OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THUGS—THE PRINCE OF WALES IN DANGER
BOTH Nature and the Prince gave us a warm welcome to Limbdi, our next station, for the mercury stood at 102° Fahr. in the shade, and Thâkur Saheb Jaswantsinhji Fatehsinhji did everything to show his pleasure in our visit. Limbdi is a small Kâthiâwâr State of the second class (its area is 344 sq. miles), whose rulers are of the Jhala Râjput caste—that is to say, hereditary warriors and possessed of the usual vices and virtues of the class, the former active in the olden time of fighting and struggles, the latter now developing rapidly under the changed conditions of to-day. Among the Râjput Princes of Kâthiâwâr there are, however, some who do not throw great credit upon their stock—drinking, gambling, and amusement filling up the round of their years. But the Limbdi Thâkur is an honor to his family and his people, well educated, kindly, an enlightened ruler, and deeply interested in the profounder quesions of thought. He and Harisinhji were schoolfellows, I believe, at Rajkumar College, where the reigning cricket favorite, Ranjitsinhji, and all the young Chiefs of Kâthiâwâr have been and are educated under the eye of the Government.
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His Private Secretary, Mr. Khimchund, F.T.S., and other gentlemen met us on arrival at the station, and conducted us to the place assigned for our entertainment. The Dewan, Harilal, called in the morning, and the Prince received us at the Palace at 1.30 p.m. We had a long and friendly talk together about Theosophy and Hindu religion, in which His Highness is greatly interested. He showed us in his fine library a shelf, where I saw Isis Unveiled, the volume of my lectures, and other Theosophical literature, all bearing marks of having been much handled. The Palace, a new construction, is a handsome building, and in the Durbar, or reception-room, we had the opportunity to admire, if we so chose, a large gold and silver framed gâdi, or throne-seat, with a pair of carved, silver-mounted arm-chairs with lion-head ornaments, for visiting dignitaries to occupy on occasions of ceremony. Considering that the State has a population of only some 50,000, and an annual revenue of, say, £25,000 to £30,000, it seemed to me that so much display was rather unnecessary; yet that is the Râjput character, and there is nothing to be said by outsiders, save this—which I have said before—that if the commercial travellers for the great jewelry houses of Bombay and Calcutta were less glib as talkers and less cunning in playing off the vanities of Indian ruling princes against each other, there would be fewer of such costly toys as these thrones, chairs, and sofas in Indian palaces, and less financial embarrassment felt when paying the bills. There seems no remedy save the
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interference of the Paramount Power, and yet it is hard to see how even that can be resorted to without invading the private rights of both buyers and sellers. It would be possible to create some sort of a safeguard about the young Princes in one way, viz., by educating them at the Rajkumar College as sensibly and practically as the Royal Princes of Great Britain have been educated, so that they might at least begin their rule with characters well grounded in the homely virtues, and not, as at present, spoilt in boy-hood by sycophantic flattery, and left to be the prey of tradesmen who bribe the durbaris and charge the exorbitant commissions in the bill. I beg pardon for having been led into this digression, but the sight of the costly seats in the Palace of Limbdi brought up before me the recollection of this great evil as I have seen it exhibited throughout India. The poor victimised Rajahs, Thakurs, Nawabs, and Maharajahs of this country are sponged upon by whites to an extent that nobody would believe who had not seen it himself and got the facts at first hand. This, however, is not at all apropos of our host, the Thakur Saheb, whose sweet hospitality calls for my most kind and friendly remarks. Each day of our visit he came and took Prince Harsinhji and myself out for a drive and to show us the sights. One day he took us to see his Guru, a Sanyasi, whose feet he worshipped in the Eastern fashion, by prostrations and the placing of the teacher's feet on his own head. We all sat on the carpet cross-legged, and for a couple of hours or so discussed religious questions. It was a picturesque
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scene, and would have made the subject of an excellent photograph.
One day, at the Prince's request, I lectured in the palace Durbar Hall on Mesmerism, and as my friend Mr. L. V. V. Naidu, who was with me as volunteer Private Secretary, is, fortunately, very susceptible to my influence, I was able to show some interesting scientific experiments. His Highness, after the usual evening drive, returned with us to our bungalow, and spent another hour in talk about Mesmerism and Hypnotism, with illustrative experiments on my friend. After we had called at the Palace (on 8th April) to say farewell, the Prince sent to our lodgings a present of Rs. 500 for the Adyar Library, with a very kind and too complimentary letter to myself.
