OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
MRS. BESANT’S TOUR IN PUNJAB
THERE are few spots on the earth’s surface around which cluster so many memories of human strife and struggle, of wasted valour and triumphant savagery, of the conquest and destruction of kingdoms and the birth of new empires, as Delhi. For 45 miles around the fields are cumbered with heaps of splendid ruins, cities reduced to dust, palaces destroyed, tombs of conquerors eaten into by the tooth of time, and here and there, like jewels lying on a heap of rubbish, marble mosques and tombs of exquisite design standing as shining tokens of the high water-mark attained in art by successful soldier-chiefs who left behind them, in their triumphant progress towards a throne, a sea of blood and the moans of dying populations whom they had first despoiled of their last coin and then slaughtered. One who can read the records of the imperishable âkâsha and bring up before him the living pictures of past epochs must feel, if he has the least sympathy for the sufferings of his race, a crushing sense of sadness as he casts his mental gaze around him and contemplates
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the tragedies of the past. But we do not have to evoke the pictures of the astral light to know something about the tragical events of the Province; the pages of history which record them are, one might almost say, of the colour of blood. During the first eleven, centuries of our Era there was a succession of Hindu dynasties; in the 12th began that of the Moslem invaders: Mohammed of Ghor, Kutub-ud-din, Altamsh, Queen Raziyâ, Jalâl-ud-din, Alâ-ud-din, Tughlak, Firoz Shâh, succeeding each other and each destroying, decimating, restoring, constructing and re-peopling. War was the normal state of things, peace the occasional. In December, 1398, during the reign of Mohammed Tughlak, the hordes of Timûr reached Delhi. The king fled to Gujarât, the army suffered a defeat beneath the walls, and Timûr, entering the city gave it over for five days to plunder and massacre. As the “Imperial Gazetteer of India” tells us, “Dead bodies choked the streets; and when at last even the Mughal appetite for carnage was satiated, the host retired dragging with them into slavery large numbers both, of men and women.” In the 18th century the Persian invader, Nâdir Shâh, entered the city in triumph, and re-enacted the massacre of Timûr. For fifty-eight days the victor plundered rich and poor alike; “when the last farthing had been exacted, he left the city with a booty estimated at £9,000,000.” (op.cit., Vol. IV, pp. 192-3.)
In the last chapter the reader was brought, with our travelling party, under the kind guidance of Dr.
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Hem Chandra Sen, to the foot of the Kutub Minar. This is a splendid minaret, or rather a Tower of Victory, erected in the 12th century by Kutub-ud-din, Viceroy of the Sultan Shâhab-ud-din who, on the death of his master, proclaimed himself an independent sovereign, and became the founder of the Slave dynasty. To him old Delhi owes most of its grandest ruins. The huge column in question is about two hundred and forty feet in height, forty-eight feet in diameter at the base and about nine feet at the summit. The shaft consists of five stories, enclosing a spiral staircase, and is crowned by a now broken cupola, which fell during an earthquake in 1803. At the junction of each storey with the one above it there is a boldly-projecting balcony; the material is red sandstone except at the top where thirty-six feet of the tower are built of white marble. Up to this point the surface is fluted, in the lower storey the flutes being alternately angular and circular; in the second, circular, and in the third angular only. Between the stories are richly-sculptured raised belts containing inscriptions in Arabic. The most superficial observer must be struck by the exquisite grace and symmetry of this enduring monument of the Sultan Kutub. Dr. Fergusson, the most celebrated of writers on Indian and Eastern architecture, says:1
“It is probably not too much to assert that the Kutub Minar is the most beautiful example of its class known to exist anywhere. The rival that will occur at once to most people is the campanile at Florence,
1History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, London, 1891, p. 506.
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built by Giotto.” But he adds, “beautiful though it is, it wants that poetry of design and exquisite finish of detail which marks every moulding of the Minar.” There is a difference of opinion between Dr. Fergusson and Sir William Hunter, Editor of the Imperial Gazetteer of India, as to the original purpose of the monument, the latter saying that it “was doubtless as a Muazzam’s tower, whence the call to evening and morning prayer might be heard throughout the whole city”; while the other authority affirms that “the tower must not be looked at as if erected for the same purposes as those usually attached to mosques elsewhere. It was not designed as a place from which the muëddin should call the prayers, though its lower gallery may have been used for that purpose also, but as a Tower of Victory—a Jaya Stambha, in fact—an emblem of conquest, which the Hindus could only too easily understand and appreciate .”
