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Chapter 7: The Dancing Girl

  “She measures every measure, everywhere 
  Meets art with art. Sometimes as if in doubt, 
  Not perfect yet and fearing to be out, 
  Trails her plain ditty in one long-spun note 
  Through the sleek passage of her open throat, 
  A clear unwrinkled song: then doth she point it 
  With tender accents, and severely joint it 
  By short diminutions.”

                          Music’s Duel. Crashaw.
    “Nowadays Indian ‘reformers’ in the name of ‘civilization and 
    science’ seek to persuade the muralis (girls dedicated to the 
    Gods) that they are ‘plunged in a career of degradation.’ No 
    doubt in time the would-be moralists will drive the muralis 
    out of their temples and their homes, deprive them of all 
    self-respect, and convert them into wretched outcastes, all in 
    the cause of ‘civilization and science.’ So it is that early 
    reformers create for the reformers of a later day the task of 
    humanizing life afresh.”

                      Sex in Relation to Society. Havelock Ellis.

For the women of India an independent profession is a thing almost unknown. Here are no busy typewriters, no female clerks, no barmaids. The woman spends her whole life in a home, supported and maintained, her father’s as a child, then her husband’s, or else one of those large joint households in which every woman of the family, widowed or married, finds her place. If she is poor, she may have work to do in plenty, besides the care of her house and children. She may sew or go out to help in richer households; often she joins her husband in his work, and you may see the potter’s wife fetching earth and carrying bricks, or the washerman’s wife drive his laden ox. Sometimes she labours in the field, busily weeding or bent double as in the water-covered muddy patch she transplants the young rice-shoots. But in none of these tasks does she work for herself, alone and independent, at a trade chosen by her own taste. She labours as one member of a higher unit, the family of which she is a part, and she knows that by her efforts she helps to feed and clothe her children or to add to the funds controlled by the head of the joint family. Even domestic service, in the European sense of the word, hardly exists. Ruling and noble families have their maid-servants, but these are not independent women hired under a contract, enforceable at law. They are women born and bred in the palace, bound by affection and upbringing, hereditary house-servants, almost slaves. They are treated as of the family, are paid by food and clothing, by presents and the final gift in marriage to a male servant. Only a few, a very few there are, widows mainly, usually Mussulman, who can in the Western sense of the word be called servants.

In recent years changes in ideas, and still more changes in social economy, have produced a few women in regard to whose work it is possible to use the words “independent profession.” There are even a few lady doctors, Parsis mainly, in whose case the imitation of European customs and the resultant obstacles to marriage have facilitated study and the adoption of a career. There are far more who are teachers--always underpaid--in girls’ schools, or nurses--also underpaid--or midwives. Largely these are Brahman widows, who, repudiating the austerities of traditional belief, have found a more useful life by these labours, and relieve their relatives of the charge of their support or bring up their children by their own praiseworthy efforts.

But even these are still exceptions to be counted by hundreds, by thousands at the most, out of all the three hundred millions of India’s population. For the women of India, it may almost be said, there is only one independent profession open, one that is immemorial, remunerative, even honoured, and that is the profession of the dancing girl. There is hardly a town in India, however small, which has not its group of dancing girls, dubious perhaps and mediocre; and there is not a wedding, hardly an entertainment of any circumstance, at which the dancing girl’s services are not engaged. And it may be added that there is hardly a class so much misjudged or a profession so much misunderstood.

For long generations and in many countries the dancing girls of India have been the theme of poets and stock figures of romanticism. In Indian literature it was of course natural that they should find a place. And in fact, from the earliest Sanscrit poets down to the novelists and play-wrights of modern Bengal or Gujarát, there are few dramas in which a dancer does not play a role. Often the part is pathetic, even tragic, while it is usually edifying and pietistic. The courtesan who, urged by the eloquence or attraction of a pious ascetic, finds the grace of God and abandons art for austerity and the palace for the hermitage, is one of the recurrent conventions of the Indian classics. In one of the best-known of Mahrathi poems, there is such a picture, expressed with vigour and emotion. Converted to self-denial and renunciation, the dancing girl, once beautiful, lies alone, dirty and squalid, without food, in a witch-haunted graveyard, affrighted by ghosts, tormented by spirits of evil, yet uplifted by the love of God and blessed by her memories of the saint whose coldness was to her the sign of a higher adoration. But in the literature of Europe the bayadère, to use a name corrupted from the Portuguese, has also been a frequent and a luxurious figure. In the romantic fancies of the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, she was, both in France and Germany, a personage on whom poets lavished the embellishments of their art. Her hazy outlines they bespangled with the imagery of fiction and the phantasies of invention. She was a symbol for oriental opulence, a creature of incredible luxury and uncurbed sensuousness, or tropic passion and jewelled magnificence. From her tresses blew the perfumes of lust; on her lips, like honey sweet, distilled the poisons of vice; hidden in her bodice of gold brocade she carried the dagger with which she killed.

