Tour Of India – Southern India

February 6, 1912, BUCKINGHAM CANAL, NEAR MADRAS. I’m afraid my last letter may have been a very dull one, as I was so tired when I wrote it. So as I am now on the slowest conveyance known even in India, viz., a towed houseboat, I take the opportunity of beginning this week’s.

I left Panjim (New Goa) on Thursday morning by the seven o’clock boat. The sunrise over the creek was lovely. We arrived off Mormumgao about a quarter-past eight, but the Republican Government had played us a little joke, and forbidden the boat to land us there on or after February 1st, which it was, on plea of plague. A curious result of plague is that it excites officials to take quite fatuous precautions against it, and no useful ones.

In this case it involved our being landed two miles farther on up the creek at Vasco da Gama, whence those bound for Mormumgao had to walk ; similarly the plaguey people of Mormumgao walked out and got in at Vasco. I never heard that a two-mile walk killed fleas, and as the tug in any case never comes to the quayside, at Mormumgao I can’t see what was gained by the change.

While waiting for the train at Vasco I got some stamps. I wholly failed to get any of a higher value than twopence ; they are almost unprocurable, but as one could get five different sorts new for a penny, I amassed a good many, plus some used ones the postmaster had.

On the way back in the train I tried to photo-graph some of the scenery, but I don’t know whether they will come out.

I got as far as Dharwar that night. . . . I must say the missionary ladies are far more attractive than the ordinary run of women out here, not because they’re better (which they are), nor because they’re prettier (which they aren’t), but because they have got something to do and are keen about it, which teaches them to say what they think, and this seems to me the one sine qua non of tolerable conversation—only, of course, it would result in total silence for some of the others if they adopted it as a rule.

From Dharwar I started on Friday morning at the savoury hour of four, and reached H ospet (which I marked on the map I sent you) at one o’clock. Here occurred a characteristic scene with native officials. I had forgotten to re-book at the place where my return from Goa expired, and so as soon as I reached Hospet I went to the station-master and told him I had overridden my ticket and wanted to pay the difference. The station-master and ticket-collector thereupon consulted the book of rules, where they found that Rule 92 was to this effect : ” If a passenger override his ticket, and on alighting inform the guard that he has done so before he is detected, he shall be liable to a penalty of one rupee : otherwise he shall pay double fare.”

Would you believe it, these two fatuous officials tried the whole time I was eating luncheon to make me pay double fare because on alighting I had informed the stationmaster instead of the guard, so that my case came under ” otherwise ” ! However, I was taking none of that argument; but it is typical of the way in which Indians are incapable of using one atom of discretion apart from the written rule. And when I offered to leave them my name and address, for a long time they would only reply : ” That is not our will and pleasure.”

From Hospet I proceeded seven miles to Hampi in a bullock-cart. This vehicle is innocent of springs, but has an awning, and they made me a bed of sugar-canes. It was not very uncomfortable, but a good deal too hot, and it took two hours, which is very good going for bullocks ; they were little humpy ones and trotted quite well.

Hampi is one of the most remarkable places I have ever seen. You come suddenly on a range of granite hills steep and individual, like a region of giant ant-hills set base to base and they are strewn from top to bottom with thousands of granite boulders of every conceivable shape, from round globes to beam-like slabs, piled and poised in every imaginable fantastic balance. The only things I ever saw at all like it were the Matoppos round Rhodes’s grave, but Hampi was much bleaker and more weird, since, if I remember, the Matoppo boulders were well rounded. Strange balancing stones they both had in great numbers. Through these hills (Hampi is well in the range) runs the Tungabhadra River, a quick-flowing, eddying, swishing stream, boulder-strewn like a Dartmoor ” water ” and about a hundred and twenty (perhaps only a hundred) yards wide at this moment. It winds and splashes down a course that is too wild to be called a bed and too open to be called a gorge, and the huge boulders shone against the water in the evening sun, and monkeys sat and played on them.

