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Chapter 51

Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its
laws or its songs either.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

Yes, the city of Benares is in effect just a big church, a religious
hive, whose every cell is a temple, a shrine or a mosque, and whose every
conceivable earthly and heavenly good is procurable under one roof, so to
speak--a sort of Army and Navy Stores, theologically stocked.

I will make out a little itinerary for the pilgrim; then you will see how
handy the system is, how convenient, how comprehensive. If you go to
Benares with a serious desire to spiritually benefit yourself, you will
find it valuable. I got some of the facts from conversations with the
Rev. Mr. Parker and the others from his Guide to Benares; they are
therefore trustworthy.

1. Purification. At sunrise you must go down to the Ganges and bathe,
pray, and drink some of the water. This is for your general
purification.

2. Protection against Hunger. Next, you must fortify yourself against
the sorrowful earthly ill just named. This you will do by worshiping for
a moment in the Cow Temple. By the door of it you will find an image of
Ganesh, son of Shiva; it has the head of an elephant on a human body; its
face and hands are of silver. You will worship it a little, and pass on,
into a covered veranda, where you will find devotees reciting from the
sacred books, with the help of instructors. In this place are groups of
rude and dismal idols. You may contribute something for their support;
then pass into the temple, a grim and stenchy place, for it is populous
with sacred cows and with beggars. You will give something to the
beggars, and "reverently kiss the tails" of such cows as pass along, for
these cows are peculiarly holy, and this act of worship will secure you
from hunger for the day.

3. "The Poor Man's Friend." You will next worship this god. He is at
the bottom of a stone cistern in the temple of Dalbhyeswar, under the
shade of a noble peepul tree on the bluff overlooking the Ganges, so you
must go back to the river. The Poor Man's Friend is the god of material
prosperity in general, and the god of the rain in particular. You will
secure material prosperity, or both, by worshiping him. He is Shiva,
under a new alias, and he abides in the bottom of that cistern, in the
form of a stone lingam. You pour Ganges water over him, and in return
for this homage you get the promised benefits. If there is any delay
about the rain, you must pour water in until the cistern is full; the
rain will then be sure to come.

4. Fever. At the Kedar Ghat you will find a long flight of stone steps
leading down to the river. Half way down is a tank filled with sewage.
Drink as much of it as you want. It is for fever.

5. Smallpox. Go straight from there to the central Ghat. At its
upstream end you will find a small whitewashed building, which is a
temple sacred to Sitala, goddess of smallpox. Her under-study is there
--a rude human figure behind a brass screen. You will worship this for
reasons to be furnished presently.

6. The Well of Fate. For certain reasons you will next go and do homage
at this well. You will find it in the Dandpan Temple, in the city. The
sunlight falls into it from a square hole in the masonry above. You will
approach it with awe, for your life is now at stake. You will bend over
and look. If the fates are propitious, you will see your face pictured
in the water far down in the well. If matters have been otherwise
ordered, a sudden cloud will mask the sun and you will see nothing. This
means that you have not six months to live. If you are already at the
point of death, your circumstances are now serious. There is no time to
lose. Let this world go, arrange for the next one. Handily situated, at
your very elbow, is opportunity for this. You turn and worship the image
of Maha Kal, the Great Fate, and happiness in the life to come is
secured. If there is breath in your body yet, you should now make an
effort to get a further lease of the present life. You have a chance.
There is a chance for everything in this admirably stocked and
wonderfully systemized Spiritual and Temporal Army and Navy Store. You
must get yourself carried to the

7. Well of Long Life. This is within the precincts of the mouldering and
venerable Briddhkal Temple, which is one of the oldest in Benares. You
pass in by a stone image of the monkey god, Hanuman, and there, among the
ruined courtyards, you will find a shallow pool of stagnant sewage. It
smells like the best limburger cheese, and is filthy with the washings of
rotting lepers, but that is nothing, bathe in it; bathe in it gratefully
and worshipfully, for this is the Fountain of Youth; these are the Waters
of Long Life. Your gray hairs will disappear, and with them your
wrinkles and your rheumatism, the burdens of care and the weariness of
age, and you will come out young, fresh, elastic, and full of eagerness
for the new race of life. Now will come flooding upon you the manifold
desires that haunt the dear dreams of the morning of life. You will go
whither you will find

