Thug goddess,
    Bhowanee, or Kali, or Durga. She has these names and others. She is the
    only god to whom living sacrifices are made. Goats are sacrificed to
    her. Monkeys would be cheaper. There are plenty of them about the
    place. Being sacred, they make themselves very free, and scramble around
    wherever they please. The temple and its porch are beautifully carved,
    but this is not the case with the idol. Bhowanee is not pleasant to look
    at. She has a silver face, and a projecting swollen tongue painted a
    deep red. She wears a necklace of skulls.

    In fact, none of the idols in Benares are handsome or attractive. And
    what a swarm of them there is! The town is a vast museum of idols--and
    all of them crude, misshapen, and ugly. They flock through one's dreams
    at night, a wild mob of nightmares. When you get tired of them in the
    temples and take a trip on the river, you find idol giants, flashily
    painted, stretched out side by side on the shore. And apparently
    wherever there is room for one more lingam, a lingam is there. If Vishnu
    had foreseen what his town was going to be, he would have called it
    Idolville or Lingamburg.

    The most conspicuous feature of Benares is the pair of slender white
    minarets which tower like masts from the great Mosque of Aurangzeb. They
    seem to be always in sight, from everywhere, those airy, graceful,
    inspiring things. But masts is not the right word, for masts have a
    perceptible taper, while these minarets have not. They are 142 feet
    high, and only 8 1/2 feet in diameter at the base, and 7 1/2 at the
    summit--scarcely any taper at all. These are the proportions of a
    candle; and fair and fairylike candles these are. Will be, anyway, some
    day, when the Christians inherit them and top them with the electric
    light. There is a great view from up there--a wonderful view. A large
    gray monkey was part of it, and damaged it. A monkey has no judgment.
    This one was skipping about the upper great heights of the mosque
    --skipping across empty yawning intervals which were almost too wide for
    him, and which he only just barely cleared, each time, by the skin of his
    teeth. He got me so nervous that I couldn't look at the view. I
    couldn't look at anything but him. Every time he went sailing over one
    of those abysses my breath stood still, and when he grabbed for the perch
    he was going for, I grabbed too, in sympathy. And he was perfectly
    indifferent, perfectly unconcerned, and I did all the panting myself.
    He came within an ace of losing his life a dozen times, and I was so
    troubled about him that I would have shot him if I had had anything to do
    it with. But I strongly recommend the view. There is more monkey than
    view, and there is always going to be more monkey while that idiot
    survives, but what view you get is superb. All Benares, the river, and
    the region round about are spread before you. Take a gun, and look at
    the view.

    The next thing I saw was more reposeful. It was a new kind of art. It
    was a picture painted on water. It was done by a native. He sprinkled
    fine dust of various colors on the still surface of a basin of water, and
    out of these sprinklings a dainty and pretty picture gradually grew, a
    picture which a breath could destroy. Somehow it was impressive, after
    so much browsing among massive and battered and decaying fanes that rest
    upon ruins, and those ruins upon still other ruins, and those upon still
    others again. It was a sermon, an allegory, a symbol of Instability.
    Those creations in stone were only a kind of water pictures, after all.

    A prominent episode in the Indian career of Warren Hastings had Benares
    for its theater. Wherever that extraordinary man set his foot, he left
    his mark. He came to Benares in 1781 to collect a fine of L500,000 which
    he had levied upon its Rajah, Cheit Singly on behalf of the East India
    Company. Hastings was a long way from home and help. There were,
    probably, not a dozen Englishmen within reach; the Rajah was in his fort
    with his myriads around him. But no matter. From his little camp in a
    neighboring garden, Hastings sent a party to arrest the sovereign. He
    sent on this daring mission a couple of hundred native soldiers sepoys
    --under command of three young English lieutenants. The Rajah submitted
    without a word. The incident lights up the Indian situation
    electrically, and gives one a vivid sense of the strides which the
    English had made and the mastership they had acquired in the land since
    the date of Clive's great victory. In a quarter of a century, from being
    nobodies, and feared by none, they were become confessed lords and
    masters, feared by all, sovereigns included, and served by all,
    sovereigns included. It makes the fairy tales sound true. The English
    had not been afraid to enlist native soldiers to fight against their own
    people and keep them obedient. And now Hastings was not afraid to come
    away out to this remote place with a handful of such soldiers and send
    them to arrest a native sovereign.

    The lieutenants imprisoned the Rajah in his own fort. It was beautiful,
    the pluckiness of it, the impudence of it. The arrest enraged the
    Rajah's people, and all Benares came storming about the place and
    threatening vengeance. And yet, but for an accident, nothing important
    would have resulted, perhaps. The mob found out a most strange thing, an
    almost incredible thing--that this handful of soldiers had come on this
    hardy errand with empty guns and no ammunition. This has been attributed
    to thoughtlessness, but it could hardly have been that, for in such large
    emergencies as this, intelligent people do think. It must have been
    indifference, an over-confidence born of the proved submissiveness of the
    native character, when confronted by even one or two stern Britons in
    their war paint. But, however that may be, it was a fatal discovery that
    the mob had made. They were full of courage, now, and they broke into
    the fort and massacred the helpless soldiers and their officers.
    Hastings escaped from Benares by night and got safely away, leaving the
    principality in a state of wild insurrection; but he was back again
    within the month, and quieted it down in his prompt and virile way, and
    took the Rajah's throne away from him and gave it to another man. He was
    a capable kind of person was Warren Hastings. This was the only time he
    was ever out of ammunition. Some of his acts have left stains upon his
    name which can never be washed away, but he saved to England the Indian
    Empire, and that was the best service that was ever done to the Indians
    themselves, those wretched heirs of a hundred centuries of pitiless
    oppression and abuse.
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