Description of Mela and “loathsome” Hindu Sadhus by Murray (Post No.2718)


mela 1

Written by london swaminathan

Date: 12 April, 2016


Post No. 2718


Time uploaded in London :– 21-14


( Thanks for the Pictures  ) 




(for old articles go to OR


Read also

1.Prayag- the meeting place of Ganga and Jumna – posted on 10th April, 2016

2.To rule India by the heart — posted on 11th April, 2016


mela 2

“From the ramparts of the Fort (in Prayag called Allahabad now), we looked down over the river, with its many strange craft, and the little temples on the brink, and saw immediately at our feet a very interesting and characteristic scene. The great “mela”, or religious festival to which Allahabad probably owes its origin, was just beginning. The cold blue waters of the Jumna wash the Fort walls, and after flowing for about half a mile fall into the muddy Ganges; this tongue of land, between the two sacred rivers, was covered with grass and palm huts and booths of manifold shape and height, the encampment of the pilgrims who come from the ends of India – Srinagar or Ceylon, Kabul or Calcutta – for cleansing and purification.


From time immemorial, many points on the ever swelling stream of the mighty Ganges have been held sacred; the source Gangotri, and the issue into the plains Hardwar, Deo Prayag, Benares and Sagar, where it enters the sea, have always been the scene of crowded religious festivals, to which mutitudes throng. But the place of pilgrimage, par excellence- to which literally hundreds of thousands repair, to wash away the stains and defilements contracted in the turmoil of life and its illusions – is where the waters of the clear  and rapid Jumna meet  the slow and stately stream of  the beneficent  benefactress, Mother Ganges, and, as they believe, the still more sacred waters of the Saraswati.


Source to Sea: Six Year Pilgrimage!

Not many or devout or adventurous enough to undertake the six year’s pilgrimage to all the holy spots  from source to sea, though the passion, which glows beneath the calm impassive exterior of a Hindu, moves some intense and fervent  souls to accomplish the  endless penance of measuring their length the whole weary way. But every year hundreds of thousands flock here to bathe and pray, and there are many whose fervour lead s them to devote a full month in all solemnity and earnestness, to fasting and religious excise.  Then the strings of priest led pilgrims, with banners floating from long bamboos, return home bearing pots of holy water from the sacred stream with reverent care. Water from the Ganges is prescribed by  the ritual for use in many domestic rites.


Everyone who bathes is also shaved, and widows travel hundreds of miles to have their hair cut off here, as an offering to the sacred stream. The barbers have each to pay a tax of four rupees for a licence  to practise at the mela; the revenue netted at Allahabad (Prayag) in this way  has amounted to 16,000 rupees in the season – this gives one some idea of  the size of the gatherings at its height.


They had not yet come in very great numbers; nothing like the whole concourse of eager , patient, saffron robed pilgrims, seeking redemption, had yet arrived, but, nevertheless, there was already a regular city by the river side, and the swarms of people were quite sufficient  to give us a very good idea of the scene later on when the authorities would have some anxious hours, supervising the thousands who encamp on the bank of the stream, to wash away their sins in the sacred waters of healing.


Of Couse a religious festival involves a fair and to the strain and stress of religious emotion, and all the danger involved by it, where so many differing faiths  are concerned, are added the rowdiness and excitement which accompany such gatherings all the world over.


We went down and walked along the lines of booths and huts, all surmounted by long bamboos with bright fluttering flags at the top; the whole scene, with busy crowds of people formed a very piquant prospect. In one part of the mela were men, seated on the ground, preparing the colours with which they sign the caste marks on the fore heads of those who have worshipped and bathed; further on were groups selling garlands of white flowers which, strung flower by flower, with threads of tinsel, and worn as necklaces and fillets for the head, recall the Greek custom of coming to sacrifice crowned with flowers. The scene, with its millions of twinkling lights, is most striking at night, but the early morning is naturally the moment when the throng is at its busiest and noisiest, and then the air is full of discordant cries and deafening shouts, all the yogis, Brahmans and worshippers clamouring  loudly jai ram or jai Vishnu, as they perform their devotions, and their dark foreheads barred with white, or smeared with bold patches of ochre, in the shape of Shiva’s eye, or Vishnu’s trident.



The weird and horrible forms of the fanatical yogis repelled and fascinated our attention at the same time; with bodies smeared with ashes, and barred with paint  – yellow, red or white- with dusty matted hair: many of them were most loathsome objects, as they sat counting heir beads before their huts, or the grass umbrellas which served the  same purpose. Before each acetic was a cloth, spread on the ground, and on this the passers-by, as a tribute to his supposed sanctity, threw offerings – often simply cowrie shells , which pass as current coin, of such infinitesimal value, that sixty two make only a farthing; those, who have appeared to have gone through a long course of austerity and penance had the richest harvest, as they are presumably those gifted with the highest occult power.


