At one corner of a bastion of the rampart rises the Jasmine tower, the empress's pavilion, built of amber-toned marble inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl. A double wall of pierced lattice, as fine as a hand-screen, enclosed the octagon chamber; the doors, which were of massive silver jewelled with rubies, have been removed. The golden lilies inlaid in the panels have also disappeared, roughly torn out and leaving the glint of their presence in a warmer hue, still faintly metallic. Recesses in the wall, like porticoes, served for hanging dresses in, and low down, holes large enough to admit the hand, were hiding-places for jewels, between two slabs of marble. In front of the sultana's kiosk, basins in the form of shells, from which rose-water poured forth, go down like steps to a tank below.Inside the temple long arcades connect the shrines sunk in the thickness of the walls, gloomy recesses with images of Vishnu and other idols; where the corridors or arcades cross each other there are vast halls with a sculptured roof supported by thousands of columns. In one of these halls there is a chariot full of divinities. The wheels, the horses, the highly-venerated images, are all of marble very delicately wrought, and amazing after the coarse caricatures on the outside. In the courts again, under sheds, there are cars; one of enormous size in black wood carved with innumerable figures and interlacing patterns; pendant ornaments of the same wood sway in the wind. The solid wheels, without spokes, small and having huge axles, seem made not to turn, and the shafts, to which a whole army of the faithful harness themselves on the occasion of a high festival, are long and as thick as masts.[Pg 114] Another car, past service, lay slowly rotting in a corner; almost all its images had vanished, and its canopy had fallen off; it was almost completely hidden under aristolochia in blossom.Between the large parasols are thousands of little pagodas, formed of four columns and a roof, and sheltering idols wreathed with flowers, to whom the faithful pray and bring offerings. Garlands are for ever floating down-stream, jasmine and Indian pinks, and patches of scattered rose petals; and on the banks of the river, where the sand forms little bays, flowers lie in a hem of delicate colours.
Colombo again; and again the jewellers and their blue stones—an intoxicating, living blue.
Captain McT——'s orderly appeared as soon as we stirred in the morning, shouldering arms—the "arm" an umbrella which the authorities allow as a privilege off duty to the Ghoorkhas, men from the high plateaux, who are very sensitive to sunstroke, and who wear only a cap without a pugaree. The umbrella solemnly resting against his right shoulder, this worthy stood at attention, serious and motionless, and very upright—a quaint figure, his age impossible to guess, with his Mongolian face, his little slits of eyes, and his figure, in spite of his military squareness, rather too pliant in the yellow khaki uniform.The dinner-table was covered with flowers—Maréchal Niel and Gloire de Dijon roses—but enormous, as big as saucers, and of such a texture, such a colour! a tissue of frost and light; and round the table, which was loaded with silver plate, were grey and red uniforms. Strains of music were wafted in through the open windows from the regimental band playing slow waltz-tunes a little way off.In the further room were four sufferers past all hope: one in the anguish of delirium that made him cry out the same words again and again, in a hoarse voice that was growing fainter. He was held by two attendants. Another lay with chattering teeth; a third was struggling violently, hidden under his coverlet; the fourth seemed unconscious, apathetic.
A New Year's dinner this evening at the Guest Bungalow. The prince, forbidden by his religion to eat with men who are not of his own caste, was represented by Mr. S——, the English engineer at Bhawnagar.From the parapet of one of the bastions the Ganges may be seen in the distance, of a sickly turquoise-blue, shrouded in the haze of dust which hangs over everything and cuts off the horizon almost close in front of us, and the tributary Jumna, translucent and green. At the confluence of the rivers stands a native village of straw and bamboo huts, swept away every season by the rains. This is Triveni, containing 50,000 souls, which enjoys a great reputation for sanctity, and attracts almost as many pilgrims from every part of India as does Benares. The people come to wash away their sins in the Saravasti, the mystical river that comes down from heaven and mingles its waters at this spot with those of the sacred Ganges and the Jumna. The faithful who bathe at Triveni observe an additional ceremony and cut their hair; each hair, as it floats down stream in the sacred waters, effaces a sin, and obtains its forgiveness. In front of the barracks, a relic of past magnificence, there stands alone on a porphyry pedestal, in the middle of a broad plot[Pg 184] trampled by soldiers on parade, an Asoka column carved with inscriptions to the top, and decorated half-way up with a sort of capital."Dog! traitor! cruel wretch! eater of meat!——"
We stopped at a bungalow by a creek of the Jellum that was paved with broad lotus-leaves, among which the buds were already opening their pink hearts.By noon, under the torrid blaze which takes the colour out of everything, exhaustion overpowers the city. Vehicles are rare; a few foot-passengers try to find a narrow line of shade close to the houses, and silence weighs on everything, broken only by the buzzing of flies, the strident croak of birds of prey.
NANDGAUNMore and yet more temples, seen through the mist of weariness, the nightmare of grimacing idols, the heavy vapour of the incense burnt in every chapel, and of the flowers brought by the pilgrims. A dark red pagoda, lighted by a mysterious blue gleam falling intermittently from somewhere in the roof, enshrined a white marble god, whose glittering gems seemed to rise and fall behind the cloud of perfume that floated about him.
Round the railway station crowds the village of Chandernagore, the huts close together, with no land to spare, and at length we were in the city of houses, with broad terraces in front in a classic style, with colonnades and decorations in relief, and broad eaves overhanging for shade. And beautiful gardens, bougainvilleas, and almond trees, white-blossomed faintly touched with pink, hedge in streets with foreign-sounding names. The air was full of the fresh scent of water and greenery and of the blessed peace of silence—so rare in India.Everything seems fused in a haze under the sun, as it grows hotter and hotter, and in that quivering atmosphere looks like a mass in which red and white predominate, with the persistent harmony of motion of the swaying, barefooted crowd.
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.Broad streets crossing each other at right angles; houses, palaces, archways flanked by towers, and colonnades, all alike covered with pink-washed plaster decorated with white. And all the buildings have the hasty, temporary appearance of a town run up for an exhibition to last only a few months.
The cathedral, embowered in shrubs and tall banyans, stands on a square, where a pedestal awaits the bust of Dupleix.We stopped at a bungalow by a creek of the Jellum that was paved with broad lotus-leaves, among which the buds were already opening their pink hearts.
And as they went home at nightfall enormous bats came out and flew across above the tall trees in heavy, steady, straight flight. Without a sound they made for the last gleam on the horizon, where[Pg 98] the vanished sun had left a crimson line; and what an insistent image of death and oblivion were those great black fowl, slowly flapping their five-fingered wings spread out round their bodies, headless as they would seem, so small is the head, and so close-set on the neck. One might fancy that they were bearing away the day, gliding noiseless and innumerable towards the west, where already the last gleam is dead.详情
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