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An Idyl in South India
"You are the first Westerner, Dick, ever to enter that shrine.
Many others have tried in vain."
At my words
Mr. Wright looked startled, then pleased. We had just left the beautiful
Chamundi Temple in the hills overlooking Mysore in southern India.
There we had bowed before the gold and silver altars of the Goddess
Chamundi, patron deity of the family of the reigning maharaja.
a souvenir of the unique honor," Mr. Wright said, carefully
stowing away a few blessed rose petals, "I will always preserve
this flower, sprinkled by the priest with rose water."
companion and I1 were spending the month of November, 1935, as guests of the State
of Mysore. The Maharaja, H.H. Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, is a model
prince with intelligent devotion to his people. A pious Hindu, the
Maharaja has empowered a Mohammedan, the able Mirza Ismail, as his
Dewan or Premier. Popular representation is given to the seven million
inhabitants of Mysore in both an Assembly and a Legislative Council.
The heir to
the Maharaja, H.H. the Yuvaraja, Sir Sri Krishna Narasingharaj Wadiyar,
had invited my secretary and me to visit his enlightened and progressive
realm. During the past fortnight I had addressed thousands of Mysore
citizens and students, at the Town Hall, the Maharajah's College,
the University Medical School; and three mass meetings in Bangalore,
at the National High School, the Intermediate College, and the Chetty
Town Hall where over three thousand persons had assembled. Whether
the eager listeners had been able to credit the glowing picture
I drew of America, I know not; but the applause had always been
loudest when I spoke of the mutual benefits that could flow from
exchange of the best features in East and West.
Mr. Wright and
I were now relaxing in the tropical peace. His travel diary gives
the following account of his impressions of Mysore:
green rice fields, varied by tasseled sugar cane patches, nestle
at the protective foot of rocky hills --- hills dotting the emerald
panorama like excrescences of black stone --- and the play of colors
is enhanced by the sudden and dramatic disappearance of the sun
as it seeks rest behind the solemn hills.
moments have been spent in gazing, almost absent-mindedly, at the
ever-changing canvas of God stretched across the firmament, for
His touch alone is able to produce colors that vibrate with the
freshness of life. That youth of colors is lost when man tries to
imitate with mere pigments, for the Lord resorts to a more simple
and effective medium --- oils that are neither oils nor pigments, but
mere rays of light. He tosses a splash of light here, and it reflects
red; He waves the brush again and it blends gradually into orange
and gold; then with a piercing thrust He stabs the clouds with a
streak of purple that leaves a ringlet or fringe of red oozing out
of the wound in the clouds; and so, on and on, He plays, night and
morning alike, ever-changing, ever-new, ever-fresh; no patterns,
no duplicates, no colors just the same. The beauty of the Indian
change in day to night is beyond compare elsewhere;
often the sky looks as if God had taken all the colors in His kit
and given them one mighty kaleidoscopic toss into the heavens.
must relate the splendor of a twilight visit to the huge Krishnaraja
Sagar Dam,2 constructed twelve miles outside of Mysore. Yoganandaji and I boarded
a small bus and, with a small boy as official cranker or battery
substitute, started off over a smooth dirt road, just as the sun
was setting on the horizon and squashing like an overripe tomato.
led past the omnipresent square rice fields, through a line of comforting
banyan trees, in between a grove of towering coconut palms, with
vegetation nearly as thick as in a jungle, and finally, approaching
the crest of a hill, we came face-to-face with an immense artificial
lake, reflecting the stars and fringe of palms and other trees,
surrounded by lovely terraced gardens and a row of electric lights
on the brink of the dam --- and below it our eyes met a dazzling spectacle
of colored beams playing on geyserlike fountains, like so many streams
of brilliant ink pouring forth --- gorgeously blue waterfalls, arresting
red cataracts, green and yellow sprays, elephants spouting water,
a miniature of the Chicago World's Fair, and yet modernly outstanding
in this ancient land of paddy fields and simple people, who have
given us such a loving welcome that I fear it will take more than
my strength to bring Yoganandaji back to America.
