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“A Mahratta Tale”
Philip Meadows Taylor
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EXTRACTS FROM SOME PRESS NOTICES OF "TARA."
"For its rapid action, in fact, we have seldom read a better story, or one which is more full of incidents, sanguinary, trenchant, and robust."
The "Daily Telegraph."
"A true and a wonderfully well-sustained piece of Oriental life and striking history."
"This is a very remarkable book. It is a determined attempt to bring the interior Hindoo and Mussulman life of a great Mahratta province during the most exciting times home to the hearts and understandings of Englishmen, to interest them in people with whom they have nothing except human nature in common."
"'Tara' is a unique work. There is nothing like it in the English literature of fiction. No other writer has ever attempted the portrayal of Indian life, society, and interests, entirely free from any European admixture of character or incident. The author himself now does so for the first time. 'The Confessions of a Thug' related to British jurisdiction in India. 'Tippoo Sultan' dealt with the gallant struggles of that monarch against the encroaching British power, but 'Tara' is all Indian."
"It is seldom that we meet with a work of fiction executed with anything like the conscientious care and minute elaboration of Captain Meadows Taylor's Indian Tale. His characters have mostly the clearness and individuality of portraits, and his scenery exhibits all the marked and decisive features of photographs taken on the spot. The work throughout is evidently that of a master of Oriental life and character in love with his subject, to whom nothing appears trivial or beneath notice that can illustrate the peculiar traits of Asiatic nature, or kindle an enthusiasm for knowing more of the history, manners, and usages of our fellow-subjects in the east."
"In no one part of the work has Captain Taylor shown more thorough art than in those pages in which he details the features of the Hindoo and Mahomedan family life. He never overloads; his characters are not lay figures attired in triple folds of gorgeous robes to hide their nakedness. With a few subtle touches he shows us the interior life of each household, and the morning springs of every character, and he leaves us to fill in the obvious details for ourselves."
The scenes and characters which i have endeavoured to depict in these volumes will be necessarily new and strange to you; but if they excite interest in the native annals of a country of which i find but little real knowledge existing, the object of the work will have been attained; while, by the kind courtesy which permits me to dedicate it to you, your excellency confers upon me a very sincere gratification.
I have the honour to be,Your Lordship's very faithful servant,MEADOWS TAYLOR.
Old Court,Harold's Cross, near Dublin,August, 1863.
In the year 1839, I became acquainted with the late Professor Wilson; and in course of conversation on the possibility of illustrating events in Indian history by works of fiction, the details of the present story, among other subjects, were slightly sketched out by me. He was interested in them, and suggested my writing the tale for "Blackwood's Magazine." I could not, however, then commence it, and deferred doing so till my return to India; but, falling into political and civil employment there, was never able to continue what I had begun, till my return home.
The history of the period of this tale, A.D. 1657, will be found at length in Scott's "Ferishta," and vol. i. of Grant Duff's "History of the Mahrattas;" and to these works I beg to refer such of my readers as may be curious in regard to its particulars, of which a slight sketch may not, perhaps, be altogether out of place.
In A.D. 1347, a great portion of the Dekhan was consolidated into a kingdom by Sultan Alla-oo-deen, who founded the Bahmuni dynasty. It was divided into three great provinces, Dowlatabad, Beejapoor, and Golconda, which, on the decay of the royal house, became separate kingdoms under their several viceroys, who successively declared their independence. Of these, Beejapoor was the largest, and became by far the most important and powerful. Yoosuf Adil Shah, a Turk of European descent, believed, indeed, to have been the son of a Sultan of Constantinople, threw off his allegiance to the Bahmuni dynasty in A.D. 1489, and established himself at Beejapoor, which afterwards rose to be the greatest, as it was the most magnificent, city of the Dekhan.
The prosperity of the Dekhan kingdoms excited the jealousy of the Moghul Emperors of Dehli, and their subjugation was projected by the Emperor Akbur; but it had made little progress at his death in A.D. 1605. In the reign of his grandson Shah Jehán, the State of Ahmednugger, or Dowlatabad, was finally subdued about 1630, and the Moghul power so far established in the Dekhan. His son, Aurungzeeb, pursued the reduction of the two remaining kingdoms, Beejapoor and Golconda, with varying success, but untiring pertinacity; and, before his death in 1707, they had succumbed to him. Beejapoor fell on the 15th October, 1686; Golconda in September, 1687.
Amidst the struggles of the Mahomedans, the predatory power of the Mahratta people arose under Sivaji, and assumed a more definite form than it had ever before possessed; and, as the author of the Mahratta History observes, "stirred those latent embers till, like the parched grass kindled amidst the forests of the Syhadree mountains, they burst forth in spreading flame, and men afar wondered at the conflagration."
Of the many remarkable and romantic events connected with the rise of the Mahratta power, those which form the subject of the present tale are, of all, the most cherished by the people; and they are recited, or sung in ballads, with an interest which time does not diminish, and which has exalted the national hero, Sivaji Rajah, to the distinction almost of a demigod.
At the period of the tale, 1657, though the political foundations of Beejapoor were shaking, nothing had affected its material prosperity; and the palaces, mosques, mausoleums, and other public buildings of the capital, were in their greatest magnificence. The city itself, except its vast fortifications, which are still perfect, has now, for the most part, disappeared; and long lines of shapeless mounds, covering an immense area, mark where its streets existed. In some quarters there are villages, widely separated, which once formed part of the general masses of habitations; and there are everywhere remains of mosques, tombs, and palaces, which convey a true estimate of the wealth of those for whom they were constructed, and the taste and skill of the architects.
