The Hindu Home
" Let him not cease to perform clay by day, according to the preceding rules the five great sacraments; and having taken a lawful consort, let him dwell in his house during the second period of his life." (Manu, v. 169.)
IN giving some account of matters connected with the daily home life of the Hindu, it may be well to introduce the subject by a description of the home itself. In this, as in everything else, the Hindu is guided by rules and regulations prescribed by his religion. There is nothing that has to do with the whole life of a Hindu, and every possible detail thereof, from his cradle to his grave, which is not regulated by such rules. Many of these directions were originally the outcome of circumstances bearing upon the welfare of the individual or community, but they have gradually become absorbed in the religious administration and, at length, appear as sections of a divine code that must be observed, on pain of severe physical and spiritual penalties.
I do not intend to say anything of the homes of the modern Europeanized Hindu ; for, in the first place, such are comparatively few in number, and are chiefly confined to the large towns and cities ; and, on the other hand, they do not represent the ordinary habits and customs of the people. The orthodox Hindu looks with dislike upon the many departures from custom that are beginning to manifest themselves, particularly in the Presidency cities and other seats of light and learning.
The subject of Hindu homes is a very wide one, and may include many varieties, from the miserable hut of the lowest outcaste up to the lordly dwelling of the Maharajah. The extreme poverty of the very lowest classes, the complete absence of all ideas of comfort, and the simple requirements of a tropical climate, together serve to perpetuate the primitive character and the miserable squalor of the ordinary labourer's hut. A few jungle sticks and the leaves of any of the varieties of the palm, or a few bundles of grass or reeds, suffice to make a covering into which the poor man and his family can creep on cold nights, or during the heavy rains ; but such a place can scarcely be called a home. Such people live mostly out of doors, both night and day. The hut is simply a shelter from inclement weather, and a place for the safe custody of their few pots and cooking utensils. There are infinite gradations from this primitive dwelling to the palaces of the great chiefs and kings ; but, as far as I have been able to judge, after a long and varied experience, there is one thing in common about them all, and that is the absence of that comfort, that indescribable something which is the charm of an English home, and which causes us to use the word as a synonym for the eternal happiness beyond. This may be only insular prejudice and the association of ideas ; for, after all, comfort and happiness are but comparative terms.
Before describing the house itself, I will mention some of the regulations connected with the building of regulations as to its site and the materials to be used in its construction, and the time for commencing the work. All these things are minutely laid down in Hindu books of greater or less antiquity. The "Nirnayasindhu," (the ocean of ritual), is a kind of encyclopaedia of all Hindu customs ; and the " Kalkurutam " (the nectar of time), contains the sixteen rites or regulations concerning the sixteen chief events in a man's life, from his birth to his death. From these two books a smaller one has been compiled, called " Vastu Shastra," (the science of domestic architecture), which treats of all matters connected with buildings, especially private dwellings and, though many of the directions are not now generally complied with, most of those that are here described are still observed by the ordinary orthodox Hindu. There are regular professional persons called Vastu Shastris (doctors of building), generally of the goldsmith caste, whose business it is, for a consideration, to give all the correct measurements and directions, in due accordance with the ritual, to those about to erect new dwellings. I heard of a celebrated member of this profession and sent for him, as I wished to see his books and to make his acquaintance. At first he declined to come, as he feared Europeans. He thought he might be beaten or not well-treated, but, on being assured that he would meet with nothing but kindness, he consented to come. He was a most respectable looking old man and, being of the goldsmith caste, he wore the thread of the dvija, or twice born but, as he had not brought his books, I did not get much information from him. He promised to come again but failed to do so, the reason being that he was hastily summoned to a distant village on the south of the Kistna river. It appears that a certain man, who was building a new house, had fallen ill, and he sent in haste for this doctor—not a doctor for his body, but a doctor for the house ! Something must have gone wrong in the calculations, or something or other of the new building, and hence this blow from the offended deity concerned. Money was sent to defray the expenses of this celebrated Shastri, but he would not go until he was assured that his advice would be followed, even if it involved pulling down portions of the building already erected. How he fared in this expedition I have never heard ; but it appears that sometime ago this same person was sent for to attend another case, the result of which brought him great fame. A certain house owner had recently entered a new house which he had built, but within a month he fell very ill. It was thought that something must be wrong with the building, and this house-doctor was sent for. Having considered the case, the doctor decided, by virtue of his science, that there was a snake in a certain beam of the building. The reptile had entered the hollow part of the beam which had been plugged up by the carpenter, and was there languishing, and hence the calamity. A snake charmer was summoned, the beam was sawn through and a reptile, which turned out to be a cobra, was drawn out by the snake charmer and placed in an earthen vessel. It was there fed with milk for some ten days until it revived and recovered its vigour, when it was taken away to a suitable place and set free. The patient recovered in proportion as the cobra's strength revived, and within a few days be was quite well. The wisdom and skill displayed by our friend in this case was much praised and he was suitably rewarded. These simple stories are here narrated for what they are worth. The people fully believe in them, and they serve to show the superstitious notions that are still entertained in connection with Hindu dwellings.
