OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
A JOURNEY TO NORTHERN INDIA
THE extension of our movement to foreign countries obliged me to devise a plan for its expansion on cosmopolitan lines and make some change in its rules. This was effected at Bombay, and the new draft being approved by several of our wisest Indian colleagues, it was published along with the text of my Framji Cowasji Institute lecture. Other modifications have been since made from time to time as experience suggested, and events of recent occurence point to the necessity for still further modifications. The ideal which should be ever kept in view is the making of a Federation under which the completest autonomy may be enjoyed by local Sections, while ever keeping a strong sense of the dependence of the whole movement upon the central nucleus and the common interest in its strict preservation and effective management.
On Good Friday—11th April, 1879—H. P. B., Mooljee Thackersey, and I, with our servant Babula) left Bombay for the visit to Rajputana ordered at Karli Caves. The temperature of the air was suffocatingly hot, and, with the dust, made us suffer greatly in the train. Whether en account of my
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physical discomfort or not, I cannot say, but I went that night in the astral body to visit the resident of the Karli subterraneans, but did not penetrate to his inner retreat. All I can recollect is what is noted in my Diary, viz., that I entered one of the galleries leading to it from the dormitory where our party encamped, with Baburao sitting on guard at the entrance door.
We reached Allahabad on the 13th, and were met at the station by Swami Dayânand's local chief disciple, Pandit Sunderlal, who gave us small encouragement as to the prospects of our work in the North-Western Provinces—a forecast since happily negatived by the results of twenty-one years' changes in Indian public opinion. We put up at the Railway Company's dâk bungalow which stands within the station compound, and I can well recollect that the heat was so terrific as to make even the Hindu Mooljee catch his breath when we ventured outside the house. A lively Frenchman, Babula's former master, formerly steward of the Byculla Club, Bombay—and not, as so often asserted, a professional cojurer—was in charge of the station refreshment room, and he enlivened our repasts by telling stories of the frequent deaths of Europeans in the trains from heat apoplexy! To stout persons like H. P. B. and myself this was most reassuring. In the cool of the day we went to the bank of the Jumna to pay a visit to a remarkable old ascetic named Babu Surdass, a follower of the Sikh Guru Nanak, who exemplified in his person to a pre-eminent degree the possibilities of an obstinately fixed purpose. Since the year 1827, that is to say, for fifty-two years, he had sat through all the seasons.
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of heat, of rains, and of cold, on a low brick platform near the Fort, without a shelter over his head; braving all violent extremes of weather and ever meditating upon religious things. There he had sat throughout the Mutiny, paying no attention to the thundering cannon or the fights that raged throughout that district of country: their turbulent rumors could not penetrate within the realm of thought where he passed his existence. On this day of our visit the sun blazed on us like a fierce fire, but his head was bare and yet he did not seem to feel any inconvenience. The whole day long he squats on his place and the whole night as well, save at midnight, when he goes to the confluence of the two sacred streams, Ganges and Jumna, to bathe and worship. The hardships of his protracted penance have made him blind and he has to be led to the riverside, yet his face wears a cheerful look, and his smile is frank and sweet. If New Yorkers will recall the features of the late Mr. George Jones, founder of the N. Y. Times, they will have an excellent idea of this Sikh Sanyâsi's appearance. Through Mooljee as interpreter, H. P. B. and I conversed with the old man. He told us he was 100 years old, which may be true or not, it doesn't matter, but as to the length of his stay on that brick gadi, that is a matter of history. And how curious a commentary is his case upon the ideals of our worldly society; how impressive the fact of his sitting silent and unmoved, in religious introspection, throughout a half-century of human passions, raging around him, yet as powerless to affect him for weal or woe as the surges beating about the foot of a cliff
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are to move it upon its base. His conversation embodied some poetical images, as for instance, when he said that the Wise Ones caught at and appropriated grains of truth as the pearl-oyster catches a raindrop to convert it into a pearl. He was quite unmoved by my telling him the real truth about the making of pearls; Science was wrong, he said, and he held to his comparison. Using the familiar illustration in the Shâstras, he reminded us that only by keeping the mind calm and the soul unperturbed can one perceive truth, as the image of the sun can only be seen in smooth water. And, as regards adversity and troubles: experience of these things brings out the sweetest essence of human knowledge, as the attar is obtained by expressing and distilling the petals of roses. When asked if he could show us phenomena, he turned his sightless orbs towards the speaker, and sadly remarked that the Wise Man never permitted his attention to be drawn aside from the search after spirit by these playthings of the ignorant; which was what they really were. When in the proper mood he has the faculty of seeing forward and backward in time, but he declined to give us any practical proofs of his clairvoyance. Every time that I have revisited Allahabad since that first occasion I have been in the habit of paying my respects to the old Sanyâsi, but on the last occasion I learnt that he was dead. It would be most instructive to learn to what extent his lifelong physical self-restraint has modified his condition in the next sphere of consciousness.
