When I was in the city of Benarez, on the
borders of the Ganges, the country of the
ancient Brahmins, I endeavored to instruct
myself in their religion and manners. I
understood the Indian language tolerably
well. I heard a great deal, and remarked
everything. I lodged at the house of my
correspondent Omri, who was the most worthy
man I ever knew. He was of the religion of
the Brahmins: I have the honor to be a
Mussulman. We never exchanged one word
higher than another about Mahomet or Brahma.
We performed our ablutions each on his own
side; we drank of the same sherbet, and we
ate of the same rice, as if we had been two
One day we went together to the pagoda of
Gavani. There we saw several bands of Fakirs.
Some of whom were Janguis, that is to say,
contemplative Fakirs; and others were
disciples of the ancient Gymnosophists,
who led an active life. They all have a
learned language peculiar to themselves;
it is that of the most ancient Brahmins;
and they have a book written in this
language, which they call the Shasta. It is,
beyond all contradiction, the most ancient
book in all Asia, not excepting the Zend.
I happened by chance to cross in front of
a Fakir, who was reading in this book.
"Ah! wretched infidel!" cried he, "thou
hast made me lose a number of vowels that
I was counting, which will cause my soul
to pass into the body of a hare instead
of that of a parrot, with which I had
before the greatest reason to flatter
I gave him a rupee to comfort him for the
accident. In going a few paces farther, I
had the misfortune to sneeze. The noise I
made roused a Fakir, who was in a trance.
"Heavens!" cried he, "what a dreadful
noise. Where am I? I can no longer see
the tip of my nose, -- the heavenly light
"If I am the cause," said I, "of your not
seeing farther than the length of your
nose, here is a rupee to repair the great
injury I have done you. Squint again, my
friend, and resume the heavenly light."
Having thus brought myself off discreetly
enough, I passed over to the side of the
Gymnosophists, several of whom brought me
a parcel of mighty pretty nails to drive
into my arms and thighs, in honor of Brahma.
I bought their nails, and made use of them
to fasten down my boxes. Others were dancing
upon their hands, others cut capers on the
slack rope, and others went always upon one
foot. There were some who dragged a heavy
chain about with them, and others carried
a packsaddle; some had their heads always
in a bushel -- the best people in the world
to live with. My friend Omri took me to the
cell of one of the most famous of these.
His name was Bababec: he was as naked as
he was born, and had a great chain about
his neck, that weighed upwards of sixty
pounds. He sat on a wooden chair, very
neatly decorated with little points of
nails that penetrated into his flesh; and
you would have thought he had been sitting
on a velvet cushion. Numbers of women
flocked to him to consult him. He was the
oracle of all the families in the neighborhood;
and was, truly speaking, in great reputation.
I was witness to a long conversation that
Omri had with him.
"Do you think, father," said my friend,
"that after having gone through seven
metempsychoses, I may at length arrive
at the habitation of Brahma?"
"That is as it may happen," said the Fakir.
"What sort of life do you lead?"
"I endeavor," answered Omri, "to be a good
subject, a good husband, a good father, and
a good friend. I lend money without interest
to the rich who want it, and I give it to
the poor: I always strive to preserve peace
among my neighbors."
"But have you ever run nails into your flesh?"
demanded the Brahmin.
"Never, reverend father."
"I am sorry for it," replied the father;
"very sorry for it, indeed. It is a thousand
pities; but you will certainly not reach
above the nineteenth heaven."
"No higher!" said Omri. "In truth, I am
very well contented with my lot. What is it
to me whether I go into the nineteenth or
the twentieth, provided I do my duty in my
pilgrimage, and am well received at the end
of my journey? Is it not as much as one can
desire, to live with a fair character in
this world, and be happy with Brahma in the
next? And pray what heaven do you think of
going to, good master Bababec, with your
"Into the thirty-fifth," said Bababec.
"I admire your modesty," replied Omri, "to
pretend to be better lodged than me. This
is surely the result of an excessive ambition.
How can you, who condemn others that covet
honors in this world, arrogate such
distinguished ones to yourself in the next?
What right have you to be better treated
than me? Know that I bestow more alms to
the poor in ten days, than the nails you
run into your flesh cost for ten years?
What is it to Brahma that you pass the
whole day stark naked with a chain about
your neck? This is doing a notable service
to your country, doubtless! I have a
thousand times more esteem for the man
who sows pulse or plants trees, than for
all your tribe, who look at the tips of
their noses, or carry packsaddles, to show
Having finished this speech, Omri softened
his voice, embraced the Brahmin, and, with
an endearing sweetness, besought him to
throw aside his nails and his chain, to go
home with him, and live in comfort.
The Fakir was persuaded: he was washed
clean, rubbed with essences and perfumes,
and clad in a decent habit; he lived a
fortnight in this manner, behaved with
prudence and wisdom, and acknowledged
that he was a thousand times happier
than before; but he lost his credit
among the people, the women no longer
crowded to consult him; he therefore
quitted the house of the friendly Omri,
and returned to his nails and his chain,
to regain his reputation.