The citadel is still perfect as to walls, towers, and ditch, and is a very complete and picturesque specimen of Puthán fortification. The royal palaces situated in it, are, however, roofless, much ruined, and advancing to destruction; and the gardens and terraces, with their fountains, are covered by brushwood and tangled creepers. It is a happy thing, however, that the liberality of the Indian Government has arrested decay, wherever practicable, and that all the most beautiful buildings have been restored, while repairs continue to be made as needful.
The buildings so restored are—
The Mausoleum of Ibrahim Adil Shah, called the Ibrahim Roza;The Mausoleum of Mahmood Adil Shah;The Méhturi Mahal;The Jumma Mosque;The Assar Shureef;The Royal Well, with its cloisters; and some others.
Of the above, the Assar Shureef is one of the ancient royal palaces, which contains some sacred relics; and, being in the actual condition in which it was left, is perhaps the most interesting of all.
By orders of Government also, drawings from actual measurement were made a few years ago by a clever civil engineer and architect, of all the principal buildings. These are now in the India Library in London; and, to any one curious on the subject, will give a far better idea of the superb Saracenic architecture of the Adil Shahy dynasty, than any description. Mahomedan architecture in India is always beautiful; but there is a combination of grandeur and grace about that of Beejapoor which is not approached elsewhere, and a beauty of ornament and execution nowhere exceeded. The Jumma Mosque, with its side aisles, was constructed for the accommodation of eight thousand persons at prayer; and the superb dome of the Mausoleum of Sultan Mahmood Adil Shah, built of hewn stone, is the largest in its outward diameter in the world.
With these noble remains, the country around them, and its population of all classes, I have been familiar for many years past; and such descriptions of scenery and character as may be found in these volumes, are the result of personal knowledge. The actors in my story are Hindus and Mahomedans; but the same passions and affections exist among them as among ourselves, and thus the motives and deeds of my characters may, at least, be intelligible. I can only hope they may prove of interest.
It was very strange, twenty-five years ago, to observe the remarkable interval of exactly one hundred years, between the attack of Sivaji on the Beejapoor Mahomedans in 1657, and the victory of Lord Clive over those of Bengal at Plassey in 1757. Both results led directly to the establishment of powers widely differing in their aims and characters, but not the less irresistible by the Mahomedans; and the victory at Pertâbgurh was as directly conducive to the establishment and extension of the Mahratta authority, and the decadence of the Mahomedan, as that of Plassey has been to our own sovereignty, and to the political extinction of both. But this curious accordance of dates becomes still more interesting, when we observe that, on the anniversary of a third century, June, 1857, the heads of Mahomedan and Mahratta power were leagued against that which had subdued both; and know that their combined efforts however desperate, and their intrigues however virulent, proved alike futile.
"Tara, O Tara! where art thou?"
"Mother, I am here. Is it time?"
"Yes; we should go with the offerings to the temple. Come, thy father hath long been gone, and it will be broad day ere we can reach it. Come," said her mother, entering a small open verandah which skirted the inner court of the house, where the girl sat reading by the light of a lamp, now paling before the dawn which was fast spreading over the sky.
She shut her book with a reverential gesture, laid it aside in its quilted cover, and stood up. How beautiful she was! Let us describe this Brahmun girl to you, O reader! if we can, and tell you a little concerning her.
There were many fair women of her sect in Tooljapoor, and they are always the most remarkable of their country-women, but none so fair as Tara, the daughter of Vyas Shastree. From her earliest childhood she had given promise of grace and beauty, and since that period—from the time when, hanging shyly to the skirt of her mother's garment, she passed daily through the crowded bazaar and street which led to the upper gate of the temple—to the present, she had ever been an object of remark and admiration; while the rank and learning of her father, and his position as chief priest, had maintained for her a continued and increasing interest as she grew up. None who had the privilege of addressing her ever omitted a loving greeting or respectful salutation: the public flower-sellers intrusted her with their choicest garlands or nosegays to offer up at the shrine—the confectioners had ever a delicate sweetmeat with which to tempt the child—and even the rudest peasant or soldier looked at her, as she passed him, in wonder, stretched out his hands to her, and kissed the tips of his fingers in a worshipful salutation and benediction.
The promise of the child was more than fulfilled in the girl now budding into early womanhood; and her appearance was so remarkable that, while many of her old friends in the bazaar now rarely ventured to accost her, and even turned aside their heads reverently as she passed, she could not traverse the crowded street which led from her house to the temple, or, indeed, move anywhere during the day without attracting admiration from the crowds of strangers who, from all parts of India, visited that renowned shrine of which her father was the chief priest and manager. Many a pilgrim and worshipper gazed wonderingly upon the calm, gentle face which met him at the earliest dawn in its devotional perambulation round the temple, or followed with his eye the graceful figure which, carrying the daily sacrificial offerings, descended the flights of steps by which the shrine was approached; and, far away in his native village, under the snows of Himalaya, the burning sands of Raméshwur, or the green plains of Bengal, told of the beautiful vision, and never forgot it.
Tara has been up since before the false dawn. She has assisted her father with water to bathe, and in his private worship of the household gods. She has bathed herself, and is now dressed in the simple saree, or robe of all Hindu females. It is of dark blue silk, striped with a fainter blue, and has a broad border of a light but rich pattern harmonizing with the colours of the garment which, consisting of one long piece only, is wound round her several times to form a skirt, then passed about her body and over her head on the left side, whence the end, which is of rich gold tissue interwoven with crimson flowers and green leaves, hangs heavily over her right shoulder and back. Below the garment is a closely-fitting bodice of striped orange silk only; but no portion of it is visible except a little of the sleeve above the elbow. Tara is holding the border of her dress close to her cheek, as if to conceal it even from her mother; and the graceful outline of her arm may be followed, from the tips of the taper fingers past the wrist partly covered with purple bangles and a massive gold ring, along the soft round arm to the dimpled elbow, whence it is lost among the folds of the saree which falls over it.