On the banks of this river are the amazingly vast ruins of the great city of Vijayanagar, which I mentioned last week. From 1350 to 1560 the Hindu kings of Vijayanagar ruled over the whole of South India from the Kistna River to Cape Comorin, and incessantly fought the Mohammedan kings of the Deccan. Finally, in 1565, the four Mohammedan kings (I Mink : perhaps only the last two) of Ahmedabad, Ahmednagar, Bijapur, and Golkonda combined and defeated the King of Vijayanagar, then at the height of his power, at the great battle of Talikot, The rout was so complete that Vijayanagar itself was not defended, and the Mohammedans burnt and sacked it for four months, since when it has been a desert. The Indians don’t seem to come back to old sites as Europeans do.

The circuit of the city is twenty-four miles, and in extent the ruins are only comparable to those of Rome. The place is so inaccessible that it is not often visited, and I had no idea of its size, so I had only allowed one day there, which wasn’t nearly enough. To go round the main buildings in the heart of the city near the river meant a walk of nearly eight miles. I walked from five o’clock to eight that evening, and though I was fearfully tired at the end (I had got up at four, remember), I enjoyed it enormously.

On first arriving, at half-past four, I had tea by the roadside on the top of a ridge overlooking the river. I sat looking along the river, which was on my left. Between me and it was the great temple (called Sri Pampapatiswami), with its go-puram (Fergusson explains what gopurams are) a hundred and sixty-five feet high, one of the largest in India. From the great temple the old Sacra via led along the river, passing for the first half-mile down the stone skeleton of a splendid bazaar, each shop being framed in three monoliths, a weirdly ghostlike avenue, all still and empty, with grass where the roadway had been. In front of me and behind were dotted scores of little temples and shrines of Greek simplicity made with huge monolithic blocks while on the right, on the reverse slope of the ridge, was another large temple, Krishna’s, much ruined, but as big as the Parthenon.

After tea I followed the sacred way, which after passing the bazaar became stone-flagged and wound along the river, cut in the rock and in one place tunnelling. The views down the gorge-bed were most attractive in the sunset at one point were the piers of a big bridge.

After two and a half miles, and passing a few shrines and temples, this road ended in Witthoba’s temple, easily the most beautiful Hindu temple I have seen. There were four pavilions in one enclosure, with finely pillared porticoes, the pillars elaborately carved. Very graceful thin pillars were joined to the thicker ones, giving a great effect of lightness. I find I can’t draw it ; perhaps Fergus–son illustrates it, though his pictures of Vijayanagar are much less adequate than most.

By this time it was quite dark, and I had one and a quarter hour’s walk under the full moon to the dak bungalow, through another long skeleton-bazaar ending in a great temple, then over rough ground and through all manner of courts, buildings, stables, and towns which I was too tired to notice much.

The dak bungalow is three miles from the river and still well within the ruins, being itself a temple with the walls filled in by Government. One has to bring one’s own food and bedding.

On Saturday I got up at six and tried to hire a pony to cover the ground but the first man to promise me one (from a neighbouring village) afterwards said he had lost it, and finally only a colt was produced, which, when I mounted, stood as if about to spread-eagle, and refused to move : so I had recourse to the police-inspector’s bicycle, which took me over two miles till the road petered out ; and I did the rest on foot. I went over the same ground as before, in reverse order, as the book said there was nothing so fine among the other ruins, and I wanted to take some photo-graphs: of which I took seven. In the courtyard of the great temple the monkeys came down and let me feed them.

I rejoined the bullock-cart at ten o’clock and caught the one o’clock train at Hospet for Madras.

We got to Madras at six on Sunday morning. Just outside they gave us all passports, which you have to present in person for endorsement to the health officer every day for seven days, another futile precaution against plague. However, I got exempted.

I had a bath and changed at the station and went to St. Mary’s Church, the oldest English church in India, where there was Parade Service at eight followed by a Celebration.

After church I met my hostess, and she took me up to their house in her motor.

After tea two ladies called, and they took me for two hours round Madras in the motor, which finally ran out of petrol at a quarter-past seven, four miles from the house, with a dinner-party at eight. I stopped a passing car and asked for petrol, and the owner, a native banker, most kindly took us all three home in his own car, right out of his way. He told me that people had been so kind to him when he was in England that he was always glad to repay it.

