Feeding Pilgrims—Marriage of a Stone with a Shrub.
At Sayyidpur we encamped in a pretty little mango grove, and here I had a visit from my old friend Janki Sewak, the high priest of the great temple that projects into the Sagar lake, and is called Bindraban. He has two villages rent free, worth a thousand rupees a year; collects something more through his numerous disciples, who wander over the country; and spends the whole in feeding all the members of his fraternity (Bairagis), devotees of Vishnu, as they pass his temple in their pilgrimages. Every one who comes is considered entitled to a good meal and a night’s lodging; and he has to feed and lodge about a hundred a day. He is a man of very pleasing manners and gentle disposition, and everybody likes him. He was on his return from the town of Ludhaura, where he had been, at the invitation of the Raja of Orchha, to assist at the celebration of the marriage of Salagram with the Tulasi, which there takes place every year under the auspices and at the expense of the Raja, who must be present. ’Salagrams’ are rounded pebbles which contain the impressions of ammonites, and are washed down into the plains of India by the rivers from the limestone rocks in which these shells are imbedded in the mountains of the Himalaya. The Spiti valley contains an immense deposit of fossil ammonites and belemnites in limestone rocks, now elevated above sixteen thousand feet above the level of the sea; and from such beds as these are brought down the fragments, which, when rounded in their course, the poor Hindoo takes for representatives of Vishnu, the preserving god of the Hindoo triad. The Salagram is the only stone idol among the Hindoos that is essentially sacred, and entitled to divine honours without the ceremonies of consecration. It is everywhere held most sacred. During the war against Nepal, Captain B------, who commanded a reconnoitring party from the division in which I served, one day brought back to camp some four or five Salagrams, which he had found at the hut of some priest within the enemy’s frontier. He called for a large stone and hammer, and proceeded to examine them. The Hindoos were all in a dreadful state of consternation, and expected to see the earth open and swallow up the whole camp, while he sat calmly cracking their gods with his hammer, as he would have cracked so many walnuts. The Tulasi is a small sacred shrub (Ocymum sanctum), which is a metamorphosis of Sita, the wife of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu.
This little pebble is every year married to this little shrub; and the high priest told me that on the present occasion the procession consisted of eight elephants, twelve hundred camels, four thousand horses, all mounted and elegantly caparisoned. On the leading elephant of this cortege, and the most sumptuously decorated, was carried the pebble god, who was taken to pay his bridal visit (barat) to the little shrub goddess. All the ceremonies of a regular marriage are gone through; and, when completed, the bride and bridegroom are left to repose together in the temple of Ludhaura till the next season. ’Above a hundred thousand people’, the priest said, ’were present at the ceremony this year at the Raja’s invitation, and feasted upon his bounty.’