OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
OUR progress homeward was so slow, filled as the time was with halts, visits, conversaziones by H. P. B. and lectures by myself, that we did not reach Bombay until the seventieth day after leaving Simla. The incidents of the tour were memorable, picturesque, sometimes important—among the latter an illness imperilling H. P. B.'s life. I shall treat them in their proper order.
Our first halt was at Amritsar, the city which is adorned with that architectural beauty, the Golden Temple of the warlike Sikhs. It is also the entrepôt and a chief manufacturing centre of the Kashmir shawls and Rampur chuddars so prized by women of good taste. As we were then in full favor of Swâmi Dayânand Saraswati, our relations with his followers were most friendly, and the local Branches of his Arya Samaj gave us cordial receptions and generous hospitality everywhere. Thirty Samajists met us at the railway station of Amritsar and took us to an empty bungalow, gave a cook to wait on us, and a few necessary articles of furniture, including large striped durries, or Indian cotton carpets, laid on a portion of the beaten earthen floor, for our visitors to sit upon cross-legged when calling. The
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walls were of brick laid up in mud after the almost universal fashion of India, adorned with a number of cheap German lithographic pictures of ladies of palpably easy virtue, more or less bedizened with jewelry and flowers, and much uncovered as to dress. I almost exploded when—our Reception Committee having departed and H. P.B. and I being left alone in the big room—she turned her eyes from one to the other of the prints, and suddenly broke out into a most uncomplimentary and forcible remark as to the respectability of the damsels who figured in them as allegories. For hours we derived amusement and instruction from a study of a huge white ant nest of clay that protruded from the wall at one side. Drawing our chairs up we watched the little builders coming and going by thousands and constructing their chamber walls under the evident supervision of their engineers. We punched small holes into the nest and watched them repairing the breaches; H. P. B. laid a bit of a match or an unsmoked end of a cigarette in the holes and timed the ants to see how soon they would have them covered with mud. After wearisome waiting our boy Babula and the other cook got food prepared for us, and then we drove out to see the Golden Temple.
The temple is a most poetical object to look upon. It comprises a central fluted dome, rising from four arches which cap the walls of a central tower, and is flanked at the four corners of the main, square building, by as many mauresque kiosks, like those on the Taj Mahal. The walls of the temple are capped with tiny domes standing close together; ornamental
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bay windows, with highly artistic open-work carved stone lattices and screens, project from the four sides; and the first storey walls are broken into large and small panels full of carving. The structure stands on a marble-paved, bronze-railed platform, on a small island in the centre of a tank of crystal-pure water, like a magician's illusive palace rising from the sea. Access to it is by a causeway paved with squares of Italian marble, and the whole tank is bordered by a broad pavement of the same rich material. The upper portion of the temple is overlaid with gold, and its radiant appearance when the Indian sun beats upon it out of the azure sky may be imagined better than described. As it stands to-day it dates back hardly more than a century, for the original fane, begun by Ram Das in 1580 and finished by his son, was blown up with gunpowder by Ahmad Shah in 1761, the sacred tank—Amrita Saras, the fount of Immortality—was filled with mud, and the site was desecrated by the slaughter of cows upon the spot: a touching proof of the superiority of one religion over another for which bigoted soldiers and theological politicians have great partiality. But as I am to play neither the guide nor the moralizing archræologist, I must take H. P. B. back to our mud-walled bungalow, in our dust-and-mud-besmeared; jolting ticca gharry (hackney carriage), drawn by two skeleton horses, to receive visitors. Before leaving we flung our offering of copper coins on the ground in the central room of the temple, and lingered another minute to hear the akalis intoning verses from the Granth, or Sikh holy book, which is written on tanned bullock
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hides. We were glad to retire early after a fatiguing hides day.
