Leaving Malva and Indore, the quasi-independent country of Holkar, we found ourselves once more on strictly British territory. We were going to Jubblepore by railway.
This town is situated in the district of Saugor and Nerbudda; once it belonged to the Mahrattis, but, in 1817, the English army took possession of it. We stopped in the town only for a short time, being anxious to see the celebrated Marble Rocks. As it would have been a pity to lose a whole day, we hired a boat and started at 2 A.M., which gave us the double advantage of avoiding the heat, and enjoying a splendid bit of the river ten miles from the town.
The neighborhood of Jubblepore is charming; and besides, both a geologist and a mineralogist would find here the richest field for scientific researches. The geological formation of the rocks offers an infinite variety of granites; and the long chains of mountains might keep a hundred of Cuviers busy for life. The limestone caves of Jubblepore are a true ossuary of antediluvian India; they are full of skeletons of mon-strous animals, now disappeared for ever.
At a considerable distance from the rest of the mountain ridges, and perfectly separate, stand the Marble Rocks, a most wonderful natural phenomenon, not very rare, though, in India. On the flattish banks of the Nerbudda, overgrown with thick bushes, you suddenly perceive a long row of strangely-shaped white cliffs.
They are there without any apparent reason, as if they were a wart on the smooth cheek of mother nature. White and pure, they are heaped up on each other as if after some plan, and look exactly like a huge paperweight from the writing-table of a Titan. We saw them when we were half-way from the town. They appeared and disappeared with the sudden capricious turnings of the river; trembling in the early morning mist like a distant, deceitful mirage of the desert. Then we lost sight of them altogether. But just before sunrise they stood out once more before our charmed eyes, floating above their reflected image in the water. As if called forth by the wand of a sorcerer, they stood there on the green bank of the Nerbudda, mirroring their virgin beauty on the calm surface of the lazy stream, and promising us a cool and welcome shelter.... And as to the preciousness of every moment of the cool hours before sunrise, it can be appreciated only by those who have lived and traveled in this fiery land.
Alas! in spite of all our precautions, and our unusually early start, our enjoyment of this cool retreat was very short-lived. Our project was to have prosaic tea amid these poetic surroundings; but as soon as we landed, the sun leaped above the horizon, and began shooting his fiery arrows at the boat, and at our unfortunate heads. Persecuting us from one place to another, he banished us, at last, even from under a huge rock hanging over the water. There was literally no place where we could seek salvation. The snow-white marble beauties became golden red, pouring fire-sparks into the river, heating the sand and blinding our eyes.
No wonder that legend supposes in them something between the abode and the incarnation of Kali, the fiercest of all the goddesses of the Hindu pantheon.
For many Yugas this goddess has been engaged in a desperate contest with her lawful husband Shiva, who, in his shape of Trikutishvara, a three-headed lingam, has dishonestly claimed the rocks and the river for his own - the very rocks and the very river over which Kali presides in person. And this is why people hear dreadful moaning, coming from under the ground, every time that the hand of an irresponsible coolie, working by Government orders in Government quarries, breaks a stone from the white bosom of the goddess. The unhappy stone-breaker hears the cry and trembles, and his heart is torn between the expectations of a dreadful punishment from the bloodthirsty goddess and the fear of his implacably exacting inspector in case he disobeys his orders.
Kali is the owner of the Marble Rocks, but she is the patroness of the ex-Thugs as well. Many a lonely traveler has shuddered on hearing this name; many a bloodless sacrifice has been offered on the marble altar of Kali. The country is full of horrible tales about the achievements of the Thugs, accomplished in the honor of this goddess. These tales are too recent and too fresh in the popular memory to become as yet mere highly-colored legends. They are mostly true, and many of them are proved by official documents of the law courts and inquest commissions.
If England ever leaves India, the perfect suppression of Thugism will be one of the good memories that will linger in the country long after her departure. Under this name was practised in India during two long centuries the craftiest and the worst kind of homicide. Only after 1840 was it discovered that its aim was simply robbery and brigandage. The falsely interpreted symbolical meaning of Kali was nothing but a pretext, otherwise there would not have been so many Mussulmans amongst her devotees. When they were caught at last, and had to answer before justice, most of these knights of the rumal - the handkerchief with which the operation of strangling was performed - proved to be Mussulmans. The most illustrious of their leaders were not Hindus, but followers of the Prophet, the celebrated Ahmed, for instance. Out of thirty-seven Thugs caught by the police there were twenty-two Mahometans. This proves perfectly clearly that their religion, having nothing in common with the Hindu gods, had nothing to do with their cruel profession; the reason and cause was robbery.