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CALCUTTA MISSION.- VISIT TO SAUGOR MELA, We have much pleasure in inserting additional extracts from the interesting journal of the Rev. A. F. Lacroix, the former part of which was presented in our January Number. Among the various symptoms of the decline of idolatry in India, not the least conspicuous and significant is the diminished attendance of the natives on the national religious festivals. The faith of the Hindoos in their holy rivers, their pilgrimages, and their priests, is rapidly decaying before the light of heavenly truth spread by the labours of Christian Missionaries over the length and breadth of the country; and the enlarged effusion of divine influence is now alone needed to realise that predicted period when a nation shall be born in a day. For the illustration of these facts we refer our readers to the narrative of Mr. Lacroix, describing his recent visit to a celebrated festival held annually in the Province of Bengal :
Locality and origin of the festival. Jan. 9.-Very early this morning, we re-entered the Ganges, and, at about 10 A.M. reached Diamond Harbour, where that river is six miles broad. It is a famous anchorage for ships on their progress towards Calcutta. We continued our course towards the sea, as it was our intention to be present this year at the annual Bathing Festival at Saugor Island, which we knew by former experience offers a most favourable opportunity for Missionary labours. Previous to recording our operations there, a short description of that Festival may not be out of place.
The Mela, (or Religious Fair,) is held on the South-eastern point of the island of Saugor, at the confluence of one of the arms of the Ganges with the sea, and is exposed to the waves of the Bay of Bengal; so that an ordinary boat could not live for an hour when the south-wind blows. But at this time of the year, when either calms or light northerly winds prevail, the smallest boats may ride along the shore with the greatest safety. There is no human habitation within many miles of the place; and, except at the time of the fuir, nothing is to be seen but the broad sea before you, and the densest jungles all around. That a mela, or religious fair, should be held in such a spot, near the haunts of tigers, and where the feet of men never tread, may well astonish all but those who are acquainted with the vagaries of Hindooism. This locality of the fair owes its origin to a Legend connected with an ancient Sage called Koopil-Muni, who performed his austerities at this place, and is now an object of adoration. The benefits to be derived from bathing at Saugor are manifold: the principal one, however, is deliverance not only from personal sin and its consequences, but the deliverance of fourteen generations of ancestors whose misdeeds have consigned them to hell. The Mela is kept annually, from the 11th to the 13th January, when pilgrims and devotees may be seen assembling from all parts of the country.
As we were gently sailing down the Ganges from Diamond Harbour, we observed far astern an immense fleet of pilgrim-boats making towards the same point with us. At 4 P.M. we reached the northernmost part of Sangor Island: the flood having come in, we were compelled to anchor there, and every boat of the fleet as it came up also dropt anchor. Here we were surrounded by hundreds of boats of all descriptions, whose inmates soon went on shore to prepare their food; for Hindoos never cook their victuals in their boats. On an average, there were about thirty individuals in an ordinary boat. As the night approached, the flickering of a hundred little fires, with their small groups around, was seen through the gloom, and had quite a romantic effect.
Prevalence of Christianity testified by an idolater. We also went to take a walk on shore, and spoke to several people. An incident worthy of recording occurred on this occasion, showing by the testimony of an enemy how diligently the Gospel has been spread. As we were conversing with a knot of pilgrims who had gathered around us, on the sin of idolatry, and on the way of salvation through Christ, a respectable looking man in evident astonishment, exclaimed, “What! are you here also? When I am in the north of Calcutta, there I am sure to meet you, and hear you speak about Jesus Christ. When business takes me to the south of the city, there you are again, telling us about the same Jesus Christ. If I go to a distant village, I am sure to hear the same story; and here, in the midst of the very jungles, I hear the name of Christ
resounding in the solitude. You seem really to be everywhere; for who could have expected to hear anything about Jesus Christ in a place like this?” Whatever may be thought of the effect of Missionary labours, it is undeniable that, by a variety of means, the knowledge of the truth has spread far and wide over Bengal; and no doubt the Lord will, in his own good time, bless the seed thus widely scattered, so that it shall bring forth much fruit to the praise of his glory.
Perils of an Indian wilderness. Jan. 10.–Very early this morning we took up our anchor, and proceeded down the Barra-tollah, which is the particular arm of the Ganges that leads to the spot where the Bathing-festival is held. The whole fleet of boats followed our example. After sailing for six hours along a wild and dismal coast, we arrived at the mouth of a narrow creek, which is the nearest thoroughfare to the place of rendezvous. It is necessary to wait at the entrance of this creek for the turning of the tide, and the people generally go on shore for the purpose of preparing their food. The jungle is very dense in this part, and infested with tigers, rhinoceroses, wild boars, and buffalnes; so that there is danger in going on shore. I remember a few years ago, when at anchor opposite to this very spot, a poor old native woman was carried away by a tiger. She had gone a short distance into the forest to gather fire-wood, when a huge tiger, which was prowling about in the thicket, watching his opportunity, pounced upon his prey, and carried her away into the jungle, where it was utterly impracticable to go to her rescue; so the poor creature was seen no more. This happened not fifty yards from the spot where the people were congregated. On the present occasion, I am happy to say, no such accident occurred, and no wild beasts were perceived. They had, doubtless, been scared away by the constant shouts of the multitude, and the beating of the brass discs, called gongs, which the pilgrims kept up as long as any of them remained on shore.
