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husband by marrying again, brings disgrace on herself here below, and shall be excluded from the seat of her lord.' Whether the Vedas (the Hindu scriptures) and the Vedic commentaries expressly lay down, that a widow after the death of her husband must not marry again, has been disputed by many a modern Pandit; but it is clear from the above quotation that the cruel custom has reigned supreme in India since the time of Manu, whose injunctions have been literally obeyed by all Hindus. And as time passed on the merciless law of Manu has not only been rigorously carried out, but its evil effects have been immensely aggravated by many additional and not less cruel customs imposed upon the widows by the priestly class in India, which is, par excellence, the land of customs and ceremonies. Even Manu would have shrunk from making so inhuman a law, had he known that it would be so barbarously abused and would be the source of the unutterable sufferings and heart-breaking woes to which Hindu widows are in modern times subjected.

The evils of widowhood in India are manifold, and the system of early marriage makes them tenfold intense. Among the Hindus, a boy who is hardly out of his teens is married to a girl who has barely passed twelve summers ; and it often happens that a wife loses her husband soon after her marriage, and then she is initiated in the horrors of a widow's life ere she has passed her very girlhood. Even if the would-be husband, after the formal engagement has been made, dies before the ceremony of marriage, the girl is condemned to widowhood for all her life. The mischievous tendency of Manu's law is then at once perceived. Notwithstanding the watchfulness of their elders, the restrictions of the zenana system, and the inculcations of doctrines of moral purity in life and manners, many young widows yield to the irresistible impulse of passion. Do what you will you cannot conquer nature; and the utter futility of man's efforts to beat nature has been proved over and over again, by the numerous instances of deviation from the path of virtue and its attendant vices and crimes, among the widows in India. It is difficult to say whether the existing system is more cruel than pernicious, but that its extreme hardships give rise to much of the degradation and corruption of female society in India will be apparent to every reader of the following pages.

A Hindu woman's period of temporal happiness ceases, irrespective of her rank or wealth, directly she becomes a widow. When a young man dies, his parents and friends are in deep mourning for him, expressing the greatest grief for his untimely loss; but few people understand or care to comprehend the utter wretchedness in which he leaves his young wife, who is yet too tender and inexperienced to bear even the commonest hardship of this world. No sooner has the husband breathed his last than the young wife is

made to give up all tokens of the married state, and to forego all pleasures and luxuries as utterly unsuitable for her present condition. The iron bangle round her wrist, and the red powder on the parting of her hair, which she so proudly wore but a few days ago, she must now give up for ever. The ornaments which were never off her person during her husband's lifetime, she herself removes one by one from her limbs and puts them away, unless somebody else, without taking any heed of her grief-stricken heart, snatches them off her body. Fine or attractive clothes she must not wear, she has to be contented with a plain, simple, white súri. The very appearance which her bereaved and helpless condition presents would make you stand aghast. It is hardly possible even to recognise her now, who, only a few days ago, was radiant with her youthful bloom, and glittering with her picturesque costume and brilliant ornaments. The most outrageous customs are imposed on her, and she must observe them or lose her caste, which, among the Hindus, virtually amounts to losing her life. Alas! the custom of man is more cruel than the decree of Providence.

I shall give, as far as possible, an exact description of the actual state to which a Hindu woman is reduced after the death of her husband; and as some people assert that the widows in Bengal are not ill-treated at all, I shall first put forward the milder case, and then endeavour to sketch the horrors of Hindu widowhood in the heart of Hinduism, the North-West Provinces of India.

