ship, a small merchantman, built at Goa, and serving the coastal
route. The pepper ship, they called it, because it brought pepper
from Cochin to Goa, pepper, that most precious article. The whole
of the Portuguese Empire of the Indies was built on pepper. There
were other spices, of course, and there was silk from the faraway,
unapproachable land called China unapproachable because every
foreigner trying to land there was instantly killed, according
to the standing orders of the Emperor. But pepper was the main
and his three Tamil students were the only passengers. He almost
wept as Goa vanished in the mists of the morning sun. Somehow
the rumor of his departure had got around and a huge crowd had
come to see him off, Father Almeida and Father Campo and other
priests, Violante Ferreira with her nice young daughter, both
in tears, Father Diogo de Borba of course, with all his students,
and hundreds and hundreds of others; they upset the entire traffic
near the port. And as the ship left, they had sung the Credo,
rhymed as he had taught it to the children. How they loved singing,
these joyful people. They sang when they plowed their fields,
sang when they worked on the wharves. And there were the children,
his children, tossing hibiscus flowers at the ship, bobbing up
and down ....
them was a kind of dying. And now started the voyage to purgatory.
de Borba had told him a good deal about the Paravas, and no one
could have given him better information. Eight years ago Father
de Borba had been there himself, in the course of the War of the
girl child on the Pearl Fisher Coast had the lobes of her tiny
ears pierced. Little leaden weights were inserted into the ears
and these weights were gradually increased, till at last they
were large enough for the enormous earrings that would be put
in on the day of the girl's marriage. They were the sign of the
married state and a Parava woman's pride and badge of rank and
uncouth, greedy Moslem trader one of the many who cheated the
poor pearl fishers out of their goods, won by so much effort and
under constant danger from sharks and stingrays tore such a ring
off the ear of a young Parava woman, tearing her earlobe at the
same time. Outraged, the Paravas killed him and everyone of his
kind they could lay their hands on. Then came the armed feluccas
to burn down the Parava villages and the pearl fishers asked for
Dom Martini de Sousa, Gran Capitan of the Seas, arrived with his
fleet. Francis had heard the story from Marcello, but Father de
Borba had a few things to add. He and a few Franciscans had gone
ashore with the troops, and the priests numbering no more than
six had baptized twenty thousand natives. They tried to instruct
them, too, but the fleet had to go on and priests were needed
on board ....
then the Paravas had had to be left to themselves, except for
a few priests going over at Easter, from Cochin.
now it was eight years since the War of the Ear.
little ship, the pepper ship, was careful not to sail too far
out into the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean. Hugging the
coast, it stopped for a day at Mangalore, for two days at Calicut,
for another two at Cochin. Then it sailed along the Travancore
Coast and round Cape Comorin to Manapad.
Francis and his three students went ashore.
country", said Coelho, the oldest of the students, and the
only one who had received major Orders and was a deacon. "Good
for us, because there won't be so many wild animals. Bad because
there is little shade." He opened his parasol.
found a little grotto, where Francis said Mass.
Walking towards Manapar
(at the very tip of India)
Walking towards Manapar
(at the very tip of India)
Far away, to the north, a few catamarans stood out in the ocean.
fisher boats", explained Coelho. "One of the men is
diving now. Can you see, Father?"
he's holding something in his mouth, something shimmery..."
knife. For sharks."
made his bundle ready and swung it over his shoulder. "You
said you know the way to Tuticorin", he said.
know it, Father. I I hope I do."
paddies. A few laborers working in a millet field, with a number
of completely naked boys jumping around and throwing stones at
something, Francis could not see what it was.
chasing parrots away", explained Coelho.
palms and banyan trees and limes and mangoes. With those and the
fish they can get from the ocean, at least they have enough to
eat, thought Francis. Of course, fish had to be eaten at once;
they putrefied at almost the moment they were taken from the water.
cow appeared suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, and the workers
in the field turned towards her and bowed their heads.
hope for the droppings", said Coelho. "It is a sacred
animal, you know, and the droppings are a certain cure for a great
many diseases, when mixed with the food of a man. That is what
Hindus believe", he added hastily, as he saw Francis look
at him with horror.
these people are supposed to be Christians!"
of them, yes, Father. Many of them. Not all. And there is no priest.
Things get mixed up..."
.. with the dung of cows", said Francis grimly.
had to restrain himself from walking up to the men and tackling
them then and there. It would have been foolish. The thing to
do was to go to the heart of the country and to work from there
towards the periphery. That was what Father Ignatius would do,
closed their parasols, as they entered a forest if the maze of
trees of all kinds and sizes, of high grass and strange plants
could be called a forest.
out for snakes, Father", warned Coelho. "Most of them
will not attack except when they believe that they have been attacked.
You must be careful not to tread on them. They will never believe
that you didn't do it deliberately."
might have said that. Mansilhas. Perhaps he and Father Paul had
arrived by now. They should have arrived long ago.
he stopped. From a tree something was hanging upside down, an
animal, not unlike a huge bat. But surely there could be no bats
of that size! It had a horrible head, black or dark brown, with
large, pointed ears. It looked like a devil.
of the younger students jumped up and clubbed it to earth with
his parasol. A few more strokes and it was dead.
did you do that for?" asked Francis with disgust.
good to eat", the student grinned. "Flying fox, Father.
