Kopal-Kundala/On the Summit of the Sand-hill

Chapter IV.

On the Summit of the Sand-Hill.

When Nobokumar awoke it was the depth of night. He thought it a wonder that he had not already been killed by tigers, and began to peer about to see if any tigers were coming. Suddenly he saw a light in front at a great distance. Lest he might be the victim of a delusion, Nobokumar began to watch the light attentively. Its circumference gradually increased and became brighter; he felt certain that it was the light of a fire, and with this certainty his hopes of life revived. Such a light could only issue from the habitation of man. Nobokumar got up, and ran in the direction of the light. At one time he thought, "Is this some ghostly light? It may be, still there can be no safety for the man who desists from mere fear." Thinking this, he went forward fearlessly, keeping the light in view. At every step trees, creepers, and sand-hillocks obstructed his path; still he pressed on, trampling down the creepers and leaping over the sand-hillocks. On getting near the light, he saw that a fire was burning on the summit of a very lofty sandhill, and in its glare a human form, seated on the top, stood out like a picture against the canvas of the sky. Nobokumar determined to approach the man, and pressed forward with firm footsteps. At last he began to ascend the hill. Then he began to be a little afraid; still, with untrembling footsteps, he continued to ascend the hill. Coming in front of the seated form, his hair stood on end with what he saw. He was uncertain whether to remain or to go back.

The form seated on the summit was meditating[1] with closed eyes, and did not at first observe Nobokumar. The latter saw that his age was about fifty, but could not perceive whether he had on any cotton clothing. A tiger-skin covered him from his waist to his knees; a necklace of rudrak seeds was on his throat, and the broad circle of his face was surrounded with matted hair and beard. In front of him a wood-fire was burning: it was by the light of this fire that Nobokumar had been able to find his way there. Nobokumar perceived a terrible smell, and on looking at his seat was able to ascertain the cause. The form with matted hair was seated on a headless, putrid corpse. His fear increased when he saw on the ground in front a human skull containing some red liquid substance. The ground on all sides was strewed with bones—there were even small pieces of bone in the seed necklace on the devotee's throat. Nobokumar stood like one stupefied with incantations. He could not make up his mind whether to advance or to flee. He had heard of Kapáliks, and knew that this being must be a terrible Kapálik.[2]

At the time of Nobokumar's arrival, the Kapálik was absorbed in incantations, or jup, or contemplation. Seeing Nobokumar, he did not even raise his eyebrows. After a long time be asked, "Who are you?" Nobokumar replied, "A Brahman."

The Kapálik said "Stay," and resumed his former occupation. Nobokumar stood and waited. In this way half a pahar passed away. At last the Kapálik got up and said to Nobokumar in Sanskrit, as before, "Follow me."

It is certain that Nobokumar would never have consented to do so at any other time, but now he was dying of hunger and thirst, and he therefore replied, "As my master wishes; but I am suffering terribly from hunger and thirst; please inform me where I can get something to eat."

The Kapálik said, "You have been sent by Bhoirobi; come with me, and you will get food."

Nobokumar followed the Kapálik. On the road neither uttered a word, though they travelled a long distance. At last they got to a leaf-hut. The Kapálik entered first, and told Nobokumar to enter. By some means which Nobokumar could not understand, he struck a light with a piece of wood, which enabled Nobokumar to perceive that the hut was entirely made of the leaves of the kia tree. Inside were several tiger skins, a pot of water, some fruits and roots.

The Kapálik lighted a fire, and said, "You may eat all the fruits and roots: make a vessel from the leaves, and drink from the pot of water. There is a tiger skin; if you want to sleep, do so: be at your ease, and don't fear the tigers. After you have slept, I will talk with you. Don't leave the hut till you have seen me." With these words the Kapálik went away. Nobokumar devoured the few fruits and roots that were there, drank the somewhat bitter water, and was thereby much refreshed. Then he lay down on the tiger skin, and, thanks to his hard day's work, speedily fell asleep.

  1. The Bengali word is "dhyán," which literally means contemplation of the immortal Brahma. The generic word for religious meditation is "jóg."
  2. Kapáliks are supposed to have existed until quite recently. They worshipped Siva and his terrible consort by means of human sacrifices. The sacrifice of goats, which now goes on at Kalighát (whence the name of Calcutta), is but the more civilised outcome of the old sacrifices.

    The Tantras represent a phase of Hinduism generally later than that of the Puranas. The principal Hindu deities are sometimes supposed to possess a double nature—one quiescent, the other active. The active energising will (Sakti) of a god is personified as his wife, or sometimes as the female half of his essence. The white or mild nature of Siva includes the Saktis Uma, Gauri, Lukshmi, Saraswati. &c.; the black or fierce nature includes Durga, Kali, Kamuna, Kandi, Bhoirobi, &c. As destruction was more dreaded than creation or preservation, so the wife of the god Siva, presiding over dissolution, and called Kali, Durga, Devi, Parbotti, &c., became the most important personage in the whole Pantheon to that great majority of worshippers whose religion was actuated by superstitious fears.