BOMBAYThere, again, they all sit down in the garden. The same little packets of betel, only wrapped in gold leaf, are offered to the company, and bunches of chrysanthemum sprinkled with scent.
A Mohammedan funeral now. The body was in a coffin, covered with red stuff, sparkling with gold thread. The bearers and mourners chanted an almost cheerful measure, as they marched very slowly to the[Pg 24] burial-ground by the seaside, where the dead rest under spreading banyans and flowering jasmine.So, after waiting for the reply of the gentleman whose business it was to give me this free pass, seeing that he could not make up his mind, I left the town without it.
A dark street corner where there were no shops. Under a canopy constructed of four bamboos thatched with straw, a young man in a light-coloured dhoti was sitting on a low stool; about him were women singing. Presently one of them came forward, and dipping her fingers into three little copper pots that stood on the ground in front of the youth, she took first oil, then a green paste, and finally some perfume with which she touched seven spots—the lad's feet, knees, shoulders, and turban. Then she wiped her fingers on the saree of the bridegroom's mother—for he was to be[Pg 252] married on the morrow—who was standing behind her son.In the afternoon—calm and almost cool—I went to call on the Resident, who talked to me of India in the days of Dupleix, of its departed glory, and the poor old fort of Chandernagore, once impregnable and now demolished under the provisions of treaties; and as we walked on through the town, between gardens that look like the great parks of the French kings, all the past seemed to live again on this forgotten spot of earth, and every moment, in the silence of the purple dusk, I could have fancied that I saw in the avenues, under the tall ph?nix palms, the shades of powdered marquises in skirts with full farthingales, and of gallant knights of St. Louis; then from a far distance came the sound of a piano—some simple melody quavering in the air that was so full of memories.In the street were bayadères, and women at every window, the pretty faces brightly illuminated, the plainer in a skilfully subdued light. The sound of tom-toms and pipes could be heard, and the guttural, quavering song of a dancing beauty performing for some amateur; quite young boys were wandering about the street, almost children, all in white. Where the roads met, a mosque was illuminated in honour of this month of Ramadan, and the believers were trooping out in a crowd.
A plain of dried mud, dull grey, with scarcely a tinge of yellow in places; all round the horizon softly undulating hills which looked transparent, here a tender blue, there delicately pink, in flower-like hues. One of them, rising above all the eastern chain, might be a fortress, its towers alone left standing amid the general wreck. To the west the highest summits were lost in the blue of the sky, identically the same, but that the peaks were faintly outlined with a delicate line of snow.
I proposed to go in without the soldiers. Impossible, it was not etiquette! I was the Rajah's guest. The Prince of Morvi and I could not mingle with the crowd, our escort was necessary to isolate us. Well, then, the soldiers must take off their shoes, and leave their belts and guns at the door! Again impossible. Where would the prestige of the uniform be?
As we went further south Moslem tombs became more and more rare; the lingam was to be seen here and there among the rice-fields: a gross idol made of stone and looking like a landmark, set up under a tree or sheltered by a little kiosk. Soon temples of Vishnu were seen, raising their[Pg 104] pyramidal piles of ten stories to the sky. Amid the cool shade of palms and bamboos, close to each temple, was a fine tank with steps all round it; and surrounded by this magnificence of architecture and vegetation Hindoos might all day be seen bathing, dwellers in hovels of plaster or matting, sometimes in mere sheds supported on sticks, within the shadow of the splendid building full of treasure, in which the god is enshrined.On a square, shaded by an awning, with porticoes all round, coolies in white dresses sat on the ground making up little bunches of flowers, the blossoms without stems tied close to a pliant cane for garlands—jasmine, roses, chrysanthemums, and sweet basil—for in India, as in Byzantium of old, basil is the flower of kings and gods. The basil's fresh scent overpowered the smell of sandal-wood and incense which had gradually soaked into me in the presence of the idols, and cleared the atmosphere delightfully. A woman rolled up in pale-tinted muslins under the warm halo of light falling through the[Pg 80] awning, was helping one of the florists. She supported on her arm a long garland of jasmine alternating with balls of roses. Almost motionless, she alone, in the midst of the idols, at all reminded me of a goddess.
A Ja?n temple. A confusion of ornament, carved pillars, capitals far too heavy, with a medley of animals, gods and flowers, under a roof all graven and embossed. In the sanctuary, where the walls are riddled with carving, is an enormous Buddha of black marble decked out with emeralds, gold beads and rare pearls, hanging in necklaces down to his waist. A large diamond blazes in his forehead above crystal eyes, terrifically bright. Every evening all this jewellery—the gift of Hati Singh, a wealthy Ja?n merchant who built the temple—is packed away into a strong-box, which we were shown in the cellar.In the midst of the Lake of Immortality stands a marble temple with a roof and decorations of gold. All round the sacred lake palaces of delicate hue form a circle about the sanctuary, which glistens in the sun, its gilding and pale-tinted marbles reflected like the gleam of precious stones in the calm, sheeny, deeply transparent water.One of my sepoys was lying asleep in the [Pg 82]verandah of the bungalow. A variety of articles hung from his belt: an antelope's horn made into a powder-flask, several tassels of red and green silk threaded in a row, a triple chain of copper serving to hang up lamps in front of the sacred images, a small damascened knife in a crimson velvet sheath, and a tiny yellow earthenware bottle containing kohl.
Very gradually the measure quickened, the pitch grew shriller, and with faster and freer movements the bayadères were almost leaping in a sort of delirium produced by the increasing noise, and the constantly growing number of lights.PALITANAIt was a miserable assemblage of booths and tumble-down dwellings, crowded round a sumptuous old palace with porticoes carved with divinities. The new town consists of modern buildings, devoid of[Pg 86] style, the residence of wealthy Parsee merchants. Here are libraries, archives—all kinds of offices, which seem so useless here, and which, till I was told what they were, I took to be a prison.
In one of the alleys by the outer wall was a little house with a door in carved panels framing[Pg 243] inlaid work as delicate as woven damask. A crowd surrounding it could not be persuaded by Abibulla's eloquence to make way for me, a suspicious-looking stranger.
A stone parapet runs along the river road, and below it the grassy bank slopes gently to the clear and limpid stream of the Ganges. On the shores[Pg 141] of the sacred river fine trees overshadow many idols, and fresh flowers are constantly laid at their feet.The hills are left behind us; the plateau of Cashmere spreads as far as the eye can see, traversed by the glistening Jellum, that slowly rolling stream, spreading here and there into lakes.详情
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