Wonderful, when cooked."
country where they held cows sacred and cooked devils. He gave
awry smile. "Let's go through the Credo in Tamil again, Coelho",
he said. "I must learn it. Visuvasa manthiram paralogath
iyum pulogathiyum sarvesar anai athiokia bhaktiyaga..."
Coelho helped out.
sighed. "Why must every word in Tamil have at least six syllables",
he complained. "Avarudya yega suthanagya
Yesu", said Coelho, beaming. "Christuvayum..."
yes, now I know: athikiya bhakthiyaga visuvasikirain ivar
ispirithu santhuvinalai karpomai urpavithu archayasishta kanni
Mariyaiyidathilai nindru piranthu".
Father", said Coelho. "You are making great progress."
know the Ten Commandments", said Francis, "and the Pater
and the Ave, but I'm hopelessly lost with the exposition of the
Faith and the story of the Gospels. Tell me, Coelho, I know there
are those who speak Hindi and Konkani and Tamil, but tell me,
quite honestly and frankly how many other languages are there
quite a few", said Coelho, looking away. "There is Pushtu
and Urdu and Gujarati, and Telugu and Kanarese and Bengali and
Singhalese and Gondi and Malayan and... ."
will do", said Francis. They went on silently for a little
while. Then Francis said, "Let's get on with the Credo where
we left off. Ponchu pilathinkizhai padupattu siluvaiylaiaraiyundu
names of the villages they passed were of the same ilk. Alantalai,
Periytalai, Tiruchendur, Talambuli, Virapandianpatnam, Punaikayal,
Palayakayal, Kayalpamam and Kombuturé.
did not stick to his original idea, to start working only when
he had reached Tuticorin. He could not wait. It was bitter to
see the shrines and temples on the way, with obscene gods of stone
performing obscene actions on temple friezes, with phallic symbols
abounding; bitter to see trembling villagers watching overfed
cows eating all their food without daring to disturb the sacred
animals; bitter to hear that the pearl fishers paid a good percentage
of their catch to sorcerers for spells and talismans against the
bite of sharks, and paid still more for mantrams against
any other kind of danger, trouble and illness.
Kombuturé they told him about a woman who had been three days
in labor and was dying, although her husband had paid the sorcerer
for all the aid he could give and the house was full of mantrams
of all kinds.
shook his head sadly. "The demons are more powerful than
the sorcerer and the mantrams", he murmured.
exploded. "Where is that house?" he asked.
and the other two students tried to hold him back, but they might
as well have tried to stop the monsoon with their hands.
stalked into the house.
sorcerer, with two apprentices, was squatting on the floor; all
three of them were drumming on some kind of musical instruments
and chanting invocations at the top of their voices. They had
put a kettle on the floor, filled with some burning substance
that sent up clouds of stinking smoke. In a corner of the room
the husband and at least half a dozen youngsters of all ages were
crouching, moaning and rolling their eyes in abject fear.
grotesque figure of clay and half a dozen mantrams were tied to
the body of the suffering woman.
took one look. Then he seized the kettle and swung it at the sorcerer
and his helpers. They did not wait for what might happen next,
but jumped up and raced out. Francis threw the kettle after them,
untied the idol and the mantrams and threw them out as well.
midwife, sitting at the feet of the woman, looked up at him as
if she were seeing a demon. The woman herself kept her eyes closed.
Now that the noise had subsided, Francis could hear her moaning
knew nothing of childbirth. The hospitals in which he had nursed
his patients in Paris, Venice, Lisbon and Goa were only for men.
He thought the woman was dying, as he had been told that she was.
She certainly looked as if she were dying. And into a dying woman's
room he brought his Lord. It was all he could do and all he set
out to do.
translate. Tell her that I am coming in the name of the Lord who
made heaven and earth..."
lips were trembling a little. Perhaps Father Francis was not quite
aware of the risk they were taking. Now if the woman died, as
surely she would, the sorcerer would say that it was all the fault
of these interfering strangers...
ordered Francis. "I command you."
translated. The woman opened her eyes. She fastened her gaze not
on Coelho but on the strange face of the white man with its complete
absence of fear, with its tranquil smile. Being a woman, she recognized
love when she saw it.
her, Our Blessed Lord wants her to live with him forever. Tell
her what he wants her to believe. Visuvasa manthiram paralogathiyum
stared at Francis. Her lips moved a little and then she echoed
you ready to accept what you have heard?" asked Francis gently,
when Coelho had finished translating the last part of the Creed.
