Hindu Humor

“ ALL that we are is the result of what we have thought,” is one of the many wise passages contained in the Dhammapada of the Buddhists; and the Hindus, among whom Buddhism originated, illustrate the truth of this saying. The earliest civilized of the Aryans, they have witnessed growth and decay and new growths in the other branches of the great Indo-European family ; their country has been invaded by Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Moguls, Portuguese, Dutch, and Danes, and has finally succumbed to the English rule ; their primitive religious creed has been modified and corrupted by the mysticisms of philosophers, the innovations of Buddhists and Jains, and the proselytizers of Islam and Christianity. But through all these centuries of change, the Hindus have retained not only the physical, but the mental and moral characteristics which distinguished their ancestors in the long bygone ages, when Hindustan had not come into contact with other nations. Up to a certain point, the Indo-Aryans developed rapidly. Free from foreign influence, and living in a country where the actual necessities of life were easily satisfied, they met with few difficulties to impede their progress. While Persian, Greek, and Roman struggled and fought, the Hindu thought and dreamed. His dreams and meditations are embodied in his religion.

The history of every nation is colored by the people’s conception of the supernatural, and their theories of life and its meaning; this is preëminently the case with the Hindus. Their every word and every action are the direct outcome of their religious beliefs, and to study their literature intelligently, and duly comprehend what there is in it of sublime or of humorous, is impossible without the knowledge of the principal tenets of their faith. The belief in Nirvana, or final annihilation, which is the basis of their religion, developed from the physical features of their country. From their primeval home in Central Asia, they had crossed the snowy Himalayas and settled in the neighborhood of the Seven Rivers, where the sky was unclouded, the land fair and fruitful, and the air soothing. The enervating climate generated in the soul of the Hindu a dreamy languor and a great longing for rest. It was the dolce far niente of the Italian, or the Kaf of the Mahometan, intensified. Like the lotus-eaters, he felt that “ there is no joy but calm.” Yearning for a state of passivity, he was nevertheless forced into activity by the cares of life, and mere existence seemed to him a deadly curse. It has been natural to men to represent those pleasures which they ardently longed for, but could not obtain, in this life as the supreme joy of the life to come. Mahomet promised his converts an eternity of black-eyed houris and sensual enjoyments. St. John, like the Talmudists, drew glowing pictures of an expensive heavenly city, with walls of shining gold and streets of precious stones. But the Hindu, who believed activity to be the cause of sin and misery, and individuality the greatest evil, imagined perfect happiness to consist in annihilation, in a final absorption into Bralirn, the Atman or One Great Self. Reformers arose. Buddhists and Jains rebelled against the cruel distinctions of caste; schools of philosophy were formed, and Sankyasts and Nyayists dived to depths of metaphysical speculation unfathomed by Neoplatonists or German mystics ; in the course of time Vishnu, Siva, and Krishna were respectively worshiped as the greatest of the gods by devotees separated by deadlier difference than that dividing the Christian sects. But in the chaos of dissent there was at least one point upon which all agreed: they aimed at exchanging the activity of existence for an eternity of rest. Call it by whatsoever name they would, —Mukti, Moksha, Nisreyasa, Apavarga, or Nirvana,— all looked forward to the final destruction of the Ego and a glorious release from action. Never has a people’s religion been so cruelly at variance with the reality of life. When a man’s grows with his growth, and widens as his intellect expands, there is progress. The more the Hindu strove to attain his end, the further he seemed from it. His first-formed ideal in its very conception implied non-activity, and hence the essence of progress was wanting. “ There is nothing real but Brahm ” was his profession, while his humanity rebelled against the belief in a world of shadows, and love for wife, family, and fellow-man refuted his theory of eternal truth. This doctrine has left a deep impress upon the Hindu character and mind. It has been an insurmountable obstacle to the higher forms of civilization, and with its intense pessimism has hindered any great development of the nobler passions or of the intellect. Genius, under such a system, is crushed, and the soul of poetry and art is missing.

