above all others, it is that I shall behold the
Redeemer gloriously triumphant at the winding up
of all things."
Henry Martyn, N. India.
"PARTLY founded upon a well-known tradition, mentioned by Plutarch, according to which, at the hour of the Saviour's Agony, a cry of, 'Great Pan is dead,' swept across the waves in the hearing of certain mariners, and the oracles ceased." So reads the head-note to one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poems. We look up a classical dictionary, and find the legend there. "This was readily believed by the Emperor, and the astrologers were consulted, but they were unable to explain the meaning of so supernatural a voice."
Pan, and with him all the false gods of the old world, die in the day of the death of our Saviour, -- this according to the poem --
"Gods, we vainly do adjure you, --
And yet -- is he dead? quite dead?
. . . . . . .
Night, moonless and hot. Our camp is pitched on the west bank of the river; we are asleep. Suddenly there is what sounds like an explosion just outside. Then another and another, -- such a bursting bang, -- then a s-s-swish, and I am out of bed, standing out on the sand; and for a moment I am sure the kitchen tent is on fire. Then it dawns on me, in the slow way things dawn in the middle of the night: it is only fireworks being let off by the festival people -- only fireworks!
But I stand and look, and in the darkness everything seems much bigger than it is and much more awful. There is the gleaming of water, lit by the fires of the crowd on the eastern bank of the river. There are torches waving uncertainly in and out of the vast black mass -- black even in the black of night -- where the people are. There is the sudden burst and s-s-swish of the rockets as they rush up into the night, and fall in showers of colours on the black mass and the water; and there is the hoarse roar of many voices, mingled with the bleat of many goats. I stand and look, and know what is going on. They are killing those goats -- thirty thousand of them -- killing them now.
Is Pan dead? . . .
Morning, blazing sun, relentless sun, showing up all that is going on. We are crossing the river-bed in our cart. "Don't look!" says my comrade, and I look the other way. Then we separate. She goes among the crowds in the river bed, where the sun is hottest and the air most polluted and the scenes on every side most sickening, and I go up the bank among the people. We have each a Tamil Sister with us, and farther down the stream another little group of three is at work. In all seven, to tens of thousands. But we hope more will come later on.
We have arranged to meet at the cart at about ten o'clock. The bandy-man is directed to work his way up to a big banyan tree near the temple. He struggles up through a tangle of carts, and finds a slanting standing-ground on the edge of the shade of the tree.
All the way up the bank they are killing and skinning their goats. You look to the right, and put your hands over your eyes. You look to the left, and do it again. You look straight in front, and see an extended skinned victim hung from the branch of a tree. Every hanging rootlet of the great banyan tree is hung with horrors -- all dead, most mercifully, but horrible still.
We had thought the killing over, or we should hardly have ventured to come; but these who are busy are late arrivals. One tells oneself over and over again that a headless creature cannot possibly feel, but it looks as if it felt . . . it goes on moving. We look away, and we go on, trying to get out of it, -- but thirty thousand goats! It takes a long time to get out of it.
We see groups of little children watching the process delightedly. There is no intentional cruelty, for the god will not accept the sacrifice unless the head is severed by a single stroke -- a great relief to me. But it is most disgusting and demoralising. And to think that these children are being taught to connect it with religion!
With me is one who used to enjoy it all. She tells me how she twisted the fowls' heads off with her own hands. I look at the fine little brown hands, such loving little hands, and I can hardly believe it. "You -- you do such a thing!" I say. And she says, "Yes; when the day came round to sacrifice to our family divinity, my little brother held the goat's head while my father struck it off, and I twisted the chickens' heads. It was my pleasure!"
We go up along the bank; still those crowds, and those goats killed or being killed. We cannot get away from them.