From Limbdi we went on to Baroda, the grand capital city of the Gaikwar Maharajah, where we were received as State guests and lodged sumptuously. The new Palace is one of the finest buildings in India, and compares favorably with European palaces which are not fortresses. The Gaikwar is one of the premier feudatories of the British Government, and, at the same time, one of the most intellectual and best educated. My only complaint against him is that he was so thoroughly anglicised by his English tutor as to have got out of touch with his ancestral religion. In my various discussions with him at Baroda, Calcutta, and Ootacamund, he has always posed as agnostic, and shown a decided scepticism about the existence of spiritual powers in man. I have had talks by the hour,
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most interesting yet unsatisfactory, because of his ignorance of the facts now proven by modern psychical research. His manners are most courteous, and there is an entire absence of that reserve and hauteur one somehow expects to see in Asiatic Princes.
A much more congenial spirit to me is Mr. Manibhai Jasbhai, then Naib Dewan (Under-Secretary of State, as one might say), a man of the highest character and most brilliant acquirements. When H. P. B. and I first came to Bombay, in 1879, he was Dewan of Kutch, and from the beginning showed a real interest in our work and in ourselves personally. Naturally one of my first visits was to the house of my old friend, in company with my other old and dear friend J. S. Gadgil, Judge of the Baroda Varishta (High) Court. The next day I lectured at the College to students, but many adults, including H. E. the Dewan Saheb, Mr. Cursetji, Chief Justice, Judge Gadgil, Mr. Manibhai and others, were present. After the lecture the Dewan Saheb took me for a drive, and later he and several other notables of the State spent a couple of hours at my quarters in conversation, about Mesmerism among other things; and as the rumor of my Limbdi experiments on "Doraswamy" had reached town, I was asked to repeat them for the instruction of the company present.
On the following day the Dewan Saheb headed a subscription in aid of the Adyar Library, with the gift of Rs. 200, and Messrs. Gadgil and Manibhai
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followed suit. I was very ill that day from having eaten some bad plantains and milk for breakfast, but I determined to stick to my programme, despite the friendly protests of Mr. Gadgil and others; so at 3.25 p.m. we took train for Surat, which we reached at 8, and were put up at the travellers' bungalow on the banks of the River Tapti. During my stay the Surat T. S. (an efflorescence of the Sanatana Dharma Sabha) was formed with that most respected, unselfish, and pious Mr. Navtamram Ootamram Trivedi as President. Under his fostering care the Branch has been ever since one of the best on our roll, and, with the accession of Dr. Edal Behram; Surat has been one of the strong centres of our movement in India. Among others who acquired membership during my visit occur the notable names of the popular Guzerati poet, Vijiashankar Kavi, and Dr. Nariman, the Civil Surgeon, a learned Parsi gentleman.
We reached Bombay on the 17th, and from thence, two days later, went on to Poona, that great centre of progressive ideas and intellectual culture. Lectures were given at Heerabagh and the Albert Edward Institute to large audiences, after which we returned to Bombay and I took up the task of preparing the programme for my projected tour through Northern India—the Central and North-Western Provinces, Punjab, Behar, and Bengal. It was printed for circulation, and from the copy now before me I cite a passage or two as of general interest, viz.: it says that "by strict economy the tour expenses have been so
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reduced that the share payable by each Branch will not exceed Rs. 17. . . . If I rupee (Is. 4d.) per diem be also given, this will cover every expense for fuel, milk, and food required at the station and bought elsewhere. Col. Olcott particularly notifies Branches to pay no more than this on his account to anybody for anything. This caution is suggested by the wasteful generosity often hitherto indulged in by his friends, as well as by impositions practised upon them in his name. The travelling expense account covers every item for tongas, bullock dâks, steamboat fares, meals at railway stations, extra luggage charges, porterage, etc., etc." It was most disagreable for me to seem to wish to interfere with the hospitable impulses of my affectionate colleagues and friends, but I really could not stand by quietly and see sometimes hundreds of rupees thrown away on my visit, when the merest trifle would have satisfied all my necessities. Anyhow the precaution was a good one, for the 10,000 miles of my tour of 1887 were made at the cost of less than £100, everything included. I was much amused, on arriving at a certain station in Bengal, to see how literally the following paragraph in the printed Programme Notes had been complied with:
"Branches will kindly have ready upon Col. Olcott's arrival the following articles, the cost of which may be deducted from the per-diem allowance, viz.: 2 large earthen water-pots; firewood; 1 seer of milk; 1 loaf bread; 1 seer sugar. Also one Mohammedan coolie to assist in the kitchen."
