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NEAR the banks of the Ganges, a mighty river held sacred by the Hindoos, natives of the great peninsula of Hindostan, is a stupendous cataract, that rushes with impetuous force over the scattered fragments of the rocks, dashing its silver foam from fall to fall, till it reaches a basin below, whence it flows in a rapid stream, through shady woods of tall forest trees, till its waters are lost in the Ganges. At the bottom of the lower fall, is a great hollow cavern, venerated by the Hindoos with religious superstition, from the inside of which, the descent of the cataract is seen in full view, forming part of the arc of a great circle. This cavern was the favorite retreat, for solemn meditation, of an aged bramin, who officiated as chief priest in a temple raised at a few miles' distance on the shore of a sacred stream. The temple, or pagoda, as it is often called, is a stone building, rising to a great height in the form of a pyramid, with a flat top. The outside is richly adorned with bass relievos, and close by it is a tank or reservoir of water, with steps descending to the bottom, for the convenience of the devotees who attend the temple. Sydney, an English gentleman, of an enlightened mind, and engaging manners, who was travelling in pursuit of knowledge through the interior parts of the country, was accidentally led into this cavern, just as the Bramin had retired thither. The venerable aspect of the Hindoo priest, with his head, and the upper part of his body uncovered, except by the zennar, or badge of his order, which is made of a certain number of threads of cotton, thrown over the shoulders, attracted the respect of Sydney.
He approached him with reverence. The Bramin with great gentleness, welcomed the stranger, and guided him to the inward recesses of the cavern, the sides of which were adorned with pendant petrifactions, of various and beautiful forms. He then led his companion to different points of the rock, from whence the view of the cataract, and the adjacent country, appeared to the most advantage.
Sydney was charmed by the kind attentions of his new friend, and the beauties of the scene around him. From the summit of the mountain, the cataract rolled with impetuous force. The declivities of the rocks were clothed with trees, abounding with monkeys, green parrots, macaws, and peacocks. The Ganges meandered through the plain below, which was covered with green turf, on which sported the elegant deer and the bounding antelope.
The conversation insensibly turned upon the works of creation and subjects of natural philosophy. In a science both had cultivated with earnestness, the similarity of their tastes attached them to each other. The Bramin insisted that Sydney should accept an apartment in his house during his stay in that neighborhood; an offer he readily embraced.
THE BRAMIN. 115
His habitation consisted of only one story. On each side of the door, there was a narrow gallery, covered, with the slope of the roof projecting over it, which was supported by, wooden pillars. The entrance led to a court, surrounded also by a gallery, on one side of which they were conducted into a large room, open in front, and covered with mats and carpets, where the Bramin was accustomed to receive visits and transact business.
The attainmoot of knowledge being the principal object of Sydnăy's travels, nothing could be more favorable to his design than his intimacy with the Bramin, whose great knowledge in the religion, history and ancient customs of the Hindoos, had rendered him the oracle of his countrymen. He was of a communicative disposition, and took particular delight in explaining the mythology of the Hindoo deities, and the privileges of his order.
He boasted that his nation was of the most remote antiquity, and said, that by the command of their principal deity, Brama, they were divided into four distinct tribes, or castes, viz. the Bramin; the Khatry, or soldier, the Rhyse, or husbandman; and the Zoodera, or laborer. Of these, the Bramin is the most noble, taking precedence even of princes. His office is to instruct the subordinate castes, and superintend the religious ceremonies; consequently the priesthood is confined to that tribe. The duty of the Khatry is to govern and defend his country; from this tribe, therefore, are chosen sovereigns, generals, and other officers of the state. The employments of the Rhyse are commerce and agriculture, and the hard lot of the Zoodera is labor and obedience. No Hindoo ever quits the caste in which he is born, unless he degrades himself by the commission of certain crimes, which deprive him of that honor; a punishment that is considered the greatest disgrace that can befal a Hindoo. The miserable wretches who are thus consigned to infamy form a fifth class, called Pariahs, or Chandalas, who are despised as the very dregs of the people, and employed in the meanest offices. He enumerated the names of their principal deities, and described the symbols by which they are distinguished. Under the appellation of Brama, he represented the Supreme Being as the primary cause of all things; mixing the universal belief of a creating and superintending Providence with the wildest superstition. The attributes of the Divinity, he characterized under different personages of their mythology, saying, that after having formed the world, Brama created a female deity, named Bewany, whom the Hindoos call the mother of the gods, because she is said to have produced three eggs, whence sprang Brinha, Vishnou, and Sheevah, representatives of the wisdom, goodness, and power of the Supreme. Besides these, and a numerous train of inferior deities, they worship a variety of demigods, who inhabit the air, the earth, and the water; so that every mountain, river, town, and village, has its peculiar patron, who like a tutelar saint, watches over its privileges, and defends it from injury.
THE BRAMIN. 117
The amiable countenance of the philosophic Bramin became more animated, and his language more energetic, when he discoursed on their belief in a future state of reward to the good, and punishment to the wicked. He enlarged with peculiar complacency on the obligations to charity, gentleness, and hospitality; observing, that they were due, not only to friends, but to enemies; “for the gifts of Heaven,” said he, “are extended to the whole human race; the degraded Chandala is equally warmed with the Bramin, by the rays of the same sun, and cheered by the beams of the same moon; the rain and gentle dews refresh the ground for the benefit of them both, and the earth yields her increase for their mutual support. Does not this,” continued he, “teach a lesson of universal benevolence, and that we are not to confine our acts of kindness to any particular sect of men P”
The life and practice of the Bramin accorded with his precepts. He instructed the ignorant, administered medicines to the sick, cheered the afflicted, and was the friend of the unfortunate. Mild and humane towards others, without being indulgent towards himself, he strictly observed the rules of his religion, and abstained most religiously from every species of animal food; living on rice, fruits, and milk, and avoiding with the utmost care destroying any living creature, so that he would go out of his path, rather than tread upon a worm or an ant.
An extraordinary instance of his adherence to these tenets occurred while Sydney was his inmate. As they were one day amusing themselves with experi