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tle and accumulating poison. And thus again, though seeing what is very likely true enough, our wanderer has failed to see what Benares means.
Or, finally, he will take boat in the early morning, and see the mile-long shore of the river as thick as the sands at Margate with naked brown humanity, male and female alike, bathing in and drinking of the sacred stream, or casting into it offerings of coins and flowers. And he will only remember that fifty yards above the main sewer of Benares debouches into the river, bearing with it, without the slightest doubt, millions upon millions of the germs of cholera, smallpox, and enteric fever, while only ten yards away the corpses that wait for the burning are soaking in the river. All that again is perfectly true, but again, as utterly as before, he misses not only the significance of what is passing before his eyes, mounted on his hobby-horse of hygiene, but from ignorance, even as in his judgments on the fakirs and the ruined palaces, misses even the facts of the case. But we will let our wanderer hurry home to breakfast, thrilled and horrified by what he has certainly seen, and uncomprehending how the nature of his vision was defective from the beginning, because he did not know or would not appreciate the power that lies within Benares, and every year, through the evanescent generations, drives it forward, unchanging, though altered, by ruinous decay, and draws to it the eyes and travel-weary footsteps of thousands, a light to lighten their darkness, a very dayspring from on high.
BENARES is a holy place, the home of Hinduism, the cradle, as far as we can tell, of the faith. India, which has so often been conquered, which is so fickle in allegiance, has here preserved an inviolable constancy, and all the tyrannies that have overrun it, even the newest and bitterest of all, coming from the ultimate West and the far-off island of fog, have left this strange cathedral by the river even as they found it, and as it is to-day. There may be, and certainly are, faithless worshipers in its liquid courts, those in whom superstitions, savagely alive, have taken the place of the religion which to them is dead; in others worship may be but apathetic, though race hatred may be fervent,
and their brains teem with secret schemes, silently matured; in others the contents of the fakir's bowl may be of more consequence than the tenor of the fakir's meditation, but to miss the note of worship that sounds so sonorously along the river-bank, and merely listen for the discords, to miss the incense of prayer and meditation that rises all day as thick as the dust-clouds along its trampled terraces, is to miss all. It is not from laziness that its inhabitants allow palace and shrine and cupola and minaret to slide and topple down the riverbank: it is because there dwells that in the place compared with which the crumble of masonry and the action of the river, viewed as destroyer only, are less than the motes in the sunbeam compared with the sun. And who shall deny the river the gold and the flowers that are given it, for is it not the holy Ganges, which washes clean of all sin, even as an established and scientific fact its waters at once cleanse and remove from it the putrefaction and disease that the sewers of the city pour into it, so that you may drink of its waters, dismounting from your hobby of hygiene, and risk contracting none of the plagues that pour into it? Of this there is no doubt; for not long ago some scientific soul took a sample of water from the mouth of the main sewer, and found it to be swarming with the deadly life of cholera and enteric fever. Half he mixed with distilled water, half with water out of the Ganges itself. Two days later he found that the portion mingled with pure water contained its deadliness in unimpaired vitality; in the other the bacilli which had swarmed there were all dead. The explanation of this we will leave to those who study such things, and remember only, if we want to understand Benares, that the holy Ganges has on those who flock there a power of spiritual cleansing as sure and speedy as this material property of the actual fluid. That is the dayspring that flows clear and pellucid. below these hallowed banks.
THE YOUNG BRAHMAN
ON my first visit to the river with a friend one grilling afternoon in March, a young Brahman, with his threefold cord bound below his left shoulder, looked at us as we passed with the unconscious pride and aloof contempt of his caste for all
others, most particularly for those who, like ourselves, were of no caste at all, and then began following us at a little distance. We had been told that there was a good deal of espionage of strangers going on, and supposed that we were being kept under surveillance. He was young, perhaps sixteen, and evidently poor, for his clothes were threadbare with usage, and he had no shoes; but poverty, of course, has nothing to do with caste, and more than once some portly and silk-bedizened merchant stepped swiftly out of his path, so as not to impede the convenience of his progress, and saluted him, the salute being returned with the courtesy of a superior to one who was far below him. We had, I am glad to say, no cameras, and we did not point at and comment on the strange figures of naked fakirs and meditating holy men, and at last, after strolling quietly along to within some hundred yards of the burning ghat, we sat down on a fragment of tumbled masonry. Then slowly, with pauses of silence, he approached, and asked us why we had come to Benares. Were we thinking? And all Benares was in that phrase.
Near by was a dog, with her new-born litter lying round her, pitifully thin and emaciated. My friend went to a shop close by, bought a saucerful of milk, and set it down by her. At that the aloofness of our young Brahman altogether broke down. We were of no caste, it is true, but such an action as that made us faintly tolerable, and without more ado he attached himself to us as our guide. For himself, he was "learning to think"; he was also learning astrology, and his father was a carpenter with a wage of fifteen rupees (one pound) per month. Did we wish to see the Nepaulese temple? Most Englishmen wanted to go to the Nepaulese temple. He could take us there, though it was not open of an afternoon. But we did not desire to see that Augean stable of mean and unimaginative obscenity, and rose a little in his estimation. By degrees he melted into a sort of chattering merriment, sparred boyishly with a combative goat that squarely occupied our path, told us what manner of women were those who leaned over the balcony above us, said he would meet us at the same place early next morning at the bathing-hour to row up the river and drift back again.