Divest her of poetic association. Rob her of the hues cast by the distant dreams of romanticism. Strip her even of the facts of history and the traditions of the Indian classics. Yet she remains a figure sufficiently remarkable. Not tragic and certainly not gay, she embodies in herself so much of India, both its past and present, that without understanding her life and significance it is impossible to comprehend the social whole which she explains and commentates.

The very name of dancing girl, it must be noted, is a misnomer. For as an artist she finds expression primarily in song, not in the dance. In the Indian theory of music, dancing is but an adjunct, one rhythm the more, to the sung melody. It is the singer’s voice which, is the ultimate means of music, her song which is its real purpose. To embellish its expression and heighten its enjoyment the singer takes the aid of instruments, the pipe, the strings, the drum and not least of the dance. Regarded in its first elements, the dance is one means the more of marking the time of the melody. Throughout the Indian dance the feet, like the tuned drums, are means to mark the beats. The time is divided into syllables or bars and the dancer’s beating feet, circled with a belt of jingling bells, must move and pause in the strictest accordance. The right foot performs the major part, the left completes the rhythmic syllable. But further by her dance the singer’s art is to make more clear and more magnetic the meaning of her song. With her attitudes and gestures she accords her person to her melody and sense, till her whole being, voice and movement, is but one living emotion. Her veil half-drawn over her features, her head averted, a frown wrinkling her brow, she portrays modesty recoiling from a lover. With joined hands uplifted to her forehead, with body bent, and eyes cast upon the ground, she accompanies the hymns of worship and resignation to God’s will. With quickly moving gesture, she marks the harsher sounds of rage or mortified indignation. Even pleasure and the tenderer joy she represents by the softly swaying body and slow waving movements of her upturned hands. But it is not enough that gesture should be natural and appropriate. Mere realism would not harmonize with the songs and instrumental music to which it is an accompaniment. Its crudities would be out of tune, conspicuous, even brutal. The dancer’s gestures and pantomime must be soft, rhythmic, and restrained. Like every other art, dancing too has its economy and its self-restraint. And the way to this ideal harmony is through the simplifications of convention and the discipline of a graceful technique. The dancer has to learn by painful practice to move her limbs in harmony with the rhythms of her melody, to avoid all that is abrupt or unsymmetrical. Each pose should be that of a statue, emotion poising in a harmony of line and balance. In order to attain this complete accord of movement and melody, this union of grace and emotional expression, it is necessary to conventionalize the means by strict attention to the material presented to the creative artist--in the case of the dance, the youthful female figure. As in a painting, to the trained eye, a line presents the transition between two differently lit surfaces, so in the dance, by an habitual agreement between the spectator and the performer, certain simple movements are made to evoke wider imaginations. Indian dancing, like every art, must have its own conventions. But they are conventions finally based upon actual mimicry, simplifications, one may say, of natural movements. They are attained by the exclusion of all that is superfluous, leaving only the essential curve or contour of the movement. They are the actual made spiritual, by the excision of all excess, by the suppression of the uncouthness which defective material and stiff muscles force upon human action. The movements of the Indian dancer bear to the primitive gestures of men and women, in the moments of actual impulse, the same relation as the simplified form of Indian painting and sculpture bear to the realities of living flesh and blood in light and shadow. To the European the conventions are difficult to understand, as they presuppose a different training; and in him they do not readily awake the required emotion. For European art has for many centuries been in the main realistic, concerned above all with the material appearance of things and actions. The art of the East, on the other hand, has in all its leading schools sought the spiritual, striving with the jejunest outlines to interpret the significance which may underlie the outward clothing of form and colour and surface. Moreover, the oriental eye has a natural aptitude for decorative pattern, to which the excessive devotion of the Indian intellect to deduction and abstract analysis affords a parallel. The artist, therefore, does not rest content with simplification but further seeks to manipulate the conventions, through which he realizes his spiritual meaning, into a symmetric and decorative pattern. The same tendencies appear in the dance, when practised as an art, in India.