From Allahabad we moved on to Cawnpore, where we met our new friend Ross Scott and his brother, an
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engineer in Government service. An early morning visit was paid the next day to another Sanyâsi, who had been living on the sandy plain across the Ganges in a state of nudity for about a year. He had a refined, spiritual face, an emaciated body, and an air of perfect indifference to worldly things. I was struck by the collapse of his stomach, which seemed, as if its digestive functions were seldom called into action. He too refused to show us phenomena, with, an expression of apparent disdain; evidently these Hindu seekers after spirit are on a different level from our own Western ones, and would make little account of the best miracles of our most excellent mediums. So it seemed to me, at any rate. He, however, told, us about a famous ascetic, named Jungli Shah, who is credited with having done the miracle of the "Loaves and Fishes" more than once, by multiplying the food of a single person to such an extent that he was able to feed hundreds with it and give each a full meal. Since then I have heard several times of the same thing being done by different Sanyâsis. It is considered by the higher proficients in magic a comparatively easy thing to multiply a single thing, like a grain of rice, a fruit, a quantity of water, etc., the main requisite being that there shall be a nucleus around which the adept can collect the matter of space. But I should greatly like to know if these miraculous increments of food and drink are anything better than illusions; and if, provided they are not, whether those who partake of the wonder-food are nourished, by it. I recollect Professor Bernheim's showing me how, by suggestion, he could make a hypnotized
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patient at one moment feel his stomach full of food, and the next feel it empty and be voraciously hungry. Our young Sanyâsi also ascribed to Lukhi Bâwâ and another ascetic the power of changing water into ghee (clarified butter). He also told us that he himself had, twenty years before, seen still another Sanyâsi cause a felled tree to be restored to full vigor of branch and leaf; and, the less wonderful fact—provided it was a mere case of paralysis of the optic nerves –of his own eyesight having been restored to him by a Guru at Muttra, the sacred city of Shrî Krishna.
At 3 p.m. we mounted an elephant for a visit to Jajmow, an ancient ruined city four miles from Cawnpore, which is said to have been the capital of the Lunar Race in 5000 B.C. It figures in Caves and jungles in a much travestied form. Our objective there was the âshram of the old Sanyâsi named Lukhi Bâwâ, above mentioned. We found him a man of venerable presence, a philosopher and erudite astrologer. He was as like the late Mr. John W. Mitchell, the New York lawyer, as if he were his twin brother. And I may say here, in parenthesis, that throughout Asia I have been finding everywhere these striking likenesses to Western friends, acquaintances, and public personages. The color of their skins makes the resemblances all the more impressive, and suggests the question whether a parity of evolutionary psychical forces, under the guidance of Karma, produces the same type of features regardless of racial peculiarities. The likenesses have equally struck my attention whether the local type was Caucasian, Mongolian, Semitic, or Negroid.
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Again we were denied our wish for wonders, this third ascetic appealed to within as many days refusing to produce phenomena for us, or help us to find a wonder-worker. So much for the serious part of this excursion, but there is its other and comical side. There was no howdah (cab) on the elephant (whose florid name, was Chenchal Peri, the Active Fairy), but only a "pad," or large mattress, which is strapped on by huge girths fastening under the animal's body. It requires some skill and a good balance to keep on this seat when the animal is in motion, and I leave the acquaintances of H. P. B. to imagine what happened when she turned rider along with four other neophytes to share the limited area of cushion. Out of politeness we first helped her up the short ladder, of course expecting that she would, play us fair, but not she, indeed: she planted herself square in the middle of the pad and not one inch would she budge to give us a chance. In fact, her expressions were extremely forcible when we asked her to remember that she was not to have the pad all to herself. So, as Chenchal Peri's ears began to flap and she showed other signs of impatience at our wrangling, we four—W. Scott, Mooljee, Babula, and I—scrambled up and stuck on somehow at the corners, as best we could contrive. Scott sat towards the rear, and, letting one leg hang down, the she-elephant benevolently threw her tail over his ankle and held him firmly to his seat. Then we started, H. P. B. smoking, radiant as though she had been an elephant-rider from her youth upward. But the first quarter of a mile took the conceit out of her.
