OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
TO ALLAHABAD AND LAHORE
ALL this ground that we were now going over was embalmed in my heart because of the associations which connected it with the memory of H. P. B. Together we had visited these towns, together had first made the acquaintance of many of the very friends who now came together to welcome Miss Edger to the field of her Indian work. For instance, one of those who met us at the Allahabad railway station was Dr. Avinas Chandra Banerji,1 who treated her in 1879 with so much devotion and intelligence when she lay tossing about in fever at the house of our friends, the Sinnetts. He was very young in the profession then, but the conduct of no graybeard Æsculapius could have been more discreet. He won her affectionate regard and my friendship and gratitude at the same time. Then another was Rai Pyari Lal,
1O. D. L., Vol. II, Chap. 20.—Ed.
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that old Government official who, since joining our Society in the year 1887, has been one of the most conspicuous workers in that part of India. Dr. Avinas took Miss Edger and myself to the huge and handsomely furnished house of Kumar Pârmânand, the living representative of an important family and one who had gained a large personal influence by his personal abilities.
At 6-30 p.m. of that same day Miss Edger lectured at Mayo Hall to a large and sympathetic audience which included many Europeans. She lectured the next day at the Kyastha Pathasala, or school, on “The Theosophic Life”. On the following morning I called on my old friend, Pandit Aditya Ram Battacharya, the Sanskrit Professor in the local College, and got his consent to be President of the Allahabad Branch when the pending reorganization was completed. At 3 p.m. we left for Cawnpore, arrived there at 7, and were received by Rai Kishen Lal, Dr. Mohindra Nath Ganguli, Babu Devipada Roy, all old, tried and trusted friends and others, who gave us that whole-hearted hospitality which the Hindus, as a matter of religious necessity, keep in store for all guests, especially those whom they love.
The next day, February 6th, we visited the Mutiny Massacre well and cemetery, which H. P. B. and I had visited together nineteen years earlier.
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There was a meeting of the Branch that day at which a committee was appointed to begin a movement for female education, and in the evening my companion lectured on “Religion, its Aim and Object”. On the evening of the 7th, a large crowd gathered to hear her lecture and received it with enthusiasm. Later, there was a Branch meeting and one admission to membership. On the 8th, we called on Dr. Ganguli’s mother, a most lovable old lady, after which I formed the Cawnpore Hindu Boys’ Association. We left the station at 10-30 a.m. for Barabanki and were received by my staunch old friend Pandit Parmeshri Dâs, who put us up at his big house. Miss Edger’s lecture that evening on “Man, his Nature and Evolution” was particularly fine, and the one of the next day, given without interpretation, to an audience of thirty persons—all the English-knowing ones of the place—was also very good. At 8-30 p.m. we left for Bareilly.
We reached our destination at six o’clock the next morning, were received by Messrs. Cheda Lal, Bishen Lal and others, and received gracious hospitality from Babu Preo Nath Banerji, the gentleman by whom Mrs. Besant, Countess Wachtmeister and I were entertained in 1894. Miss Edger lectured that evening to a good audience in spite of a pouring rain. There were many visits from
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inquirers the next day and a concluding lecture, after which, nearly at midnight, we left for Agra, travelling all night and changing trains three times; an incident not at all conducive to peaceful slumber or bracing to the health. However, Miss Edger, though in appearance a delicate little woman, bore the fatigues of all this long tour remarkably well.”
At Agra we were put up at the Metropole Hotel kept by a Frenchman. Miss Edger had her first view of that world-wonder, the Taj, an experience that leaves in the mind of everybody possessed of even a grain of intelligence, an imperishable reminiscence. Miss Edger’s lecture that evening was given to a crowded and enthusiastic audience: I retain the adjective despite tautology, because it exactly expresses the temper of her hearers.
