Book of Ser Marco Polo


Show Summary


Hindu Brahmans


The Brahmans are idolaters; and they pay greater heed to signs and omens than any other people. I will mention as an example one of their customs. To every day of the week they assign an augury of this sort. Suppose that there is some purchase in hand, he who proposes to buy, when he gets up in the morning takes note of his own shadow in the sun, which he says ought to be on that day of such and such a length; and if his shadow be of the proper length for the day he completes his purchase; if not, he will on no account do so, but waits till his shadow corresponds with that prescribed. For there is a length established for the shadow for every day of the week; and the merchant will complete no business unless he finds his shadow of the length set down for that particular day. . . .

Again, if one of them is in the house, and is meditating a purchase, should he see a tarantula (such as are very common in that country) on the wall, provided it advances from a quarter that he deems lucky, he will complete his purchase at once; but if it comes from a quarter that he considers unlucky he will not do so on any inducement. Moreover, if in going out, he hears anyone sneeze, if it seems to him a good omen he will go on, but if the reverse he will sit down on the spot where he is, as long as he thinks that he ought to tarry before going on again. Or, if in traveling along the road he sees a swallow fly by, should its direction be lucky he will proceed, but if not, he will turn back again. . . .

There are certain members of the order who lead the most ascetic life in the world, going stark naked; and these worship the ox. Most of them have a small ox of brass or pewter or gold, which they wear tied over the forehead. Moreover, they take cowdung and burn it, and make a powder thereof; and make an ointment of it, and daub themselves withal, doing this with as great devotion as Christians use holy water. If they meet anyone who treats them well, they daub a little of this powder on the middle of his forehead.

They eat not from bowls or trenchers, but put their victuals on large leaves; these, however, they use dry, never green. For they say the green leaves have a soul in them, and so it would be a sin to use them. And they would rather die than do what they deem their law pronounces to be sin. If anyone asks how it comes that they are not ashamed to go stark naked as they do, they say, "We go naked because naked we came into the world, and we desire to have nothing about us that is of this world. Moreover, we have no sin of the flesh to be conscious of, and therefore we are not ashamed of our nakedness, any more than you are to show your hand or your face. You who are conscious of the sins of the flesh do well to have shame and to cover your nakedness."

They would not kill an animal on any account, not even a fly, or a flea, or a louse, or anything in fact that has life; for they say these all have souls, and it would be sin to do so. They do not eat vegetables in a green state, but only such as are dry. And they sleep on the ground stark naked, without a scrap of clothing on them or under them, so that it is a marvel they do not all die, in place of living so long as I have told you. They fast every day in the year and drink nought but water. And when a novice has to be received among them they keep him awhile in their convent and make him follow their rule of life. . . .

They are such cruel and perfidious idolaters that it is very deviltry! They say that they burn the bodies of the dead, because if they were not burnt worms would be bred which would eat the body; and when no more food remained for them these worms would die, and the soul belonging to that body would bear the sin and the punishment of their death. And that is why they burn their dead.

1 , bk. iii, ch. 20.


Related Resources

Journals of Great Journeys

Download Options

Title: Book of Ser Marco Polo

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Book of Ser Marco Polo

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: "Hindu Brahmans," Book of Ser Marco Polo in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 480–481. Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: . "Hindu Brahmans." Book of Ser Marco Polo, Vol. iii, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 480–481. Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: , 'Hindu Brahmans' in Book of Ser Marco Polo. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.480–481. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from