At last we reach a tree partly unoccupied, but it is leafless, alas! On one side of it a family party is cheerfully feeding behind a shelter of mats. A little lower down some Pariahs are haggling over less polite portions of the goat's economy. They wrap up the stringy things in leaves and tuck them into a fold of their seeleys. At our feet a small boy plays with the head. We sit down in the band of shade cast by the trunk of the tree, and, grateful for so much shelter, invite the passers-by to listen while we sing. Some listen. An old hag who is chaperoning a bright young wife draws the girl towards us, and sits down. She has never heard a word of our Doctrine before, and neither has the girl. Then some boys come, full of mischief and fun, and threaten an upset. So we pick out the rowdiest of them and suggest he should keep order, which he does with great alacrity, swinging a switch most vigorously at anyone likely to interfere with the welfare of the meeting.
My little companion speaks to them, as only one who was once where they are ever can. I listen to her, and long for the flow at her command. "Do you not do this and this?" she says, naming the very things they do; "and don't you say so and so?" They stare, and then, "Oh, she was once one of us! What is her Caste? When did she come? Where are her father and mother? What is her village? Is she not married? Why is she not? And where are her jewels?" Above all, everyone asks it at once, "What is her Caste?" And they guess it, and probably guess right.
You can have no idea, unless you have worked among them, how difficult it is to get a heathen woman to listen with full attention for ten consecutive minutes. They are easily distracted, and to-day there are so many things to distract them, they don't listen very well. They are tired, too, they say; the wild, rough night has done its work. Yesterday it was different; we got good listeners.
Being women, and alone in such a crowd of idolaters, we do not attempt an open-air meeting, but just sit quietly where we can, and talk to any we can persuade to sit down beside us. Hindus are safer far than Mohammedans; they are very seldom rude; but to-day we know enough of what is going on to make us keep clear of all men, if we can. They would not say anything much to us, but they might say a good deal to each other which is better left unsaid.
By the time we have gathered, and held, and then had to let go, three or four of such little groups, it is breakfast time, and we want our breakfast badly. So we press through the crowd, diving under mat sheds and among unspeakable messes, heaps of skins on either side, and one hardly knows what under every foot of innocent-looking sand; for the people bury the debris lightly, throwing a handful of sand on the worst, and the sun does the rest of the sanitation. It is rather horrible.
At last we reach the cart, tilted sideways on the bank, and get through our breakfast somehow, and rest for a few blissful minutes, in most uncomfortable positions, before plunging again into that sea of sun and sand and animals, human and otherwise; and then we part, arranging to meet when we cannot go on any more.
Is Pan dead? . . .
Noon, and hotter, far hotter, than ever. Oh, how the people throng and push, and kill and eat, and bury remains! How can they enjoy it so? What can be the pleasure in it?
We find our way back to that ribbon of shade. It is a narrower ribbon now, because the sun, riding overhead, throws the shadow of a single bough, instead of the broader trunk. But such as it is, we are glad of it, and again we gather little groups, and talk to them, and sing.
Some beautiful girls pass us close, the only girls to be seen anywhere. Only little children and wives come here; no good unmarried girls. One of the group is dressed in white, but most are in vivid purples and crimsons. The girl in white has a weary look, the work of the night again. But most of the sisterhood are indoors; in the evening we shall see more of them, scattered among the people, doing their terrible master's work. These pass us without speaking, and mingle in the crowd.
After an hour in the band of shade, we slowly climb the bank again, and find ourselves among the potters, hundreds and hundreds of them. Every family buys a pot, and perhaps two or three of different sizes; so the potters drive a brisk trade to-day, and have no leisure to listen to us.
It is getting very much hotter now, for the burning sand and the thousands of fires radiate heat-waves up through the air, heated already stiflingly. We think of our comrades down in the river bed, reeking with odours of killing and cooking, a combination of abominations unimagined by me before.