The first question that arises in connection with the building of a house is as to the site, and many directions are given as to the colour and taste and smell of the boil, together with the various means of testing whether the spot or its neighbourhood is lucky or unlucky ; but much of this is considered obsolete now. Builders are still, however, very particular as to the position of the house with reference to a temple, and also as to the presence of human bones in the soil. If, on digging for the foundations of a new dwelling, any bit of human bone should be turned up, the greatest care is taken to discover and remove every particle that can be found. Sometimes the site is altogether abandoned. This idea may have originated from sanitary considerations. If, again, the owner should fall ill, whilst the building is going on, and die before it is finished, the whole thing is completely abandoned, and no one would think of taking over the work with a view to completing it. A house must not be built in front of a Siva temple, as the eye of that god has an evil influence ; nor must it be built behind one to Vishnu, but it may . be built on either side of either one of them. I will here relate a peculiar case that came under my own observation sometime ago, as it has to do with the question of the site upon which a house may be built. I passed through a certain deserted village in- which many of the houses were dismantled. It was a Sudra village of prosperous farmers. It was getting late in the forenoon and, as I had not yet breakfasted, this appeared to be a. good opportunity to make a halt. The village munsiff (the village executive officer), who came up, gave me permission to pass the heat of the day in the sheltered courtyard of one of the houses that was still left standing. After breakfast, I began to explore and to seek -for information. I was informed that, for certain religious reasons, the whole village had been abandoned and that the farmers had settled on a site, about half a mile distant from their old homes. They had partly pulled down their houses and utilized what they could of the old materials for rebuilding. The reason given for this change was as follows. It appears that for some time there had been a great deal of sickness in the village and many deaths, so it was decided by the Brahmins that a curse rested upon the place. On looking round for the probable cause of this, from certain signs it was discovered, or pretended to have been discovered, that there must formerly have been a temple near the village tank and, as there was no vestige of the temple left, it was concluded that it must have been destroyed. For this or some other reason, the anger of the temple god had been aroused and he had cursed the village, hence the number of deaths. The consternation this decision would cause amongst these poor superstitious people can be easily imagined. They do not seem to have questioned the decision, but simply decided that it was the will of the god that they should remove. Accordingly, for a pecuniary consideration, the Brahmins pointed out a new site, and the simple folks began at once to remove their dwellings. At the time of my visit most of the houses had been completely dismantled, and nothing was left of them but the substantial mud walls which presented the appearance of a sad, but by no means picturesque ruin. A few of the old inhabitants, among whom were the barber and the potter, still lingered on, probably because they could not meet the expense of removing. The site upon which the old village was built was in every respect superior, from sanitary and other points of view, to the low and ill-drained place to which the removal had been made ; but no logic of facts can overcome the superstitious fears of these simple people. Probably the real cause of the unhealthiness of the place might have been found in some of the back-yards or other surroundings. Dame Nature had. been outraged by a systematic neglect of the attention due to her fair daughter Hygeia, and punishment had resulted. Such simple matters as these, however, are beneath the ken of the Hindu wise-man, and everything must be decided in accordance with rules formulated by a dense superstition. As I sat there during the heat of the day in the shade of .the old door way, I could not but reflect upon the scene before me. How many generations of industrious Hindu farmers had. been reared in that place ! Here were still the peepul tree (ficus religiosa) and the neem (azadirachta Indica), under whose shadow so many had sat in days gone by for a council or for gossip, now left standing alone amidst the miserable ruins of once loved homes. Whilst I was there, an old widow woman came up from the new village to the house thus temporarily occupied by me, and seemed by no means pleased at my presence. I courteously explained that I had received permission, and then it turned out that the house did not belong to my friend the munsiff at all, and hence perhaps his readiness to let me rest there. However I was not disturbed, and presently the old lady began to sweep up the deserted rooms. There seemed no need for it, as nobody came there and the house was only waiting to be pulled down. Perhaps her old affection for the place brought her there, and made her treat it as a sacred shrine that she could not bear to see neglected. I took the opportunity kindly to point out to my village , friend the munsiff the folly of all this expense and trouble, this breaking up of comfortable homes, all for a superstitious idea. With true Indian politeness he appeared to agree with what I said, but he finished off with the old Hindu excuse, " What could we do ? The Brahmins said it must be done and we were obliged to go." We sometimes hear people talk as though superstition were now dead in India ; but except within a narrow circle, happily widening by slow degrees, composed of those influenced by Western ideas, superstition has just as strong a hold upon the masses as ever. How can it be otherwise. If it took many many centuries to do away with old heathen superstitions in the West, some of which are not yet completely eradicated, it must not be supposed that one or two generations, or very many of them, indeed, will effect much change in the East where the growth is so dense and so deeply rooted.