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Before the greeting salutations were fairly over, one of the Reception Committee took me aside and showed me that the articles I required had all been brought—to the station platform! A queer place for me to set up my kitchen, to be sure.
It must not be inferred from what precedes, however, that an outsider could travel so cheaply in India, for in my case there were no hotel bills to pay, I travelled second class everywhere, I was a vegetarian, and my food cost less than a pet dog's would in England or France.
I note an entry in my Diary for April 25, 1887, to the effect that "very bad news is received to-day from Ostende about my dear 'chum's' health. The physicians report H. P. B. as lying between death and life. But she will not die yet". She didn't.
With K. M. Shroff, Dr. Rây, and Tookaram Tatya I paid a visit to the Bai Sakerbai Hospital for Animals, one of the worthiest charities in all India. The initiative of this benefaction was either made by our colleague Mr. Shroff, or he was the one who made it the great success it is. Mr. Shroff went into the great bazaar of Bombay, got the shetts or headmen of the different classes of traders to call them together separately, addressed them upon their duties as Hindus to care for the brute creation, and actually persuaded them to self-impose a tax on their trade returns for the upkeep of such a Hospital: the headmen agreeing in each case to be responsible for the collection of the tax. In this way an annual income of some Rs. 30,000—if I
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rightly remember—was assured. He then persuaded the high-minded, philanthropic wife of Sir Dinshah Maneckji Petit, Bai Sakerbai, to give a suitable piece of land and, I think, necessary buildings. The Hospital being thus founded, Mr. Shroff set other forces to work, and got the Bombay Government to take the wise step of attaching the Hospital to the Veterinary College, thus at once affording to the students the best possible chance for professional training, and giving the sick animals every necessary medical and surgical help. If a monument should ever be erected to Mr. Shroff he ought to be represented, as Srî Krishna is, leaning against a cow. For infinitely smaller services than this, hosts of men have been decorated by the Government of India.
On 27th April I started for the North, my first objective point being Nagpur, in the Central Provinces. I was alone with Babula, my servant, Prince Harisinhji having left me in Guzerat, and L. V. V. Naidu at Bombay. It was the hot season and travelling was about the most unpleasant thing to do, the mercury standing even at midnight at about 100° Fahr. Some friends tried to persuade me not to incur the risk of heat-apoplexy, often so fatal to Europeans, but I was quite willing to take the chances, and so held to my programme. At Nagpur I was kept busy day and evening with conversaziones, initiations, visits, Branch formation, and public lectures to packed crowds, with the heat of a furnace, almost, to bear. We got at this station one of our most important members,
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Mr. C. Narainswamy Naidu, the leading Pleader of the Central Provinces, whose activity in Society matters, including the Adyar Conventions, up to the time of his death, everybody knows. No good scheme for promoting its interests went unhelped by him, no call was made in vain. At the close of my lecture in the native theatre, Nagpur, on "Chitragupta," Mr. Narainswamy threw over my shoulders—as Indian Princes do to guests—a red Kashmir shawl, handsomely gold-embroidered. A number of European officials showed a considerable interest in Theosophy, attended the lectures, and some of them joined the Society. To Hoshangabad next, a day's train journey, with the heat at 106°, and nothing to suggest the need of a blanket or overcoat. Elsewhere I have described the beauty of a moonlight scene on the steps of the great bathing-ghât on the bank of the sacred Nerbudda River, the silvery splendor of the massive stone staircase, the white-domed temples, and the river flowing along between its history-crammed banks. The night of my arrival I received two addresses on the platform of the ghât, the company sitting on Oriental carpets and the whole picture an Asiatic one. There was not even one European costume to mar its effect, as I wore my Indian muslin dress because of the oppressive heat. I lectured at the same place the next evening on the necessity for promoting the study of Sanskrit. On the third evening the Branch celebrated its Anniversary, Brahmin Pandits reciting benedictory slokas, after which the Branch members distributed wheat to
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beggars after the ancient custom. The evening's proceedings closed with another lecture by myself. Each morning, before sunrise, I enjoyed the luxury of a swim in the sacred stream. On the 5th May I went on to Jubbulpore, the home of my old friend, Nivaran Chandra Mukerji, and his family, all most interested in the work and welfare of our Society.
