From a Hindu Point of view
"The Lord preserve us from innovations foreign to
the true principles of the Protestant Church, and
foreign to the principles of the C.M.S. Pictures,
crosses, and banners, with processions, would do
great harm. The Mohammedan natives would say,
'Wah! you worship idols as the Hindus do, and have
taziyas (processions) as well as the Mohammedans!'
And our Christians would mourn over such things."
Rev. C. B. Leupolt, India.

I AM sitting in the north-west corner of the verandah of a little mission bungalow, on the outskirts of a town sixteen miles south of our Eastern headquarters. This is the town where they set fire to the schoolroom when Victory came. So far does Caste feeling fly. As you sit in the corner of this verandah you see a little temple fitted between two whitewashed pillars, roughly built and rudely decorated, but in this early morning light it looks like a picture set in a frame. It is just outside the compound, so near that you see it in all its detail of colour; the sun striking across it touches the colours and makes them beautiful.

There is the usual striped wall, red and white; the red is a fine terra-cotta, the colour of the sand. The central block, the shrine itself, has inlays of green, red, and blue; there is more terra-cotta in the roof, some yellow too, and white. Beyond on either side there are houses, and beyond the houses, trees and sky.

It is all very pretty and peaceful. Smoke is curling up in the still air from some early lighted fire out of doors; there are voices of people going and coming, softened by distance. There is the musical jingle of bullock bells here in the compound and out on the road, and there is the twitter of birds.

In front of that temple there are three altars, and in front of the altars a pillar. I can see it from where I am sitting now, rough grey stone. Upon it, there is what I thought at first was a sun-dial, and I wondered what it was doing there. Then I saw it had not a dial plate; only a strong cross-bar of wood, and the index finger, so to speak, was longer than one would expect, a sharp wooden spike. As I was wondering what it was a passer-by explained it. It is not a sun-dial, it is an impaling instrument. On that spike they used to impale alive goats and kids and fowls as offerings to the god Siva and his two wives, the deities to whose honour the three altars stand before the little shrine. The pillar on which stands this infernal spike has three circles scored into it, sign of the three divinities.

"The impaling has stopped," say the people, greatly amused at one's horror and distress, for at first I thought perhaps they still did it. "Now we do not impale alive; the Government has stopped it." Thank God for that! But oh, let all lovers of God's creatures pray for and hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! Government may step in and stop the public clubbing to death of buffaloes, and the impaling of goats and fowls in sacrifice, but it cannot stop the private cruelty, and the still wider-spread indifference on the part of those who are not themselves cruel; only the coming of Christ the Compassionate can do that.

. . . . . . .

There was the sound of voices just then, as I wrote, many voices, coming nearer, shrill women's voices, cutting through one's thoughts, and I went out to see what was going on.

On the other side of the road, opposite our gate, there is a huge old double tree, the sacred fig tree of India, intertwined with another -- a religious symbol to this symbol-loving people. Underneath is a stone platform, and on it the hideous elephant-god. On the same side is a little house. A group of women were gathered under the shade near the house, evidently waiting for something or someone. They were delighted to talk.

We spent half an hour under the tree, and they listened; but we were interrupted by some well-dressed Government officials with their coats, sashes, and badges, and one not strictly Governmental got up in a marvellous fashion, and they joined the group and monopolised the conversation. I waited, hoping they would soon go away, and I listened to what they were saying.

"Yes! she actually appeared! She was a goddess." ("A goddess! Oh!" from the women.) "She came forward, moving without walking, and she stood as a tree stands, and she stretched out her arms and blessed the people, and vanished."

A woman pointed to me. "Like her? Was she like her?"

"Like her!" and the Government official was a little contemptuous. "Did I not say she was a goddess? Is this Missie Ammal a goddess? Is she not a mere woman like yourselves, only white?"

"She also came from the bungalow," objected the woman rather feebly, feeling public opinion against her.

"You oyster!" said the official politely, "because a Missie Ammal comes from the bungalow, does it prove that the goddess was a Missie Ammal?" The other women agreed with him, and snubbed the ignoramus, who retired from the controversy.

The story was repeated with variations, such a mixture of the probable with the improbable, not to say impossible, that one got tangled up in it before he had got half through.

Just then an ancient Christian appeared on the scene and quavered in, in the middle of the marvel, with words to the effect that our God was the true God, and they ought to have faith in Him. It was not exactly a propos of anything they were discussing, but he seemed to think it the right thing to say, and they accepted it as a customary remark, and went on with their conversation. I asked the old worthy if he knew anything about the story, and at first he denied it indignantly as savouring too much of idolatry to be connected with the bungalow, but finally admitted that once in the dim past he had heard that an Ammal in the bungalow, who was ill and disturbed by the tom-toms at night, got up and went out and tried to speak to the people. And the men, listening now to the old man, threw in a word which illumined the whole, "It was a great festival." I remembered that impaling stake, and understood it all. And in a flash I saw it -- the poor live beast -- and heard its cries. They would wring her heart as she heard them in the pauses of the tom-tom. She was ill, but she got up and struggled out, and tried to stop it, I am sure -- tried, and failed.