After the site has been selected the position of the neighbouring dwellings must be next taken into consideration, as if, for instance, the water from a house flows towards a neighbour's there will arise evil and quarrels. Also in order to secure the general welfare, the water from one's own house should be made to flow in a certain direction—east, or north, or north-east. The timber used must be well considered, for certain kinds are sure to bring misfortune, if any one should be rash enough to use any of them. A list of unsuitable timbers is given in the books which deal with these matters. The well must not be dug on the south side of the house, or evil will be sure to follow ; and if bones are found in excavating it, the fact will be taken as a portent of the death of the owner.
The next question is as to the time of the year at which building operations should be commenced. On this point most careful directions are given. In the list, given below, the first column gives the Indian name of the month, and the next the corresponding English time ; while the third gives the consequences that are liable to ensue to the householder from commencing to build his dwelling at the particular time named :-
1. Chaitram March, April Blessings generally.
2. Vaishakham April, May Wealth.
3. Jyeshtham May, June Deaths.
4. Ashadham June, July Evil to the cattle.
5. Shravanam July, August Increase of cattle.
6. Bnadrapadam August, September Loss of sons.
7. Aswayujam September, October Poverty.
8. Karteekam October, November Complete happiness.
9. Margasiritan November, December Good crops.
10. Pushyam December, January Danger of fire.
11. Magham January, February General success.
12. Phalgunam February, March Much happiness.
The proper time for commencing the work having been decided upon, the difficulty as to the aspect has to be settled, and this can only be decided by the following consideration. A deity called Vastupurusha, said to preside over the science of building, migrates between the three worlds, swarga (heaven), marthya (this world), and patala (hell). He is always in a reclining posture, but he changes it at different times of the year. For instance, during certain months of the year his head will be turned towards the north, and at other times towards other points of the compass. A house should not, when the building of it is commenced, face. towards the feet of Vastupurusha or where his eyes may fall upon it, from which it follows that, if a certain aspect is desired, building operations must commence at a period of the year when either of the above contingencies may be avoided, owing to the position in which the deity may be then reclining.
Another thing to be considered will depend upon which side of the road or street the house site may be. According to the " Vastu Shastra," it is good to build towards the north or east, but bad towards the south or west. If, therefore, the house-builder should have a site large enough to enable him to comply with the Shastra he will not build his house right up to the road, if by so doing it would face towards the south or west. He will in that case build some distance back from the road or street and have only a blank wall with a door in it opening on to the road. In towns or . crowded localities where the area of sites may be limited, this point may npt - always be complied with through lack of space ; but where it is feasible, and especially in country-places where space is not so valuable, this rule of the Shastra is generally attended to.
The aspect of the new house, and the proper time for the commencement of operations having been duly fixed upon, the next thing is to prepare for the excavations for the foundations, and the performing of a ceremony somewhat analogous to that of laying the foundation stone of a public building in Europe. A good time of the day having been fixed upon by astrology, the owner of the house, together with his wife who must be present, and the puróhita, or family priest, and perhaps others, assemble for the foundation-laying ceremony. After worshipping Ganesha, without propitiating whom nothing of importance can ever be undertaken, a piece of stick called shankhu, about a foot long, which has been cut into a certain prescribed shape by the carpenter, is planted in the north-east corner of the foundation of the main building. Into the place where this is planted, various kinds of grain and metals are thrown, together with flowers, leaves and coloured rice. The whole is then worshipped. This coloured rice (akshata) enters largely into all religious ceremonies. In fact no worship, other than that at funerals, or some way connected with the dead, can be performed without this use of coloured rice. The idea appears to be that the stick by this ceremony (pratishta) becomes animated with the spirit of the god Vastupurusha, who is thereafter the good genius of the house. The following is a specimen of the prayers addressed at this ceremony to this shankhu god :—
" Then art the stay of the dwelling;
Art by God appointed and givest prosperity.
Without thee the building of a dwelling
Should not be done by those who desire happiness.
Do thou, being established in this shanks,
The good of this house ever increase."
At the putting up of the main doorway, and again when the ridge-piece is put up, religious ceremonies are performed ; it is so also at the digging of the well, and when the family first takes possession of the house. These ceremonies will now be described in order.