rare privilege --- my first elephant ride. Yesterday the Yuvaraja invited
us to his summer palace to enjoy a ride on one of his elephants,
an enormous beast. I mounted a ladder provided to climb aloft to
the howdah or saddle, which is silk-cushioned and boxlike;
and then for a rolling, tossing, swaying, and heaving down into
a gully, too much thrilled to worry or exclaim, but hanging on for
rich with historical and archaeological remains, is a land of definite
and yet indefinable charm. To the north of Mysore is the largest
native state in India, Hyderabad, a picturesque plateau cut by the
mighty Godavari River. Broad fertile plains, the lovely Nilgiris
or "Blue Mountains," other regions with barren hills of
limestone or granite. Hyderabad history is a long, colorful story,
starting three thousand years ago under the Andhra kings, and continuing
under Hindu dynasties until A.D. 1294, when it passed to a line
of Moslem rulers who reign to this day.
The most breath-taking
display of architecture, sculpture, and painting in all India is
found at Hyderabad in the ancient rock-sculptured caves of Ellora
and Ajanta. The Kailasa at Ellora, a huge monolithic temple, possesses
carved figures of gods, men, and beasts in the stupendous proportions
of a Michelangelo. Ajanta is the site of five cathedrals and twenty-five
monasteries, all rock excavations maintained by tremendous frescoed
pillars on which artists and sculptors have immortalized their genius.
is graced by the Osmania University and by the imposing Mecca Masjid
Mosque, where ten thousand Mohammedans may assemble for prayer.
too is a scenic wonderland, three thousand feet above sea level,
abounding in dense tropical forests, the home of wild elephants,
bison, bears, panthers, and tigers. Its two chief cities, Bangalore
and Mysore, are clean, attractive, with many parks and public gardens.
and sculpture achieved their highest perfection in Mysore under
the patronage of Hindu kings from the eleventh to the fifteenth
centuries. The temple at Belur, an eleventh-century masterpiece
completed during the reign of King Vishnuvardhana, is unsurpassed
in the world for its delicacy of detail and exuberant imagery.
The rock pillars
found in northern Mysore date from the third century B.C., illuminating
the memory of King Asoka. He succeeded to the throne of the Maurya
dynasty then prevailing; his empire included nearly all of modern
India, Afghanistan, and Baluchistan. This illustrious emperor, considered
even by Western historians to have been an incomparable ruler, has
left the following wisdom on a rock memorial:
inscription has been engraved in order that our sons and grandsons
may not think a new conquest is necessary; that they may not think
conquest by the sword deserves the name of conquest; that they may
see in it nothing but destruction and violence; that they may consider
nothing as true conquest save the conquest of religion. Such conquests
have value in this world and in the next.
Asoka was a
grandson of the formidable Chandragupta Maurya (known to the Greeks
as Sandrocottus), who in his youth had met Alexander the Great.
Later Chandragupta destroyed the Macedonian garrisons left in India,
defeated the invading Greek army of Seleucus in the Punjab, and
then received at his Patna court the Hellenic ambassador Megasthenes.
interesting stories have been minutely recorded by Greek historians
and others who accompanied or followed after Alexander in his expedition
to India. The narratives of Arrian, Diodoros, Plutarch, and Strabo
the geographer have been translated by Dr. J. W. M'Crindle3 to throw a shaft
of light on ancient India. The most admirable feature of Alexander's
unsuccessful invasion was the deep interest he displayed in Hindu
philosophy and in the yogis and holy men whom he encountered from
time to time and whose society he eagerly sought. Shortly after
the Greek warrior had arrived in Taxila in northern India, he sent
a messenger, Onesikritos, a disciple of the Hellenic school of Diogenes,
to fetch an Indian teacher, Dandamis, a great sannyasi of Taxila.
thee, O teacher of Brahmins!" Onesikritos said after seeking
out Dandamis in his forest retreat. "The son of the mighty
God Zeus, being Alexander who is the Sovereign Lord of all men,
asks you to go to him, and if you comply, he will reward you with
great gifts, but if you refuse, he will cut off your head!"
