The Funeral Pile
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
EXTRACT OF A LETTER SENT TO COPENHAGEN BY A DANISH MISSIONARY AT TRANQUEBAR, IN THE E. INDIES, WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE FUNERAL SOLEMNITIES OF AN INDIAN KING.
This Prince, who was eighty years old, dying, his wives and concubines, in number forty-seven, were, according to the custom of the country, to be burnt on his funeral pile. In order to this, they dug without the walls of the imperial city a large pit, which they filled with wood, ranged and piled up, as for a bonfire. The corpse of the deceased, richly habited and adorned, was brought forth in great pomp, and laid on the pile ; after which the Bramins (heathen priests) kindled the fire with abundance of superstitious ceremonies. The wives and concubines of the deceased, finely decked with jewels and adorned with flowers, walked several times round the funeral pile. The favourite wife or concubine carried the poniard of the defunct prince, which she delivered up to his successor, and made a short speech, exhorting him to use it with moderation, so as never to let it light on any but the guilty. Then she boldly turned her face towards the pile, and, after invoking her gods, leapt into the midst of the flames. The second was the sister of a prince named Tandamen, who was present at these horrid rites. She gave him the jewels she wore, and the prince, in receiving them, embraced her most tenderly and poured out a flood of tears ; but the princess, without betraying the least concern, looked alternately with a steady countenance on the pile and on the spectators, and crying with a loud voice " Chiva l Chiva I" which is the name of one of her gods, she jumped as resolutely into the flames as the first did. The others followed her close. Some of them appear'd resolute enough, but others look'd wild and dejected ; one in particular, being more dismay'd than her companions, ran to embrace one of the spectators, who was a Christian, praying him to save her ; but this was not in his power to do, and the poor wretch was immediately tumbled headlong into the fire. However intrepid most of these unhappy victims appear'd before jumping into the pit, they shriek'd hideously amid the flames, tumbled one over another, striving to reach the edge of the pit; but they were kept in, by throwing heaps of billets and faggots upon them, as well to knock them on the head as to increase the fire. When they were consumed, the Bramins drew near the yet smoaking pile, and perform'd abundance of ridiculous ceremonies over the ashes of the poor wretches. The next day they gather'd up the bones, and having wrapt them up in fine linen, carried them to a place near the Isle of Ramesuren, where they cast them into the sea. After this the pit was filled up, and a temple since erected on the spot, where sacrifices are offer'd up in honour of the prince and his wives, who from thenceforth are number'd among the saints or goddesses."