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She rolled about unwieldily, getting her fat shaken up and her breath squeezed out of her, until she grew furious and consigned us laughers, together with the elephant and its mahout, to perdition. Ross Scott rode in one of the funny country vehicles called ekkas, a trap with a flat seat bigger than a postage-stamp, but not so big as a barn-door, to sit upon, with one's legs either folded up under one or dangling over the wheel; a lot of brass discs attached to the axle that rattle, a wobbling canopy of, say, two feet square overhead, and the shafts mounting over the pony's back, and, coming together to a point, resting in a crutch on the saddle. Ross Scott's leg was disabled and he could not ride the elephant with us as he wished. Throughout the four miles—which H. P. B. vowed were twenty—we rode in misery and she in wrath; but when it came to the return, no amount of persuasion could induce H. P. B. to resume her part of the elephant's pad; she made Scott squeeze over to one side of his tiny ekka seat and took the other, and as Pepys puts it, so home.
Thence on to Bhurtpore, Rajputana, by way of Agra. We were now on what to my "chum" and myself was classic ground, for it was associated with the history of the splendid Solar Race of Rajputs, to which our own Teacher belongs and which enchains all our sympathies. The Maharajah was not at home, but the Dewan gave us the hospitalities of the State; put us up at the dâk bungalow; sent us carriages; held discussions with us on philosophical subjects, and gave us facilities to visit the ancient palace of Sooraj Mull at Deegh.
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twenty-three miles away. Here we found ourselves for almost the first time in the ideal Orient, the East of poetry. Nine palaces, each bearing a different name of a god, stand in a quadrangle around a shady garden: the whole called Bhawan. Beginning at the N.E. corner they are called in turn, Kissun, Hardev, Suraj, Samun, Gopal, Bhaduri, Nunda, Keshub, and Ram palaces. The centre of the garden is marked with a domed marble water-kiosk, surrounded by a shallow tank from which rise 175 water jets, met by streams that fall from an equal number of nozzels projecting from the underside of the cornice of the structure, and when in play shroud the occupants from view by a translucent wall of water; which keeps the air within deliciously cool in the hottest day and sparkles in the sunshine like a silver veil embroidered with gems. From this centre raised walks radiate in every direction and one strolls about under the cool shade of neem, tamarind, mango, babul, banyan, and pipul trees. No less than one hundred grand peacocks were strutting about on the day of our visit, swift parrots darted in emerald flashes through the air, striped squirrels flitted from tree to tree, and flocks of doves softly called to each other in the dense foliage, completing an ideally beautiful picture. The palace architecture is all Indian, the, carvings in stone exquisite in design, and the angles as sharp as if but finished yesterday. In the Zenana palace, Sooraj Mull, every room has a tessellated marble floor of a different design from the rest; the lintels and frames are in pure statuary marble, decorated with patterns of climbing vines in high relief. , Yet, alas! amid all
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this beauty moral deformity rankly flourished, and we heard such stories of vulgar debauchery as prevalent in Bhurtpore and other Rajput towns, that we were glad to get away as soon as possible. We returned to town the same evening and passed the night at the dâk bungalow, where I had the adventure mentioned in the last chapter. H. P. B. and I were sitting alone in the rear verandah, when an old Hindu, robed in white, came around the corner of the house towards us, salaamed to me, handed me a letter, and retired from view. On opening it I found it to be the promised answer to my letter sent to Goolab Singh at Khandalla, and which, I was told in his Kurjeet telegram, I should receive in Rajputana. It was a beautifully worded and, to me, most important letter, inasmuch as it pointed out the fact that the surest way to seek the Masters was through the channel of faithful work in the Theosophical Society. That way I have persistently travelled, and even though the letter had been a false one, it has proved a blessing and a perpetual comfort in times of trouble.
