OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
A RAJPUT WEDDING
AN official visit to Europe by myself having been Planned, I received from Mrs. Besant, Judge Khandalvala, and the Bombay Theosophical Society, advice not to go at present as they thought it needless. But I preferred to follow my own intuitions and decided to go, with what result will appear further on.
Among the helpful things that were done in the United States to keep alive the courage of our members and show them how they could render useful service to the Cause pending the settling down of the new Section to work, was the organisation at Chicago, of a committee of devoted ladies—Mrs. Darling, Dr. Weeks-Burnett, Mrs. Tisdale, Mrs. Brainerd, and Mrs. Trumbull, with the active concurrence of Mr. Fullerton, which called itself “An Extension Centre of Theosophy”. In its printed prospectus it says that it “has been organised to render active aid to the great spiritual movement implied by that name, whose ‘Parent Society’ is in India under Colonel H. S. Olcott, and whose Sections now spread over the entire civilised world”. It asks each reader what he (or she) can do for the Great Cause; whom he knows in his vicinity
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willing to unite with him as one of a group to arrange for meetings; would a speaker sent to his place be able to draw audiences; or would a class conducted by correspondence, i.e., by circulating printed leaflets and instructions giving questions and suggestions for books of reference, be feasible. Some of these ladies were extremely active, Dr. Weeks-Burnett, Mrs. Darling, and Mrs. Brainerd conspicuously so, and they made their influence felt throughout the whole Section.
Meanwhile the first of my Pariah schools was flourishing to such a degree that the Manager wrote to the Madras Mail that we should soon have to refuse further admission of pupils. On the 2nd of April Dr. English and I attended the Anniversary of the local S.P.C.A., at which we had the opportunity of seeing the new Governor, Sir Arthur Havelock, for the first time. My personal relations with him were satisfactory throughout the whole term of his office. On the 4th I issued the Charter for the formation of the New Zealand Section, empowering the Branches at Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Pahiatua, Woodville, and Waitemata to form a separate Section, appointed Miss Lilian Edger, M.A., F.T.S., General Secretary pro tem., and cabled her the facts. On the 6th I breakfasted at Government House and was kindly received; the Governor inquiring cordially after Mrs. Besant and saying that she had been a friend of Lady Havelock’s for years. On the 8th Mr. Holder, Superintendent of the School of Arts, came in the afternoon to advise with me about the new shelves
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which were being put up in the Library to accommodate the recent additions to our collection of books.
On the 11th I left for Bombay in a tremendous heat, the thermometer climbing rapidly up the tube. At Bombay I had consultations with Dr. Jivanji, Mr. K. R. Cama and old Sir Dinshaw M. Petit, about Zoroastrian affairs. At 5 p.m. I presided at a lecture by Mr. Gandhi at our rooms and in the evening left for Sihor to attend the wedding of Prince Harisinhji’s daughter. My companion of travel was Prince Har-bhamji Rawaji of Morvi, the bridegroom-elect. That was one of the hottest rides I ever had; the heat was stifling and I almost feared a stroke of heat apoplexy. But even hot days cannot last indefinitely and we got our chance to breathe that evening at Sihor.
Prince Harisinhji’s country place is at Varal, and this was our point of destination. From Sihor onward our journey was continued in carriages and by a road which was the worst I ever drove over. It ran over rocks, through gullies and long slopes; two springs of the Prince’s carriage and one of ours were smashed. Harisinhji met us a mile from the village, and we entered it in procession through a crowd of more than three thousand spectators. At the entrance to the village a bevy of women stopped Prince Harbhamji’s carriage, sang Gujerati songs and made the tilak (red spot) mark on his forehead. The Prince’s camp was pitched in “Olcott Bagh,” an extensive garden called after me, while I was quartered in Harisinhji’s house. After the princely fashion a special bungalow had been
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built for the young bridal couple, and it was there that they would pass their honeymoon.