Around a great court in which the column stands are the ruins of a mosque, also built by the Afghan conqueror, largely of carved fragments torn from Hindu temples, but put together in the forms of what we call Saracenic architecture. Fergusson says that it “is, without exception, the most exquisite specimen of its class”. Bishop Heber, who once viewed the landscape from the same spot where Mrs. Besant and the rest of us now stood, thus describes what he saw: “A very awful scene of desolation, ruins after ruins, tombs after tombs, fragments of brickwork, freestone, granite and marble, scattered everywhere over a soil
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naturally rocky and barren, without cultivation, except in one or two small spots, and without a single tree.” But as I am neither a newspaper nor an architectural expert, I shall not dwell upon the details of the rise and fall of empires around this historical spot. Suffice it to say that the first was that of the earliest Aryan immigrants into India, at least 2000 B.C., who called their capital Indraprastha, which is referred to in the Mahâbhârata, and the last, that of the British Raj. The thing that most struck me was that the exquisite mosques, tombs, palaces and towers, which met our eyes, should have been erected by conquerors whose military cruelties were inconceivably brutal. I cannot, however, leave the subject without a brief mention of the iron pillar to which the recent discoveries of Dr. J. C. Bose and others, as to the diseases of metals, lend additional interest. This column of malleable iron without alloy, which has stood in the open air, exposed to all the vicissitudes of the north Indian climate through fourteen centuries, is without rust or any sign of decomposition. From base to capital it is forty-three feet high, with a diameter at the bottom of sixteen inches and at the top of twelve inches, some twenty feet of the base being under ground; the capital is three and a half feet high, sharply and clearly wrought into the Persian form, and affords a most striking proof of the fact that in that far-distant age the Hindus achieved results in metal-working which have never been paralleled in the Western countries up to a very late date. Well may Fergusson say that “it opens our
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eyes to an unsuspected state of affairs. It is equally startling to find that, after an exposure to wind and rain for fourteen centuries, it is unrusted, and the capital and inscription are as clear and as sharp now as when put up”. One would naturally suspect that the ancients had the secret of some anticorrosive alloy, but General Cunningham, in India, and Dr. Percy, of the London School of Mines, had portions analysed and the substance was found to be pure iron without alloy. Madame Blavatsky touches upon this subject, as upon so many others, in that most useful repository, Isis Unveiled. In Vol. I, pp. 210-11, she hints that the ancients, who had excelled in skill as metallurgists and lapidaries from an unknown antiquity, were acquainted with the workings of “that subtle power, which ancient philosophers called the ‘world’s soul’. In the East only and on the boundless tracts of unexplored Africa will the student of psychology find abundant food for his truth-hungering soul.” The reason, she says, is obvious. Nature’s finer forces can hardly be evoked in populous neighborhoods where manufactories and industrial works of various other sorts abound, poisoning the atmosphere with their chemical emanations, and the evil is increased by the outgoing auric currents of unspiritual multitudes. She tells us that “Nature is as dependent as a human being upon conditions, before she can work and her mighty breathing, so to say, can be as easily interfered with, impeded and arrested, and the correlation of her forces destroyed in a given spot, as though she were a man.” Not only
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climate, but also occult influences daily felt not only modify the physio-psychological nature of man, but even alter the constitution of so-called inorganic matter in a degree not fairly realized by European science. Thus the London Medical and Surgical Journal advises surgeons not to carry lancets to Calcutta, because it has been found by personal experience “that English steel could not bear the atmosphere of India”; so a bunch of English or American keys “will be completely covered with rust twenty-four hours after having been brought to Egypt; while objects made of native steel in those countries remain unoxidized”. The fact is that we have many things to learn in regard to metallurgy, among them the secret of the tempering of tools of iron, copper and bronze to the degree of perfection possessed by the ancients. Our archæologists are just beginning to turn over some of the oldest leaves in the world’s history. On this very day of writing I have read in the periodical called Science Siftings, that Professor Flinders Petrie, probably the most renowned archæologist of the day, says that “the astounding feature about the recent Egyptian discoveries is that they entirely upset all the notions about Egyptian art which have hitherto obtained. Instead of the Egyptian art we know being but the beginnings, the initial strivings of a people to express themselves, that art is now shown to be debased and to have degenerated from an infinitely superior form many generations earlier. Some of the early, almost pre-historic, drawings are beautiful and perfect in design. The
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detail in the figures on some of the earliest sketches is wonderful in its fineness, beauty and accuracy. Moreover, the writing on even the earliest forms is perfect. This would show that a state of high civilization existed in Egypt some centuries before the date often assigned to the creation of the world”. But exactly what Flinders Petrie is discovering now was discovered by Mariette Bey before him, as will be seen on referring to Isis Unveiled, I, 6. The mystery of the iron column at the Kutub Minar gives almost the irresistible conviction that its forgers of the 5th century had the secret of so controlling the pulsations of the ether, or world-soul, within it, as to preserve it from the chemical changes which attack all steel of modern manufacture. “This ancient steel,” exclaims that famous American orator, Wendell Phillips, “is the greatest triump of metallurgy, and metallurgy is the glory of chemistry.”
