OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
A MASTER OF DJINNS
WE were together at Benares eight days, during which time we saw much of the old Maharajah, his suite and other notables of the city. His Highness sent his Secretary to inquire after H.P.B.'s health early in the morning after her arrival, and, later, came himself with Babu Pramada Dâsâ and Raja Sivaprasâd as interpreters, and had hours of discussion on philosophical and religious subject. On another occasion he had his treasurer with him and offered to have counted out, then and here, a large sum of money (many thousands of rupees) for the benefit of our Society if H. P. B. would “show him some miracles”. Of course she refused him the smallest gratification, as she had other rich Hindus before—one, the late Sir Mungaldas, at Bombay—but as soon as he departed, did a number of phenomena for poor visitors who could not have afforded to give her even ten rupees. But she told the aged Prince an important secret about the hiding-place of certain lost family papers which, if I am not mistaken, had been hastily concealed during the Mutiny. Though disappointed, yet I have reason to believe that the Maharajah respected her far more than if she had accepted his present. This indifference to money is always taken in India
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as good proof of the disinterested piety of religious teachers. The Lahore Yogî, who showed his samâdhi to Maharajah Runjeet Singh, ruined himself for ever in the latter's eyes by accepting his costly gifts. "But far that," said an old servant of his to me once at Lalhore, "the Maharajah would have kept him for life near him and revered him as a saint."
The morning sail dawn the Ganges past the ghâts was repeated far H. P. B., the same two gentlemen accompanying us. This time, we caused our boat to linger long off the burning-ghât and watched the whale process, from the bringing and submersion of the corpse in the sacred stream to the raking of its ashes into the water. It is a brutally realistic scene, with no poetry or refinement about it, and if cremation had been introduced at the West in that rough guise there would not have been more than one body incinerated, I am sure. With the use of the crematorium every repulsive feature is eliminated, and it is no wander that this method of disposing of the dead has become so popular.
On the same afternoon we visited a Muslim fair then being held, at which we saw our first examples of the phenomenal dexterity which is acquired in India in the management of the sword. A man lies flat on his stomach on the ground, with his chin resting on a guava fruit—say as large as a medium-sized pear; another man stands with his back towards him, marking time with his feet and body to the rhythmic beating of a tom-tom; he holds in his hand a sabre with an edge like a razor, and a thick and heavy back, which he also moves to the rhythm; suddenly
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he wheels about face, sweeps his sabre through the air and under the man's chin, and the latter, rising, shows the guava sliced in halves. Even now, the bare recollection of it makes one shudder to think what would have happened if that trenchant blade had swerved but a trifle from its transverse path through the fruit. The same feat of skill was shown in the case .of guavas and limes pressed under a man's naked heel. It should be borne in mind that in every case the swordsman's back is towards the assistant, and that his aim is taken while the sward is whirling through the air.
On 14th December the expected meeting and conference between myself, as P.T.S., and the chief Pandits of India, came off at Babu P. D. Mittra's residence. The dignity of the assemblage will be evident to all well-informed Orientalists, when they read the following list of names, same of them the mast renowned in contemporary Sanskrit literature:
Dr. G. Thibaut, Principal of Benares Anglo-Sanskrit Callege.
Pandit Bâlâ Shastri, late Prafessar of Hindu Law, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College.
Pandit Babu Deva Shastri, Professor of Astronomy, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College.
Pandit Yagneswâra Ojha, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College.
Pandit Kesavli Shastri, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College.
Pandit Dâmodara Shastri, Prafessar of Grammar, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College.
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Pandit Dhondirâga Shastri, Librarian, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College. .
Pandit Ramkrishna Shastri, Professor of Sankhya, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College.
Pandit Ganghadeva Shastri, Professor of Poetry and Rhetoric, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College.
Babu Pramada Dâsâ Mittra, late Professor of Anglo-Sanskrit Literature, Benares Anglo-Sanskrit College.
The last-named gentleman interpreted into Sanskrit as rapidly and fluently my address to the Pandits, as he did their replies and observations to me, in English, which he writes and speaks like an Englishman. I doubt if there is an Orientalist in any Western land, from Professor Max Müller downward, who could do that: certainly, the attempts of such as have visited India and Ceylon to converse in Sanskrit with our Pandits have not impressed the latter with their command of the "language of the gods," to judge from what they have told me.
Our conference lasted several hours, and point after point was carefully considered, each party watchful to prevent the appearance of having become subordinate to the other. The final result was the adoption and signing of the following articles of agreement:
"Whereas, the interest of Sanskrit Literature and Vedic Philosophy and Science will be eminently
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promoted by a brotherly union of all friends of Aryan learning throughout the world; and
"Whereas, it is evident that the Theosophical Society is sincerely devoted to the accomplishment of this most worthy object, and possesses facilities which it is desirable to secure; therefore
"Resolved that this Samaj accepts the offer made on behalf of the Theosophical Society, and declares itself in friendly union with the said Society for the purposes specified, and offers to render whatever assistance it can for the carrying out of such plans as may be agreed upon between the governing officers of the two Samajas.
