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I.-Fragmentary Stone Inscription of
By Binayak Misra
Govindpur is a village in the Nayagarh Feudatory State in Orissa. This village is of much antiquity. It is said by the villagers that a good number of old coins have been discovered in this village at different times during the past forty years. I also learn from a reliable source that recently, probably in 1923, some ancient gold coins were unearthed with some gold ornaments while coolies were engaged in digging the ground for the purpose of constructing a schoolhouse. The State took possession of them and sold them by public auction. Unfortunately no research scholar could examine them.
There stand three temples, side by side, in this village. One temple faces the east and an image of the goddess Kaunri is enshrined in it. The date of the erection of this temple can at the earliest be assigned to be the fifteenth century AD. There is an inscription on the outer body of the southern wall of this temple, touching the floor of the porch surrounding the temple. The measurement of the slab of stone on which the text is inscribed is 18" x 12". It contains four full lines and a half. The characters of the inscription resemble the northern scripts of the tenth century A.D.
The inscription under discussion was formerly covered with plaster. In course of time the plaster was washed away by rain and the inscriptions became visible. In May 1926 I went to the spot solely for the purpose of deciphering it and found that the first line was not the beginning line of a text. Again the last two lines contain imprecatory verses only. It is, therefore, of no historical importance.
There is another temple facing the south. The image of Siva is enshrined in it. When I entered the temple I noticed an inscription containing two lines of the left wall of the gateway. This inscription is at the height of about 6 feet from the floor. Its measurement is 18" x 3". The text runs thus : "Ranakesari Devasyavijayarajye Samvat 8 II Magha sudi Ekadasi Budha Basare." (Translation). During the victorious reign of Rana Kesari Deva. In the year 811, on Wednesday, the 11th day of bright fortnight of Māgha.
I am of opinion that these two inscriptions are fragments of one complete text and they were formerly attached to another temple. Most probably that temple fell down and later on the present temples where the inscriptions are now found were erected with the materials of the former one. Therefore the different stones containing the inscriptions have been placed hither and thither.
Now, however, we find that the inscription discloses the name of a king. But it cannot be said with certainty whether Rana Kesari Deva was the name or title of a king.
II.-On the Indian Folk-belief about the Corpse eating the Winding-sheet in which it is swathed
By Sarat Chandra Mitra, M.A., B.L.
There is current in several parts of India a folk-belief which is to the following effect :-Whenever an epidemic rages at its highest, the corpse of one of the persons who have fallen a victim to it, is swathed in a winding-sheet and, instead of being cremated, is buried in the earth in a standing position. This burial of a Hindu victim of the epidemic is popularly believed to put a stop to the fell disease which may be raging. If it is not stamped out or does not abate in the least, the people dig up the buried corpse and see whether it has eaten or chewed the winding-sheet in which it has been swathed. If it is found to have done so it is looked upon as a bad omen, as it portends the further spread of the epidemic. In any case, however, the people cremate the disinterred corpse, in the belief that it will put a stop to the epidemic altogether.
In this paper I shall place on record three instances of the foregoing belief, which have either come under my notice or have been reported to me, and shall discuss the probable origin thereof.
I was Assistant Manager of the Hathwa Raj in North Bihar from November 1911 to March 1914. During my incumbency as Assistant Manager of the Raj I had a Hindu peon named Mahabir Hajām who lived in village Hathwa. Either in 1912 or 1918 a virulent epidemic of cholera broke out in the Hathwa village. While this fell disease was raging at its highest, one of Mahābir's little daughters fell a victim to it. Under the influence of the aforementioned belief, the villagers of Hathwa swathed her corpse in a winding-sheet and buried
her in the earth in a standing position. As the disease did not stop altogether or even abate to a small extent, the villagers made up their minds to disinter the corpse, and cremate it under the belief that the cremation will have the desired effect of putting a stop to the epidemic altogether. Accordingly, they did so and, after they had disinterred it, they found that it had swallowed a portion of the winding-sheet. They looked upon it as a very bad omen and apprehended that it would lead to the further increase of the disease. They therefore cremated the corpse. I do not recollect, at this distance of time, whether or not the burning of disinterred corpse was followed by the complete cessation of the epidemic.
This folk-belief appears to be prevalent in Bengal also. It has been reported to me that many years ago, my family in Calcutta had in its service a Bengali maidservant, who was a resident of a village in the moffussil. It is further stated that, on one occasion several years ago, a very virulent type of cholera broke out in her village, and her brother died of it. Under the influence of the foregoing belief, her co-villagers swathed her brother's corpse in a widing-sheet and buried him in the earth in a standing position. This burial of a Hindu's corpse is said to have altogether stamped out the epidemic from her village.
Though it is a far cry from North Bihar and Bengal to the Bombay Presidency, the aforementioned belief in a modified form is also prevalent in Western India. The following case
is reported from that part of the country :
The headman of a village named Verad in Kathiawar, who was a Rajput by birth, but who had lost his caste owing to an improper intimacy with a woman, died of fever; and, as he was an outcaste, his corpse was buried instead of being cremated. Shortly afterwards a number of persons in the same village happened to die of the same fever, and the villagers surmised that the deceased headman's corpse must be lying in the grave with his face downwards, chewing the winding-sheet in which
the corpse was wrapped. Many thought that the public health of the village would not be restored until the corpse was replaced in the correct position, with the face upwards, and unless the cloth was taken out of his mouth. None ventured to do so, being dissuaded by the fear of meeting with a worse fate. But although they did not disinter the corpse, yet they arranged for certain vows to be taken in honour of the dead man; and that put a stop to the disease.1
Now the question arises: How has this folk-belief originated?
To answer this question we will have to discuss the animistic theory of the origin of diseases. It is a cardinal doctrine of the philosophy of the Lower Culture that diseases are not caused by the violation of natural laws, the laws of hygiene and dietetics and the like, but by the entry of the Disease Demons into the human body. People do not like diseases. On the contrary they look upon them as evils to be got rid of. Similarly, people do not like disasters and misfortunes and ascribe them to the wrath of offended godlings and other supernatural beings. So, Sir James Campbell has very aptly remarked that to the people in a low plane of culture," the unwilled is the spirit-caused," that is to say, whatever physical and spiritual troubles afflict a people, these are believed by them to have been caused by spirits or supernatural beings.2
As the uncultured folk's belief is that all diseases are caused by the entry into the human body of Disease Demons, they have accordingly hit upon two methods of curing the ills that human flesh is heir to, viz. that of flogging out the Disease Demon from the patient's body, and that of putting a stop to epidemics and other outbreaks of diseases by burying the corpse of a deceased person into whose body the demon had entered.
How widespread is the belief that diseases can be cured by flogging out the Disease Demon from the patient's body, will
The Folkore of Bombay. By R. E. Enthoven. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924. Pp. 260-61.
"Op. cit. pp. 9, 10 and 257.