Of course, the walls of the topmost chamber in the Kutub Minar are covered with names and inscriptions of various sorts left by visitors; so, as there was a vacant space just over the entrance door, I wrote there the name of our Society, after which we came away and returned to the city.
That evening, Feb. 13th, Mrs. Besant lectured again at the Town Hall on the subject of “Theosophy and Science”. She treated the subject more satisfactorily than ever, as she went more into details in making her scientific points. The fact is that the latest discoveries of science are really fascinating for the student of
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Theosophy, because every step in advance is made in the direction of the domain of ancient occult science. The latest announcement that I have seen is that someone has constructed a machine so delicate that he is able to prove the actual relationship between colour and sound, a subject which, I need scarcely remind our older members, has been often discussed by the writers of our Society. There is really but one step between the latest advance in wireless telegraphy and the phenomenon of thought-transference. We, old Theosophists, are like people standing on a rocky cliff and watching the waves dashing against its foot; the waves, in our case, are the assaults of the impotent critics of the Ancient Wisdom, that living rock of philosophy which stands firm and unshaken from age to age amid the fugitive changes of dogmatic theology. A quarter of a century has not weakened the position taken up at the beginning by our Founders but, on the contrary, we have yearly become stronger and stronger as sectarian barriers have been undermined by the advancement of science.
On the morning of the 14th, visitors were received and a question-meeting was conducted by Mrs. Besant; at 3.30 p.m. we left for Meerut, a short journey. Pandit Rama Prasad, M.A., President of the local Branch, and author of Nature’s Finer Forces,1 with some fifteen others, met us at the station and we were comfortably housed.
1Among the many comical mistakes that occur in our headquarters correspondence, one of the funniest was that recently made by an Indian gentleman in ordering a copy of this book, which he innocently wrote Nature’s Final Farce?
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The next morning, after a question-meeting, I drove for several hours about the town with Babu P. C. Ghose, hunting for the house in which H. P. B. was entertained in the year 1856, or thereabouts, when on her way to Tibet; but I could not find it, as the gentleman who had been her host at that time was dead, and I could not find his son who could have served me as guide. There was a great rush at Mrs. Besant’s lecture that evening on “Theosophy, Karma and Reincarnation,” and a vivid interest was displayed by the audience. Later, I formed a Hindu Students’ Society.
There was a question-meeting on the morning of the 16th, after which we breakfasted on Hindu food at a member’s house. There we met Pandit Nundkissore, the owner of the famous copy of the Bîhmagrantham about which so many interesting things have been written in back numbers of this magazine. I think I have mentioned before that one of the most interesting facts about these “Indian sibylline books” is that no horoscopes can be found there of persons not born in India, so neither of us foreigners could get any information about ourselves. But how surpassingly wonderful it is that natives of India, whom the keeper of the books has never seen or heard of before, can come there, show their horoscopes, and then be referred to the volume in which they will find recorded their history and that of their families, sometimes to the extent of hundreds of minor details, and prophecies about their future. A heavy rain
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fell that evening but Mrs. Besant had a good audience to hear her discourse on “Death and After,” which subject she handled after a new and excellent fashion.
We left for Umballa the next day in the afternoon after a conversation-meeting and the admission of numerous members. Under the energetic management of our ever-zealous friend, Rai B. K. Lahiri and other members, the local Branch had acquired a commodious and well-ventilated meeting hall, where we held conversation-meetings and Society business was transacted. Owing to the exigencies of our tour programme we had to refuse invitations to visit the native states of Patiala and Jhind. After a short stay at this place we left for Ludhiana the next morning, the 19th, and reached there at 11.30 a.m. We were taken in procession with music, around the bazaars, under the escort of a big crowd. At 5 p.m. Mrs. Besant came before a multitude who were in such a state of excitement that they could not be reduced to silence and so, after a few moments of vain attempt to make herself heard, she was obliged to give it up. The crowds of Northern India, by reason of their racial types, especially their stature and costume, make a much more picturesque ensemble than those of the South. Not only was the lecturing place filled, but the adjacent buildings and the walls of the enclosures were covered. An Urdu translation was made of the fragment of her lecture which she had given and then we came away.
