They march, and strike the note of pain, A moment pause, then strike again; A third time sounds the drummer’s roll, Mourning the passage of a sou!. A covered corpse—a torch of fire— They bear it to the funeral pyre. Ye mortals, look I the vision dread, The dead go bearing forth their dead. Thayumanavar, Tamil Poet,
A thousand years ago.
THE Indian woman is loving. She can love and she can hate, and so she can suffer too. She suffers in silence often—dumb, like the animals. She will not unveil her heart curious eyes. But when she knows you, and trusts you, she will let you look in through clear windows, and see her as she is.
There are some who mistake our people. They differ from us in expression of feeling, and so it is fancied they do not feel. ” They are not a sensitive race,” said one who had not the means of knowing how sensitive they are. There are points in their character which remind one of the poise of the aspen leaves. You know the delicate fashion the leaf is hung on its stalk. You know how a breath of wind, which hardly stirs the sturdier trees, is enough to set its leaves trembling, and you know how long it is before they are still again. And just so, what seems a mere nothing to us, will set a whole clan in motion, and every separate member thereof, like every separate leaf on the tree, vibrates with the common vibration.
A scholar and a lover of these people, Dr. Pope, of Oxford, writes how in many ways we fail to understand them. “Hindus are spoken of as apathetic. I should term them fervid.” This ” fervidness” enters into everything, perhaps most evidently into their tenacious clinging to their caste, and so, naturally, into their abhorrence of teaching which tends towards “All One in Christ Jesus.” It enters into the strength of their family affection, and so into their detestation of a doctrine which makes a man’s foes those of his own household.
One must approach them here with the utmost sympathy, and yet we cannot lower the standard and offer them Christ without His Cross. Nor can we dress that Cross in flowers, and hide the thorny Crown.
But the Cross costs so much in India that a new term has been devised to describe those who believe that Christ is the Saviour, and who pray to Him, but who, though of age to choose for themselves, do not come out on His side. Some call them “Secret Disciples.”
We, here, do not call them so. We believe discipleship involves open confession,—and disentanglement from the devil’s web of caste,—and caste so permeates every action in a Hindu home that no woman can break it without being at once recognised as a Christian, and this implies the Cross. Then she has to face the shame. If she lays that Cross down she escapes it—if she takes it up she is forced to go outside the camp bearing His reproach, for no caste woman could ever live as a true Christian at home. It is simply impossible.
We think of these ” Secret ” ones with tenderness and S3’mpathy, but we cannot call them “disciples.” Christ’s teaching is far too plain to be mistaken—” Whosoever doth not bear his Cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.” And as to the ” claim of family ties,” the Master put His claim far first. Ours not to reason why, ours to obey.
Obedience on both sides—ours in faithful teaching, theirs in response, at all costs, means intense suffering. Books could be written about what these Indian women have had to endure, which would thrill the heart of the coldest of English women. God only knows what it mean? to a Mahommedan or a caste Hindu to be a Christian.
But my work is rather now to tell of the common griefs of every day. Sometimes we fancy that sorrow in itself has a softening influence ; we can hardly picture a woman being at the same time sad and bad, but we do not find that sorrow alone does much to move the heart towards God, and often before the message which might draw it near to Him reaches her, the tenderness goes, and defiance comes, and the soul shuts up in the dark of its pain like a lotus flower in the night.
Far away in a great caste town we once saw a widow. She was only a girl of seventeen, with all her life before her, widowed and childless, utterly shamed. She sat alone in an inner room, and brooded over her fate. I shall never forget how she sat, poor child, with her bowed head in her hands. The droop of the white-clad figure told of uttermost weariness. Here, surely, is one who is ready to come ! She will open to Jesu’s love ! But no, when she looked up and saw us, her face had no welcome in it. It was hard and proud and cold. It was as if the wax had frozen into ice. The only thing that she said to us was, ” Would you have me destroy my caste ? ” It was all that was left to her, poor girl, and to listen to us might mean that. Then, with a gesture we could not mistake, she signed to us to go, and she crouched down again, with her head in her hands, and we had to leave her so.
In the same town a woman lived who was longing to be loved. ” My husband hates me,” she said, “he has taken another wife.” But when we spoke of the love of God she laughed, and would not hear. “Tell me anything else you like, but I don’t want to listen to that! ” She was suffering, and in a real way, but Satan had got to her first, and so we had come too late.
There is the suffering of sin. And here one can only “skirt the abyss,” one cannot look down into it. The “dark enigma of permitted wrong” is a fearful fact in all heathen lands.
You watch a little child’s face change as the flower of her soul withers up. You feel when you go to that house as if Satan were hiding inside, and as if he would thrust out his unclean hand and clutch you should you go in. But you must go in, for the child is there. Poor little innocent child !
And she comes close to you, and whispers fast, and you feel that horrible hand and shrink back, sick all through at the very thought of what one poor child must bear. For it is sin, sin and sorrow, sorrow and sin, and you go back home again broken down, with all your being strung to the cry, ” How long, O Lord ! how long ! ”
But to turn again to the human grief, the simple grief of a stricken soul, who knows no Comforter.
The mother dies, and the children are given over to sorrow. While she was ill they had vowed offerings to the family deities should they come to the rescue and save her, but they were deaf and dumb and far away—”So far away,” they say, ” that we could not get near them, or move them to answer the prayer that we prayed.” Then they wonder how they offended, and in stanza after stanza—for all the Old Indian nature flows out in poetry, and there are different dirges for mother, husband, and child—they plead with the gods to tell them,—to speak but once from their place.