"Provided, nevertheless, that this act of union shall not be understood as making either of the two Societies subordinate to the rule or jurisdiction of the other."
(Signed) BAPU DEVA SHASTRI,
(Signed) BAL SHASTRI,
Accepted for the Theosophical Society,
H. S. OLCOTT, President.
PRAMADA DÂSÂ MITTRA,
Secretary of the Meeting.
BENARES: Margasirsha suddha 13th,
Without the help of Babu Pramada Dâsâ such a result would have been quite impossible, and we have
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to thank him for enabling us to vindicate the eclecticism of our Society thus early in its sojourn in India. Coming so soon after our triumphant Buddhistic progress in Ceylon and on top of H.P.B.'s and my public profession of Buddhism at the temple in Galle, it showed great high-mindedness on the part of the Benares savants, whose Hindu orthodoxy was beyond question. The feeling of the learned President of the Sabha was, however, very strongly shown in his declaration that he actually preferred Christianity to Buddhism, but at the same time he recognized that good might come to Hinduism from such an alliance as that proposed on the basis of sectarian neutrality. On account of her sex the Pandits did not want H.P.B. to take part in the conference.
Our days were fully occupied with talks, public lectures, visits from the Maharajah and other princes and commoners, and visits by ourselves to sundry temples and other local monuments of the past. We were greatly interested in one of our visitors, one Mohammed Arif, an official of one of the Courts and a very learned person. He had an extensive knowledge of the literature of Islam, and showed us a chart he had prepared, on which were inscribed the names of some 1,500 renowned adepts and mystics, from the Prophet down to our times. He had also a practical knowledge of occult chemistry, and, at our request, consented to try an experiment with my help. He had brought from the bazaar some thick and large bratties, or fuel-cakes of dried cow-dung, a little charcoal, two Jeypore rupees (of pure silver), and some dried vegetable products.
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Scooping out a small cavity in the flat side of each bratty, he filled it with pounded cloves, ahindrâ bark and bechums (myrobolams, I think), buried a rupee in one of them, applied another bratty over it, and set fire to the lower cake. The other rupee was disposed of in like manner. The cakes burned slowly, being reduced to ashes only after a couple of hours. The rupees were then transferred to second pairs of bratties and left until the latter were consumed. A third time they were put into fresh cakes, and left to themselves all night. It was expected that in the morning we should find the coins completely oxidized, the pure metal being changed into an oxide of the consistency of lime, and crumbling between the fingers. The experiment proved, however, only partly successful, the surface of the coins being oxidized but the interior left unchanged. Mohammed Arif was dissatisfied with the result and wished to repeat the experiment under better conditions, but time did not serve either of us and we had to leave the station before it could be done. At any rate, partial oxidation was obtained, and I really cannot understand how this could be effected, with such simple agents as the feeble fire of six smouldering bratties and a few pinches of cloves and other vegetable products. The old gentleman, while paying full reverence to the achievements of modern science, still maintained that there was yet very much to learn from the ancients about the nature of the elements and their potential combinations. "Among Indian alchemists," he said, "it has long been a theory universally accepted, that if a diamond is, by a certain
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process known to them, reduced to ashes, these ashes added to melted tin are capable of changing the latter into silver. Practically, of course, the experiment is commercially valueless, the transforming agent being more costly than the resultant product. But the thought is important in its suggestiveness, for if the ashes of one substance containing carbon, when obtained by a certain process will transmute tin into silver, it opens the inquiry whether a nearly-related ash from another carbonaceous substance might not give the same result under proper conditions. If the addition of carbon to iron converts it into steel, by some secret law not yet fully understood, why is it an unthinkable proposition that its addition to tin by some better process than any at present known to European chemists, might also harden that metal and give it properties as different from the mother metal as those of steel are from those of iron. "True"—continued the old man, looking at me with his intelligent eyes—" modern chemistry does not show any such affinity between carbon and tin, nor does it show that there is none. We do know that in ancient times a process was known for imparting to copper tools the cutting hardness of steel; and that secret is lost. Chemists may, therefore, well pause before dogmatizing as to what was or was not possible for the alchemists. They have a deal yet to learn before they recover the Lost Arts of the older time. The Indian alchemists have proved that they can harden tin by combining with it carbon; hence they cover a broader ground than modern chemists in the department of
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metallurgy." "But why, then," I asked, "is Alchemy so obsolete?"
