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22

SNAKE CHARMERS.

and the fatal accident which ensued there : I have since had many opportunites of witnessing the effect of these charmers upon the serpents in Guzerat ; my garden at Dhuboy was infested with them, and I have every reason to believe they were attracted from it to follow these musicians. It may appear extraordinary in Europe, but as I have already observed, there is an allusion to it in the Hebrew poetry; and the ancients were doubtless well acquainted with their power,

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any such they possess. Medea is said to have charmed, by the melody of her voice, the dragon which guarded the golden fleece; and similar effects are mentioned in Virgil's Æneid :

“ Vipereo generi, et graviter spirantibus hydris

Spargere, qui somnos cantûque manâque solebat,
Mulcebatque iras, et morsus arte levabat.

“ His wand and holy words the viper's rage,
And venoni'd wound of serpents could assuage."

DRYDEN's VIRGIL.

Herodotus mentions that in the vicinity of Thebes there were sacred serpents not at all troublesome to men; and also in the citadel of Athens a large serpent in the temple which continually defended it; and of this they had such an entire conviction, that they offered it every month cakes of honey, which were always consumed.

Dr. Buchanan, describing his journey through the Mysore, says that he was shewn the pit where Sedasiva, who flourished there in the fifteenth century, and erected a temple to Iswara at Kilida, found a treasure, and a sword, which were the commencement of his

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good fortune. “ To this spot he was conducted by a naga, or hooded serpent, sent for the purpose by some propitious deity. While Sedasiva was asleep in a field, the naga came, and shaded his head from the sun, by raising up as an umbrella its large flat neck. The young man was awaked by a shriek from his mother, who in looking after her son found him under the power of the monster. He immediately started up to escape, but was opposed by the serpent, until he consented to follow it quietly, and was conducted to the place where the treasure was hid. Here the snake began to bite the ground, and make signs; at length Sedasiva, having dug into the earth, found a cave filled with treasure, and containing a sword. Such are the fables by which the Hindoo chiefs endeavour to gain the admiration and respect of their countrymen, whose credulity indeed renders the means very adequate to the end proposed."

Among other curious circumstances in my administration of justice at Dhuboy, I was sometimes obliged to admit of the ordeal trial, of which I have related all the particular ceremonies in my chapter on the Malabar coast, and on Baroche, where it is so generally practiced. During my abode among the northern Hindoos, I found it likewise universally credited, and more or less followed under all the governments in Guzerat, particularly that by boiling oil. In one instance a man was accused of stealing a child covered with jewels, which is a common mode of adorning infants among the wealthy Hindoos. Many circumstances appeared against him, on which he demanded the ordeal : it was a measure to which I was very averse, but at the particular

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request of the Hindoo arbitrators, who sat on the carpet of justice, and especially at the earnest entreaty of the child's parents, I consented. A cauldron of boiling oil was brought into the durbar, and after a short ceremony by the Brahmins, the accused person, , without shewing any anxiety, dipped his hand to the bottom, and took out a small silver coin, which I still preserve in remembrance of this transaction. He did not appear to have sustained any damage, or to suffer the smallest pain ; but the process went on no further, as the parents declared themselves perfectly convinced of his innocence.

The practice called Dherna is not only known, but used in many places in Guzerat ; it appears to me as singular as any custom among the Bhauts, or any other extraordinary people among whom my lot was cast; and seldom did a day pass without

my hearing something extraordinary concerning them. As I cannot describe the dherna from my own experience, I shall introduce Lord Teignmouth's accouut of it, as another instance of the wonderful power the Brahmins have obtained over the minds of the Hindoos.

“ The inviolability of the Brahmin is a fixed principle of the Hindoos; and to deprive him of life, either by direct violence, or by causing his death in any mode, is a crime which admits of no expiation. To this principle may be traced the practice called dherna, which

be translated caption, or arrest. It is used by the Brahmins to gain a point which cannot be accomplished by any other means ; and the process is as follows. The Brahmin who adopts this expedient for the purpose mentioned, proceeds to the door or house of the person against whom it is directed, or

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wherever he may most conveniently intercept him ; he there sits down in dherna, with poison, or a poignard, or some other instrument of suicide, in his hand : and threatening to use it if his adversary should attempt to molest or pass him, he thus completely arrests him. In this situation the Brahmin fasts, and by the rigour of the etiquette, the unfortunate object of his arrest ought also to fast; and thus they both remain until the institutor of the dherna obtains satisfaction. In this, as he seldom makes the attempt without resolution to persevere, he rarely fails; for if the party thus arrested were to suffer the Brahmin sitting in dherna, to perish by hunger, the sin would for ever lie upon his head. This practice has been less frequent of late years, since the institution of the court of justice at Benares in 1783 ; but the interference of that court, and even that of the resident there, has occasionally proved insufficient to check it; as it has been deemed in general most prudent to avoid for this purpose the use of coercion, from an apprehension that the first appearance of it might drive the sitter in dherna to suicide. The discredit of the act would not only fall upon the officers of justice, but upon the government itself. The practice of sitting in dherna is not confined to male brahmins only; females of the same tribe often perform it.”

The same intelligent writer mentions another singular and cruel custom called the koor. “This term is explained to mean a circular pile of wood, which is prepared ready for conflagrations; upon this, sometimes a cow, sometimes an old woman, is placed by the constructors of the pile; and the whole is consumed toge

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EXTRAORDINARY CUSTOMS.

ther. The objectof this practice is to intimidate the officers of government, or others, from importunate demands; as the effect of the sacrifice is supposed to involve in great sin the person whose conduct forces the constructor of the koor to this expedient. A woman who had been placed upon the Khoor in a dispute between three Brahmins in the province of Benares, was saved by the timely interposition of authority, and the attainment of the object by the temporary intimidation. She was summoned to appear before the English superintendant of the province, but absolutely refused to attend him ; declaring that she would throw herself into the first well, rather than submit. She was nearly blind from age, and the summons was not enforced.”

Many other extraordinary customs prevailed in the purgunnas under my charge; which I do not particularize, from a consciousness that in England they would have a very suspicious appearance.

The cremation of Hindoo widows with the bodies of their deceased husbands, is now no longer doubted; but, it is more difficult to believe, that men in the prime of life, and surrounded by every blessing, should voluntarily desire to immolate themselves to their deities, and be buried alive ; which is no uncommon sacrifice among the tribe of Gosannees and other Hindoo devotees. A short time before I took charge of Dhuboy, a young man insisted on being interred alive near the temple at the Gate of Diamonds; and soon afterwards another performed the same sacrifice about half a mile without the English districts, because I refused him permission to do it in his native village ; for neither is this self-immolation, the cremation of women, nor any other act of suicide, allowed within

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