Madras is a very extensive town, being spaced out with avenues, gardens, and estuaries. Teynampet, where the bishop lives, is five miles from the centre. It is all as flat as your palm, but there is a constant breeze off the sea, and the roads are all finely shaded avenues of banyan and other big trees. Consequently it does not seem as hot as Bombay, being less steamy, though the actual temperature is slightly higher now (about 75 at night and 82 by day : Bombay about three degrees lower) but in the hot weather Madras goes up to 103, whereas Bombay never exceeds 94, neither comparing with the great plains, which reach 120. Madras too is distinctly greener than Bombay, with lots of palms and nice cannas, etc., in the gardens. The reason is that though Bombay gets eighty inches to Madra’s forty, Bombay gets it from the southwest monsoon, June to October, and is now drying up ; whereas Madras gets it from the northeast monsoon, October to December, and is still fresh.

We got back in the Good Samaritan’s motor just in time for dinner. There was a party of I.C.S. people ; they are always interesting because they have such interesting things to do. The one who sat next me had been trying to buy Pondicherry. It is as great a nuisance to this side of India as Goa is to the other—smugglers, criminals, and refugees. Just now the chief murderers of Ashe, the Tinnevelly collector, are squatting there and smuggling books and guns into British territory. We can’t get at them because we foolishly classed them as political offenders and not as ordinary murderers.

They say the French administration is very corrupt and incompetent, and the cat’s paw of Paris cliques. The French at home won’t spend money on it, and they can only get third-rate people to go there. I believe it is largely primogeniture that gets. us such good men.

On Monday morning I did some shopping and saw the results of my first photographs. Out of twelve only three were spoilt, which I thought rather good, though the shopman was a little supercilious about it.

In the afternoon about a dozen Indians came to tea and we played tennis. They were nearly all Nationalists. In the evening I dined out with some nice I.M.S. people, and we went on to the I.C.S. ball, which is the chief event of the Madras season.

Such is the shortage of girls that all the nice ones are booked by telephone during the day, and often have their programmes (which are rigidly adhered to) filled up before they arrive at the ballroom.

However, I got four dances, and then went down to supper with a lady who has been here forty years and was great on the virtues of Anglo-Indian women, who are the only ones who can be happy roughing it; a civilian’s wife often has to move her household five hundred miles at three days’ notice, selling and buying furniture often two or three times a year.

I got home about 1.30 on Tuesday morning. In the afternoon I embarked on this boat to go to the Seven Pagodas, which are fully described by Fergusson, though he calls the place Mahavellipore.

So far, we have taken just sixteen hours to do twenty-four miles, and there are five more to do. I was due to arrive at seven o’clock and it is already nearly nine, so I shall find it hot.

5 p.m.—I have now started back from the Seven Pagodas. It is an extremely curious place. There is a shore of sandy waste with big granite boulders and two granite ridges. The inhabitants apparently had a craze for live-rock-carving about A.D. 500, and proceeded first to cut the smaller ridge entirely up into five temples, four in a row and the fifth in front. They are all elaborately carved and look just as if they had been built ; but in fact they are just carved out, like a statue. Besides these five raths (i.e., cars, as each has wheels carved at the base) they carved a whole series of ordinary cave temples in the side of the big ridge, as well as two enormous bas-reliefs of the Penance of Arjan. The bigger is ninety feet long and thirty feet high and full of figures. There is also a built temple on the very edge of the sea, of very good proportions, one of the oldest Dravidian temples known ; and there is an ordinary temple inland still used.

Fergusson has an interesting section on the place quite early in his book.

February 13, 1912, MADURA.-This letter will have to be curtailed, as mail-day, being earlier down here, has surprised me in the middle of my wanderings.

I stayed two extra days at Madras—till Sunday evening. While there I had a most interesting talk with the Bishop of Madras about Church matters. He is a bit of a pro-native and wants native management of Church matters. In this he is, to me, clearly right. The mass-movement of the depressed classes is the governing factor in the situation. Up to forty years ago missionaries deliberately avoided evangelizing them for fear of putting off caste-people : but lately they have turned to them—like the ” king’s wedding” parable—and the response is such that there can be little doubt that with adequately staffed missions practically the whole of the outcaste classes through-out India would be Christian in fifty years.

