XXIV. A Letter from John Call, Esq., to Nevil Maskelyne, F. R. S., Astron.
containing a Sketch of the Signs of the Zodiac, found in a Pagoda, near Cape Comorin, in India, p. 353.
[Extracted from the Philosophical Transactions, London, vol. 13, the abridged edition of 1809, pp. 321-3.]
[Note: This illustration is also reproduced in Drummond's Oedipus Judaicus, pl. 9]
This sketch, fig. 2, pl. 7, Mr. Call drew with a pencil, as he lay on his back resting himself during the heat of the day, in a journey from Madurah to Twinwelly, near Cape Comorin. After such a discovery, he searched in his travels many other pagodas, or choultrys, for similar carvings, but never found above one [p.322] more equally complete, which was on the ceiling of a temple, in the middle of a tank before the pagoda of Teppecolum, near Mindurah, of which tank and temple Mr. Ward, painter, in Broad-street, near Carnaby-market, has a drawing; but Mr. Call often met with the several parts in detached pieces.
From the correspondence of the signs of the zodiac which we at present use, and which we had, he believes, from the Arabians or Egyptians, he is apt to think that they originally came from India, and were in use among the Bramins, when Zoroaster and Pythagoras travelled thither, and consequently adopted and used by those travellers: and as these philosophers are still spoken of in India, under the names of Zerdhurst and Pyttagore, he hazards another idea, that the worship of the cow, which still prevails in India, was transplanted from thence to Egypt. But this is only conjecture; and it may with almost equal probability be said, that Zoroaster or Pythagoras carried that worship to India. However, he thinks there is an argument still in favour of India for its antiquity, in point of civilization and cultivation of the arts and sciences; for it is hardly doubted that all these improvements came from the east to the west; and, if we may be allowed to draw any conclusions from the immense buildings now existing, and from the little of the inscriptions, which can be interpreted on several of the choultrys and pagodas, he thinks it may safely be pronounced, that no part of the world has more marks of antiquity for arts, sciences, and civilization, than the peninsula of India, from the Ganges to Cape Comorin; nor is there in the world a finer climate, or face of the country, nor a spot better inhabited, or filled with towns, temples, and villages, than this space is throughout, if China and parts of Europe are excepted.
Mr. Call thinks the carvings on some of the pagodas and choultrys, as well as the grandeur of the work, exceeds any thing executed now, not only for the delicacy of the chissel, but the expence of construction, considering, in many instances, to what distances the component parts were carried, and to what heights raised. Mr. Call also commits to Mr. M.'s inspection the * manuscripts of Mr. Robins, which he gave at his death; Mr. C. believes most of them have been printed, but if there are any which have not, or that can amuse or instruct others, you are welcome to use them as you please: I only wish they may contain any thing useful. While he lived, says Mr. C., I pursued those studies; but soon after his death new scenes arose, and engaged me more in practical service, than allowed me time for theory, or experiments.
The sketch, fig. 2, pl. 7, was from the ceiling of a choultry at Verdapettah, [p.323] in the Madurah country, taken July 8, 1764. Here A is symbol of the universal deity, BB two hooks of iron, to suspend a kind of throne, on which the deity or swamy often sat, when exhibited to the adorers.
* These I communicated to the R. s., together with this letter; but being examined by myself, Mr. Raper, Mr. Cavendish, and Mr. Horsley, at the desire of the society, they were not found to contain any thing material, more than has been already printed; excepting a treatise on military discipline: which, if it should be thought of use, may be inserted in the next edition of his works. N. M.—Orig.