The yogi received
this fairly compulsive invitation calmly, and "did not so much
as lift up his head from his couch of leaves."
am a son of Zeus, if Alexander be such," he commented. "I
want nothing that is Alexander's, for I am content with what I have,
while I see that he wanders with his men over sea and land for no
advantage, and is never coming to an end of his wanderings.
tell Alexander that God the Supreme King is never the Author of
insolent wrong, but is the Creator of light, of peace, of life,
of water, of the body of man and of souls; He receives all men when
death sets them free, being in no way subject to evil disease. He
alone is the God of my homage, who abhors slaughter and instigates
is no god, since he must taste of death," continued the sage
in quiet scorn. "How can such as he be the world's master,
when he has not yet seated himself on a throne of inner universal
dominion? Neither as yet has he entered living into Hades, nor does
he know the course of the sun through the central regions of the
earth, while the nations on its boundaries have not so much as heard
this chastisement, surely the most caustic ever sent to assault
the ears of the "Lord of the World," the sage added ironically,
"If Alexander's present dominions be not capacious enough for
his desires, let him cross the Ganges River; there he will find
a region able to sustain all his men, if the country on this side
be too narrow to hold him.4
this, however, that what Alexander offers and the gifts he promises
are things to me utterly useless; the things I prize and find of
real use and worth are these leaves which are my house, these blooming
plants which supply me with daily food, and the water which is my
drink; while all other possessions which are amassed with anxious
care are wont to prove ruinous to those who gather them, and cause
only sorrow and vexation, with which every poor mortal is fully
fraught. As for me, I lie upon the forest leaves, and having nothing
which requires guarding, close my eyes in tranquil slumber; whereas
had I anything to guard, that would banish sleep. The earth supplies
me with everything, even as a mother her child with milk. I go wherever
I please, and there are no cares with which I am forced to cumber
Alexander cut off my head, he cannot also destroy my soul. My head
alone, then silent, will remain, leaving the body like a torn garment
upon the earth, whence also it was taken. I then, becoming Spirit,
shall ascend to my God, who enclosed us all in flesh and left us
upon earth to prove whether, when here below, we shall live obedient
to His ordinances and who also will require of us all, when we depart
hence to His presence, an account of our life, since He is Judge
of all proud wrongdoing; for the groans of the oppressed become
the punishment of the oppressor.
then terrify with these threats those who wish for wealth and who
dread death, for against us these weapons are both alike powerless;
the Brahmins neither love gold nor fear death. Go then and tell
Alexander this: Dandamis has no need of aught that is yours, and
therefore will not go to you, and if you want anything from Dandamis,
come you to him."
With close attention
Alexander received through Onesikritos the message from the yogi,
and "felt a stronger desire than ever to see Dandamis who,
though old and naked, was the only antagonist in whom he, the conqueror
of many nations, had met more than his match."
to Taxila a number of Brahmin ascetics noted for their skill in
answering philosophical questions with pithy wisdom. An account
of the verbal skirmish is given by Plutarch; Alexander himself framed
all the questions.
be the more numerous, the living or the dead?"
for the dead are not."
breeds the larger animals, the sea or the land?"
for the sea is only a part of land."
is the cleverest of beasts?"
with which man is not yet acquainted." (Man fears the unknown.)
existed first, the day or the night?"
was first by one day."
This reply caused Alexander to betray
surprise; the Brahmin added:
"Impossible questions require
best may a man make himself beloved?"
will be beloved if, possessed with great power, he still does not
make himself feared."
may a man become a god?" 5
that which it is impossible for a man to do."
is stronger, life or death?"
because it bears so many evils."
in taking out of India, as his teacher, a true yogi. This man was
Swami Sphines, called "Kalanos" by the Greeks because
the saint, a devotee of God in the form of Kali, greeted everyone
by pronouncing Her auspicious name.
Alexander to Persia. On a stated day, at Susa in Persia, Kalanos
gave up his aged body by entering a funeral pyre in view of the
whole Macedonian army. The historians record the astonishment of
the soldiers who observed that the yogi had no fear of pain or death,
and who never once moved from his position as he was consumed in
the flames. Before leaving for his cremation, Kalanos had embraced
all his close companions, but refrained from bidding farewell to
Alexander, to whom the Hindu sage had merely remarked:
see you shortly in Babylon."