I called down the wrath of a holy man by putting my foot on the boards in front of his booth, which I imagined to be a kind of shop; but when he swore vehemently and horribly, and sprinkled the place with water, I discovered that it was considered a holy spot. I believe the chief yogis or gurus, occupy a throne or a seat, called gadi. It is placed under a pavilion, and sometimes even roped round to ensure respect for the sanctity which attaches to it from its occupant, whether present or absent. Those, whose position and power are less universally acknowledged, have to content themselves with an umbrella and small ma, tiger skin, or a boarded space, marked off as a sacred precinct.


Any pretensions the yogis might have to spirituality to be in the greater number of cases, clearly unfounded.  Heir evil faces were boldly streaked with pigment under matted locks, coiled in ropes on their heads, or crowned with fantastic head dresses; and the wild and swollen, bloodshot eyes, which add to their repulsive aspect, are the result of different preparations of opium or hemp with which they intoxicate themselves, hoping thus to deaden their nerves to the self-inflicted tortures, which they believe will give them supernatural power over gods and men.


There are about five and half a millions of these men in India, who have given up all earthly employment, and live apart as ascetics; they spend their time chiefly in roaming the country and begging. Some belong to more or less well organised communities, called akharas, of which at least ten varieties were represented at the Allahabad ‘mela’ and some are free -lances.


The evening, after we visited the ‘mela’ we dined with the chaplain of All Saints Church, where Father Benley, of Cowley, had been holding a Quiet Day, and had given some addresses, which I was told, were very interesting. “In India may be found, at the same moment, all the various stages of civilization through which man has passed from pre historic ages until now.”


This was written in THE HIGH-ROAD OF EMPIRE by A H Hallam Murray in 1905.



Prayag, the meeting place of Ganga and Jumna; A H Hallam Murray (Post No.2712)


Sketch by Murray

Compiled by london swaminathan

Date: 10 April, 2016


Post No. 2712


Time uploaded in London :–  13-56


( Thanks for the Pictures  ) 




(for old articles go to OR


Centuries before Akbar’s day, however, a stronghold, called Prayag, or the place of sacrifice, existed at the meeting of the Ganges and the Jumna, which, since the earliest days, had been most popular place of pilgrimage with the Hindu race.  The first authentic historical information about it is on the tapering shaft of the Lath of the Buddhist king Asoka, in the garden entrance of the fort; it dates from about BC 258 and its 49 feet of height is covered with inscriptions; it, no doubt, very curious, but it is one of the things about which I find it difficult to screw up much enthusiasm.

(Prayag is known as Allahabad now)


In the native town, with its low brown houses, there were of course picturesque corners, but what struck our eyes chiefly – as we drove, through it, to the tomb of Khusru – was the absence of colour, after the vivid blues and reds and yellows of Bombay, and the number of clothes worn.


We drove, under a tall archway, overgrown with creepers, into the Khusru Bagh, one of the most beautiful and shady gardens of India, and there under a fine spreading the tamarind tree, we saw the last resting place of Akbar’s ill-fated grandson, prince Khusru, the rebellious and popular heir of Jahangir. Akbar had a great affection of Khusru, whom Jahangir treated with jealous animosity that caused the Rajput Princess Khusru’s mother to commit suicide. Khusru was imprisoned and at last poisoned to death by Shah Jehan.


The Fort, which passed to the English in 1801 must have been originally a splendid and intensely interesting place, and it still forms a striking object above the sandy spit at the meeting of the rivers. But perhaps military exigencies obliged us to obliterate and destroy every vestige of originality in it; it has been ruthlessly shorn of any architectural beauty or archaeological interest.


It contains the arsenal. But the military authorities have been more respectful to the Hindu remains inside the Fort and not interfered with the well-known  Akshai Bar, or ever living banyan tree- – a forked stump with the bark on—which, though the tree appears to be  replaced every few months , yet stands in the midst of what is, probably identical the Hindu temple of Shiva, described by the Chinese pilgrims in the seventh century it is now in a pillared crypt, reached by an underground passage  beneath the walls of Akbar’s Fort; this seems to show that Akbar’s well known religious liberality led him to allow the priests  and pilgrims free access to the  ancient Hindu shrine, though he was obliged to incorporate it in his building.


In the passage leading to the ancient temple are some curious idols, and, in the centre, a stone rudely tapered to a cone, which the devout venerate and reverence with lustrations.  Beyond is a square aperture probably leading to the river, though the Hindus say it leads straight to Benares; whilst the natural moister, exuding from the walls, is supposed to prove the truth of the legend that the sacred river Saraswati, which disappears in the Bikaneer desert, many miles away north, finds it way to this holy spot. The tree was probably worshipped here by the rude aboriginal tribes, with its ostrich like capacity for assimilating alien religious practices, has sanctioned its continued worship. Hiouen Thsang gives a description of the wide-spreading tree in front of the principal shrine of the temple, which recalls description of the blood stained grove at Kumasi. The tree was supposed to be the abode of a man eating demon, and was surrounded by the bones of the human sacrifices, with which from the “old unhappy far off days” of earliest tradition it had been propitiated.
Extract from AHH Murray’s book The High-Road of Empire

To be continued……………………