There are two great methods of artistic dancing in India which correspond to the main geographical distinction of the continent and can be called the Peninsular and the Northern. The Peninsular or Southern has its home and training-ground in Madras, where the temple dancing girls, the “servants of God” as they are called in the vernacular, follow their fine tradition. The old Hindu city of Tanjore with its exuberant temple is the centre of the school, to which it has given its name. The other or Northern method is at its highest in the cities of Delhi and Lucknow, more secular in its purpose, yet more austere in its expression.

In the North where the girls, wearing an adaptation of the Mussulman dress, are mostly of that faith and have no bond with any temple or religious institution, the dance or gesture-play is strictly subordinate to the song. The artist moves back and forward a few steps as she sings, the feet of course always beating the time, while her hands are raised or lowered and her fingers grouped in a few conventional poses, gracefully artificial or simply decorative, but with no present actuality and little stimulus to emotion. The pleasure of the spectator is in the main intellectual, the effect of reminiscence and association, while he interprets the meaning of which the movements are suggestive but abstract symbols. At the end of the verse the dancer floats softly round the circle of spectators, with coquetry in her eyes, extorting applause by a quick virtuosity of steps and pirouettes, which have little relation to any living and real passion.

The Peninsular school, on the other hand, gives the dance in and by itself a far higher value and more extended field. It is far more than the mere visible decoration of a sung melody. It has a life of its own, often wild and passionate; and has its own instant appeal to independent emotions. Often the dance is in itself the pantomime of a whole story, the meeting and love of Krishna and Rádha, for instance, at the river’s side. The melody of the instruments is a suitable accompaniment and the voice does little more than supply a pleasing refrain. Sometimes it is a mere rhythmic and decorative reconstruction of everyday actions, the mimicry, harmonious and graceful, of a boy flying a kite or of a fluttering butterfly. The dancers move lightly and quickly over the floor, their steps diversified, their gestures free and natural. Upon their features play the lines of hope and joy, of sorrow and disdain. Then as the story closes, in a final burst of melody, their voices rise with the instruments that accompany in a last forte repetition of the refrain or motive.

Thus in the Peninsular or Tanjore school the art of dancing, though also, of course, dependent upon conventionalisms of gesture and movement, and significant of meanings which it suggests rather than imitates, has a more actual appeal to emotion and a less fettered freedom. It has a finer spontaneity, a freer flow of imagination. At its best, it is a splendid school of dancing, the only method perhaps worthy to be put beside, though below, the magnificent creations of the Russian ballet.

From the point of view of art, however, even the Tanjore dancing girls, and still more the performers of the Northern school, have certain defects, which could be removable if the players and public had a finer sense of artistic purpose. The women themselves are too often of little education, illiterate, with their tastes uncultivated. A good voice and some natural grace, with training only in technique, may make a pleasing enough dancer but cannot produce an artist. For any excellent attainment a higher cultivation is required. Another difficulty, peculiar to India, is that many experts will, from superstitious fear or jealousy, refuse to impart their secrets to a pupil or a novice. But worst of all by far is that lack of artistic sensibility, general in modern India, which is satisfied by the tricks of virtuosity and has no recognition of sincerity and deeper beauty. In song the faults are obvious and regretted. High notes are screamed out with the utmost effort of the singers’ lungs to the amazement and admiration of the groundlings, while the practice of slurred arpeggios at the highest speed obscures the roundness of the voice in the true melody. Given a good voice, a girl is only too soon trained to these efforts, on which in a few years her natural gifts are squandered. Smooth and easy singing and finished phrasing are little valued by the side of those difficult but unbeautiful accomplishments. Similarly in the accompanying dance violent gestures, strained poses, or undue and difficult effort ravish praise that should more correctly be given to sincere emotion and an easy and natural rhythm. A dead conventionalism, emphasized and over-strained by difficult contortions, has repressed the development of the art, especially in the northern, more abstract method.