The next day a delegation of Samajists came from Lahore, headed by Rattan Chand Bary and Siris Chandra Basu, two most intelligent and honorable gentlemen, whose friendship I have been fortunate enough to keep up to the present moment. A very interesting conversation and discussion was held with some thirty or forty of the Swâmiji's followers, and in the evening, when we were alone with the two above-named friends, H. P. B. rang the "fairy bells" more clearly and beautifully than I had heard her do them before in India. She made a proposal to them which led to an unfortunate misunderstanding between them and herself, which it is best that I should narrate to prevent the fact being cited against her by an enemy in the future. Up to that time Mr. Sinnett had had no opportunity of discussing Indian mystical philosophy with any educated Indian, much to his and our regret. His correspondence with Mahatma K. H. was going on, but he wanted to come face to face with him or one of his pupils. Finding Mr. Rattan Chand well qualified to be such a spokesman, H. P. B.—as she told me and him—with the Master's concurrence, tried to persuade him to go to Mr. Sinnett as the bearer of a note from K. H. and play the part of his messenger. He was to abstain from giving Mr. S. any facts about himself, his name, condition, and place of residence, but to answer fully all his questions on religious and philosophical subjects; the assurance being given him by H. P. B. that every needed idea and argument should be put into
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his head at the moment when needed. Mr. R. C. and his friend S. C. B., not aware of the extent to which this thought-transference could be made, and seeing neither Mahatma nor letter about H. P. B., showed the strongest repugnance to undertaking the affair. Finally, however, they consented and left for Lahore to get the required short leave and return next day. When they were gone H. P. B. expressed to me her satisfaction, saying that the mission would be a real one, would have the happiest effect on Mr. Sinnett, and be very fortunate for the Karma of the two young men. The next day, instead of their returning, a telegram came to say that they positively refused to carry out the compact; and in a letter they plainly said that they would not be parties to such an act of deception, as it seemed to them. H. P. B.'s annoyance and indignation were strongly expressed. She did not hesitate to call them a couple of precious fools for throwing away such a chance as few persons had had to work with the Masters in accomplishing great results; and she told me that if they had come, the letter would have been dropped out of space right before their eyes and all would have gone well with them. This is just one of those cases where a thing, entirely possible for an occultist, whose inner senses are awakened and whose psycho-dynamic powers are fully active, seems the wildest impossibility to the ordinary man, who cannot conceive of the object being attained save by the use of trickery and fraudulent conspiracy. Our undeveloped young friends being left to make their own Karma, chose what they deemed the only honorable path, and so, as was said
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by H. P. B., wrought injury to themselves. In how many scores of cases has not poor H. P. B. been similarly misunderstood, and punished for the spiritual ignorance of others, to help whom was her main desire?
That same day we had another disagreeable experience. Our candid exposition of our eclectic views as regards different religions, at the conference of the day before, seemed to have so chilled the ardor of our Samajist hosts, that they left us all to ourselves in our cheerless quarters; and when we wanted our meals Babula told us that no food, fuel, ghee, or other cooking necessaries had been sent. So there was nothing for us but to send to the bazaar and buy our own supplies. At sundown, as nobody had turned up, H. P. B. and I took a hackney carriage and drove in search of the Samaj officers. We found one at last and came to an understanding with him, and through him with the others; whereupon they apologized profusely, and the next morning we had plenty to eat and fuel to cook it with.
In the afternoon we revisited the temple to enjoy its beauties once more. We saw some hundreds of fakirs and gossains, more or less ill-favored; akalis praying; crowds of pilgrims prostrating themselves; lighted lamps sparkling inside the temple; tall Punjabis moving majestically over the smooth marble pavements, and everywhere animation and life. Crowds followed us about showing kind civility, garlands and sugar candies were given us at the temple; and at a shrine where the swords, sharp steel discs, coats of mail, and other warlike weapons of the Sikh
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warrior-priests are exposed to view, in charge of akalis, I was greeted, to my surprise and joy, with a loving smile by one of the Masters, who for the moment was figuring among the guardians, and who gave each of us a fresh rose, with a blessing in his eyes. The touch of his fingers as he handed me the flower caused a thrill to run throughout my body, as may easily be imagined.