8. Fulfillment of Desire. To wit, to the Kameshwar Temple, sacred to
Shiva as the Lord of Desires. Arrange for yours there. And if you like
to look at idols among the pack and jam of temples, there you will find
enough to stock a museum. You will begin to commit sins now with a
fresh, new vivacity; therefore, it will be well to go frequently to a
place where you can get

9. Temporary Cleansing from Sin. To wit, to the Well of the Earring.
You must approach this with the profoundest reverence, for it is
unutterably sacred. It is, indeed, the most sacred place in Benares, the
very Holy of Holies, in the estimation of the people. It is a railed
tank, with stone stairways leading down to the water. The water is not
clean. Of course it could not be, for people are always bathing in it.
As long as you choose to stand and look, you will see the files of
sinners descending and ascending--descending soiled with sin, ascending
purged from it. "The liar, the thief, the murderer, and the adulterer
may here wash and be clean," says the Rev. Mr. Parker, in his book. Very
well. I know Mr. Parker, and I believe it; but if anybody else had said
it, I should consider him a person who had better go down in the tank and
take another wash. The god Vishnu dug this tank. He had nothing to dig
with but his "discus." I do not know what a discus is, but I know it is a
poor thing to dig tanks with, because, by the time this one was finished,
it was full of sweat--Vishnu's sweat. He constructed the site that
Benares stands on, and afterward built the globe around it, and thought
nothing of it, yet sweated like that over a little thing like this tank.
One of these statements is doubtful. I do not know which one it is, but
I think it difficult not to believe that a god who could build a world
around Benares would not be intelligent enough to build it around the
tank too, and not have to dig it. Youth, long life, temporary
purification from sin, salvation through propitiation of the Great Fate
--these are all good. But you must do something more. You must

10. Make Salvation Sure. There are several ways. To get drowned in
the Ganges is one, but that is not pleasant. To die within the limits of
Benares is another; but that is a risky one, because you might be out of
town when your time came. The best one of all is the Pilgrimage Around
the City. You must walk; also, you must go barefoot. The tramp is
forty-four miles, for the road winds out into the country a piece, and
you will be marching five or six days. But you will have plenty of
company. You will move with throngs and hosts of happy pilgrims whose
radiant costumes will make the spectacle beautiful and whose glad songs
and holy pans of triumph will banish your fatigues and cheer your spirit;
and at intervals there will be temples where you may sleep and be
refreshed with food. The pilgrimage completed, you have purchased
salvation, and paid for it. But you may not get it unless you

11. Get Your Redemption Recorded. You can get this done at the Sakhi
Binayak Temple, and it is best to do it, for otherwise you might not be
able to prove that you had made the pilgrimage in case the matter should
some day come to be disputed. That temple is in a lane back of the Cow
Temple. Over the door is a red image of Ganesh of the elephant head, son
and heir of Shiva, and Prince of Wales to the Theological Monarchy, so to
speak. Within is a god whose office it is to record your pilgrimage and
be responsible for you. You will not see him, but you will see a Brahmin
who will attend to the matter and take the money. If he should forget to
collect the money, you can remind him. He knows that your salvation is
now secure, but of course you would like to know it yourself. You have
nothing to do but go and pray, and pay at the

12. Well of the Knowledge of Salvation. It is close to the Golden
Temple. There you will see, sculptured out of a single piece of black
marble, a bull which is much larger than any living bull you have ever
seen, and yet is not a good likeness after all. And there also you will
see a very uncommon thing--an image of Shiva. You have seen his lingam
fifty thousand times already, but this is Shiva himself, and said to be a
good likeness. It has three eyes. He is the only god in the firm that
has three. "The well is covered by a fine canopy of stone supported by
forty pillars," and around it you will find what you have already seen at
almost every shrine you have visited in Benares, a mob of devout and
eager pilgrims. The sacred water is being ladled out to them; with it
comes to them the knowledge, clear, thrilling, absolute, that they are
saved; and you can see by their faces that there is one happiness in this
world which is supreme, and to which no other joy is comparable. You
receive your water, you make your deposit, and now what more would you
have? Gold, diamonds, power, fame? All in a single moment these things
have withered to dirt, dust, ashes. The world has nothing to give you
now. For you it is bankrupt.