As this narrative will, when collected with others in book form, go to distant lands where the magazine may never follow it, and as the wedding at Varal was a highly picturesque and interesting function, I shall transfer to this chapter the description of it which appeared in the Theosophist for June, 1896.
On the arrival day I was so tired after the fatiguing journey from Bombay and the terrific heat that I went very early to bed.
The next day we had the ceremony of “setting the posts” of the mandap, or marriage-house, a temporary and highly decorated structure in which the wedding was to take place. A mandap is, properly speaking, a shelter, a place where in ancient times the maiden chose her husband from among the throng of Rajput suitors assembled. They exhibited their skill in warlike and athletic exercises and the victor was her choice. We have seen the survival of the custom in the jousts and other feats of arms in the mediæval tournaments, at which the victor had the right to nominate the Queen of Love and Beauty. In The Light of Asia the custom is graphically described and, according to Buddhistic legend, the peerless young Prince Siddhartha excelled all others in these contests as he did in disputations on philosophy and metaphysics with the learned pandits.
To sanctify the mandap, a red post, with two pegs passed through it at right angles to each other, is set
A RAJPUT WEDDING 485
in a hole previously dug, at that corner of the room which corresponds with the sun’s place at the time. The god Ganapati (the impersonation of Occult Wisdom) is always first invoked by prayer and libation. He is chief of the Ganas, or races of elemental spirits, and in all undertakings among Hindus his favor is first sought. The Brahmins recite a mantra, holding the palms of their hands upward. Then the hands are reversed to indicate the spot where the Shakti, or energy of the god is to be concentrated. A white cloth is spread over it and sprinkled with raw rice, reddened with kumkum powder. Then it is worshipped with many mantrams; libations of milk are poured into the post-hole; stalks of durba grass, some betel-nuts, a dried fruit of the Madana phal—Cupid’s tree—and one piece of money are cast in; kumkum powder is applied to the post, and leaves of five different trees, the peepul, of Vishnu, the mango, the banyan, of Brahma, the asopalo, and the umra, all possessing the auspicious influences of good elementals, are bound to the post, and invocations are made to the house goddess (Gotra Devi) and fourteen other deities representing the shaktis, or force-currents, of Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Indra, Vayu, Varuna, Surya (the seven sun-rays), Agni, Lokamatra (the Cosmos), Devasena (the whole army of gods), etc., etc. I found that the stipendiary priests of Prince Harisinhji’s house were so ignorant as not to have even a clue to the meaning of the cosmic powers whose euphonious names they chant in their Sanskrit mantrams. All
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they knew was that it was intended to invoke for the young couple health, longevity, and fruitfulness. I was particularly incensed against the Purohit, or family guru, who, as the last chants of the marriage-ceremony were dying away, called out to the Prince that he must give him Rs. 500, a piece of land, some mango trees, and other backshish! The above ceremonies are performed both at the bride’s and bridegroom’s houses.
The corner post of the mandap, now red-painted wood, but formerly of stone, properly inscribed—according to the prescriptions of the “Silpa Shastra,” or rules of architecture—being duly set, the bride’s father performs the ceremony of invoking the nine grahas, or planetary influences, with Rahu and Ketu. He builds a fire at the proper spot in the mandap, and while the Brahmins chant their mantrams, throws into it rice, which has just been cooked over it, and clarified butter (ghee), fuel of samidha, one of the nine kinds of wood prescribed for such occasions, raw til (sessamum seed), and jow, (a grain something like rice). The bridegroom does the same at his own house.
