OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE GREAT CARVED DOORS
THE first week in April of the year under review was mainly devoted to a search through my office archives of 1884 for matter for the current number of OLD DIARY LEAVES. It is recorded in the diary entry for April 9th that up to that time I had examined between four and five hundred letters, not to speak of printed matter. It will be seen from this that the writing of this historical retrospect of mine is not such an easy matter as the tossing off of a newspaper paragraph, but involves a great deal of conscientious hard work. On April 13th, at Messrs. Oakes’ place, there was one of the many large book-auctions that during the course of the year give us the chance of securing valuable books for our library at nominal prices: in the present instance I bought between two and three hundred volumes of choice, freshly bound books, for an average of one rupee a volume. At the lowest estimate the collection was worth £60, though it cost only £14.
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On the 14th of April we set the frame of the great carved door of the room that was intended for the Western Section of the Library and was occupied by it until February of last year, when the books were put on the shelves prepared for them in the Fuente Extension of the Library building. In this same month I was busy with the getting of the votes of the General Secretaries of the Sections on my proposal to utilize what was called the “H.P.B. Memorial Fund” for the creation of a Panchama School, to bear that name. My argument was that the money in question was lying idle in the bank with only the slightest probabi1ity of its ever swelling into a capital large enough for its income to pay the cost of publication of special books, the original purpose. To anticipate, it may be stated that my proposition was ultimately accepted and the money in due course turned into the Panchama Education Fund, along with my own Pension Fund.
Among the objects at Adyar which provoke the most admiration in visitors are the splendid specimens of native wood-carving in teakwood in the library doors, and the long, high screen which shuts off and secures the privacy of the portraits of the Masters. From the Viceroy down, it has been hard for them to believe that the price asked by the Madras carvers is so extremely small. For instance, the two leaves of a door measure 9 feet by 5 feet in
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height and width, with three panels in each leaf, surrounded by carved rosewood moldings, and yet the doors with frames and all complete, cost only about one hundred rupees each, or, say, about £7. When I asked Lord Curzon what he thought such a door would cost at Home, he said “Oh! almost any price”, and could scarcely believe me when I told him the fact. The School of Arts fills large orders every year for these tasteful and artistic carvings received from foreign countries. I am sorry to say that very little patronage is extended to these artisans, these priests of the Beautiful, by wealthy Indians. The same may be said as to modellings in clay and terra-cotta. Govinda Pillai, for example, the modeller of the noble sitting statue of H. P. B., in our Convention Hall, is only Modelling Master at the School of Arts, on a beggarly salary of something like £3 a month, if my memory serves, with no remunerative field open for his talent such as a man of his worth would assuredly find in Europe or America. But his ways are Indian ways, his desires small, and so he plods on, turning out things of beauty which are at least a consolation to himself and a joy to his friends.
While I am touching on the subject of Indian Art, I am confronted by the entry in my diary for May 13th: “The Cuddapah stones supplied for the
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flooring of the new Western Library room are so inaccurately cut that 300 out of 500 of the smaller size are from a quarter to a half inch too small, while of the larger size one half are so. Then the Library room itself is several inches out of square at the eastern end.” From the standpoint of Indian art, this is the feature which vitiates it completely: accuracy in measurement and proportion is almost impossible to find. Whether it be the building of a temple, a pagoda, a house, a flight of steps, a tank, or any other structure, the chances are that the parts do not match each other. I doubt if in our Headquarters buildings there are two stone steps exactly alike. When we came to measure the Library Building for the erection of the verandahs, we found that our head mason had not aligned the Fuente extension with the main building. Some years ago, as my readers may recollect, I lectured on the Industrial Arts of India, at the Town Hall, Benares. From the bazaar I had brought a considerable number of the artistic bronze articles so largely bought by travellers: no two of the vases had their handles exactly opposite each other, no two of them stood on even bottoms or had covers that fitted accurately, the engraving and repoussé work were scant in details. For my part, I think the evil is almost irremediable, and I think I can understand why: there are no longer
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the royal patrons of indigenous art that there were in olden times. What people call for now is a showy article at the minimum cost: result, inaccuracy and the commercializing of art. In the happier olden days the Govinda Pillais and other artistic workmen would have been properly recompensed for their talent instead of half starving as they do now on the pittances given them by their employers and their customers. And yet all India is now convulsed over the question of patronizing indigenous industries and even boycotting those of foreign countries. Of course, nothing could be more laudable than the sentiment back of the Swadeshi movement, but from the standpoint of common sense, nothing could be more hopeless than the movement itself, whose promoters are dreaming of upsetting industrial conditions by a popular shout (pace the walls of Jericho) when it will require many years to put Indian industries on a level with those of more strictly commercial nations. Nobody need doubt my sympathy with the present Indian industrial movement, since as far back as 1880 I actually held at Bombay an exposition of Indian Arts and Industries.
