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Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Blavatsky Letter to Wilder from India 1/2

Three elephants, Karla cave entrance
Below is a Blavatsky letter to Alexander Wilder, written soon after her arrival in India. It is a good example of the wonderful literary quality of her letter-writing as well as her travel writing, two forms of literature that she was well-suited for and are beginning to be appreciated. It makes one regret that new editions of her collected letters and her travel narrative, In the Land of the Blue Mountains seem to be stalled. From The Word Vol. 7 July 1908 (203-213)

Agra, April 28, 1879.
My dear Doctor, my very dear friend: 

How I do regret that you are not with us I How often I think of you, and wonder whether the whole of your archeological and poetical soul would not jump out in fits of rapture were you but to travel with us now, instead of squatting with your legs upon the ceiling, no doubt,-in your cold room of Orange street! Here we are travelling for this last month by rail, bullock- cart, elephant, camel and bunder boat, stopping from one to three days in every town, village and port; seeing subterranean India, not the upper one, and-part and parcel in the archaic ages of Manu, Kapilas and Aryanism. 
True, ever since the beginning of March we are being toasted, baked and roasted. The sun is fierce, and the slightest breeze sends waves of red hot air, puffs like from a baking furnace, full into your face and throat, and suffocates you at every step. But how I love the ineffable coolness and glory of the mornings and after sunset here. The moon of America, is at best, when compared with that of India, like a smoky olive-oil lamp. 
We get up at four and go to bed at nine. We travel more by night and in the morning and afternoons. But I want to tell you something of our travelling. I will skip the landscape parts of it, and stop only at the ruins of old cities and spots, deemed ancient already, during the Macedonian invasion-if there ever was one-by the historians in Alexander's suite. 

Karla Caves, entrance
First of all, we went to Randallat (Dekkan Plateau) to the Karli caves; cut in the heart of the living rock on the brow of the mountain, and, as the English archeologists generally concede- the chief cave-the largest as well as the most complete hitherto discovered in India ''was excavated at a time when the style was in its greatest purity.'' The English want us to believe that it was excavated not earlier than the era of Salivahana, about A.D. 75; and the Brahmans tell us that it was the first temple dedicated to Devaki; the Virgin in India.(1) It is hewn upon the face of the precipice, about eight hundred feet above the plain on which are scattered the most ancient Buddhist temples (of the first period of Buddhism about the age of Asoka). This alone would prove that the Karli temple is more ancient than 75 A.D.; for in their hatred toward the Buddhists, the Brahmans would have never selected for their Temple a spot in such close proximity to those of their enemies. "Never," says one of their Puranas, "never build a holy shrine without first ascertaining that for twenty kosses (two miles) around, there is no place belonging to the Nosties (atheists).(2)

The first temple, after having passed a large entrance-portico, fifty-two feet wide with sculptured figures and three colossal elephants barring the way, is dedicated to Siva, and must be of later date. It is of oblong form and reminds strikingly of a Catholic cathedral.(3)
Great Chatya, Karla Caves

It is one hundred and twenty-six feet long and forty-six broad, with a circular apse. The roof, dome-like, rests on forty-one gigantic pillars with rich and magnificent sculptured figures. As you can see in Fergusson's Cave-Temples, the linga is a dome surmounted by a wooden chattar or umbrella, under which used to sit the Maharaj-Hierophant, and judge his people. The linga is evidently empty inside, and used to be illuminated from within during the initiation mysteries (this is esoteric, not historical), and must have presented an imposing sight.

I know that it has a secret passage inside leading to immense subterranean chambers, but no one as yet has been able to find out the outward entrance. Tradition says that the Mussulmans, looking out for the pagoda-treasures, had once upon a time destroyed some masonry around the linga in order to penetrate into it. But lo! there began creeping out of it gigantic ants and snakes by the million, who attacked the invaders, and, having killed many of them, who died in fearful tortures, the Mussulmans hurried to repair the damage done and retired. 
Right above this temple are two stories more of temples to which one has to climb acrobat-like, or be dragged upward. All the face of the ghaut' (mountain) (4) is excavated, and the neighboring temple is dedicated to Devaki. Passing on: after having passed a subterranean tank full of water, and mounted four dilapidated steps to a balcony with interior rock benches and four pillars, one enters into a large room full of echoes because surrounded by eleven small cells, all sculptured. 

Image from Temple of Ekvira Devi
In this first hall is the cut-out image of Devaki. The goddess sits with legs apart and very indecently, according to profane persons, who are unable to understand the symbol. A thin stream of water from the rock threads down from between the legs of the lady,-representing the female principle.(5) The water dropping down into a small crevice in the stone floor, is held sacred. Pilgrims-I have watched them for hours, for we passed two days and slept in this temple-cave, and with folded hands having prostrated themselves before the Devaki, plunge their fingers into this water, and then touch with it their forehead, eyes, mouth and breast. Tell me what difference can we perceive between this and the R. Catholic worshipping their Virgin and crossing themselves with holy water. 
I cannot say that we felt very secure while sleeping on that balcony, without windows or doors, with nothing between us and the tigers who roam there at night. Fortunately, we were visited that night only by a wild cat which climbed the steep rock to have a look at us, or rather at our chickens, perhaps. 

Allahabad Pillar
Returning through Bombay, we went to Allahabad, eight hundred and forty-five miles from Bombay the ancient Pragayana of the Hindus, and held sacred by them, as it is built at the confluence of the Ganges and Jumna rivers. One of Asoka's columns is yet in the centre of Akbar's Fort.(6) But it was so hot-one hundred and forty-four degrees in the sun-that we ran away to Benares, five hours distant from there.

There's much to see in ancient Kasika, the sacred. It is the Rome of Hindu pilgrims, as you know. According to the latest statistics there are five thousand temples and shrines in it. Conspicuous among all is the great Durga Temple, with its celebrate
Durga Temple, Varanasi
d tanks. Amid temples and palaces and private buildings, all the roofs and walls and cornices are strung round and covered with sacred monkeys. Thousands of them infest the city. They grin at one from the roofs, jump through one's legs, upset passers-by, throw dirt at one's face, carry away your hats and umbrellas, and make one's life miserable. They are enough to make you strike your grandmother. Olcott's spectacles were snatched from his nose and carried away into a precinct which was too sacred for a European to get into. And so, good-bye eyeglasses. 

From thence to Cawnpur, the city of Nana Sahib, the place where seventy-eight English people were murdered during the Mutiny, and thrown by him into a well. Now a magnificent marble monument, a winged angel, presumably a female, stands over it; and no Hindu is allowed inside!! The garden around is lovely, and the inscription on the tombs of the slaughtered ones admirable. ''Thou will not, 0 Lord,'' says one of them from Joel (I don't remember verbatim) "allow the heathen to prevail over thy people, "-or something to that effect.(7) The heathen are termed ''criminal rebels'' on every tomb!

Kanpur Well site
Had the "heathen" got rid of their brutal invaders in 1857, I wonder how they would have termed them. The sweet Christians, the followers of the "meek and lowly Jesus" made at that time Hindus innocent of this particular Cawnpur murder, to wash the blood-soaked floors of the barracks by licking the blood with their tongues, (historical). But people insolent enough to prefer freedom to slavery will be always treated as rebels by their captors. O vile humanity, and still viler civilization!

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