"Can you believe it?"
yes, she could. She could.
took the New Testament out of his pocket and read out the story
of the birth of the Christ Child. Coelho translated again. From
time to time he looked towards the entrance of the house. The
crowd outside was growing larger and larger. They would never
get away alive. He was sweating. But he went on translating.
said Francis. When they brought it to him, he baptized the woman.
looking on, prayed for all he was worth. In a state of utter confusion
he implored God to save their lives, to save the woman, to prevent
the sorcerer from making the villagers storm the hut, to have
mercy on him, on Father Francis on everybody.
sudden tremor went through the body of the woman, she threw back
her head and gave a loud cry. Instantly the midwife sprang up.
took a step backwards.
first he did not know that labor had started again after hours
of interruption. But he knew it soon enough.
later the child was there, and a few seconds later yelling lustily.
the villagers broke into a howl of enthusiasm that shook the hut.
hours later Francis had baptized the husband, three sons, four
daughters and the newly born infant, another son.
was grinning from ear to ear.
for Francis this was no more than the beginning. He stepped outside,
where the villagers were still howling their joy to heaven and
asked for the headman. Coelho had to tell him that Father Francis
wanted the entire village to accept Jesus Christ as their God
headman scratched himself thoughtfully. They would do so gladly,
but they could not not without the permission of the Rajah.
is that Rajah?" asked Francis curtly.
passed on the question. The Rajah was far away, very far away,
but there was an official here, who represented him. He had come
to collect the taxes for his master.
went to see him at once.
tax collector was at first a little suspicious. If these people
accepted this new belief, would they still be willing to pay their
taxes to the Rajah? They would? Well...
began to explain the tenets of Christianity to the man who listened
politely. In the end he gave permission in the name of his master.
He himself? No, no. This new thing seemed very good, but he himself
could not accept it. He was the Rajah's man. The Rajah would have
to give the order to him personally.
is a pitee a great pitee", said Coelho, when the man withdrew,
rather hastily. "We could have called him Matthew."
took all next day to baptize every man, woman and child of the
village and two days more to tell them at least the rudiments
of what they must know.
they left, they saw the woman with her newborn babe in her arms
standing in the door of the hut, smiling at them and making the
sign of the Cross.
children came in droves. There was no holding them back. They
beleaguered the hut in Tuticorin, they stormed it and sat all
around Francis, chattering away, nudging him, clambering up on
his lap. They chanted the Creed and the Ten Commandments, the
Pater and the Ave and they went on chanting when they went home.
The very air of Tuticorin was full of it.
said Coelho disapprovingly. "Exactly like ants. You can do
nothing. You can only go away or they eat you up."
shook his head. "That's not the way you've been taught. What
did Our Lord say about children?"
such is the kingdom of heaven'", quoted Coelho dutifully.
"They will have to make less noise there, though. Perrrsonallee,
I cannot see why it is good for the kingdom of heaven, if these
brats do not let you eat or sleep ever!"
ask questions", said Francis, beaming. "They want to
know, Coelho. They do not accept it, as if it were just another
law of their Rajah's. They are full of it, God bless them and
send me more of them."
had his wish. In fact he could never go anywhere, without at least
a hundred and often hundreds of young, shiny brown bodies milling
around him. Soon enough he made teachers of them who brought the
truth he had taught them to houses where he had no access as well
as to their own homes.
very first thing he uprooted in their young souls was the fear
he saw time and again in the eyes of their parents, fear of the
spirits and demons of the woods and sea and air and fire, fear
of witches' spells and sorcerers' power. It was no more and no
less than a revolution. Never in the history of the Paravas had
demons been treated with such irreverence.
children delighted in reporting to him when and where one of those
ghastly meetings would take place, where black cocks and rams
were sacrificed to Bhawani, Siva's bloodthirsty wife and where
everyone cringed before the eye of the priest of the goddess,
to whom she gave power to wish any evil he liked on those who
did not sacrifice enough and particularly on those who for some
reason or other did not turn up at the meeting.
they told him about that for the first time, Francis looked around
the crowd of youngsters: "Who's coming with me to help beat
were so enthusiastic that he had to warn them. None of them was
to say a word about it to anybody else. None of them was to do
anything, except on the Father's direct order.
assembled just as silently as did the worshipers of Bhawani and
they appeared at the meeting, sixty boys, all between ten and
fifteen or sixteen, just as the fat and entrails of a black ram
began sizzling in a copper vessel before the statue of the atrocious
pelted Bhawani with stones, then rushed in and upset everything
himself walked in and pushed the sixfoot statue off its pedestal.
It was of wood. He poured the contents of the boiling kettle over
the statue. "Such is the power of Bhawani", he said
in a ringing voice. "From now on no Parava will serve her
or any other demon."
villagers were in a daze. They had seen their boys burning mantrams
and heaping ridicule on the sorcerers, but never before had anyone
dared anything like this. The priest of Bhawani had vanished with
great speed, and the goddess herself did not seem to take any
on the wooden image of the fallen foe, Francis intoned the Creed
while all his boys chanted with him.
such raids followed. Sometimes Francis took several hundred boys
with him, to the utter destruction of a temple dedicated to the
monkeygod, Hanuman, or to the potbellied, elephantheaded Ganesha.
must plow the field before you can sow the seed", he told
Coelho. "And you must uproot the weeds that are only good
for the fire."
