OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
FINAL DEPARTURE OF DAMODAR
AN official tour in Northern India having been planned as part of the year's programme, I sailed for Calcutta in the French steamer "Tibre" on 3rd June. It was a relief most blessed to get to sea and enjoy its pure, cool breezes and its ozone after my recent tour in the South, with its concomitant heat and dust, its crowds, mental anxiety, and physical strain: never did I so gladly go out from land upon the deep blue Bay of Bengal, badly as it had treated me at times. I was in the thick of the fight for the salvation of the Society, my courage and faith rising in proportion to the obstacles; and everyone will understand what must have been the physical and mental effect of this temporary escape from the strain of public work. Life seemed pouring into my body from the physical mother of all terrestrial life, the germ-hatching sea. I could well have cried out with Uhland:
Take, O boatman, thrice thy fee;
Take,—I give it willingly;
For, invisible, to thee,
Spirits twain have cross'd with me.
The weather fine and the sea smooth, I was well rested and refreshed by the time we reached Calcutta,
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on the 6th, at 5 p.m. About twenty friends met me on landing and gave me cordial welcome. A crowded meeting of the Branch was held on the next evening, and a stream of visitors kept me busy throughout each day. Instead of losing members I began to admit fresh candidates almost at once; but my first public lecturing work was fixed for Darjeeling, so I took train for that mountain-cradled station on the second day. The journey occupies but twenty-five hours, and one has scarcely time to prepare his body for the change from 100° to 60° Fahrenheit before one is there. It is a most delightful little trip, provided one has good weather and is not too much delayed by landslips in the mountains.
The whole Darjeeling Branch met me at the station, and with them was that excellent, philanthropical young millionaire, the late Tej Narain, of Bhagalpore, founder of the prosperous Anglo-Sanskrit College that bears his name and prepetuates his memory. He and I were old acquaintances, and the founding of this College, for the accomplishment of which act credit is largely due to Babu Ladli Mohun Ghose, L.M.S., one of our Bhagalpore members, is directly traceable to our Society's influential appeals to the Hindu heart and conscience. Tej Narain brought Sarat Chandra Dâs (the now famous Founder and Honorary Secretary of the Buddhist Text Society, a C.I.E., and Rai Bahadur for his services to Government and achievements in Philology) to see me, and many others called daily. Sarat Babu is a most interesting
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man to talk with, if one cares about Tibet and Northern Buddhism, for he knows more about them than any man in India—or outside it, for that matter. He was a teacher in Government service, in charge of a Bhutia and Sikkimese school at Darjeeling, and had learned a good deal of the Tibetan language, when the idea came to him to try the feat, which has baffied so many European explorers, of reaching Lhassa, the mysterious Tibetan capital. In the character of a Pandit and Indian doctor he went and actually succeeded; not only that, but he brought back with him many Tibetan versions of early Buddhistic books and a very complete knowledge of the Tibetans, their Lamas, religious ceremonies, and holy days, not to speak of the geography of Tibet between the Indian frontier and Lhassa, his notes on which had to be collected with the greatest care and preserved with the greatest cunning. For example, as he could not use a surveyor's chain, he counted distances by telling the beads of his rosary. His two reports to the Indian Government are highly interesting and instructive, the narrative comparing favorably with the best works of the kind by the world's most famed explorers; and, what is strange for an Oriental, they are free from bombastic exaggeration and extravagant hyperbole—cf. the "Mahavansa". In conversation, as confidence was established between us, he told me most interesting things about the white and black magic of the "yellow" and "red" Lamas—things which amply support the evidence of the Abbés Huc and Gabet, and of Mme
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Blavatsky as well. But, being a Government servant, he seems to think that if he should tell the public what he told me several times and once Mrs. Besant in my company, his reputation as a scientific observer would be jeopardised and his interests have to suffer: in short, he takes the selfish view of it, and has for many years now been hiding truth because he can't afford to give it out. He actually lived thirteen months at Teshu Lumpo, in the household of the Tashi Lama, the second in rank in the Lamaic hierarchy; made the journey thence to Lhassa under favorable auspices; saw and talked with the Dalai Lama, or Supreme Pontiff, and brought back manuscripts, printed books, and other souvenirs of his memorable journey. He was good enough to give me one of the soft silken scarfs that the Tashi Lama, at a reception, laid across his hands, after the national custom, when they were held out with joined palms in reverential salutation. I have it at Adyar among our curiosities. Woven into the tissue is a picture of the Lord Buddha, seated, with his two disciples, Sariputra and Moggallana, at his right and left.