I do not claim that the pilgrims do their acts of worship in the order
and sequence above charted out in this Itinerary of mine, but I think
logic suggests that they ought to do so. Instead of a helter-skelter
worship, we then have a definite starting-place, and a march which
carries the pilgrim steadily forward by reasoned and logical progression
to a definite goal. Thus, his Ganges bath in the early morning gives him
an appetite; he kisses the cow-tails, and that removes it. It is now
business hours, and longings for material prosperity rise in his mind,
and he goes and pours water over Shiva's symbol; this insures the
prosperity, but also brings on a rain, which gives him a fever. Then he
drinks the sewage at the Kedar Ghat to cure the fever; it cures the fever
but gives him the smallpox. He wishes to know how it is going to turn
out; he goes to the Dandpan Temple and looks down the well. A clouded
sun shows him that death is near. Logically his best course for the
present, since he cannot tell at what moment he may die, is to secure a
happy hereafter; this he does, through the agency of the Great Fate. He
is safe, now, for heaven; his next move will naturally be to keep out of
it as long as he can. Therefore he goes to the Briddhkal Temple and
secures Youth and long life by bathing in a puddle of leper-pus which
would kill a microbe. Logically, Youth has re-equipped him for sin and
with the disposition to commit it; he will naturally go to the fane which
is consecrated to the Fulfillment of Desires, and make arrangements.
Logically, he will now go to the Well of the Earring from time to time to
unload and freshen up for further banned enjoyments. But first and last
and all the time he is human, and therefore in his reflective intervals
he will always be speculating in "futures." He will make the Great
Pilgrimage around the city and so make his salvation absolutely sure; he
will also have record made of it, so that it may remain absolutely sure
and not be forgotten or repudiated in the confusion of the Final
Settlement. Logically, also, he will wish to have satisfying and
tranquilizing personal knowledge that that salvation is secure; therefore
he goes to the Well of the Knowledge of Salvation, adds that completing
detail, and then goes about his affairs serene and content; serene and
content, for he is now royally endowed with an advantage which no
religion in this world could give him but his own; for henceforth he may
commit as many million sins as he wants to and nothing can come of it.

Thus the system, properly and logically ordered, is neat, compact,
clearly defined, and covers the whole ground. I desire to recommend it
to such as find the other systems too difficult, exacting, and irksome
for the uses of this fretful brief life of ours.

However, let me not deceive any one. My Itinerary lacks a detail. I
must put it in. The truth is, that after the pilgrim has faithfully
followed the requirements of the Itinerary through to the end and has
secured his salvation and also the personal knowledge of that fact, there
is still an accident possible to him which can annul the whole thing. If
he should ever cross to the other side of the Ganges and get caught out
and die there he would at once come to life again in the form of an ass.
Think of that, after all this trouble and expense. You see how
capricious and uncertain salvation is there. The Hindoo has a childish
and unreasoning aversion to being turned into an ass. It is hard to tell
why. One could properly expect an ass to have an aversion to being
turned into a Hindoo. One could understand that he could lose dignity by
it; also self-respect, and nine-tenths of his intelligence. But the
Hindoo changed into an ass wouldn't lose anything, unless you count his
religion. And he would gain much--release from his slavery to two
million gods and twenty million priests, fakeers, holy mendicants, and
other sacred bacilli; he would escape the Hindoo hell; he would also
escape the Hindoo heaven. These are advantages which the Hindoo ought to
consider; then he would go over and die on the other side.

Benares is a religious Vesuvius. In its bowels the theological forces
have been heaving and tossing, rumbling, thundering and quaking, boiling,
and weltering and flaming and smoking for ages. But a little group of
missionaries have taken post at its base, and they have hopes. There are
the Baptist Missionary Society, the Church Missionary Society, the London
Missionary Society, the Wesleyan Missionary Society, and the Zenana Bible
and Medical Mission. They have schools, and the principal work seems to
be among the children. And no doubt that part of the work prospers best,
for grown people everywhere are always likely to cling to the religion
they were brought up in.

Mark Twain