The Hindus have their epics, their dramas, their popular tales, and their poetry. Their Vedas contain passages sublime as any to be found in the sacred books of other nations. Their lawbooks are full of wise and humane counsels. Their epics celebrate the actions of men and women not unlike the heroes and heroines of Homer; and their dramas bear a strong affinity to ours, — a fact which led Schlegel to declare that the English version of the Sakuntala of Kalidasa presents so striking a resemblance to our romantic drama that we would conclude its translator to have been unduly influenced by his love for Shakespeare, if his accuracy were not well established by all Sanskrit scholars. But still, we cannot look to Indian literature for an Œdipus, a Hamlet, or a Faust, nor, conversely, for an Eulenspiegel, a Pan urge, or a Sancho Panza. The dogma of quiescence prevented the creation of the great types of tears or of laughter which have been the glory of the literatures of other countries, and which will live forever. According to our conception of the tragic, the Hindus have no tragedies, and the humor which many of their writers possess is a humor distinctly their own. While the true humorist laughs at the follies of mankind, and, even as he laughs, loves them because they are so human, the Eastern humorist, inspired by Brahmanism or Buddhism, laughs at men for rejoicing or despairing in a world which has no reality. He never could thoroughly understand the “ brotherly sympathy with the downward side ” which was the inspiration of Shakespeare, Rabelais, and Cervantes.

It is at first difficult for the Western reader to define what is earnest and what is humorous in Sanskrit works. That which strikes us as grotesque and ludicrous is to the Hindu sublime and serious. The difference in the standards of taste adopted by Eastern and Western Aryans is admirably exemplified in their types of godhead. The Greek gods and goddesses are beautiful and perfect in form; Hephæstos, whose trade is little suited to divinity, is misshapen ; and the horns, tails, and goats’ feet of Pan and the satyrs harmonize with their semi-bestial natures. The Norse gods are strong, brave, and energetic, and are models of complete manhood. The Hindu gods, however, are tremendous monsters, with eight arms and three heads, like Siva; with an elephant’s head, like Ganesa; or black, bloody, and terrible, like the muchfeared, much-honored Durga. In the Mahabharata, Aryuna begs for one glimpse of the infinite, universal deity, and Krishna appears, with many arms, stomachs, eyes, and mouths with projecting teeth, in which the sons of Dritarashtra are sticking, even as the pilgrims, concealed in the salad, were held fast in the teeth of Gargantua. There is, moreover, the same wild luxuriance in everything Indian. The Ramayana and Mahabharata are the longest of all epics. The Pansha-tantra and other popular tales consist of stories connected by a single thread; and there are stories within stories, until an uninitiated reader, before he is half-way through this labyrinth of incident, has lost the thread that was to guide him. It is in keeping with the rich fertility of the Hindu imagination that the early metaphysicians evolved the most tremendous humorous conception that has ever entered into the mind of man. When the philosopher paused, in his speculations on the infinite, to look out upon the world about him, he saw a land teeming with life and beauty, and men and women who lived and struggled, loved and hated, laughed and cried. The contrast between the truth which he in his wisdom had divined and life as it seemed aroused within him a grim sense of the humorous. After all, he asked himself, what was the world, what was creation, but Maya, a delusion ? — a joke, colossal in design, which Brahm, the one reality, had imagined for his own amusement. It was even as Heine fancied it might be, the dream of a jolly, tipsy deity.

There is an incident in the Scandinavian mythology that is very suggestive of this idea of Maya, and which may be a survival of the pre-Sanskrit or early Aryan age. Thor and Loki once were entertained for a night in the burg, or castle, of Utgard-Loki, and while there they were subjected to mortifications and trials so keen that at the first appearance of dawn they hastened to depart upon their journey. Utgard-Loki accompanied them for a short distance, and after taunting the two great Asas on their late experiences told them that all their adventures in Jotunheim had been deceptions, which he, the great Jotun juggler, had continued for their discomfiture and his own amusement. Upon this, Thor, with eyes flashing and knuckles grown white, lifted the mighty Mjölner, and turned to crush his tormentor. But lo, giant and castle had disappeared, and there was nothing to be seen but the great grassy plain in which the duped Asas were standing. The fairy foxes, in the minor mythology of Japan, are sometimes represented playing tricks like this one of UtgardLoki’s. But when compared to the stupendous satire which has for butt existence itself, the humor of the Jotun and the fairy foxes seems like child’s play,