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A conversation-meeting and correspondence took up the next morning, but in the afternoon the lecture of the day before was repeated at the same place, but under different conditions, for this time the committee issued tickets of admission and had a sufficient number of police sepoys in attendance to preserve order, so that the speaker could be heard, and all passed off well. We moved on to Jullundur at 1 o’clock the next day, after holding a morning conversazione and having our tiffin. At our destination we were taken from the station through the town in a procession with a band of musicians and a multitudinous body-guard. Mrs. Besant lectured to an audience of two thousand persons from a platform erected on the open ground, for lack of a hall large enough to hold all who wanted to hear her. A considerable number of Europeans were present, some, I must say, so ill-bred as to make us feel ashamed of our race. One particularly offensive person—a planter, I believe—had so little sense of propriety as to sit smoking into the faces of our ladies, with a huge audience of Hindus looking on. On various occasions I have seen such exhibitions of vulgarity, and once—at Dumraon—I remember a planter sitting through my lecture with a basket of soda-water in bottles, ice and a bottle of whisky, fuddling himself more and more every minute. On the evening of the Jullundur lecture it was decided that the Countess Wachtmeister should at once go to San Francisco, to attend the Annual Convention of the American Section and attempt to uncover the traps that Judge was going
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to spring on that occasion. What she actually did there may be learned by consulting the Official Report of that Convention issued by the American Section.
Our next objective point was Kapurthala, the capital of the Native State of that name. H. H. the Maharajah sent his carriages to meet us at the railway and we were driven thirteen miles through a flat and rather uninteresting country, and, on arrival, were put up in the richly decorated guest-house. All native princes of all grades have such buildings for the accommodation of guests, and almost invariably they are furnished with more or less taste—sometimes very bad—in the European style. Some ruling princes go so far as to have horses, elephants and an armed body-guard in attendance on the guest, and all hosts try to set before the visitor what they think is the most acceptable food, and drink—especially that—and, I am sorry to say, the use made of it is too often such as to impress the inhabitants of the Native State with a very poor idea of the self-restraint of the white race. The present and former Dewans of Kapurthala, Messrs. Mathura Das and Ramjus, son and father, and Sirdar Bhaktar Singh, C.I.E., the most active of the State officers, came and talked Hinduism with us. Although these men were all keen politicians, and of necessity, obliged to be ever on the alert in their official dealings with the British Resident, yet, when they came to see us they put aside every consideration of all other things and eagerly threw themselves into the discussion of religious problems. This is the side of Hindu character too
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little comprehended by foreigners, yet the solid foundation on which the national character, temperament and ideals are built. Our party had an audience with the Maharajah, who speaks English and French, a rare accomplishment in India, and who is almost equally well-known in London and Paris. He took us for a drive through the town and in the evening presided at Mrs. Besant’s lecture on “Ancient Aryan and Modern Civilization,” in a splendid Durbar Hall, profusely decorated and a fine place for public functions. I was struck with the appearance of the officers of State, who sat before us in rich and picturesque dresses and followed the speaker’s eloquent discourse with close attention. We took leave of our audience on the next day and Mrs. Besant was invited into the interior of the Palace to see the Maharani. Just before our getting into the carriages to depart, an officer of the State presented to each of us, with the compliments of his master, a handsome Kashmir shawl. The Countess left us at Kartarpur, where we took train to the famed city of Amritsar, the chief town of the Sikhs. On our arrival we were driven to the Golden Temple, that lovely architectural creation, which, with its gold-plated domes that sparkle in sunlight and moonlight, stands at the centre of a great tank, and is reached and surrounded by a pure white marble causeway with handsome forged iron railings; this visit completed, we drove to the house that Miss Müller had taken for her temporary occupancy and passed the night there. That evening Mrs. Besant lectured to a
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packed audience in the theatre, on “Hinduism and Theosophy”.
