Hindustan, Mysteries Of
Of all the ethnic religions, that of Hindustan is admitted to be the oldest, for its Vedas or sacred books claim an antiquity of nearly forty centuries. However Brahmanism may have been corrupted in more modern times, in its earliest state it consisted of a series of doctrines which embraced a belief in a Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul. All primitive religions were more or less mystical, and that of India formed no exception to the rule. Brother Oliver, in his History of Initiation, has given a very succinct account of the Brahmanical mysteries, collected from the most authentic sources, such as Maurice, Colebrook, Jones, and Faber. His description refers almost exclusively to the reception and advancement of a Brahman in his sacred profession; for the initiations of India, like those of Egypt, were confined to the priesthood. All Brahmans, it is true, do not necessarily belong to the sacerdotal order, but every Brahman who has been initiated, and thus been made acquainted with the formulas of worship, may at any time become an officiating priest.
The ceremonies of initiation, as they have been described by Brother Oliver, were celebrated in spacious caverns, the principal of which were Elephanta and Salsette, both situated near Bombay. The mysteries were divided into four Degrees, and the candidate was permitted to perform the probation of the first at the early age of eight years. It consisted simply in the investiture with the linen garment and Zennar or sacred cord; of sacrifices accompanied by ablutions; and of an explanatory lecture. The aspirant was now delivered into the care of a Brahman, who thenceforth became his spiritual g ude, and prepared him by repeated instructions and a life of austerity for admission into the Second Degree. To this, if found qualified, he was admitted at the requisite age. The probationary ceremonies of this Degree consisted in an incessant occupation in prayers, fastings, ablutions, and the study of astronomy. Having undergone these austerities for a sufficient period, he was led at night to the gloomy caverns of initiation, vwhieh had been duly prepared for his reception.
The interior of this cavern was brilliantly illuminated, and there sat the three chief hierophants, in the east, west, and south, representing the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, surrounded by the attendant mystagogues, dressed in appropriate vestments. After an invocation to the sun, the aspirant was called upon to promise that he would be obedient to his superiors, keep his body pure, and preserve inviolable secrecy on the subject of the mysteries. He was then sprinkled with water, an invocation of the Deity was whispered in his ear; he was divested of his shoes, and made to circumambulate the cavern three times, in imitation of the course of the sun, whose rising was personated by the hierophant representing Brahma, stationed in the east, whose meridian height by the representative of Siva in the south, and whose setting by the representative of Vishnu in the west. He was then conducted through seven ranges of dark and gloomy caverns, during which period the wailing of Mahadeva for the loss of Siva was represented by dismal howlings.
The usual paraphernalia of dashes of light, of dismal sounds and horrid phantoms, was practised to intimidate or confuse the aspirant. After the performance of a variety of other ceremonies, many of which we can only conjecture, the candidate reached the extremity of the seven caverns; he was now prepared for enlightenment by requisite instruction and the administration of a solemn oath. This part of the ceremonies concluded, then the sacred conch or horn was blown, the folding-doors were suddenly thrown open, and the aspirant was admitted into a spacious apartment filled with dazzling light, ornamented with statues and emblematical figures, richly decorated with gems, and scented with the most fragrant perfumes. This was a representation of Paradise.
The candidate was now supposed to be regenerated, and he was invested by the chief Brahman with the white robe and tiara; a cross was marked upon his forehead, and a tau upon his breast, and he was instructed in the signs, tokens, and lectures of the Order. He was presented with the sacred belt, the magical black stone, the talismanic jewel to be worn upon his breast, and the serpent stone, which, as its name imported, was an antidote against the bite of serpents. And, lastly, he was entrusted with the sacred name, known only to the initiated. This ineffable name was Aum, which, in its trilateral form, was significant of the creative, preservative, and destroying power, that is, of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. It could not be pronounced, but was to be the subject of incessant silent contemplation. The symbols and the aporrheta, or secret things of the mysteries, were now explained. Here ended the Second Degree.
The Third took place when the candidate had grown old, and his children had all been provided for. This consisted in a total exclusion in the forest, where, as an anchored withdrawn from the world, a hermit, he occupied himself in ablutions, prayers, and sacrifices. In the Fourth Degree he underwent still greater austerities, the object of which was to impart to the happy sage who observed them a portion of the Divine nature, and to secure him a residence among the immortal gods.
The object of the Indian mysteries appears, says Brother Oliver, to have been to teach the unity of God and the necessity of virtue. The happiness of our first parents, the subsequent depravity of the human race, and the universal deluge were described in a manner which showed that their knowledge must have been derived from an authentic source.
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