Calcutta, 4 February 1893

Early in the morning we wanted to visit the famous temple of Kalighat, in which humans were once sacrificed (now, the sacrifices that are offered are only black buffaloes and goats). For this excursion, we crossed a district of the native city with numerous bazaars where small images of household gods are sold. This temple is dedicated to the black goddess Kali, the wife of Shiva, whom, according to legend, was torn to pieces by her husband in the air. At that point, a piece of her finger landed on the spot which the temple of Kalighat was built.

The name of the temple means „step (ghat) to Kali“. The same word is also, by the way, attributed to the name of Calcutta, which has been transformed with time from Kali-ghat to Kalkota, Kalikut, Golgota, even with the considerations of mortality in ancient Calcutta to Golgatha (place of the skull). According to other linguists, the ancient name of Calcutta has been Kalikschetra. As an aside, our naming of the turkey as a „Calcutta chicken“ is derived from Calicut on the Malabar Coast.

Unfortunately, we were disappointed to learn at our arrival that the animal sacrifices would be performed later and the Brahmins did not permit us to enter the temple. Even our presence in the antechamber seemed to instil ill will as a lot of crones (who had come to bring offerings for the goddess) were shocked in seeing the unbelievers here. They complained loudly and turned around cursing. In the antechamber, we at least saw the wooden prongs in the ground between which the heads of the sacrificial animals would be pushed.It was a sign of good fortune; it grants a wish if the Brahmin cuts an animal’s head of with a single strike, while the opposite is attributed to ill luck. The people thus made sure that the neck of the sacrifice is under sufficient tension to assist the strike, though much cruelty to animals is naturally happening. The butchering Brahmin has made a large fortune, it is said, as he collects up to a thousand rupees per day for his performance.

At 9 o’clock a visit to the royal mint in Calcutta was on the program. The mint has been praised for its performance and size of its machine equipment. A really colossal enterprise which delivers 300.000 to 400.000 rupees on a daily basis without reaching its capacity limits. The silver and copper coins are in separate buildings.  The former mint was built in Doric style, the latter is in a large composite of building blocks. The director guided us personally through the rooms and workshops, explaining the manufacturing process of all the steps and even pointed and demonstrated the counting and packaging. Where it was possible, the most practical and fitting machines are used. The machine, which sorts the punched out coins according to their weight, removes the pieces that are either too light or too heavy. This reminds me of a thinking being. The transformation of silver bars into blank and beautifully coined rupees is done at an astonishing speed thanks to these machines.  One automatically starts to muse about the function of the famous installation on whose one side hares are chased and thrown into the machine only to emerge as finished hats on the other side! It is unfortunate that even the grandest mint, the most ingenious machine of the world, can not stop the price from dropping on the value of silver. This phenomenon will cause the Indian government much trouble. Apart from the coins for Ceylon and India, the Calcutta mint produces also coins intended for Africa and numerous English war medals.

In the afternoon, I drove with the vice-royal couple in a high coach to the final number of the three hours long military sporting event, which took place on the racing course in front of a large tribune and a large crowd of spectators, among them many pretty ladies.

At the prize competition of driving multiple guns with their teams they had to do very sharp turns between pegs close to each other and do figures of eight. Only a single of four guns managed to complete the task without error.

A quadrille of the mounted Calcutta volunteers were well intentioned, but turned out only average at best. This formation is composed from members of the merchant community and other peace-loving professions, mostly of older people who meet twice weekly to so called exercises and vividly recall their own patriotic civil guards. Their riding skills and the condition of their horses lets one assume that this formation will not pose much danger to an enemy.

Rather well did the English non-commissioned officers and soldiers perform their deeds in gymnastics and leapfrogging. Participation and interest of the highest degree were given by the audience to the tug-of-war in which ten men from an infantry regiment competed against ten artillerymen. Specially chosen strong persons stood opposite each other and the struggle went on to and fro for a long time. A general commotion made the two regiments whose men were all sitting in the audience. Bets were placed and all the competitors encouraged with shouts. At one time the infantrymen had already drawn eight men on their side, but suddenly, their luck changed and after a quarter of an hour the artillerymen won. In this moment four men collapsed from exhaustion and fell to the ground, but later recovered after some time.

Very funny was the equine tug-of-war that followed and was first performed by six natives on each side on horses without saddles. The riders of both teams gave their best with dexterity and endurance to keep themselves on their horses and also push or pull the opponent off his horse. But the forces were almost equally distributed so that in the end both parties could move further, so it had to be declared a draw.