We left for Aligarh the next morning (February 13th) and got there at 2-15 p.m. I gratified my unregenerate taste by going to a great Horse Show that was in progress, where I had a chance to see a large number of the spirited and well-formed animals, many of the best Cabul blood, which recalled to my mind some of the meetings of a similiar character that I had attended many years before in my own country; but the Aligarh crowd were so picturesque in their multifarious costumes, their lissome figures and their bronze complexion,
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as to make this show infinitely more interesting than those one sees in Western countries. Miss Edger lectured that evening at the Government High School on “The Necessity for Religion”, in the presence of the Principal, Mr. Casaubon, a very old acquaintance of mine, whom H. P. B. once tried with all her might, but fruitlessly, to convert from Agnosticism. At the Conversation meeting the next morning, Miss Edger, laying aside all her Colonial habits and prejudices, sat on the floor, Indian fashion, amid her interrogators. This was then to her a great novelty, but during the subsequent eight years she has become so accustomed to it, I should think that on revisiting other lands she would almost have to learn over again the uses of tables and chairs.
We left after midnight on the 14th for Kapurthala, travelled all the rest of the night, and reached our destination at 2 p.m. the next day. Babu Hari Chand, Judicial Assistant, met us with the Rajah’s carriage at Kartarpur station, distant seven miles from the Capital. At 6 p.m., by what would be called in a European state, “special command”, Miss Edger lectured to the Maharajah and his court, and apparently to their great satisfaction, to judge from the applause and the nice little speech of thanks made by His Highness at the close. We were put up in the palatial guest-house where
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Mrs. Besant, the Countess and I stopped in 1894. A clever French artist was there and he and I talked together upon congenial themes until a late hour; after which I read the proof-sheets of Mr. Bilimoria’s interesting book on Zoroastrianism and Theosophy. Before we left for Lahore the next day in a heavy rain, the Maharajah gave Miss Edger a present of a pair of Kashmir shawls and to myself a cash donation for the Theosophical Society. We reached Lahore the same day and were warmly received by our dear friend, Dr. Balkissen Kaul, F.T.S., for years past one of the most prominent figures in our Indian movement. We dined that day at the house of Sirdar Amrao Singh. The Sirdar is a wealthy Sikh noble, typically brave, courteous and intelligent, who is also a pillar of strength in our Lahore Branch. We had visitors all day on the 17th and at 4 p.m. my companion and I were taken by Pandit Gopinath to a meeting of his orthodox Indian Society, the Sanâtana Dharma Sabha, where we made short speeches: the day was wound up by an interesting meeting of the Lahore Branch. Pandit Gopinath’s Society is, or was at the time, for I have not heard from it since, an intensely, not to say aggressively orthodox Hindu body, perpetually at strife with the heterodox Arya Samaj, of the late Swami Dayânand Saraswati. In the old times, when all was peace between the
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Swamiji and ourselves, I had been on rather intimate terms with the leaders of the Lahore Arya Samaj, and I was glad of the opportunity now offered to meet the members of the rival religious Society, for I wanted to give one more proof that no feeling of sectarianism has ever animated the Society or its Founders.
On the 18th February we had calls from influential Sikhs, Sirdar Gurumuk Singh, Professor at the Oriental College, and another gentleman who was Sessions Judge at Sialkote. I suggested to them the advisability of compiling a Catechism of Guru Nanak’s religion, and at their request put the suggestion into the form of a letter which they agreed to lay before a council of Sikhs which was to meet at Amritsar on the following day. After receiving the visits of many other inquirers we went again to the Sanâtana Dharma Sabha to receive addresses that had been prepared, and at 5-30 p.m. Miss Edger gave a clear and improving lecture on “The Building of a World”. Despite a heavy downpour of rain her audience was large, yet not so large as that on the following evening when, as appears from my notes, two thousand persons listened to her.
