“The False and the True Vasanta Rayar. A Narrative of Religious Excitement in Southern India Ten Years Ago”
BIPOC Voices in the Victorian Periodical Press
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THE FALSE AND THE TRUE VASANTA RAYAR.
A Narrative of Religious Excitement in Southern India Ten Years Ago.
BY THE REV. DR. SARGENT.
THE tide of mutiny and rebellion which swelled so high in North India in the memorable year 1857, hardly reached, in any sensible form, the southern portion of the peninsula. The Madras army had remained "true to its salt." The country people during that period seemed as if holding their breath, uncertain what was to follow, but no indication of disaffection manifested itself to any extent. About six years after, however, the people in the extreme south, viz., in Tinnevelly and the neighbouring provinces, were, more or less, kept for a while in a state of excitement by the clandestine circulation, from village to village, of certain documents, purporting to be proclamations published by pretended emissaries of the coming Hindu Messiah, called "Vasanta Rayar" (Illustrious King).
One morning, in a village on the northern limits of the Tinnevelly district, a book was found near the village well. This book was composed in the old Indian style, of palmyra leaves cut in equal lengths, strung together by a cord passed through a small circular hole drilled in each leaf, and the characters were engraven in the leaf by an iron peon or style.* Nobody could say how the book had ever come there, and yet that it had not fallen there accidentally, but intentionally, to be discovered and gain notoriety, was evident, for the well is the place of the general resort. On being opened it was found to be the First Proclamation of Vasanta Rayar. This copy, discovered by a Christian who happened that morning to be the first at the well, was brought to me, and so became matter of inquiry and speculation, but other copies found in the same way in other places by the heathen were regarded as sacred, quickly copied and secretly circulated. Under ordinary circumstances the affair had perhaps merited very little notice, but coming as it did after the mutiny, it created great excitement, and in some cases anxiety. People, i.e., the Hindus, seemed everywhere carried away by the persuasion that some great event was impending, in regard to which they should secure their interests by acting up to the requirements of the proclamation, which enjoined the setting apart of Monday as a day of special worship of Vasanta Rayar,—reading, copying, and circulating the proclamation,—honouring, rewarding, and speeding the heralds concerned in its promulgation,—and promoting by every means in their power the intelligence conveyed. There seemed in all this much that resembled the passing of the chuppatties from village to village before the mutiny broke out. Printed copies of these proclamations soon found their way into the bazaar, and were secretly sold to Hindus only, and thus belief in the coming Hindu Messiah spread through the south with the rapidity of wild-fire. This course was generally adopted, not from any disaffection to the English Government and hostility to the British rule, but merely with the desire of being on the safe side. A few, however, there doubtless were, to whom any prospect of change in the existing state of things would be hailed as desirable.
Hitherto, Christian teachers when preaching in the streets had found a patient and attentive audience everywhere, but now they were admonished, wherever they appeared, to hold their tongues, as within a very short time they and their missionaries would have to run from the country, together with all other Europeans, and Hinduism alone would prevail in the land under the reign of Vasanta Rayar.
There were four such documents in circulation, in four of the languages of Southern and Central India. The common burden of these was that the gods, distressed at the declension of Hinduism with its caste customs, had laid their complaint before the superior deities, and that Vishnu thereupon had determined to become incarnate in the person of Vasanta Rayar, and restore Hinduism to its pristine glory. They represented this personage as miraculously born in the royal family of Cashmere, in the year 1850, and as being there prepared for his mission of expelling the base born government of the English, and restoring the ancient regime in his sixteenth year. Various awful portents were specified as precursory of this reformation, and the blessings attending it were described as consisting of a shower of rain every ten days, regular and abundant crops, and a return to all the customs and privileges affecting the four great castes. Emissaries of the prince were represented as having been brought before English officials, and on being condemned to be killed by cannon, the shot fired at them did them no harm, but fell into their hands like common balls of cotton.
The first document consisted of seventeen pages. A short description of its contents will exhibit more or less the character of the others also. The title was "RAMA VICTORIOUS," after which followed this heading (which we print in Tamil):—
(Proclamation of Vasanta Rayar.)