They number fifty millions, and their detachment from Hinduism will be a catastrophic blow to its whole social system, for Christianity means education, and that means ceasing to be depressed classes.

This being so (and in Madras Diocese the actual increase is sixty per cent. in the past ten years) it becomes a question of mathematics. Fifty million Christians means ten thousand clergy if reasonable efficiency is to be possible. The white clergy of all denominations number about three thousand (or less, I think). So that the native pastorate is a matter of urgent necessity. In Madras Diocese they are gradually eliminating the Englishmen. Already there are eighty Indian clergy to seventy English, and the English in mission-stations cannot be more than forty. At present there are quite self-governing native local boards, but the chairmen of central boards still have to be English. The immediately next step is the creation of a native bishop (his name is Azariah), whom the Bishop hopes to consecrate as an assistant-bishop before this year is out. His diocese is to be an entirely new mission district with no whites, four hundred Christians, and two million population : the four hundred are the fruit of eighteen months’ work. It seems ideal ground for the experiment. The step in itself is wholly good.

As for the effect of the mass-movement on the caste-people, the Bishop said they have been more impressed by it than by anything else the Church has ever done. The caste-people despise our metaphysics and lukewarmly admire our ethics, but the transformation we have wrought in four million people, whom Hinduism has systematically brutalized for centuries, is a testimony to the dynamic force of Christianity which they can’t blink. It is this that has forced them to turn their own high-caste selves to the ” uplifting of the depressed classes,” but this belated effort of theirs can hardly stem the tide, since they have no gospel to preach to the outcastes except ” Believe in the brotherhood of Indians and remain as you are plus a little education,” and as hardly any Brahman will consent to touch a Pariah with his little finger, the brotherhood will strike the latter as rather theoretical, whereas the white clergy, to whom Brahmans kow-tow, handle them and fondle their children and teach them and father them and change their whole outlook on life.

I went slumming on Thursday evening with one of these high-caste raisers of the depressed classes —one of the best : he should be a Christian. He took me first to the Wuddars, about the highest of the Madras outcaste tribes, who are the town dustmen. They lived in a long street of one hundred and fifty huts a side, and they had exercised their calling at home more efficiently than I had expected. The place was quite fairly clean, and they had a good brick common w.c. at one end. The huts were shaped like a piece of note-paper made to stand with its crease upwards, about six feet high in the middle, six feet broad at the base, and nine feet long, with one diminutive door two feet six high and no other aperture of any kind. I went into one : the only furniture was a few cooking-pots, and a stick fire was burning which filled the place with eye-stinging smoke. All the people thought I was a Government official, so I assembled them and asked questions. Their grievance was low pay (seven rupees a month) and higher prices (a hundred per cent. rise in ten years). They wished Government would oftener send sahibs round to see about them (that was interesting). They wanted a better water-supply : otherwise they had few complaints. They said they shared things when in distress, but would on no account move more than forty miles from Madras in search of work. They hadn’t much disease, except small-pox, and they believed in vaccination. I asked a boy when he had last washed : he said a month ago ; he did not know how old he was. No padres had been there: they were grateful that the Brahmans deigned to think of them. One boy in the place could read ; ten others had been to a neighbouring theosophist school, but on seeing birch-rods there had come. away again.

After that I went through the sweepers’ quarter they are the lowest of all and a Pariah won’t touch them—and there the filth and stink was indescribable : in front of the huts stretched a long open cesspool or w.c., the contents of which could not be seen for the millions of flies and mosquitoes on it, but one’s other senses left one in little doubt of their nature : and the naked children were playing round and, even in it.