The principal entrance to the house or front door, is called simhadwaram, or the lion entrance. The woodwork of this is always more or less carved, sometimes most elaborately so. There are two pieces, laid across the top corners of the door frame, called the horse-stools, because the cross pieces which support the wall above are laid on them. These horse-stools are carved into a shape which represents lions, elephants, horses or parrots, according to the fancy of the owner. The putting up of this entrance door frame is a serious business, and necessitates a religious ceremony. The woodwork is smeared with saffron, and adorned with red powder (kunkuma) and flowers, and with a garland made of leaves of the mango tree. Kunkuma which is much used in worship and in all kinds of Hindu ceremonies, in which women are associated, is a red powder made of turmeric, alum, and lime juice. Worship is then actually performed to the wood by repeating certain prayers, and sprinkling it with sandal paste and coloured rice. The following are specimens of slokams or prayers on such occasions:—
"0 door frame, with parts fitted tightly together
According to Vastu Shastra rule,
Do thou being fixed in this house,
Cause happiness to increase."
" With saffron, turmeric, flowers And sandal being well adored, Do thou for ever be happy And be our support and stay."
The next religious ceremony takes place when the ridge-plate is put into position. This, too, is worshipped in much the same way as the door frame. Whilst lying upon the ground, across two pieces of timber, it is adorned with saffron, flowers, and garlands, and then worship is paid to it. After this it is put into position. The following is a specimen of the prayers used ;—
"0 ridge-plate, support of the house,
Having been adored with flowers and sandal,
And fixed according to Vastu rule,
Do thou cause continued prosperity."
As a well is a very necessary adjunct to a house, and a very important one from a Hindu point of view, there is a religious ceremony connected with the digging of it. Before the work is commenced, prayers are repeated to the earth, which is considered to be a goddess (bhudevi), and also to Varuna, the god of all kinds of water. At the completion of the work, and before the water can be used, a dedicatory ceremony is performed. The mouth of the well is adorned with saffron and the coloured powder kunkuma. A patch of ground near the well is then prepared and purified by smearing it with cow-dung and by adorning it with lines made of rice powder. Upon this patch of earth a lump of saffron is placed, which is supposed to represent Ganesha, under the name of Vinayaka or the remover of obstacles. Worship is then performed to this by the master of the house, instructed by the attendant family priest in the usual manner. A small lamp fed with ghee (clarified butter) is lighted, and incense is put upon some live coals of fire. While the lamp is burning and the incense rising up, flowers, sandal paste and coloured rice are dropped over the supposed god whose various names are repeated by the worshipper. Tambuam is placed near the god, together with one or two coins (dakshina) which become the fee of the priest, and the worship is concluded by the waving of burning camphor and making obeisance with closed hands (namaskairam). Tambulam is betel-leaf and areca nut made up into a small parcel, ready to put into the mouth. A little slaked lime is added before use. The masticating of this compound seems to be much enjoyed, but the red colour it imparts to the mouth and lips is far from pleasant from an European point of view. This little luxury, however, is partaken of at the termination of every meal, and no important transaction or any religious rite can be complete without it. The god Varuna is then worshipped in much the same manner. The tambulam and the coins are placed in the hands of the priest, and the whole ceremony is concluded with the usual obeisance. During the dropping of flowers, sandal paste and coloured rice into the well, the priest, the householder following him according to his ability, repeats the following prayer :—
" O Varuna, thou ruler of the waters,
In this well grant thy presence.
By thy favour 0 great being,
May we ever be prosperous."
I now proceed to give some general idea of the architecture and general arrangements of a Hindu dwelling. It describe an ordinary Hindu house as it is in the Circars, a district in the northern part of the Madras Presidency. The style of the building may differ very much in the widely distant parts of India, and amongst its different races and religions. As, however, some main principles pervade all Hindu domestic architecture, some general idea may be gathered from this description of a Hindu home. The chief feature in the building is that it must be in the form of a square, with an opening to the sky in the centre. The roof slopes outward and inward, and the inner sides all converge around a rectangular open space, larger or smaller as the case may be. In large well-built houses this central open space will form a regular courtyard, whilst in smaller buildings it will be so small that the vacant space where the roof converges, is only a few inches square, and the floor underneath it a mere depression in the earth large enough to catch the rainfall from the roof. In very large houses there may be two of these courts, but in all of them the principle is the same. The origin of this arrangement is not very clear, and different reasons are given for it. Some. say it is in order that the sun's rays may shine into the house ; or, as it was put to me by a Brahmin friend, just as it is necessary that there should be some gold, if even a speck, worn on the body, so it is necessary for some few rays, at least, of the sun to fall into the dwelling. Others say it is because it is necessary for the rain to fall into the house in order to secure its happiness. However this may be, this arrangement is a source of much discomfort if not of positive evil. The heavy monsoon rain pouring in from the roof into the very centre of the living place makes everything very damp and uncomfortable. It is true there is a kind of drain made for the water to pass through under the walls to the outside, but the arrangement is certainly a source of some of the many forms of fever and other diseases to which Indians are so liable. Here again we see the effects of custom hardened into a religious law. Probably the origin of it was for protection in the former unsettled times from foes and wild animals. Now all dwellings erected in accordance with the Shastra must have this characteristic form.