The formal period of mourning for a widow in Bengal lasts for one month with the Káyasths, the most numerous and influential class in that part of India,-the Brahmans keeping only ten days. During this time she has to prepare her own food, confining herself to a single meal a day, which consists of boiled coarse rice, simplest vegetables, ghi or clarified butter, and milk; she can on no account touch meat, fish, eggs, or any delicacy at all. She is forbidden to do her hair and to put any scent or oil on her body. She must put on the same cotton sári day and night even when it is wet, and must eschew the pleasure of a bed and lie down on bare ground, or perhaps on a coarse blanket spread on it; in some cases she cannot even have her hair dried in the sun after her daily morning ablution, which she must go through before she can put a particle of food in her mouth. The old women say that the soul of a man after his death ascends to heaven quickly and pleasantly in proportion to the bodily inflictions which his wife can undergo in the month after the death of her husband. Consequently the new-made widow, if not for any other reason, at least for the benefit of the soul of her departed husband, must submit to continuous abstinence and excruciating self-inflictions.

A whole month passes in this state of semi-starvation; the funeral ceremonies, which drag on till the end of that period, are all performed, and the rigid observances of the widow are a little relaxed,

if it may be so termed, since the only relaxation allowed to her is that she need not prepare the food with her own hands, and that she can change her clothes, but always using only plain cotton sáris. The real misery of the widow, however, begins after the first month. It is not enough that she is quite heart-broken for her deceased husband, and that she undergoes all the above-mentioned bodily privations, she must also continually bear the most galling indignities and the most humiliating self-sacrifices. She cannot take an active part in any religious or social ceremony. If there be a wedding in the house, the widow must not touch or in any way interfere with the articles that are used to keep the curious marriage customs. During the poojahs, or religious festivals, she is but grudgingly allowed to approach near the object of veneration, and in some bigoted families the contact of a widow is supposed to pollute the materials requisite for the performance of marriage ceremonies. The widow is, in fact, looked upon as the evil one' of the house. If she has no son or daughter to comfort her, or if she has to pass her whole life, as is often the case, with her husband's family, her condition truly becomes a helpless one. During any ceremony or grand occasion she has silently to look on, others around her enjoying and disporting themselves; and if some kind relation does not come to relieve her tedium, she has hardly anything else to do but to ruminate on her present sad, wretched condition. Every female member of a family, whether married or unmarried, can go to parties, but a widow cannot; and if she expresses any wish to join the family on such occasions it is instantly repressed by the curt rebuke of her mother-inlaw, or some other relation, that “she is a widow, and she must not have such wishes.'

The most severely felt injunction of custom upon the widows is that of fasting for two days every month during the whole period of her widowhood, that is, till the last month of her life. This observance is called ekádasí, which is a Sanskrit word meaning the eleventh,' so called from the fact that the widow abstains from all food on the eleventh day of each of the two fortnights into which the Hindu lunar month is divided. This ekádasí is a strict fast, nothing in the shape of liquid or solid can be touched by the widow; even a drop of water is forbidden to her for the whole of twenty-four hours on those two days of the month. There is no trace of this stringent rule anywhere in the Vedas or in the ancient literature of the Hindus. As I have shown above, Manu enjoins a system of frequent abstinence, but nowhere in the Hindu books of old on laws and observances is it ordained that a Hindu widow must pass two days in every month without touching, even at the risk of her life, any food or water. It is an innovation of later date, as are a great many of the present customs and ceremonies observed by the natives of India.

Under the joint family system of the natives of India there are very few Hindu houses where either a widowed daughter or daughterin-law cannot be found, and the sufferings of these young widows on their ekúdasí days are simply beyond description. In the middle of the fasting day you will find the young widowed daughter writhing in agony of thirst and hunger, her aged mother sitting silently by her and shedding tears at the pangs of her bereaved child, who cannot, for fear of shame and ridicule, even give vent to her feelings by the only way left to her—by weeping; her face is deathly pale through want of food, her eyes are bleared with racking pain, and her lips parched with terrible thirst. Perhaps she hears the noise of dropping water; she at once turns her eyes towards it, she looks hard at it, but she dares not utter a word. She longingly watches the course of the water as it reaches the courtyard; a dog passes by and drinks of it, but she cannot touch it. She draws away her eyes from it and mutters to herself, Oh! what sin have we committed that God has made us widows even worse than dogs!' She casts a look of despair at her mother. But the mother is helpless. The ordinances of custom must be rigidly followed. Her heart breaks at the sight of her daughter's agonies, but the rules of Shástras cannot be broken. They say that it is written in the Shástras that the widow who drinks water (not to speak of taking any food) and the person who gives her water on the day of ekádasí, are both damned to eternal perdition. The timidly superstitious Hindu mother cannot dare the risk of the perpetual condemnation of her soul to hell for the sake of alleviating the sufferings of her widowed daughter.

