Account Of The Hindoo Ceremony Of Swinging
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Together with this you will receive a lancet and two iron hooks (each fixed to a yard or more of strong Chiar rope) exactly as they were taken from the back of one of the devotee Hindoos, immediately after he had undergone the religious ceremony of SWINGING. [An illustration of these' is given.]
I know of no writer who has given so just and accurate a description of that extraordinary ceremony as the author of " The Medical Spectator;" an extract from whose useful and entertaining work I am persuaded you will deem worthy of transcribing. It will be evident from his account that the ceremony, as performed in Bengal, differs from that on the coast of Coromandel, of which the Gentleman's Magazine for March, 1791, has a drawing.
" A few days after this, came on the annual custom of Swinging, which is so very remarkable that it well deserves to be particularly described. Upon this day, almost every two or three hundred yards that we travelled near Calcutta (and I suppose the custom is general in Bengal), we saw a sort of mast erected, upon the top of which was a cross-beam like the mainyard of a ship, but so fixed as to admit of being turned round with velocity. From each end of the cross-beam hung a rope ; and wherever one of those machines was erected, there was generally a large concourse of the natives and other inhabitants. The top of the machine was as high from the surface of the ground as the main-top of a ship of two hundred tuns burthen is from the deck.
"Everything being ready for the Swinger, he kneels upon the ground, when a very dextrous operator fixes two strong iron hooks into the common integuments betwixt his shoulders, on each side of the spinal processes. A short rope is fixed to each of these hooks, and again to the rope hanging down from one end of the cross-beam. As soon as this is done, several of the crowd lay hold of the rope which hangs from the opposite arm of the cross-beam, and, first hoisting him gradually as high as the top of the machine, run round as quick as possible ; and in this manner, for the space of one, two, or three minutes, or as long as the man can bear it, they continue to whisk him round in the air. They stop gradually, and let him down gently : and, as soon as one is disengaged from the hooks, another is fixed, and swings in the same shocking manner. As the whole weight of the body rests upon the hooks, and they do not penetrate deep, it is remarkable that the integuments should not give way. If this accident were to happen, the unlucky swinger would certainly be killed, for he is turned round with so much velocity, that he would fly over the tops of trees or houses like a stone from a sling. I sup-pose this accident may have happened, as some while they are swinging have a folded cloth over the breast and shoulders, which, if the integuments should give way, might be caught by the hooks ; but many went through the ceremony without this caution. While the man continues to swing, he seems generally to be quite chearful, waving his hand or turban to the crowd below him, and throwing plantains and other fruit among them from a little bag hanging at his breast. But they do not all go through this exercise with the same ease and apparent satisfaction ; for some call out to be let down very early; and the extracting of the hooks gives all of them much pain. I saw a fine stout fellow, one of the bearers of my own palanquin, painted red and white in the most horrid manner, hoisted up ; but, very much to his mortification, he was obliged to be let down immediately.
" When the operator fixes the hooks, the skin is pinched up in the same manner as when a surgeon is going to make a seton. Upon the point of each hook there is a sharp lancet ; and, as the curved part of the hook is thicker than the broadest part of the lancet, it pluggs up the wound, and both hooks are sometimes fixed without the appearance of blood ; but blood flows from the wounds when the hooks are extracted. When this is done, the operator applies a green leaf and a little greasy liniment, and the swinger marches off with more or less éclat, in proportion to the fortitude he hath displayed.
" In one place these machines were so near as to be within the distance of half a stone's throw from each other. And here I saw an old reverend Bramin carried upon a litter through the crowd ; he had a paper in his hand, which appeared to be written in Persian characters ; and he seemed to be giving some exhortation from it.
"All the information that I could get from our Banyan relative to this strange custom was that they swing for a good conscience. This barbarous custom was originally practised by the Bramins themselves, in order to show the people how little they regarded bodily pain ; at pre-sent it is confined to that class or caste of people, as they are called in this country, who bear the palanquins. When an European gentle-man first goes on shore in Bengal, he will very soon get into a palanquin, and, amongst the four or six bearers who attend him, he will observe some who have got marks of the wounds made on their backs by the swinging-hooks. They have a pride in the number of these marks. I have counted a dozen betwixt one pair of shoulders.