Among my frequent visitors was Babu Parbati Charan Roy, one of the best educated of Calcutta University graduates, and then holding a position of influence under Government. Like too many of his class, his feeble spiritual belief had been submerged by Western educational influences, and he was a thorough disbeliever in the future state, though always ready to discuss those questions. I am glad to say
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that his contact with H.P.B. and our literature eventually worked a complete change in his ideas; he became a member of our Society, and some years later published a book giving the history of his repudiation of his ancestral religion, his return to it, and the peace of mind and joy which this brought him.
The then young Prince of Nuddea came to see me and spent many hours in my company, seeming happy to be under the influence of one who loved his country and people. His tutor, a brilliant graduate, was another free-thinker and sceptic, so that, for all the religious good he got by it, the Prince might as well have been brought up by one of those disbelieving European tutors who have checked the pious inclinations of their young royal pupils. I could name cases if I chose or it would do the least good, but as it is, the friends of India can only grieve over the too common spectacle of heirs to ancient thrones being led out of the path trodden by their ancestors, and turned into irreligious billiard-players, pleasure-seekers, and toadies to the whites, instead of being encouraged to patronise religious men, learned scholars, and the classical literature of India which, in the good old days, shed lustre on the Courts where its custodians were supported and honored. It is not the fault of the poor boys, but of the europeanising system under whose masterful influence they come—a system perhaps good enough for Western princes, who are not expected to shine as religious exemplars, but bad for Indian chiefs, who are called to rule over millions of unspoilt
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Asiatic subjects. I once visited a Rajkumar College in Northern India—i.e., a school for the sons of ruling chiefs and nobles—and was taken through the rooms by the Principal, the most liberal-minded European teacher I have met. Being requested to address the lads, I tried to impress on their minds the responsibilities imposed upon them by the fact of their princely birth, and begged them to try to emulate the examples of Ikshvaku, Harischandra, and Dharmaputra, rather than that of some of our contemporary princes, whose hoarded wealth is wasted on flitting pleasures, and whose minds are never given to holy thoughts. I have heard since from one of those boys that my offhand remarks made such an impression on them that they formed a society among themselves, to encourage each other to be good Indian rulers and leave honored names behind them. Admitting, what is more than likely, that for want of following up, the influence was but transitory, yet I think it was a gain to have even planted the seeds of higher ideals in those receptive boyish minds, and that the forming of their society is an indication that the adoption of such a system would be a great blessing to India. We need give no weight to the objection that it would be an evil thing to encourage these future petty sovereigns to fall into gross superstition and idolatry, for that comes from the class of persons who do not know, or, if they know, dare not reveal, that when Hinduism is read with the key of Theosophy it represents no superstition, nor does its idol-worship tend to degrade the lofty
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conceptions of the Supreme Being which are presented in the Gitâ and the Upanishads. What is desirable is that, not only the Indian princes, but all intelligent Indians, should realise the dignity of the religion imparted to the Aryan race in the present Manvantra, and the real meaning of their religious stories, folklore fables, and carven symbols, which teach, by carefully-chosen object-lessons, the limitless power, wisdom, and justice of the One Divine Reality.
