Fakir

Fakir (also spelled FAQUIR). This word, derived from the Arabic fakr (poverty), is used by the Arabs to designate those mendicant orders called by the Persians and Turks dervishes. By Europeans it is commonly used to denote certain Hindoo sects noted for asceticism and austerities. For a brief account of the Mohammedan Fakirs, see the article DERVISH SEE DERVISH. We mention here, in addition, only a sect of them styled Calenders, from the name of their founder, Santone Kalenderi, described by Knolles (History of the Turks) as Epicureans, whose motto is, "This day is ours, tomorrow is his who may live to enjoy it," and in whose view the tavern is as holy as the mosque, and God as well pleased with their debaucheries, i.e., "liberal use of his creatures" as with the austerities of others (see D'Herbelot, s.v. Calender).

1. History. — We find no religious devotees of this kind among the Mohammedans earlier than the 13th century after Christ, though the origin of Hindoo fakirism is bysome writers referred back to Sakyamuni. SEE

BUDDHISM. But a satisfactory explanation of the origin of fakirism may be found in that perverted human tendency which in all ages has sought to earn the favor of God and the praise of men through abstraction of the soul and chastenings of the flesh, and has been too prone to accord to such acts undue homage and sanctity. Nowhere has this tendency been more marked than among the imaginative and superstitious peoples of the East. The account which Strabo, on the authority of Megasthenes, Aristobulus, and others, has given us of the Gymnosophists, especially that class called by him Garmanes, and by others Sarmani or Samansei, shows that ascetics, very similar in modes of life, doctrines, and practices to the Fakirs of modern India, were found there at the time of Alexander's conquests. This conclusion is strengthened by the descriptions of Quintus Curtius,, Arrian, Plutarch, Pliny, Clemens Alexandrinus, and other ancient authors, when treating of the philosophers of India. It seems not a merely speculative view which assumes that the naked philosophers, so celebrated in ancient times, were, in an ethical sense at least, the progenitors of the modern Fakirs (see Heeren, Asiatic Nations, 2:242, note).

Among the mendicant devotees who abounded in India at the date of the Mohammedan conquests we find the Fakirs mentioned as prominent in the veneration of the people, and exercising an almost unlimited influence over them; and frequent mention is made of these fanatics and their strange practices by the travelers who have described India since the period named. D'Herbelot estimated that there was in India 800,000 Mohammedan and 1,200,000 idolatrous Fakirs, while the number of both sorts is now estimated at over 1,000,000. Fakirism, with other forms of superstitious fanaticism, seems to be rapidly losing ground under the influences and agencies which, since the prevalence of British rule, have been diffusing the light of the purer doctrines of the Gospel through India.

2. Sects or Fraternities. — They are divided into sects or orders, each differing from the others more or less in dress, habits, etc. Owing perhaps to the lack of organization and the number of their fraternities, the accounts of travelers and other authorities in this respect seem conflicting and fragmentary. Without attempting any precise classification, we may group them usnder two heads: 1. Those living in communities either in convents, as Western monks, or wandering about in troops, sometime's amounting to thousands. 2. Those living singly, as hermits or as vagabond mendicants, passing from place to place, practicing the arts and tricks of their order, and receiving from the credulous superstition of the people the entertainment and alms provided at public expense in the villages for persons of their class.

"The Fakirs of India," says Zimmermann (Vonder Einsamkeit, 2:107), "have a sect which is called the Illuminated, or those who are united with God. The Illuminated have overcome the world, live in some secluded garden, like hermits, so deeply sunk in contemplation that they look for whole hours at one spot, insensible to all outward objects. But then, as they state, with indescribable delight they perceive God as a pure white light. For some days before they live on nothing but bread and water, sink into deep silence, look upward for some time with fixed gaze, turn their eyes in deep concentration of the soul to the point of the nose, and now the white light appears" (Ennemoser, 1:205-6).

The Fakirs, or Yogees, of the Senessee tribe travel over Hindoostans, living on the charity of the other Hindoos, generally entirely naked, and "most of them robust, handsome men. They admit proselytes from the other tribes, especially youths of bright parts, and take great pains to instruct them in their mysteries." Collected in large bodies, and armed, they make pilgrimages to sacred places, laying the country under contribution. Led on by an old woman named Bostimia, who pretended to possess the gift of enchantment, one of their hosts, 20,000 strong, defeated an army of Aurungzebe, and for a time, through the influence of superstitious fears, paralyzing his powers of resistance, spread terror and dismay through his court and capital. Niebuhr, the traveler, speaks of the Bargais and the Gusseins, two orders of Fakirs, as travelling armed, and in troops of thousands. The Iconographic Encyclopedia (4:232) names three classes of Hindoo ascetics, viz. Sanashis or Saniassi, Vishnavins, and Penitents.

