Jacolliot, Louis - Occult Science in India - 03 Fakirs The Bronze vase
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Jacolliot, Louis - Occult Science in India
THE BRONZE VASE—MUSICAL ACCOMPANIMENTS.
"In view of the strange phenomena which succeed each other so rapidly, and which are as yet unexplained," says the learned Mr. Crookes, in the article to which we have referred, "I confess that it is difficult to avoid speaking of them in language of a somewhat sensational character."
While the incomparable light of a tropic sun and the splendours of Indian scenery form a natural and appropriate setting for these phenomena, and heighten their effect, they make it more difficult, however, for us to avoid the mistake pointed out by the eminent chemist of the Royal Society of London. Still, we think that it is possible to select words that shall express facts without making them more marvellous than they really are, and that shall simply and accurately describe the phenomena as they actually occurred.
We made no attempt to repeat the series of experiments of which we gave an account in the last chapter, but we lost no opportunity, during our long abode in the French possessions in India, and the different voyages we made in that vast country, of attentively observing any manifestations that bore any relation to that subject.
Leaving Chandernagor on the 3d of January, 1866, in a dingui, which is a sort of boat peculiar to that country, provided with a small cabin, I arrived at Benares, the Holy City, a fortnight afterward. Two servants accompanied me, a cansama, or valet-de-chambre, and a metor, whose duty it was to prepare my meals.
The crew consisted of a cercar, or head boatman, and six macouas, or rowers, belonging to the caste of fishermen.
Shortly before sunset one evening we were lying off the staircase of Gath near the celebrated pagoda of Siva. It is impossible to describe the spectacle that met my eyes.
"Few cities," says E. Roberts, "no matter how magnificent, are so grand and imposing in appearance as Benares."
When the watchful traveller ascends the Ganges his approach to the great city is first announced by the appearance of the minarets, whose towers, rising above the heavy masses of the surrounding palaces, are scattered in an apparently disorderly, though picturesque manner, along the crooked banks of the river, for about a couple of leagues.
It is impossible to resist the impression made by the magnificent panorama presented by such a multitude of temples, towers, long arcades supported by columns, elevated quays, and terraces whose balustrades stand out in strong relief, amid the luxuriant foliage of baobab, tamarind, and banana trees; and which, covered here and there with clusters of flowers of various shades, appearing among the heavily carved buildings, rise majestically above gardens, beautifully situated among spacious courts.
The absence of any regular plan, the different styles of architecture, the mingling of the austere and solemn with the light and fantastic, give an odd appearance to some parts of the scene, but its effect as a whole is magnificent, and most of the details possess a beauty of which it is impossible to give any conception.
The gaths, which are a sort of monument composed of four columns united by a single cornice, and which are situated at the top of the gigantic stairs, whose bottom steps are bathed in the waters of the Ganges, are the only quays possessed by the old city, which was the ancient Massy of the earliest rajahs. From the rising to the setting of the sun they are covered by coolies loading and unloading the small vessels that traverse the Ganges in every direction, bringing to market in upper Bengal all the merchandise of India and Asia.
As I ordered the cercar to moor the boat to the gath of Siva a circumstance struck me with astonishment. The Hindus and Mussulmans who, time out of mind, have been so deeply divided by their old enmity toward each other in the south of India, where they are an insignificant minority of the whole population, were performing their ablutions together promiscuously at the feet of the gaths of Benares.
Though the followers of the Prophet have always fought against idolatry with fire and sword, until the reign of Aurengzeb, they always respected the sacred city of their conquered foe, which seemed to inspire them with a mysterious terror.
The Brahmins claimed that Benares had been built by Siva, in order to serve as an asylum to the righteous, when the earth should be overrun by crime and sorrow; and that it would never experience any of those vicissitudes to which all earthly things are subject.
Aurengzeb, to humiliate their pride, destroyed one of their oldest and most venerable pagodas, and erected in its stead the splendid mosque that bears his name, whose slender spires, covered with leaves of gold, inform travellers that the city is at hand, long before they can see it. To-day, numerous Mussulman temples rise by the side of Hindu pagodas, and the Brahmins witness, without being able to prevent it, but with horror that they are powerless to conceal, the slaughter of cattle for sacrificial or culinary purposes in the holy city, which had been polluted by the killing of no animal since the Mogul invasion.
