In the evening, on my way to dine with a friend by Malabar Hill, I could hardly recognize some parts of the town: houses, a camp of little huts and tents, a whole district had been swept away.
Off at four in the morning, led by a Mongol guide with a broad expressionless yellow face. My steed was a perfect little devil of a horse of a light coffee colour.But for once he was mistaken.
We drove across a succession of parks to visit[Pg 175] Sumer Mundir, a too elaborately carved temple, the panels representing scenes from the Ramayana set in ornamental borders. On the roof, which bristled with sculptured stone, thousands of blue pigeons were perched asleep, their iridescent plumage scarcely stirring in the sunshine. Beyond a tank at the end of the park was a palace in the Arab style with incredibly delicate ornaments of wrought marble, open halls painted in subdued colouring, and lighted by the golden reflections from the water. The pool had steps all round it, in which crowds seat themselves on the occasions of pilgrimage, and far away the enchanting vision of Benares, the holy city, in every shade of amber and honey.The sultana's mosque is quite small, of translucent milky-white marble, and close by it is a[Pg 208] red wall, hardly pierced by a narrow window with a stone screen, behind which Shah Jehangir was kept a prisoner for seven years.
Out in the street a woman, bare-backed, was submitting to be brushed down the spine by a neighbour with a brush of cuscus; she scorned to answer me when I asked whether she felt better, but shutting her eyes desired the operator to go on more slowly.In the close-shut room the air, loaded with scent and smoke, was quite unbreathable; musicians playing behind a partition added to the irritating effect of all this perfume and noise.
Under the central dome sleeps Mumtaj-Mahal, the well-beloved sultana, for whom Shah Jehan erected the most beautiful mausoleum in the world.At our feet lay old Gwalior, sacked again and again, and as often rebuilt out of its own ruins;[Pg 202] and now the princely residences, all of marble wrought in almost transparent lacework, serve to shelter wandering cattle.
And this morning I had seen in the place of Akbar or Jehangir, a sturdy, blowsy soldier, in his red coatee, his feet raised higher than his head, spread out in his wicker deck-chair, and reading the latest news just brought by the mail from Europe.And again ruins. Under an archway still left standing on piers carved with lilies and foliage, lay a whole family of pariahs covered with leprosy and sores.
We visited a temple where the natives treasure the couch of the Guru Ram-Roy, a very holy and much venerated fakir.A bulbul, flying out of a temple where it had been picking up the offered rice, perched on a pomegranate tree and began to sing, at first a little timid chirp, and then a ripple of song, soon drowned by the shrieks of parrots, which came down on the tree and drove out the little red-breasted chorister.
The Prince of Morvi came before sunrise to take us to the temples of Satrunji. On the way we outstripped carts packed full of women and children in light shimmering muslins. They were all making a pilgrimage to the sacred hill, singing shrill chants in time to the jolting of their springless vehicles,[Pg 70] and broken by oaths and imprecations at the stoppages occasioned by our expedition.We visited a temple where the natives treasure the couch of the Guru Ram-Roy, a very holy and much venerated fakir.
When a Sikh is beaten and surrenders he takes off his turban and lays it at the conqueror's feet, to convey that with the turban he also offers his head.At the entrance into one of the chapels is the trunk of an Akshai bar or b? tree, a kind of fig such as the Buddhists place in front of their sanctuaries. The tree is living in the subterranean[Pg 185] vault, and after thrusting its head through the heavy layer of stones forming the roof of the temple, it spreads its branches under the light of day. Endless absurd legends have grown up about the mystery of this tree, which is said to be no less than twenty centuries old; and my guide, who talks aloud in the presence of the idols he despises, being a Mohammedan, bows reverently to the tree and murmurs, "That is sacred; God has touched it."
Grain was now at five times the usual price, and would continue to rise till the next harvest-time. Official salaries and the wages of the poor remained fixed, and misery was spreading, gaining ground on all sides of the devastated districts.Coolies in white turbans were busy round the machines. They are very skilful, but work with determined slowness as a mute rebellion against the humiliating coercion of obeying a thing of wood and iron, and above all of obeying it without stopping, for the ideal of every Hindoo is to do nothing. And this rose to positive martyrdom when, in the absence of our own servants, who were nowhere to be found, one of these craftsmen, a Brahmin, strictly forbidden by his religion ever to touch the food of the disbelievers, or even the[Pg 294] vessels they use, was obliged to make tea for us. Looking utterly miserable, the poor fellow weighed out the leaves, put them into little antique earthenware pots, and poured on the boiling water. A sand-glass marked how long the infusion was to stand. He even brought us some pretty little crackle basins that looked as if they had come out of some old-world convent pharmacy; but the poor man could not bring himself to pour the tea out—he fled.详情
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