Another great drawback against which Indian professional dancing struggles is the lack of a public that itself is given to dancing. For every art the great safeguard and vivifying influence is a popular practice of its easier forms. Music flourished in Italy and in Germany, where every person sings. Poetry becomes great when behind it there is a living growth of popular ballads or lyrics. The Russian ballet has made its wonderful achievement because every peasant dances with vigour and even with grace, and in the summer nights in every village young men and women dance. In India popular dancing has for many centuries been moribund, even dead. At the festival of the new Hindu year, in a few parts of India, groups of ladies sing songs in unison as they circle to a slow measure or rhythmic step. Occasionally in the zanánas of the richer families the ladies dance what is known as a Rásada. Each catches her neighbours’ hands and they move round and round in a circle bowing, slow in the beginning and faster to the end. These are the palace dances, now almost disused, of which can be read in Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation of the Chaurapanchasika.--

  “Yet now, this but abides, to picture smoothly 
  How in the palace-dance foremost she paced: 
  Her glancing feet and light limbs swayed demurely 
  Moon-like, amid their cloudy robes; moon-faced, 
  With hips majestic under slender waist, 
  And hair with gold and blooms braided and laced.”

In villages among the lower classes there is also at stated seasons some rustic dancing, even with men, of a rough and boisterous kind. But generally speaking, popular dancing there is none. “No one dances unless he is drunk,” the Indian gentlemen might mutter with the too grave Roman.

Still, granting these deficiencies of environment and allowing for all imperfections and desired improvements, dancing remains the most living and developed of existing Indian arts. In the Peninsular school above all, India has a possession of very real merit, on which no appreciation or encouragement can be thrown away. It is something of which the country can well be proud, almost the only thing left, perhaps, in the general death-like slumber of all imaginative work, which still has a true emotional response and value. It sends its call to a people’s soul; it is alive and forceful.

All the more tragic is it, a very tragedy of irony, that the dance--the one really Indian art that remains--has been, by some curious perversion of reasoning, made the special object of attack by an advanced and reforming section of Indian publicists. They have chosen to do so on the score of morality--not that they allege the songs and dances to be immoral, if such these could be, but that they say the dancers are. Of the dances themselves no such allegation could, even by the wildest imagination, possibly be made. The songs are pure beside the ordinary verses of a comic opera, not to mention a music-hall in the capital of European civilization, Paris. The dancing is graceful and decorous, carefully draped and restrained. But the dancers, it is true, do not as a rule preserve that strict code of chastity which is exacted from the marrying woman. How the stringency or laxity of observance of this code by a performer can possibly affect the emotional and even national value of her art and performance has not been and cannot be explained. Art cannot be smirched by the sins of its followers; the flaws in the crystal goblet do not hurt the flavour of the wine.

In the Peninsula of India dancing and professional singing is first of all a religious institution, bound up with the worship of the Gods. To every temple of importance are attached bands of six, eight, or more girls, paid in free gifts of land or in money for the duties which they perform. They are recruited in infancy from various castes and wear the ordinary garments, slightly more ornamental, of the Indian lady of those regions. In certain castes the profession is hereditary, mother bringing up daughter in turn to these family accomplishments. In other cases, as in the great temple of Jejuri in the Deccan, children are dedicated by their parents to the service of God and left when they reach a riper age to the teaching and superintendence of the priests. Twice a day, morning and evening, they sing and dance within the temple to the greater glory of God; and at all the great public ceremonies and festivals they play their part in the solemnities. Teaching is imparted by older men, themselves singers, who take in hand the training of small groups of girls. In some cases a form of marriage is performed, for the fulfilment of traditional religious obligation, with a man of the dancer’s caste, with an idol, or even with a sacred tree. But the ceremony entails no ethical obligations, such as apply to the real married woman. The dancers are regarded, being independent and self-supporting, as freed from the code which applies to women living in family homes and maintained by the work and earnings of a father or a husband. It is their right to live their lives as they will, for their own pleasure and happiness, unrestrained by any code more stringent than that of an independent man.