Do you expect that her complexion will be fair like that of our own northern girls? Ah, no! that would not harmonize with the dress or the country; and yet it is very fair. Not a deep rich olive, but what seems at a first glance pale and colourless; yet the skin is so glossy and transparent that the warm glow of her blood is suffused under it with the least passing emotion or excitement, which, as it fades, leaves, as you think, a more beautiful tint behind.
And the features harmonized with the colour. To a casual observer their expression was almost one of habitual sadness, yet it was not so in reality: there was calm, which as yet had known no rude ruffling—a sweetness that was index to a simple, loving, trustful mind. True, she had cares beyond those of ordinary household occurrences, and these had no doubt increased the pensive expression always remarkable. So her countenance was not easy to describe: nor could you account very well for the patient, care-enduring look which met you from one so young. What every one saw first, were the soft brown eyes, shaded with long eyelashes which rested upon the cheek. Ordinarily perhaps, or if seen when cast down, these eyes appeared nowise remarkable; yet if passing emotions were noticed, they closed when she was merry, till only a bright spark of light remained glistening through the long lashes; and again, if surprise, wonder, or admiration were excited, they suddenly expanded, so that one looked into a depth of clear glowing colour, violet and brown, the expression of which could not be fathomed. But habitually they were modest, pensive, and gentle—full of intelligence, and seemed to correspond with a low musical cadence of voice perfectly natural, yet assisted, perhaps, by the habit of reading and studying aloud, which she had learned from her father. In those calm eyes there was as yet no passion of any kind. Some suffering, perhaps, but no rough awakening to the reality of life.
The rest of her face left nothing to be desired. The Brahmuns of Western India usually possess features more European in their character than those of the same sect in other parts of the country, and in this respect the women share them with the men, if they do not, indeed, exceed them. So Tara had a soft oval face, with small full lips and mouth, a thin straight nose with nostrils almost transparent, which seemed to obey the passing emotions of her countenance. Though the features were soft, they were neither insipid nor weak in character; on the contrary, they appeared full of a woman's best strength—endurance and patience; while, in the full glossy chin and throat, enough of determination was expressed to show firmness and consistency of no common order. Except the eyes, perhaps, there was no feature of the face which could be called exactly beautiful, yet the whole combined to create an expression which was irresistibly interesting and charming; and where all harmonized, separate portions were not remarked.
Every movement of her lithe form was displayed by the soft silk drapery which fell over it in those graceful folds which we see expressed in ancient statues, and it was cast in those full yet delicately rounded proportions which sculptors have best loved to imitate. Standing as she was, the girl had fallen into an attitude which was most expressive: her head raised and turned to meet her mother's entrance: a delicate naked foot, with a chain anklet of gold resting on it, put out from beneath her robe: her eyes open, yet not to their full width: and her lips apart, disclosing the even glistening teeth:—she appeared, in her arrested movement, as if she waited some further communication from her mother, or had herself one to make before she stirred.
No wonder that, as each morning she left the house with her mother to pay her devotions at the temple, and passed along with downcast eyes, her graceful figure attracted increased attention day by day. Many a good wish followed her—many a benediction from the aged poor of the town, to whom her charities were liberally dispensed; and it might be, too, that other admiration, less pure in its character, also rested upon her, and often, unknown to her, dogged her steps.
The contrast between Tara and her mother was in most respects a striking one. No one could deny that Anunda Bye was a handsome woman; her neighbours and gossips told her so, and she quite believed it. She looked, too, very young of her age; and as she sailed down or up the street leading to the temple, and received the humble salutations of shopkeepers, flower-sellers, and all the tradesmen of that busy quarter, with an air which plainly showed how much she considered it due to her rank and station—it would have been difficult to say whether the timid girl following her, and screening her face from the gaze of the people as she moved along, was her daughter or youngest sister. Either she might be, and it seemed more probable the latter, than the former.
Taller than her daughter as yet, Anunda Bye was not without much of the same grace of figure; but it was cast on a bolder scale. The features were more decided and prominent, the colour several shades darker. The face, handsome as it was, had little of the softening element of intellectuality in it; and Anunda was ignorant of everything but household management, in which she excelled, in all departments, to a degree that made her the envy of her female acquaintance, and her husband the envied of his male associates whose domestic affairs were not conducted with the same regularity, and whose cookery was not so good.
Enter the Shastree's house at any time, and you were at once struck with its great neatness. The floor was always plastered with liquid clay by the women-servants when he was absent at the temple for morning worship, and retained a cool freshness while it dried, and, indeed, during the day. It was generally decorated by pretty designs in white and red chalk powder dropped between the finger and thumb, in the execution of which both mother and daughter were very expert and accomplished. The Shastree's seat, which was, in fact, a small raised dais at one side of the large room, was usually decked with flowers, while upon the floor before it, the greatest artistic skill was expended in ornament by Tara and her mother. Above it were pictures of favourite divinities, painted in distemper colour: the amorous blue-throated Krishna playing to the damsels of Muttra; the solemn four-armed Ganésha, sitting with a grave elephant's head on his shoulders; the beautiful Lakshmee and Suruswuti, the goddesses of wealth and learning, the objects of household adoration: and the terrible six-armed Bhowani in her contest with the demon Mahéshwur, in commemoration of which the temple had been erected—all surrounded by wreaths of flowers interwoven with delicate border patterns;—had been partly executed by the Shastree himself, and partly by Tara, who followed his tastes and accomplishments after a pretty fashion. Thus decorated, the dais had a cheerful effect in the room: and choice and intimate friends only were admitted to the privilege of sitting upon it.
