Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Pilgrims of India

There is nothing which strikes a European more in travelling over the great roads in India than the vast number of pilgrims of all kinds which he falls in with, particularly between the end of November [sic], when all the autumn harvest has been gathered, and the seed of the spring crops has been in the ground.


They consist for the most part of persons, male and female, carrying Ganges water from the point at Hardwār, where the sacred stream emerges from the hills, to the different temples in all parts of India, dedicated to the gods Vishnu and Siva. There the water is thrown upon the stones which represent the gods, and when it falls upon these stones it is called 'Chandamirt', or holy water, and is frequently collected and reserved to be drunk as a remedy 'for a mind diseased'[1]


This water is carried in small bottles, bearing the seals of the presiding priest at the holy place whence it was brought. The bottles are contained in covered baskets, fixed to the ends of a pole, which is carried across the shoulder. The people who carry it are of three kinds—those who carry it for themselves as a votive offering to some shrine; those who are hired for the purpose by others as salaried servants; and, thirdly, those who carry it for sale.


In the interval between the sowing and reaping of the spring crops, that is, between November and March, a very large portion of the Hindoo landholders and cultivators of India devote their leisure to this pious duty. They take their baskets and poles with them from home, or purchase them on the road; and having poured their libations on the head of the god, and made him acquainted with their wants and wishes, return home.


From November to March three-fourths of the number of these people one meets consist of this class. At other seasons more than three-fourths consist of the other two classes—of persons hired for the purpose as servants, and those who carry the water for sale.


One morning the old Jemadār, the marriage of whose mango- grove with the jasmine I have already described,[2] brought his two sons and a nephew to pay their respects to me on their return to Jubbulpore from a pilgrimage to Jagannāth.[3]


The sickness of the youngest, a nice boy of about six years of age, had caused this pilgrimage. The eldest son was about twenty years of age, and the nephew about eighteen.


After the usual compliments, I addressed the eldest son: 'And so your brother was really very ill when you set out?'


'Very ill, sir; hardly able to stand without assistance.'


'What was the matter with him?'


'It was what we call a drying-up, or withering of the System.'


'What were the symptoms?'


'Dysentery.'


'Good; and what cured him, as he now seems quite well?'


'Our mother and father vowed five pair of baskets of Ganges water to Gajādhar, an incarnation of the god Siva, at the temple of Baijnāth, and a visit to the temple of Jagannāth.'


'And having fulfilled these vows, your brother recovered?'


'He had quite recovered, sir, before we had set out on our return from Jagannāth.'


'And who carried the baskets?'


'My mother, wife, cousin, myself, and little brother, all carried one pair each.'


'This little boy could not surely carry a pair of baskets all the way?'


'No, sir, we had a pair of small baskets made especially for him; and when within about three miles of the temple he got down from his little pony, took up his baskets, and carried them to the god. Up to within three miles of the temple the baskets were carried by a Brahman servant, whom we had taken with us to cook our food.

'We had with us another Brahman, to whom we had to pay only a trifle, as his principal wages were made up of fees from families in the town of Jubbulpore, who had made similar vows, and gave him so much a bottle for the water he carried in their several names to the god.'


'Did you give all your water to the Baijnāth temple, or carry some with you to Jagannāth?'


'No water is ever offered to Jagannāth, sir; he is an incarnation of Vishnu.'[4]


'And does Vishnu never drink?'


'He drinks, sir, no doubt; but he gets nothing but offerings of food and money.'


'From this to Bindāchal on the Ganges, two hundred and thirty miles; thence to Baijnāth, a hundred and fifty miles; and thence to Jagannāth, some four or five hundred miles more.'[5]


'And your mother and wife walked all the way with their baskets?'