Read CHAPTER XXII - RANEE KHET MISSION of Life and Work in Benares and Kumaon‚ 1839-1877 , free online book, by James Kennedy, on

In accordance with instructions from the Directors of the London Missionary Society, Mrs. Kennedy and myself went at the beginning of May, 1869, to Ranee Khet, a new station twenty miles north-west of Almora, to enter on mission work there. Some time previously it had been resolved to open a new mission in the Province, and I had been appointed to commence it. After much consideration Ranee Khet was deemed the most eligible place for the extension of our work. The name means “The Field of the Queen,” and was probably given to it in honour of Kalee, as it has on its higher part a small temple sacred to her, round which the hill people hold a yearly mela. The place may be described as a rough table-land, with an elevation of from 6,200 to 7,000 feet above the level of the sea. With the exception of a little land cleared on one side, the country for miles around was covered with forests of pine, oak, and rhododendron, over which the people of the valleys pastured their cattle at some seasons of the year. The attention of the Government was drawn to the place as suitable for a military Sanitarium, and engineers were sent to open up roads and investigate its capabilities. The report made by them was so favourable that a considerable outlay was sanctioned for turning it into a retreat for English soldiers from the heat of the plains.

The prospect of Ranee Khet as a European station, where soon a large population was sure to gather, was one reason for regarding it as a good sphere for a new mission. The chief reason, however, for the choice was the fact that within twelve miles around, on the sides of the hills and in the valleys beneath, there was a large accessible population, furnishing a much wider field than one missionary could well occupy.

Previous to taking up our abode at Ranee Khet I paid several visits to it, with a view to making myself acquainted with the neighbourhood and to holding intercourse with the people, many of whom I met in their villages. They looked on me with fear, as if I had come to lay a new tax on them, and seemed utterly unable to comprehend me when I told them I was no Government official, but a servant of God, who came to them with good tidings from Him. The only school of which I heard was twelve miles distant, and I came to the conclusion that the establishment of primary schools would be very beneficial to the people, and highly favourable to my object. Though so illiterate that in well-sized villages I did not hear of a person who could read, a number expressed approval of my object. Some were forward with the promise to erect school-sheds, and to send their children, but the performance did not come up to the promise.

When we went to Ranee Khet there was not a single house at the place. The only Europeans were two Engineers and a sergeant, and they were living in their cook-houses, preparatory to building houses for themselves. I had arranged with a friend to have a wooden house erected, but when we went the work had only been commenced, and the first six weeks we lived in a tent. It was midsummer, and the tent was in the daytime intolerably hot. The trees around gave little shelter, they were chiefly pine; but we soon succeeded in putting up booths, and in them, except when storms came on, we were very comfortable during the heat of the day.

We were thankful when we exchanged our tent and booths for our rough wooden house. In it we remained two years and a half in tolerable comfort. There were two serious drawbacks. In the heavy rains the house leaked in such a degree that there was scarcely a dry spot in it; and, what was worse, the rats got into the open roof, and by their active movements, especially at night, were a great annoyance. Latterly the leakage was stopped, but the rats were too strong for us, and could not be dislodged. Notwithstanding these inconveniences, when we remembered the heat of the plains, during six months of the year, which we had endured, and our brethren were continuing to endure, and contrasted the climate there with the climate we were enjoying, we were never tempted to murmur. We felt deeply thankful for the Providence which had given us an abode in a country where summer heat was only a little greater than in our own, where there were no hot winds, where with windows open we could be always comfortable in the hottest weather, and where all around us was magnificent scenery.

I have mentioned rats. In their division of common rat and musk-rat, they are troublesome enough in the plains, but they are a plague in the hills. They abound in the fields, and are very hurtful to the crops. Not a house is erected into which they do not manage to make their way; but where a house is well built, and due care is taken, they find little shelter. They go into a rough wooden house as if they were entitled to full possession. These unwelcome intruders may be kept in check, but there is no hope of entire deliverance from them.

