The Rajah's seven daughters taking it by turns to cook their father's dinner would be nothing unusual in the household of a Rajah. To a Chief, or great man in India, it is still the most natural precaution he can take against poison, to eat only what has been prepared by his wife or daughter, or under their eye in his own zenana; and there are few accomplishments on which an Indian Princess prides herself more than on her skill in cookery.
RAMA AND LUXMAN.
The little black and white owls, which fly out at dusk and Sit always in pairs, chattering to each other, in a singularly conversational version of owl language, are among the most widely-spread of Indian birds, and in every province where they are found are regarded as the most accomplished of soothsayers. Unlike other ominous creatures, they are anxious to do good to mankind, for they always tell each other what the traveller ought to do, and if mankind were not so dull in understanding their language, would save the hearer from all risk of misfortune.
LITTLE SURYA BAI
The sang-froit with which the first Ranee, here and in the story of Panch.Phul Ranee,receives the second and more favoured wife to share her throne, however difficult to understand in the West, is very characteristic of Oriental life. In Indian households of the highest rank, it would not be difficult to find examples of several wives living amicably together as described in some of these stories; but the contrary result, as depicted in this story of Surya Bai and others, is far more common, for as a general rule human nature is too strong for custom, and under an external serenity bitter jealousies exist between the several wives of a royal Hindoo household, which are a constant souroe of misery and crime. Among the curious changes of opinion which are observable of late years in our Indian Empire, none is more remarkable than the Conviction, now frequently expressed by the warmest supporters of native governments at native courts, that the toleration of polygamy is one of their most serious dangers, the removal of which is of vital importance to the safety of any Indian dynasty, and, indeed, to the permanence of any Indian family of rank.
THE WANDERINGS OF VICRAM MAHARAJAH.
The Dipmal or Tower of Lights is an essential feature in every large Hindoo temple. It is often of great height, and furnished with niches or brackets, each of which holds a lamp on festivals, especially on that of the Dewali, the feast of lamps celebrated in the autumn in honour of the Hindoo goddess Bowani or Kali, who was formerly propitiated on that occasion by human sacrifices.
The story of Vicram's act of devotion is thoroughly Hindoo. It is difficult for any European to understand the universal prevalence and strength of the conviction among Hindoos that the particular god of their adoration can be prevailed on, by importunity or self-devotion, to reveal to his worshipper some act, generally ascetic or sacrificial, the performance of which will insure to the devotee the realisation of the object of his wishes. The act of devotion, and the object of the devotee, are both often very trivial; but, occasionally, we are startled by hearing of some deed of horror, a human sacrifice or deliberate act of self-immolation, which is quite unaccountable to those who are not aware that it is only a somewhat extreme manifestation of a belief which still influences the daily conduct of the great majority of our Hindoo fellow-subjects.
And even Europeans, who have known the Hindoos long and intimately, frequently fail to recognise the extent to which this belief influences the ethics of common life and action in India. To quote an instance from well-known history: there are few acts regarding which a European traveller would expect the verdict of all mankind to be more generally condemnatory than the murder of Afzul Khan, the general of the Imperial Delhi Army, by Sivajee, the founder of the Mahratta Empire. Sivajee, according to the well-known story, had invited his victim to an amicable conference, and there stabbed him with a wag nuck 1 as they embraced at their first meeting. It was a deed of such deliberate and cruel treachery, that it could find few defenders in Europe even among the wildest advocates of political assassination. A European is consequently little prepared to find it regarded by Mahrattas generally as a most commendable act of devotion. The Hindoo conscience condemns murder and treachery as emphatically as the European; but this act, as viewed by the old-fashioned Mahratta, was a sacrifice prescribed by direct revelation of the terrible goddess Bowani to her faithful devotee. It was, therefore, highly meritorious, and the beautiful Genoese blade which Sivajee always wore, and with which his victim wns finally despatched, was, down to our own days, provided with a little temple of its own in the palace of his descendants, and annually worshipped by them and their household--not as a mere act of veneration for their ancestor's trusty sword, but because it was the chosen instrument of a great sacrifice, and, 'no doubt,' as the attendant who watched it used to say, 'some of the spirit of Bowani,' whose name it bore, 'must still reside in it.'
