“That is what I am doing, Sir Modava.”
“These funeral pyres are burning all the time, night and day. The people whose bodies are consumed in these fires, and their friends, believe that the souls of the deceased will pass from this spot into paradise, where, if they have not been very great sinners they will be transplanted into the bodies of future Brahmins. Many deceased persons are brought even hundreds of miles to be burned on the Munikurnika by the Ganges, as their sure passport to the realms of bliss.”
The obliging captain took the steamer near enough to the ghat to enable the tourists to see the process of burning. An occasional puff of the horribly offensive odor came to the nostrils of the sightseers; but the captain sheered off, and they got very little of it.
“It smells just like assafoedita. It is awful-smelling stuff; and I wonder if they don’t make it out of this smoke, for it hits my nose in just the same way,” said Mrs. Blossom. “I took care of old Jotham Beeling when he had the apoplexy, and gave the stuff to him. The room smelt then just the same as it does here.”
“You are quite right, madam,” said Dr. Hawkes, laughing. “It gets part of its name from its bad odor; but it is not made out of smoke. Asa is the gum of a tree that grows here. It has a very offensive odor, which gives it the rest of the name, from foeditas, meaning foul, filthy.”
The workmen who were operating the burning were nearly naked, begrimed by the sooty smoke, and looked like so many imps. They were stirring up the fires with long iron pokers, and throwing vessels of oil upon them. The boat passed beyond the fumes of the pyres, and came up to the ghat, at the request of Lord Tremlyn. A multitude of hideous-looking cripples, humpbacks, and beggars made an onslaught on the steamer; and the boys and gentlemen pelted them with coppers, with which they had been forewarned to supply themselves. It was fun to them, and the mendicants enjoyed it quite as much.
“There is a procession of pilgrims just arrived,” said Captain Carlisle, pointing to the high ground beyond the ghat. “They are coming here all the time. The Hindus under the umbrellas are Brahmins, who collect the fees for bathing from the steps; and they sell certificates of purification, indulgences, and amulets.”
The boat continued on her course, and they did not wait to see the bathing, though the heads of the swimmers were soon in view. A staircase is reserved for women, who are watched over by the elders of their sex. But they could be seen in the distance, frolicking in the water; and they were so hilarious that their shouts could be heard on board of the Sylph, as the boat was called.
The steamer next came to a long row of palaces on the high ground, whose fronts were profusely ornamented with staircases that exceeded in extent and beauty anything they had before seen. Every rajah has a residence here, not permanent, but where he comes to celebrate the religious festivals. The king of Nagpore has the finest one, with one hundred stairs of white sandstone reaching down to the water.