THE MAGIC OF THE NEW DISPENSATION
[The Theosophist, Vol. IV, No. 8, May, 1883, pp. 200-201]
[H. P. B. begins by quoting from The New Dispensation of April 1, 1883, a long description of a number of conjuring feats with a supposed symbolical significance performed by Keshub Chunder Sen at one of his religious meetings. On this she comments:]
The Brahmo Public Opinion giving us an insight into, and an explanation of, what otherwise may have been mistaken by many “innocents” for pakkâ “miracles” produced by the divine Visitor, who stands accused of calling daily upon the minister of the New Dispensation—ventilates its just wrath in the following remarks:
On the eve of his intended gradual retirement from public life, Babu Keshub Chunder Sen seems bent upon exhibiting to the world all his accomplishments. It is still remembered by the friends of his schoolboy days that Babu Keshub Chunder Sen could successfully imitate some of the arts of celebrated jugglers. But with the growth of earnest thought and more serious occupation, these gay freaks of his youth were quietly forgotten, and Mr. Sen found himself heading quite a different movement. But now, as if he had nothing more serious to do, he seems busy with beguiling himself and the public, with the boyish feats of his schooldays. The most recent addition to his already numerous inventions, has been the display of feats of jugglery on the occasion of the last performance of the New Dispensation drama . . . The reader need only be told in addition, that the juggler was Babu K. C. Sen himself. We are sorry indeed that the name of God was thus made the subject of jugglery, and that religion was ever associated with the arts of the magician. . . . Surely his ideas of the fitness of things, and his reverence for the name of religion, must have undergone a great change before he could descend so low. After this we pity Mr. P. C. Moozoomdar the more, for he has taken upon himself a hopeless task, that of defending a chief who is actually playing ducks and drakes with his reputation as a minister of religion.
While pitying the ruffled feelings of our grave contemporary—whose religious susceptibilities must have received a terrible shock—we can neither sympathize with, nor yet confess to any such sorrow on our part. Indeed, we rather feel highly gratified with the new development. With an eye to future events we already perceive that the hitherto unprecedented mode of worshipping, will soon find worthy imitators and thus achieve the grandest results. There is hope that following the good example, in another decade or so, half of the population of India—Mussulman dervishes and Christian Salvationists helping—will turn its temples, mosques and churches into theatres and circuses, for purposes of religious tamashas. Thus, the “deeper principles of the new faith” will be henceforth explained, indeed, “as they had never been explained before.” Then, the hoi polloi will be “taught divine wisdom” by padri-chorographers, whose flying battalions on the light fantastic toe may be used for the purpose of swiftly pursuing and catching sinners by their coat tails and head-locks, to be saved whether they will or not; and we may hope to see “padri-nautches,” “padri-minstrels” and “padri-jadoowallas.” The alliance and kind brotherly help of the Bhutan and Sikkim Dugpa-lamas, as that of the Singhalese devil-dancers, is strongly recommended in this case. It is to be sought by all means, and their costumes, solemn awe-inspiring masks of pigs’ and bullocks’ heads, and tuition, thankfully accepted and adopted. The signs of the times are all there, and a most important religious reform in a near future may be expected now with full confidence.