An attentive observer will notice in the daily life of those around him in India constant instances of this belief in the efficacy of acts of devotion and sacrifice to alter even the decrees of Fate. It is one of the many incentives to the long pilgrimages which form such a universal feature in Hindoo life, and the records of our courts of justice, and our Indian newspapers, constantly afford traces of its prevalence in cases of attempted suttee and other acts of self-immolation, or even of human sacrifice, like that above alluded to. It must be remembered that Hindoo sacrifice has nothing but the name in common with the sacrifices which are a distinctive part of the religion of every Semitic race. Many a difficulty which besets the Hindoo inquirer after truth would be avoided if his essential distinction were always known or remembered.
This belief in the omnipotence of 'Muntrs,' or certain verbal formulas, properly pronounced by one to whom they have been authoritatively communicated, is closely allied to, and quite as universal as, the belief in the efficacy of sacrificial acts of devotion. In every nation throughout India, whatever may be the variations of creed or caste usage, it is a general article of belief accepted by the vast majority of every class and caste of Hindoos, that there is a form of words (or Muntr), which, to be efficacious, can be only orally transmitted, but which, when so communicated by one of the 'twice born,' has absolutely unlimited power over all things, visible or invisible, extending even to compelling the obedience of the gods, and of Fate itself. Of course it is rather dangerous, even for the wisest, to meddle with such potent influences, and the attempt is usually confined to the affairs of common life, but of the absolute omnipotence of 'Muntrs,' few ordinary un-Europeanised Hindoos entertain any doubt, and there is hardly any part of their belief which exercises such an all-pervading and potent influence in their daily life, though that influence is often but little understood by Europeans.
The classical reader will remember many allusions to a similar belief as a part of the creeds imported from the East which were fashionable under the Empire at Rome, There is much curious information on the subject of the earliest known Hindoo Muntrs in the 'Aitareya Brahmana' of the learned Dr. Haug, the only European who ever witnessed the whole process of a Hindoo sacrifice. The English reader who is curious on such matters will do well to consult the recently published work of Professor Max Muller, which might, without exaggeration, be described as a storehouse of new facts connected with the religion and literature of the East, rather than by its modest title of Chips from a German Workshop.
HOW THE SUN, THE MOON, AND THE WIND WENT OUT TO
I have not ventured to alter the traditional mode of the Moon's conveyance of dinner to her mother the Star, though it must, I fear, seriously impair the value of the story as a moral lesson in the eyes of all instructors of youth. (M. F.)
SINGH RAJAH AND THE CUNNING LITTLE JACKALS.
This story is substantially the same as one well known to readers of Pilpail's Fables. The chorus of the Jackal's song of triumph is an imitation of their nocturnal bowl.
THE JACKAL, THE BARBER, AND THE BRAHMAN.
The touch of the poor outcast Mahars would be pollution to a Hindoo of any but the lowest caste; hence their ready obedience to the Jackal's exhortation not to touch him.
The offerings of rice, flowers, a chicken, etc., and the pouring water over the idol, are parts of the regular daily observance in every village temple.
The popular belief in stories of this kind, where the Cobra becomes the companion of human beings, is greatly strengthened by the instances which occasionally occur when particular persons, sometimes children or idiots, possess the power to handle the deadly reptiles without receiving any injury from them. How much is due merely to gentleness of touch and fearlessness, and how much to any personal peculiarity which pleases the senses of the snake, it is difficult to say, for the instances, though not few, and perfectly well authenticated, are sufficiently rare to be popularly regarded as miraculous.