On the 15th May the embroidered blue carpets which have since been always used at our Annual Conventions and have been so admired for their artistic effect, were received from our dear
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Dr. Kaul, of Lahore, who had kindly supervised their preparation.
On the 18th of the month news came to me from Bombay of the death of Mr. Edward Wimbridge five days earlier. He was one of the two English people who accompanied H. P. B. and myself from New York to Bombay, in 1879.
It may be doing a favor to some of my readers if I mention the fact that at the time at which we have arrived I was cured of a painful swelling of the gum and cheek by the application of a remedy known to every low-caste Hindu, though to few if any Europeans, if my own ignorance be taken as a measure. The remedy consists in rubbing into a paste a pollum (about 1 ¼ oz. av.) of ripe tamarind fruit, into which mass a half teaspoonful of salt has been incorporated. This is laid between the gum and the cheek, while on the outside there is applied a fomentation of fresh-plucked margosa leaves. Steep the leaves thoroughly in boiling water, and apply them as a poultice to the cheek. In an attack, for which this margosa decoction is the best remedy I know of, the rule is to steep the margosa leaves in a half pint of water, adding a small piece of saffron and a few peppercorns; boil it down to one-half the quantity of liquid, then strain it and take it in two doses. I have known obstinate cases of fever easily cured in this way and
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no return of the symptoms. Compilations have been made, from time to time, by western medical men, of these ancient Indian remedies, and I think it would be a good thing if some one who possesses the full confidence of the Indians would bring out a revised and fuller treatise on the subject.
At this time the Panchamas (Pariahs) of Madras, through their chief spokesman, Dr. Iyothee Doss, were urging me to help them to organize a league for mutual help and the uplifting of their race. On the 22nd May I wrote to the High Priest, Sumangala, a preliminary letter about the matter and told him to expect some papers from me soon. The Pariah committee called on me that same day and I instructed them as to the form of petition that they could draft to be forwarded through me to the Ceylon Buddhists. The matter was discussed at several meetings between the Committee and myself, and on June 4th the Committee came to Adyar and arranged for a public meeting of the Panchama community, at which to form a Dravidian Buddhist Society. Dharmapala and Guneratne—a Sinhalese priest, who had arrived from Calcutta the day before—took part in the discussion.
On the 5th, I received a telegram from Bombay that Tookaram Tatya, our well-known and energetic Bombay Indian colleague, had died during the
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previous night. It was a great loss to the Society because of the services that he rendered in the practical way of publishing Theosophical literature. He was not one of the first to join us at Bombay on our arrival, for he was of a cautious nature and his intercourse with Europeans had made him believe that they would not come to India without the ulterior design of either benefiting themselves or, by one means or another, trying to pervert Hindus to Christianity. He had seen us often and cross-questioned our principal visitors as to their impressions, but he held back from taking the decisive step of casting in his lot with ours. From an obituary notice, written by me for The Theosophist, for July 1898, I copy the following extract: “At last, after closely watching our actions and weighing our words, he decided to join, and on the 9th April, 1880, while we were still living in the Girgaum quarter of Bombay, he brought me an introductory letter from Mr. Martin Wood, then editor of the Bombay Review. I remember well the incident. I was writing in my small room when he came. Nothing had occurred to make me think him of any more importance than any other of our daily visitors. He seemed a strong, healthy, intelligent and active man, wearing glasses. Mr. Wood jokingly asked me in his note not to ‘let Tookaram too deep in the mysteries of Theosophy for fear he might be drawn
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off from the local politics, in which he had a large share.’ Seeing him so anxious an enquirer about Eastern Religions and their alleged key in Theosophy, I put aside my work and talked with him two or three hours. At the end of this time, after remaining silent for a few moments, he suddenly dropped on his knees, bowed his head to the ground, placed my naked feet on his head, in the oriental fashion, and asked me to give him my blessing. This was my first experience of the kind and it was very impressive, while giving a shock to my western ideal of personal dignity. I laid my hand on his head and blessed him, of course. He then rose and, for the first time, told me about his suspicions and doubts about us and our Society, and how our conversation had swept away his last lingering opposition. He applied for membership; I let him sign his papers, gave my name as his sponsor, and then introduced him to H.P.B.