During our eight years in Ranee Khet we had to discharge the varied duties devolving on missionary pioneers. To one department, to which I knew much attention must be given, I looked forward with dismay ­the erection of buildings. Remembering our experience in the plains we would gladly have shrunk from this work, but we knew it must be faced. Through the great kindness and efficient help of friends we succeeded in getting suitable buildings erected. The first building we put up was a place of worship. After considerable delay we succeeded in getting a suitable site for a mission-house on a knoll within a short distance of the native bazar. The servants’ houses and the cook-house were first up, and leaving our hut we took up our abode in the cook-house, that we might be at hand to superintend the erection of the mission-house. Before its completion we got, close at hand, a site for a school-house, which, with its handsome hall and four side-rooms, furnishes more accommodation than has yet been required. To this building natives contributed liberally. As the stone and wood required had to be carried on men’s heads and shoulders, every additional yard increased the expense, and we were obliged to use the wood and stone nearest, though at some distance better might have been procured. Our masons and carpenters were not of a superior order, and required to be constantly watched and directed. The buildings were not all we could wish, but they were suitable for the climate and for our purpose. Our house was commodious, was in the best position for mission work, had a magnificent view of the snowy range, and we would not have exchanged it for the finest house we had seen in the plains.

From the commencement of our residence in Ranee Khet, village schools received much of my attention. For a time I had nine under my charge, at distances of from six to fifteen miles. For the accommodation of three schools stone houses were erected, and for other schools sheds of grass and wood were put up. The attendance at these schools varied greatly at different seasons of the year: many came too short a time to get any benefit, the attendance of others was too irregular to admit of much progress; but a considerable number remained till they received a good primary education. On my visits I taught the pupils, and conversed with their parents and friends who gathered round. When the weather permitted I had my tent pitched for days near the school, and visited the adjoining villages. On these occasions I tried to sit down where or how I could, with the people around me, and entered into familiar conversation with them. The language was a great difficulty, as the dialect of Kumaon differs widely from the Hindee of the plains; but by dint of repetition, and putting what I had to say in different forms in the simplest fashion, I was often happy to find myself getting into the understanding of my hearers. Every second Saturday the teachers, often accompanied by senior pupils, came to my house to report what they had done, and to receive instruction.

I had reason to be thankful for having entered into this department of work. A large amount of Christian instruction was imparted; many of the boys showed remarkable aptitude in committing to memory portions of Scripture, such as the ten commandments and the parables of our Lord. Much general knowledge was acquired, a number of the pupils became better fitted for their secular calling, and the goodwill of the people was secured. Once, when thirty miles away from Ranee Khet, I met a lad whom I recognized as an old pupil. I asked him if he remembered what he had been taught. He said he did. He went to a house close at hand, brought a copy of St. Luke’s Gospel, read at my request the fifteenth chapter, and explained its meaning with an accuracy which surprised me. At the same place I met a man of a different order. He told me he was going to a mela, to which I was also proceeding. I asked him what he was to do there. He said he was to bathe, to wash away his sins. I asked him what was the sin which oppressed him. He said, “I am a husbandman. In ploughing my fields I destroy much life, which is a great sin. This is the worst thing with which I am chargeable.” The lad taught in the school knew something of what sin was, as the poor man did not. I can say nothing about the spiritual results of these school efforts. I can only hope that by God’s blessing good has been done. The Government has now entered largely on primary education in the Province, and with its resources and prestige will, I trust, secure a large school attendance.

All through my residence at Ranee Khet I endeavoured to embrace the opportunities given to me of promoting the spiritual good of our own countrymen. A service was at once commenced with the few residents and visitors at the station. Towards the end of 1869 two companies of English soldiers were sent, and as soon as tolerable accommodation was provided a regiment was stationed at Ranee Khet. As for nearly three years I was the only resident Christian minister, I held two services every Lord’s Day ­one for Presbyterians, including all non-Episcopalian adherents, and the other for the Episcopalians, the Prayer-book being used at this latter service. I also visited the sick in hospital, and when at home conducted a weekday meeting. We first met in the open air, or verandah of our hut; afterwards in the hut used as a temporary canteen; for some time in the recreation-room; and during our later years in our place of worship, which we called Union Church. An effort was made to get up a girls’ school, but it was unsuccessful, as the attendance of the few native girls in the Bazar could not be secured. So far as native women were concerned, all Mrs. Kennedy could do was to instruct the few living in the Mission compound. She found, however, an interesting sphere among the wives and children of the soldiers. The Sabbath school, commenced and carried on by her, assisted by others, was attended by all the children, Roman Catholic as well as Protestant; but no sooner was a Roman Catholic chaplain appointed than the order went forth for the withdrawal of the children of his Church, which was obeyed with manifest reluctance. We had much pleasure in these services with our own people, and had every reason to believe lasting good was done. Some of the boys of the Ranee Khet school expressed a desire to be taught English, and these came every second day to our house to be taught by Mrs. Kennedy.