happened in Tuticorin and Kombuturé, happened in five, ten, twenty,
thirty villages, all along the seacoast. Everywhere Francis preached,
admonished, won over, baptized. Everywhere the children streamed
to him to become his friends, his catechists, his ambassadors
and his army. It was a bad time for demons. It was a bad time
also for those who were ridden by one of those demons for whom
no statue was erected even by the idolloving Paravas: the demon
of arrack, the toddy made of the juice extracted from the Palmyra
palms. Francis made the headmen of each village responsible for
the drunkenness prevailing in his domain, when he found that many
a Paravas, under the influence of attack, mistook his brother
or friend for a shark and went at him with the long knife.
raced up and down from Vêdâlai in the North to Cape Comorin, sometimes
with Coelho or another of his three helpers, sometimes accompanied
by the headman of a village. It was necessary that the whole tribe
understand that he was never too far away not to appear quite
was like a sheep dog, circling the herd and keeping the flock
together, the only sheep dog for twenty thousand sheep grazing
on a field of one hundred and forty miles in length.
knew only too well that his work was insecure and he also knew
why. Not only human nature, weak and prone to sin ever since the
Fall, even human habit which reverted time and again to haunting
old fears and the thousand and one superstitions which were supposed
to banish them, not only arrack and datura and other poisons that
made a man forget his miseries instead of carrying them as a man
should it was a certain class of men who endangered his work.
first encounter with one of that class had shown him the power
these men had over the minds and bodies of the Paravas.
Punakayal, in the main street of the teeming village, while talking
to the headman, he noticed a tall, emaciated figure sauntering
down the street. It was a man of sixty with a wellkept gray beard
and a caste mark just above a proud nose. People were drawn back
right and left and bowing. He did not respond to their courtesy.
He did not even seem to see them. A child of perhaps four years
of age, a little boy, was sitting in the middle of the street,
cheerfully playing with a few sticks.
tall man gave it a single glance and then stepped carefully aside,
passing the child at a distance of several feet.
least the fellow seems to like children", said Francis.
headman shook his head. "How could a twiceborn like one who
is only a Sudra?" he whispered.
what? Why did he step aside then?"
must not be polluted by the shadow of a Sudra child. He is a twiceborn,
a Brahman. Don't you see the sacred thread from his shoulder to
gave the man a hard stare.
Brahman passed him as if he were not there at all.
and there Francis decided to tackle the "twiceborn".
He did not know that he already had trespassed on their immediate
sphere of power, when he first led his swarm of boys against the
meeting in honor of Bhawani.
then gave him at least an inkling of what he was up against. The
Brahmans were the spiritual aristocracy of India, initiates to
the sacred mysteries, towering high above all other castes, untouchable
in their exalted rank, as the harijan were untouchable because
of their lowliness. They were so holy that they could not eat
food if as much as the shadow of a man of low caste had fallen
upon it. They were priests, sages and prophets and their influence
was immense. All the pearl fishers were Sudras. The caste was
hereditary. No Sudra could possibly stand up against a Brahman.
shall see", said Francis grimly.
twiceborn came to visit him that same day. The villagers recoiled
and fled at the man's approach and to his astonishment and anger
Francis saw that even Coelho was uneasy.
Brahman was dignified and courteous. He had heard so much about
the foreign sannyasi, who was such a great teacher and could cure
men by just looking at them. He was delighted to make his acquaintance
and to bid him welcome in the land of the Paravas. It was most
kind of the foreign sannyasi to bother about the spiritual enlightenment
of such illfavored and lowcaste dogs as the Paravas. The Brahmans
knew only too well how difficult it was to teach them anything
at all beyond the exertion of their natural faculties.
servants brought baskets full of presents: fresh fruit, meat,
betel and, in a beautiful ivory box, a number of beautiful pearls
pearls conquered from the sea in the face of appalling risks by
the illfavored and lowcaste dogs of Paravas and sacrificed by
them to the Brahmans in exchange for a blessing or, more likely
still, claimed and received by the Brahmans as dutiful tribute
to potbellied Ganesha or bloody Bhawani.
accept in kindness these little tokens", said the Brahman,
"tokens of our admiration and respect and the sign of the
respect we servants of the gods have for each other."
is only one God", said Francis stiffly.
Brahman smiled. "To the servant of Siva there is only Siva",
he said. "To the servant of Ganesha there is only Ganesha.
That is as it should be and as the wisdom of the gods has decreed
it. But confusion would result if we were to teach the lower castes
that they must listen to us alone and not to anyone else. We are
resolved not to contradict your teachings, wise man from the West,
and all we ask of you is that you will not interfere with pious
men and women rendering their tribute to the gods in our temples."
have no intention to be bribed by you or by anybody else",
said Francis, and a quavering Coelho translated it. "Truth
makes no bargain with error. Take your presents. I cannot accept
them. I shall not rest till all Paravas have become the servants
of the one, true God. And I tell you that many of them whom you
call lowcaste dogs are more pleasing in the sight of God than
those who strut about as you do, believing themselves to be so
high and exalted. Instead of parading your arrogance before men,
evoke in yourself humility towards God and you too will be pleasing
in his eyes."
one gift is worth another", said the Brahman, without so
much as batting an eyelid. "And if these presents are not
good enough for a sannyasi of your rank, you must forgive us for
not having recognized your true greatness."
swung around to Coelho. "Tell him", he said, "all
the wealth of India will not change the law of the one, true God
and the will of his servant."