In spite of the vandalism which has destroyed some of the oldest and handsomest monuments in India, and although in other countries subject to their laws the Mussulmans have used every means and shrunk from nothing in order to convert the Hindus to the faith of the Prophet, the Mogul sovereigns always used the largest tolerance at Benares for the religious beliefs, manners, and usages of their conquered foe. It is for this reason, no doubt, that the two nations are on the best of terms in this part of Bengal. However, until I had seen it I would never have believed that the Mussulmans and Hindus would ever consent to perform their religious ablutions in the same place.
In the south of India, a Mussulman who should bathe in the sacred tank of a pagoda would be put to death on the spot.
When I arrived at Benares, I intended to remain there a couple of months. That was by no means too long a stay, in view of the inquiries I desired to make regarding the antiquities of the country, but it was too long to put up at a hotel or bungalow. I therefore determined to hire a house of my own and to go to housekeeping at once. To have a home of one's own in the East, and especially in the far East, is almost one of the first necessaries of life.
I was about sending my cansama upon a voyage of discovery, when the Peishwa, a Mahratta prince at Benares with whom I had become acquainted through the Rajah at Chandernagor, hearing of my arrival, sent to offer me apartments in the magnificent seven storied palace owned by him upon the banks of the Ganges, to the left of the celebrated mosque of Aurengzeb.
It is no uncommon thing for the princes and rajahs of Hindustan, although they often reside at a great distance from Benares, to build houses in that city, to which they resort during the festivities incident to the celebration of their birthday, and to which they retire in the evening of life, when, weary of the world, they desire to end their days, according to the laws of Manu, in the observance of their religious duties and in the practice of austerity.
According to their religious belief, those who die in the Holy City are not obliged to go through any further transformations, but their souls immediately ascend to the abode of Brahma and are absorbed in the great soul.
Numerous pilgrims daily arrive from all parts of India, who come to perform, either on their own account, or on behalf of wealthy persons who employ and pay them for that purpose, devotional exercises, upon the banks of the sacred river, whose waters are nowhere else considered so propitious as at the feet of the Holy City.
Some bring the bones of Rajahs or other distinguished personages, whose families are able to afford the expense, which are collected after being burnt upon the funeral pyre in little bags which they are instructed to throw into the Ganges. The supreme hope of the Hindu is to die upon the banks of that river, or to transport his remains thither.
To this latter belief I was indebted, during my stay at Benares, for a meeting with the most extraordinary Fakir, perhaps, that I had ever encountered in India. He came from Trivanderam, near Cape Comorin, in the extreme south of Hindustan, and his mission was to take charge of the remains of a rich Malabar, belonging to the caste of commoutys (merchants). The Peishwa, whose family was originally from the South, and who was in the habit of extending hospitality to pilgrims from Travencor, Maissour, Tandjaor, and the old Mahratta country, in the buildings attached to his palace, had found lodgings for him in a small thatched cottage upon the very banks of the river in which he had to perform his ablutions, for the next three weeks, in honor of the dead. He had been there a fortnight already before I heard of his arrival. His name was Covindasamy.
After assuring myself of his consent, I had him brought to my apartment one day, at about noon, when the other occupants of the palace, on account of the extreme heat, were indulging in their noonday siesta.
The room in which I received him looked out upon the terrace, which in turn overlooked the Ganges, and was protected against the burning sun, by a movable tent made from woven fibres of vetivert. In the middle of the terrace there was a water-spout which fell in a fine shower into a marble basin and diffused a most delightful coolness.
I asked the Fakir if he wished to occupy any particular place, rather than another.
"As you please," he answered.
I asked him to go out upon the terrace, which was much lighter than the room, and where I would have a better opportunity to watch him.
"Will you allow me to put to you a single question?" said I, when he had assumed a squatting position upon the ground.
"I am listening to you."
"Do you know whether any power is developed in you, when you perform these phenomena? Did you ever feel any change take place in your brain or any of your muscles?"