Damodar K. Mavalankar is one of the best-known characters in the early Indian history of the Theosophical Society, and has been frequently mentioned in the course of these memoirs. He left Adyar, while I was away in Burma, for the last time on 23rd February, 1885, for Calcutta, in the s.s. "Clan Graham," with the intention of going to Tibet via Darjeeling. This was thirty-six days before H. P. B.'s own final departure for Europe. Four persons on this side of the Himâlayas had voices in this matter, of whom three were H. P. B., T. Subba Row, and Maji, of Benares: the chief agent, of course, was H. P. B., Mr. Subba Row having merely some questions to be answered, and Maji some clairvoyant information to give. The name of the fourth party I shall not mention, but merely say that he is equally well known on both sides of the mountains, and makes frequent religious journeys between India and Tibet. Damodar hoped to be allowed to go with him on his return to Lhassa, though his constitution, naturally delicate, had run down from overwork,
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consumptive tendencies had shown themselves, and he had had some haemorrhage. The most disquieting rumors were circulated, soon after he left Darjeeling, about our dear boy's having perished in the attempt to cross the mountains. In the first week of July it was reported to me from Chumboi, Sikkim, that his corpse, frozen stark and stiff, had been found in the snows, and his clothing at a little distance. Despite the transparent improbability of his having thrown off his clothing in that climate merely to die, the tale was believed by many, chiefly by those who denied the existence of the White Lodge, and who wished to cast some opprobrium on us for allowing a young fanatic to sacrifice his life in so evidently vain a quest. Well, we bore it, as we did, and ever since have, similar malicious stories, with as much equanimity as we could summon. But at Darjeeling, through the courtesy of Babu Saratchandra Dâs, who interpreted for me, I had a long talk with the chief of the coolies who went with Damodar from Darjeeling through Sikkim, and who brought back his superfluous luggage and his pocket Diary. From this latter important document I am now tracing Damodar from Madras to the time when he sent back the coolies and passed under other protection than ours. The value of his past work and the possibly important part he may be destined to play in the future of this movement of ours, makes me think that it is as well that I should include the chief parts of the Diary in this history.
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"February 23rd, 1885.—In the evening embarked on the ‘Clan Grant’ to go to Calcutta. February 24th. —Steamer sailed before 6 in the morning. Did not suffer from sea-sickness. 25th.—Made friends with the Doctor of the ship, who seems to be a very nice man, but to know or care little for philosophy, though he has the capacity if he would only develop it. 27th.—Reached Calcutta at about 4 p.m.; was met at the jetty by Norendro Babu and others, whom I told about my illness and of the necessity for a change." [Of course, concealing the ultimate purpose of the journey.—O.]
Here follow entries about his talks with friends, his visit to the local Branch, and his opinion about its activity, which was not too favorable. Then come his notes on his leaving by rail for Berhampore, where we then had about the best Branch in India, under the leadership of Babu Nobin K. Bannerji, President; Babu Dinanath Ganguli, Vice-President; and Babu Satkauri Mukerji, Secretary—three as good colleagues as any man could ask for in any great public movement. After spending three days with them he moved on to Jamalpur, where we had (and still have) another Branch. I note that once in Calcutta and once at Berhampore he was recognised by persons who had seen him in their dreams, an experience that I have often had myself in different lands. The Jamalpur brothers, he says, put to him much more interesting
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and intelligent questions than those propounded in Calcutta, showing that they had thought deeply about the great problems of life.
"March 8th.—Reached Benares and went to Maji's ashram. Had long talks with her both morning and afternoon. She spoke about Subba Row, and told me things which he had only lately spoken to me in private. Also spoke about Bawaji and said things known only to Mme. B. and myself. Said various other startling things.
"March 9th.—Conversations with Maji continued. She spoke about the portraits of the Masters at the Headquarters and told me many surprising things. Four Benares Theosophists called in the evening. Maji's talk was very interesting and instructive. In the afternoon she told me about Subba Row's Guru and about himself.
