OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
MRS. BESANT’S TOUR IN BENGAL
ON New Year’s day, at 4.30 p.m., Mrs. Besant lectured in the open air from a temporary platform on the Esplanade, Madras, to some six thousand people, on “India”. It was a most eloquent address and immensely applauded. Our headquarters being at a distance of over five miles from the Town Hall, is not easy to reach for those who have no money to pay for vehicles; or rather I should say, it was not at the time of which I write: since then an electric tram line has been opened as far as Royapettah, which brings such visitors within three miles. The immense audience, largely composed of the class above mentioned, is thus accounted for.
At five o’clock the next day, a party consisting of Mrs. Besant, the late Mrs. Batchelor, Messrs. Edge, Bhavani Shankar, P. D. Khan and myself left in two canal-boats and with three servants, for a picnic to Mahabalipuram, the site of the ruins of the rock-cut temple city so famous in the history of Indian Archæology. We slept aboard the boats, reached the place
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at 8 a.m. the following morning (Wednesday the 3rd), had early breakfast (Choda Hazri) at the fine Government Rest House and then visited the ruins. A Western person, especially an American, who is accustomed to nothing but the newest of things, is profoundly impressed by the sight of these temples, huge cars and elephants and other figures of life-size, carved out of the living rock, and especially when they have been brought to partial ruin by the action of the elements or the violence of man through many centuries, the sense of their antiquity becomes overpowering. Gradually the sea has encroached upon that part of the coast, so that what was once a stretch of arable fields and a collection of numberless dwellings is now but too near the point where, alike many another city throughout the world, they will be engulfed by Ocean and nought preserved of them but their names in history. Returning to the Rest House, we had luncheon and I then began writing one of the chapters of my “Old Diary Leaves,” while Mrs. Besant went with the rest of the party to see other ruins. At 4.30 p.m, we re-embarked and journeyed homeward all night. The primitiveness and discomfort of our boats were an amusing feature of the excursion. There being no deck in the hold we stretched our blankets on the bottom-planking between the boat’s ribs, each of us lying on the slant. There was a half-ruinous roof overhead and for protection against the weather curtains of gunny-cloth so dirty and dilapidated as to be fit for a conspicuous place in historical Rag Fair. However, with easy consciences and
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somewhat weary bodies, all minor troubles were forgotten; so we slept straight through the night, as we were poled over the shallow water of the Buckingham Canal, reaching Adyar at 11 on Thursday morning. That being Foreign Mail day we all had enough to do until it was time to go into town for Mrs. Besant to give her last lecture in Madras during the present tour, in Victoria Town Hall; her subject was: “The Insufficiency of Materialism”.
On Friday afternoon I escorted Mrs. Besant and Mrs. Batchelor to the house of Dewan Bahadur Ragoonath Row, where a question meeting of Hindu ladies was held. The next day, on receipt of a cable from Ceylon, I notified the two Buddhist Bhikshus of the Râmanya Nikâya, who had attended the Convention, that they were recalled, and sent them off. On Sunday, the 7th, with Mrs. Besant, Countess C. W. and Bhavani, I sailed for Calcutta in the P. & O. steamer “Peshawar”.
Leaving the party to receive the farewell greetings of friends and settle themselves in their cabins, let me go back a little and redeem a promise made in my chapter IV, in the issue of The Theosophist for November, 1901. As will be remembered, it was therein stated that just before daybreak on the 10th of February, 1892, I received clairaudiently a very important message from my Guru telling me, among other things, that a messenger from him would be coming and I must hold myself in readiness to go and meet him. Nothing more than this was said, neither
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the name of the person nor the time of his or her arrival being indicated. In the absence of exact information, I jumped to the conclusion that the most likely person to be sent would be Damodar who, after a residence of seven years in Tibet would, presumably, and judging from his state of psychical development when he left us, be ready to carry out the Master’s order in cooperation with myself. This surmise was communicated by me to the few friends whom I had told about the message, and I kept a travelling-bag packed a full year-and-a-half, so as to be ready to start at a moment’s notice for Darjeeling, the hill station from which Damodar went to Tibet and where he had left his box of clothes. Nothing more having been heard of the matter I had, naturally, come to think that I had, perhaps, been deceived as to the terms of the message and, finally, the preliminary arrangements for the projected tour of Mrs. Besant had driven the matter entirely out of my mind. So things remained until the early morning after our arrival at our third Indian station, viz., Trichinopoly, when the familiar voice again spoke as I lay in that state between sleeping and waking, and said: “This is the messenger whom I told you to be ready to go and meet: now do your duty.” The surprise and delight were such as to drag me at once into the state of waking physical consciousness and I rejoiced to think that I had once more received proof of the possibility of getting trustworthy communications from my Teacher at times when I could not suspect them of being the result of
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auto-suggestion. The development of Mrs. Besant’s relations with our work in India have been, moreover, what, to me, is the best possible evidence that she is, indeed, the agent selected to fructify the seeds which had been planted by H. P. B. and myself during the previous fifteen years. She has swept away all vestiges of the mistrust as to our mission in India, such as was entertained by the great body of orthodox Brahmins, who looked on my colleague and myself as in fact secret agents for a Buddhist propaganda and the would-be destroyers of Hinduism.