I did not stop to ask questions—I couldn’t: but I reflected that I had seen streets of the same caste (in the ‘Nagar district) after thirty years’ Christianity ; and that those, though dirty, were hospital wards compared to these, while the people’s faces here were visibly more bestial and less human. It does seem cruel to have to leave creatures in that condition from sheer fewness of labourers ; but I’m thankful to say I don’t think they will have to wait long. Hitherto in this diocese all the missions have been in villages, where the people are stable and accessible : that is why the city has been neglected ; but just think of the effect’ when a missionary first appears among those horrible people and proves he cares for them and loves them, and teaches them to be clean and human.

Wednesday, TRICHINOPOLY.—On Sunday evening I left for Madura, which I reached on Monday at noon. It is the second biggest town in this Presidency, 135,000 population. It was the seat of an ancient Hindu kingdom, that of the Pandyas, until Vijayanagar absorbed it : and after the fall of Vijayanagar it was great again, and it was then that the famous temples and palace were built. Like so many of the best buildings in India (for instance, the Taj and the rest at Agra and Delhi, the Bijapur tombs, two of the Goa churches, and so on), they were built between 163o and 1680.

I stayed with the chaplain, who was extremely kind.

At five o’clock I went to see the temple. It is the most disappointing sight I have yet seen ; yet every one agrees it is the finest Dravidian temple in India. Why Dravidian temples are so ineffective is explained by Fergusson, but I will add the peculiarly repulsive features of the place from my own experience

1. You never at any time or place can see the whole temple : there is no architectural unity about it at all. In this it well symbolizes the Hindu religion. All Dravidian temples are built in concentric squares, but either the partition walls are too high, or the things to be seen are roofed over : so that you never see anything of a given aisle, court, hall, tower, chapel, or portico until you are actually inside it.

2. All the art is put into the details of sculpture, and (a) every piece of sculpture is whitewashed so thickly that eighty per cent. of the beauty and all the delicacy is obliterated, and the whitewash moreover is filthy (b) the sculpture of the gopurams is all in painted stucco and the figures are grotesque and hideous ; and (c) the shrines are smeared with offerings of ghee (native butter) and stink abominably.

3. The whole place swarms with odious people, the corridors are turned into bazaars with hustling mobs, and guides and beggars pester one (as they did at Rhodes) : the heat is great and the smells are offensive.

The palace is a far statelier building as a whole, with great Norman columns and almost Gothic roofing.

I left Madura this morning at 6.15—the temperature was about 830 all the time there—and came on here, where I saw the great Sri Rangam temple (Fergusson’s Seringham), to which the same remarks apply as to Madura; and also the fort, a queer sheer rock from which one sees thirty miles over flat, fertile country all round. It was to save this that Clive seized Arcot.

My train is now waiting to take me to Tanjore, where I shall have to post this.

February 20th, CUMBALLA HILL, BOMBAY. -I think I last wrote from Trichinopoly. I went on to Tanjore that evening and stayed with the kind S.P.G. missionary there. He has been in Tanjore since 1875, and has never been home since 1889, and now never goes even to Madras.

But even more interesting were two native Christians who were staying there one was the vicar, an old and uneducated man ; the other was a doctor, the medical officer of a neighbouring district and very intelligent. Both were Tinnevelly Christians descended from outcaste converts the distance between them and their grandfathers was one of two thousand years in civilization. Both hated the Brahmans and told me several stories of their tyranny and intolerance. (Tanjore is a great centre of Brahmans.) The main complaint was that they monopolized the Government offices and used their power solely to job for other Brahmans no Christian could get his grievances attended to by them, and if a Christian did manage to get into the services, he was systematically given bad reports by his Brahman superiors.

The corollary of these two’s hatred of Brahmans was, of course, devotion to the British as their only bulwark against them. The padre said: “You English do not understand how separate we are from other castes and races. The English are very like the French (Tanjore is close to Pondicherry), and so you think Pariahs are like Brahmans and Madrasis are like Bengalis, just as you are like the French. But it is quite different. You and the French have so many things in common, but what have I in common with a Bengali or a Brahman ? Nothing. His race, his language, his religion, his customs, his sympathies are the opposite of mine he only wishes to make me his serf.”

The doctor had another set of illuminating stories of the innumerable attempts which are made to bribe him, not only by criminals but by the police, over post-mortems.