The river-procession of the pilgrims. The tide having become favourable, we started again ; and as we were going along the creek, our approach to the sacred spot was easily known by the increasing number of boats, and the energy the people displayed in rowing fast, with a view to outstrip each other. The sound of the conch-shell, also, was now constantly heard, and the melancholy wailing of the women was wafted on the bosom of the stream. The conch-shell is blown at all the festivals of the Hindoos: the sound is harsh and monotonous, and forms a strange contrast to the wailings of the women, who are in the habit of raising their voices, in a peculiar manner, when they approach a sacred place. The noise they make is such as is never heard in civilised countries. It is produced by a tremulous motion of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, and requires considerable practice. As thefl eet proceeded, this strange sound was commenced by a female in one of the boats in advance, and was caught up immediately by all the females in the same boat; the example was followed by the whole fleet; and the notes increased in volume till the air was filled with a thousand sweet but plaintive voices, the effect of which was not disagreeable.
At last we came in sight of the hallowed spot; and then a shout of triumph was raised which made the air resound, and must have startled the tiger and rhinoceros from their lairs in the silent jungle.
Diversified aspect of the festival. A most picturesque scene then caught our eye. More than half the pilgrims had arrived before us, so that an immense number of boats of all sizes and descriptions could be seen drawn upon the shore. For the purpose of ornament, or rather to serve as a beacon by which each party might distinguish its own craft amidst this confused multitude, each boat had a flag, or some other device fixed to the mast-head, or to a bamboo rigged for that purpose. Here you might see the Flag of England, that of the East India Company, and innumerable others of all shapes and colours glittering in the sun-beams. Intermixed with the above, more humble masts appeared bearing, as epsign, some a piece of mat, others a basket; others again an earthen pot, a bundle of straw, a dried pumpkin; in fact, every imaginable article.
Beyond the boats and along the strand was the fair, consisting of innumerable booths and tents erected in long, narrow streets, with some attempt at order; for this is attended to by an European Constable, and a party of the Company's Police, who are sent here to keep the peace. To pass along these lanes is no easy feat; for the traveller is not only impeded by the quick-sand which yields at every step, but, if he be not careful to pick his way, he is liable to be thrown on his face by coming in contact with the stumps of the lately-cat jangle-wood which abound in all quarters.
As we were walking along the streets of this ephemeral city, we observed a great number of shops; for not only do pilgrims resort to Saugor to obtain salvation, but numbers of traders also do the same for the sake of gain. These shops were well stocked with all kinds of goods, varying from the humble mat to the high-priced muslin of Dacca and the shawls of Cashmere; besides articles of European manufacture.
Comparison of the past and present state of idolatry. On the north side of the fair were to be seen, the ruins of the ancient temple dedicated to the deified sage, Koopil-Muni. The grandeur of the old temple, and the poor aspect of the modern one, are, perhaps, fit emblems of the past and present state of Hindooism. From the former, it is evident that Hindooism had a powerful hold of the popular mind; so much so, that the Rajahs and other men of wealth and influence vied with each other in doing honour to the fanes and shrines of their gods, sparing no pains and grudging.no expense in adorning them. From the aspect of the latter, it is equally apparent that Hindooism has lost much of its hold of the people, especially of those who have any pretensions to education ; in fact, it affords indubitable signs that it is hastening to its destruction. The modern Baboos, though still professing the religion of their forefathers, have but little heart in the matter, as appears clearly enough from the decayed and decaying temples to be met with everywhere, and which no one cares to repair.
Rapacity of the Hindoo Priests. In front of the temple sits the Mohonto, or great high-priest of the Mela, with a heap of silver and copper coins before him--the gifts of the pilgrims, who each drop something as they enter. (Page 153.) There he sits, scowling on the poor who can only give a few pence, and looking complacently upon the rich whose gifts are more considerable. This is an abundant harvest for the Mohonto; and the rupees he takes home to Calcutta, after the fair is over, are counted by thousands.
Round about the temple are stands of gods of all names and sizes, adorned with flowers, and each attended by an officiating priest, who may be heard recounting the merits of his particular idol, and using every means to attract the attention of the pilgrims. The less knowing, or most superstitious of the natives, visit every one of these shrines, and make their offerings to them, ere they proceed to the principal one; if they be not wealthy, or do not carefully husband their resources, they have little lot to bestow on Koopil-Muni himself when they reach his presence.
