that their penances amount to prodigies, and I have had the curiosity
to collect several pictures of them, some of which I shall show to the
reader in the following chapter.
Concerning Fakirs, or the professional Mendicants of India, and their penances.1
as I have just said, take their origin from Ravana, whom Rama despoiled
of his kingdom ; on that account he felt so much remorse that he
resolved to wander like a vagabond throughout the world, poor and
bereft of all property, and completely nude. He soon found many people
to follow him in this kind of life, which afforded them all kinds of
license. For being reverenced as saints, they had abundant
opportunities of doing whatever evil they wished.
ordinarily travel in troops, each of which has its Chief or Superior.
As they go perfectly nude, winter and summer, always lying on the
ground, and since it is sometimes cold, the young Fakirs and other
idolaters who are the most devoted, go in the afternoon to search for
the droppings of
with any of the mendicant or ascetic Orders. Many legends about him are told at Gokaru in Kanara (Bombay Gazetteer, xv,
part 2. 290). The story in the Ramayana tells that Rama, mounted on
Indra's chariot, slew Ravana with an arrow forged by Brahma. Ovington
(p. 360) tells the same story: ' The Original of these Holy Mendicants
is ascrib'd, according to their Account, to a certain Prince named Revan, who quarell'd with Ram, a Knowing and Victorious Prince'. Russell, however (Tribes and Castes, Central Provinces, iii.
155 f.) describes an Order of Gosains, called Ravanvansi, or ' of the
race of Ravana '. When Rama left his wife, Sita, in the forest, Ravana
disguised himself as a beggar and begged alms from her. She told him to
come within the magic circle which Rama had cast round her, but he
refused, and induced her to leave the circle, whereupon he seized her
and carried her to Lanka or Ceylon. This Order claims descent from him.
The subject of Fakirs and their austerities attracted much attention
from the earlier writers ; for example, Ovington, 363 ff. ; Mundy, ii.
176 ff; Bernier, 316 ff. ; Fryer, i. 257 ff. Though at the present day
the clothing of a Fakir is scanty, absolute nudity is prohibited by the
police and municipal regulations.