Windows, as a rule, do not look out upon the street, and when there are any they are placed high up in the wall, out of all reach of passers by. On the public road nothing but a blank wall with a more or less imposing doorway is seen. This door is generally of a massive character, often studded with bosses of iron, and both it and the door posts are frequently ornamented with elaborate carving. It is very peculiar that this front door should always be of so massive a character, seeing that the back and side walls and other doors are relatively so much slighter and weaker. An Indian thief would never think of attempting to break through the front door of a dwelling. His efforts are directed to digging through the house or the compound wall, especially if it is made of mud ; or to breaking in through the back-yard door, which lacks the strength of the front one. Probably the reason is that the spending of time and money on this imposing front entrance is simply in accord with the tendency of human nature ever to put the best on the outside. The front wall next the street is sometimes not the real wall of the house at all. Often, perhaps for reasons already alluded to in speaking of the site, or perhaps for the sake of space and security or. privacy, the front wall, with its elaborate doorway, is but the outer side of the yard or enclosure inside which the house itself is built. When this is the case, the ceremony already alluded to,1 relative to putting up the chief door frame of a new house, is performed, not in connection with this entrance, but in connection with that of the dwelling proper.
In good houses the open space, into which visitors first enter, is paved with brick, or laid over with smooth polished plaster, or the earth is left just as it is. Around it is a verandah upon which the rooms of the dwelling open out. The four points of the compass are strictly considered in arranging the rooms. The kitchen should always be on the south side and should run the whole width of the building. This is the most sacred part of the whole house, and persons of a lower caste than the household are never allowed to enter it. This rule is observed, even in the case of the poorest and meanest dwelling, if it should be that of a high caste man. The kitchen is partly a cooking place, partly chapel, and partly dining room. I have seen the inside of many native houses, but I have never been allowed to cast even a glance into this sacred room. If a house has an upper storey, it is probably built over the front portion, never over the kitchen. But except in the Presidency cities and other large towns, houses have, as a rule, no upper storey at all. In an ordinary house, no part of the roof must be higher than that of the kitchen, for to thus throw that sacred chamber into the shade would be decidedly irregular. Where, however, there is an upper storey to any portion of the house, it must be higher than the kitchen. In this connection a case may be mentioned which illustrates this point. A well-to-do native gentleman of my acquaintance built a nice terraced entrance-hall to his house, but the result was a room very low in relation to its size. The reason for this is that, whilst the owner wanted to make it higher, he was not allowed to do so by his caste fellows as it would then be higher than his kitchen, and he had to submit to rule.
The rooms opening out on to the inner verandah are the bedrooms, other private rooms, the store-room and any other necessary rooms and offices. All the arrangement of rooms is regularly fixed in the Shastra, and great blessings are promised where these rules are complied with, whilst misfortunes are implied if the rules are wantonly infringed. One portion of the verandah is apportioned off as a kind of office or study, in which writing work and the like is done, and this portion is sometimes divided from the rest by a low partition. The inner verandah is also sometimes occupied by a few pet calves, or, it may be, in poorer houses and where outside space is not available, some cows are stalled there for the night. It is an amusing sight, in passing through the streets of an evening, to see the droves of cattle coming home from the pasture. As they go along, every here and there, one or more of the cows or buffaloes will turn aside and go up the steps of a house, passing through the doorway which has been left open on purpose. The animal will proceed straight to its accustomed place in the compound, or yard, or to its well-known corner in the inner verandah. Truly here in this country we see exemplified many an eastern usage set forth in the imagery of the Bible ; for instance : " The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master's crib : but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." (Isaiah, i. 3.)