Seven thousand miles away these things may seem trivial. Here, with that grey stone pillar full in view, they are real.

I came back to the present. The women were still there, and more people were gathering. Something was going to happen. Then a sudden burst of tom-toms, and a banging and clanging of all manner of noise-producers, and then a bullock coach drove up, a great gilded thing. It stopped in front of the little house; someone got out; the people shouted, "Guru! Great Guru! Lord Guru!" with wild enthusiasm.

The Guru was not poor. He had two carts laden with luggage -- one item, a green parrot in a cage. Close to the cage a small boy was thundering away on a tom-tom, but it did not disturb the parrot. The people seemed to think this display of wealth demanded an apology. "It is not his, it belongs to his followers; he, being what he is, requires none of these things," they said.

I had to go then, and we started soon afterwards on our day's round, and I do not know what happened next; but I had never had the chance of a talk with a celebrity of this description, and in the evening, on my homeward way, I stopped before the little house and asked if I might see him, the famous Guru of one of the greatest of South Indian Castes.

The Government officials of the morning were there, but the officialism was gone. No coats and sashes and badges now, only the simple national dress, a scarf of white muslin. The one who in the morning had been an illustration of the possible effect of the mixture of East and West, stood in a dignity he had not then, a fine manly form.

The door was open, and they were sentry, for their Guru was resting, they said. "Then he is very human, just like yourselves?" But the strong, sensible faces looked almost frightened at the words. "Hush," they answered all in a breath, "no such thoughts may be even thought here. He is not just like us." And as if to divert us from the expression of such sentiments, they moved a little from the door, and said, "You may look, if you do not speak," and knowing such looks are not often allowed, I looked with interest, and saw all there was to see.

The Guru was in the far corner resting; a rich purple silk, with gold interwoven in borders and bands, was flung over his ascetic's dress. At the far end, too, was a sort of altar, covered with red cloth, and on it were numerous brass candlesticks and vessels, and on a little shelf above, a row of little divinities, some brass ornaments, and flowers.

To the left of this altar there was a high-backed chair covered by a deer skin; there were pictures of gods and goddesses round the room, especially near the altar, and there were the usual censers, rosaries, and musical instruments, and there was the parrot.

The Government official pointed in, and said, with an air of pride in the whole, and a certainty of sympathy too, "There, you see how closely it resembles your churches; there is not so much difference between you and us after all!"

Not so much difference! There is a very great difference, I told him; and I asked him where he had seen a Christian church like this. He mentioned two. One was a Roman Catholic chapel, the other an English church.

What could I say? They bear our name; how could he understand the divisions that rend us asunder? -- Romanists, Ritualists, and Protestants -- are we not all called Christians?

I looked again, and I could not help being struck with the resemblance. The altar with its brasses and flowers and candlesticks, and the little shelf above; the pictures on the walls; the chair, so like a Bishop's chair of state; the whole air of the place heavy with incense, was redolent of Rome.

He went on to explain, while I stood there ashamed. "Look, have you not got that?" and he pointed to the altar-like erection, with the red cloth and the flowers.

"We have nothing of the sort in our church. Come and see; we have only a table," I said; but he laughed and declared he had seen it in other churches, and it was just like ours, "only yours has a cross above it, and ours has images; but you bow to your cross, so it must represent a divinity," and, without waiting for any reply, he pointed next to the pictures.

"They are very like yours, I think," he said, only yours show your God on a cross, stretched out and dying -- so" -- And he stretched out his arms, and dropped his head, and said something which cannot be translated; and I could not look or listen, but broke in earnestly:

"Indeed, we have no such pictures -- at least we here have not; but even if some show such a picture, do they ever call it a picture of God? They only say it is a picture of" -- But he interrupted impatiently:

"Do not I know what they say?" And then, with a touch of scorn at what he thought was an empty excuse on my part, he added, "We also say the same" (which is true; no intelligent Hindu admits that he worships idols or pictures; he worships what these things represent). "Your people show your symbols," he continued, in the tone of one who is sure of his ground, "exactly as we show ours. I have seen your God on a great sheet at night; it was shown by means of a magic lamp; and sometimes you make it of wood or brass, as we make ours of stone. The name may change and the manner of making, but the thing's essence is the same."

"The Mohammedans do not show their God's symbol; but we do, and so do the Christians. Therefore between us and the Christians there is more in common than between the Mohammedans and us." This was another Hindu's contribution to the argument.

The chair now served as a text. "When your Bishop comes round your churches, does he not sit in a chair like that, himself apart from the people? And in like manner our Guru sits. There is much similarity. Also do not your Christians stand" -- and he imitated the peculiarly deferential attitude adopted on such occasions by some -- "just in the fashion that we stand? And do not your people feel themselves blessed by the presence of the Great? Oh, there is much similarity!"

