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Monday, May 5, 2014

Mrs Reid discusses religion

On the first of December [1800] the ship left town, to complete her lading at Saugor. 

When the live stock was going off, the head Sircar, who was of the Bramin or priest cast, begged to have one of the kids, which was entirely black. I asked his reason for selecting that; he said intended sacrificing it to his God, and that at the same time he would pray that we might have a fortunate voyage. I told him he should have no kid from me for any such idolatrous purpose, and enquired what sort of a god or gods he worshipped; he replied that his god was my god also. I told him I did not believe in his deity Brahma; he said that might be, but that I believe in the great Supreme of all, who inhabited the heavens, and created the sun, moon, and stars, with this world; who had also created Brahma, vishnu, and Sheevah, inferior gods, to rule on earth, and superintend the affairs of mankind. 

I asked which of his gods required poor human creatures to sacrifice themselves in the Ganges to sharks, which I understood was their practice every year at a certain time. He said it was very true that it was so, and happy were the souls that were so taken from the body; that the god Varoona, who presided over the sea and all waters, immediately transported their spirits to the Supreme. 

I also asked him which of his gods required a woman to burn herself upon the funeral pile of her husband? he answered that such sacrifices were not enjoined by any law in their sacred books; that it was a voluntary act, that the soul of such a woman would be for ever happy; but that if she was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death, she was not allowed to burn herself. He confessed, however, that the wife, who did not sacrifice herself, would be degraded and despised by her family. 

I told him that I trusted the time was not far distant when his gods would cease to find worshippers, and yield to the pure influence of Christianity. He informed me that their sacred books, which were in the care of the heads of his caste (the Bramins), were written by the Supreme himself; that in them it is declared that no earthly king, or people, can be admitted proselytes to the religion o the Hindoos, nor be incorporated with them; but he acknowledged, however, that it is foretold in their sacred records, that at one period of time all mankind will profess one religion, and worship the Supreme God in the same manner; and that then the spirits of all will be taken from the earth, which will be consumed and vanish like smoke. He confessed that this universal religion could not be that of the Hindoos, but some other.

I often conversed with this man, who told me many strange things respecting their customs. He said his caste never ate any thing that had animal life; that their food consisted entirely of rice, vegetables, fruits, and milk, a kind of pastry, and sweetmeats made of honey, ghee, &c.; some of the inferior castes are allowed to east fish, and some kinds of flesh made into curries with vegetables, but those are much more respected who abstain from such food. 

They respect all religions which enjoin the worship of the Supreme Being, and are commanded to give food and water to their greatest enemies. How very different is the mild deportment of these people to that of the Mahometans, who propagated the tenets of the Koran by the force of arms. The latter are the most numerous class here, and hate the poor Hindoos as much as they do the Christians; they are only kept in subjection by the great power of the English; they however respect our laws, which are administered to all impartially. But I have made a long digression. 

To return to the kid which I refused to give the Sircar; he had still so great a desire to have it, that he said if I would give it to him he would beg my acceptance of a Bengal cow and calf, to take to the ship, provided I would faithfully promise not to suffer either to be killed. I gave way to his entreaties, and gave him the favorite kid; the next morning a fine young cow and her calf were standing in the compound for me.

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