While thankfully availing myself of the opportunities presented of preaching the Gospel to our own countrymen, such opportunities as I never had at any previous period of my Indian career, my chief attention was given to the work for which I had been sent to Ranee Khet. I have already mentioned missionary work done on visits to the schools. At Ranee Khet opportunities were found for conversation with shopkeepers and their customers. Thousands of work-people were employed on the buildings which were being erected, and these, when the work of the day was over, flocked to the Bazar to buy food. After the toil of the day, when eagerly anticipating their only cooked meal in the twenty-four hours, they were not inclined to listen to a stranger telling them of his strange religion. Occasionally I did succeed in getting for a time the attention of some not so eager as others to get their evening meal. Most heard quietly, but sometimes individuals replied with bitter words. Many of the work-people had come from a great distance. The most prominent of these was a band of Cashmeeree Mussulmans, who spoke against Christianity with a fierceness which showed what they would do if they had the power. From one of them I got a retort, which it was difficult to repel. I tried to put the party into good humour by asking them about their country, and I smilingly said, “Is there no food in your country, that you have come all this way for it?” To which I got the reply: “You, sir, have come much farther than we have done. Had you no food to eat in your country?” I must acknowledge I felt myself shut up under this rebuff.

During my residence at Ranee Khet I had much intercourse with two classes widely separated from each other ­educated young men, and Doms.

I have mentioned that from the Almora Mission School a number of young men had gone into all parts of the Province. Several got situations in the public offices of Ranee Khet, and to them in the course of time persons of the same class were added from Bengal. I visited these at their quarters, and did all in my power to maintain friendly intercourse with them. A room in the school-house, supplied, partly at their own expense and partly by the liberality of friends, with newspapers, periodicals, and books, was turned into a reading-room, which was always open in the evening. One evening in the week they met me in class, when we had as our text-book the Advanced Reader of the Christian Vernacular Education Society, which furnished full opportunity for conversation on the most useful and important subjects. The attendance was not so steady as could be desired. All were friendly in their bearing, and some seemed much interested in our study and talk. A few professed Brahmist views, but none were inclined to join the Brahmist community and break with their own people. There was no indication of the spiritual concern which compels the soul to earnest investigation, with a view to following truth wherever it may lead.

The other class with whom I had much to do at Ranee Khet were the Doms, to whom reference has already been made as in all probability the descendants of the aborigines of the country previous to the Hindu invasion. They are a most useful part of the community. As the artisans of the country, the people of every caste have much to do with them. They are largely engaged in agriculture. They do things by which the caste people would be defiled, such as carrying away the carcases of animals. In a high-caste village it is not uncommon to see, a little aside from it ­if the ground permits, below it ­a number of houses occupied by Doms. The pigs and fowls around the meaner dwellings, and the poorer looks of the inhabitants, tell what they are. As artisan work is now in great demand the circumstances of the Doms are much improved, and there is every prospect of their rising into a higher position. They bear, and for many a year they may be expected to bear, indubitable marks of having been for ages a servile, despised, downtrodden class, having no respect from others, and entertaining little respect for themselves. Their improved circumstances will do something towards raising them in the social scale, but we cannot look for high moral excellence and real manhood till they come under the power of the Gospel.

On account of the abundance of work which the formation of an English station was sure to afford, a colony of these people erected a village for themselves on the side of the Ranee Khet hill below the Bazar. I had when in Almora conversed frequently with Doms. At Ranee Khet I saw much of them, and had more encouragement among them than among any other class. To some who expressed regret they could neither read nor write, I said it was not too late; that I would take care that they be taught if they were willing to learn. To test them I opened a night-school, and a number availed themselves of it. It was a gratifying sight to see them, at ages varying from fifteen to thirty-five, conning their spelling-books at the door of the school-house as evening was coming on, or trying to form letters on their slates. A few became soon discouraged, but a number held on, night after night for two or three hours, with the greatest eagerness, till they could read, write, and count very fairly. One result of the school was that they began to attend, with great regularity, a service held every Sabbath afternoon in the hall of the school-house. During the last year of our residence in Ranee Khet, the attendance at this service was larger than at any previous period, and it was mainly composed of Doms. Nothing could exceed the quietness and apparent interest with which they heard the simple addresses given. I cannot say I saw any evidence of spiritual awakening, but the torpor of their previous life was shaken in a way which inspired the hope of their being brought into the fold of Christ.