But there are other reasons why we should feel thankful to the great Calcutta artist and deviser. Out of several “reformers” of benighted India, one, at any rate, has now condescended, with extremely laudable sincerity, to put aside his canting role of “God confabulating” seer, to appear—if we can credit the Brahmo Public Opinion’s information, in what seems to be his inborn characteristics—those of a “clownish-looking juggler” who, from his schoolboy days, “could successfully imitate some of the arts of celebrated jugglers.” Then, besides the fact that the world
of theists cannot be too thankful to Babu Keshub C. Sen for trying to infuse into the usual owl-like gravity of prayers and divine worship a streak of innocent mirth, sport and frolic—drollery never failing to attract more than irksome prosy solemnity—the charming novelty of the thing should be also taken into consideration. Enacting parables and “performing wonderful conjuring tricks” for the greater glory of God, is not an everyday sight: and we have now the explanation of the profound sympathy shown to, and the passionate defense of, the processional and professional Salvationists by the Calcutta mystic. Melpomene and Terpsichore are sweet sisters to Thalia of the mask and shepherd’s crook, and our Babu seems to be bent on devoting all the nine Muses to the service of God, including Erato, made so much of by King Solomon. True, it may be objected that the main idea—that of proving that “God can be seen and heard” by the help of bogus phenomena and “magical apparatus”—is not exactly novel; in fact, that it is as old as the hills. But it bodes fair that the “New Faith” should follow so closely in the well-trodden paths of the “old ones.” And even though—from the day, in fact, that the first couple of Roman Augurs had upon meeting to plug their cheeks with their tongues to conceal laughter, and down to our own times when the holy Neapolitan friars are still entrusted with the delicate operation of making St. Januarius’ blood boil and sing—the priests and servants of God of nearly all other creeds have to call in occasionally jugglery to their help to prove the existence of their respective deities—this detracts nothing from Babu Keshub’s glory, as a genuine inventor and a discoverer. The additional and very sensational method adopted by him of boldly proclaiming the soi-disant divine miracles as simply conjuring tricks, is as unusual as it is novel, and is as highly commendable. We take Babu Keshub under our protection, and recognize his every right to demand a patent from both the Lord Bishop of Calcutta and the Maharaja of the Vallabhacharyas.
In addition to all this he has shown himself a true democrat and the protector as well as the benefactor of the
humble and the poor. The strolling, naked jadoowalla has now every claim to the title of “teacher, who imparts wisdom through allegories and metaphors.” Thus, whenever we witness from the secure depths of our verandah, a street juggler offering his mongoose a dainty lunch off the head of a foredoomed cobra, and see further on the latter —though headless—resurrected to life in half an hour or so owing to the miraculous influence of a monkey’s skull placed on the beheaded trunk of the serpent, we will bear in mind “the deep spirituality” . . . contained in this “magical feat.” Remembering the wise lesson that “great prophets and seers have spoken (and acted?) in parables,” and that “God always speaks through nature,” as his devotee we will hear and understand Him the better owing to the great lesson taught through the “mongoose-cobra-monkey” trick. For the first time in our life, we will clearly perceive that the mongoose represents infallible “divine wisdom, or blind faith,” devouring and swallowing up, like Aaron’s rod, “Human Reason” or “fallible intellect”—the latter, agreeably with the tenets of the New Dispensation the devil’s gift, “the formidable foe . . . at whose hands it (the Holy Dove or Holy Ghost, which is the same thing) eventually fell a victim.” The monkey’s skull, of course, will remain an emblem of the active potentiality, in our sight, of that same blind faith to resurrect dead animals and extract moonbeams out of cucumbers—in the allegorical and metaphorical sense. Hence, our profound gratitude to the Minister who through his inexhaustible arsenal of religio-mystical inventions, has taught us a never-to-be-forgotten lesson of wisdom. Some slight improvements in the programme may, perhaps, be also respectfully suggested. Thus, for one, the rose-water and sherbet meant to demonstrate practically the ever-flowing “nectar of God’s love, through a small pipe”—first, in consideration to the drinking preferences of Calcutta, “the holy city of Aryavart,” and then as a fitter emblem of one of the attributes of the “Maker of all life”—might be suggestfully replaced by genuine eau-de-vie, the “water of life” of the Frenchman. Apart from this trifling change, we find little to criticize in the
new departure, but on the contrary venture to predict it the brightest future. His reform must in time prove fruitful in results, as in the words of the Bishop of Durham, commenting upon the Salvation Army: “the exaltation of sensationalism into a system is perilous in the extreme. When the most solemn events . . . are travestied, and the deity’s name profaned in parodies and common songs—awe and reverence being the soul of the religious life—he, therefore, who degrades the chief objects of religion by profane associations, strikes at the very root of that religion.”