In one case, which occurred in the country west of Poona, not long after our conquest of the Deccan, a Brahman boy could, without the aid of music or anything but his own voice, attract to himself and handle with impunity all the snakes which might be within hearing in any thicket or dry Stone wall, such as in that country is their favourite refuge. So great was the popular excitement regarding him, under the belief that he was an incarnation of some divinity, that the magistrate of Poona took note of his proceedings, and becoming uneasy as to the political turn the excitement regarding the boy might take, reported regularly to Government the growth of the crowds who pressed to see the marvel, and to offer gifts to the child and his parents I The poor boy, however, was at last bitten by one of the reptiles and died, and the wonder ceased.
There are innumerable popular superstitions regarding the powers which can be conveyed in a charmed necklace; and it is a common belief that good and bad fortune, and life itself, can be made to depend on its not being removed from the wearer's neck.
The picture of the childless wife setting forth to seek Mahadeo, and resolving not to return till she has seen him, is one which would find a parallel in some of the persons composing almost every group of pilgrims who resort to the great shrines of Hindostan. Any one who has an opportunity of quietly questioning the members of such an assemblage will find that, besides the miscellaneous crowd of idlers, there are usually specimens of two classes of very earnest devotees. The one class is intent on the performance of some act of ascetic devotion, the object of which is to win the favour of the Divinity, or to fulfil a vow for a favour already granted. The other class is seeking 'to see the Divinity,' and expecting the revelation under one or other of the terrible forms of the Hindoo Pantheon. There are few things more pathetic than to hear one of this class recount the wanderings and sufferings of his past search, or the journeys he has before him, which are too often prolonged till death puts an end to the wanderer and his pilgrimage.
The 'fire which does not burn' is everywhere in India one of the attributes of Mahadeo.
In many parts of the Deccan are to be found shrines consecrated to one of the local gods, who has been Brahmanically recognised as a local manifestation of Mahadeo, where the annual festival of the divinity was, within the last few years, kept by lighting huge fires, through which devotees ran or jumped, attributing their escape from burning to the interposition of Mahadeo. Except in a few remote villages, this custom, which sometimes led to serious accidents, has, in British territory, been stopped by the police.
This story of the wonderful child who was found floating in a box on a river is to be heard, with more or less picturesque variations, on the banks of all the large rivers in India. Almost every old village in Sind has a local tradition of this kind.
Most households in Calcutta can furnish recollections of depredations by birds at their nest-building season, similar to that of the Ranee's bangles by the Eagles in this story. But the object of the theft is generally more prosaic. I have known gold rings so taken, but the plunder is more frequently a lady's cuff, or collar, or a piece of lace; and the plunderers are crows, and sometimes, but very rarely, a kite.
Purwaris, or outcasts, who are not suffered to live within the quarter inhabited by the higher castes, are very numerous in Southern India, and a legend similar to this one is a frequent popular explanation of their being in excess as compared with other classes of the population.
HOW THE THREE CLEVER MEN OUTWITTED THE DEMONS.
Old residents at Swat may remember an ancient local celebrity named Tom the Barber, among whose recollections of former days was a chronicle of a renowned duellist, who used to amuse himself by shooting with his pistol, somewhat after the fashion of the Pearlsbooter. The little tin can of hot water which Tom carried, slung from his forefinger, as he went his morning rounds, was a favourite mark. So were the water-jars on the heads of the women as they passed the duellist's house, coming from the well; and great was Tom's relief when an old woman, who could not be pacified by the usual douceur for the loss of her jar and the shock of finding the water stream down her back, appealed to the authorities and had the duellist bound over to abstain in future from his dangerous amusement.
So vivid were Tom's recollections of his own terrors, that, after the lapse of half a century, he could ill conceal his sense of the poetical justice finally inflicted on his tormentor, who was killed in a duel to which he provoked a young officer who had never before fired a pistol.
1 An instrument so called from its similarity to a tiger's claw. It consists of sharp curved steel blades, set on a bar which fits by means of finger-rings to the inside of the hand, so as to be concealed when the hand is closed; while the blades project at right angles to the cross-bar and palm, when the hand is opened. It is struck with as in slapping or tearing with the claws.