On the 27th of the month (October) I lectured to a large audience on the "Arya Samaj and Theosophical Society," and again on the 29th on "The Past, Present, and Future of India," the text of which is to be found in my book Theosophy, Religion, and Occult Science. People who imagine the Hindus to be devoid of patriotic feeling, should have seen the effect of this lecture on my huge audience. As I depicted the greatness of ancient and the fallen state of modern India, murmurs of pleasure or sighs of pain broke from them; at one moment they would be cheering and vehemently applauding, the next keeping silent, while the tears were streaming from their eyes. I was surprised and delighted, and my own feelings were so wrought upon by the sight of their silent grief that I almost broke down myself. It was one of those occasions, so frequent in our relations with the Indians, when the bonds of brotherly affection were woven between our hearts, and when we felt we were blessed in having been able to come here to live and serve among our spiritual kinsmen. I recall just such an experience when I was escorting Mrs. Besant on her first Indian tour. It was at some South Indian station that she was lecturing—on "The Place of
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India among the Nations," if my memory serves. Giving way to the divine impulse, and employing almost my identical phrases, she swept her audience with her, and made them respond as though they were one great harp from. whose strings her deft fingers could awaken whatsoever harmonies she chose. Driving home in the carriage, neither of us could speak a word, but only sat in silent rapture, like one who has just left a room where a Master of Music has been evoking the symphonies of Devaloka. He who has not himself felt the thrill of inspiration pulsate through his being, knows not what the word oratory means.
I must mention the visit of a Pandit from Jummoo, Kashmir, for what he said about our learning Sanskrit. He had a clear, firm voice, a fluency of language, and an impressive appearance. We had a long and interesting discussion with him and found him rather a bigot than an eclectic. As he was leaving he turned to me and said I ought by all means to learn Sanskrit, as it was the only language that would be useful to me in my next birth. Perhaps he thought we might be reincarnated in some hitherto undiscovered Panditloka!
Our stay at Amritsar was prolonged a few days that we might have the unique pleasure of seeing the Golden Temple and tank illuminated for the celebration of Divali, their New Year's Day. The spectacle was well worth waiting for. A carriage was sent for us at dusk and we were driven to the Clock Tower, a modern construction which faces the tank, from which we had a perfect view. The beautiful temple was
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crowned with golden and crimson lamps, alternately placed, in a vivid glory. From the final of its central dome to the corner kiosks ran strings of colored lanterns. The base of the building was one fret-work of lighted chirags, or small clay yoni-shaped lamps, attached to a framework of bamboos arranged in the artistic geometrical patterns that one sees throughout Upper India in house-balconies, window-screens, doors, etc., the distant effect being that of the temple being enwrapped in shining gold lace. The outlines of the causeway, the steps around the whole tank, and the façades of the houses surrounding it were lit up with innumerable similar lamps. A grand display of the fireworks for which the Indians have always been famous turned the scene into a sort of fairy-land. There were huge vases of colored fires, great flower-pots of spouting flame, Catherine wheels, Roman candles, rockets, and bombs set off from the tops of the buildings at the four corners of the enclosure; each blaze of color tinging the sky, reflected back from the smooth, unruffled surface of the lake, and lighting up the large model of an ancient Hindu ship that was moored near the causeway. From time to time a flight of fire balloons would gently rise into the cloudless blue sky, trailing out their line of little lights like floating stars. In great set pieces would be displayed the, religious emblems, the phallus, the yoni, the double triangle— seal of Vishnu—and others. Each was greeted with a great shout of voices mingled with the clangor of bells and the music of a military band; while at the height of the excitement a procession of thousands
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of Sikhs moved around the tank, headed by a tall akali carrying the banner of the Great Gurus, and all joining in chaunts of hymns in praise of the Founder, Guru Nanak.
The next day we took train for Lahore, where a warm welcome awaited us. A large delegation of Arya Samajists met us at the railway station and took us to our quarters—a detached bungalow connected with a large Anglo-Indian boarding-house near the Public Garden. They left us to ourselves while they went to their homes for dinner, and, returning at 9 o'clock, sat on the floor along with us and talked metaphysics until a late hour, after which we were both glad to get to our rest. The crux was the nature of Iswara and the personality of God, about which H. P. B. and I entertained beliefs very antagonistic to theirs.