We look down upon a collection of cart tops. The palm-woven mat covers are massed in brown patches all over the sand, and the moving crowds are between. We do not see the others. Have they found it as difficult as we find it, we wonder, to get any disengaged enough to want to listen? At last we reach the long stone aisle leading to the temple. On either side there are lines of booths, open to the air but shaded from the sun, and we persuade a friendly stall-keeper to let us creep into her shelter. She is cooking cakes on the ground. She lets us into an empty corner, facing the passing crowds, and one or two, and then two or three, and so on till we have quite a group, stop as they pass, and squat down in the shade and listen for a little. Then an old lady, with a keen old face, buys a Gospel portion at half price, and folds it carefully in a corner of her seeley. Two or three others buy Gospels, and all of them want tracts. The shop-woman gets a bit restive at this rivalry of wares. We spend our farthings, proceeds of our sales, on her cakes, and she is mollified. But some new attraction in the gallery leading to the temple disperses our little audience, to collect it round itself. The old woman explains that the Gospel she has bought is for her grandson, a scholar, she tells us, aged five, and moves off to see the new show, and we move off with her.
There, in the first stall, between the double row of pillars, a man is standing on a form, whirling a sort of crackling rattle high above his head. In the next, another is yelling to call attention to his clocks. There they are, ranged tier upon tier, regular "English" busy-bee clocks, ticking away, as a small child remarks, as if they were alive. Then come sweet-stalls, clothes-stalls, lamp-stalls, fruit-stalls, book-stalls, stalls of pottery, and brass vessels, and jewellery, and basket work, and cutlery, and bangles in wheelbarrow loads, and medicines, and mats, and money boxes, and anything and everything of every description obtainable here. In each stall is a stall-keeper. Occasionally one, like the clock-stall man, exerts himself to sell his goods; more often he lazes in true Oriental fashion, and sells or not as fortune decides for him, equally satisfied with either decree. How Indian shopkeepers live at all is always a puzzle to me. They hardly ever seem to do anything but moon.
On and on, in disorderly but perfectly good-natured streams, the people are passing up to the temple, or coming down from worship there. All who come down have their foreheads smeared with white ashes. Even here there are goats; they are being pulled, poor reluctant beasts, right to the steps of the shrine, there to be dedicated to the god within. Then they will be dragged, still reluctant, round the temple walls outside, then decapitated.
I watch a baby tug a goat by a rope tied round its neck. The goat has horns, and I expect every moment to see the baby gored. But it never seems to enter into the goat's head to do anything so aggressive. It tugs, however, and the baby tugs, till a grown-up comes to the baby's assistance, and all three struggle up to the shrine.
We are standing now in an empty stall, just a little out of the crush. Next door is an assortment of small Tamil booklets in marvellous colours, orange and green predominating. There is an empty barrel rolled into the corner, and we sit down on it, and begin to read from our Book. This causes a diversion in the flow of the stream, and we get another chance.
But it grows hotter and hotter, and we get so thirsty, and long for a drink of cocoanut water. It is always safe to drink that. No cocoanuts are available, though, and we have no money. Then a man selling native butter-milk comes working his way in and out of the press, and we become conscious that of all things in the world the thing we yearn for most is a drink of butter-milk. The man stops in front of our stall, pours out a cupful of that precious liquid, and seeing the thirst in our eyes, I suppose, beseeches us to drink. We explain our penniless plight. "Buy our books, and we'll buy your butter-milk," but he does not want our books. Then we wish we had not squandered our farthings on those impossible cakes. The butter-milk man proposes he should trust us for the money; he is sure to come across us again. He is a kind-hearted man; but debt is a sin; it is not likely we shall see him again. The butter-milk man considers. He is poor, but we are thirsty. To give drink to the thirsty is an act of merit. Acts of merit come in useful, both in this world and the next. He pours out a cupful of butter-milk (he had poured the first one back when we showed our empty hands). We hesitate; he is poor, but we are so very thirsty. The next stall-keeper reads our hearts, throws a halfpenny to the butter-milk man. "There!" he says, "drink to the limit of your capacity!" and we drink. It is a comical feeling, to be beholden to a seller of small Tamil literature of questionable description; but we really are past drawing nice distinctions. Never was butter-milk so good; we get through three brass tumbler-fuls between us, and feel life worth living again. We give the good bookseller plenty of books to cover his halfpenny, and to gratify us he accepts them; but as he does not really require them, doubtless the merit he has acquired is counted as undiminished, and we part most excellent friends.