The house itself was perhaps in no degree remarkable. Outside, facing the street, was a high wall, with a large door within a projecting porch or archway, which had a seat on either hand as you entered. The door-frame was richly carved, and on each side a horse's head projected from the upper corner. Above the door, in a space left for the purpose, was written in red Sanscrit letters, "Sree Martund Prussunn," "The holy Martund protects;" and Martund was one of the appellations of Siva. This legend was surrounded by wreaths of flowers in the same colour; and across the whole was a garland of mango leaves now withered, which had hung there since the last festival.
As you entered the court, the principal room was before you, on the basement of the house, which you ascended by three steps. It was a wide open verandah, extending the width of the court, supported upon seven wooden pillars, also richly carved, on which crossed square capitals were fixed, and from these, beams were laid to form the roof. This verandah was double; the inner portion being raised a step above the other to form a dais, and at each end of the inner portion were two small rooms in the corners, one of which was the Shastree's library. The whole of these verandahs could be shut in closely by heavy curtains of quilted cotton, neatly ornamented by devices of birds and flowers, which hung between the pillars; but usually all was open, or closed only by transparent blinds of split cane suspended outside.
Having a northern aspect, this room was always cool, and was the ordinary resort of the Shastree. Here he received his friends and neighbours, held disputations, and instructed his pupils. The women seldom entered it except in the evenings when undisturbed; for, though unsecluded from men, a certain degree of reserve and retirement is always observable in the women of Hindu families. There was no ornament about the main apartment except the Shastree's dais, and the borders painted about the niches and architraves of the doors; but it was kept a pure white, and was scrupulously clean.
In the centre of the back wall of the inner verandah was a door which opened into a second court, round which was a verandah also open, and, leading from it on three sides, sleeping chambers and a bath-room. In this verandah there was nothing but a few spinning-wheels and their low stools; for Anunda Bye had no idea of allowing women-servants to be idle, and when they were not working otherwise, they were spinning cotton yarn for their own clothes. Anunda herself had her wheel, and Tara hers, and sometimes they spun yarn fine enough for the Shastree's waist-cloths.
On the fourth side of the court was the kitchen, and, passing by it, a door led into a third court, more private, though not so large as the second. In the centre of it was an altar painted in distemper, on which grew a bush of toolsee or sweet basil, grateful to the gods; and in the verandah, another altar, similar in form, on which burned the sacred fire never extinguished. Close to it was the door of the private temple of the house, which contained the household gods of the family. Here it was that Tara best loved to sit when her share of domestic affairs was completed. Here she tended the sacred fire, and offered worship, such as a woman could perform, in the temple. She had a small garden in one corner of the court, which contained a few jessamine bushes, marigolds, and other common flowers, which she cultivated for offerings to the household gods in the daily worship. Here she could study undisturbed, and did so with all her heart—here, too, it was that her mother found her.
There was no decoration about the house, except, as we have already mentioned, border patterns and quaintly designed birds and flowers upon the walls. Furniture, such as we need, was unknown. A small cotton or woollen carpet laid down here and there, with a heavy cotton pillow covered with white calico, sufficed for sitting or reclining; and as the goddess Bhowani, in her incarnation at Tooljapoor, does not choose, as is believed, that any one in the town should lie upon a bed except herself, a cotton mattress on the floor, or a cool mat, sufficed for sleeping.
The house, therefore, would have appeared bare in any of my readers' eyes; but it was neat and pleasant to look at: and one can imagine, though decorated in a higher style of art, the Roman houses at Pompeii to have been similar in most respects of plan and domestic arrangement.
There was no evidence of wealth, yet the Shastree was a prosperous man; and could you have seen Anunda Bye's stores of copper and brass utensils—large vessels for boiling vast quantities of rice on festivals and household ceremonies—her brass lamps and candelabra, her silver plates for eating from, and silver drinking vessels;—could you have seen the contents of her private room, in which were sundry large chests, full of sarees, or women's garments, of great value; some heir-looms, woven with gold and silver thread, each having its peculiar history; the shawls which belonged to her husband, the gifts of princes and nobles, tributes to his learning, of which she was very proud;—could you have seen, too, the strong box that lay hidden among the clothes in the largest chest, full of family jewels and ornaments, among which were two necklaces of fine pearls, massive gold ornaments for ankles and wrists, for neck and ears;—could you have seen all these, and the heavy gold cinctures round Anunda's and Tara's trim waists, and their massive gold bracelets and anklets,—you would have been envious, my dear reader, of considerable wealth in this particular.
Otherwise, indeed, the Shastree was a man of substance. Being an only son, with no other sharers, at his father's death, he had inherited a considerable property. He had himself earned, by his scholarly abilities, a small estate in a neighbouring province, the rent of which was punctually paid, and was improving, for he was a good landlord. He derived a handsome income from the temple service, and from the offerings made to him as head of the establishment. He farmed some land, too, near the town, on the bank of the small river Bóree, and had an excellent garden near the village of Sindphul, in the plain below the hills, the daily supply of vegetables from which was very profitable from the large and constant consumption in the town. Finally, as one of the most learned Sanscrit scholars of the Dekhan, his instruction was held in deserved repute, and his classes were attended by young Brahmuns from all parts of the country, from whom he received fees according to their means.