In many houses you will see an aged, invalid widow, lying down prostrate on her fasting day, haggard and emaciated, her daughters sitting around her. It is the middle of Indian summer, everything is blazing with torpid heat. The poor widow can hardly get up through age and illness, and there on so scorching a day she goes through her fast without touching a particle of food or a drop of water. The daughters are trying their best to soothe and comfort her, but she lies almost in an insensible state. All at once her eyes open, she looks hard at one of her daughters and most beseechingly asks for a little water. They look at her helplessly and tell her

Dear mother, to-day is ekádasí, water is forbidden.' The wretched widow is in a state of delirium, she has lost her memory. Again and again she implores her daughters for a drop of water, saying, 'I am dying, pray give me water.' They cannot bear this sight any more, they burst into tears--but they dare not grant their mother's prayer; they only try to comfort her by saying that directly the night passes away she shall have water. But, alas! the night may not pass away for the widow; perhaps she succumbs to her mortal thirst in a few hours, and thus dies a victim to the custom of man.

The widows of Bengal, notwithstanding the barbarous custom which imposes on them such miseries and inflictions, are not purposely ill-treated by their relations and friends; on the contrary, in respectable families they are greatly pitied and comforted in their state of abject wretchedness and despair. Widows of a mature age are very much respected, and though they cannot take an equal share with others in certain festivals and ceremonies, their counsel and criticism are earnestly sought for in all important domestic events, and very often they personally superintend the household affairs of everyday life as well as on grand occasions. In Bengal it is not the treatment of relations and friends that the widow suffers from ; it is the cruel custom of the land, which is more obligatory on her than the most stringent written law, and which binds her down to a continuous course of privations and self-inflictions. A distinguished Bengali gentleman, the Rev. Lal Behari Dey, says on this point:• There are no doubt exceptional cases, but, as a general rule, Hindu widows are not only not ill-treated, but they meet with a vast deal of sympathy. Old widows in a Bengali Hindu family are often the guides and counsellors of those who style themselves the lords of creation. We had the happiness of being acquainted with a venerable old Hindu widow who was not only the mistress of her own house, consisting of a considerable number of middle-aged men and women, but she was often the referee of important disputes in the village of which she was an inhabitant, and her decisions were re.ceived with the highest respect. This description is quite true, and we ourselves know of many cases of great respect shown to old widows; but a person may be respected and venerated and at the same time she may, especially in a land of superstitions and prejudices like India, be continually harrowed ly the most merciless mental and bodily torments.

In the North-West Provinces of India widows suffer treatment far worse than that to which their sisters in Bengal are subjected. The heartless customs are strictly enforced among all the castes, but as you ascend to the more well-to-do and richer classes they assume a more relentless and virulent form.

A widow among the respectable classes in this land of rigid Hinduism is considered and treated as something worse than the meanest criminal in the world. Directly after the death of her husband she is shunned by her relations and friends, and, as if her breath or touch would spread among them the contagion of her crime--the natural death of her husband—they do not even approach near her, but send the barbers' wives, who play an important part in all Hindu ceremonies, to divest her of all her ornaments and fineries. These mercenary persons often proceed to their task in a most heartrending manner; but that is the command of their mistresses, and they must obey it. No sooner has the husband breathed his last, VOL. XX.-- No. 115.


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