In the little white church, all open windows, mass was performed by a priest with a strong Breton accent. During the sermon, to an accompaniment of parrots' screaming and kites' whistling, there was a constant rustle of fans, which were left on each seat till the following Sunday. The church was white and very plain; French was spoken, and little native boys showed us to our places on benches. Old women in sarees were on their knees, waving their arms to make large signs of the cross. A worthy Sister presided at the harmonium, and the little schoolgirls sang in their sweet young voices[Pg 144] airs of the most insipid type; but after the incessant hubbub of bagpipes and tom-toms their music seemed to me quite delicious, raising visions in my mind of masterpieces of harmony and grace.
The four sons of the king presently come to a town. They ring at the door of a house inhabited by a woman who, as the little English translation tells us, carries on a foul trade, and Dilbar the dancing-girl appears.More temples, each more stupendous than the[Pg 41] last, and more halls hewn in the rifts of the hills, and over them monks' cells perched on little columns, which at such a height look no thicker than threads.The artist sat at work in a corner of the window, copying minutely, for the thousandth time perhaps, a Taj or a Moti Musjid. Quite unmoved while his[Pg 226] shopman displayed his wares, he worked on with brushes as fine as needles; but when, on leaving, I asked him where I could procure some colours I needed, "Then the sahib paints?" said he; and he rose at once, insisted on my taking a seat, pressed me to accept a little sandal-wood frame, as a fellow-artist, and then would positively paint my portrait.
The artist sat at work in a corner of the window, copying minutely, for the thousandth time perhaps, a Taj or a Moti Musjid. Quite unmoved while his[Pg 226] shopman displayed his wares, he worked on with brushes as fine as needles; but when, on leaving, I asked him where I could procure some colours I needed, "Then the sahib paints?" said he; and he rose at once, insisted on my taking a seat, pressed me to accept a little sandal-wood frame, as a fellow-artist, and then would positively paint my portrait.[Pg 19]At Srinagar you live under the impression that the scene before you is a panorama, painted to cheat the eye. In the foreground is the river; beyond it spreads the plain, shut in by the giant mountains, just so far away as to harmonize as a whole, while over their summits, in the perpetually pure air, hues fleet like kisses of colour, the faintest shades reflected on the snow in tints going from lilac through every shade of blue and pale rose down to dead white.
After her another woman repeated the ceremony, and then they went away, still singing. This went on for part of the evening. When it was all over they went to eat rice at the bridegroom's house, and meanwhile the same ceremony had been performed with the bride, whom her neighbours had taken it by turns to anoint and perfume, in a house closed against prying eyes.At last, when it was very late, the reciter lifted the heavy idol on to his head. A few worshippers followed him, carrying the flowers, the little jars and the baskets offered to the goddess, and the procession marched off towards the Ganges; while the nautch-girls went on with their performance, giving loud, sharp shrieks out of all time with the shrill but somnolent music.
Out of doors, meanwhile, one funeral procession almost trod on the heels of the last; at the latest gleam of day, and out towards the west, above the Field of Burning, a broad red cloud filled all one quarter of the sky.On our way back to the hotel, in a park through which we had to pass, we suddenly heard overhead a shrill outcry proceeding from a banyan tree to which a number of vampires had hung themselves up. Clinging together side by side, like black rags, and hardly visible in the thick foliage, the creatures formed a sort of living bunch, creeping, swaying, and all uttering the same harsh, monotonous, incessant cry.In the train again, en route for Ahmedabad. As we crossed the fertile plain of Gujerat the first monkeys were to be seen, in families, in tribes, perched on tall pine trees, chasing each other, or swinging on the wires that rail in the road, and solemnly watching the train go by. Peacocks marched about with measured step, and spread their tails in the tall banyan trees tangled with flowering creepers. Shyer than these, the grey secretary birds, with a red roll above their beak, seemed waiting to fly as we approached. On the margin of the lakes and streams thousands of white cranes stood fishing, perched on one leg; and in every patch of tobacco, or dahl, or cotton, was a hut perched on four piles, its boarded walls and leaf-thatch giving shelter to a naked native, watching to scare buffaloes, birds, monkeys, and thieves from his crop.