 For explanation of Oriental words, see Glossary.
In many respects Vyas Shastree was a remarkable man, and, very deservedly, he was held in great respect throughout the country. No one could look on him without being conscious of his extreme good breeding and intellectuality. Well made, there was no appearance of great strength, though in the town gymnasium, as a youth, he had held his own among the wrestlers, and had even been famous as a sword-player. Those were troubled times, when a knowledge of weapons was needed by all men, and even peaceful merchants and priests did not neglect the use of them; but, as he grew older, the Shastree had laid aside these exercises, and spare, strong, muscular arms were perhaps the only evidence of them that remained. Certainly the head and face were fine. The forehead was high and broad, slightly wrinkled now, and furrowed by parallel lines. The head was shaved, except the lock behind, and its intellectual organs were prominent. The eyebrows, strongly marked, but not bushy, projected boldly over expressive eyes of a deep steel grey, which were very bright and clear, and a prominent nose of Roman character, which corresponded with a well-shaped mouth and chin. Certainly it was a handsome face—pale, sallow perhaps in colour, yet healthy, and which occasionally assumed a noble and even haughty expression; but, ordinarily, it was good-humoured: and evidently elevated and purified in character by intellectual pursuits.
The Shastree was a man of note, as we have said, as to learning and accomplishments. He was a profound Sanscrit scholar; and in law, grammar, and logic, with the deep metaphysics of the Védas, and their commentators, he had few superiors. With mathematics and astronomy to calculate eclipses and positions of planets, he had sufficient acquaintance to assist an old friend, who was infirm, in the arrangement of the "Tooljapoor Almanac," a task by no means easy, as it included calculation of the eclipses of the year, and astrological tables. Of the popular Poorans he had less knowledge, or perhaps did not believe them; and, as many do now in these later days, held more to the ancient Vedantic theism than to the modern idolatry of the Pooranic worship. The Shastree, as a devout Brahmun, had made pilgrimages, being accompanied by his wife; and in disputations at Benares, Nuddea in Bengal, and Gya—as well as at Madura and Conjevaram, in the south of India—had gained credit, if not renown.
In lighter accomplishments, too, such as music, he had a fair amount of knowledge, and sang sweetly the various Rāgs, Droopuds, and other measures of the classic styles. He considered, perhaps, ordinary songs below notice; yet when he relaxed, and was prevailed upon to sing some of the plaintive ballads of his own Mahratta country, to his own Vina accompaniment, or any of his own compositions, the effect was very charming. Tara had been carefully taught by him, and the neighbours often listened to her sweet voice in the morning and evening hymns, and chants of the service, in the little temple of the house. Yet with all this wealth, which he shared liberally with the poor—all this worldly good and honour—Vyas Shastree had two great cares which pressed upon him heavily, and were shared by his wife. The first was that he had no son; the second, that his beautiful daughter was already a virgin widow. And these were heavy griefs.
Anunda Bye had borne him two sons and a daughter, of which Tara was the first-born. The others had followed, and had died successively when giving promise of healthy childhood. In vain had the parents made pilgrimages to the shrines in the Dekhan after the death of the last son, and to Benares also, to propitiate Siva in his holiest of temples, and had from time to time remitted propitiatory gifts to his shrine—no further offspring followed. An heir was not only desirable for the property, which, in default of one, must devolve upon a very distant relative—but, in a higher degree, for the performance of those ceremonies for himself and his family after death, which could only be effectual from a son, real or adopted.
Often had Anunda urged him to marry again, and assured him of her love and protection to a young wife, as a mother or elder sister; and she had even named several parties of good family who would have considered an alliance with the Shastree a positive honour. Why should he not marry? He was yet comparatively young: men older than himself had married twice, nay thrice, or till the object of their desire was accomplished. Why should he not do the same? Was he too old at forty, nay, even less? So urged his wife and his best friends.
Yet the Shastree had not consented. The fact was, he loved Anunda very dearly; she had been a good and true wife to him. He feared, too, a certain imperious tone of temper which he could control, but which, in contact with a second and younger wife, might change to jealousy, and become, to say the least, inconvenient. Or, if he made new connections, there would be the usual tribe of new relations to provide for, or to trouble him with importunate demands. On the whole, it might be better to adopt a son of that distant cousin who lived at Nassuk, and bring him up as his own. In any form, his necessity was urgent, and Anunda grew more and more earnest about the matter, and had even induced Tara to join in it.
"If you had a son," she would say to her husband, "he would be a young man before you were old. Even if you died, the property would descend to him, and the ceremonies would be properly performed. If you grew old, and I were with you, he would take care of us and of Tara. Who will do this now?"
Yes, the echo in his heart was sad enough. Who would do so? There might be two widows, perhaps, mother and daughter, both left to the mercies of distant relatives who had no personal knowledge of them, and to whom they would be as ordinary widows only, no matter what amount of property they had brought with them—shaven, dressed in the coarsest and scantiest raiment, and used for menial offices—perhaps worse. Yes! the echo—"who would do so?"—often as the words were said, fell heavily on the Shastree's heart; and recently he had told his wife that—"he would think about it if his life were spared for another year; until after the next unfavourable conjunction of planets"—"he would think about it;" and so Anunda, without making any formal propositions, was yet collecting information as to the appearance, character, property, and accomplishments of many girls in the neighbourhood, and, in short, wherever she had any acquaintance.