The horoscope of Mrs. Besant, cast by Sepharial (Mr. Old), then a resident at our headquarters and a member of my staff, was published in The Theosophist for January, 1894, viz., when she was making her first Indian tour. It appears from that that she was born when the sign Aries 1° 40/ was rising, and Mr. Old gives a very lucid analysis of the character of a person born under such circumstances. But, as every student of astrology knows, a horoscope, to be worth anything, must analyse the combined influences of the various planets which modify the peculiar charac-teristics of the natal sign. Proceeding according to this method, Sepharial traces out, so to say, these focal influences and forms the following deduction:
“The remarkable features in the present horoscope are the presence of no less than six of the eight planets in cardinal signs, and the presence of cardinal signs of the angles of the figure. The latter circumstance
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confers upon the subject a reputation which will outlast life; a fame which will be widespread in proportion to the concurrence of other significations in the horoscope. And in this case we find the circumstance amply confirmed by the singular feature first mentioned. The majority of the planets being in cardinal signs denotes activity, aptitude, business capacity of the foremost order, nimbleness, ambition, perseverance. It gives a tendency to reforms and active administrations; makes the native fond of politics, foremost in his village, town, or even country, in social affairs and matters relating to the government of the people. It gives great executive ability; the power to overcome obstacles and to cut out a line of life for oneself; courting responsibility, active in the pursuit of one’s objects, capable of command and leadership; yet often impetuous, forcing one’s own way regardless of existing law and order; quick to anger but soon pacified; eager in intellect, acute in perception, apprehensive; fond of debate.
“The cardinal signs produce the most active workers of the world, the best business men and the most useful persons in the executive departments of social life.
“Three planets are in aerial signs and three in watery signs, hence the native lives equally in the mental and emotional aspects of her nature. The physical and purely spiritual are subordinate.
“If enquiry be made as to the astrological cause of Annie Besant’s oratorical powers, it will be seen that Mercury is in Libra, a ‘sign of voice’ as we
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technically term it, and Venus, the ruler of the 2nd House (governing language), is conjoined to Mercury, which confers singular eloquence and poesy of expression.”
In his concluding paragraph Sepharial says: “It may be asked if there are similar signs of sympathy between this horoscope and that of H. P. Blavatsky such as were seen to exist in the case of Colonel Olcott. To this we can answer, Yes. If reference be made to the horoscope of H. P. B.,1 it will be seen that the Ascendant is in close conjunction with the Moon in the present case and near to the place of Jupiter; while at the same time the Sun in the latter is on the place of the Moon in H. P. B.’s horoscope, a sure sign of sympathy between persons who are destined to meet one another.” He calls attention to the curious coincidence that Madame Blavatsky sailed for India in the 47th year of her age, and that in this identical year Mrs. Besant also came to India to continue in the same work.
Let us now return to our party on board the “Peshawar”. During the voyage from Madras to Calcutta we were favoured with very fine weather and a smooth sea. On the day after our sailing, by general request, Mrs. Besant lectured in the saloon on the subject of “Theosophy,” the Captain presiding. A pleasant incident of the voyage was the meeting on board of one of our New Zealand members, the Hon. William McCullough, a Member of the Legislative
1Theosophist, Vol XV, p. 12.
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Council and a very intelligent and sympathetic gentleman. We anchored at Saugor, at the mouth of the Hooghly, on the evening of Tuesday, January 9th, and continued the voyage at 10.30 the next morning on the flood tide. This precaution has always to be taken by Captains of vessels bound for Calcutta for it is a most treacherous river, the ebb tide running very swiftly and various shoals and sandbanks lying concealed below the surface ready to engulf any vessel which barely touches their inward edges. Quite frequently it happens that ships which have just grazed the edge of the treacherous sandbank have been forced by the current against it so that they were hopelessly stuck fast and within a few minutes have turned over and been swallowed up. At the very time that I write the Calcutta public are barely recovering from their horror at the wreck of the “Deepdale,” which touched a shoal and within two minutes had disappeared from sight. So that one may say that it is quite within the range of possibilities that a traveller who has come safely through the tempests of the Bay of Biscay, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, may be wrecked in this sacred, but remorseless, stream within eight hours’ sail of his destined port.