I will only quote one, as they were all much the same. The police sent him a man for post-mortem as “Found Drowned”: he had been fished out of a canal. The doctor found seven-teen wounds on him and his carotid severed, and reported so. The police sent back the report with a verbal message to say that if he would re-write it and certify that death was due to drowning, he would receive five hundred rupees. It was suggested that the seventeen wounds should be ascribed to fishes! The other stories were much the same ; but he says it happens less often now, because they send their ” doubtful ” post-mortems to the neighbouring medical officer, who, is a Hindu and presumably more accommodating.

In the morning I went with my host to see the temple. After Madura and Sri Rangam it was a joy. It is not nearly so large, but quite large enough, and has none of their faults. Its plan is simple and easily taken in and very well-proportioned. A road leads under two successive gates into a big open courtyard, about seven acres in extent. Round the court runs a little cloister with cells. Near the far end rises the great gopuram, two hundred feet high, with the main shrine in its base. On either side are two small chapels detached. In front, in the centre of the court, is a pillared portico with the big Sacred Bull under its shadow.

There are a few other buildings, but not enough to hide or confuse the plan of :the place.

There was no whitewash, and the place was empty and silent, with lovely peacocks in the court. There was space and openness and design : it was like coming from a cellar to a quadrangle. The carving, especially of the small chapels, was really fine and graceful, not overcrowded, but beautifully done, and running more to pillars and curves than to hobgoblins.

The only blemish was a lot of horrible paintings on the cloister walls. These had been done in honour of the Prince of Wales’s visit in 1875.

In the afternoon I saw the palace, which has two rather fine Durbar halls, but they were painted in every loud colour over every square inch. There ought to be a law against painting stone.

I took the night mail to Madras, which I reached on Friday morning I had to spend the day there, as the Bombay mail leaves in the evening. It is a thirty-three hours’ journey, so I spent all Saturday crossing the Deccan, a flat and treeless country, but highly cultivated and a good cotton soil. It was, however, looking very dry, except just round the two great rivers Tungabhadra and Kistna, which we crossed, both about half a mile wide, but now broken up into a number of small streams and pools.

I haven’t seen any of the great rivers of the north, except the Jamna : I have seen all the four great southern ones—Godavari, Kistna, Tungabhadra, and Cauvery, and they rank with the Olifants and the orange rather than with the Zambesi ; but in the rains they look very different.

Ash Wednesday, 1912, BOMBAY. After leaving Madura I didn’t stop long enough anywhere to see much of people. But at Tanjore I met a most interesting native Christian health officer, who told me a lot of stories which could be worked up into thrilling detective stories, especially one about a hanging woman, which is too long for me to repeat now, as I must be very brief to-night. He also told me that all his predecessors at his district hospital had been Brahmans, and had never allowed a Pariah in for treatment. They had to stand in the outer courtyard, and their bandages, etc., were thrown to them : of course they could never be operated upon. He has insisted on admitting them, and has got Rs. 6,000 from the Government for a Pariah ward : but every native official refused his application for it, till he took it up to the English at Madras.

Talking of hospitals reminds me that Peer Mohammed told me two curious things in connection with the plague at Benares, where he lives. Two years ago he had a daughter inoculated for plague and she died of it within twenty days, and he says he knows of that having happened to other people, which seems to show there is a risk of the inoculation giving one the disease. He also said that the Doms (who are the sweeper-caste there) never have plague, though they are filthy and eat the flour in which rats have died. If this is true, does it mean that they inoculate themselves by eating plaguey food, or is it because they are untouchable to other castes and have no stores of food at home to attract rats ?

Yesterday there was a huge cotton-fire at Colaba we drove down to see it, but as a spectacle it was less impressive than a ” bonner,” the flame was not at all a bright one.

This afternoon we went for a lovely drive to Bandra, through the Mahim woods, a forest of coconut-palms with twilight villages hidden among the stems of its pillared shade. Bandra is a resort of Bombay daily-breaders, being ten miles out and on the shore.

We lost our way coming back, and so I have had very little time to write this before dinner. At ten tonight we start for Manmad, which begins the third and last lap of my travels.