On that same day (19th February) I had a visit from a young man of whose life and exploits Mr. Stead made a whole chapter in Borderland for
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April, 1897. The stories told about him alone and in connection with the famous Mr. Jacob (Marion Crawford’s Mr. Isaacs) were so extraordinary as to cause them to be copied and commented upon very widely throughout the world. His name was Balmukund Jhingan, variously styled “pandit”, “professor” and “doctor”; but that is neither here nor there; our chiropodists now call themselves professors, and mere tyros in psychopathic healing advertise themselves as doctors. Having read Mr. Stead’s article I was naturally interested in seeing the man to whom was ascribed the possession of strong psychic powers. Mr. Kanhaiyalal, a brother of Pandit Gopinath and an editor of the Lahore Urdu paper, Akhbar-i-Am, writing to Mr. Stead said: “I assure you the Professor, my intimate friend, has far more wonderful things to show to the favoured few; such as raising himself from the ground and remaining suspended in the air without any support, making his body so stiff as not a heavy hammer can hurt it or break his skull. Perhaps it will be a news to you, that when he makes his stick stand in the air without support, he himself and the stick lose their shadows, that is, no shadow is cast at day, before the sun, or at night before a lamp.” The bad English is given as written. The writer says, apropos of the shadows, “this is not noticed by
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ordinary spectators. After seeing the young man, about whom I could not detect even the flavor of magical power, I should not have been surprised if Mr. Kanhaiyalal had used the word “extraordinary” instead of the one which appeared in his sentence. Certainly, he either could not or would not show me any proof of his occult powers. In the course of the article in question the writer gives an alleged list of Jhingan’s accomplishment: “He can produce, apparently from nothing, all sorts of things such as flowers, vegetables, betel leaves, coins, etc., etc. He can make a stick, or a paper, or a book, or a burning lamp stand in the air without any support, apparently by mere force of will. Not only this, but he can order it to lean towards this point or that. He can pass knives through the body without injury, and the cut is healed at once. He can remove small articles such as rings, coins, etc., held in your hand, by his mysterious power and order them to come out from where you please. Once he removed a large bottle from under the cover of a handkerchief to another room.” Kanhaiyalal tells how the alleged magician recovered a lost watch for Pandit Bishambar Nath Mota. That gentleman with others were chatting together one evening in the bookshop of the writer’s family when Mr. Jhingan came along and
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upon being asked by Kanhaiyalal’s father whether he would do some tamasha for the amusement of the company, he consented and it was agreed between the people present that he should try to recover for Bishambar Nath his watch, which had been missing for several weeks. The narrative is curious enough to be quoted as follows: “He washed his hands, for which water was brought by my younger brother, Balkrishna, and then asked for a little quantity of rice. It was given him and he read some words on it. He then asked that a glass full of water be brought before him to receive the lost watch. It was brought and kept before him at a distance of six or seven yards, and he never touched it nor even came near it. He then threw away the enchanted rice about himself, and the glass full of water. He then brought both his hands to his mouth as if to blow through them. He shut his eyes, and after awhile opened them, and told the audience that the watch had come. He asked the owner to go to the glass and see if his watch was there—and lo! the watch was there.”
In my thirty years experience in India I have never found one person who had the reputation of being a real wonder-worker of the better sort who would show me phenomena, while on the other hand they have almost invariably
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spoken slightingly of them as objects to be searched after and have directed attention to the real object of Yoga, the development and evolution of the Higher Self. In cases, therefore, like the one under notice, the readiness of Jhingan, alleged by his friend Kanhaiyalal to step into a house when passing and forthwith display phenomena makes it appear to me that one of two things must be true—that he produced his effects by prestidigitation or by the practice of black magic and the employment of elementals. However, as said above, he gave me no chance to form an opinion upon his alleged powers.
On the day of his visit I visited the respected parents of Pandit Gopinath, who received me with great friendliness. I mention the circumstance partly because it gave me the chance to see how a Lahore family houses itself during the hot season. Their living apartments are excavated in the clayey soil and during the hottest days the temperature of the rooms is more or less agreeable. It is really living in deepened cellars under the ordinary brick dwelling-house.
During our visit at Lahore, Miss Edger was kept busy with her daily lectures, E.S.T. meetings and two Conversation meetings every day. A final Branch meeting was held on the 20th February, a number of new members were admitted, and
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Miss Edger showed the Branch how to work a “Secret Doctrine Class”. We slept in the Waiting Rooms at the station and left at 2 a.m. the next morning for Rawalpindi. This extreme northern-most point of our tour was reached at 2-30 p.m. on the 21st. Many friends, including several Sikh nobles and Mr. Dhunjibhoy, a rich Parsi, welcomed us. In the evening Miss Edger lectured on “The Necessity for Religion”, to an audience of two thousand people, standing in a summer-house porch and talking into a huge Shamianah, or canvas-roofed shelter raised on poles and tastefully decorated. Later, there was a Branch meeting. We were now at a point 2,000 miles distant from Adyar, which gives the non-Indian reader an idea of the extent of the Theosophical movement in this country.
