MADRAS, Tuesday, January 28.
We arose to find ourselves at anchor in the open sea opposite Madras. There is not a harbor upon the whole western coast of Hindostan. Government is engaged in constructing one, but it is slow work, as the immense blocks of concrete used can be handled and laid only in smooth seas, which seldom occur. Sometimes the mail steamers find it impossible to land passengers or cargo, and are compelled to carry both to Calcutta. The surf often sweeps over the top of the iron pier, which is certainly twenty feet high. Passengers are taken ashore in native boats twenty feet long and five feet deep. Across the boat, on small round poles, sit ten rowers, five on each side; another man steers, and in the bow stand two boys prepared to bail out the water which sweeps in as we plunge through the surf. Fortunately the sea was unusually calm, and we had no difficulty in reaching dry land. When the surf is too strong for even these boats to encounter, natives communicate with ships by tying together three small logs, upon which they manage to sit and paddle about, carrying letters in bags fastened upon their heads. As the solid logs cannot sink, they are safe as long as they can cling to them, and an upset is to them an occurrence of little consequence. We saw many of these curious contrivances, but one must have a good deal of the amphibious in his nature, or full faith that he was not born to be drowned, to trust himself upon them through the Madras surf.
India at last! How strange everything looks! Brahmans, Cullrees and Banians, devotees of the three different gods, with foreheads marked to denote their status, the white sandal-wood paste upon the Brahman's brow. Our first glimpse of caste, of which these are the three main divisions, to one of which all persons must belong or be of the lowest order, the residuum, who are coolies. There are many subdivisions of these, and indeed every trade or calling constitutes a different order, the members of which do not intermarry, or associate, or even eat with one another. Generations pursuing the same calling, and only marrying within themselves, acquire a peculiar appearance, and this effectually creates a caste. Carpenters, masons, merchants, each are distinct, and the occupation of a man can readily be known by his dress or manner.
Caste! what is caste? whence did it spring? and what are its effects today in India? Whatever story I tell about its origin, some great authority will flatly contradict it. The beginning of caste, like that of most existing institutions, is lost in obscurity; but the most likely guess to my mind is that which founds caste upon this natural train of reasoning.
Before men travelled much, when the race were serfs and all their needs were supplied by those immediately about them, it was almost inevitable that the son should be put to his father's handicraft. He could be of service there at a much earlier age than if he had to go to a stranger. Besides, he had a chance from his infancy to become familiar with the work, and again, his father's reputation would serve a purpose. Therefore, successive generations remained bakers, smiths, carpenters, agriculturists, laborers, and eventually this developed special aptitudes under the law of inherited tendencies and each occupation became a caste.
Those who were in the highest employments being the best educated, they soon took measures to secure their privileges, and in the past ages nothing could rivet the chains so effectually as the sanction of the gods. Therefore, we need not be surprised that in good time a revelation came to this effect: "When man was divided how many did they make him? What was his mouth? What his arms? What his legs and feet? Brahma was his mouth, Kshatriya his arms, Vaisya his thighs, and Sudra his feet."
This gives four grand divisions for the race, and their duties toward the State and to each other are clearly defined by the part of the "Grand Man" or "God" from which they sprang. The following are a few of the principal items of the code which regulates these classes: To the first, or Brahman, belongs the religious department - he studies and expounds the sacred books, officiates at sacrifices, and is the recipient of the "presents" offered to the gods. These are modern clergymen. To the second, or Kshatriyas, are given the war department, force, and criminal justice. These are our human butchers, the military class, who are yet not ashamed of the "profession of arms." To the third, or Vaisyas, belong commerce and agriculture, and to the poor fourth estate, or Sudras, are left the mechanical arts and service to the other castes. The first three alone wear the sacred thread.
The Brahman is entitled by primogeniture to the whole universe. He may seize the goods of a Sudra, and whatever, beyond a certain amount, the latter acquires by labor or succession. If he slanders any of the other castes he pays only nominal fines graduated according to classes. Whatever crime he may commit his personal property cannot be injured, but whoever strikes a Brahman even with a blade of grass becomes an inferior quadruped for twenty-one generations. He is the physician for men's bodies as well as for their souls.
The one duty of the Sudra is to serve all the three superior castes "without depreciating their worth." In administering oaths, a Brahman swears only by his veracity - "his honor as a gentleman." A Kshatriya swears by his weapons, a Vaisya by his cattle, while the poor Sudra has to swear by all the most frightful penalties of perjury.