"Alchemical Science is dishonored," he replied, "by the neglect of the educated, and the trickery and base frauds of charlatans, but still it is a great Science. I believe—nay, I know—that the transmutation of metals is possible."
The old enthusiast talked in Urdu, which was admirably translated by Rai Baldeo Buksh and another high local official, and the interviews I had with him were among the most interesting I ever held with anyone. He evinced a thorough familiarity with Arabic and Persian literature, and his air of dignity was that of a high-minded scholar devoted to the acquisition of knowledge. I got him to put his ideas on paper and had them translated for the Theosophist (vide May No. of 1881, p. 178). On my last visit to Benares I found, upon inquiry, that he is now retired and living on a very modest pension in some obscure village, where, perhaps, he has not a single neighbor who can appreciate his erudition and high intelligence.
We met several persons at Benares who had had personal knowledge of the wonder-working powers of Hassan Khan Djinni, the Muslim sorcerer previously mentioned. Among others a Mr. Shavier told us the following. He had put his watch and chain into a small box, which was locked up in a chest in the presence of Hassan Khan, but the next moment he held the articles in his hand, having drawn them through the two boxes by the power of his elemental spirits. The man was a native of Hyderabad
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Deccan, and learnt his art from his father, a greater adept in occultism than himself, who duly initiated him with certain weird ceremonies. He had been given power over seven djnis, on the condition that he should lead a moral and temperate life. But his passions took possession of him, and one by one the elementals broke loose from his control until he had but one left to do his bidding, and of this one he was in constant dread. He had to abide the convenience of this spirit, and so was not able to perform phenomena at his own pleasure. Mr. C. F. Hogan who knew him intimately, tells us (Theosophist, Jan. 1881, p. 81) that the proximity of the genius was made known to him by the stoppage of his breathing through one of his nostrils. In stature he was somewhat above the middle height; of dark brown complexion, and a rather robust physique; on the whole, his appearance was rather pleasing than otherwise. His dissipations, however, at last undermined his mental if not his physical strength, and he is said to have died in prison.
Mr. Shavier told me a queer story which might' well have been taken from the Arabian Nights. Some years ago, there lived at Ghazipur a poor but learned Moulvi, who for want of better employment opened a day school for boys. Among his pupils was a bright lad who displayed much aptitude, and was always respectful to his teacher, for whom he frequently brought presents. One day he brought him some rare sweetmeats with his mother's compliments. The teacher expressing a desire to pay his respects to the parents, the lad said he would tell them and bring
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back their response. The next day a satisfactory response being made, the teacher dressed himself in his best and accompanied the boy on his way home. He led him out of town and to some distance in the country, but no signs of houses being seen, he began to get worried and at last demanded an explanation. The pupil then told him that they were just near his home, but before taking him there he must tell him a secret. He was of the race of the Jinnaths (djnis), and a great honor was done the teacher in admitting him to a view of their hidden city. He must first, however, swear that under no provocation would he reveal the way to it; and if he should ever break his oath, he would certainly be struck stone-blind. The Moulvi took the required oath, and the lad liftting a trap-door which had been invisible to the eyes of the former, a flight of steps was disclosed, which they descended, and finally came into the city of the Jinnaths. To the Moulvi's eyes everything seemed as it was in the Upper World; streets, houses, shops, conveyances dancing, music, and everything. The lad's father received his guest with cordiality, and the intimacy thus begun was continued for years, to the great benefit and satisfaction of the schoolmaster. His friends wondered at his prosperity, and finally persuaded the poor fool to show them the way to the trap-door at the top of the mysterious staircase. But just as he was on the point of revealing the oath-protected secret he was struck blind and never recovered his sight. The Moulvi was living in the town of G . . . at the time when Mr. Shavier related the story to me, and it is
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said that everybody of his acquaintance was aware of the cause of his blindness. This subterranean town of the Jinnaths, with its houses and elemental inhabitants, recalls the similar tale of "The Coming Race," of Bulwer Lytton, and suggests a common folk-lore origin for both.
Our visit to Benares coming to an end, we packed our things, sent our luggage to the railway station, and drove from the Mint House to Fort Râmanâgar, to take leave of our kind and venerable host, and thank him for his hospitality. The old Prince was very courteous and affectionate to us, begged us to come again, and said we must make our home with him whenever we should visit Benares. As we rose to leave, he laid a splendid Kashmir shawl over H. P. B.'s shoulders, which she wanted to "touch and return," but he looked so hurt at her rejection of his well-meant kindness, that she relented and expressed her thanks, through the gentleman who acted as interpreter. From thence we drove to the station, and at 6 that evening reached Allahabad and the Sinnetts; H. P. B suffering excruciating pain from an attack in her left wrist from dengue, that terrible "broken bone” fever which gives more suffering than even the persuasive instruments by which the paternal Inquisition promoted orthodoxy.