Most heavily, however, of all domestic cares did the situation of his daughter oppress the Shastree. She was growing very beautiful; in his eyes supremely so. So kind, too, so loving, so thoughtful, so unselfish, so clever a scholar! She might have been a happy wife—ere this, perhaps, a happy mother—yet at sixteen she was a widow, with a gloomy future: not felt as yet; for the girl had grown up with him, had shared in his studies, and had in all respects so entirely enjoyed her young and peaceful life, that any thought of change had never occurred to her.
She had been married at an early age, according to the custom of her sect—when, indeed, she was little more than six years old—to a youth, the son of a friend, who was one of the chief priests of the temple of Punderpoor, a lucrative office, and one which would devolve upon his son by hereditary right. The family was opulent, and the young man gave promise of learning and of character. No matter now; he was dead. Three years after the marriage he had been cut off suddenly by a fever, to the grief of his family and to the extinction of the Shastree's hopes for his daughter. Since then, with no further worldly hope before her, Tara had betaken herself to the study of the holy books in which her father delighted; and, doomed as it were to a life of celibacy, had vowed it to the performance of religious exercises after the manner of her faith.
It was unusual then, that Brahmun girls were taught to read or write—more so than it is now; and in accordance with the rules of the sect and the customs of the country, Tara, had her husband lived, would ere now have joined him, and become mistress of his household—a sufficient distinction for a Brahmun girl; but before that event, the application of the child to such rudimental teaching as her father had given her was so remarkable, that in process of years the conventional rules of the caste had been set aside, and it was a loving and grateful task to the father to lead his widowed daughter through the difficult mazes of Sanscrit lore, and find in hers an intellect and comprehension little short of his own.
Many of his friends shrugged their shoulders at this strange innovation of ordinary custom, and argued astutely, that it was a dangerous thing to fill a girl's mind with learning. Others, his enemies, were loud in their condemnation of the precedent it would afford to many, and the bad uses it could be put to; and in disputes upon the subject, texts were hurled at the Shastree by angry parties, to be answered, however, by appeals to ancient times, as illustrated in holy books, when women were deep scholars and emulated the men; and so Tara's desultory education went on. "After all, what does it matter?" said her father very frequently, if hard pressed by caste clamour; "she does not belong to the world now: God has seen it good to cut off her hopes: she has devoted herself to a religious life, and I am teaching her and preparing her for it."
But this did not satisfy the adverse Pundits, still less the fact that Tara as yet wore ordinary clothes, and her head as yet had not been shaved. The degradation of Brahmun widowhood had not been put on her; and she was too beautiful to escape notice, or the envious comments of others, both male and female. The rites of widowhood must be performed some time or other. Her father and mother both knew that; they would have to take her to Punderpoor, or to Benares, or to Nassuk, or other holy city, and after ceremonials of purification, all that beautiful hair must be cut off and burned, the pretty chaste bodice discarded, and she must be wrapped, ever after, in a coarse white cotton—or silk—or woollen—sheet, and all other dresses of every kind or colour be unknown to her.
Ah! it seemed cruel to disfigure that sweet face which they had looked upon since she was a child, and had watched in all its growing beauty! Any other less pure, less powerful parents, would long ago have been obliged to comply with those cruel customs; and were they not performed every day at the temple itself? "Why should the rite be delayed?" said many; "the girl is too handsome; she will be a scandal to the caste. The excuses of going to Benares, or to Nassuk, are mere devices to gain time, and sinful." "The matter must be noticed to the Shastree himself, and he must be publicly urged and warned to remove the scandal from his house and from the sect, which had been growing worse day by day for the last three years."
Yes, it was true—quite true. Tara herself knew it to be true, and often urged it. What had she before her but a dreary widowhood? Why should she yet be as one who ostensibly lived in the world, and yet did not belong to it? For whom was she to dress herself and to braid her hair every day? For whom deck herself in jewels? She did not remember her husband so as to regret his memory. She had had no love for him. Married as a child, she had seen him but a few times afterwards, when he came to perform needful annual ceremonies in the house, and she had then looked up to him with awe. He had rarely spoken to her, for she was still a child when he died. Once she remembered, when he was on a visit, her father had made her recite Sanscrit verses to him, and read and expound portions of the Bhugwat Geeta, and had said in joke that she would be a better Pundit than he was.
She remembered this incident better than any other, and soon after its occurrence he had died. Now she felt that, had he lived, she might have loved him, and the reproach of widowhood would not have belonged to her. These thoughts welled up often from her heart with grief, and yearning only known to herself, and as yet only half admitted: yet which increased sensibly with time, and recurred, too, more frequently and painfully, as girls of her own age, honoured wives and happy mothers—girls who had already taken their places in life—met her at the temple with laughing crowing children on their hips, proud of their young maternity: or came to visit her, and spoke of domestic matters commonly—interests which she could never create or enjoy, and yet for which the natural yearning was ever present.
"Why did he go from me?" she would cry to herself, often with low moaning; "why leave me alone? Why did they not make me Sutee with him? Could I not even now be burned, and go to him?" And if these thoughts changed, it was to the idea of a new wife for her father, who, perhaps, would be as a sister. If a brother were born, what a new source of pleasant care and occupation! Yet this had its dark side also. "Would she be friendly to her and her mother? and if not——"
Her father and mother observed when gloomy thoughts beset her, and when she became excitable and nervous in her manner, and they did their best to cheer them away. "She might yet be happy in doing charitable acts," they said, "in reading holy books, in meditation, in pilgrimages; and they would go with her to Benares and live there." "Why not," the Shastree would say; "why not, daughter? We have but thee, and thou hast only us; it will be good to live and die in the holy city."