We reached Calcutta after 6 p.m. when it was dark. Several hundred of the best people of the metropolis, including Sir Romesh Chunder Mitter, ex-Justice of the High Court, Hon. Rash Behary Ghose, of the Viceroy’s Council, and the Hon. Norendronath Sen waiting for us on the jetty. There were numberless
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flags, arches of greenary, gifts of flowers and enthusiastic people. We were driven to a nice house which had been engaged for our temporary occupancy. From 8 to 10 the next morning and in the afternoon Mrs. Besant received visitors and in the evening lectured to an audience of 5,000 on “India’s Place Among the Nations”. The Town Hall was crammed and the enthusiasm was wonderful. I was much interested with the testimony of three persons who came to me separately and told me what they had seen and felt during the speaker’s lecture. The first one said that “he had heard a tinkling of silvery bells and smelt a peculiarly delicious perfume, like a combination of oriental spices, which had seemed to flow from her and fill the hall”; the second had seen about her a bright and shining light; the third had not only seen this but in that radiance the figure of a majestic, bearded and turbaned Personage, whose aura seemed to blend with that of the speaker in vibrations each one of which sent a thrill through her nervous system.
There were the usual two receptions on Friday, and between them A. B., the Countess and I, submitted to the usual photographing; after 6 p.m. Mrs. Besant gave a splendid discourse on “Pantheism,” at the great mansion of Sir Romesh Chunder to an audience of a most select character. At 5 o’clock the next morning the two ladies and I drove to the Sacred River and saw a young Yogi, standing in the water, do some wonderful phenomena of the Hatha Yoga. I can’t say that we were very much edified with the
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performance, nor with any of the other Hatha Yoga physiological wonders such, as for instance, the deliberate swallowing, inch by inch, of a dhoti the lower cloth worn by every unwesternized Hindu, which wraps about him two or three times and covers him from the waist to the ankles. In this feat it is first wet and then swallowed until only the end is left hanging out of the mouth; after which it is slowly and carefully pulled out again. Another bit of what I must call tomfoolery is the introduction into one nostril of a rather thick rope of twisted strips of thin cotton cloth, brought together at one end and worked into a short bit of string, which is forced up the nostril, and then brought out through the other nostril.
This seems incredible, yet I have seen it done myself as well as the “dhoti” performance. The object in view in all the series of exploits is, firstly, to make the Yogi’s will, by constant training and concentration upon a given point, strong enough to convert the bodily functions from involuntary to voluntary.
In the cases referred to there is the second object of cleansing the nasal passages, stomach and other internal cavities from accumulations of the previous twenty-four hours. This same training of the will brings, virtually, all the processes of the body under control, and after living long in India one comes to the point where not even the most sensational feats of the practitioner of the Lower Yoga, such as the abstention from food or drink for weeks, the allowing of oneself to be buried for a month or more and then
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resuscitating oneself, the sleeping on a bed of sharp spikes, self-levitation, the walking on water, the holding of an arm vertically for years until it loses its flexibility and becomes like a wooden stake, the exposure of oneself without harm to the “five fires,” are able to astonish him. And yet what a terrible waste of time, and how ridiculously unprofitable, so far as one’s spiritual advancement is concerned, is all this physiological training. At 3 p.m. Mrs. Besant lectured on “Theosophy and Hinduism” at the Star Theatre to the usual overflowing audience. She then revised copy until 11 p.m., after which she wrote letters and then allowed her poor tired body to have some sleep. On Sunday the ladies and I attended a reception of Brahmos, i.e., members of the Brahmo Samaj, at the house of Dr. P. K. Ray, a Professor in the Calcutta University and a man of scientific renown. In the evening Mrs. Besant lectured to another multitude at the Town Hall, but first held a reception at the house of the Hon. Mr. Ghose.
