Modern India eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 495 pages of information about Modern India.

Over in one corner of the cloisters is a reliquary guarded by a squad of fierce-looking priests, which contains some of the most precious relics of the prophet in existence.  They have a hair from his mustache, which is red; one of his slippers, the print of his foot in a stone, two copies of portions of the Koran—­one of them written by his son-in-law, Imam Husain, very clear and well preserved, and the other by his grandson, Imam Hasan.  Both are very beautiful specimens of chirography, and would have a high value for that reason alone, but obtained especial sanctity because of the tradition that both were written at the dictation of the Prophet himself, and are among the oldest copies of the Koran in existence.

XVIII

THUGS, FAKIRS, AND NAUTCH DANCERS

The most interesting classes among the many kinds of priests, monks and other people, who make religion a profession in India, are the thugs, fakirs and nautch girls, who are supposed to devote their lives and talents to the service of the gods.  There are several kinds of fakirs and other religious mendicants in India, about five thousand in number, most of them being nomads, wandering from city to city and temple to temple, dependent entirely upon the charity of the faithful.  They reward those who serve them with various forms of blessings; give them advice concerning all the affairs of life from the planting of their crops to the training of their children.  They claim supernatural powers to confer good and invoke evil, and the curse of a fakir is the last misfortune that an honest Hindu cares to bring upon himself, for it means a failure of his harvests, the death of his cattle by disease, sickness in his family and bad luck in everything that he undertakes.  Hence these holy men, who are familiars of the gods, and are believed to spend most of their time communicating with them in some mysterious way about the affairs of the world, are able to command anything the people have to give, and nobody would willingly cross their shadows or incur their displeasure.  The name is pronounced as if it were spelled “fah-keer.”

These religious mendicants go almost naked, usually with nothing but the smallest possible breech clout around their loins, which the police require them to wear; they plaster their bodies with mud, ashes and filth; they rub clay, gum and other substances into their hair to give it an uncouth appearance.  Sometimes they wear their hair in long braids hanging down their backs like the queue of a Chinaman; sometimes in short braids sticking out in every direction like the wool of the pickaninnies down South.  Some of them have strings of beads around their necks, others coils of rope round them.  They never wear hats and usually carry nothing but a small brass bowl, in imitation of Buddha, which is the only property they possess on earth.  They are usually accompanied by a youthful disciple, called a “chela,” a boy of from 10 to 15 years of age, who will become a fakir himself unless something occurs to change his career.

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Modern India from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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