"It is not a natural force that acts. I am but an instrument. I evoke the ancestral spirits, and it is they who manifest their power."
I have questioned a multitude of Fakirs in relation to this matter, and they have nearly all made the same answer. They look upon themselves only as intermediaries between this world and the invisible spirits. Observing that he entertained the same belief, I dropped the subject in order that Covindasamy might go on with his performances. The Fakir was already in position with both hands extended toward an immense bronze vase full of water. Within five minutes the vase commenced to rock to and fro upon its base, and approach the Fakir gently and with a regular motion. As the distance diminished, metallic sounds escaped from it, as if some one had struck it with a steel rod. At certain times the blows were so numerous and quick that they produced a sound similar to that made by a hail-storm upon a metal roof.
I asked Covindasamy if I could give directions, and he consented without hesitation.
The vase, which was still under the performer's influence, advanced, receded, or stood still, according to my request.
At one time, at my command, the blows changed into a continuous roll like that of a drum; at another, on the contrary, they succeeded each other with the slowness and regularity of the ticking of a clock.
I asked to have the blows struck only every ten seconds, and I compared them with the progress of the second hand upon the face of my watch.
Then loud, sharp strokes were heard, for a minute and two-thirds.
Upon the table of the drawing-room attached to my apartments, stood one of those music-boxes of which the Hindus are so fond, and which the Peishwa had no doubt procured from Calcutta. I had it brought out upon the terrace by my cansama, and I asked to have the blows struck upon the vase so as to accompany any air which the instrument might perform.
I then wound up the box in the usual way, and pressed the spring of the clock-work, without knowing what air it would play. A regular whirlwind of notes was the result, and the box played, in time designedly accelerated, no doubt, the tune of Robin of the Wood."
I listened in the direction of the vase, and quick, sharp strokes accompanied the tune, with the regularity of the baton of an orchestra leader. The air had scarcely finished when I again pressed the spring, and the blows moderated their pace to keep time to the march from the Prophéte, which they accompanied exactly.
All this was done without fuss, or parade, or mystery of any kind, upon a terrace of a few yards square. The vase thus put in motion, could hardly, when empty, have been moved by two men. It was hollowed out like a cup, and was so situated as to receive the falling jet of water from the fountain before spoken of. It was used for the morning ablutions, which, in India, are almost equal to a regular bath.
What was the force that moved this mass? that is the question.
I repeated these various experiments a second time, and they were renewed with like order and regularity.
The Fakir, who had neither changed his position, nor left his place, then stood up, and rested the tips of his fingers, for a short time, upon the edge of the vase. It soon began to rock to and fro in regular time, from left to right, gradually accelerating its speed; its base, which rose and fell alternately on either side, made no sound upon the stuccoed pavement.
But what surprised me most was to see that the water remained stationary in the vase, as if there were a strong pressure that prevented its regaining its equilibrium, which the motion of the vessel containing it had disturbed.
Three times during these oscillations the vase rose a distance of seven to eight inches completely from the ground, and, when it fell to the pavement again, it did so without any perceptible shock.
The performance had already lasted several hours, during which I had taken copious and careful notes, and had also taken the precaution to have each phenomenon repeated in a different manner, when the sun, which was sinking below the horizon, warned us that it was time for me to commence my usual excursion among the venerable monuments and ruins of ancient Kassy, which was the centre of the religious power of the Brahmins when, after their contest with the rajahs, they had lost their temporal power—as well as for the Fakir to prepare himself in the temple of Siva, by the usual prayers, for the ablutions and funeral ceremonies which he was obliged to perform every evening, upon the banks of the sacred river.
Upon taking his departure the Fakir promised to return every day, at the same hour, as long as he should remain at Benares.
The poor man was very glad to have met me. I had resided for many years in the south of India, and knew the beautiful and sonorous language of the country of Bravida, which no one else understood at Benares. He had now some one to talk to about this wonderful land and its ancient ruins, its old pagodas and their incomparable vegetation, and its manuscripts, written with a pointed stick centuries before the sea had abandoned the salt deserts of Iran and Chaldea, or the mud deposits of the Nile had joined Lower Egypt to the plains of Memphis and Thebes.