"March 10th.—Commenced to take internally some medicine she prepared for me. Had private talks with her during the day. Mme. B., she says, will not die for a year or more yet. When she does, she will probably reincarnate in Subba Row's family, and reappear in public life after ten years.l
"March 11th.—Talks continued. In the afternoon attended a meeting of the Benares Branch. The Munsiff of Benares is President. The members are all new, but earnest and intellectual. Later, Maji
1 As neither of these prophecies has been fulfilled, we must discount all of Maji's revelations to Damodar. At one visit I myself paid her, she predicted that H. P. B. would die within two years of that time and at sea. Neither of these proved true.
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showed me a portrait of her father which was precipitated after his death.
"March l2th.—A morning talk with her, and one at noon, entirely private, in her gupha,1 when she discussed the plans in view and the persons concerned. She tells me startling facts and something about the future. She says that for about a fortnight I am not to go to . . . [the personage with whom he wished to go to Tibet], but then it will be determined whether I shall proceed further.
"March l3th.—Left Benares at 11 a.m. Travelled all day and night. Reached Calcutta the next morning" .
He spent the next fortnight in Calcutta, and his Diary records the visits exchanged and conversations held on different occasions.
"March 30th.—Received a telegram, through . . . from . . . that I might now come to Darjeeling and matters would be arranged."
He left town on the 31st and got to Darjeeling on 1st April, where he was cordially welcomed by our members and became the guest of Babu Chhatra Dhar Ghose, F.T.S., one of our excellent colleagues. Three days later a representative of the personage who was leaving for Lhassa came to see him, and told. him to keep himself in readiness, although the day of departure was not yet fixed. Damodar saw the agent several times, and all details were agreed upon. At last, on
1 A cave such as Yogis excavate for themselves to live in. The one at Maji's was used by her father, a Yogî.
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the 8th, the party arrived, and Damodar received his orders to start, which he did, as the following entry shows.
"April l3th.—Left Darjeeling at 10.15 a.m. and reached Runjeet (about 11 miles) in the evening. Halted there.
"April 14th.—Left Runjeet about 7 a.m. Took rice (i.e., broke his fast) at Tasding, about one and a half miles from Tasding Bridge. Reached Vecha, about four miles beyond Kalingpong, in the evening at about 6 o'clock. Halted in a cow-shed for the night.
"April l5th.—Left Vecha after morning coffee. Took bhât (rice) at Podaon,1 where I met Babu Opendranath Mukhopadhyaya. Reached Renanga in the evening, where I sent . . . 's coolie back with the pony.
"April l6th.—Took bhât instead of coffee the next morning, and went on without stopping to Sanangthay, about a mile beyond Dichbring. Reached there before 5 p.m. Stopped in a Bhutia house.
"April l7th.—Left Sanangthay in the morning after taking bhât, and got to Bhashithang in the evening at about 5. It is about two miles from Ranevon, which is on top of a hill at whose foot is this village.
"April l8th.—Left Bhashithang in the morning, after bhât. Reached, about 4 p.m., the river Dichoo, at the place called Doomrah, about three miles from,
1 Some of the names of places are almost illegible, Damodar having written his Diary in soft pencil, which in the course of time has got rubbed.
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Longboo. After crossing the river there is an ascent for about five miles before reaching the capital of the Sikkim Raja. Stopped for the night by the river.
"April 18th.—Left the river in the early morning, after bhât, and reached Sikkim at noon. Stopped with the . . . (the personage with whom his journey was to be made). Saw him for an hour in the afternoon. Nothing in particular said. Am to have a talk to-morrow. Had another interview with him at night. He will tell me positively to-morrow about effecting my purpose. He leaves Sikkim the day after to-morrow.
"April 20th.—Anotber talk with him.
" April 21st.—Saw him again to-day. I wanted to go on to Longboo, but he wants me to remain till tomorrow, when he will be a little more at leisure.