The supernatural enters largely into Indian literature, and it was as necessary to the Hindu poet and story-teller as the doctrine of fatalism was to the Greek dramatist. Homer, Æschylus, and Sophocles made good use of the Greek Pantheon, but their deities are more like men than gods; even the Titan Prometheus awakens our loving commiseration, because he is the champion of humanity. In the mediæval romances, fairies and demons and unearthly monsters are as plentiful as bees in a flower garden, but here, as in the Greek myths, the human element predominates. With the Hindu, the human is strictly subordinate to the supernatural, and our interest is checked and our sympathy withdrawn when we discover that the characters are not men, but gods. Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu, and the favorite Indian hero Aryuna is a portion of the essence of Indra ; while Sita and Draupadi “ with her dark skin and lotus eyes ” are forms of the goddess Lakshmi. The result of the battle described in the Mahabharata is dependent upon Krishna, and in the Ramayana the hero, aided by the monkey-god Hanumani, has for enemy Ravana, the demon with ten faces, twenty arms, copper-colored eyes, and bright teeth, “ like the young moon ; ” who, by the practice of austerities during ten thousand years, had become greater than the gods themselves. The contempt of things earthly led to this exaggeration. It naturally follows that in the Sanskrit masterpiece of humor the true hero of the tale is a demon, who proves himself to be greater than royalty, and superior to that asceticism which of all human prerogatives the Hindu most respects.

This masterpiece is the Baital Pachisi, translated by Captain Richard F. Burton as Vikram and the Vampire, and is a work essentially typical of Indian humor. It is the most thoroughly mischievous satire that has ever been written, in auy age or in any country, but the satire has nothing in common with Western humor. The nominal hero of the book is the Raja Vikramaditya the Brave, usually called Vikram, who is the King Arthur, Charlemagne, or Haroun-al-Raschid of Hindustan. He is represented as having possessed all the virtues of a monarch and a sage. He was fully conscious of his superiority to the rest of mankind, and, intoxicated with pride and power, held himself to be unrivaled. He was, in fact, Wisdom incarnate. Now, according to the story, there was a Jogi, or anchorite, who, many years before Vikram had become king, had been terribly and miserably duped, and resenting his wrongs, and laying the blame on Vikram’s lather, be determined to be revenged upon the son. Disguised as a merchant, and calling himself Mal Deo, he came to the city of the Rajah, and presented him with fruit, which was found to contain rubies of rare size and brilliancy. When asked by the Rajah what he would receive in return for such lavish gifts, he answered, “ I am not Mal Deo, but Shanta Shil, a devotee. I am about to perform magical rites on the banks of the Godavari, in a large smashana, a cemetery where bodies are burned. By this means the eight powers of nature will all become mine. But, to perfect my spells, I must be aided by a king. This thing I ask of you as alms : that you and the young prince, DharmaDuay, will pass one night with me, doing my bidding. By your remaining near me my incantations will be successful.” This Vikram consented to do, though, having formerly received a warning of the anchorite’s vow of vengeance, he began to suspect who the so-called Mal Deo really was. However, as duty and law exacted, on the night appointed, he went with his son to fulfill his promise, and the sight which met their eyes when they first found the Jogi was a grand moral exhibition of ghosts. Nothing daunted, the valiant Rajah asked, “ What commands are there for us ? ” To which the Jogi replied, “ O king, since you have come, just perform one piece of business. About four miles hence, in a southerly direction, there is another place where dead bodies are burned, and there is a siras or mimosa tree, upon which a body is banging. Bring it to me immediately.”

