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Old Daniel by Thomas Hodson


We will now return to our history of the boy Daniel. In the same year that he broke the stone serpents, he played a trick on some impostors who were taking part in a religious procession, which the shepherds of Singonahully and the neighbourhood had got up. The shepherds in the Mysore country are very ignorant and very superstitious. This may partly be accounted for from the fact that they live with their flocks in the open fields daily, from morning to night, associate little with their fellow-men, and seem shut out from all means of instruction. A very learned Brahmin, who was at one time the Reverend William Arthur's Canarese teacher, wrote a number of `Village Dialogues,' and in one of them the shepherd is most admirably described. The following extract is made in order to show the shepherd's ignorance, his creed, and his mode of worship. It is a fit introduction to the Shepherds' procession which little Daniel interrupted. The extract is part of a supposed dialogue between an English gentleman passing through the country and a shepherd, whom he happens to see near the public road:

The shepherd had a handkerchief round his head, a grey woollen blanket tied like a hood, and a six-cubit piece of cloth round his loins. Behind him came a flock of sheep, and behind the flock, in front, and on both sides there were barking dogs. The shepherd had a stick in his left hand, which he laid upon his left shoulder; in his right hand he had a long switch, and under the armpit a bag, in a small net of hemp-cord network; the net hung from the shoulder on the left side. Calling |Hus-si, hus-si, kiy-yo,| to the sheep which were straggling on all four sides, he brought them together and drove them along; going sometimes before, and sometimes behind. Whilst he was going behind, he saw an English gentleman coming along in a travelling carriage, and said to himself, |Who in the world is this? A gentleman coming, as I'm alive! Why should I stay in his way? I'd better hide myself a bit.| So he got behind a hedge, and fearing lest the sheep should stray, as he kept peeping and looking out every now and then, and huffing them with his cry, |Hus-si, hus-si,| this gentleman saw him, and called out, |Ho Sir, Gowda, come here.| Gowda is the head man of a village, and the word was used on this occasion respectfully. Hearing which, the shepherd said to himself, |What trouble has come now? He's calling me to come to him. If I go to him, I cannot tell what he may do to me. And if I don't go, I cannot tell what will happen. But they say that English gentlemen never do harm to anybody. Though I hear him, I'll just keep quiet as though I didn't hear, and if he calls again, I'll go.| The gentleman, seeing the shepherd's great perplexity, and knowing that it was through fear that he did not come, again called out, |Ho Sir, Gowda, Gowda, come here; don't be afraid; I won't do anything to you; you need not give me anything; come here, come and have a talk.| On which the shepherd thinking within himself, |If I don't go to him after this, he may get angry, and I can't tell what he will do,| delayed a little, as though driving his sheep; when the gentleman again called, |Come.| |There is no getting out of it, I must go,| said the shepherd to himself; and came near, and stood with the stick across his shoulders, holding the ends of the stick on both sides with his hands, swinging the switch that he held in his right hand, stooping, moving his head from side to side, and shuffling his feet. Seeing the shepherd, who thus came and stood, the gentleman entered into conversation with him, as follows:

G. |Well, Sir, Gowda, who are you?|

S. |I am a shepherd, my lord.|

G. |What is your name?|

S. |My name is Bit-tare Shikkanu, Sir.| (The words mean, |If you let him go, you won't catch him again.|)

G. |Bravo! If one let go your name, he won't catch it again, eh? Well, what is your god's name?|

S. |Bir-ap-pa is our god, Sir.|

G. |Bir-ap-pa, eh? what is he like?|

S. |That's good, Sir. What should god be like? It is in this temple.|

G. |How do you worship your god? and how often?|

S. |We worship our god once a year, or once in two years, or if we miss that, once in three years. When the worship is made, there is a great gathering, numbers of people come -- wind instruments, cymbals, tambourines, drums, flags, beggars, devotees, stoics, bearskin-capped shepherd-priests, -- and as for brahmins, they are without number; they abound wherever you look. Besides these, shops, cocoa-nuts, plantain bunches, and bundles of betel leaves, innumerable mountebanks, ballad-singers, tumblers, companies of stage-players; all these, a great gathering, Sir. Then worshipping god, presenting flowers, lighted wave offerings, offerings of money, of ornaments, votive offerings, and consecrated cattle; persons who give their hair, cocoa-nut scramblers, lamp bearers, offerers of fruit and flowers, -- many people come together, and we worship our god Bir-ap-pa.|

G. |Is the temple, where your god is, very clean?|

S. |Yes, Sir. If god's place is not clean, what is? God is set up in a stone temple. Once a year, or once in six months, if we open the door we open it; if we don't, we don't. Nobody goes there at all except at the feast. If a temple like this is not clean, what is, Sir?|

G. |But don't you sweep the floor and sprinkle it with water every day?|

S. |Who is to sweep it every day, eh? Once in six months, once in three months, or once a year, the priest opens the door, and if there be a feast or full moon, he sprinkles and sweeps a little, colours and whitewashes the walls with red earth and with white earth, streaks them, brings mango leaves and makes them into festoons over the door; and if we worship and bring flowers, we do; and if we don't, we don't. Such a god is our god, Sir.|

G. |Bravo! a very fine god indeed! But what do you do to this god at the feast? Tell us a bit, and let us hear.|

S. |What can I tell you, Sir? We are silly shepherds; all our language seems queer to you.|

G. |Never mind, tell me, Gowda.|

S. |Well, Sir, eight days before the feast, the priest must get his head shaved, bathe himself in water, and take but one meal a-day. Having thus taken but one meal a-day for eight days, he, on the feast-day worships the god in the temple, praises it, prostrates himself, and begs it to do us all good. He then comes out and kneels in the court of the temple, near a stone pillar in front of the god. He shuts his eyes, and rests on his hands and knees. When he has taken this position, all who have come to the festival to worship our god Bir-ap-pa, bring cocoa-nuts, and going up to the pillar where the priest is kneeling, they take the cocoa-nuts in their hands, and press upon one another, each crying, `I am first, I am first.' Then ten of the most respectable people come out, stand apart from the rest, make the people who are pressing forward stand back, and take the cocoa-nuts, which the people have brought, into their own hands. Four others, strong men, stand near the priest; the elders hand the cocoa-nuts to them; and they keep on breaking them on the priest's head; the priest, all the time, having his eyes shut, is down on his hands and knees before Bir-ap-pa, holding out his shaven head, until great heaps of cocoa-nut fragments are piled up as high as an elephant on both sides of him. And though so many nuts are dashed against his bare skin, the priest feels no pain, and never utters a sound which indicates suffering. Such a glorious god is our god, Sir. No matter what trouble threatens he wards it off. He always takes care of us.|

G. |How is it, master shepherd, that you do such a silly thing as this? There is a trick in breaking the cocoa-nuts on the head of the priest. The people who break the cocoa-nuts are clever jugglers. They have a store of cocoa-nuts which have been previously broken and stuck together again. They substitute one for the other, and so deceive the people.|

S. |How it is, Sir, I don't know. You are a gentleman and you understand it. I only say what everybody says, Sir.|

The above dialogue shows a shepherd's creed, his ignorance, and his mode of worship. And it was a festival, a procession, and worship such as this that the shepherds of Singonahully were celebrating when Daniel interfered. The following is his own account.

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