Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/361

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CURIOSITIES OF SUPERSTITION.

farms, where thousands of long-tailed saints are provided with shelter, respectful attendants, and three substantial meals a day, on the sole condition that they shall renounce their sylvan haunts and bless the neighborhood with the influence of their holy presence. Sick monkeys are sent to the next bhunder-hospital, generally a well-endowed and well-managed institution with a special dhevadar or responsible major-domo. The little town of Cawnpore has eight such infirmaries, Benares twenty or twenty-five, some of them with a subdivision for incurables and chronic dyspeptics!

To support these institutions is deemed a privilege as well as a duty. Troops of children, with garlands around their ankles and wrists, march in procession to offer the first-fruits of the season to the major-domos of the next mahakhund. An embarras de richesse often obliges that functionary to sell a portion of the donations and invest the surplus in the guarantee funds of the institution. In very poor districts, like Baroda and the northern part of the Madras Presidency, a protracted famine sometimes exhausts these funds, and reduces the menu of the sinecurists to two meals a day and half-measures of the weekly treacle allowance, the full rice ration being generally guaranteed by deposit-drafts on a public store-house. At such times, when human beneficiaries would feel grateful for the least assistance, the four-handed protégés become peevish. They often abscond and try their luck on the public highways, where orthodox pilgrims would, indeed, part with their last crust rather than disregard the wants of a sacred baboon. If hunger emboldens a low-caste monkey to approach the precincts of a mahakhund, the irate boarders sally forth and pursue him with a rancor as if they suspected him of being accessory to the irregularities of the purveyance system.

When the (Mohammedan) Sepoys destroyed the large monkey asylum of Behar, the citizens of Nusserabad, though themselves on the verge of famine, promptly organized a relief committee. A provision-wagon, drawn by lean horses and leaner fakirs, drove through the city collecting comestibles, while the conductor of the team, in a sort of sing-song chant, recounted the sufferings of the holy longtails: "They mourn among the roofless ruins. They sit hungry-eyed, waiting in vain for the arrival of a moderate refection. No bread, no sago-cakes, no rice for the righteous ones, while many a sinner" (with a gleam of suspicion) "regales himself, perhaps, with yed-na-saccar" (a sort of blanc-mange). "Their young ones look leaner than scrub-palm lizards. While they fast the just trembles; the eye that looks unmoved may soon be moved by retaliative calamities. Promptly, ye faithful, contribute, contribute!" (C. Ritter's "Travels in Hindostan and Siam," vol. ii, p. 210).

Victor Jacquemont estimates that the Bengal Presidency alone contains sixteen hundred monkey-asylums, supported chiefly by the very poorest class of the population. In the rural districts of Nepaul