Turning eastward to India and China, the next great homes of civilization, we find that India, a country as large as Europe, and with nearly as many people, was originally settled by the tribes of Japheth, the third son of Noah, the country possessing many cities and petty kings and great riches, at the time of Alexander the Great’s invasion.
According to Sanskrit scholars, the rites and ceremonials of this people, that are contained in what is known as the Brahmanas, go back to 700 B.C., or about fourteen hundred years after the time of Abraham; while the Code of Manu, that established castes in India, goes to about 500 B.C.
Here in India, as in the earliest years of Chaldea and Egypt, we meet with the remarkable fact that their early beliefs seem to have been in the existence of one Supreme Being only, and that then their lives were correspondingly pure. But the priests early took advantage of the religious instincts in man to advance their own ends, thus securing position, influence, and money. A degrading form of worship of the solar system appeared, and soon its rites, ceremonies, oblations, and penances made the whole of the people one of religion only.
While the oldest Veda teaches a Supreme God, later it alludes to thirty-three gods, whose numbers were ere long rapidly multiplied, until the Hindu Pantheon is now said to contain no less than 33,000,000 gods.
About 600 B.C. we meet with that awful thing that so rent the hearts of mothers, the first record of human sacrifices to the gods of India.
In a land where polygamy prevailed and where the same debasement of woman to the sacred harlotry that is noted in Chaldea and elsewhere in connection with the temple services has prevailed for thousands of years, and yet continues in spite of modern missionary effort, the condition of these hundreds of millions of women, mothers and daughters of India, cannot be understood in its horrors, without reference to that other strange teaching of those Hindu Scriptures that was peculiar to themselves, namely, the suttee or burning alive of widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands.
This practice was known to history over two thousand years ago, and Raja Radhakanet Deb, of Calcutta, a native Hindu, and one of the foremost of living Sanskrit scholars of the world, says it was practiced by their early kings and sages centuries previously, and that it is taught in their sacred books, of which he gives several citations. In case the widow refuse the suttee she was considered to have dishonored her relatives, whereupon the disgraced family made her life so full of torture and shame that she fled to the fire in preference. If during the burning she sought to escape from the flames, her relatives considerately thrust her back to be consumed. This hideous custom prevailed in India for two thousand five hundred years, and it is said that even now, nothing but the strong hand of the English government prevents the revival of the practice.
Caste in India
The Code of Manu divides the populace into, first, the Brahmans, who, having originally proceeded from the mouth of the god, are the most holy of men and must not be taxed by the king or enraged, else their curse would destroy his armies and retinue; secondly, the Kshatriya, or military and kingly caste, who issued from the god’s arms; third, the Vaisya, or agricultural caste, coming from his thighs; and the servile Sudra caste, proceeding from the feet of the god.
The first three are “twice born.” The Brahman child receives the investiture of the sacred thread in his eighth year, the Kshatriya in his eleventh, and the Vaisya in his twelfth, with great ceremonies, this constituting the second or spiritual birth, while the Sudra child does not get it at all, the last being born but once. But this last is as proud of his caste and as particular as any of the higher orders and will not intermarry with them for in such case their children would not be even Sudras, and so, even to this day, the person who dresses your hair in India will not brush your clothes, nor the table waiter deign to carry your umbrella, for the caste is as sacred to them as religion, and is religion.
While in the early times women seem to have had a certain degree of freedom and social equality, yet for thousands of years the condition of woman in India has been one of abject submission to her lordly husband or father. The Sacred Books say, “Day and night must women be made to feel their dependence on their husbands”; “Let not a husband eat with his wife, nor look at her eating”; “Women have no business to repeat texts of the Veda, thus is the law established”; “As far as a wife obeys her husband, so far is she exalted in heaven”; “A husband must be continually revered as a god by a virtuous wife.”
Throughout all ages and everywhere, religion is seen to be as persistent a fact in the history of mankind as marriage is, and has had as much or more influence on a woman’s condition. And in seeking to account for the wide and long continued dominance of such horrid faiths as have been here noticed, faiths that made woman but a chattel, and unspeakably tortured and degraded her for thousands of years throughout all of the ancient world, it must be confessed that their great secret lay in that awful future of which they claimed to have the exclusive knowledge.
With the later Hindus, who were transmigrationists [sic], all who die go to the moon, which to them was the gate to the heavenly world. There a threefold alternative was offered the soul. If goodness had characterized its earth life, it would pass in its transmigrations [sic] through the deities. If it had been ruled by passion, it must pass through men. If a life of sin had distinguished its earthly career (and transgressions of or neglect of religious ceremonies and offenses against the priests were far worse sins than any violations of the moral law), it must pass through the beasts and plants; each of these degrees having also three sub-degrees, with 8,400,000 births, and continuing through twenty-one, or, as some of the sacred books say, twenty-eight, hells or purgatories, each more furious and awful than a Dante could ever dream, and requiring a “kalpa” or two billion one hundred and sixty millions of years to pass through them all.
With such fearful destiny before them, now is it possible for mortals not to make the worship of the gods of destiny the one great concern of their life, as they have been doing for thousands of years in that ancient land of India?
And as these, their gods, were licentious, intriguing, warring with each other in the heavens, what wonder that the worshiper on earth followed their example?
In the Hindu poem, the Mahabharata, “The Great war of Bharata,” is to be found the highest Hindu conception of woman’s truth and purity and loving devotion to her husband, equal to anything found in any literature.
But at that early time we find the marriage custom or system of polyandry prevailing even in their court circles, while gross licentiousness, gambling, and drunkenness characterized the wealthy classes everywhere.
Throughout the whole history of that great country the condition of woman has been, to our modern thought, most degrading and sorrowful and bitter to the extreme.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.