Persia, and died a year later in Babylon. His Indian guru's words
had been his way of saying he would be present with Alexander in
life and death.
Greek historians have left us many vivid and inspiring pictures
of Indian society. Hindu law, Arrian tells us, protects the people
and "ordains that no one among them shall, under any circumstances,
be a slave but that, enjoying freedom themselves, they shall respect
the equal right to it which all possess. For those, they thought,
who have learned neither to domineer over nor cringe to others will
attain the life best adapted for all vicissitudes of lot." 6
Indians," runs another text, "neither put out money at
usury, nor know how to borrow. It is contrary to established usage
for an Indian either to do or suffer a wrong, and therefore they
neither make contracts nor require securities." Healing, we
are told, was by simple and natural means. "Cures are effected
rather by regulating diet than by the use of medicines.
The remedies most esteemed are ointments and plasters. All others
are considered to be in great measure pernicious." Engagement
in war was restricted to the Kshatriyas or warrior caste.
"Nor would an enemy coming upon a husbandman at his work on
his land, do him any harm, for men of this class being regarded
as public benefactors, are protected from all injury. The land thus
remaining unravaged and producing heavy crops, supplies the inhabitants
with the requisites to make life enjoyable." 7
Chandragupta who in 305 B.C. had defeated Alexander's general, Seleucus,
decided seven years later to hand over the reins of India's government
to his son. Traveling to South India, Chandragupta spent the last
twelve years of his life as a penniless ascetic, seeking self-realization
in a rocky cave at Sravanabelagola, now honored as a Mysore shrine.
Near-by stands the world's largest statue, carved out of an immense
boulder by the Jains in A.D. 983 to honor the saint Comateswara.
religious shrines of Mysore are a constant reminder of the many
great saints of South India. One of these masters, Thayumanavar,
has left us the following challenging poem:
You can control
a mad elephant;
You can shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger;
You can ride a lion;
You can play with the cobra;
By alchemy you can eke out your livelihood;
You can wander through the universe incognito;
You can make vassals of the gods;
You can be ever youthful;
You can walk on water and live in fire;
But control of the mind is better and more difficult.
the beautiful and fertile State of Travancore in the extreme south
of India, where traffic is conveyed over rivers and canals, the
Maharaja assumes every year a hereditary obligation to expiate the
sin incurred by wars and the annexation in the distant past of several
petty states to Travancore. For fifty-six days annually the Maharaja
visits the temple thrice daily to hear Vedic hymns and recitations;
the expiation ceremony ends with the lakshadipam or illumination
of the temple by a hundred thousand lights.
great Hindu lawgiver Manu 8 has outlined
the duties of a king. "He should shower amenities like Indra
(lord of the gods); collect taxes gently and imperceptibly as the
sun obtains vapor from water; enter into the life of his subjects
as the wind goes everywhere; mete out even justice to all like Yama
(god of death); bind transgressors in a noose like Varuna (Vedic
deity of sky and wind); please all like the moon, burn up vicious
enemies like the god of fire; and support all like the earth goddess.
a king should not fight with poisonous or fiery weapons nor kill
weak or unready or weaponless foes or men who are in fear or who
pray for protection or who run away. War should be resorted to only
as a last resort. Results are always doubtful in war."
on the southeast coast of India contains the flat, spacious, sea-girt
city of Madras, and Conjeeveram, the Golden City, capital site of
the Pallava dynasty whose kings ruled during the early centuries
of the Christian era. In modern Madras Presidency the nonviolent
ideals of Mahatma Gandhi have made great headway; the white distinguishing
"Gandhi caps" are seen everywhere. In the south generally
the Mahatma has effected many important temple reforms for "untouchables"
as well as caste-system reforms.