I explained that all this, though foolish, was not intended for more than respect, and our Bishops did not desire it; at which he smiled. Then he went on to expatiate upon what he had seen in some of our churches (probably while on duty as Government servant): the display, as it seemed to him, so like this; the pomp, as he thought it, so fine, like this; the bowing and prostrating, and even on the part of those who did not do these things, the evident participation in the whole grand show. And the other men, who apparently had looked in through the open windows and doors, agreed with him.

He is not the first who has been stumbled in the same way; and I remembered, as he talked, what a Mohammedan woman said to a friend of mine about one of our English churches, seen through her husband's eyes. "You have idols in your church," she said, "to which you bow in worship." She referred to the things on or above the Communion table. My friend explained the things were not idols. "Then why do your people bow to them?" Was there nothing in the question?

Often we wonder whether the rapid but insidious increase of ritual in India is understood at home. In England it is bad enough, but in a heathen and Mohammedan land it is, if possible, worse; and the worst is, the spirit of it, or the spirit of tolerance toward it, which is on the increase even in missionary circles. Some of our Tamil people attend the English service in these "advanced" churches after their own service is over, and thus become familiarised with and gradually acclimatised to an ecclesiastical atmosphere foreign to them as members of a Protestant Society.

I remember spending a Sunday afternoon with a worthy pastor and his wife, stationed in the place where the church is in which the "idols are worshipped" according to the Mohammedans. When the bell rang for evening service he began to shuffle rather as if he wanted me to go. But he was too polite to say so, and the reason never struck me till his son came in with an English Bible and Prayer-Book. The old man put up his hand to his mouth in the apologetic manner of the Tamils. "We do not notice the foolish parts of the service. We like to hear the English. For the sake of the English we go."

"He did not turn to the East, but he did not keep quite straight; he just half turned." This from a pastor's wife, about one whom she had been observing during an ordination ceremony in the English cathedral. "He just half turned." It describes the nebulous attitude of mind of many a one to-day. India has not our historical background. It has no Foxe's Book of Martyrs yet. Perhaps that is why its people are so indifferent upon points which seem of importance to us. They have not had to fight for their freedom, in the sense at least our forefathers fought; there is no Puritan blood in their veins; and so they are willing to follow the lead of almost anyone, provided that lead is given steadily and persistently; which surely should make those in authority careful as to those in whose hands that lead is placed.

But the natural instinct of the converted idolater is dead against complexity in worship, and for simplicity. He does not want something as like his own old religion as possible, but as different as possible from it; and so we have good building material ready to hand, and a foundation ready laid. "But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon."

I hope this does not sound unkind. We give those who hold different views full credit for sincerity, and a right to their own opinions; but convictions are convictions, and, without judging others who differ, these are ours, and we want those at home who are with us in these things to unite to help to stem the tide that has already risen in India far higher than perhaps they know. Brave men are needed, men with a fuller development of spiritual vertebrae than is common in these easy-going days, and we need such men in our Native Church. God create them; they are not the product of theological colleges. And may God save His Missions in India from wasting His time, and money, and men, on the cultivation of what may evolve into something of no more use to creation than a new genus of jelly-fish.

The Government official and his friends were still talking among themselves: "Do we not know what the Christians do? Have we not ears? Have we not eyes? They do it in their way, we do it in ours. The thing itself is really the same. Yes, their religion is just like ours."

They could not see the vital difference between even the most vitiated forms of Christianity and their own Hinduism; there were so many resemblances, and these filled their mental vision at the moment. One could hardly wonder they could not.

They turned to me again, and with all the vigour of language at my command I told them that neither we nor those with us ever went to any church where we had reason to think there would be an exhibition of ecclesiastical paraphernalia. We did not believe it was in accordance with the simplicity of the Gospel; and I told them how simple the Truth really was, but they would not believe me. Those sights they had seen had struck them much as they struck the convert who described the Confirmation service thus: "We went up and knelt down before a stick" (the Bishop's pastoral staff). They had observed the immense attention paid to all these sacred trifles, and naturally they appeared to them as essential to the whole; part of it, nearly all of it, in fact; and even where the service was in the vernacular, their attention had been entirely diverted from the thing heard by the things seen.

Then I thought of the description of a primitive Christianity service as given in 1 Corinthians. There the idea evidently was that if an outsider came in, or looked in, as Hindus and Mohammedans so often look in here, he should understand what was going on; and being convicted of his sin and need, should be "convinced"; "and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth." Compare the effect produced upon the minds of these Hindu men by what they saw of our services, with the effect intended to be produced by the Holy Ghost. Can we say we have improved upon His pattern?

Oh for a return to the simplicity and power of the Gospel of Christ! Then we should not roll stumbling-blocks like these in our Indian brother's way. Oh for a return to the days of the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, to obscurity, and poverty, and suffering, and shame, and the utter absence of all earthly glory, and the winning of souls of a different make to the type thought sufficiently spiritual now! Oh for more of the signs of Apostleship -- scars, and the cross -- the real cross -- the reproach of Christ the Crucified, -- no mitre here, but there the crown!

chapter xxv skirting the abyss
Top of Page
Top of Page