I have mentioned the fierceness of the Cashmeeree Mussulmans. This charge cannot be brought against them all. One of their number, a young lad, came to the school, and was in every respect one of the best pupils in it. With another, one so trusted by the rest that he was the go-between in the arrangements for work with the English engineer, I had much intercourse. Though the head of the party, and himself doing no manual work, he could neither read nor write, and was entirely dependent on accounts being kept by another. To my surprise he came to the night-school, and applied himself so diligently that he acquired a fair measure of elementary education, though his knowledge of the Hindee language was very imperfect. He regularly attended the Sabbath evening service, and seemed to listen most eagerly. One day he came to our house. I at once saw that he was greatly excited. He shut the door behind him, as if afraid of being seen, came close to me, got down on his knees, and said: “Sir, what am I to do? Last night Huzrut Isa” (the name given by Muhammadans to our Lord, which may be translated “His Honour,” or “His Excellence Jesus”) “appeared to me in a dream, and said, ‘Follow me; follow me.’ But how can I follow Him? My people will kill me, they will kill me!” I have seldom been more touched than when I looked on the anguish in the face of that poor man, and the tears coursing down his cheeks, as he uttered these words. I need not tell the Christian reader what I endeavoured to say. Shortly afterwards the Cashmeerees left Ranee Khet, and this man with them. I could not find out where they went, and I have lost all trace of my friend.

A considerable part, sometimes the greater part, of the cold weather was given to itineracy. Some winters we went down to the foot of the hills to prosecute mission work among the large population found there at that season. We moved from place to place, erecting our tent in central spots, from which within a radius of two or three miles we could visit populous villages, some built of rough stones, but most composed of grass sheds. I was generally accompanied by a catechist. We had many opportunities of speaking to the people on the highest subjects. Not infrequently we met persons whom we had met in the hills, and then we were sure of a special welcome. Once I came on a party of Doms, tailors, whom I had seen a short time previously, and I said to them: “As you have no cattle, and do not cultivate the ground, what has brought you down?” To which I got the reply: “We have come in search of the sun.” This gave me an opportunity of speaking of that Sun in whose warmth and light their spirits might dwell at all times, in all places. I endeavoured to set up schools in the Bhabhur, but had not any encouraging measure of success.

There was much which was pleasant and exhilarating in this movement from place to place, and in camping under the trees: but it was at times very fatiguing, and in bad weather very unpleasant. More than once we were overtaken by severe storms, but happily the worst of these storms came on us in favoured places, where we could find shelter on escaping from our tent.

Hill ponies feel themselves strange when in what a friend used to call the “roomy plains.” The pony I had for years was quiet enough in the hills, but I had to watch it narrowly in the plains, as it seemed to have always the sense of danger, and was ready to start in a fashion which more than once almost dismounted me.

Some winters were spent in itinerating in hill districts from which the people did not go to the Bhabhur. In these winters I had the opportunity of going to a mela held at Bageswur, about thirty-five miles from Ranee Khet, at the confluence of the Surjoo and the Kalee. This mela is the greatest held in the Province. To many it is the grand event of the year. The people from all parts flock to it for religious, commercial, and social purposes. In the motley crowd may be seen hill-men from all the districts of the Himalaya, natives from the plains, Tibetans from the other side of the snowy range, and Englishmen.