The ceremony of the sacred ablutions. The general bathing-place is at the south end of the Mela, on the spot where the arm of the Ganges falls into the sea. The pilgrims, in order to reach this sacred spot, have, many of them, to walk from one extremity of the Mela to the other; and, as a great pro. portion of them are females, it is no easy achievement to push their way through the noisy crowd of shop-keepers, bazar-men of all descriptions, mendicants, mountebanks, musicians, and dancers; for all such characters assemble here in great numbers. Arrived near the beach, the pilgrims spread a rag upon the sand, on which they place flowers, a handful of rice, and sometimes a copper coin. These are offerings to the goddess Gunga -the personification of the River Ganges; but it often happens that an unscrupulous passer-by appropriates to himself what he considers the most valuable part of these offerings. The ablutions then begin, and the pilgrims proceed in lines of eight or ten, holding each other's hands, and walk to a convenient distance into the sea. A Brahmin leads the way; and, while he repeats the appropriate muntras, or formulas, the pilgrims every now and then, taking the signal from him, plunge under the briny wave. Having repeated this several times, they return to the shore, and spend the rest of the day in cooking their fuod, making purchases, or in any other way that may best please them.
Extortions of begging impostors. But I must not omit to say, that the pilgrims on leaving the bathing-place, and in returning to their respective tents and booths, are met by a host of Sunnyasis, or religious mendicants, grouped together in different enclosures or stalls. In one place, there are the Sunnyasis from Nepaul; in another, those from the Punjaub; in another, those from Orissa; in another, those from Assam ; and, in fact, from all parts of the country ; so that the pilgrims lack no opportunity of bestowing their gifts in the way most agreeable to their own feelings. These Sunnyasis are a set of idle, strong-bodied vagabonds, in a state of almost entire nudity, with clotted hair, and bodies besmeared with ashes, who resort to every kind of expedient to draw money out of the pockets of the pilgriins. At one place, among these religious vagrants, may be seen a black-faced monkey, who attracts the populace by his antics; at another, the object of attraction is a little god about the size
of your thumb, raised on an elevated pedestal, with a gorgeous canopy of embroidered cloth over his head; at a third, a Sunnyasi is gazing, without moving a muscle, on the sun or a charcoal-fire, which is placed before him; with a variety of other contrivances of the same description. But when all these devices fail of producing a sufficient harvest
, they will sometimes proceed to violence and abuse, and even beat the pilgrims who refuse to bestow gifts on them. I may add, that these Sannyasis are almost all greatly addicted to the use of opium, ganja, bangh, and other intoxicating drugs. And these are the men whom the Shasters praise as next in dignity to the gods !
The grace of redemption declared. Jan. 11.—This morning, we commenced our Missionary operations. It was the Lord'sday; but, O! how unlike a Christian Sabbath! The hum of so many human voices—the deafening sound of native music—the confusion and jostling of thousands passing and repassing each other-were quite bewildering! We landed nearly opposite the temple of Koopil-Muni, not far from which our tent had been erected; and there began to preach to the multitudes of pilgrims, who thronged around us, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.
Munificent support of idolatry. Jan. 13.– This being the last day of the Bathing-festival, a number of pilgrims who had been detained on their journey, or started too late from their homes, arrived at the Mela, and, with more haste than ceremony, plunged themselves into the sacred waves. This unseemly haste, however, was excusable; for, had they not succeeded in bathing before noon, there would be no virtue, according to the Shasters, in their ablutions. Among these was the great Seik Chief, Lena Singh Mateejah, brother of Ronjoor Singh, who lost the battle
of Alliwal. He had a large retinue with him, and gave away, we understood, more than 10,000 rupees in gifts to the high-priest of Koopil-Muni, and 10 the numerous religious mendicants who were at the fair.
Distribution of the Scriptures. As we had determined to leave Saugor with the night's tide, we were anxious to distribute our remaining books as widely as possible; and for that purpose spent some of the afternoon in walking through every part of the fair. We visited many of the booths of the shop-keepers and tents of the pilgrims, offering our tracts and gospels to all those who were able to read. These were most thankfully received. Even women begged hard to have some given them for the use of their husbands and sons whom they had left at home. The number of books put into circulation during these three days, was not much short of 6,000 tracts and 1,000 gospels, which will be conveyed to the most distant parts of the country.