And then comes the Elegy—” Comparison Song” they call it, because it is a song of similes. They paint the mother in glowing colours, re-counting all she has done for them since they were babes in her arms. And then they bemoan themselves; they are leaves tossed about in rough waters, flowers withered and broken and dead.
But the burden of the dirge for the mother is the thought that they cannot see her, find her, feel her, anywhere. If they had wings the)’ would fly to her ; but then, how could they fly for they do not know the way ? Where are her footprints to guide them ? They search but they find no track !
When she was with them they nestled like little birds under her wing ; now, like the jungle birds, they are loosed in some wild, tangled forest, to fight their battles alone.
There is something very desolate about it. The dead form has been borne away to the Burning Ground. They have seen the torch that will light the pyre. They know it is flaming now. To-morrow their mother’s ashes will be strewn upon the stream ; the)’ will never see her again, they say—for the river flows to the sea.
So they sit for sixteen days—the men and boys may go out and work, but the girls must sit and weep. And this is Sorrow in Heathendom.
” Do you hear them wailing for the dead ? ”
We were going to an open-air meeting one evening in the village of the wood, and the sound of “such as are skilful of lamentation” came from a cottage in the jungle. We stopped and listened. First came a long, weird wail, like the death cry of spirits departing, then a dirge, the awful, sad, old Tamil dirge for a daughter, then the terrible wail again.
” May I go in ?” I asked some men who were sitting silent outside the house. ” You may go in,” was their answer. “The child of the mother is dead.”
Outside it was dusk. Inside it was dark. A few flickering tapers glimmered yellow on bowed heads and swaying forms. The place was full of women, packed so close that there was barely room for me to crouch on the floor among them. They took no notice of me, nor for an instant ceased lamenting. They were all linked the one to the other, and they swung themselves backwards and forwards in perfect rhythmic motion, as they chanted in unison the Dirge for the Dead :—
” Like a jewel shone her eyes, Like red coral were her lips, Set with radiant rows of pearl,
Yea ! her month was like a lotus, Like a fair red-water lotus. Whither, whither has she gone ?
Then the weird wail rose again and died away like the sound of the winds in the woods.
” Oh, her hands were living fans, Like the graceful wings of swans, Girded round with rings of gold.
Yea! they helped the poor and needy, Lifted tenderly the fallen. Whither, whither has she gone ?
Here the wail broke in, ” skilful of lamentation”—God’s words describe it best,—and the chant went on—
” When she wrote, the iron style Flashed like lightning in her hand, When she spoke, rained golden rain,
When she read, like wild bird’s music Exquisite the sweet words sounded— Whither, whither has she gone ?
Then a pitiful, pitiful bit—
” Burning sun she could not bear, Fall of rain or breath of wind. As a flower her mother kept her—
Now the fire has scorched and burnt her Driving rain will drench her ashes, Whirlwinds carry them away !
Then with every word a wail-
” Such a form to fade and fall! Such a life to come and go! Blown out is the new lit lamp !
Half a day could God not spare her ? Could not He have waited longer ? Nay ! He carried her away ! ”
One’s eyes began to see things more clearly as one grew accustomed to the dim, uncertain light, and one could discern faces and expressions, and see who the real mourners were. The mother sat in the corner, bowed, broken, dumb. She was not wailing. Now she took up the refrain, and the women nearest her beat their breasts and tore their hair as she cried— ” My jewel, my jewel!
My heart’s beloved jewel!
Oh, where have you gone ?
Then with a paroxysm of wails—
” I search for her—I find her not; I stretch out my hand in vain !
Then the wailers broke in—
” Oh, never, never more ! You will never see her more!
Then the mother—
” Do you hear me weeping, dear one ? Do you hear me weeping for you ? Does the sound not reach you, touch you, In the palace of the dead ? ”
And so the wheel went wearily round. Comfort ! They knew it not. This is the Dirge that is sung when a child becomes a Christian. All night long in the jungle outside our house a mother stood and wailed it when her daughter came to us. Only the wail was still bitterer then, and stung by the sting of the shame, she cursed us as she wailed. Had not we stabbed her soul, she cried, when we stole her child away, and woo’d her to love Another One, the Crucified Stranger—Christ !
* * *
A week later, a stone’s throw from that jungle hut another woman died.
We had left the village of the wood, but they wrote to us about it,—
” The Heathen watched and wondered, for her husband went singing to the grave ! ”
To-day he came to see us. ” I believe she is with Jesus. He comforted me. He helped me to let it shine out that He comforted me! ”
” My servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart.” Was ever contrast more vivid ? A stroke of God’s pen tells it all.
We who have seen it lived out in literal, terrible detail, oh, we long for power to make it live to you ! ” Oh, God ! ” we pray as we write it, “do Thou make them see it and feel it! oh, make it so burningly real to them that they will be pressed into prayer ! prayer that is fervent, prayer that will cost—for these who are tossed with tempest and not comforted ! ”
Does prayer make any difference ? True prayer does. We have proved God answers prayer. So we plead with you all to pray. “For pity’s sake ” do we say ? No ! Pity is not a force strong enough to inspire and sustain the kind of prayer we need. There is not staying power in it. A stronger force by far is needed to impel a prayer which is to move mountains seven thousand miles away.
Let us look at the woe of the Heathen, the desolate night they live in, whose lives are “walled in with darkness,” with eyes which have first seen God’s glory, with hearts that can grieve for His sake.
And the Lord says, ” Pray . . . Give . . . Go.” His Word must be our stimulus. Do we love Him enough to obey ? Master ! Thou seest! Thou knowest ! ” At Thy feet I fall, Yield Thee now my all, To suffer, live, or die For my Lord crucified ! ”