If we look at the furniture of a house we are at once struck with its extreme simplicity. Taste and wealth are not manifested in grand furniture and costly hangings, or any other of the things that go to make up a luxurious home in Europe. Good timber, well-made wooden ceilings, and elaborate carvings are here the things most admired. The roof is, most frequently, open to the tiles or thatch, and hence much discomfort must arise from the falling of dust or insects and the like ; but where it can be procured simple matting or a wooden ceiling is put up. A wealthy man will have ceiled rooms, and the beams, posts and all other wood work will be most elaborately and, in some cases, very beautifully carved. These are the signs of wealth. The usual mud walls are here replaced by walls of brick and plaster—perhaps the marble-like polished plaster peculiar to the country. The flooring is of brick and polished plaster, and the rooms, verandah and courts are spacious and lofty, instead of the usual dark, dingy and miserably small apartments. The roof also is made of good well-wrought timber with tiles, and not of common jungle wood and thatch ; but, in all cases, the general features of the whole are the same as regards the architecture and arrangements. The furniture of a Hindu house is very little indeed as regards quantity, and very primitive in its nature. In the houses of a few of the modern and more advanced, a few chairs and a table or two may be found ; but, as a rule, even amongst the better classes, there is a complete absence of most of the domestic conveniences which the poorest Europeans consider indispensable. In the kitchen-diningroom there are no tables, chairs, knives, forks, spoons, plates or dishes ; nor are there any of the numerous articles that compose the batterie de cuisine of a well-to-do European home. A few metal or earthenware pots and pans and a simple clay fire-place suffice for the culinary operations ; whilst the dinner plate is formed from the large leaf of the lotus or plantain, or from a few smaller leaves cleverly stitched together. Nature herself supplies most of the other requisites.
One needs to live amongst such people to learn how very few, after all, are the real necessities of life, if we only rid ourselves of notions formed by habit and custom. In the office place, there may be a low kind of table which serves as a seat by day and a couch by night. A rug or two may be spread on the floor with a few cushions to lean against, whilst the walls may be adorned with a few pictures representing scenes in the life of Krishna. These pictures are gorgeous and grotesque native productions. They are painted on glass and. can be bought in almost every fairly large bazaar. Occasionally a print or two may be seen, or a cutting from some English illustrated paper ; but they appear very much out of keeping with the rest of the surroundings.
The bed-room furniture would not strike an English lady as having that air of snugness and comfort which is the charm of the European bed-chamber. It consists of a native cot, a box or cupboard for the safe custody of the more expensive cloths and jewels. On one side of the wall is a shelf and in the wall are a few niches for the native lamps. The lamp is usually a very primitive affair, being composed of a cotton wick lying in a saucer of oil. It is generally placed in some niche in the wall or on a simple wooden stand. A few native pictures on the walls represent scenes from the " Rama- yana," or some other one of the Indian - epics. A brass mug-shaped vessel serves for all the purposes of a wash-stand, and a few square inches of looking glass suffice for the finer touches of the toilet. The water from the brass vessel is poured from the left hand into the right, or is poured by an attendant. This applied to the face serves for ordinary' ablutions. The complete bath, in the absence of a river or tank, or other means of immersion, is taken by pouring water over the person from the same brass vessel. This is the usual mode of performing the toilet for both men and women. It is generally done in the back-yard or some such suitable place, as may be convenient. In the early morning, the ordinary citizen is often seen, brass pot in hand, performing his morning ablutions, seated on the edge of his front verandah and with his head hanging over the street gutter.
In nothing, perhaps, are the primitive habits of the Hindu more conspicuous than in his ordinary sleeping arrangements. There is no " going to bed," in the sense understood by the European. The climate is the chief reason for this. The men, especially, seem to lie down anywhere, in the inner verandah or along the narrow verandah seat that runs along the front wall next to the street. In the villages particularly, they seem to lie about just wherever fancy dictates. No place seems too hard, or, to our ideas, too uncomfortable. The long sheet-like cloth is unwound from the body, or some sheet or blanket which is kept for the purpose is used ; and with this the person is covered, head and all. There is no doubt that this custom of lying down to sleep anywhere and everywhere must be the reverse of healthy, and probably it is the cause of much of the rheumatism and kindred affections of the muscles and joints which are more or less prevalent. The richer classes, the aged and generally the master of the house, use a low light cot for sleeping upon, but it seems to be shifted about from place to place to suit convenience. In the hot weather it will be put where there is some cool air, whilst in the cold or wet season it will stand in the bed-room which is perhaps shared by the master of the house and some of his bigger sons. The wife occupies her own room together with the younger children. This seems to be the usual arrangement in Hindu households, especially when the married couple are verging on towards middle life.
When a son of the family marries, he does not take his bride and set up house for himself, but a room in the paternal dwelling is set apart for his use, or an annex is built to accommodate the young couple, and they join the family as a part of it. It is easy to see how little difficulty there is in providing for visitors, as there is no anxiety as to which suite of apartments must be set aside for this or that particular party. There is always plenty of room for the men to lie down for their siesta during the heat of the day, or for their sleep at night, and the 'females simply lie down with those of the household.