Then follows the narrative, describing the address of Devenderan, with Vishnu's reply, in which he promises to appear on earth as "Vasanta Rayar." He is accordingly born on the tenth day of the tenth month in the year 1850, in Gowdama, on the Godaveri, north-east of Cashmere. In due course he is instructed by the holy sages of Mount Meru, and their utterances regarding him are recorded as oracles. Various kinds of deaths and ailments befalling the opponents are mentioned as precursors of the great event of Vasanta Rayar's reign. Thus:—
"By the treachery of friends and assaults of open foes some will fall. By atrocities of various kinds will the goddess Kali destroy some. By the volcanic action of Mount Keilasam some will die. The idols in the Siva and Vishnu temples will rise up and dance, and this sight will kill some. Infants and old men will fall from mountain tops and die. Foxes, kites, and owls will howl and screech day and night unceasingly. Four stars will appear in the sky in open day, and a fearful sound be heard in the heavens. Creatures that live in water will cry out, 'We have got on land, we have got on land,' and making straight for Mount Keilasam, and entering Veera Malaram Temple, will stay there eight days, and then vanish. In the Temple of Kumara Sami, the door will be shut seven days, and in consequence a furious wind will blow, and destroy many people. Demons, tigers, and wild beasts will injure multitudes, and blood suffuse all eyes. At time of new moon, full moon will rise. At dead of night the sun will rise. Blood will fall as rain. The goddess of fortune will weep. The ocean and rivers will rage. The goddess Terra will salute and acknowledge Vasanta Rayar as supreme lord. Then charities and virtues will flourish as of old. People of every caste will rejoice. Rain will pour three times every month. Crops of grain will grow profusely. Gifts and charities be everywhere abundant. Brahmins, Chattriyas, Visyas, and Sudras will be prosperous, performing their respective duties."
Then follow promises to those who promote the matter:—
"Whoever believes what is herein mentioned, whoever performs poojah to this book, will have health, with long life, riches, possessions, and conveyances. Whoever will not write, nor read, nor hear this book, but ridicule and revile it, will be annihilated, worms will breed in their mouth, and the furies will torment them."
"We, the emissaries in this matter, were seized and brought before the vile fellows who hold the present reins of government. They put powder and shot in their guns and fired at us, when the two balls came and fell into our hands."
"Therefore in the year Perabava (1867)* Vasanta Rayar will come to reign, and that you who are virtuous may know this matter, we have written and sent this revelation to the several provinces. The virtuous and those who meditate on Siva, even if weak in the eyes, if they copy this book, and make poojah to it, will receive all that they wish for in their prayers. All who write, or read, or hear and worship this book, whatever be their present age, will be prosperous till he, Vasanta Rayar, come. Pluto cannot approach nor afflict with his pangs any who laud this book. The gods prosper you."
Observing the excitement created on all sides by these proclamations, I determined to meet it, and take advantage of it, by publishing a tract reviewing the documents, and setting forth Jesus Christ as the true Vasanta Rayar. This tract of forty pages became for the time exceedingly popular, not only in Tinnevelly, but also in Travancore and Malabar, where a Malayalim translation of it was read with great avidity. It served not only to explode the current notions regarding the Hindu Messiah, but it was made useful under God's blessing to the conversion of several parties. One of the Basle missionaries wrote to me to say that he knew four persons who had been converted to Christianity by the perusal of this tract. It was styled:—
"GLORIOUS NEWS OF THE TRUE VASANTA RAYAR."
Within three months after the publication of the tract, the excitement regarding Vasanta Rayar ceased, and not long after the matter was completely ignored.
(In our next we shall give some extracts from this interesting tract.)
* See the woodcut and description in our March number, page 34.
* The Hindus reckon by cycles of sixty years, of which twenty are considered fortunate, twenty indifferent, and twenty unfortunate. Perabava is the first of the fortunate. [back]
Digital Publication Details
Title: “The False and the True Vasanta Rayar. A Narrative of Religious Excitement in Southern India Ten Years Ago”
Subtitle(s): “Proclamation of Vasanta Rayar. Truth Victorious. Glorious News of the True Vasanta Rayar”
Creator(s): Sargent; Anonymous
Publication date: (1874) 2022
Digital publishers: One More Voice, COVE
Critical encoding: Kenneth C. Crowell, Dino Franco Felluga, Cassie Fletcher, Kayla Morgan, Jocelyn Spoor, Adrian S. Wisnicki
One More Voice identifier: liv_026032
Cite (Chicago Author-Date): Sargent, and Anonymous. (1874) 2022. “The False and the True Vasanta Rayar. A Narrative of Religious Excitement in Southern India Ten Years Ago.” Translated by Sargent. Edited by Kenneth C. Crowell, Cassie Fletcher, Kayla Morgan, and Jocelyn Spoor. In “BIPOC Voices,” One More Voice, solidarity edition; Collaborative Organization for Virtual Education (COVE). https://onemorevoice.org/html/bipoc-voices/digital-editions-amd/liv_026032_HTML.html.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
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