And yet the whole current of his life, of which this boyish friendliness was a mere surface straw, ran as remote from, and unconjecturable by, us as if he had been an inhabitant of the moon. He tolerated us, perhaps because we did not hurry and shout, but he only condescended to us: to himself he was a being as vastly superior to us as were we to the dog to which we had given milk. For he was a Brahman, and he was learning to think. I would give a year's life, I believe, to penetrate into that boy's soul, to see with his eyes, to enter into the mental heritage that the generations of his Brahman forefathers had given him, to be aware with his consciousness, and for a month to understand Benares and all that makes it what it is.
EARLY next morning we were back again at the river-bank, while yet the sun was hardly risen, and there waited for us our Brahman, who had engaged a boat from "some common fellow." He had bathed already and, cool and glistening, was squatting by the river-edge, cleaning his teeth with white wood ash. Strangely different this morning was the aspect of air and sky and river and thronging worshipers. For the hard, tired blaze of the afternoon, for the sense of awful age and antiquity that sometimes is almost crushing in those sun-smitten and dusty plains, there was exchanged the fresh and scentless air of dawn and an atmosphere of tender pearl. The glorious river, curved like a mitar, lay dim and steely at our feet, and above it was piled the iridescent fairyland of temples and palaces. All had been renewed by the coolness of the sacred and starry night, and instead of the dusty crowds that yesterday thronged the banks, a gleaming huddle of brown-skinned men and boys and women, joyous with the cool water and the radiant youth of the sun and air, bathed in, and drank of, the sacred stream. Standing waist-deep in the holy waters, they washed head and chest and shining arms, with ablution for the mouth and ritual of anointment for nose and eyes. Had there lain below these joyful washings no touch of religion or belief, the scene would still have been one of springlike and dewy exhilaration: a whole town was renewing itself with cool water at the dawn of day. But below, dynamic
in front of the palaces stood stately black bulls, and on the wooden platforms fakirs and holy men were establishing themselves for the day. Bugles were blaring in the temples, and the drone of drums boomed for rites and secret sacrifices in dim, impenetrable shrines where only the priest might go. There, as in Levitical days, atonement was made by the blood of goats and sheep, while the people purified themselves by the river-bank; and he would indeed be a bigot who should say that the spirit which inspired this early hour of cleansing and sacrifice mounted no higher than to the deaf ears of Siva, cobracrowned, or Hanuman, the lord of apes, or Ganesha, with his elephant head.
THE BURNING GHAT
THERE was plague in the city, so our young Brahman told us, and he recognized a friend whose sister had died during the night waiting at the burning ghat. On the steps leading down into the water were lying three or four of those swathed and tranquil burdens that had been borne there to be bathed for the last time in the cleansing flood. Gay of color were the cerements in which they were wrapped-pink and yellow and dazzling blue. They were like flowers that had been plucked, and were laid there to drink of the coolness of the water. Even as we came opposite, the bearers lifted one of them, all cool and dripping, from the river, and laid it, the slim, small figure, so quiet, so content, on a half-built pyre. Brushwood and fagots were built over it, and at head and foot and sides the fire was applied. A Brahman directed the rites, and once, as the flames mounted and aspired, the brother, who was watching, clutched at his heart as there appeared for a moment, at the top of the pyre, a girl's face, with closed eyes, and mouth that seemed to smile; then the radiant veil of flame shrouded it again. The smoke rose in gray whorls and streamers against the stainless and tender blue of the sky, and still the brother watched, quiet again and composed: h had given only that one sign to show that he loved her whose ashes now lay among the charred and smoldering logs. Or Or rather it was only for the moment that, thinking of days of childhood and dawns by the riverside, he forgot that it was not
she who had been consumed in the flames of the pyre. Then he remembered again, and looking up from the pyre to the dazzling river, he saw there on our boat his friend, the Brahman, and smiled to him.
For half an hour we watched with him till all was over. Then such wood as was still unburned was saved for future use, but the ashes were swept together and given to the keeping of the sacred Ganges. There was only a handful of them, and an eddy of the swift-flowing river caught them and mingled them with blooms of marigold and rose-petals that floated there. Swiftly and gaily they circled, then shot out again from the shadow into the dazzling stream, and were absorbed into it like motes in a sunbeam. Never have I been present at a scene so simple, so true, so radiant with moral beauty. To the mourner, that lonely, quiet boy, to the priest, to the burners, and to all the gay crowd that prayed and were cleansed that morning in sun and water, death was as natural as life; purified and freed, the soul escaped from the discarded body, of which it had need no longer, and for the rest there was the fire that rose skyward beside the holy river, and the sacred Ganges, pellucid, unpollutable.
The pearliness of dawn had hardened. into the crystal of day, and the sun had drunk up the blue veils of river mist, before we landed again. The hour of joyful ablution, of early sacrifice and prayer, of souls set free and bodies purified by water and fire, was over, and the breeze of morning fainted in the brazen sky. The fakirs and holy men had seated themselves beneath their straw umbrellas, and begun another day of immobile contemplation; the grave, black bulls wandered into the shade of palaces; the shrines were decked afresh with garlands of flowers; and the cleansed crowd, their devotions over, trooped back up the river-bank with shining brass water-pots and bundles of washed linen. Cornices and columns of the temples echoed to the cooings of the pigeons that patrolled there, and companies of swifts cut airy circles above the river. But still within the temple the drums beat and the conchs sounded, and all day long the Ganges, redeemer and cleanser, flowed by, carrying the ashes of the dead, and the jasmine and marigolds, the offerings of the living.