The king and his son started off, and having passed over a rough and rugged road, in the midst of thunder, lightning, and a deluge of rain, followed by goblins and surrounded by every conceivable horror, they arrived at the place described by the Jogi. Approaching the tree, Vikram saw the body. It was bloodless and apparently lifeless, save for the whisking of a ragged little tail ; its eyes, face, and hair were brown, and by these signs the king knew it to be a Baital, or vampire. Its appearance was certainly not prepossessing, but the Rajah, always brave and fearless, climbed the tree, cut down the body, and, descending, proceeded to secure it. Scarcely had he laid hands upon it when, with a shout of discordant laughter, it slipped from his grasp, and quicker than thought refastened itself to the tree. Six times did the discomfited and angry Vikram climb the tree, and six times did the wily Baital, with jibes and jeers, elude the efforts of the mighty king. It was only at the seventh trial that it allowed itself to be made captive. His failures had been hard enough to bear by the Rajah, whose slightest inclination had never before been thwarted, but they were insignificant in comparison with the mortifications which still awaited him. The Baital, who was an intensified Indian Mephistopheles, consented to go quietly with Vikram only on one condition. It was, it said, of a loquacious disposition, and would need to relieve the dreariness of the journey with the telling of sprightly tales. After each of these it would ask him a number of questions. “ But,” it concluded, “ whenever thou answerest me, either compelled by fate or entrapped by my cunning into so doing, or thereby gratifying thy vanity and conceit, I leave thee, and return to my favorite place and position in the siras-tree; but when thou shalt remain silent, confused, and at a loss to reply, either through humility, or a tacit confession of thy own ignorance and impotence and want of comprehension, then will I allow thee, of mine own free will, to place me before thy employer. Perhaps I should not say so, — it may sound like bribing thee; but take my counsel, and mortify thy pride and assumption and arrogance and haughtiness as soon as possible. So shalt thou derive from me a benefit which none but myself can bestow.” At these impudent words Rajah Vikram winced. He said nothing, however, but seized the bundle in which the vampire had been tied, threw it over his shoulder, and turned in the direction of the Jogi. In a few minutes the Baital began his first tale. By this peculiar commencement the Hindu humorist not only accomplished his own immediate end, but contrived to introduce into his work the short stories so dear to Hindu readers. Each of these is admirable in its way, but they have no immediate connection with the main plot. The ingenuity of the author converts them into snares, by which the mighty Vikram was entrapped.

The first story was interesting, and the Baital told it cleverly. The plot was one of love and intrigue, in which a young prince, his friend, and a fair princess were the leading characters. When it was finished the Baital asked the Rajah to decide as to the conduct of these three, and their influence in bringing about a certain catastrophe. Now it mattered not a farthing to the true interest of the story whether or not this particular point was discussed. The Baital’s proposition was like the problems of the Greek sophists, and it would have been best to have left it unsolved. But Vikram, with an overweening conceit in his knowledge of the law and its administration, and confident of his superior abilities as a judge, logician, and moralist, gravely and silently considered the question, and finally favored the Baital with a decision. Whereupon the latter gave a loud mocking laugh, and flew back to its original position on the tree, whither Vikram was obliged to return, and once more begin his task.

