Imágenes de páginas
[blocks in formation]

the Company's territories. These solemn sacrifices are always performed in the presence


many witnesses, and during the celebration of various religious rites and ceremonies by the Brahmins.

On such a sacrifice being announced, a large crowd assemble ; a round pit is dug, of a depth sufficient for a man to stand upright, into which the self-devoted victim descends, and the earth is gradually thrown on, until it entirely covers him. A tomb of solid masonry is immediately erected over his head, and solemn rites and flowery offerings are performed at stated periods, in memory of a saint who is supposed to have rendered an acceptable sacrifice to the destructive power, or some other deity in the Hindoo mythology.

In some particular castes, the Hindoo widows, instead of burning themselves on the funeral pile of their husbands, are buried alive with the dead body. The deluded female, with the utmost composure, scats herself near the deceased in an upright posture; when the earth is gently filled around her, until it reaches her mouth; it is then thrown on in large quantities, that she may be the sooner suffocated. •

Instances occur of the Suttee, or Hindoo widow, who has thus devoted herself to death, being reclaimed ; but they are very uncommon.

Sir Charles Malet communicated to me an event of this kind, which happened during his embassy at Poonah, on the 5th of September 1792, as related in the following extract from his diary

“An extraordinary incident happened this day. A sepoy of my guard, of the Mharatta, or Columbee tribe, died; his wife immediately declared herself a suttee; that is, resolved to devote herself to the

[blocks in formation]

flames with his body: she accordingly assumed the yellow garment, the turban, the mirror, and all other insignia usual on such occasions. When informed of her resolution, I desired the officer of the guard, Captain H-, to endeavour to divert the suttee from her intention, and in case of failure to acquaint me with the result. He soon communicated his despair of success, and I desired her to be brought to me.

“ I found her a healthy young woman, about twenty-two years of age, in a state of mind firmly resolved on sacrificing herself with her dead husband, whom she incessantly and passionately invoked, with every endearing expression. The scene was singular and affecting: I scarce knew how to commence the difficult task of soothing grief so poignant, or of diverting a resolution founded on despair. In the course of my endeavours I found the poor suttee had no relations at Poonah; her father and mother lived in her native village, at some distance. I discovered likewise that her husband's death had exposed her to the dread of absolute distress. The first subject furnished a strong counteracting power to the passionate grief that possessed her mind, and by proper application awakened a new sensation : which, followed up, produced a flood of tears, the first symptom of relaxation from determined grief. A counteracting passion being thus excited, the dread of distress was soothed by assurances, properly introduced, of maintenance in the means of devoting her future life to the discharge of religious ceremonies at the shrine of her household gods, in honour of her husband's memory? which would be more grateful to the gods, and acceptable to him, than sacrificing herself on his pyreal pile.



“ After these and a variety of other arguments, which occupied nearly three hours, in the course whereof gentle restraint was sometimes imposed on occasional fits of passion and anguish, she was at length persuaded to suspend her fatal purpose until the arrival of her parents; to whom a messenger was dispatched in her presence, with a letter, and money for the expenses of their journey to the capital. The Hindoos attach the merit of the most sublime and holy heroism to this self-devotion; but the resolution once suspended, is seldom resumed, and was not in the present instance.

“I am sorry to remark, that I really believe the Hindoo spectators were rather grieved and mortified, than pleased at our success in saving this poor creature from the flames."

I am not certain whether the Hindoos have any religious ceremony, or libation, before their meals, like the libamina of the Romans, or the Christian's grace; that ablution precedes their repast is well known; it is also introduced among the Mahomedans, and adopted by some Europeans. Although, after a dusty journey among the Hindoo villages in my districts, I might neither drink out of their cups, nor wash my hands in their basons, yet would the women gently pour water from their jars into my hands, contracted into the form of a cup; and held sloping to the mouth : this is a common method for the Indians of different castes to take water from each other. Pouring water over the hands to wash, instead of dipping them into a bason, has been always an oriental custom; we frequently meet with it in ancient manners. Elisha



poured water upon the hands of his master Elijah : Moses washed Aaron with water, and poured the anointing oil upon his head, to sanctify him. When I dined with the Dutch governor at Cochin, three female slaves, neatly dressed, attended each of the guests before the dinner was put on the table; one girl held a silver bason decked with flowers, to contain the water, which another poured upon his hands, from a silver vase; and a third offered a clean napkin on a salver.

At the English tables two servants attend after dinner, with a gindey and ewer, of silver or white copper; the former is adorned with freshgathered flowers, stuck in a perforated cover, to conceal the water which is poured from the latter over the hands of each guest.

Whether the Hindoos annex any sacred idea to salt, I am not certain ; the Mahomedans assuredly do throughout Asia. It is common among all the castes of India, and adopted by the English, to say of an ungrateful or perfidious man, that “he is not worth his salt.” It is a sacred pledge of hospitality among all the followers of the Prophet. Numerous instances occur of travellers in Arabia, after being plundered and stripped by the wandering tribes of the desert, claiming the protection of some civilized Arab, who, after once receiving him into his tent, and giving him salt, instantly relieves his distress, and never forsakes his guest until he is placed in safety. The tale of the forty thieves in the Arabian Nights Entertainments, presents a singular instance of the effect of eating salt, even in the mind of a robber and a murderer.



This Arabian story is confirmed by a real anecdote in d'Herbelot, of Jacoub ben Laith, then a celebrated robber, but afterwards the founder of a dynasty of Persian monarchs, called Soffarides; who in one of his exploits having broken into the royal palace, and collected a large booty, was on the point of carrying it off, when he found his foot kick against something which made him stumble. Imagining it might be an article of value, he put it to his mouth, the better to distinguish it. On tasting he found it was a lump of salt, the symbol and pledge of hospitality; on which, he was so touched, that he retired immediately without carrying away any part of the spoil. The next morning occasioned the greatest surprise in the palace; Jacoub was taken up and brought before the prince, to whom he gave a faithful account of the whole transaction, and by this means so ingratiated himself with his sovereign, that he employed him, as a man of courage and genius, in many arduous enterprizes; in which he was so successful as to be raised to the command of his troops ; whose confidence and affection to their general, made them, on the prince's death, prefer his interest to that of the heir to the throne, from whence he afterwards spread his extensive conquests.

Salt was equally emblematical and sacred among the Greeks; Homer says, “ they sprinkle sacred salt from lifted urns."

“ With water purify their hands, and take

The sacred offering of the salted cake."


« AnteriorContinuar »