At 11 p.m. we left for Berhampore. This is an out-of-the-way station but the welcome that awaits any one connected with theosophic propaganda amply compensates for the trouble of getting there. After a night in the train we reached Azimgunge at about 9 a.m. From the railway station, the terminus of the short branch road from Nalhati Junction on the E.I.R., Mrs. Besant was carried in a tomjon, an uncovered arm-chair attached to poles which rest upon the bearers’ shoulders, with an accompaniment of fluttering flags
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and gaudily dressed mace-bearers, supplied by the local Jain branch of the T. S. We crossed the river in a house-boat and found an elegant carriage with blooded horses awaiting us which took us, at a smart trot, over the smooth road to our place of destination: our imposing turnout had been kindly supplied by H. H. the Maharanee Surnomoyee. We were very comfortably housed and most hospitably catered for. After a very interesting talk with the branch members we visited their reading Room and a Boys’ Moral Training Society. The next morning there was the usual conversazione, after which we were left at liberty to catch up the arrears of our heavy correspondence and my literary work. At 6.30 p.m. Mrs. Besant lectured on “India, Past, Present and Future”. Addresses were read to her by our Branch, the Hindu public of Berhampore (the old Brahmapuri) and the orthodox pandits, of whom twenty-five attended the lecture. The next morning, after the conference with Mrs. Besant, we were favoured with some remarkable juggling (or necromantic?) feats by a pupil of the late famous master of Djinns, Hasan Khan, about whom I have often written in The Theosophist. His name is—if he be still alive—Pertab Chandra Ghose, of Chunta P.O., Pergunnah Sarail, in the Tipperah District of Bengal. I give the address for the benefit of whom it may concern, but warn Western curiosity-seekers that it will be useless to write him in any of their languages. Among his other wonders was the following: he took from us three watches, tied them up in paper and a bit
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of cloth; attached to it a ticket with the name of R. N. Sen, one of the witnesses, written on it; then gave it into Mrs. Besant’s own hands and asked her to throw it into the house-well. She did so and we saw it drop into the water with a great splash and sink out of sight. Presently he reproduced the watches, one done up in a separate package with the ticket on it, the other two loose; all perfectly dry. He then suddenly produced and handed us a box of sweets of a peculiar kind which are made in a village more than two hundred miles away from Berhampore. Like his master, Hasan Khan, he pretended that these wonders were done with the help of certain elementals, or Djinns, over whom he has control. The lecture that evening was on “Theosophy and Modern Science”.
From 7.30 to9 a.m. the next morning visitors were received; at 9 we visited Ranee Anarkali’s Tol, i.e., a Sanskrit school, where an address in that language was read to Mrs. Besant; then we had a drive and after that, desk-work during the rest of the morning. In the afternoon the students of Berhampore College came with an address, and at 7 p.m. our sweet orator lectured on “Reincarnation and Karma”. At 9 p.m. our busy day ended up with a special performance of the famous Indian drama, “Prahlada Charita,” given for us, and songs of welcome and farewell to Mrs. Besant were chanted. As it is not in the least likely that she has preserved her copy of the verses, and as they are likely to entertain our Western friends, I will give them as recited, First we have:
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THE SONG OF WELCOME
“Welcome sister, the ever unfortunate mother India takes you to her bosom. Now she has nothing precious of which she can make a present to you; but she is ready to receive you with Shamit (sacrificial fuel), Kushahan (a seat made of sacrificial grass), Padya (water for washing the feet with), Arghya (respectful oblation) and sweet words.
“What has brought you sister, here? India is now lifeless. Here is now no chanting of the Vedas, no Tapobana (garden for practising religious austerities), no twice-born, no uttering of Mantras (mystical incantation) Now the cry of the famine-stricken people rends the sky.
“We, the inhabitants of Berhampore, give a garland of flowers round your neck; please take it, simple sister, with your characteristic affability.
“You are now a learned daughter of mother India, you are honoured throughout the world and your reputation is world-wide. We are glad to see you.”
THE FAREWELL SONG
“You have sacrificed, sister, all you had for the sake of your mother with the simple hope of infusing life into fallen India.
“You have seen the condition of India with your own eyes; the sons of India look sullen
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and gloomy. None has an iota of happiness here; the heart of every one is heavy with feelings of miseries.
“Sing, sister, the song of India’s miseries in your own country. The minds of famishing people can have no inclination to God.
“Sing the song of India’s glories with fresh energies; we would console our heavy hearts hearing that song from far beyond the ocean.
“Farewell sister, go to your own country with the blessings of 200 millions of people and distribute there with sound health the treasures of Aryan religion.
“The parting is embittering; do not fail, sister, to come here again with the remembrance of your fallen brothers.”
The next day, Friday the 19th, was our last at Berhampore and all its hours were fully occupied; in fact, to judge from my experience, very few idle hours fall to the lot of the theosophical propagandist. At 7 in the morning Mrs. Besant lectured on “Theosophy and Hinduism”; at 9 we three drove to Cossim Bazar Palace to pay our respects to the venerable Maharanee Surnomoyee, M. I. O. C. I.; then there were some admissions of members; then breakfast, after which there came an address from the students of the Berhampore College, our last public function in the place. We then left by carriages for Murshidabad, where we stopped at the Palace of the Nawab, my old friend, to make him a short call. His welcome
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was, as usual, most cordial and he expressed his regret that we could give him only a short half-hour. Leaving him we then moved on to Azimgunge and so, by the branch road to Nalhati and from thence on all night towards Bankipore, Behar.