This performance was repeated at the end of each story. Rajah Vikram, despite himself, listened attentively, and was always ready to give an autocratic verdict. And when he did so, slip went the vampire. Wearied with his walks to and fro, he at last determined to sit at the foot of the tree, and there listen. He hoped, too, in this way, to clear his mind of distraction. But all in vain. As soon as the demon began to talk, the Rajah became interested, and was again inveigled into laying down the law. It was not until the Baital had related twenty-five stories, and propounded with every one a problem which could not possibly be solved, that Vikram remembered it would be better to hold his peace, and thus realized that silence is sometimes the highest wisdom. It was a difficult lesson to learn, but once learnt the mighty Rajah was great and invincible in his new power ; not all the sneers and insinuating temptations of the vampire could induce him to open his mouth. Yet to do this, — and here is a most delicate point of insulting and mischievous satire and true art, — the Baital made his last story so transparently a mere catch, or satire on the king’s wisdom, that even a child would have scorned to comment on it. The Baital found that he was at last vanquished, and prepared to depart out of the dead body he had been animating. As a return for the wearisome journeyings backwards and forwards which poor Vikram had taken, the vampire explained to him the wily intentions of the Jogi, and thus enabled him to escape being sacrificed to Durga, — which would otherwise have been his fate, — and to offer the anchorite in his stead. It is to be hoped Raja Vikram profited by the practical lessons of his tormentor. Rabelais is funnier and far more grotesque in satire; Tyll Eulenspiegel more broadly human in his mischief; Reinike Fuchs more accurate in the analysis of social evils; Sterne more searching in self-examination ; but, as a subtle and most logical indication of the weak side of the greatest wisdom, and the grain of evil in the highest human ideal of religion, conduct, or morality, the Baital Pachisi surpasses them all. No humorist ever felt so deeply as its author that man can literally imagine nothing perfect, or be devoid of vanity ; and he treats the discovery in a spirit of the purest mischief, as a monkey might behave with a polished gold vase which he had found in some ancient tomb, holding it up to all his mates that they might grin with him at their own ugliness, reflected in what was made to be beautiful. The deepest points of Hindu wisdom are here examined with perfect intelligence, simply to be shown with eccentric humor as imperfect, — very fine in their way, to be sure, but not quite what men think they are. The real lesson which the vampire teaches to the many is that personal vanity is always to be found in all human thought, and this teaching involves the extreme of skepticism. Its author was not an inquiring Agnostic, nor a believer in anything, nor yet a disbeliever. He was a genius as to construction, for he has formed his stories with a few master touches into a masterpiece of a plot. The Baital, who talks like a genial blackguard, — a Voltairean Père Duchêne, — and whose dearest delight seems to be to insult decency and dignity and corrupt the morals of the young, appears in the end as seriously wiser than the king, and as a great and good spirit, the agent of the gods, who were all anxiously engaged in a stupendous drama or scheme of life, whose object was to teach the wisest man who ever lived the last and highest lesson of wisdom, — “not to slop over,” Not to pour more water into the vase than we can carry is all that the king requires to fit him for royalty in heaven. This is the very ne plus ultra of daring satire ; nobody but a Hindu could have conceived it. Therefore, the author, with apparent sincerity, in his introduction, commends the work as one which will effect the eternal salvation of all sinners who perfectly master its lesson. And if Brahmanism or Buddhism be true, he is perfectly right. If man can be saved by his own wisdom, that wisdom must be perfect, and the Baital puts the finishing touch to every sage who ever lived, — even unto Solomon, who admitted, it is true, that all is vanity, but unlike King Vikram did not practice strictly as be preached. There is no work of Western fiction that in the least approaches to the keen irony of the Baital Pachisi.

It is almost impossible for an Oriental not to speak in parables or fables, and India is probably the birthplace of the practice of story-telling, which, after becoming so popular among the Persians and the Arabs, found its way into Europe. The Hindu stories are always intended to convey a moral to the listener or reader. The actions of one man are explained by relating those of another, and these again may receive illustration from the ways of the animal creation. This method of instruction was always used by Buddha, who accounted to his followers for present circumstances by recalling events which had taken place in their previous lives, aud many of the Jatakas, or Birth Stories, as they are called, are full of humor: as, for example, when, to explain the improper behavior of a monk, Buddha showed how, many, many years before, this very monk, then a peacock, had committed a similar offense ; for then his plumage was so beautiful that he was chosen to be the husband of the daughter of the Golden Goose, and his vanity and self-satisfaction were so great that he danced exultingly in her presence, and in doing this committed a heinous crime. Again, Buddha accounted for the fact of another monk falling victim to the charms of a fat girl because, in a previous existence, he had been born a pig, and had been served up in sausages to the same girl. Ludicrous as this seems, it was very serious matter to the Orientals. The Jatakas are to the Buddhists what parables were to the Jews and the early Christians. As Christ expounded his doctrines in parables suited to the comprehension of the populace, so Buddha successfully appealed to the believers in the transmigration of souls by his birth stories. It is more than probable that on these all fables, and possibly all parables, were originally based. They declare that a soul, whether in a human or other form, had the same characteristics, and repeated, as in a parody or an idealization, the same acts. Hence humor is manifested. Hence parables are a natural logical result of a belief in transmigration of the soul. It is plain enough that the same doctrine of metempsychosis existed among a few of the Jews, and it is thought to be admitted in the New Testament.