The Hindu does not usually attempt much by way of a flower garden, nor is there generally much attention paid to the surroundings of a house to give it that pretty appearance which tend so much, in our eyes, to make a place look homelike and happy. If there is a plot of ground around the house, it may be that a few pumpkin plants straggle here and there, and a few egg plants, or a clump of plantain trees are grown ; but everything has an unkempt appearance as though order and prettiness were unknown quantities in the Hindu mind. If the house is a large one, an orchard may be attached to it, containing some of the principal Indian fruit trees, such as the mango, jack, cocoanut, betel, custard-apple, or wood-apple ; but here again the same slovenliness is painfully conspicuous, though so much might be made of such surroundings. Flowers are grown to a certain extent, such as the marigold and oleander and jasmine to be used in worship, or to be worn in the hair by the females for personal adornment. A. plant of the tulasi or sacred basil, always occupies the place of honour in the masonry urn, which is placed somewhere in the inner court or in the yard at the back of the house.
Having described the most conspicuous architectural features of the ordinary Hindu dwelling and also its general arrangements and surroundings, I shall now proceed to state the considerations necessary, from a religious point of view, before the householder can venture to occupy the house which he is supposed to have built. The first thing that has to be considered is the proper time of year for taking up residence in the new abode. On this point there is a little difference of opinion amongst Hindu authorities. According to some persons, if a house is newly occupied in Vaishakham, the owner will be blessed with many sons ; if in Jyeshtam, he will have abundance of joyous festivities, such as marriages and the like ; if the house is newly occupied in Phalgunam, the owner will be blessed with wealth ; if in Magham he will have good crops and much happiness. On the other hand, there are those who maintain that, although all the other months in the vernal equinox (Uttarayanam) during which the sun is north of the equator, are good for newly entering into a house, Magham is not a propitious month. This difference of opinion is chiefly between the Tamils, who reckon by the solar system, and the Telugus, who go according to the lunar. All, however, are agreed that it is most unpropitious to enter a new abode for the first time during any month of the second half of the year.
A suitable day for entering having been duly fixed upon, the house is adorned in various ways, chiefly by smearing saffron and kunkuma on the lintels and door posts of all the doors in the house, and tying over them a garland of flowers and leaves of the mango or of the neredu tree (eugenia jambos). A company assembles consisting of the members of the family, relatives, friends and a number of Brahmin pundits. A band of native musicians and a group of dancing girls may also be in attendance, all of course in proportion to the means of the householder. A procession is formed from the house then inhabited by the owner to his new abode. As the company passes along, the band plays and every now and then the company will stop before the house of a friend or that of some great person, when the dancing women will go through their performance of dancing and singing to the sound of a kind of harp and cymbals, and to the gentle beating of the tom-tom. The thing is so arranged that the procession arrives at the house at the propitious moment, before fixed upon, when they all enter, walking over grain that has been spread in the door way and all along to the western side of the central portion of the house. Worship is then performed to Ganesha, Vastupurusha, Venkateshvara and other gods, after which the family priest makes the following declaration in the name of the house-owner, concluding with a prayer.
The declaration is :—
" On an auspicious day, under a lucky star,
At a fortunate moment of time,
(He must enter) his new and beautiful home,
(It being) decorated with flowers and tender leaves.
He must enter accompanied by relatives, Brahmins and others,
(And worship) Vigashvara and all other gods, With hymns of praise."
The prayer is,
" O God of gods ! O great God !
Be gracious unto us, 0 supreme God !
Preserve us, O preserve us, Lord of the universe! Yea evermore preserve us !
Home happiness and domestic joys,
Do thou ever increase unto us."
After this is over, presents of cloths and jewels, according to the ability of the house-owner, are given to the chief workmen who have been engaged in the erection of the building. It is now quite a custom in India for chief workmen to be thus rewarded, and even some Europeans follow the ideas of the country, so far as to give a jewel or two to the chief workmen after any important building work is finished. The ceremonies of the day are concluded with a blessing after the following manner. A metal dish with coloured rice is produced, and some of the attendant Brahmins take a handful of this, and having repeated mantrams, cast the rice into the cloth Of the house-owner who holds up a corner of it for the purpose. This blessing consisting of quotations from the Vedas is a very long one. The concluding portion only is here given. The translation, in this case, is a rather free one.
" May thy life continue for a hundred years, and may thy mental and physical powers remain perfect for a hundred years."
The family priest then takes the rice, by handfuls, and pours it on the heads of the house-owner, his wife, his children and any relatives who may be present. On the following day there is a feast in the new house and, if the guests are numerous, an awning may be put up in the yard to accommodate them. When the owner is not, a Brahmin, his Brahmin guests will receive their portion of the feast in an uncooked form, and this they will take away with them to cook in their own houses. On an occasion of this kind, all castes, even Brahmins, will give food to all sorts of people, but the principal guests are relatives and friends. With this feasting the ' house-warming ' is concluded.