origin of the caste system, formulated by the great legislator Manu,
was admirable. He saw clearly that men are distinguished by natural
evolution into four great classes: those capable of offering service
to society through their bodily labor ( Sudras); those who
serve through mentality, skill, agriculture, trade, commerce, business
life in general (Vaisyas); those whose talents are administrative,
executive, and protective --- rulers and warriors ( Kshatriyas); those of contemplative nature, spiritually inspired
and inspiring (Brahmins). "Neither birth nor sacraments
nor study nor ancestry can decide whether a person is twice-born
(i.e., a Brahmin);" the Mahabharata declares,
"character and conduct only can decide."9 Manu instructed
society to show respect to its members insofar as they possessed
wisdom, virtue, age, kinship or, lastly, wealth. Riches in Vedic
India were always despised if they were hoarded or unavailable for
charitable purposes. Ungenerous men of great wealth were assigned
a low rank in society.
arose when the caste system became hardened through the centuries
into a hereditary halter. Social reformers like Gandhi and the members
of very numerous societies in India today are making slow but sure
progress in restoring the ancient values of caste, based solely
on natural qualification and not on birth. Every nation on earth
has its own distinctive misery-producing karma to deal with and
remove; India, too, with her versatile and invulnerable spirit,
shall prove herself equal to the task of caste-reformation.
is southern India that Mr. Wright and I yearned to prolong our idyl.
But time, in its immemorial rudeness, dealt us no courteous extensions.
I was scheduled soon to address the concluding session of the Indian
Philosophical Congress at Calcutta University. At the end of the
visit to Mysore, I enjoyed a talk with Sir C. V. Raman, president
of the Indian Academy of Sciences. This brilliant Hindu physicist
was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930 for his important
discovery in the diffusion of light --- the "Raman Effect"
now known to every schoolboy.
a reluctant farewell to a crowd of Madras students and friends,
Mr. Wright and I set out for the north. On the way we stopped before
a little shrine sacred to the memory of Sadasiva Brahman,10 in whose eighteenth-century
life story miracles cluster thickly. A larger Sadasiva shrine at
Nerur, erected by the Raja of Pudukkottai, is a pilgrimage spot
which has witnessed numerous divine healings.
Many quaint stories of Sadasiva, a lovable and fully-illumined master,
are still current among the South Indian villagers. Immersed one
day in samadhi on the bank of the Kaveri River, Sadasiva
was seen to be carried away by a sudden flood. Weeks later he was
found buried deep beneath a mound of earth. As the villagers' shovels
struck his body, the saint rose and walked briskly away.
spoke a word or wore a cloth. One morning the nude yogi unceremoniously
entered the tent of a Mohammedan chieftain. His ladies screamed
in alarm; the warrior dealt a savage sword thrust at Sadasiva, whose
arm was severed. The master departed unconcernedly. Overcome by
remorse, the Mohammedan picked up the arm from the floor and followed
Sadasiva. The yogi quietly inserted his arm into the bleeding stump.
When the warrior humbly asked for some spiritual instruction, Sadasiva
wrote with his finger on the sands:
do what you want, and then you may do what you like."
was uplifted to an exalted state of mind, and understood the saint's
paradoxical advice to be a guide to soul freedom through mastery
of the ego.
children once expressed a desire in Sadasiva's presence to see the
Madura religious festival, 150 miles away. The yogi indicated to
the little ones that they should touch his body. Lo! instantly the
whole group was transported to Madura. The children wandered happily
among the thousands of pilgrims. In a few hours the yogi brought
his small charges home by his simple mode of transportation. The
astonished parents heard the vivid tales of the procession of images,
and noted that several children were carrying bags of Madura sweets.
youth derided the saint and the story. The following morning he
he said scornfully, "why don't you take me to the festival,
even as you did yesterday for the other children?"
the boy immediately found himself among the distant city throng.
But alas! where was the saint when the youth wanted to leave? The
weary boy reached his home by the ancient and prosaic method of
Miss Bletch, unable to maintain the active pace set by Mr. Wright
and myself, remained happily with my relatives in Calcutta.
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This dam, a huge hydro-electric installation, lights Mysore City
and gives power to factories for silks, soaps, and sandalwood oil.
The sandalwood souvenirs from Mysore possess a delightful fragrance
which time does not exhaust; a slight pinprick revives the odor.