Well, it sufficed for the time, and there were intervals when people's tongues were quiet, and these were happy days because so tranquil, and Tara had given herself and her destiny into her father's hands.
"Do with me as thou wilt, O father," she said; "what is good to thee is best for me; but do not risk anything of thy honoured name for one so hopeless as I am. Why should I be a mockery to myself? It may cost me a pang to part with all these;" and she would pass her hand through those long, glossy, curling tresses; "and ye too will grieve to see them gone, and your poor Tara shaved and degraded; but there is no help for it, and the honour of your house is more to your daughter than these ornaments. Without them I should be a comfort to ye, and at peace with the world and with myself; with them, only a source of disgrace and calumny, and I were better dead. Yes, let us go to Benares, to Nassuk—anywhere—so that I leave my shame behind me."
If that poor struggling heart were laid open, was there nothing in its depths which, as she spoke it, combated this resolve fiercely and unremittingly? If it had not been so, she would have been more than human. There was the natural repugnant dread of this disfigurement and disgrace. Worse, far worse, the endurance of the after-life—the life of childless barren widowhood of which she knew and saw daily sad examples. She knew of the bitter experience of such widows, when all modest retirement, respect, and honour of virgin or married life was discarded with the ceremonial rites, and men's insult and women's contempt took their place: and that from this there was no refuge till death.
When she shuddered at these truths—they were no delusions, and her soul rebelled against them—some ideal being, mingling his life with hers, caressing the beauty she was conscious of possessing, would present himself in dreamy visions, waking or sleeping, and beset her in terribly seductive contrasts. The very books she read offered such to her imagination. There were no demigods now, no heroes fighting for the glory of Hinduism, as related in the Ramayun; but there were ideal examples of nobility—of bravery—of beauty, which enthralled her fancy, and led it to portray to her realities. Yet there was no reality, and could be none. She had not seen any one to love, and never could see any one. Who would care for her—a widow—who could love a widow? And yet the dreams came nevertheless, and her poor heart suffered terribly in these contests with its necessity. After all, it was more the calmness of despair than conviction of higher motive which brought to her lips words such as we have recorded:—"she would leave her shame behind her."
But her parents did not go, and the rites were deferred indefinitely. Last year they were to have gone to Nassuk for the purpose to their relatives; but the planets were not propitious, or the business of the temple and its ceremonies interfered. This year, when the cold season was nearly over, in the spring, at the Bussunt festival, if the conjunctions were favourable, "they would see about it." They did not get over the—"if."
So here were the two great cares of the household. Which was the heaviest? To the Shastree, certainly, Tara's ceremony of widowhood. His own marriage was a thing which concerned himself only, and, at the worst, he could adopt an heir; but that Tara should be a reproach to him, the revered Shastree and priest, and remain a reproach among women—it could not be. The caste were becoming urgent, and the Gooroo, or spiritual prince, the "Shunkar Bhartee Swâmi," whose agents travelled about enforcing discipline and reporting moral and ceremonial transgressions, sent him word, privately and kindly, that the matter should not be delayed. He quite approved of the ceremony being performed at Benares or at Nassuk, out of sight, for the old man knew Tara—knew her sad history, and admired her learning and perseverance in study. At his last visit, two years before, he had put up in the Shastree's house, and had treated the girl as his daughter; but the requirements of the caste were absolute, and were she his own daughter he dared not to have hesitated.
But we have made a long digression.
"Come, daughter," said Anunda, "cast that sheet about thy head. It strikes me that men look at thee too earnestly now as we pass the bazaar, and the morning air is chill from the night rain."
"Nay, dear mother, not so. Am I a Toorki woman to veil my face?" said Tara, quickly. "Am I ashamed of it? Art thou, mother?"
"If thou wert not so beautiful, Tara. I dread men's evil eyes on thee, my child, and I dread men's tongues more."
"Ah, mother! I dread neither," replied the girl. "They have done me no harm as yet, and if my heart is pure and 'sutee' before God and the Holy Mother, she will protect me. She has told me so often, and I believe it. Come—I think—I think," she added, with an excited manner, as she clasped her heavy gold zone about her waist, her bosom heaving rapidly beneath the silken folds over it, and her eyes glowing strangely, "I think, mother, she came to me last night in my dream. She was very beautiful, O, very beautiful! She took hold of my hair, and said, 'Serve me, Tara, I will keep it for thee.'"
"Tara! art thou dreaming still?" exclaimed Anunda. "Holy Mother! what light is in thine eyes? Put the thought far from thee, O dearest; it is but the echo of what thy father said last night when he comforted us both—it will pass away."
"Perhaps so, mother," answered the girl, abstractedly. "Yet it seemed so real, I think I feel the touch on my hair still. I looked at it when I rose, and combed it out, but I saw nothing. Yes, it will pass away—everything passes away."
"And what was she like, Tara?" asked her mother, unable to repress her curiosity.
"O mother, I was almost too dazzled to see. I am even now dazzled, and if I shut my eyes the vision is there. There!" cried the girl, closing her eyes and pointing forward, "there, as I saw it! The features are the same; she is small, shining like silver, and her eyes glowing, but not with red fire like those in the temple. O mother, she is gone!" she continued, after a pause, "she is gone, and I cannot describe her."
"Didst thou tell this to him—to thy father, Tara?" asked her mother, much excited.
