A tonga arrived just as we drove up, bringing an English official, travelling in his own carriage; gaiters, shooting jacket, a switch in his hand. He seated himself outside the bungalow in a cane chair, close by mine. Out of a case that was brought before him a hatchet and a pistol were unpacked, documentary evidence of the crime into which he was to inquire.The man was dressed in blue and silver, his belt studded with four-anna pieces; hanging to his girdle was a whole array of small knives, sheaths, and boxes. With his sleeves turned up to his elbows, he fairly amazed me, conjuring away into the air eight rupees that filled his hand, and finding them again one by one in our pockets, bags, or plaids. He turned everything topsy-turvy, swaggered as if he were the master, and then went off, with his broad smile, to amuse other travellers.The heat to-day has suddenly become stifling; the low clouds veil the colourless sun, and the flowers, which yesterday were still lovely, are now[Pg 278] withered and pallid, and only give out their scent in the evening, when it is cool again.
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.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.
Bombay, towering above the sea in a golden glory—the tall towers and minarets standing out in sharp outline against the sky, splendid in colour and glow. Far away Malabar Hill and a white speck—the Towers of Silence; Elephanta, like a transparent gem, reflected in the aqua-marine-coloured water.There was a sort of murmur behind the door, like reciting a prayer, then louder tones, indeed a very loud shout, repeated three times by several voices at once; and then the one alone continued in a dull chant. The door was half opened and I was beckoned, but to enter alone.
On the remains of the pyre was placed a corpse of spectral emaciation, which had been lying at the top of the bank since the day before for its turn, as a pauper, to be cremated at the cost of the municipality. The head alone was wrapped in a wretched rag, and creeping flies formed a cuirass on the dark skin, already torn in places by the kites. Petroleum was poured over the hapless body, and it flared up with the wood in a livid pink and green blaze, sending up a cloud of acrid red smoke.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.
Above Darjeeling—a modern and fashionable health-resort, a town of villas, for the most part with corrugated iron roofs—hangs a dense mist, cutting off the horizon at a distance of a few miles; and through the dull substance of this fleece, at an impossible height, there was a reflection—a mirage, an illusion, a brighter gleam, a bluer shadow, which might be the top of a mountain; but so high up, so far away, and above all so transient, that it failed to fix itself on the memory, blotted out at once by the pallid wall that shut[Pg 147] in the scene. But at sunset one thickness of the haze melted away, unveiling, leagues on leagues away, a chain of giant mountains, not yet the snowy peaks, but bright-hued cliffs on which gold and purple mingled in symphonies before dying into violet, turning to blue in the moonlight; and the mists fell once more—a shroud at our feet, an abyss of shadows, in which the tea-planters' lamps twinkled through the darkness.
In one brilliantly-lighted hall, priests, dressed in long yellow dalmatics, were adoring idols, elephants, Anantas; and from an enormous gold lotus sprang the Mandeel, rising through the dome, its tip standing in the outer air to bear the white flag that is hoisted on high festivals. At the entrance to this shrine parrots in cages suddenly set up a hostile outcry as I passed them, and were only pacified by the coming of a priest, who gave them some food. The clatter, however, had attracted other Brahmins; one of them desired me to leave, "and[Pg 117] at once." I declined to obey, so he sent for the elephant who does duty as police, to turn me out.
Under a loggia, flowery with mosaics of jasper and carnelian, the emperor, seated on a white marble throne embroidered with carving, administered justice. At his feet, on a raised stone flag, the divan, his prime minister took down the despot's words, to transmit them to the people who were kept at a respectful distance under a colonnade, forming a verandah round the imperial palace.One of them was standing against a curtain of black satin embroidered with gold; muslin that might have been a spider's web hardly cast a mist over her sheenless skin, pale, almost white against the glistening satin and gold, all brightly lighted up. With a large hibiscus flower in her hand she stood in a simple attitude, like an Egyptian painting, then moved a little, raising or lowering an arm, apparently not seeing the passers-by who gazed at her—lost in a dream that brought a strange green gleam to her dark eyes.Past the buildings, and palaces with gardens enclosed behind pierced stonework, and then across fresh green fields full of flowers, under the shade of banyans and palm trees, we reached the temple of the monkeys. This temple, dedicated to the fierce and bloodthirsty goddess Durga, is painted all over of a vivid red colour, blazing in the sunshine with intolerable brightness. Inside the sanctuary a black image of the goddess may be seen, mounted on her lion, and flowers are arranged about her in radiating lines mingled with gold thread, and producing very much the effect of a theatrical sun. In the [Pg 162]forecourt, on the carvings and the roof of the temple monkeys swarm, rushing after each other, fighting for the grains of maize that are thrown to them, and tormenting the wretched mangy dogs that seek refuge in the temple precincts, where they, too, are kept alive by the faithful.
The maiden was placed on a very high pile of saplings and dry crackling boughs. Her father fetched the sacred fire, and then, with the same ceremonials and prayers, set light to the wood, which flashed up in a golden glow with a sweet odour. The flame rose clear against the sky for a long time before the smell of her burnt flesh mingled with that of the poor woman, whose limbs, under the action of the heat, seemed to stretch to an inordinate length. One arm, sticking out from the fire, seemed to clench its fist, which was bright yellow, as if it would clutch at something; and then all was consumed—the wood pile fell in, the skull cracking with a dull snap, and nothing was left but a heap of embers, into which the attendants raked the cinders that rolled down the sloping bank.详情
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