Brahman shrugged his shoulders, gave a courteous greeting and
left, slowly and dignified.
is war", said Coelho in a low voice.
else can there be between truth and lie? And what do we have to
fear? If God wants us to go on spreading his holy law, all the
Brahmans in the world won't be able to stop us. And if God wants
us to die, how could we possibly live? They can do nothing."
so, Coelho told the other two students that in future they would
have to do all the cooking and that all victuals would have to
be inspected very closely. Father Francis could not be bribed,
but a Parava woman could, more likely than not. And even a few
bristles from a tiger's skin, hacked very small and mixed with
food had the disagreeable quality of perforating the intestines
and bringing about a protracted and very painful death.
boys were the most faithful of all, and by far the most militant.
They loved to argue and they loved to fight. They could now be
sent to other villages to teach the children and to pray for the
sick. Again and again reports came of patients who had become
well after their prayers. Youth was on the side of God. No wonder
then that God was on the side of youth.
both young and old now assembled on Sunday for Mass, prayed daily,
sang the truth while at their work.
yet the influence of the Brahmans was felt almost everywhere.
When one of them was near, the villagers were reticent and sullen.
Many would not open their doors to the white man. Some refused
to talk or to listen.
an experience of that kind Francis returned to his own but and
began to write to Father Ignatius in Rome, pouring out his lonely
a few moments of brilliant display the sun had sunk as a stone
sinks in water. Darkness in India came as suddenly as death, and
with it came the hooting of night birds and the faraway howling
of jackals. The first mosquito began its monotonous, insistent
is a class of men out here", wrote Francis, "called
bragmanes. They are the mainstay of heathenism, and have
charge of the temples devoted to the idols. They are the most
perverse people in the world, and of them was written the psalmist's
prayer: De gente non sancta, ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe
me. They do not know what it is to tell the truth but forever
plot how to lie subtly and deceive their poor, ignorant followers....
Thus they make the simple people believe that the idols require
food, and many bring an offering before sitting down to table
themselves. They eat twice daily to the din of kettledrums and
give out that the idols are then feasting.... Rather than go short,
these bragmanes warn the wretched credulous people that
if they fail to provide what is required of them, the idols will
encompass their deaths, or inflict disease, or send devils to
their houses. They have little learning, but abundance of iniquity
and malice. They regard me as a great nuisance because I keep
on exposing then wickedness all the time, but when I get one or
other of them alone they admit their deceptions and tell me that
they have no other means of livelihood than those stone idols
and the lies they concoct about them. They really think that I
know more than all of them put together and they request me to
visit them and take it ill when I refuse the gifts they send me
to keep my mouth shut...."
was a stir and Francis looked up.
was standing in the doorway. "They have sent a message",
he blurted out. "They want you to come to them. If you go
it is certain death."
are you talking about?" asked Francis, frowning. "Who
are 'they' ?"
Brahmans, Father. They are having a full assembly at Tiruchendur.
They want you to come there."
is the messenger?"
were three of them all Brahmans. But they would not wait. You
know how they are. You won't go, Father, will you? After all it
is sheer insolence, not to deliver their message to you in person."
other words, you don't want me to go", said Francis, smiling
dryly. "And they will say that the strange sannyasi is afraid
of them. And God will say that his servant Francis out of pride
or fear or sloth missed the opportunity to talk to all the Brahmans
together. I will go tomorrow morning at sunrise. And I will go
did not finish his letter that day. Tomorrow evening there might
be more to report, if he was alive to report it. It was quite
possible it was even probable that Coelho was quite right and
that the Brahmans had resolved to get rid once and for all of
the nuisance that was Francis Xavier.
man must step out briskly, if he wants to make the way from Tuticorin
to Tiruchendur while the sun still shines. All is well in the
neighborhood of the town, but there are a few stretches of forest
and "forest" here means the Jungle.
his fear Coelho had begged to be taken along, when Francis departed,
but the answer was a quiet shake of the head.
was not that Francis wanted to punish his best helper. He wanted
to be alone. By now his Tamil was good enough, he hoped, to cope
with the Brahmans' arguments if there were any arguments. He did
not know what they wanted of him and he dismissed all surmise.
He knew he had to go in the name of his Lord and that was all
there was to it. It was much. It was so much that the man, walking
alone through the jungle, paid no attention at all to the dangers
around him. He did not even see the snakes slithering away at
his approach as most snakes will. He paid no attention whatever
to the long, brown shapes, like fallen trees, that lay quietly
on the bank of a half driedup river. The crocodile rarely attacks
on land. But the very assurance of the man, walking alone, baffled
a huge hamadryad into uncertainty and made it let him pass. And
the hamadryad, the cobra of cobras, is illtempered and will attack
without provocation. Parrots screamed and became silent. Monkeys
chattered and became quiet. Silent eyes followed the wanderer
all the way through the jungle.
were waiting in the great hall of the temple beside the sea. Two
hundred and four men, each one wearing the sacred thread of the
twiceborn, and in their midst HaritZeb, eightytwo years of age,
priest in charge of the temple, and Devandas, of whom it was said
that he was very learned.
the other side of HaritZeb sat Ramigal, who came from the high
North. He had vowed that he would go to the holy city of Benares
on foot, following the seacoast. He was a young man, as the age
of a single incarnation goes, no more than thirtyfive years old.