"Yes, mother. I awoke before him and could not sleep again. I got up and drew water for him to bathe. I tended the fire, and sat down to read. Then he went and bathed; and when he had come out of the temple and put on dry clothes, I read part of the 'Geeta' to him, but I was trembling, and he thought I was cold. Gradually I told him——"
"And what said he, daughter?" asked her mother, interrupting her.
"He seemed troubled, mother, and yet glad, I could not say which. He said he would ask 'the Mother' after the morning hymn was ended."
"Come then, Tara, we will go to him at once. Nay, girl, as thou art, thy words have given me strength, my pearl; come."
The Poorans relate that the goddess Doorga, Kalee, or Bhowani, the wife of Siva, once slew a frightful giant named Muhésha, having the head of a wild buffalo, to the great relief of the people who suffered from its existence; and Hindus generally believe that this event took place at Tooljapoor in the Dekhan. Toolja is another name for Bhowani or Kalee, and hence Tooljapoor—the city of Toolja. After the monster was slain, and the presence of the goddess was no longer required on earth, she left the form she had appeared in as witness of what had been done, changed it to stone, and it was in after years discovered in the ravine where the monster had been slain.
The image still remains where it is alleged to have been first found, and where certain miraculous indications of its presence were made. A temple was built over it, and a town gradually gathered round the temple, which became famous throughout India, and is frequented by pilgrims from all quarters. It is now the idol worshipped there, and is a figure of black marble, or perhaps basalt, highly polished, small, but of elegant proportions, with features of the pure Hindu type. The eyes are composed of large uncut rubies; and, as the image stands upon its altar, clothed in a woman's garment, in the small dark sanctum of the temple, they have always a strange, weird, and, to the worshippers, a fascinating appearance, glittering through the gloom, and smoke of lamps and incense always burning.
The temple is a very picturesque object, from its situation in a deep glen, the bottom of which is nearly filled by it. Pious worshippers, and votaries from time to time, have enriched it by buildings and courts surrounded by cloisters, ascending one above the other, connected by flights of steps: and in these courts are several cisterns, filled from springs in the sides of the hill. One of them, peculiarly sacred, as believed to come from the Ganges, gushes from a cow's mouth carved in the rock, and enters a large basin and reservoir: and in all these cisterns pilgrims to the shrine, both male and female, must bathe before they can worship the image. Crowded by these pilgrims from all parts of India, of various colours and physiognomies, languages and costumes, men and women,—bathing, ascending or descending the broad flights of steps, pouring into the lower courts in dense throngs, chanting mystic adorations, and singing hymns in different languages and accents; it is impossible to conceive a more picturesque or exciting scene than they present on occasions of particular festivals, or, in general, on the day of the full moon of every month.
The town of Tooljapoor adjoins the temple walls on three sides, and ascends from them—the terraced houses clinging, as it were, to ledges of the rugged glen—on the north and south. On the east, the ascent is more regular; and the principal street slopes from the crest of the tableland down to the first flight of steps leading to the first court, and thence down successive flights of steps, through other courts, to the lowest, which is the largest, and in which stands the principal shrine, surrounded by cloisters and other buildings. Large tamarind, peepul, and other trees, have grown accidentally among the cliffs around, or have been planted in the courts, and have flourished kindly, affording grateful shade; so the result, in the mingling of foliage and buildings of many styles in the temple—surrounded by the rugged sides of the ravine, occasionally precipitous:—and the terraced houses, temples, and other buildings of the town above them—is remarkably picturesque, and even beautiful.
The temple ravine opens into another of large dimensions, which, in the form of an irregular semicircle, is perhaps a mile long by nearly half of a mile at the broadest part of the diameter, narrowing to its mouth. It is called the Ram Durra, and opens gradually beyond the hills, upon one of the great undulating plains of the Dekhan. To the north, the large ravine presents the appearance of an amphitheatre with precipitous sides, from which, in rainy weather, a number of small but lofty cascades descend from the tableland above, and form the head of a small river which eventually falls into the Bheema.
The hills which bound the ravine are about four hundred feet high, and are, in fact, the edge of a very extensive plateau called the Bâlâ Ghaut, which extends nearly a hundred miles, with only a slight descent, towards the east; and, after ascending to the town of Tooljapoor from the ravine, a flat plain is reached, on which the greater portion of the town stands. One promontory of the entrance of the great ravine juts out past and bounds the temple on the left or south side, and along its face is the road by which the ascent is made from the plain below. The hill then turns round sharp to the east, with precipitous sides, leaving a level plain of a few hundred yards in width between the town and the declivity.
On the edge of this precipitous side, to the south, are two other temples, also holy. One, a tall octagon building, now covers the rock on which the goddess is stated to have alighted from heaven when she came to engage the monster who lived in the adjoining ravine; and the other, a little further on, and much more ancient, is situated at, and encloses the head of a spring which fills a cistern, as it trickles down the precipice at all seasons of the year. This is also a sacred place, and is called "Pâp-nâs," or "the sin destroyer;" and the legend says that the goddess bathed in this spring, and washed the monster's blood from her hands, after she had slain him; so it is held sacred.
Truly the whole corner of the plateau is very beautiful. The quaint old town hanging literally on the mountain edge: the deep gloomy ravine of the temple opening out to the larger one: the precipices and rugged hills to the west and north, and the beautiful undulating plain to the south, over which the eye wanders as over a map for fifty miles or more, checkered with thriving villages and their rich fields and gardens,—form a striking assemblage of objects. But the interest centres in the temple itself, with its gilded spires and picturesque groups of buildings, as well as its strange effect in the position in which it has been placed, attesting, no doubt, in the opinion of the people—if there were any question on the subject, the truth of the legend.