The Anglo-Indian papers were just then full of malevolent writings against us, which made us appreciate all the more the friendliness of the Indians. I lectured to the usual overflowing audience on Sunday, 7th November, and among the Europeans present was Dr. Leitner, the famed Orientalist, then President of the Punjab University College. At the close, the alleged Yoga Sabhâpathy Swami read a rambling complimentary address in which his praises of us were mi gled with much self-glorification. He came to our place the next day and favored us with his company from 9.30 a.m. until 4 p.m., by which time he had pretty thoroughly exhausted our patience. Whatever good opinion we may have formed of him before was spoilt by a yarn he told us of his exploits as a Yogî.
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He had, he said, been taken up at Lake Mânsarovara, Tibet, high into the air and been transported two hundred miles along the high level to Mount Kailâs, where he saw Mahadeva! Ingenuous foreigner as H. P. B. and I may have been, we could not digest such a ridiculous falsehood as that. I told him so very plainly. If, I said, he had told US that he had gone anywhere he liked in astral body or clairvoyant vision, we might have believed it possible, hut in physical body, from Lake Mânsarovara, in company with two Rishis mentioned in the Mahabharata, and to the non-physical Mount Kailâs—thanks, no: he should tell it to somebody else.
Seven of the Arya Samajists, including our two sceptical visitors of Amritsar, joined the T. S. and helped to form a local Branch. Our time at the station was largely taken up with visitors and discussions of religious topics, hut we were not without other distractions. For instance, the Viceroy, Lord Ripon, arrived on the 10th, and we saw the showy pageant of his reception. He mounted a huge elephant which was covered with a housing of glittering cloth-of-gold and wore enormous gold or gilt ornaments on its head. The howdah was gilded, and over His Excellency's head a golden umbrella was held by a picturesquely clad Asiatic servant. The Punjab Maharajahs and Rajahs followed on elephants according to their right of precedence, and all were escorted—it almost seemed to H. P. B., guarded—by European civilians, also on elephants. There were European and Bengal cavalry, native soldiers in red, Indian spearsmen and halberdiers, outriders, hands of
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musicians, war drums and cymbals clashing; in short, a Barnum circus-like affair which only lacked the caravans of wild beasts, the great band chariot, and a camleopard or two to make the illusion complete! I am quite sure that every Englishman in the parade felt foolish, and every once independent native chief degraded by this public exhibition of conqueror and conquered, the real meaning of which everybody knew that everybody else knew as well as himself. H. P. B. and I saw the show from one of the turrets of the battlemented, fortress-like railway station, which is, in fact, constructed so as to serve as a fort in case of need. Her comments on the show and the bedizened participants kept me in continual laughter, and later on, in one of her incomparable letters to the Russky Vyestnick, she set all Russia laughing over the incident of the absence of the Maharajah of Kashmir from the parade; which was at first suspected to cover some political plot, but which turned out to be only a case of diarrhea!
The Shalimar Gardens, the far-famous plaisance built by Ali Mardân Khan in the seventeenth century, were illuminated in honor of the Viceroy's visit. Of all the spectacles I have seen in India this was one of the most pleasing. The garden was laid out in seven divisions representing the seven degrees of the Paradise of Islam, but only three now remain. The centre is occupied by a pond-like reservoir bordered by an elaborately indented coping and studded with pipes for fountains. A cascade falls into it over a slope of marble corrugated in an ornamental carved diaper. There are kiosks, towers, and other
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constructions, and long narrow basins with copings almost as low as the grassplots which frame them in, stretch far away in different directions. Fancy this pleasure ground on a starlit Indian night, glittering with chirags which mark out the tanks and border every walk; with the trees aglow with colored lanterns, the central water-basin suffused with the gorgeous hues of chemical fires, and every inch of space in the paths and avenues crowded with the most picturesque, showily clad and virile multitude of human beings the world could produce; while over all from the serene sky the radiant stars look down. I have seen many countries and peoples, but never any human concourse that compared with that crowd of Sikhs, Punjabis, Kashimiris and Afghans, in their cloths of gold and silver, their fair olive complexions, and their turbans of every delicate shade of color that the dyer's art has produced.