But for twelve years he had been sitting at the feet of an old
man who had given up his name together with his heritage as the
brother of a rajah and withdrawn to the mountains, and the ancient
one had become Ramigal's teacher and taught him many things.
even such as the ancient one must die. Thus Ramigal had become
a chela without a guru and he decided to go on pilgrimage to the
holy city, to find enlightenment at another source. For alone
he could not yet face the life the ancient one had lived.
finally arrived in Tiruchendur, where they received him with the
courtesy due to his rank as a Brahman and asked him many questions
about his life in the North and particularly whether his studies
of yoga enabled him to perform certain feats that would astonish
the unenlightened. The very question had shown him their mettle,
and he declined to answer, hiding his disdain because he was their
guest and because it was unbecoming to show disdain to someone
they complained to him about the workings of a foreign sannyasi
who went about turning the people away from the service of the
gods; but their main complaint was that so few people now came
to bring offerings and that even threats did not always have an
told him that they had sent for the sannyasi, but were not sure
whether he was going to turn up.
now they were all waiting, over two hundred men of the sacred
thread, for the arrival of the foreigner, a man who had never
studied the Upanishads, who did not know anything about the sacred
mysteries, a clever and glib demagogue, as they told Ramigal.
What did they want with him? Surely, it was doing such a man far
too much honor, to receive him in full assembly. He asked Devandas
for the reason and Devandas smiled. "It may be that he has
some knowledge. If so we shall soon know what it is. If not..."
shrugged his shoulders.
were inferior people. They were thinking in terms of tricks and
hoping that the foreigner could teach them something new. Or was
there another meaning behind the idea of getting the man here?
was senseless and purposeless to think about it. Tomorrow, Ramigal
thought, he would go on towards the holy city of Benares.
as the sun went down and the slaves brought the torches, the foreigner
appeared in the entrance.
great temple had stood for many generations. Now that the sun
had gone, the thousand and one obscenities performed by intricately
carved stone figures on its many tiers were no longer visible.
And the two hundred figures sitting closely together appeared
like one huge body.
thin man in black walked straight towards them, gave a curt greeting
and at once asked in a loud and clear voice what their religion
claimed from them as necessary for their salvation.
HaritZeb raised his hand a little and smiled. Would it not be
better if the foreign sannyasi told them what commands the God
of the Christians had for his adherents?
this was a polite way of reminding the foreigner that it was not
for him to ask questions of the assembly, it was lost on the barbarian
from the West.
will tell you that, when you have answered my question",
old HaritZeb smiled. "The two main religious duties are to
abstain from killing cows and to show honor to Brahmans",
gave him a sharp look. Was this gross ignorance or was the old
man trying to insult the stranger?
that is so," said Francis, "a murderer, thief and oppressor
of the poor could be a man who still fulfilled his main religious
duties. After what I have heard, I feel no wish to know more about
winced. The subtle insult had been answered by a stroke with a
heavy club. When the stranger walked up to them, he looked like
a man who had some knowledge of things known only to the initiated.
But now he went down to the level of those who were living in
the plains. It was a pity.
have asked me what God demands of those with whom he is pleased",
said Francis. "This I shall now tell you."
by one he recited the articles of the Creed, always with a short,
poignant interpretation of the meaning. Then he gave them an
exposition of the Ten Commandments.
HaritZeb went on smiling all the time.
this is extremely simple, thought Ramigal. It is a good teaching
for children. But he thought it with only a part of himself. There
was another part and he was far enough on the way to know what
it was that fixed itself on the man who spoke and enjoyed his
sincerity as a thirsty man will enjoy a drink of cold, fresh water,
And there was a third part of himself and here he was no longer
quite so sure what it was that felt a great and rising longing.
Twice only in his life he had felt it before. Once, when he first
met the Ancient One, the day before he became his chela. And a
second time when the Ancient One was dead and his body burned.
Then that longing had welled up, strong and demanding, and he
suddenly knew that he must leave and go on his search till he
reached the holy city. The first time the Ancient One had evoked
that longing in him either the Ancient One or something or somebody
which in turn worked through the Ancient One and made Ramigal
wish to follow him and become his disciple. The second time he
had often meditated about it it must have been the soul of his
teacher urging him on to undertake that search. But now? What
could it mean now?
the stranger had finished, HaritZeb thanked him. No doubt what
he said was beautiful and true. All search for holy things was
sacred and bound to lead to truth and all religion was searching.