And now the crowd streaming up to the temple gets denser every moment. Every conceivable phase of devotion is represented here, every conceivable type of worshipper too. Some are reverent, some are rampant, some are earnest, some are careless, awestruck, excited, but more usually perfectly frivolous; on and on they stream.
I leave my Tamil Sister safely with two others at the cart. But the comrade whom I am to meet again at that same cart some time to-day has not turned up. So I go off alone for another try, drawn by the sight of that stream, and I let myself drift along with it, and am caught in it and carried up -- up, till I am within the temple wall, one of a stream of men and women streaming up to the shrine. We reach it at last. It is dark; I can just see an iron grating set in darkness, with a light somewhere behind, and there, standing on the very steps of Satan's seat, there is a single minute's chance to witness for Christ. The people are all on their faces in the dust and the crush, and for that single minute they listen, amazed at hearing any such voice in here; but it would not do to stay, and, before they have time to make up their minds what to make of it, I am caught in another stream flowing round to the right, and find myself in a quieter place, a sort of eddy on the outer edge of the whirlpool, where the worship is less intense, and very many women are sitting gossiping.
There, sitting on the ground beside one of the smaller shrines which cluster round the greater, I have such a chance as I never expected to get; for the women and children are so astonished to see a white face in here that they throw all restraint to the winds, and crowd round me, asking questions about how I got in. For Indian temples are sacred to Indians; no alien may pass within the walls to the centre of the shrine; moreover, we never go to the temples to see the parts that are open to view, because we know the stumbling-block such sight-seeing is to the Hindus. All this the women know, for everything a missionary does or does not do is observed by these observant people, and commented on in private. Now, as they gather round me, I tell them why I have come (how I got in I cannot explain, unless it was, as the women declared, that, being in a seeley, one was not conspicuous), and they take me into confidence, and tell me the truth about themselves, which is the last thing they usually tell, and strikes me as strange; and they listen splendidly, and would listen as long as I would stay. But it is not wise to stay too long, and I get into the stream again, which all this time has been pouring round the inner block of the temple, and am carried round with it as it pours back and out.
And as I pass out, still in that stream, I notice that the temple area is crowded with all kinds of merchandise, stalls of all sorts, just as outside. Vendors of everything, from mud pots up to jewels, are roaming over the place crying their wares, as if they had been in a market; and right in the middle of them the worship goes on at the different shrines and before the different idols. There it is, market and temple, as in the days of our Lord; neither seems to interfere with the other. No one seems to see anything incongruous in the sight of a man prostrated before a stone set at the back of a heap of glass bangles. And when someone drops suddenly, and sometimes reverently, in front of a stall of coils of oily cakes, no one sees anything extraordinary in it; they know there is a god somewhere on the other side of the cakes.
On and out, through the aisle with its hundred pillars, all stone -- stone paving, pillars, roof; on and out, into the glare and the sight of the goats again. But one hardly sees them now, for between them and one's eyes seem to come the things one saw inside -- those men and women, hundreds of them, worshipping that which is not God.
Is Pan dead? . . .
Pan is dead! Oh, Pan is dead! For, clearer than the sight of that idolatrous crowd, I saw this -- I had seen it inside those temple walls: -- a pile of old, dead gods. They were bundled away in a corner, behind the central shrine -- stone gods, mere headless stumps; wooden gods with limbs lopped off; clay gods, mere lumps of mud; mutilated and neglected, worn-out old gods. Oh, the worship once offered to those broken, battered things! No one worships them now! For full five minutes I had sat and looked at them --
"Gods bereaved, gods belated,
There were withered wreaths lying at the feet of some of the idols near; there were fresh wreaths round the necks of others. There were no wreaths in this corner of dead gods. I looked, and looked, and looked again. Oh, there was prophecy in it!
And as I came out among the living people, the sight of that graveyard of dead gods was ever with me, and the triumph-song God's prophetess sang, sang itself through and through me -- Pan is dead! Quite dead!
"'Twas the hour when One in Sion
"By the love He stood alone in,