Our next station was Jeypore, which we reached at 9 p.m. on 20th April, and put up at the dâk bungalow. We were sorry that we did not stay there, for we were beguiled into accepting the invitation of an uncle of the Maharajah to shift to his palace and accept his proffered hospitality. We paid dearly for our wish to know what it was to be the guests of a smooth-talking Rajah. The quarters assigned us was an open shed on the palace roof; a dust-paved brick and plaster terrace, without a bed, chair, table, mattress, bath, or a
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single comfort. The Rajah left us after promising; to settle us comfortably, and we waited hour after hour with admirable patience, sitting on our luggage, watching over the parapet the picturesque street crowds, and smoking to kill time. Lunch time passed and dinner time also, yet no food made its appearance nor anything to eat it with or upon. At last Babula was sent out to buy food and get wood for a fire to cook it with, and in time we stayed our hunger. No cots or mattresses coming, we opened out an iron chair-bed for H. P. B., and the rest of us spread each his blanket and lay on the hard terrace, passing a wretched night, what with heat, dust, and mosquitoes. The first thing the next morning our brutal cad of a host sent for Mooljee and literally turned us out of doors without a word of explanation. We had reason to believe, however, that it was because we were then suspected of being Russian spies(!) and had a Police officer doging our footsteps wherever we went. Fancy that! I went straight away to Colonel Beynon, S.C., the British Resident, and protested, as a true American naturally would, against this sneaking policy which was so utterly useless, considering that we had nothing to conceal, and that the Government was welcome to read our every paper, examine our every acquaintance, and even, if it chose, have daily reports of what we had for dinner. The Resident was very courteous, expressed regret that we should have been inconvenienced, and offered me a carriage and elephants if we wished to visit the old capital of the Jeypore State, Ambçr. We gladly returned to the travellers' bungalow, where
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we enjoyed once more a comfortable meal and had a good night's rest.
Ambçr was deserted for a caprice of the former Maharajah, who built a complete town, the present capital, Jeypore, after his own taste as to architecture, and when it was finished ordered the whole population of Ambçr to remove there, bag and baggage! There is no other city in India to compare with it. H. P. B. wittily said it looked" like Paris done in raspberry cream". It is a town of brick and pink stucco, in almost every conceivable style of architectural facade. The streets are wide and at right angles, with boulevards and, at the crossings of streets, playing fountains; there are paved sidewalks—a most unusual thing for India—gas-lighting, a large and well-equipped College, a Public Library, superb public gardens with a fine zoological collection, and many palaces belonging to His Highness and his tributary chieftains of Rajput tribes.
Our guide at Ambçr was a stupid fellow, quite ignorant of the things we cared most to know, and. full of petty odds and ends of gabble like most valets de place. But we did draw out of him one thing that was interesting. There is (or then was), it seems, a Mahatma who lives not far from the capital, and occasionally appears to the ruling Prince and one or two others. There are subterraneans of which the Maharajah has the secret, but which he is not permitted to visit or explore save in some desperate contingency, such, for instance, as a rebellion of his subjects or some such dynastic catastrophe. What truth there may be in the story I, of course,
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have no means of knowing. It is said of this Mahatma that once when the Prince was going on a journey he told him he should bear him company for a certain distance. But nothing was seen of him at the time of departure, and yet he suddenly appeared to him when at a considerable distance on the way.
We formed a number of very pleasant acquaintances among the Durbar officials at Jeypore, among them a close relative of our tried colleague, Babu Norendronath Sen of Calcutta. Delightful hours were passed by us in their company, and our theme was ever Hindu and Western ideas, ideals, and social aspects. The Rajputs are of a magnificent ethnical type, and a Punjab crowd excels in beauty every, public concourse I ever saw. A considerable number, of feudatory chieftains were in town at the time of, our visit, and the frequent passage of their trains of armed followers on gaily caparisoned horses and elephants to and from the Maharajah's palace was, to my American eyes, like the calling back out of the world's astral record-book of scenes of the Crusades. The Chief justice of Bhurtpore had given me letters to several of these Chiefs, and I visited two of them in their camps, but on learning from the British Resident that the handsomest, and seemigly most independent, sincere, and hospitable of them had privately inquired of him whether we were safe acquaintances, I got so disgusted that I left the others to the security of their political sycophancy. The race of Rajput Princes is degenerated under foreign rule and the killing of time by gross indulgences.
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From Babu Mohendranath Sen, one of the highest of the Jeypore Durbaris, we heard of a Yogi (at that time at Hardwar on pilgrimage) who is a proficient in the practice of samâdhi. In the presence and under the supervision of our informant, he had been entombed twenty-seven days, and then in the presence of hundreds of eye-witnesses had been disentombed. The ears, nostrils, and other orifices of his body had been stopped with ghee, and the tongue turned back into the pharynx. At his resuscitation, the refilling of the lungs with air was accompanied with a wheezing sound like the letting of steam into a radiator. The incident can be attested by many living witnesses of credibility. Mohendranath Babu told us of another Yogi—also absent at Hardwar—whose forehead glows with spiritual light (tejasa) when he sits in contemplation.