The same evening I was allowed to witness the unimpressive ceremony of invoking the favor of Ranadev (corrupted into Randal) or Suryadeva, the spiritual, central power which is within the visible orb of day, the real vortex of the attractive power which binds to him the worlds of our solar system. It was a most noble ideal, most shockingly degraded in this ignoble puja. A hideous, black, bedizened image betokened the mighty sun-god, and the celebrant was an untidy
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wretch who sat before it until he was seized by a fit of trembling, exactly like that of a modern medium, when he leapt to his feet and jumped about, with raucous cries. If questions are put to him then, he is supposed to answer under inspiration and to prophesy about coming events. I watched him closely and was persuaded that he was a humbug. To test him, however, I put him two questions—one as to the results of my present journey, the other as to the death of a certain person—and time will decide between us. Certainly, as to the second question, his prophecy was the reverse of my own expectation.
On the following day the bridegroom’s presents to the bride were brought in procession and deposited in the mandap, along with the bride’s dowry. The two together made a most gorgeous show, a glittering bed of color and sparkle. Kusumavati will have dresses enough, one would think, for her natural life. There are over 200 of the gay-colored short jackets worn by high-caste Rajput ladies, and no end of saris in gold cloth, purple, crimson, rose, amber, tea-rose, dark and pale blue, emerald, eau-de-nil, violet and other silks, with deep ends and continuous borders deftly and luxuriously embroidered—some worth over Rs. 1,000 each. Then there were trays and tablefuls of Indian jewellery, in simple gold and encrusted with gems, some given by the bridegroom, more by her father. Then vessels, trays, and lamps of silver, of brass, and of composite materials; quilted silken bed-spreads, filled with downy tree-cotton and other things
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too numerous and bewildering to mention. All these presents to a chieftain’s daughter, the daughter of an ancient race, were brought in the shields of clansmen—old, age-blackened, brass-embossed bucklers of thick buffalo hide, that looked as if they might have been borne centuries ago. When Kusumavati and her father wished me to take away some jewel in memory of the wedding, I expressed my preference for one of these grimy shields, and it was given me to hang on the walls of “Gulistan” as a perpetual reminder of one of the most romantic events of my life.
The wedding ceremony proper is most interesting to a non-Hindu. Its inner meaning is the visible union of the man and the woman, their joint invocation of all good powers, the establishment of the domestic hearth and the making of the home. Both the parties—the bridegroom coming first—are welcomed at the threshold of the mandap with Sanskrit mantras, the placing of the red spot (tilak) on the forehead, the libations of holy water poured from a leaf of one of the auspicious trees, the waving of small models of the implements of tillage and of the household—the plough, the distaff, the rice-pounding pestle, etc, Before his coming, the bride’s parents sit facing the priests on separate cushions, but linked together by a silken scarf, one end of which each holds in his or her hand. Because in a Vedic ceremony the wife may not hear the verses save when thus, as it were, united with and merged in her husband. The pair are then made to pass through a special ceremony whose purpose
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is to purify them so as to make them fit to give over their child to her chosen husband, and the same is done to the latter to make him fit to receive the precious gift.
The bridegroom being received and seated, the bride is brought, veiled, by a procession of females singing auspicious songs and led to her cushion facing that of the bridegroom. Then follow various ceremonies, including giving over the bride by the parents, with an accompanying libation of water, the most ancient sign of the gift, the joining the hands of the young couple, the tying to the wife—she is now a “hand-fasted” wife—of an end of the scarf which is tied to the groom and so kept throughout the rest of the function, and the fourfold circumambulation of the hearth-fire by the couple, the wife at her husband’s right hand. The wife is always thus placed except on three occasions, viz., when sleeping, making Pitri Karma (ancestor worship), and when giving gifts of land and elephants, for particulars of which latter, see the slokas in Dâna Chandrikâ.
All high-caste Hindus are said to belong to one or the other of the Four Vedas, and at their marriage ceremonies the mantrams and other slokas recited are from their particular Veda. The verses are the same for Kshattriyas as for Brahmins, but custom has introduced changes in puja and offerings according to the gunas of the castes. Thus the guna of the Brahmin is Sattva, that of the Kshattriya the Rajas guna, and, therefore, there is a splendor illustrative of princely
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magnificence which is absent from the corresponding ceremony of Brahmins. Harisinhji’s family belonging to the Yajur Veda and Harbhamji’s to Sama Veda, a double set of mantras had to be chanted for each side.