The next morning (the 24th) we left for Lahore and arrived at 10 a.m. A large delegation received us at the station and the Committee, by consent of the Maharajah of Kapurthala, lodged us in the spacious bungalow that he owns there. The Indian National Congress had held its Annual Convention at Lahore during the Christmas holidays and the huge circular pandal, or thatched shed, erected for its use, was still standing; so Mrs. Besant lectured there to an audience of five thousand people. It says much for the penetrating quality of her voice that it reached the outermost circle of hearers. In conversation with her one would never think such a thing possible, for she speaks, usually, in a low, sweet tone, sometimes so low as to be heard with difficulty by a person somewhat deaf. Her subject was “Theosophy and Modern Progress”. At 9 p.m. there was a conversation-meeting at the Town Hall—a fine room, brilliantly lighted. The next morning at 8 we drove to the Arya Samaj Mandir, where Mrs. Besant distributed prizes to a girls’ school, one of the useful institutions founded by the late Swami Dayânand’s followers. After this Mrs. Besant held a reception and we breakfasted with Mr. Justice P. C. Chatterji, a very cultured and enlightened man, very sympathetic to our work: he is the author of some valuable monographs on the Indian history of Buddhism. At 4 p.m. Mrs. Besant gave another splendid lecture at the Congress Pandal
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to an audience as large as the one of the day before. Our work began at 9 the next morning and continued unremittingly until late at night. From 11 to 2 Mrs. B. held a durbar, after which she and I were photographed; at 4.30 we visited the house of Rai Bishambar Nath; at 5.30 she lectured on “Pantheism” to three thousand people; then went to the head-quarters of the Sanâtana Dharma Sabhâ, the representative of the orthodox portion of the Hindu community, received a complimentary address and gave an excellent one in return, which our old associate, Pandit Gopinath, interpreted. By this time she was completely worn out by fatigue, so I took up the running, holding a meeting from 9 to 10.30 p.m. at which I took into membership three of the most influential men of Lahore, one of them Mr. Durga Prasad, President of the Arya Samaj. The next day we were travelling towards Bareilly, and all the following night.
We reached Bareilly at 7.30 a.m. and had for our host Babu Priya Nath Banerjee, who showed us every kindness. It rained all day heavily but just before lecture time it cleared up and Mrs. Besant had a good audience in the Town Hall, where she spoke on the subject of “Theosophy and Religion”. A disagreeable incident of the day was the receipt from London of letters which indicated, rather too clearly, that Mr. Judge had gained a pretty strong influence over the minds of some of our most important colleagues, among them some of Mrs. Besant’s closest friends. Fortunately, however, this mood did not last when
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the crisis came with Judge’s secession and my consequent decision that the secessionists had expelled themselves from the Society.
The next day (March 1st) visitors were received and a conversation-meeting was held. Among the callers was a young Army officer whose father was Political Resident at Jeypore in 1879, when H. P. B. and I visited it under the amusing circumstances which I have previously described, during our memorable tour, and who was good enough to give us the use of elephants to visit the deserted capital, Amber, which stands in solitary splendor with its polished white palaces sparkling in the sun. At 5.30 p.m. she gave a lecture on “Man and His Destiny,” so magnificent that in my Diary I call it “a Kohinoor among diamonds”. Let the reader fancy what an intellectual banquet I enjoyed throughout this whole tour with this divinely gifted speaker.
The next day we went to Lucknow, arriving early in the morning. Messrs.G. N. Chakravarti and Pyare Lal joined our party and with Babu Upendranath Basu, who had been with us throughout the major part of the Northern tour, but had not taken so active a part in our work as to have called for notice in the present narrative, surrounded her with that sympathetic, vivifying atmosphere which her overstrained nervous system so much needed. They took her off to Pyare Lal’s house for breakfast and she spent the day with them. Mr. E. T. Sturdy, F.T.S., formerly of New Zealand, but now here pursuing a course of
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yogic exercises, passed the time with me in discussing the gravity of the situation caused by Mr. Judge’s plot. We agreed that it was best that I should leave Mrs. Besant in charge of her Hindu friends, return to Adyar to prepare the papers in the Judge case, and rejoin her at Poona, she meanwhile visiting Cawnpore and Nagpur. She lectured that evening in the “Baradari,” or Pleasure House of the former king of Oudh, which is situated in a splendid garden called the Kaiserbagh. The building and its encircling verandahs were closely packed by the audience. Her subject was “Man, His Nature and His Powers” and it was handled most ably and eloquently. In pursuance of the agreement between Mr. Sturdy, Mrs. Besant and myself, I left for Adyar at noon on the 3rd, the two seeing me off. March being the hottest month of the hot season in Northern India, I had to go through a severe ordeal on my journey. After passing Cawnpore the heat became terrific, a hot wind rising to a gale and carrying with it fine particles of sand from the desert plain through which we were passing, blew across our track and filled the railway carriage with dust which not only penetrated into every cranny and fold of my bedding, but made my brain become so surcharged with blood that, to prevent heat apoplexy, I kept it constantly wet with water from the washroom. The consequence was that I caught cold and my voice became hoarse. This
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experience was continued throughout the next day, and more or less on the following one, but finally on the 6th I reached Madras at 8 a.m. and never found my home more attractive and comfortable.