Besides Tanjore, the old Portuguese possession of Goa and the neighbouring districts bordering on the ocean, where the forests and rocks of the Western Ghauts drop sharply to the rice-lands of the shore, are famous for the excellence of their singers. Here they are known under the name of Naikins or “Ladyships,” and have a position of no little respect. Though they like to trace their origin in their own sayings to those nymphs who in heaven are said to entertain the Gods, the truth is that they are largely recruited from other classes, whose children they purchase or adopt. They live in houses like those of the better-class Hindus, with broad verandahs and large court-yards, in which grows a plant or two of the sacred sweet basil. Their homes are furnished in the plain style of the Hindu householder, with mats and stools and wooden benches and an abundance of copper and brass pots and pans and water vessels. Only they wear a profusion of gold ornaments on head and wrists and fingers, a silver waist-band, and silver rings on their toes, and they make their hair gay with flowers. Their lives are simple and not luxurious; but the days are idled away in the languorous ease of the tropic sea breezes, a land of repose, a lazy land. They rise late, they bathe, they eat rice-gruel, and talk and sleep. The long afternoon is passed in more chatting and in their constant enjoyment of chewing betel leaves, till after dinner they go out to sing and dance to a late hour of the night. It is a life of quiet ease, uneventful, indolent no doubt, but hardly dissipated. And of course in all worship and religious observance they are devout and orthodox, fearing the Gods, and reverent to the officiating priesthood.

Now when some Hindu reformers object to the employment of such women in the temples of God and deny the efficacy of song and dance as adjuncts of religious emotion, it would of course be impertinence for the follower of another creed to express an opinion. The rubrics of prayer are between the worshipper alone and his God. If they preach that worship and oblation are for those only who have made asceticism their practice and who have turned their faces from the world to the pure concept of divinity, they are obviously within their rights: and the question must be decided by a congregation of fellow-worshippers. Even if they desire to bar the temple-door to women, who have taken no vow of chastity and hope for salvation without closing their ears to love, they are entitled to do as they like with their own, if they can obtain a consensus of believers. Observers of other creeds would willingly, if without impropriety they could have a voice, join in deploring the abuse, in some temples, of the custom of dedication; for girls thus dedicated, as at Jejuri, are often too numerous for the purposes of the temple-service and are thrown upon the world, without adequate artistic training, almost, one might say, with none, to make their way as best they can. When this happens, though Hindu society treats the devotees kindly and gives them easy admission to good houses, yet their dearth of artistic accomplishment, the refusal of support by the temple to which they are ascribed, and the pressing needs of sustenance must often force the unfortunate girl to a distasteful trade. But to include these among dancing girls in the proper sense is hardly fair. The motives of dedication are different and are exclusively religious, while the custom has arisen from the old Hindu tradition of appointing a girl to take the place of a son. The trained singer who succeeds to an appointment in a temple is in a very different position, and her life is as a rule happy and prosperous. The example of other countries has shown how an art may gain by the support of a Church, and how, in the absence of countervailing circumstances of popular understanding and enthusiasm, the withdrawal of ecclesiastical patronage may cause its decline and even its ruin. The Reformation in Europe, for instance, whatever its benefits to a new growing world in other matters, swept without doubt like a devastation over the rich fields of human imagination and like a tempest obliterated the aesthetic emotions in which the human soul attains its highest. In India, in the absence of a humanism such as Europe could imbibe from Athens, the dependence of art upon religion is more strait and isolated, while the very forms of Indian art are moulded in a supernatural conception of the universe. So subtly poised is it upon this pinnacle, that the mere touch of the freethinker and reformer, one fears, may send it shattered to the ground.