Meeting for divine worship in presence of the heathen. After we bad concluded our preaching labours, and the distribution of books, we assembled in the tent with several Baptist brethren by whom we had been joined ; and as, with the native assistants, we mustered a sufficient number to form a small Christian assembly, we thought it might have a beneficial effect, not only on onrselves, but also on the heathen multitudes, if we joined together in Christian Worship ere we left the Mela. A Bengalee Hymn was sung by us all, in praise of God our Saviour ; after which, hy the desire of my brethren, I engaged in prayer in the same language. We were surrounded by a large concourse of people, among whom were many Brahmins and Sannyasis. All were very quict, and particularly attentive especially, while the prayer to an unseen God was offered up; they seemed impressed with the solemnity of the scene, as well as with the order and propriety of our mode of worship, compared with the noise, levity, and indecency of their own poojahs.*
Having thus united together in praising God publicly in the very place where Satan holds his sway, we returned to our hoais, thankful that the Lord had given us so good an opportunity of making, his word known so extensively. The great day alone will reveal the results of our visit to Saugor Mela.
The number of persons who assemble at Saugor Fair, including pilgrims, merchants, jagglers, musicians, &c., &c., has sometimes amounted to 150,000. There has, however, of late years, been a gradual decrease; and I do not think that this year the whole amounted to more than 80,000. In fact, several of the shop-keepers sadly complained of this falling-off; and, in consequence of the scanty sales they effected, declared they would never attend another fair at this place.
* Titise Worship.
BRIEF MEMOIR OF A NATIVE EVANGELIST
Within the last year, our Missions in Southern India have been deprived, by death, of the services of several very valuable Native Agents. Among them was the subject of the ensuing narrative, received from the Rev. W. B. Addis, of Coimbatoor. The deliverance of this man from the thraldom of the fearful system of delusion under which his earlier years were spent, and the unwavering decision and fidelity with which he followed the Saviour, and served his cause, unitedly furnish an eminent testimony to the power and riches of that love which sends forth the messengers of salvation to the heathen. He died in the month of October last, and the outlines of his interesting history, as stated by Mr. Addis, are as follow:
Vathanayakum was the first convert to ticularly fond of his children: to remove Christianity after the commencement of these from him appeared one of the worst the London Missionary Society's station evils that could befal him ; and, in the at Coimbatoor, at which time he was a midst of these struggles of natural affecvery zealous heathen, and well versed in tion, he laid the whole case before the Hindoo Shasters, &c.
Missionary, who briefly asked him what mended for a schoolmaster by the most was his own determination in the affair. learned man of the town, as being well He answered with firmness, “I shall qualified for that office. But so great was cleave to Christ, let the consequences be his devotion to the false system of Pan- what they may.” He was then exhorted theism, that he would not consent to teach and admonished not to trust in his own a school without being allowed to have one strength, and comforted with the promises day in the week for the observance of the of the Gospel; but, at that time, there roquired ceremonies, fasting, ablutions, &c. being no organized Christian congregation in re being no house for the Missionary to sympathise with and encourage him, he on nis arrival, he erected a thatched cottage bore the burden alone. As the threats of for himself and family near the school. his family were not put in practice, he room in which he (Vathanayakum, whose became more comfortable ; and the pertorbeathen name was Icanjen,) taught, and he bation of his mind subsiding, he appeared was invited to enter it, to hear the Gospel, as one indeed taught by the Divine Spirit: which was statedly preached in his own his progress in Divine knowledge, under language ; but he declined. However, after the daily instructions he received, was sursome time, seeing others attend, he one prising. day came in, apparently wishing to be un- After
eight months' probation, and at his observed, and heard for the first time the repeated request, he was baptized, and doctrines of Revelation, but evidently with shortly after appointed a Reader, His no desire to be taught, being, in his own faith and love were clearly manifested by estimation, wise enough. He repeatedly at- his zeal for Christ and the good of souls : tended, and on one Sunday morning seemed he travelled much, and was greatly rem to hear with very great attention: a tear was spected by all classes, and the last great seen on his cheek, though an evident en- day alone will be a clear witness of his deavour was made to suppress it. From services in the great cause in which he was that time he became a regular bearer, and for upwards of fifteen years engaged, and even brought his little son with him. during which time not a complaint of any
Shorıly after there was a celebrated sort was brought against him. During heathen festival, at which he did not at- the Missionary's visits to the towns and tend ; and, upon the Missionary entering villages of the Province, he supplied his his school, and, inquiring the cause of his place at the head or home-station always absence, he exclaimed, “Oh sir, I have for with his most perfect approbation. ever done with such things!" Those who Nine days before his death he returned have experienced such cases need not be home from addressing the people in told that the heart was too full to inquire the town, and complained of being unwell, more, or even to answer at that time. but nothing serious was apprehended. When his wife and family found him de- With cheerfulness he took the medicines termined upon embracing Christianity, they and nourishment provided for him, at greatly annoyed him in various ways, and the same time distinctly stating that the threatened to leave him. This tried him means would not be of any use, for that he much, for he was an exemplary husband was fully convinced he was “ going to his and father, and, as most Hindoos are, par- heavenly Father's house." He had no