|Next to the sacrificers, they (the temple women)
are the most important persons about the temple.
That a temple intended as a place of worship, and
attended by hundreds of simple-hearted men and
women, should be so polluted, and that in the name
of religion, is almost beyond belief; and that
Indian boys should grow up to manhood, accustomed
to see immorality shielded in these temples with a
divine cloak, makes our hearts grow sick and
faint.|Mrs. Fuller, India.
EXCUSE the title of this chapter. I can write no other. Sometimes the broad smooth levels of life are crossed by a black-edged jagged crack, rent, as it seems, by an outburst of the fiery force below. We find ourselves suddenly close upon it; it opens right at our very feet.
Two girls came to see us to-day; sisters, but tuned to different keys. One was ordinary enough, a bright girl with plenty of jewels and a merry, contented face. The other was finer grained; you looked at her as you would look at the covers of a book, wondering what was inside. Both were married; neither had children. This was the only sorrow the younger had ever had, and it did not seem to weigh heavily.
The elder looked as if she had forgotten how to smile. Sometimes, when the other laughed, her eyes would light for a moment, but the shadow in them deepened almost before the light had come; great soft brown eyes, full of the dumb look that animals have when they are suffering.
I knew her story, and understood. She was betrothed as a baby of four to a lad considerably older; a lovable boy, they say he was, generous and frank. The two of course belonged to the same Caste, the Vellalar, and were thoroughly well brought up.
In South India no ceremony of importance is considered complete without the presence of |the Servants of the gods.| These are girls and women belonging to the temple (that is, belonging to the priests of the temple), who, as they are never married, |except to the god who never dies,| can never become widows. Hence the auspiciousness of their presence at betrothals, marriages, feasts of all sorts, and even funerals.
But this set of Vellalars had as a clan risen above the popular superstition, and the demoralising presence of these women was not allowed to profane either the betrothal or marriage of any child of the family. So the boy and girl grew up as unsullied as Hindus ever are. They knew of what happened in other homes, but their clan was a large one, and they found their society in it, and did not come across others much.
Shortly before his marriage the boy went to worship in the great temple near the sea. He had heard of its sanctity all his life, and as a little lad had often gone with his parents on pilgrimage there, but now he went to worship. He took his offering and went. He went again and again. All that he saw there was religion, all that he did was religious. Could there be harm in it?
He was married; his little bride went with him trustfully. She knew more of him than most Indian brides know of their husbands. She had heard he was loving, and she thought he would be kind to her.
A year or two passed, and the child's face had a look in it which even the careless saw, but she never spoke about anything to give them the clue to it. She went to stay in her father's house for a few weeks, and they saw the change, but she would not speak even to them.
Then things got worse. The girl grew thin, and the neighbours talked, and the father heard and understood; and, to save a scandal, he took them away from the town where they lived, and made every effort to give them another start in a place where they were not known. But the coils of that snake of deified sin had twisted round the boy, body and soul; he could not escape from it.
They moved again to another town; it followed him there, for a temple was there, and a temple means that.
Then the devil of cruelty seized upon him; he would drink, a disgraceful thing in his Caste, and then hold his little wife down on the floor, and stuff a bit of cloth into her mouth, and beat her, and kick her, and trample upon her, and tear the jewels out of her ears. The neighbours saw it, and told.
Then he refused to bring money to her, and she slowly starved, quite silent still, till at last hunger broke down her resolute will, and she begged the neighbours for rice. And he did more, but it cannot be told. How often one stops in writing home-letters. The whole truth can never be told.
She is only a girl yet, in years at least; in suffering, oh, how old she is! Not half is known, for she never speaks; loyal and true to him through it all. We only know what the neighbours know, and what her silent dark eyes tell, and the little thin face and hands.
She was very weary and ill to-day, but she would not own it, brave little soul! I could see that neuralgia was racking her head, and every limb trembled when she stood up; but what made it so pathetic to me was the silence with which she bore it all. I have only seen her once before, and now she is going far away with her husband to another town, and I may not see her again. She was too tired to listen much, and she knows so little, not nearly enough to rest her soul upon. She cannot read, so it is useless to write to her. She is going away quite out of our reach; thank God, not out of His.
We watched them drive off in the bullock cart, a servant walking behind. The little pale face of the elder girl looked out at the open end of the cart; she salaamed as they drove away. Such a sweet face in its silent strength, so wondrously gentle, yet so strong, strong to endure.
Do you wonder I call this sort of thing a look deep down into hell? Do you wonder we burn as we think of such things going on in the Name of God? For they think of their god as God. In His Name the temples are built and endowed, and provided with |Servants| to do devil's work. Yes, sin is deified here.
And the shame of shames is that some Englishmen patronise and in measure support the iniquity. They attend entertainments at which these girls are present to sing and dance, and see nothing disgraceful in so doing. As lately as 1893, when the Indian Social Reformers of this Presidency petitioned two notable Englishmen to discountenance |this pernicious practice| (the institution of Slaves of the gods) |by declining to attend any entertainment at which they are invited to be present,| these two distinguished men, representatives of our Queen, refused to take action in the matter. Surely this is a strange misuse of our position as rulers of India.
* * * * *
There are so many needs everywhere that I hardly like to speak of our own, but we do need someone to work among these temple women and girls. There is practically nothing being done for them; because it is impossible for any of us to work among them and others at the same time. The nearest Home to which we could send such a one is four hundred miles away. Someone is needed, old enough to have had experience of this kind of work, and yet young enough to learn the language.
Many of these Slaves of the gods were bought, or in some other way obtained, when they were little innocent girls, and they cannot be held responsible for the terrible life to which they are doomed by the law of the Hindu religion. Many of them have hardened past any desire to be other than they are; but sometimes we see the face of a girl who looks as if she might have desire, if only she had a chance to know there is something better for her.
Can it be that, out of the many at home, God has one, or better, two, who can come with Him to this South Indian District to do what must always be awful work, along the course of that crack? If she comes, or if they come, let them come in the power of the Holy Ghost, baptised with the love that endures!
This, then, is one look into Hinduism, this ghastly whitened sepulchre, within which are dead men's bones.
For details, see The Wrongs of Indian Womanhood, by Mrs. Fuller.