At night the sound of a remote tom-tom attracted me to a large square shaded by giant trees. In a very tiny hut made of matting, a misshapen statue of Kali, bedizened with a diadem, a belt, nanparas, and bangles made of beads and gold tinsel, stood over a prostrate image in clay of Siva, lying on his back. In front of this divinity, under an awning stretched beneath the boughs of a banyan tree, two nautch-girls in transparent sarees were dancing a very smooth sliding step to the accompaniment of two bagpipes and some drums. The Hindoo spectators sat in a circle on the ground—a white mass[Pg 142] dimly lighted by a few lanterns—and sang to the music a soft, monotonous chant.
And under an arcade priests were hanging the shrine with wreaths of pink and yellow flowers, in preparation for its nocturnal progress, while an old woman, all alone, was bathing in the tank, with much splashing and noise of waters.
[Pg 157]A very large temple, with its walls pierced in Persian patterns, contains fifty-two chapels behind pointed arches. In each chapel are four gods, all alike, of white plaster, all decked with the same jewels. In an angle of the vaulting a female figure, carved in the stone and wearing a tiara, holds an infant in her arms; this statue, with its long face and the rigid folds of the drapery, might have been transferred here from a gothic building.
At the end of the day one of the beasts could do no more. A shiver ran through the limbs of the poor thing, which, as soon as it was released from the shafts, lay down, a stream of blood staining the[Pg 274] pale sand; and in an instant, with a deep sigh, it was stiff in death.As we went back we found the roses carried in the morning by the Persian strewn on the ground in front of the Ali Musjid, and over them a flock of birds with red beaks were fluttering.The elephant of ceremony, covered with a velvet cloth embroidered with gold, on which was placed a massive silver howdah edged with gold, was in waiting to take me for a ride. Round the beast's neck hung a huge necklace of balls as large as apples and long pendants from his ears, all of silver, tinkling as he moved and glittering in the sun. The mahout rested a ladder against the elephant's head for me to mount by, and we set out, following the Rajah and escorted by sowars, to the very modern tennis club of Palitana.
We could see the procession coming straight up a hollow ravine from the valley to the Dokma, a path that none but Parsees are allowed to tread;[Pg 31] eight bearers in white, the bier also covered with white, and, far behind, the relations and friends of the dead, all robed in white, two and two, each pair holding between them a square of white stuff in sign of union. They came very slowly up the steps of the steep ascent with a measured chant, in muffled tones, on long-drawn vowels. And from the surrounding trees, from far and near, with a great flutter of wings, the vultures flew to meet the corpse, darkening the sky for a moment.
KOHATThe Rajah being absent we were allowed to see everything. On the upper floor is the Ranee's dressing-room. All round the large room were glass wardrobes, in which could be seen bodices in the latest Paris fashion, and ugly enough; and then a perfect rainbow of tender opaline hues: light silks as fine as cobwebs, shawls of every dye in Cashmere wool with woven patterns, and[Pg 53] gauze of that delicate rose-colour and of the yellow that looks like gold with the light shining through, which are only to be seen in India—royal fabrics, dream-colours, carefully laid up in sandal-wood and stored behind glass and thick curtains, which were dropped over them as soon as we had looked. And crowding every table and bracket were the most childish things—screens, cups and boxes in imitation bronze, set with false stones—the playthings of a little barbarian. A coloured photograph stood on the toilet-table between brushes and pomatum-pots; it represented the mistress of this abode, a slender doll without brains, her eyes fixed on vacancy.
And as the priests knew that the beast would need no help they again left me to myself. Up came the elephant at a brisk trot, flourishing his trunk and hooting; within two yards of me he stopped and stood still. He accepted a four-anna piece that I offered him, and handed it up for his driver, but finding no one on his back he put the coin back into my pocket, and sniffing all over my coat found a biscuit, ate it, and then quietly went back to his stable.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.In a central space was a hideous rajah, a benefactor, with his six wives, all gaudily coloured with jewels in coloured paper stuck on to the images, and all kneeling in attitudes of idiotic ecstasy, doubly absurd under the daubing of vermilion and indigo. These were greatly admired by my servant, a convinced connoisseur in Indian art. Further on we saw, on the ceiling of a polychrome corridor, monsters carved to fit the shape of squared beams ending in a griffin's or a bird's head.
My friend T——, long a resident in India, and quite unmoved by the habitual turmoil of the native Hindoos, finally settled the difficulty between the cabbage of the priests and the soldiers' goat; the men would put on hemp-shoes, and we also, over our leather boots; as to the belt and gun-slings, as they only touched the soldiers themselves, they could defile nothing and might be allowed to pass.[Pg 168]One of these mausoleums served us for a bungalow. The distance was visible from the window openings, which were fringed with cuscus blinds[Pg 39] that would be pulled down at night: the spreading dark plain, broken by gleaming pools, and dotted with the lamps in the temples to Vishnu, of which the cones were visible in silhouette, cutting the clear horizon.
Cymbals and kettle-drums formed the orchestra, reinforced by the shrill cries and strident laughter of the spectators.详情
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