In another hut was a woman, brought hither yesterday with her husband, who had died that morning. She had an exquisite, long, pale face and blue-black hair. On her arms were many[Pg 35] bangles, and gold earrings glittered in her ears. For a moment she opened her large gazelle-like eyes, and then with a very sad little sigh turned to the wall, making her trinkets rattle. She was still dressed in her blue choli. A striped coverlet had been thrown over her; by her bed she had a whole set of burnished copper pans and canisters. Charmingly pretty, and not yet exhausted by the disease, which only declared itself yesterday, she was sleeping quietly, more like a being in a storybook than a plague-stricken creature, who must infallibly die on the morrow under the incapable treatment of the Hindoo "bone-setter."And once more in a barge on the Ganges. The atmosphere seemed faintly iridescent, like mother-of-pearl, the silence serenely lulled by the distant sound of a flute. The palaces and temples, reflected in the still water, looked in the distance like forts crowned with turrets of gold, and their little windows like loopholes. The broad stairs of the quays, where the priests' umbrellas glitter, assumed a spacious, unfamiliar dignity, the red colour shading paler towards the bottom, where it was washed off by the lapping Ganges, looking as though a fairy hanging of gauze were spread under the wavelets in honour of the Apsaras and the divinities of the river.From a quite small garden close to the palace a bronze gate with three medallions of lilies in high relief, of marvellous workmanship, opens on the Pearl Mosque, exquisitely white, at the end of its forecourt of immaculate pavement enclosed by a marble balustrade. Three polished and shining domes are supported by columns of snow made of a hard white marble, scarcely broken by [Pg 218]ornament, and carrying a roof hollowed into three vaults. The rings are still to be seen on the marble walls outside, to which, when the great Mogul came to prayer, curtains were attached made of gold net and spangled with diamonds and pearls.
A garden of roses and lilies was the dwelling-place of a very ancient fakir, who had taken a vow[Pg 163] to live naked, and only put on a loin-cloth when ladies were expected. He was venerated by all, yes, even by Abibulla, who knelt before him, touched the holy man's feet and then his own forehead. The old fellow was surrounded by pilgrims wearing wreaths of flowers round their neck; he came to meet me, took me by the hand, and led me under the shade of a kiosk, where he showed me a large book he had written, containing an account of the joys and ecstasies of his life of asceticism and prayer. This old man had a magnificent brow, and the deep gaze of his kind, smiling eyes was fine in a face puckered with a thousand wrinkles. Infinite calm and peace characterized this happy soul—a naked man in the midst of flowers.
A road between ancient trees and green fields which are perpetually irrigated leads to Sicandra-Bagh. Here, at the end of a wretched village of huts and hovels, is the magnificence of a stately portal of red stone broadly decorated with white; and then, through a garden where trees and shrubs make one huge bouquet, behold the imposing mass of the tomb of Akbar the Great. The mausoleum is on the scale of a cathedral. There are two stories of galleries in pink sandstone crowned by a marble pavilion with lace-like walls; and there, high up, is the sarcophagus of white stone, covered with inscriptions setting forth the nineteen names of Allah.The last train gone, all round the station there was quite a camp of luckless natives lying on the ground, wrapped in white cotton, and sleeping under the stars, so as to be nearer to-morrow to the train[Pg 20] which, perhaps, might carry them away from the plague-stricken city.
Here, a white marble mosque with three flights of open arcades, with white domes to roof it, is paved with rectangular flags, each bordered with a fillet of black marble ending in an arch-like point, immovable prayer-carpets turned towards Mecca. Behind the marble lattices that form one wall of this mosque, the women of the zenana come to hear the moollah recite prayer.
Adjacent to this temple was the court-house, a hall of ancient splendour in the time of the kings of Kandy. It stood wide open, the walls lined with carved wood panels. The court was sitting under the punkhas that swung with regular monotony, the judges robed in red. One of the accused, standing in a sort of pen, listened unmoved to the pleading. A large label bearing the number 5 hung over his breast. Behind a barrier stood other natives, each decorated with a number, under the charge of sepoys. One of them, having been wounded in the murderous fray for which they were being tried, lay at full length on a litter covered with pretty matting, red and white and green, stretched on bamboo legs. A long robe of light silk enveloped his legs, and he alone of them all had charming features, long black eyes with dark blue depths, his face framed in a sort of halo of silky, tangled hair. He, like the man now being sentenced and those who had gone through their examination,[Pg 129] seemed quite indifferent to the judges and the lawyers. He mildly waved a palm leaf which served him as a fan, and looked as if he were listening to voices in a dream, very far away.详情
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