Collected Poems of Henry Derozio: Preface by Manu Samriti Chander; Edited by Amardeep Singh

Fakeer of Jungheera. Notes: Canto First

   Jungheera's rocks are hoar and steep. 
   And Ganges' wave is broad and deep, 

Although I once lived nearly three years in the vicinity of Jungheera, I had but one opportunity of seeing that beautiful, and truly romantic spot. I had a view of the rocks from the opposite bank of the river which was broad, and full, at the time I saw it, during the rainy season It struck me then as a place where achievements in love and arms might take place; and the double character I had heard of the Fakeer, together with some acquaintance with the scenery, induced me to found a tale upon both these circumstances From Forest's Tour along the Ganges and Jumna, I submit to the reader the following description of Jungheera. The foliage he speaks of did not strike me, probably in consequence of the great distance at which I saw the island, which in a subsequent part of the poem I have called bleak and bare. 

"At some distance before reaching Monghyr, We saw in the river Ganges on our right, a singular mass of rock standing in the water, and somewhat resembling those' of Colgong. It is distant about two hundred yards from the right bank, immediately opposite to the village of Sultangunge. It rises about seventy feet above the level of the water, towering abruptly from its bosom: there is one place only at which a boat can be put in, and where there is a landing-place, and a very steep and winding path leads to its summit. Here is found a small building, a Madrussa, or College of Fakeers, or wandering Monks, who reside in it." 


"The whole. forms a pretty object as you run past in a boat, and the thick and luxuriant foliage which crowns the summit, adds much to the effect of the picture."

   And there the priests with triple thread 

The Brahmmical Poeeta, which consists of three threads. “The fancy" wear six, and others nine, increasing by threes. Some keep their Poeetas very white, and wear a great quantity of this thread by way of ornament 

   Brings to her spirit the Kinnura's song. 

The Choiristers of Indra. Their business is to amuse the celestial 
powers with their music. 

   She shall enjoy all the blessings of heaven, 
   Till heaven, and its blessings themselves are no more. 

The doctrine of absorption, which is here alluded to, has been called sublime by many speculative philosophers, and it seems to have led several enquirers in the field of Hindu Metaphysics, into a high estimate of Hindu philosophical opinions. 

   Ye who in fancy's vision view the fires 
   Where the calm widow gloriously expires, & c 

The whole of this passage has reference to a mistaken opinion, somewhat general in Europe, namely, that the Hindu Widow's burning herself with the corpse of her husband, is an act of unparalleled magnanimity and devotion To break those illusions which are pleasing to the mind, seems to be a task which no one is thanked for 
performing , nevertheless, he who does so, serves the cause of Truth. The fact is, that so far from any display of enthusiastic affection, a Suttee is a spectacle of misery, exciting in the spectator a melancholy reflection upon the tyranny of superstition and priest-craft The poor creatures who suffer from this inhuman rite, have but little notion of the heaven and the million years of uninterrupted happiness to which their spiritual guides tell them to look forward. The choice of immediate death, or a protracted existence, where to be only must content their desire, is all that is offered to them and who under such circumstances would hesitate about the preference The most degrading and humiliating household offices must be performed by a Hindu Widow; she is not allowed more food than will suffice to keep her alive, she must sleep upon the bare earth, and suffer indignities from the youngest members of her family , these are only a few of her sufferings. The philanthropic views of some individuals are directed to the abolition of widow-burning, but they should first ensure the comfort of these unhappy women in their widowhood,— otherwise, instead of conferring a boon upon them, existence will be to many a drudge, and a load. An eloquent writer in the late Indian Magazine, has some excellent remarks upon this subject, and perhaps the reader will agree with me that they are very judicious : — 