This mela is held in a low valley not far from one of the passes into Tibet. It is attended by many Tibetans, who succeed in bringing their ponies through the tremendous defiles which separate their country from Kumaon. These ponies bring high prices. They also bring sheep laden with salt and borax. These Mongolians are great stalwart men, with broad faces, clad in homespun woollen cloth of many folds, which is seldom taken off till it is worn off. They are accompanied by a few women and children. They take their religion with them in their praying-wheels, which they keep going. They are an intensely religious people, as Mr. Gilmour tells us, but it is in the most mechanical fashion which can be conceived. If they were mere machines, wound up like their praying-wheels, they could not to all appearance be more devoid of thought, feeling, and conscience in the exercise of their religion. I marked their countenances, and could only wonder at their stolid look. Much that is absurd is found in man’s religion, but the Tibetan form of it seemed to me the very ne plus ultra of irrationality. Some of these Mongolians are inveterate beggars, but it would not be fair to judge the people generally by these stragglers into India. There was more life in their dances than in their religion, though not much grace. It seemed to me that if elephants could dance, they would do it somewhat in that style.

In the town of Bageswur there are substantial houses belonging to the merchants of the Province, and these are occupied by themselves or their agents during the greater part of the cold weather. During the rest of the year it is deserted, as the valley is very hot and feverish. During the colder weeks of the year it is a very stirring place, but it is on the occasion of the melas, two of which are held within three months, that there is a large gathering. At the principal mela many thousands must be present. As in all Hindu gatherings, religion, business, and pleasure are eagerly prosecuted. A town of booths rises suddenly in the valley and on the sides of the hills. Whenever I have gone, I have for miles before reaching the place seen many carrying or trailing branches of trees, with which they were to erect their temporary abode. These answer well in good weather, but when rain or snow falls they give no shelter. The morning is given to bathing. One morning is peculiarly propitious, and then from the earliest dawn the people are in the stream, many of them, I suppose, getting well-nigh the only ablution they have in the course of the year. During the day selling and buying go on vigorously. As evening approaches the merry-go-rounds are patronized, and crowds gather round singing and dancing parties. The dancers are young men linked hand in hand, who move about in circles, shuffle their feet, and sing in a very monotonous fashion. Many set to the preparation of the evening meal, and the valley and the hill-sides are aglow with fires and lights. Amusement, however, has not come to an end. Singing is kept up till the small hours of the morning, to the no small disturbance of those who cannot sleep except when there is a measure of quiet. Between the singing of the people and the barking ­rather the howling ­of the Tibetan dogs, such barking as I have never heard in our own country, wearied though I have been by the work of the day I have for hours found sleep to be impossible.

Englishmen attending the mela find a temporary abode in tents, and in a staging bungalow erected for the accommodation of European travellers. They dine together in the hall of this house, and occupy their tents at night. Officials deputed by the Commissioner of the Province are present, for the double purpose of keeping order and of paying rewards to those who have killed wild beasts. The skins of the tigers, bears, and leopards, for the destruction of which rewards have been paid, are sold by auction under the direction of the officials. The heaps of skins exposed for sale give one a striking impression of the number of wild beasts in the country. There are many keen hunters, both native and European, and there is no likelihood of their occupation coming to an end for want of game. Tea-planters attend this mela to buy mats, which are made by the people in large quantities, and are required in the preparation of tea for the market. Military officers on leave and travellers from the plains are present from the double motive of seeing this strange gathering and of purchasing ponies.

For many years Mr. Budden, accompanied by native Christians, has been in the habit of going to this mela, and I have been happy to help him and his brethren when opportunity has been given to me. A colporteur has been present with his wares, and succeeds in selling at a small price portions of the Scriptures and tracts. An amusing instance of indecision occurred at the bookstall the last time I was present. A man had purchased a Gospel. He came back saying he was told by his people that he would certainly become a Christian if he took that book to his village, and he laid down the book on the stall and asked for his money. The colporteur refused to cancel the sale, and the man was sorely perplexed, reluctant to lose both his money and that for which the money was paid. At last he walked away with the book, the colporteur assuring him it would do him only good.

We took our stand at different parts of the mela, and spoke to all willing to hear. Many speedily passed on, but a number remained for some time, as if desirous to know what this new religion was. Now and then we encountered pundits, and if they were at all reasonable we were pleased with their presence and opposition, as a colloquy with them greatly quickened the interest of the people. On one occasion, after skirmishing with some pundits, it was arranged they were to meet us at a fixed hour for discussion. Our Christian party were present at the appointed place and hour, but our pundit friends did not put in an appearance. Our going, however, was not in vain, as we succeeded in getting hearers who listened patiently to what we had to say about the Saviour of mankind. One of our number was a converted pundit of Almora, who spoke to the people in a way I thought eminently fitted to make a favourable impression.