3. Peculiar Doctrines and Austerities. — The profession of poverty constitutes a fundamental principle of fakirism, as the name itself indicates. One author says "the quality which God most loves in his creatures is poverty;" and tradition reports Mohammed as saying to his servant Belal, "See to it that you appear before God poor and not rich, for the poor have the chief places in his mansion." Another fundamental principle is the virtue of self-torture, penances, and seclusion of spirit as means for the attainment of sanctity. The Fakir, says Hassan al Basri, is like a dog in ten things: he is always hungry; has no fixed abode; watches during the night; leaves no heritage when he dies; does not abandon his master, though ill treated; chooses the lowest place; yields his place to whomsoever wishes it; returns to him who has beaten him when a crust of bread is offered; keeps quiet while others eat, and follows his msaster without thinking of returning to the place he has left. The variety and character of their penances and mortifications of the flesh display no little ingenuity of conception, sand demand great powers of endurance in performance. Some go naked, or wear only filthy rags, suffering the heat of the sun, the storms of rain, and the cold of the night in the open air, sleeping on cow-dung or other ordure, "delighting in nastiness and a holy obscenity with a great show of sanctity," with hair uncut, and body and face besmeared with ashes, looking more like devils than men. One has kept his arms in one position until they shrivelled up; another has kept his hands clasped together until the nails grew through the flesh. Some have buried themselves up to their chins in pits, and thus remained for days; others have imprisoned themselves for life in iron cages; one has had his cheeks and tongue pierced with a sharp iron, kept in its place by another passing under the chin; another would drag along a heavy chain, one link of which passed through the tenderest part of the body, the penis; one bears on his neck a heavy yoke, with heavy weights in his hands; another lies down on a bed of iron spikes; one suspends himself head downwards over a fire until his scalp is burned to the bone; another traverses long distances by rolling on the ground, receiving his food and drink from the hands of the people; one makes the singular vow to perform a long journey by rolling himself along as a sort of cart-wheel: having for this purpose fastened his wrists and ankles together, and caused a tire, made of chopped straw, mud, and cows' dung, to be laid along the ridge of his back-bone, with a bamboo-stick passed through the angle made by his knees and elbows for an axle, he rolls himself to the first village on his route, where he is received with demonstrations of joyous respect, and conducted to the tank or well for ablution. Ascertaining emhat house of the village promises the best cheer, thither he repairs, and there remains until the supplies fail. He then repeats the process of preparation, and journeys to another place. Some fakirs have combined traffic with their religious pilgrimages, and by the exchange of valuable, yet easily transported articles, carried in their belts and clothing, have made great gains in the pelf of the world which they so much affect to despise. The lives of some, perhaps, comport with the spirit of sanctity and self-denial professed, but most of them are in secret addicted to gross vices, and whenever favorable opportunity offers, the pride and cruelty of their hearts display themselves.

4. Literature. — Strabo, § 712-719; Arrianus, Indica, cap. 12; Quintus Curtius, lib. 8, cap. 9; Plutarch, Vita Alexandri; Pliny, Hist. Nat. lib. 7, cap. 2; Clemens Alexandrinus, Stromata, lib. 1:305 d.; Bohlen, Das Alte Indien; Coleman, Mythology of the Hindus; Duff, India and Indian Missions; Ward, Hist. Literat. Mythology, etc. of the Hindus; Iconographic Encyclopedia, 4:12-13 (N.York, 1851); D'Herhelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, s.v. Fakir and Calender; Ennemoser, History of Magic, 1:205- 10 (Bohn's ed. 1854); India, Pictorial, Descriptive, and Historical, page 73, 115-119, 430 (Bohn's Illustr. Library); Ruffner, The Fathers of the Desert, 1:23-51. For pictorial illustrations, see Harper's Weekly for 1857, page 540, and Iconographic Encyclopcedia, Plates to Mythology and Religious Rites, ph. 2, fig. 20, and ph. 3, fig. 10, 11, and 12. (J.W.M.)

 
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