A notable incident of my visit to this station was a call at the Prison, where I saw some of the very Thugs, Dacoits, and Prisoners described in Col. Meadows Taylor's thrilling Indian tales. One old man told me he had "only killed one man," thus seeming to imply that he was a very pattern of moderation. He showed me how they handle the roomal (handkerchief) in strangling—a very simple and efficacious process. Shall I describe it? Perhaps not, lest it might suggest to some ripened yet not actually developed assasin the easiest, quietest, least brutal way of disposing of a troublesome witness or other chosen victim. Doubtless the thing has been described in print before, but that is not my fault; let every one look to his own Karma. I saw at another prison once an old Thug who had killed many men, and who, at the request of the Heir Apparent, had practically shown him how to do the trick, by putting the roomal about the Royal neck and giving a preliminary twist. I was told by a Jail Officer that on seeing a strange fire of ferocity flame up in the Thug's eyes at that moment, he stopped the experiment on the instant. Had he not, the Prince might have had his neck broken, for the skilful Thug
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kills his man by a single twist of the roomal, before his body has time to fall to the ground.
Thuggee is now practically extinct in India, but it was a fearful pest while it lasted. The Thugs were hereditary assassins, ostensibly cultivators, and, in fact, they did work their farms during a portion of the year, after which they would start out on their expeditions of pillage and murder, followed by the blessings of their families, the approval of their tainted neighbors, and the protection of native rulers, who shared with them the fruit of their spoils, and gave them refuge when danger threatened. From father to son, generation after generation, the tradition of the glory of their calling was handed down, and the training of their youth was most carefully attended to. In the History of the Thugs (Nattali & Bond, London, 1851) the author says:
"The children of Thugs, during their more tender years, are, it appears, kept in ignorance of the occupation of their fathers. After a time they are permitted to accompany them; but a veil is thrown over the darker scenes of the drama. To the novice, indeed, the expedition presents nothing but an aspect of pleasure. He is mounted on a pony; and being, by the laws of the Thugs, entitled to his share of the booty, he receives a portion of it in presents suited to his years—the delight attending the acquisition being unalloyed by any consciousness of the means by which it has been obtained. The truth reveals itself by degrees. In a short time the tyro becomes aware that his presents are the fruits of robbery.
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After a while, he has reason to suspect that robbery is aggravated by a fouler crime; at length, suspicion passes into certainty; and, finally, the pupil is permitted to witness the exercise of the fearful handicraft which he is destined to pursue. The moral contamination is now complete; but it is long before the disciple is entrusted with the performance of the last atrocity. He passes through a long course of preparatory study . . . before being elevated to the dignity of a strangler."
The book from which the above is taken is doubtless out of print, but one can get a graphic account of Thuggee, that most detestable of crimes, by reading Meadows Taylor's Confessions of a Thug, which is procurable almost anywhere. My reader will understand with what painful interest and loathing I gazed at the conscienceless assassins before me in the Jubbulpore Prison, wondering how 'many times each had inveigled unsuspecting travellers to their doom, and broken their spines with a twist of his fatal noose. From the conquest of Mysore in 1799 to l808 the practice counted its victims by hundreds annually, some of the more audacious villains had been concerned in above two hundred murders, and it has been computed that a Thug of fifty years has slain at the very least ten victims a year during the twenty-five years of his active work. Here is a nice problem in Karma for the metaphysical Theosophist to work out. Whose the greater crime, the father strangler who delibrately corrupts his son and destroys his moral sense, or the child whose murderous arm has been trained to destroy life?