And therefore all religions were true. Now if a Brahman was eating
the food offering of a Sudra after due purification of the food,
of course it was by no means untrue for him to say that the god
ate it. For was there not a spark of the god in him and did it
not need nourishment as long as it was a prisoner in its present
incarnation? And yet, how could this be made clear to a mere Sudra,
still so much at the beginning of the longjourney? Surely he could
not possibly understand therefore he was simply told: the god
ate your offering. It was not just that the great foreign sannyasi
should go about denouncing the Brahmans and it was hoped, very
much hoped, that he would not continue doing so. In this hope
all the brethren joined. Also it was not just that the great foreign
sannyasi told his young men to destroy the sacred images of the
gods. After all, the Indian gods had been in India long before
the Christian God and there should be respect for that which is
old especially in the souls of young men. It was to be hoped very
much hoped that they would in future abstain from such works of
destruction. Because if the hopes he, HaritZeb, had expressed
did not find fulfillment, the gods themselves were likely to take
a hand and things then would happen over which even Brahmans had
listened carefully. His Tamil was not good enough to understand
every word, but sufficient to understand the essential trend and
he easily guessed the rest.
God was incarnated on earth", he said, "and became Jesus
Christ, my Lord and your Lord, he told those who showed him the
great temple in Jerusalem: tear it down and I will build it up
again in three days. But he spoke of the temple of his body. And
when they killed him on the Cross and buried him, he rose again
on the third day. The idols that my young men destroyed did not
rise again and more and more idols will fall. For there is only
one God and he is not pleased with idols. It is because he wishes
his law to be obeyed in India that I am here. And under his law
there is no difference between a Brahman and a Sudra, but only
a difference between those who obey his law and those who sin
against it. Listening to you, one would think that it is you who
demand equality. But the only equality you demand is that between
truth and error and that can never be. The equality I demand in
the name of Christ is that between man and man before God. And
I have found more honesty and goodness and above all more humility
and faith in the Sudras than I find in you who are supposed to
be learned and holy men. The vengeance of the demons you call
your gods I do not fear. If you wish to accept the law of my God,
I shall teach you and baptize you. If not, you must know that
Christ has said: 'He who is not for me, is against me'".
gave them a greeting, turned and walked away.
saw Devandas lean forward and whisper with HaritZeb. The old man
nodded and Devandas rose and walked quickly, till he had caught
up with the stranger.
am Devandas", he said politely. "Please permit me to
accompany you to the hut we have prepared for your stay at night.
I shall keep you company, if I may. There are some questions I
want to ask of you."
accepted. It was impossible to return to Tuticorin at night, when
the jungle woke up. Besides, he was very tired, and he still had
to say his Office. He was under little illusion about Devandas'
questions, but one could never know for certain ....
them, the assembly in the wide courtyard broke up into little
groups. Then a steady flow of whiterobed figures began to disappear
inside the main building.
short, thickset man bent down to HaritZeb and muttered something.
saw that he had a sacrificial knife in the folds of his dress.
gave him an angrily hissing answer and the man, reluctantly, withdrew.
said, "What is this foreign sannyasi doing?"
is the first and only of the Portugi who will not come to terms
with us", said the old man sullenly. "He does not understand
the law of give and take. But he will pass away sooner or later.
There are many teeth in the jungle and some of them are poisonous."
a while Ramigal said, "That is not what I meant, my old brother.
What kind of life does the sannyasi lead?" "There is
little doubt that he is possessed", said HaritZeb. "Many
say he never eats anything at all and he drinks only water, except
when he celebrates his ritual in the morning . He goes about teaching
and pouring water over the heal of the Paravas, invoking his God.
He continually interferes when some of the people start a quarrel.
He prays when they are ill and it is said that his demons hear
him and that many walk again who should have died. This is particularly
upsetting to us, because there has been no healer in the temple
for many years now and they all go to him."
charges them heavily for the healing?"
wrinkled, old face twitched in annoyance. "He does not charge
them at all. Nor does he charge them anything for his teaching
and the Paravas are too stupid to understand that anything given
away cannot be valuable."
is his gain then?" asked Ramigal quietly.
if only I knew! We thought it might be power. But power goes with
display. Yet he has never been seen but in the same coat and he
does not wear any precious thing on his body. He refused to accept
our presents, and we sent him some good pearls. He does not accept
presents from the Paravas either. They call him Father. It is
bewildering, Ramigal he really is treating these lowborn dogs
as if they mattered! As if he could instill into them the
understanding of mysteries, due to them only after another two
or three incarnations. He tells them that his God loves them.
As if it were possible to love a Sudra! We have had him under
sharp observation, Ratingal. He does not pretend about the kind
of life he is leading. He lives the same way even when he believes
himself unobserved unless, of course, his demon tells him when
he is watched and when he isn't. And he sleeps no longer than
two or three hours at night. The rest of the time he either reads
a book he always carries with him, or he kneels in the middle
of his hut and holds converse with his demon."
a man is thirsty for power", said Ramigal almost inaudibly,
"he will kneel only before himself."
did you say? Ah yes, power. But what itch can it satisfy in him,
to be the father of many thousands of Sudras? Well, Devandas has
gone to ask him certain questions. Perhaps we shall soon know
more. There are some who recommend very simple ways of dealing
with the problem I am not for that."
broke off: He suddenly felt that he was saying far too much. After
all, this Ramigal was a stranger himself. Devandas would have
said he was being garrulous again the impudent young man if he
had been present. But then he saw that Ramigal was no longer at
his side. He was walking towards the entrance of the courtyard,
very slowly and with his head bowed, deep in thought.
know", said Devandas eagerly, "that there is
only God the Creator of all there is. This is one of the great
secrets Brahmans know about. This is one of the things we are
told by our great teachers. But it is not for the uninitiated.