Many of the wonderful tales in the Arabian Nights, and even in the Decameron and other collections of stories which so delighted Europeans during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, are imitations and new versions of incidents related in the Pancha-tantra and Hitopadesa, the two earliest works of Sanskrit fiction. While the Vedas and the sacred books were particularly the property of the Brahmans, these tales which dealt with real life and its duties and pleasures were popular with the other castes. They are like a mirror, in which the prevailing tastes and ideas are reflected. Therefore the role given in them to the different characters becomes significant. The humorous description of the Brahmans in some of these stories at first appears in direct contradiction to the Hindu’s most cherished prejudices, but closer examination shows it to be their natural result. The accumulation of power in any organized religious system leads in due time to ridicule and invective. With the Hindus, in addition to the respect exacted by the dignity of the priesthood, there was that arising from the distinction of caste. It was this pernicious system which made possible the sect of the Maharajas, who for pious immorality have never been equaled. In this sect the Gurus declared themselves to he incarnations of the great god Krishna, and more powerful than the god himself. “When Hari [Krishna] is displeased with any one, the Guru saves him,” so they declared ; “ but when the Guru is displeased with any one, who can save him?” Many people were weak enough to be awed by this assumption of power. It is very strange how often men have delighted in allowing themselves to be trampled on. There were Hindus who were easily induced to worship men no better, or rather worse, than ordinary mortals. As token of their humble adoration, some were carried to such depths of degradation that they drank the water with which the Maharaj performed his ablutions as if it had been ambrosia or their own divine soma. This shows the state of servility to which the proud and arrogant Brahmans reduced their inferiors by caste ; yet with all their superiority they could not wholly crush the spirit of satire. The same incentive which inspired the mediæval artist in his caricatures of the monks goaded the “ mild Hindu ” to the wildest ridicule of the Brahman. In the Sanskrit drama, he appears as Vidushaka, or jester, and plays the part of the servant or slave in the Greek comedies, the French valet, or the Spanish Gracioso. He is a mixture of the clown and pantaloon of our modern pantomimes. He excites mirth by his silliness, and only occasionally by his wit. He is represented as hideously ugly, deformed, and attired in absurd fashion, He is the companion rather than the servant of the hero, and his buffoonery and sensuality are a humorous contrast to the earnestness of the other. In Sakuntala, the love-sick king tells Matharya, the Brahman, that he will require his services shortly, but in a matter which will give him no fatigue. “ In eating something nice, I hope ! ” is the characteristic exclamation of the unsentimental, greedy Matharya. The Vidushaka differs from court-fools and from Shakespeare’s clowns in being always the butt, and not the contriver, of the jokes and jests.

The humorous satire directed against the Brahmans is fully perfected in the story of the Guru Simple and his five disciples, Noodle, Doodle, Wiseacre, Fooyle, and Zany. This work bears, it is true, the name of a Jesuit missionary, but it is in reality a collection of older Indian tales. In it a Guru, by virtue of his rank, is supposed to be competent to teach the people and direct them in every matter, either spiritual or temporal. This is what should be ; the Hindu satirist describes what is. He draws the picture of an old man, who to the ignorance of childhood joins a great affectation of authority and sagacity. He is as full of gross superstitions as an African fetich-worshiper, and as unversed in the wisdom of the world and the ways of mankind as the babe unborn. Credulous as the Bruin of legends, he is gulled and fooled by every Reynard he meets. As Guru he is frequently referred to as umpire in disputed cases, and on these occasions his shrewd decisions, born of simplicity, recall the sagacious sentences passed by honest Sancho Panza while governor of his famous island. The idiotic stupidity of the five disciples is as humorously naïve as the easy credulity of the good old Guru Simple. They excel in the wisdom of folly, but are pleasingly confident in their own merit. Their religious duties are so arduous as to leave them absolutely no time for self-improvement, and they are in consequence extremely ignorant. The daily occupations of Doodle are cited to satirize the way in which the Brahmans waste their time in useless ablutions and superfluous detail of sacrifice, to the neglect of more important duties. Their real laziness, though concealed under the cover of great assiduity and faithfulness in the proper observance of religious rites, early attracted the attention of the satirist. Professor Max Müller has translated a hymn in the Rig-Veda, in which a so-called Panegyric of the Frogs is really a satire of the Brahmans. Another of the hymns has this line : “ Do not be as lazy as a Brahman.” To the Kshatriya and Vaisya, who had plenty of real honest work to do in this world, duties which consisted in too frequently washing the teeth, rinsing the mouth, painting the face, and so on were as unmeaning as would be the efforts of a man to empty a lake of its waters with a sieve.