In the North, it has been said, the dancing girls have no connection with religious institutions, though, as it happens, their artistic conventions are more abstract and less sensuous. Mostly they are Mussulmans by belief or are Hindus who have adopted Mussulman ways and manners. They do not belong to colleges or groups but live alone and independently, earning their living by their art, without support from any temple. At the same time it is the custom in many parts to invite them to perform at the shrine of some dead saint during the annual celebrations. They sing on such occasions songs of a sacred kind, psalmodies of praise to God and His Prophet, poems well known in the Urdu language. They chant also the odes of the Sufis or Persian mystic poets, in which the adoration of the Deity is clothed in the language of love, and the praises of wine are metaphors for the ecstasies of the Spirit. Usually the dancing girl lives alone in her own house, some balconied and flat-roofed house in the crowded bazaar, where she can overlook the movement of the town and mark the doings of her world. There is little that escapes her prying eyes, and the musicians in her pay, the barber who lives in the street and the seller of betel leaves keep her posted in all the city scandals. There is constant coming and going to her doors, and in the afternoon admirers from the younger nobility and professional men drop in to pass the time and smoke and laugh a few hours away. Sometimes her house becomes a centre of intrigue where palace revolutions or doubtful conspiracies are hatched under her friendly eye by young men, who lounge on her cushions beside the trellised window. The room is heavy with the sweet, over-perfumed smoke of the black tobacco paste which she smokes in her silver-mounted hookah. When she drives out at evening, police-constables salute her. In most Native States such dancing girls, two or three or four, are an appanage of the royal retinue, and are paid salaries or retaining fees on a generous basis. Such a girl will ordinarily get one hundred to one hundred and fifty rupees per month from the State--the salary of a Police Magistrate--with gifts on special occasions. In exchange she has to sing twice or thrice a week when the chief calls for her, but with his permission she may always perform at other houses where she can earn larger fees. Some chiefs are famous for their taste, and a girl tries to secure an engagement for a year or two in such a Darbar to establish her reputation for the future. In many cases these dancers, as they grow older, marry one of their lovers and settle down to the quiet life of the respectable Mussulman lady behind the purdah. Sometimes they adopt a clever and pretty girl and train her, half as maid and half as companion, in the mysteries of their art, till she in turn becomes a singer and helps to keep her mistress and teacher, with no little piety and charity, in her old age.

Modern opponents of dancing, however, with their influence on a population which has few artistic tastes and a marked bent for economy, have already done much to degrade the profession and are gradually forcing girls, who would formerly have earned a decent competence with independence and an artist’s pride, into a shameful traffic from very want. Day by day the number of those women is growing less who alone preserve the memory of a fine Indian art. And, as they lose the independence earned by a profession, day by day more women are being thrust into the abysmal shame and destitution of degraded womanhood. An Indian proverb already sums up this peculiar item of the “reform programme” thus: “The dancing girl was formerly fed with good food in the temple; now she turns somersaults for a beggar’s rice.”

But, for the delineation of Indian life and society, the position of the dancing girl must be envisaged from a loftier altitude. It is only from such an aspect that her portrait can be said to complete and interpret the gallery of Indian womanhood.

In the long history of human development occasional licence appears as necessary to mankind as the habitual routine of morality. Convention and self-restraint have been accepted and adopted for mutual convenience; but, by an impulse as natural as it is healthy, man has from time to time escaped from his stagnation through the orgy. Even the savage, with his underfed body and atrophied sensibilities, finds a periodic outlet for the starveling powers and ambitions hidden in his breast by some spring or autumn festival at which, by one wild orgy, he overleaps the fears and trammels of magical prescription and intoxicates himself, for a brief space, into a freer manhood. When savagery ends and barbarism begins, the orgy becomes something of an institution, as it did in the Christian Church of the Middle Ages or in the Holi of India. But as civilization grows more refined, it is for the spirit rather than the body that the outburst into freedom is demanded. In a cultured community it is a sort of cerebral licence which is excited and assuaged by the orgies of the imagination. The theatre and music, painting and poetry by their stimulation purge the soul of those emotions which, unrelieved, would sour and make ill the spirit. In a state where man is bound hand and foot to a mechanical routine of wage-earning, he must seek through the excitement of his imagination that explosion of emotion followed by quiescence, by which the fermenting activities of his mind and body can alone find their needed relief. Among the agents that rouse this excitement and in turn satisfy it are to be ranked high the rhythm and music of the dance, with the spectacle of graceful limbs and pretty faces, of dresses such as are seen in dreams and jewelry rich beyond phantasy. Every man at some time in his life has woven his fairy tales of hope, and there is none so dull but has pictured a goddess to his fancy. Now the woman who toils in his house and shares his interests may be ever so tenderly loved and cared for, but she is his own help-mate, of his own sturdy flesh and blood. Hardly--except perhaps for a space in the first blossoming of new love--can he clothe her familiar being with the robes and colours of his dreaming fancies. But in the trained actress with her artful graces and her aloofness, he sees one who responds to those secret aspirations, and gives them room to expand and calms and soothes them, till at last, the spectacle ended, and his mind reposed, he returns to his home in peace for the further routine of workaday existence.