At 5 p.m., the next day, I formally opened the “Annie Besant Samskrit School” at the request of Lala Jiva Râm, its founder, who was fired to do this charity by Mrs. Besant’s lectures of the previous year. Miss Edger’s lecture on that same day was given to a rather big audience. There was a Branch meeting in the evening with admission of members, and at midnight, turning our faces southward, we left for Amritsar. A twelve hours’ rail journey brought us to that place; we were garlanded at the station and after being settled in some small rooms which had been provided for us, went to see the
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world-renowned Golden Temple, where we were shown the jewels (said to be worth three lacs of rupees) and the swords of the Sikh Gurus and Princes, and were treated with great honor. We saw two boys baptized in Sikh fashion and were presented with Cloths for pagris, turbans.
Of all the races of India the Sikhs are the most picturesque and, as a whole, the handsomest. The race evolution dates back only to the latter half of the fifteenth century and was originally composed of two warlike tribes—the Jâtas and Khatris, who were blended together into a religious sect, the union being additionally cemented by the tie of military discipline. Their founder, who was one of the greatest men in Indian history in several respects, was one, Nânak, an excellent and successful preacher, who taught what might be called a reformed and monotheistic Hinduism. He was born in 1469 at Talwandi on the Râdi in the Punjab and, possessed of great natural dignity himself, and being surrounded by a number of followers of striking personal appearance and great military ardor, he was able to infuse into the inchoate nation the qualities of heroic bravery and enthusiastic sense of duty which, being transmitted in a marvellous way from generation to generation, have made the name of Sikh a synonym of all that goes to make up the true warrior. Taking it all in all, the story of the
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evolution of what is now the Sikh nation is one of the most romantic in history. Among the members of the Theosophical Society there are none for whom I have a stronger personal regard than the members of this fighting race.
Nânak lived seventy years and has been succeeded by a long line of “Gurus”. The word Sikh is translated as “disciple”. The teachings of the Gurus were compiled near the close of the sixteenth century by Guru Râm Dâs into a volume that is known as the Adi Granth, a valuable literary work, a very fine copy of which has recently been presented to the Adyar Library by Captain and Mrs. Ganpat Rai. At the Golden Temple the sacred book is daily read from, for the benefit of the people, by the priest on duty. It lies upon a great cushion on the floor of the Golden Temple itself; a beautiful structure which rises from the centre of the large square tank called “Amritsar” (the pool of immortality), dug by Râm Dâs on a piece of land given to him by the Mogul Empero Akbar the Great. From the ceiling of the temple-room, in which the Adi Granth is kept, hang great glass globes of golden and other colors, and, as I noticed that some of them were missing, Miss Edger and I sent four, handsome golden-hued globes with our compliments to Colonel Jwala Singh, the manager of the Temple. He had hardly received them before he sent
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me a brotherly letter of thanks, with presents of a red and gold sâri, a white pagri and some karahprasad, a sweetened flour mass which is considered sacred, like the wafer of the Catholics, and which I was informed was a great compliment. In an article in the Encyclopædia Britannica the following interesting facts are given: “As Sikhs they acquired a distinctive appearance by giving up the Hindu practice of shaving the head and face. They were forbidden the use of tobacco; and their discipline in other things prepared them for being indeed the soldiers they looked. Govind Râi adopted the designation ‘Singh’ (lion), and this became the distinctive addition to the names of all Sikhs. He called the whole body the ‘Khalsa’, or free, and he devised a rite of initiation called the pahal. He compiled a supplement to the ‘Granth’, containing instructions suited to the altered condition of the Sikh people.”
On the 25th we bade farewell to our kind hosts and other friends, Hindus and Sikhs, and resumed our journey.