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RECORD of the superstitious practices of the Hirm doos, now subsisting, which inflicts immediate death, or tend to death; deducted from the evidence of the Pundits and learned Brahmins in the college of Fort-William.
1. The offering of children to Gunga.* The natives of Hindostan, particularly the inhabitants of Orissa, and of the eastern parts of Bengal, sometimes make offerings of their children to the goddess Gunga.
When a woman, who has been long married, has no child, she and her husband make a vow to the goddess Gunga, “That if she will bestow on them the blessing of children, they will devote to her their first born.” If, after this vow, they have a child or children, the first born is preserved, till they have a convenient opportunity of returning to the river at the period of assembling at the holy places. They then take the child with them; and at the time of bathing, it is encouraged to walk into deep water, till it is carried away by the stream.
If it be unwilling to go forward, it is pushed off by its parents. Sometimes a stranger attends, and catches the perishing infant, and brings it up as his own; but if no such person happen to be near, it is infalli. bly drowned, being deserted by the parents the moment it floats in the river.
This species of human sacrifice is publicly committed at Gunga Saugor, in the last day of Pous; and on the day of full moon in Kartic. At Bydyabattee, Trivenee, Nuddeea, Agradeep, and
•The river Ganges.
other places accounted holy, it is committed on the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of the moon Chytra, and on the tenth of the bright fortnight in Jystha.
All the Pundits declare that this practice is not commanded in any Shaster. *
II. Kamya Moran, or voluntary death. 1. When a person is in distress, or has incurred the contempt of his society; and often when there is no other cause than his belief that it is meritorious to die in the river Gunga, he forms the resolution of parting with life in the sacred stream.
2. Such persons, at the times mentioned in the preceding article, go to the holy places, where many thousands of people are assembled for the purpose of sacred ablution. Some of them abstain from food, that life may depart from them in the holy place: but the greater number drown themselves in the presence of the surrounding multitude. Their children and other relations generally attend them. It is not uncommon for a father to be pushed again into the river by his sons, if he attempt to swim back to land.
3. At Saugor it is accounted a propitious sign if the person be soon seized by a shark or a crocodile; but his future happiness is considered doubtful if he stay long in the water without being destroyed.t
4. The only passage in the Shasters which has been submitted as countenancing this suicide is the following: “If a person be afflicted with an incurable disease, so painful that it cannot be borne, he is permitted to throw himself from a precipice, or to drown himself in the river."
5. During the Pooja of the Rutt Jattra, some de.. vote themselves to death by falling under the wheels
This practice is now abolished by regulation of government. See Appendi C.
+ The sharks and alligators are numerous at this place, particularly at the time of the annual festival; owing, it is supposed, to the human prey devoted to tiden froin time immemorial.
of a heavy car or wooden tower, containing their gods. At Juggernaut they sometimes lie down in the track of this machine a few hours before its arrival, and taking a soporiferous draught hope to meet death asleep.
Exposing of children. This is a custom not commanded in any of the Shasters, and is wholly confined to the lower classes.
If a child refuse the mothers milk, whether from sickness or from any other cause, it is supposed to be under the influence of an evil spirit. In this case the babe is put into a basket and hung up into a tree for three days. It generally happens that before the expiration of that time the infant is dead; being destroyed by ants, or hy birds of prey. If it be alive at the end of the three days, it is taken home, and means are used to preserve its life.
IV. Destroying female infants. This practice is common among a race of Hindoos called Rajpoots. Without alleging any other reason than the difficulty of providing for daughters in marriage, the mothers starve their female infants to death. In some places not one half of the females are permitted to live.*
V. Immersion of sick persons in the river. When a sick person (particularly if he be aged) is supposed not to be likely to recover, he is conveyed to, the river, in which the lower half of his body is immersed. Water is copiously poured into his mouth; and he seldom survives the operation many hours.
• Lord Teignmouth relates, that this infanticide is practised on the frontiers of Juanpore, a district of the province of Benares; and at another place within the same province. Asiatic Res, vol iv, p 538. See also Negroint of George Thomas, by capt. Franklin, p. 100.
VI. The Sahamoron, or the burning of widows with their
deceased husbands. 1. This practice is common in all parts of Hindostan, but it is more frequent on the banks of the Ganges.
It is usual for the women to burn with their husbands corpse. But there is a cast called Jogees, who bury their dead. The women of this cast bury themselves alive with their husbands.
2. From the number of burnings and buryings in a given time, within the compass of a few districts, it was calculated by the late learned Mr. William Chambers, that the widows who perish by self-devotement in the northern provinces of Hindostan alone, are not less than ten thousand annually. This calculation is countenanced by the number of burnings within thirty miles round Calcutta during the period of the last six months, which, by account taken, is one hundred and sixteen.*
3. The usual mode of performing the rite of burning is the following:
When the husband is dead, the widow, if she intend to burn, immediately declares her intention; and soon after goes to the river side, where the corpse of her husband is laid. The Brahmins and common people assemble. The pile being erected, the dead body is placed upon it. After a few ceremonies (differing in different districts) the widow lays herself down by the side of the corpse. Combustible materials are thrown upon the pile, which is pressed down by bamboo levers. The heir at law then kindles the fire. The surrounding multitude set up a shout, which is necessary to prevent her cry from being heard, if she should make any; and the life of the victim is soon ended.
4. The following circumstances contribute to the frequency of this act:
# See Appendix D,
When a husband dies, the wife has the choice of burning with him, or of forsaking the comforts of life. She must put on no ornaments, must be clothed in sordid apparel, and must eat but one scanty meal in the day.
If she attempt to escape from the fire, any person of the very lowest casts may seize and carry her home as his own property. But in this case her relations generally bring her forcibly hack to the fire, , to prevent the disgrace of her being carried away.
5. The laws of the Hindoos concerning the female sacrifice, are collected in a book called Soodha Sungraha.
The passages in that book which relates to the principle or act of burning, are here subjoined, with the names of the original Shasters from which they were collected.
Angeera. "The virtuous wife who burns herself with her husband is like to Aroondhutce. If she be within a day's journey of the place where he dies, the burning of the corpse shall be deferred a day, to wait for her arrival."
Brahma Pooran. "If the husband die in a distant country, the wife may take any of his effects; for instance a sandal, and binding it on her thigh, burn with it on a seperate fire.”
Reek Ved. "If a woman thus burn with her husband it is not suicide, and the relations shall be unclean three days on account of her death; after which the Shraddhee must be performed."
Vishnoo Pooran. “If a person be poteet, (fallen or sinful,) all his sins will be blotted out by his wite's dying with him in the fire, aster a proper atonement has been made."
“A pregnant women is forbidden to burn, and also the woman who is in her times; or who has young child, unless some proper person undertakes the education of the child.