Now where life is free and unrestricted, among the powerful and the leisured, every hour has its variety and desire may be satisfied without awaiting any special occasion. But when existence is narrowed to routine and one day is like another, then indeed the soul must sometimes soar to an illusion of wild wind-driven liberty. Man has to guide his plough in the furrow; but not to look to the sky and its currents at the turning!--better death at once than such weariness. And it is the finer creative spirits, the men that think and produce, who are quickest crushed by the unbroken rule of abstinence. In India the general tone is brown, the light grey-brown of dusty plains and dry fields and villages of sun-baked mud. The ritual of to-day is that of yesterday, and will be that of to-morrow. The same prayers, the same labours, the same plain food, the same simple house and furnishings. Simplicity, abstinence, repression, the rejection of all that is superfluous, these are the notes of ordinary life. There is contentment enough as a rule. The wife is faithful and devoted, the children play and grow up and get married, the cattle pull the plough and the soil bears the corn. It produces on the whole a contented resignation, this life, with its austere simplicities and its overhanging haze of asceticism. But even then there are times when the self will out and the lulled nerves begin to stir and tingle and stab with a bitter pain. There is no social life as in France and upper-class England, where ladies of wit and reading, graceful, well-dressed, trained to charm and please, quicken the minds and respond to the sympathies of a wider circle, while at the same time imposing a fine code of manners and a tactful moderation. The wife, devoted and affectionate as she is, must usually be first the house-wife, busied with a narrow routine, limited in experience, bounded by babies and the day’s dinner. In most classes she is illiterate and she has few of the accomplishments which amuse and distract. Even in Athens, the city above all of urbanity, as the married woman was secluded and domestic like the Indian, the female comrade, the hetaira, with her witty talk and her song and accomplishments was a necessity of social life. In old India also this need was known, as can be read in the traditional poetic histories, and the dancing girl, the gunika as they called her, was the recognized teacher to young princes of manners and of chivalry. Those days are past; but even now the dancing girls, by the admission even of a missionary,[1] “are the most accomplished women among the Hindus. They read, write, sing and play as well as dance.” They dress well and modestly, they know the arts of pleasing, and their success is in the main due to the contrast by which they transcend the ordinary woman and to the illusions they can give. They do not, therefore, merely fulfil a need but also represent an ideal. Even apart from their art and its high imaginative value, as almost the only living art in India, they respond in a larger sense to a real need of society. To stifle a class of women, living their own lives in independence, graceful, accomplished, often clever, to degrade them, to make them outcastes and force them into shameful by-ways, is not merely to sin against charity; it is also a blunder against life.

The existence of such a class, regarded in the light of ultimate truths, may fall far short of the perfect state. But the remedy in any country lies not in their repression and degradation, the most disastrous of all attempts. It lies in the freedom and education of the married woman. When the married woman also is freed from the oppression of narrow codes and the dull monotony of house-work, when she too is able to be accomplished and graceful, witty and artistic, free to choose as she pleases and to be true to her nature, then no doubt the professional beauty must by the mere weight of facts become extinct. But what nation, what society will risk the experiment? and what conditions can make it possible? This at least is clear that where a rigid matrimonial system, supported by all the sanctions of religion and inspired by a tradition of asceticism, is fast entrenched and fortified, where woman is limited and narrowed to the duties of a housekeeper or a mother, there the fulfilment of the deeper cravings of human emotion and the satisfaction of artistic sensibilities will depend upon a class that has in it much which is not ignoble.

[1] The Rev. M. Phillips, “Evolution of Hinduism,” 1903.