"The question that now follows is this,-Whether the burning of Hindoo Widows, criminal in itself, be injurious to society? It will be allowed on all hands that with the mass of the native population, it is considered a high degree of glory to record the ennobling instances of concremation that occur in the family. The victim herself is supposed to enjoy the reward of millions of years of celestial happiness, and upon this principle it is, that she is as anxious to mount the funeral pile, as her infatuated relatives can be to assist her in the awful sacrifice It will be impossible therefore to make an attempt at overthrowing this system, before education is generalized, without wounding the tenderest feelings of human nature The effect on Society is not injurious, because the feelings of our Hindoo brethren have been curbed and restrained by early prejudice They cannot be possibly rendered worse in point of their social affections, and sunk as they are in the utter gloom of ignorance and superstition, it will be long before they enjoy the light of proper civilized happiness. How then can we stand acquitted from the charge of intolerance, if we exercise our 
power in violently suppressing so jx>pularly respected a ceremony among the Hindoos Neither is society injured by the practice, nor will the poor native females be the better for its abolition Strange as the latter assertion may appear, we are prepared to contend for its accuracy against any body of Historians In no country, where the 
inhabitants are a degee removed from absqlute barbarism, is the character of women more degarded than in India. Secluded in early years from all converse with men, carefully kept back fiom every intellectual pursuit, their time is wholly occupied in the drudgeries of domestic life, and in administering to the common comforts of their 
husbands with all the servility of hirelings. Such is their state in the miserable capacities of daughters and wives; but doubly degrading and tenfold more unhappy is their situation as widows. They are then considered as outcasts, and, as such, are they trodden under. It is well if a poor widowed wretch, from a sense of duty, should wish to ascend the pile of her husband; she is courted, flattered and adored. But woe to her, if, braving the contumely of her green-eyed relatives, she cling to a wretched existence. She is thence to live in perpetual celibacy, she must limit herself to one solitary meal a day, and that must be food of a vegetable quality only, for all animal substance is strictly forbidden her. She is compelled twice a month to fast for twenty four hours in the most rigid manner. These, however, are but a few of the hardships that the Hindoo widows are to endure; they are sufficient nevertheless, to prove the utter desolation of their lives " 

* * * * * * 

"We are not the advocates of Concremation, or any of the doctrines of the superstitious Hindoos; but as we are perfectly convinced of their right to the peaceable enjoyment of this their particular, though inhuman ceremony, we have ventured to submit our sentiments with candour and boldness. It is however our firm, and sincere wish that the day may soon come when the rays of intellectual greatness will awaken the benighted natives of India from thier long trance of bigotry and error. May we live to see the period when education will smoothly and imperceptibly effect a grand moral change in the character of Hindoos over whose long continued gloom, the genius of History has scarcely ceased to weep!" 

   What though the rose has vanished from her cheek, 

It may be said that the rose never could have been upon the cheek of an Indian ; but some individuals know that the text is not incorrect. True, "the warm south" does not furnish us with many such cheeks, but they are to be met with Cashmeer and the northern parts of Hindoostan. Besides, the heroine of a poem may be invested with 
beauties of an extra-ordinary nature. 

   And now the fire prophetic bums 
   Upon her lips: 

It is said that before the Suttee ascends the pile, she generally prophesies the number of transmigrations, or states of being, she is to pass through after death. I have taken the liberty of putting another kind of a prophecy into her mouth. 

   As in her ear the spell is said, 
   The world that shall her passport be 
   To regions of Eternity ' 

This is an allusion to the Mantra that the Brahmun pronounces in 
the ear of the victim. 

   God of all goodness, thou art God alone. 
   Circled with glory, diademed with light' 

The Vedas, which are supposed to contain the essence of wisdom, declare in various places, wherever the language of praise is employed, that the object of such praise is the Deity or Brihm. Thus fire is Brihm, the sun is Brihm, water is Brihm, and a number of other substances are deified in like manner It is necessary to state that all 
prayers in the ceremony of female immolation are addressed to the Sun. 