There are various things that cause a house to become defiled. Some of these are only trifling, such as bees settling in the house, or an owl, or a certain kind of kite settling upon it or flying into it, or any fungus growing anywhere inside. These necessitate a minor kind of purification. The great defilement is caused by death. If any other than one of the chief members of the family is at the point of death, his relatives carry him out of the house into the outer verandah, or some such place. The reason for this may be seen from the following idea. There are twenty-seven lunar mansions (nakshatram), of which fourteen are disastrous and thirteen auspicious. Should a person die inside the house during any one of the fourteen inauspicious periods, the house must be abandoned by the whole family and left vacant for two, three, or six months, according to the particular star then in the ascendant. If, however, the death takes place outside the house, in the outer verandah for instance, only that portion must be divided off and. abandoned for the set period. If the death takes place during any of the auspicious periods, the house only has the ordinary contamination of the family and is, • with them, purified on the eleventh day after the death. It will be thus seen that it is a very risky thing for anyone to die inside a house, as the good or bad periods are only known to those learned in such matters (jyotishka) and, although in the case of the heads of the household the risk is usually run, sometimes the dying patient will ask to be taken outside to avoid possible trouble to the family.
After any defilement the house is purified in the following manner, portions of the ceremony or the whole being performed according to its relative importance. The most important purification is when, after temporary abandonment, the family again comes into residence. The house is thoroughly cleaned up and probably whitewashed. The family assemble, with their family priest and several other Brahmins or friends. Ganesha, under the name of Vighnesha, is worshipped. Water is poured into a vessel (kalasam), which is adorned with flowers, sandal, and the like, and this having been worshipped and all the gods having been invoked, the water is sprinkled by the priest over the various parts of the house and over the people present. Food is then cooked and partaken of by the company. The following are specimens of the slokas or verses repeated by the priest in the worship of the kalasam ; they are a declaration and a prayer.
The declaration is :—
This punyihavichanam rite
Is holy and destroys sin.
It is for the purification of a house, the body and 9ther things,
And also for that of the mind.
The Ganges with all other holy rivers,
And all the gods, rishis, and ancients,
Also the Vedas and sacrifices,
Having been invoked into these vessels (now before us),
Which having adorned and worshipped With sandal, flowers and coloured rice,
He (the householder) must pray to the supreme God That all his desires may be fulfilled.
The prayer is :—
I am a sinner; all my deeds are sinful.
I am of a sinful mind ; I am born in sin.
0 God in mercy save me !
Thou who art merciful to those who flee to thee.
There is no sinner equal to me: There is no deliverer like unto thee. Ever knowing me to be a sinner, As is thy pleasure, so do.
A purification ceremony is gone through if the well becomes ceremonially contaminated. I know of a case in which a well of good water became impure through a non-caste servant of a European, who had access to it, having ventured to draw water from the well himself instead of getting some caste man to draw it for him. Some stir was caused by this, and the European master was petitioned to pay the expenses of the purification rendered necessary by the act of his servant. To this demand he gave a firm refusal, his right to the use of the well not being disputed. It ended by the abandonment of the well, as far as all caste people were concerned, and it was left for the use of the non-castes only and for Europeans.
There are various other occasions calling for purification. A robber might break into a house and go into the kitchen, and as he would probably be a low caste man, the full purification ceremony would be necessary. If a dog or any other unclean animal were to die in or near the house, the place must be purified by sprinkling water mixed with cow dung, or with cow's urine. This is a minor purification which is often resorted to for lesser defilements. Enough, however, has been said to give a general idea of defilements and purifications connected with the Hindu Home.
The description given has been of the material home itself, rather than of the home life of the people.
Doubtless home life, true domestic happiness, is much influenced by the immediate surroundings ; but, after all, habit and custom are much if not everything in such matters, and certainly many an Indian home is happy in spite of what may seem to us its dulness and monotony. The old English proverb which says that " Home is home be it ever so homely " expresses a truth that can be applied in many ways ; it is the hearts that make the home. What must be deplored; however, is the hard bondage to superstition that is so evident in every page of this description. It is a thraldom, emancipation from which seems remote and, viewed by itself, well nigh hopeless. It is but a mere truism to say that real progress in a nation cannot be said to have begun until it affects the home life. As regards India, it is the home that seems the last place to be affected by progress and enlightenment. Superstitions and kindred evils that would seem to be effete, if considered in the light of the platform and the press, are seen in the home life to be as deeply rooted and as powerfully binding as ever.
( Originally Published 1908 )
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