In front of the palace, beds filled with common plants familiar in every European garden fill the place of honour; they are very rare, no doubt, in[Pg 54] these latitudes, and surprising amid the gorgeous hedges of wild bougainvillea that enclose the park.
Very late in the evening came the sound of darboukhas once more. A throng of people, lighted up by a red glow, came along, escorting a car drawn by oxen. At each of the four corners were children carrying torches, and in the middle of the car a tall pole was fixed. On this, little Hindoo boys were performing the most extraordinary acrobatic tricks, climbing it with the very tips of their toes and fingers, sliding down again head foremost, and stopping within an inch of the floor. Their bronze skins, in contrast to the white loin-cloth that cut them across the middle, and their fine muscular limbs, made them look like antique figures. The performance went on to the noise of drums and singing, and was in honour of the seventieth birthday of a Mohammedan witch who dwelt in the village. The car presently moved off, and, after two or three[Pg 49] stoppages, reached the old woman's door. The toothless hag, her face carved into black furrows, under a towzle of white hair emerging from a ragged kerchief, with a stupid stare lighted up by a gleam of wickedness when she fixed an eye, sat on the ground in her hovel surrounded by an unspeakable heap of rags and leavings. The crowd squeezed in and gathered round her; but she sat perfectly unmoved, and the little acrobats, performing in front of her door, did not win a glance from her. And then, the noise and glare annoying her probably, she turned with her face to the wall and remained so. She never quitted her lair; all she needed was brought to her by the villagers, who dreaded the spells she could cast. Her reputation for wisdom and magic had spread far and wide. The Nizam's cousin, and prime minister of the dominion, never fails to pay her a visit when passing through Nandgaun, and other even greater personages, spoken of only with bated breath, have been known to consult her.
Then two children, their pretty, fresh voices in unison, sang some womanly songs, languishing ballads, swinging to a very indefinite rhythm, and suggestive of slow dances and waving gauze scarves in flowery gardens under the moonlight.A muffled sound of instruments, mingling in confusion in the myriad echoes, came dying on my ear, hardly audible. A gleam of light flashed in the corridor and then went out. Then some lights seemed to be coming towards me, and again all was gloom. An orchestra of bagpipes, of kemanches and darboukhas sounded close by me, and then was lost in the distance, and the phantasmagoria of lights still went on. At last, at the further end of the arcade where I was standing, two men raised green-flamed torches at the end of long poles, followed by two drummers and musicians playing on bagpipes and viols. Children squatting on the ground lighted coloured fire that[Pg 118] made a bright blaze, and died out in stifling smoke, shrouding the priests—a cloud hardly tinted by the torches.Close to a temple, of which the cornice is decorated with female figures holding musical instruments, on a sort of terrace a party of youths were making a distracting din with brass instruments, acutely shrill, and, of course, tom-toms. Two very small temples covered with brass that shines like gold stand in the bazaar to mark the beginning and end of the coppersmiths' quarter, where every stall rings with the tinkle of the little hammers tapping the metal that is beaten into trays and pots and a thousand vessels for the worship of the gods and for domestic purposes. Workmen aged four, the great-grand-sons of the master-smith, were already trying their 'prentice hand, chiselling the hard metal with a free touch, and ornamenting cups and bowls of traditional shape. And this is the only part of the calm and lazy city, living on its temples and its sacred river,[Pg 161] where the visitor feels himself a "tourist." Here the shops for the special craft of Benares are furnished with the unwonted luxury of chairs, and some display of signs and wares is made. Further on is a large open place full of piles of flowers, garlands of jasmine and marigold, and heaps of rose petals to be strewn on the water.
Near a temple some bells and tom-toms animated the silence with their clang and clatter. Worshippers stole in noiselessly, barefoot on the stones, and entered the sanctuary, within which tapers were burning.Rising from the highest point of the hill the huge tomb of Aurungzeeb the Great—more huge in the darkness—stood out clearly, a black mass, its bulbous dome against the sky. Flocks of goats and sheep came clambering along the ridge to shelter for the night in the recesses of its walls. Then, one by one, the lights died out. Infinite calm brooded over the scene; a very subtle fragrance, as of rose and verbena, seemed to rise from the ground and scent the still air; and over the motionless earth swept enormous black bats in silent flight, with slow, regularly-beating wings.
The cathedral, embowered in shrubs and tall banyans, stands on a square, where a pedestal awaits the bust of Dupleix.
A flight of regular steps, hewn in the rock, under the shade of banyans and bamboos, all tangled with flowering creepers, leads straight up to the temple. It is a vast hall, dug out of granite and supported by massive columns, with capitals of a half-flattened spheroidal shape—columns which, seen near, seem far too slender to support the immense mass of the mountain that rises sheer above the cave under a curtain of hanging creepers. The temple opens[Pg 21] to the north, and a very subdued light—like the light from a painted window—filtering through the ficus branches, lends solemnity and enhanced beauty to this titanic architecture.
Then some men go past who have a stick like a distaff thrust through their belt with a net wound round it; they net as they walk, heedless of jostling, their eyes fixed on their work.A flight of regular steps, hewn in the rock, under the shade of banyans and bamboos, all tangled with flowering creepers, leads straight up to the temple. It is a vast hall, dug out of granite and supported by massive columns, with capitals of a half-flattened spheroidal shape—columns which, seen near, seem far too slender to support the immense mass of the mountain that rises sheer above the cave under a curtain of hanging creepers. The temple opens[Pg 21] to the north, and a very subdued light—like the light from a painted window—filtering through the ficus branches, lends solemnity and enhanced beauty to this titanic architecture.
In the afternoon the soldiers tilted on horseback, four on a side. They tried to unhorse each other; two or three would attack one, succeeding at last in rolling him off under his charger, while they in their turn were attacked by others, ending in a mêlée, where the victors and the vanquished left fragments of their thin shirts.Abibulla delivered a long harangue through the closed door; at last a wicket was opened, framing an eye. I was invited to approach, and then, after examination, the wicket in the polished door was abruptly closed!
A heavy, rusty-red cloud hung over the field of Hindoo funeral fires. Tambourines and bells could be heard in the distance, and as we went nearer the noise grew louder in the foul air, stifling and stagnant; till when we got close to the place the noise and singing were frantic and the smell of burning was acrid, sickening.
All round the post-office there is invariably a crowd of natives scribbling in pencil on post-cards held in their left hands. Their correspondence is lengthy, minute, and interminable; in spite of their concentration and look of reflection I could never bring myself to take them seriously, or feel that they were fully responsible for their thoughts and acts—machines only, wound up by school teaching, some going out of order and relapsing into savages and brutes.In this house abode the postmaster of the Persian mails, and I wanted to register a letter for Cabul.详情
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