At the completion of each circumambulation of the fire, the young couple offer ghee, java and tala, three kinds of fuel. They finally sit side by side and receive the congratulations of friends and such gifts as may be offered. They then go to the bride’s father’s house and make the curious ceremony of pouring seven small quantities of ghee from either mango or asopalo leaf cups, so as to make them trickle down the house-wall, at the same time invoking the favor of the Trimurti—Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. This finishes the marriage, and the twain are thenceforth one flesh.
Those familiar with Hindu religious customs are aware of the fact that the guarding power of religion follows the being throughout. The first pregnancy of the mother being announced, there is a fixed ceremony for the benefit of herself and her future offspring, which is performed in the seventh and ninth months, the mantras being taken from the Rik, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas, while in the eighth month those of the Sama Veda are employed.
The bridegroom was brought to the present ceremony in a grand procession, with wild strains of martial music, the shrill notes of reed instruments, and the resonant boom of the war drum, beaten by a grey-bearded old warrior riding a horse. An escort of Bhavnagar cavalry headed the cortege, and Prince
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Harbhamji was a shining blaze of gold and jewels, riding a milk-white steed and surrounded by the glare of many torches. The return of the wedded pair to the bridegroom’s house was a much quieter affair and they were left in due time to the sweet intimacy of their new relationship. A handsomer, more winsome pair it would be hard to find; he, intellectual, dignified, and high-minded; she, an Indian beauty of rare physical and mental endowments, for she has been thoroughly well educated and her life has been lighted by the sunshine of a happy home and the companionship of a most loving father and mother.
A wedding in Kathiawar draws hundreds of people together, as honey attracts flies. The cost of feeding the multitude is a burdensome item, as the following statistics of the Harisinhji wedding will prove.
Of Prince Harbhamji’s party there were in all but 52—kinsmen and servants—he having come a distance of over 1,400 miles, from Bhurtpore to Varal. Harisinhji’s relatives numbered 100, and their followers 400. There were 150 horses and 100 bullocks (together drawing 50 vehicles), which consumed daily 80 tons of hay. Fifty troopers were entertained. Of milk 200 gallons were drunk daily.
But there were also the noble army of bards to be reckoned with, to the number of 827. They are of two classes, Dasundis, or those who are attached to a family or clan, of whom there were present 154; and Charans and Bhats, commoner fellows, wandering minstrels and recitationists, numbering 673. These
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by immemorial custom, are entitled to receive from the bridegroom’s side, presents of value, and from the bride’s, food throughout the ceremonies. Then the tatterdemalion horde of beggars, swarming from the whole country-side, no one knows whence. There were Mirs and Lunghas, who follow Islam but are given alms: they numbered 367; then Kathis—a race supposed to be of Scythian origin, who now occupy the whole of Central Kathiawar, to which, as it will be seen, they gave their own name. Of them, there were 388. Of other mendicants, Brahmins, Bawas (Hindu ascetics), Fakirs (Mussalman ascetics), etc., there were 2,066; of Bhands (buffoons) 3; a troupe of 5 clever village actors, a class of people who sometimes render with great dramatic ability scenes from the Purânas, and legends of heroes and heroines; of musicians, there were 7; and, finally, a troupe of Tanjore dancing-girls from Baroda,brought by request to amuse the wedding guests. It will thus be noticed that poor Harisinhji had to cater for no less than 3,663 bidden and unbidden guests, besides the 600 odd of the kinsmen and clansmen of both sides. That I was not far wrong in calling the Rajputs hard drinkers is shown in the fact that two gentlemen drank daily four bottles of brandy each, and another, five bottles of strong country spirits: the first two looked it—the other, hale old man, tall and straight as a spear-shaft, did not.
So was made the beginning of another princely Kshattriya family, with whom be peace.