Lady Landsdowne distributed the prizes to the happy winners. Then we returned through thick fog to Government House where a gala dinner and afterwards a soirée were awaiting us. This fog is characteristic for Calcutta. Each evening it descends, mixed with smoke, in incredible density over the city and departs only in the morning. The very high humidity and the constant fog are said to be the main reason why Calcutta’s climate is considered unhealthy and causing fever.

The dinner which was attended again by 80 persons who were followed by soirée, to which over 2000 invitations had been sent out. I admit — otherwise not fond of such mass spectacles — that I will remember this evening as an interesting experience;  as the colorful crowd of gentlemen and ladies from all ranks of society offered an unexpected catching image. Besides Europeans, one could see Parsis, Tibetans and Indian merchants, even the wife of a raja made her appearance.

The highlight of the party were the numerous rajas wearing countless diamonds on their national dresses. But not only their exterior attracted our attention to the rajas. In earlier times an important element in Indian history they live now thanks to the English supremacy in territories with a relative independence but are without political influence if some individuals do not manage through their individuality or their wealth to play a role.  Representing the traditional noble class whose traditions date back to the Indian Golden Age and usually blessed with fortune and wealth the rajas stand in high public esteem by the natives. At the same time they are closer to the English rulers than to the large mass of the people. They loom as representatives of an old inherited culture into the present and are the next object to be influenced by European culture. Both elements — the old and the European culture — influence as they have not yet intertwined and combined into a common strong bond and they constrain one another, standing unconnected next to each other.

The Englishmen guide the education of the princely sons intended to become rulers — Maharajaas or Rajas — in special Rajkumar colleges, academies that teach English, history even and  economics according to the works of J.S. Mill. At times, the education of sons of individual, namely powerful princes is given into the hands of an English instructor.

Usually at the age of twenty a ruler comes of age and is enthroned; but the Nizam was given the reigns of the government of Hyderabad already having completed his 18th year of his life, while other rulers are considered minors beyond twenty years of age. The ruler usually delegates government to a Darbar (state councilor), who in turn is only nominally in charge while the real influence lies in the hands of the English resident. This explains why the administrations are so well run; where the English influence is limited, the state of affairs in these raja states reminds of our sayings about Oriental despotism with arbitrary administration. Among the princes one finds all varieties — not a few London fops and pleasure seeking playboys, sportsmen and hunter, even oriental barbarians.

Out of the coexistence of the old Indian and the new European culture explains the phenomenon that the rajas in their manner and acting present a sort of double culture or — if one is more of the opinion of a „too much“  than a „not enough“ — a half culture. Stagnation on the current level is probably excluded as is a total reversion to the ancient Indian culture or a complete assimilation into European culture. Given time, these developments will likely achieve a harmonious balance.  To the future state of things in India, it might be not without influence whether this or the other of motives will gain the upper hand. England’s social policy will have to solve a difficult, but satisfying, challenge.

Some of the princes and other outstanding persons invited to the party deserved to be mentioned here: Maharaja of Rewah, Maharaja of Pattiala, Maharaja of Darbhanga, Maharaja of Bettiah, Raja Sir Surindro Mohun Tagore, Raja Sir Norendro Krischna, Raja Durga Tscharn Lal, Prince Mirza Katnar Kadr — a son of the royal family of  the Audh Prince Mirza Jehan Kadr, Nawab Abdul Latif Khan Bahädur. Nawab Seid Amir Hossein.

Among the guests presented to me were officers of the Indian regiments in Calcutta who presented their swords and offered them to my touch — a strange custom in the tradition of ancient knights. This symbol should be express with the highest level of devotion.

Links

  • Location: Calcutta, India
  • ANNO – on 04.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. Due to the recent cases of cholera in Europe, the United States has declared a prohibition of importing used clothes without a special official confirmation from a cholera-free area. In Russia, the famous clown Durow, well known from his performances in Vienna, was thrown into the jail of the Peter and Paul fortress in St. Petersburg for importing nihilistic literature.
The Wiener Salonblatt No. 6 of 5 February 1893, p. 3, reports about Franz Ferdinand's arrival in Calcutta an his reception by the vice-king and his wife.

The Wiener Salonblatt No. 6 of 5 February 1893, p. 3, reports about Franz Ferdinand’s arrival in Calcutta and his reception by the vice-king and his wife.

  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays a comedy “Gönnerschaften”, while the k.u.k. Hof-Opermtheater is performing Verdi’s “Hernani”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*

Solve : *
15 × 6 =