Barampore Religious Ceremony
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
If the following extract from a letter written, as will be perceived by its date, above a twelvemonth since, though but very lately received, from a young officer in the service of the Hon. East India Company, to a very near relative in this country, should appear to you, as it does to me, likely to be acceptable to those amongst your readers who take an interest in accounts of foreign climes and customs, you may depend on its perfect authenticity ; and, by inserting it in your amusing and instructive Miscellany, you perhaps may oblige them, as you certainly will, Sir, Yours, etc., N.
" From the 26th of last May to the znd of June a land-wind set in every morning about nine o'clock, and continued till six in the evening. This wind was so insufferably hot and parching, that, added to the perpendicular rays of a scorching sun, everybody was half-dead with fatigue. During the night too the heat was quite oppressive ; as you will suppose when you are told, that a range of hills, not above four or five miles distant, were all on fire. The cause of this is, that the inhabitants of the hills (called Cones) set fire to the Bamboo and other bushes, with which these hills are covered, and the spots left bare by this conflagration are rendered fertile by the ashes, and ready for cultivation. - The-fire generally continues burning till the setting in of the rainy season in the beginning of June.
" The rains were so late in setting in this year (viz. 1805) that the people began to apprehend a famine ; and a scarcity and dearness of rice had already taken place. To avert this impending evil, the Brahmins deemed it necessary that a victim should be offered up to procure rain. Accordingly a Faqueer, or religious beggar, came, whether voluntarily or not I cannot say, and, in case there was no rain in a certain time, he was to be burnt. I went with some other officers to see him, and found him seated on the ground surrounded by four beams of wood, which were on fire, and at the distance of two yards from him. He looked very pale, and emaciated, having been there some days, but seemed quite unconcerned, as he was smoking all the while. I do not recollect how many days were allowed him before he was to be burnt ; the rain, however, at length began, and, I believe, his life was saved. This all occurred in the village of Barampore a few months ago."