"April 22nd.—Left Sikkim in the morning at about 10 o'clock. Reached Kabi (about half a mile from Longboo) at 3 p.m. Halted there for the day. The . . . said he had not yet fully known me, but that I am destined for some important work within the next month or two; that I must probably be a big Tibetan lama reincarnated in Tibet. The Karma is great.
"April 23rd.—Took bhât in the morning, and proceeded on from Kabi alone, sending back my things with the coolies to Darjeeling."
Here the Diary ends, and this is the last written trace of this devoted, high-minded, enthusiastic young Brahmin, whose record since joining H. P. B. and myself at Bombay is one of unbroken energy and
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unfaltering zeal in the cause of humanity. A nobler heart never beat in a human breast, and his departure was one of the hardest blows we ever received. As above remarked, he had almost broken down his constitution by incessant official work, and when leaving Adyar had begun to spit blood and show signs of a rapid decline. Yet, with undaunted courage, he undertook the hard journey across the Himâlayas, indifferent to the biting cold, the drifted snow, the lack of shelter and food, intent upon reaching the Guru whom he had first seen in his youth when lying on a sick-bed, of whom he had lost sight for many years, but whom he had recovered soon after joining the Theosophical Society, as his spiritual faculties developed and he was able to seek him in the sukshma œarira. What made him so devotedly attached and unswervingly loyal to H. P. B. was the discovery that this Guru was one of the Adepts behind our movement, the intimate associate of "Upasika," as he always subsequently called H. P. B. From the chief coolie of his escort I got particulars about him of great interest. After the pony was sent back to Darjeeling, Damodar tried to proceed on foot up the steep acclivities of the mountain track, but his strength soon gave out, and after that the coolies carried him by turns on their backs. To conceal his connection with the Tibetan functionary who had promised his protection and aid Damodar was ordered to go on ahead two-days' marches and then wait for the other to come up. That the junction should be unwitnessed,
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the coolies were ordered back to Darjeeling. Damodar would not keep any more clothes than the ascetic costume he was wearing, nor any of the rice, meal, pulse, or other dry provisions with which his friends had supplied him. The most he would do was to let the chief coolie bake him a dozen chapaties, or unleavened pancakes. The last that was seen of him by the coolies was when, with face turned towards the Tibetan frontier, he trudged painfully on and disappeared behind a turning of the road. On their way back the coolies passed the personage who was following after our dear lad; and the jemadar heard subsequently that the junction had been effected, and the caravan proceeded on towards the pass through the mountains. .
It is quite possible that Damodar's rejected clothing may have been found in the snows, for it was agreed that he should receive Tibetan dress, and be supplied with food, shelter, transportation, and all necessaries. The finding of his frozen corpse is quite another matter. That is certainly a lie. A Mâyâ of his body may have been left there to make it appear as if the pilgrim had succumbed; but that he reached his destination safely, and has ever since been under the protection of his Guru, I have reason to believe. So far, however, as intercourse with him in the ordinary way is concerned, he might as well be dead, for he is inaccessible by post, telegraph, or messenger. Though he has written thrice to two persons in India, he has passed out of our reach as effectually as though his body had been
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dropped into the sea in a shotted hammock, and I have refused the most urgent requests to disclose his place of abode or the possible time of his return. This latter for the good reason that I do not know when, if ever, he will come back to us. That he will, I believe; and I should not be surprised if he came when H.P.B., reincarnated and, like himself, changed beyond all recognition, shall resume the world-work she had to drop on "White Lotus Day" in 1891. It would be too unreasonable to imagine that the Lords of Karma would keep anyone of the best workers of the Theosophical movement idling about on the other planes of existence, when the cry of the suffering world for light and guidance is rising to their celestial abodes. Their chief desire and paramount duty is to help our human race to climb the path to the higher levels, where delusions, born of spiritual ignorance, wither away in the blaze of Wisdom like flowers bitten by a frost.