We must swear a most solemn oath never to reveal it to them, nor
any of the other great mysteries. Yet I will tell you all. And
in turn you will tell me all the secrets of the Christian religion
and I will swear to you that I will not reveal them to anybody
will gladly tell you all the Christian mysteries", said Francis,
"and I will hold back nothing but only if you promise not
to keep them secret, but to spread them as best you can. And
the first is: he who believes and is baptized will be saved."
wrote it down. "I will write it all down", he said,
"and you will baptize me. But you must never tell anyone
that I have become a Christian."
is no need for me to tell anybody," said Francis, "but
you must never deny that you are a Christian."
he saw Devandas smile, a crafty, cunning smile, the smile of a
man who knew how to circumvent a dangerous situation, and he sighed
and said wearily, "If you deny Christ, he will deny you."
must remain a secret", murmured Devandas. "No Brahman
can become a Christian, unless he can be sure that it will remain
cannot accept you into the Church under such conditions",
said Francis sadly. "Pray that God will give you courage
to overcome your fears. At least you can teach those who come
to you for advice that there is only one God, the Creator of heaven
that to the Sudras?" asked Devandas, startled. "I would
break my oath and a demon would surely, kill me. Siva has many
servants." He caught himself. "I will pray", he
said. "Most assuredly I will pray. But tell me, what incantation
do you use that makes ill people well even dying people? Or do
you use a mantram of great strength? You do not accept payment
in money or pearls, they say. But perhaps they must give you their
children in payment. What do you use them for?"
Devandas", said Francis quietly.
Brahman gave a short laugh. "I knew you wouldn't tell me
your real secrets", he said. "But perhaps we already
know them." He left.
a while Francis became aware of a shadow, darkening the entrance
of the hut. He made the sign of the Cross and rose from his knees.
So the man had come back. Perhaps they had given him fresh instructions.
But it was not Devandas.
am Ramigal", said the tall, young Brahman. His eyes shifted
to a corner of the room, where a plate with rice cakes and some
fruit was lying on a low table of brass. Something was moving
on that plate.
small, flat, triangular head appeared, raising itself high on
a slim, stalklike body. It darted first to one side, then to another
and now it shd down to the floor. Francis saw it, too. Neither
of the two men moved. The snake hesitated for a few moments, then
made its way right across the hut. Still neither of the two men
moved. It was a krait, its bite deadly within a fraction of an
hour. It passed noiselessly between the two men and reached the
entrance and was gone.
is it you want of me, Ramigal?" asked Francis.
five heartbeats the Brahman answered, "When you told those
men about what Christians believe, I thought it was a very beautiful
thing to teach children. But then I thought who would dare to
teach children things that are untrue? Then I saw that you yourself
believed in your own teaching. And I heard from the lips of an
enemy that you are living it. For the sake of my soul and for
the sake of the soul of India, answer me: if God became incarnate
on earth and suffered for all men, be they Brahmans or Sudras
or any other caste, then is final salvation possible for a man
even if he has not achieved perfection by himself?"
man can achieve perfection by himself', said Francis gently. "But
by cooperating with Our Lord and on the strength of Our Lord's
death on the Cross a man will be acceptable to God."
he can do that, there is no need for him to be reborn on earth",
said Ramigal slowly.
thief died on a cross next to Our Lord", said Francis. "Surely
a man who had not reached perfection. But he begged Our Lord to
remember him when he came into his kingdom and Our Lord answered
him: 'I promise thee, this very day thou shalt be in paradise.'
took a deep breath. "It is clear, then, that you have come
to teach people how to cooperate with the incarnate God. It is
not surprising that the basis of such teaching is simple. Great
truth of its very nature must be simple."
said Francis, "is simple."
man who had been sitting for years at the feet of the Ancient
One in the faraway North understood at once, and he knew that
there was now no need for him to go to Benares, because he had
found the holy city." 1 have been searching for God a long
time", he said. "Now I come to you and I beg of you:
teach me, as you would teach a child."
Francis returned with Ramigal to Tuticorm, he found so much work
needing immediate attention that he had no time to go on with
his letter to Father Ignatius. Several weeks went by before he
could resume writing.
bragmanes tell me that they know right well there is only
let them have my views of their behavior; and I expose their impositions
and trickeries to the poor simple folk, who out of sheer terror
alone remain attached to them, until I become tired out with the
effort. As a result of my campaign, many lose their devotion to
the devil and accept the Faith. Were it not for these bragmanes
all the heathen would be converted...
I came here only one bragmane has become a Christian, a
fine young fellow, now engaged in teaching the children Christian
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