Mysore boasts some of the largest pioneer industrial undertakings
in India, including the Kolar Gold Mines, the Mysore Sugar Factory,
the huge iron and steel works at Bhadravati, and the cheap and efficient
Mysore State Railway which covers many of the state's 30,000 square
and Yuvaraja who were my hosts in Mysore in 1935 have both recently
died. The son of the Yuvaraja, the present Maharaja, is an enterprising
ruler, and has added to Mysore's industries a large airplane factory.
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Six volumes on Ancient India (Calcutta, 1879).
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Neither Alexander nor any of his generals ever crossed the Ganges.
Finding determined resistance in the northwest, the Macedonian army
refused to penetrate farther; Alexander was forced to leave India
and seek his conquests in Persia.
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From this question we may surmise that the "Son of Zeus"
had an occasional doubt that he had already attained perfection.
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All Greek observers comment on the lack of slavery in India, a feature
at complete variance with the structure of Hellenic society.
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Creative India by Prof. Benoy Kumar Sarkar gives a comprehensive
picture of India's ancient and modern achievements and distinctive
values in economics, political science, literature, art, and social
philosophy. (Lahore: Motilal Banarsi Dass, Publishers, 1937, 714
pp., $5.00.) Another recommended volume is Indian Culture Through
the Ages, by S. V. Venatesvara (New York: Longmans, Green &
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Manu is the universal lawgiver; not alone for Hindu society, but
for the world. All systems of wise social regulations and even justice
are patterned after Manu. Nietzsche has paid the following tribute:
"I know of no book in which so many delicate and kindly things
are said to woman as in the Lawbook of Manu; those old graybeards
and saints have a manner of being gallant to women which perhaps
cannot be surpassed . . . an incomparably intellectual and superior
work . . . replete with noble values, it is filled with a feeling
of perfection, with a saying of yea to life, and a triumphant sense
of well-being in regard to itself and to life; the sun shines upon
the whole book."
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"Inclusion in one of these four castes originally depended
not on a man's birth but on his natural capacities as demonstrated
by the goal in life he elected to achieve," an article in East-West
for January, 1935, tells us. "This goal could be (1) kama,
desire, activity of the life of the senses (Sudra stage), (2) artha,
gain, fulfilling but controlling the desires (Vaisya stage), (3)
dharma, self-discipline, the life of responsibility and right action
(Kshatriya stage), (4) moksha, liberation, the life of spirituality
and religious teaching (Brahmin stage). These four castes render
service to humanity by (1) body, (2) mind, (3) will power, (4) Spirit.
"These four stages have their correspondence in the eternal
gunas or qualities of nature, tamas, rajas, and sattva: obstruction,
activity, and expansion; or, mass, energy, and intelligence. The
four natural castes are marked by the gunas as (1) tamas (ignorance),
(2) tamas-rajas (mixture of ignorance and activity), (3) rajas-sattva
(mixture of right activity and enlightenment), (4) sattva (enlightenment).
Thus has nature marked every man with his caste, by the predominance
in himself of one, or the mixture of two, of the gunas. Of course
every human being has all three gunas in varying proportions. The
guru will be able rightly to determine a man's caste or evolutionary
"To a certain extent, all races and nations observe in practice,
if not in theory, the features of caste. Where there is great license
or so-called liberty, particularly in intermarriage between extremes
in the natural castes, the race dwindles away and becomes extinct.
The Purana Samhita compares the offspring of such unions to barren
hybrids, like the mule which is incapable of propagation of its
own species. Artificial species are eventually exterminated. History
offers abundant proof of numerous great races which no longer have
any living representatives. The caste system of India is credited
by her most profound thinkers with being the check or preventive
against license which has preserved the purity of the race and brought
it safely through millenniums of vicissitudes, while other races
have vanished in oblivion."
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His full title was Sri Sadasivendra Saraswati Swami. The illustrious
successor in the formal Shankara line, Jagadguru Sri Shankaracharya
of Sringeri Math, wrote an inspiring Ode dedicated to Sadasiva.
East-West for July, 1942, carried an article on Sadasiva's life.
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