   And from her head the wreath she takes. 
   Seven circuits round the pile she makes, 
   And now with baleful brand on fire 
   She slowly mounts the dreadful pyre ' 

The following account of all that the Suttee does when about to immolate herself with the corpse of her husband, is taken from the Bengal Chronicle, and is in general very correct, except that the author does not specify, as in the text, the number of circuits she makes round the pile Nor does she light the pile herself, as it appears in the poem ; this is done by the nearest of km , but I have taken a license with the fact which thus assumes a more romantic character — 

"I was sitting after dinner about five in the evening, when notice was brought that a female of the Caysht cipss, whose husband had deceased, wished to burn herself on the pile ; and that she refused to listen to any remonstrances 1 lost no time in proceeding with another gentleman to the spot, where we found the woman sitting before her door on a charpoy, on which also was the corpse of her husband She was about 30 years old, or perhaps younger, rather good-looking and profusely decked with jewels, she was likewise adorned with flowers. As a first step to effect the saving of the unfortunate creature, all her relations, who are generally the secret prompters to this act of immolation, were removed from about her, although they themselves 
declared that it was not done by their desire, and that they wished her to live I then proceeded to ask her the reason of her burning, what good she could expect by it, what would become of her family, and whether she had been persuaded to it by her relatives or the Brahmins? To these queries she replied, that she was fated to undergo this ; that she had passed through six stages of existence, and this seventh would end her miseries and send her to Heaven That as God provided for her, so he would for her family, and although the Brahmins had told her that burning herself was praiseworthy, yet the resolution was her own and not produced by their entreaties. Lest such questions, coming from Europeans, should carry with them less weight, they were again put to her by a native, to which she returned similar replies From her manner of answering these questions, from her cool, calm and collected behaviour, and from her perfect perception of all that went on, I was fully convinced (and so was the gentleman who was with me) that the woman was neither intoxicated nor stupified, but,  to render the case more certain, some respectable natives who were among the crowd, of castes different from the woman, were called and desired to report if she was actually in her senses, they unanimously reported in the affirmative After using some further arguments, to which the woman turned a deaf ear, I could only proceed to enquire if the Suttee was in every respect legal, according to the orders passed by Government, the result of which was that nothing could prevent it. At this time the woman herself said, that the Sun was fast declining, and begged she might be earned to the pile! Every expedient had been tried, and further endeavours were useless, she was lifted up on the charpoy as she sat, together with her husband's corpse, but none of her relations or Brahmins were allowed to come near her. 
   "Arrived at the place of execution (for such it literally was) she was placed on the ground and her relatives began to build the pile, which had not been previously commenced on. The crowd assembled to viewthis scene was immense and thier conduct similar to that of natives in cases of execution, or any other solemn occasion, was characterised with extreme levity, and want of feeling. At this period once more was every endeavour used to divert the woman from her purpose; she was offered a  maintenance for life, with protecion from her relations, she still persisted, and would listen to no dissuasion. As a last recourse, her children were brought and put before her, with the idea that perhaps some latent feeling of her maternal tenderness might 
be awakened. She placed her hand upon the head of one, but said not a word A second time people were called to see if she was in her proper senses, and a second time they said she was, which I am convinced was too true We awaited in silence the completion of the pile, and finding all endeavours useless, she was delivered over to her relations. Steadily, steadily she walked to the water, and bathed, while her husband's corpse was placed on the pile.. Steadily did she walkround it, and with as firm and composed a countenance, and as steady a foot did she mount it More wood was placed on the pile, but not one log that could have impeded her free motion, there was she told that any time, even to the last, she might leap off if she wished it and police officers were placed on all sides to hinder any one from molesting her, and to protect her in case of her attempting to escape. The woman sat upright on the pile, fire was set to it, and there she sat for there minutes, in the same position The wind was fierce; ere the sceond minute had elapsed, she must have acutely felt the flames, ere two minutes, she was completely surrounded and was burning, but neither cry nor groan escaped her. About the third minute, by God's providence she must have become insensible and fell upon the pile.
   "Be my readers advocates and enemies of disallowing this system, let then pause and reflect In this case, every earthly persuation was used, every earthly inducement called into action to prevent the female from burning herself She was in the prefect use of her senses, she was not hastened on to her end by her relations, she might have escaped even to the last moment she possessed consciousness, even while she was burning, but she would not To this I will vouch, I have stated that my name is to be obtained " 

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