“The Bombay moral atmosphere was repugnant to us then, partly on account of disagreeable incidents in connection with the two English persons who had come from America with us but turned enemies, and the Bombay Branch T. S. was never much of an active centre while we kept the Headquarters there. We bought the Adyar property in 1882 and removed there at the close of that year. It was after that that Tookaram’s active, energetic and loyal temperament
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showed itself. To him and the late Rustomji A. Master is primarily due the evolution of the Branch into one of the most active in the Society, their efforts being supplemented by those of others who have come in from time to time. Originally mostly a Hindu, it is now largely a Parsi body, and in its President, Mr. Gostling, its late regretted Vice-President, Mr. Gadiali, and others, it has been of late blessed with excellent administrators.
“Tookaram Tatya was a born philanthropist. A self-made man and a keen and successful merchant, he yet had a great desire to do good to his fellowmen. Learning mesmeric healing from me, he began its gratuitous practice at his own cost and opened a free Dispensary for mesmeric and Homœopathic treatment. Probably forty thousand patients have been treated by him and other F. T. S.free of cost. He established a Hindu press at which he published some of the most important classical works in Sanskrit, and a number of works in English. At our Annual Conventions at Adyar he was an almost constant attendant as a delegate from his Branch, and his subscriptions towards our various Funds have been liberal. He was one of the men I selected as Trustees of the Society’s property, under the Chingleput Deed of Trust, both on account of his probity and his unswerving loyalty to our Masters. And now he has gone to his reward. Farewell
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staunch friend, companion and brother: we shall meet and work together again.”
During the same month of May, I received from “An English Theosophist”, a very prominent member of the British Section, but who laid me under an obligation of secrecy as to his name, a draft for Rs. 2,200, towards the Panchama Education Fund, and especially the H.P.B. Memorial Free School. The almost uninterrupted stream of gifts, large and small, towards this object, down to the present time, shows its popularity, while the educational results under Mrs. Courtright’s management have very far exceeded my expectations.
On the 8th June I presided at a public meeting of Panchamas, held in the garden of Mr. L. V. Varadarajulu Naidu, in Royapettah, Madras, at which the petition to aid them in their endeavor to found their Buddhist Society and to receive their formal petition to that effect, was to be presented.
I was very much touched on receiving from Mr. Cooper-Oakley in person, on the 13th June, an offer to sub-edit The Theosophist during the illness of Dr. English, then at Ootacamund, suffering from an affection of the eyes which threatened blindness. Since he left Adyar some years previously to accept a professorship in Pachaiyappa College, and, subsequently, the Registrarship of Madras University, we had not been on such terms of familiar
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intercourse as previously, and I was very much gratified by this act of kindness. It will be remembered that, in 1887, while Mr. Cooper-Oakley was, by H.P.B.’s appointment, acting as Editor of The Theosophist, he published an article by T. Subba Row, on the number of “principles” going to make up a man, he preferring the exoteric classification of five, as opposed to her occult group of seven; step which threw her into a violent rage and was followed shortly after by her establishment of the magazine, Lucifer, now The Theosophical Review. Mr. Cooper-Oakley withdrew from the editorship and I took it over, but kept the name of H.P.B. on the cover several years and until she begged me to substitute my own for hers. Mr. Cooper-Oakley and his friend, Dr. Nield Cook, as well as T. Subba Row, resigned their membership in the Society.
As Miss Edger needed a rest and change of climate, I closed up my office business at Adyar and left with her for Ootacamund on the 14th June. After a very tedious journey, more than half of it passed in bone-pounding, country bullock-carts, we reached “Gulistan” on the 16th about noon; finding, to our great satisfaction, that Dr. English’s ulcerated eye was getting better.
On Sundays, at Ootacamund, the members of our local Branch are in the habit of gathering at my
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house for Theosophical studies. While up there, Miss Edger took charge of these meetings. Leaving Miss Edger in the safe custody of Dr. and Miss English, I left the station on the 22nd, on my return journey to Madras. I got home on the 24th and found everything right.