The last incident related in the Guru Simple, which resulted in the Guru’s death, is perhaps the most truly humorous. To appreciate the satire it is well to remember the serene self-complacency of the Guru. One day Wiseacre, who, if possible, surpassed his companions in imbecility, went to cut some banyan leaves for his master. Climbing the tree and sitting astride one of the branches, he began, like Hogarth’s sawyer, to cut away at that part which was between himself and the trunk of the tree. A stranger, a wise Pandit, passed, saw his danger, and warned him of it. Wiseacre, in return, reviled him for his interference. He continued lustily chopping, until in due time down came the bough, and Wiseacre with it. Impressed by this catastrophe, and holding it to be a proof of the stranger’s prophetic power, he ran after him, apologized humbly for his own boorishness, and begged him, since he could so clearly see into the future, to make known to him the length of time which his much-loved master, the Guru, had still to live. The Pandit at first tried to escape Wiseacre’s importunities, but to no avail. Therefore, as a last resource, but not without sly relish of the joke, he turned around with the utmost solemnity, bade Wiseacre listen to the message of the stars, and slowly and impressively said, in a Sanskrit phrase which is at the same time almost Rommany, or common Gypsy, Asvanam chitam jivana nasham. Wiseacre was deeply impressed with the mystic sentence, but, uncertain of its meaning, he asked the stranger to explain it. Whereupon the latter declared it to be the language of the initiated, and interpreted it as “ Cold in the rear when death is near.” The poor old Guru, when he heard these words, pondered long over them, and laid them so deeply to heart that when, not long afterwards, he caught cold, he imagined his last hour had arrived, and prepared to die. Once he was aroused by the intervention of the jester of the village, the common sense of the latter contrasting pleasantly with the folly of the would-be wise. But the old man only rallied for a while. By accident he took fresh cold, and, distracted with fear, fell into a deep swoon, and lay as still as death. His disciples hastened to perform the necessary funeral ceremonies. To purify the body they carried it to a neighboring stream, and immersed it in the water. The cold bath revived the Guru, and the rubbing which was part of the ceremonial made his blood circulate more rapidly. Consciousness returned, but he was completely under the water, and could not call out for help. He made a few violent struggles to break loose from the clutch of his too devoted pupils, but they, in their superstitious ignorance, thought a baital or demon was animating the body. The more the Guru fought, the more firmly they held him. His strength was almost gone, owing to his late illness, and he soon perished, the unfortunate victim of his own and his disciples’ credulity. In this manner was accomplished the Pandit’s prophecy, Asvanam chitam jivana nasham.

To all who can read between the lines these tales of the people are deeply significant. There is no nation whose whole history can be so clearly traced as that of the Hindus, though in India there has never been an Herodotus, nor a Tacitus, nor a Gervaise of Tilbury, to record early facts and dates or gossiping tales. But more important than the getting by heart long lists of sovereigns and the chronological order of battles and sieges is an insight into the spirit of the people. What matters it now whether the Indian Chandragupta really lived and died, save that his name stands as a signal to indicate the first meeting of Eastern and Western Aryans after their long separation ? But that which will always be of undying interest to poets and historians is the ideas of men and women, first as to the world around them, and then as to the great beyond, the mystery of which humanity earnestly and persistently seeks to fathom; and these ideas and their influence upon the Hindu’s character are recorded in lhe Vedas, the Code of Menu, the epics, and the lighter writings. Humor and pathos, the sublime and the ridiculous, all tell the same tale in Sanskrit literature. They reflect the aspirations of a people whose every thought was centred on the future, and so help us to read as plainly as if the facts were printed the virtues and the defects of Indian civilization.

Elizabeth Robins.