[Pg 245]The sun had just set, a violet haze was rising and enwrapping every object. Fires were being lighted in the villages on the road to the holy place. Tom-toms were rattling in the distance,[Pg 115] and nearer at hand a vina, gently touched by an invisible player, murmured a tune on three notes.
"And how many die every day?"
Then the sunset, in the furnace of heavy purple and red, reflected in the water in fiery copper-colour streaked with violet, till soon it all faded together, to gold, to lemon-colour; the mist rising from the river spread over all the country, and everything looked the same in the cloudless gloom. One quarter of the sky glowed faintly, through the haze a crimson globe rose into view, the moon appeared, and soon lighted up all the sky with a soft greenish glow, pallid but deep, lying on the tranquil Ganges in broad rippling sheets of gold and green, spangled with light where a fish leaped, or a white bird dipped its wing as it skimmed swiftly across without a sound. The gold grew cold and dead, the moon turned to steel against the intensely blue sky, to cold blue steel on the lustrous face of the waters.Next came a whole row of very small shops, where there was an endless variety of trifles for sale, toys made of wood painted red and green; and finally, on the ground floor of houses ornamented with carvings and slender colonnades, in a cool and shady and silent street, were the sellers of silk and cloth.
Fakirs, holding out their begging-bowls as they squatted round an opening in the ground, showed that it was the entrance to a temple; a few steps down, a long corridor with little niches on each side, and then hall after hall full of grimacing gods, lighted up by our guide's torch, till at last we reached an immense vault where impenetrable darkness filled the angles lost in a labyrinth of arcades converging to some mystery. Here all the Hindoo gods, carved in stone, have been crowded together, with their horrible contortions, their stolid beatitude, their affected grace; and in their midst is a huge idol, hacked with a great cut by Aurungzeeb, the Moslem emperor, at the time of his conquest. Suddenly all about us was a crowd of Brahmins, appearing from what dark corners we could not discover. They looked nasty and half asleep, and vanished at once with a murmur of whispered speech that hung about the galleries in an echo.
Above the throne, in the white marble wall, is a round hole, the mark of a cannon-ball at the time of the Mutiny. Out of this came a parrot, gravely perching to scratch its poll; then, alarmed at seeing us so close, it retired into its hole again.
With tea a servant brought packets of betel in a chased gold box, with a lid imitating a lotus flower. Then, when everybody was served, he carefully replaced the precious object in an embroidered silk bag and disappeared.Round a temple, with iron roofs ending in copper balls at the top, a crowd was watching, some seated on steps cut in the soil and some squatting on the hillside, here almost perpendicular. By the temple long white streamers, fluttering from bamboo poles, were covered with painted prayers. A Lama was enthroned in an armchair under an arbour of pine-branches; he wore a yellow robe, and above a face like a cat's he had a sort of brass hat surmounted by a coral knob; his little beard was quite white, and he turned his praying machine with a steady, dull movement, perfectly stolid. Two women stood by his side fanning him, dressed in close-fitting aprons of dark cloth bordered with a brighter shade, and opening over pale pink satin petticoats, on their heads crowns of flowers of every hue.
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.
"And is there no doctor?"The Maharajah was out, at his devotions; I could see everything. Up a staircase with a gilt paper and gilt banisters, leading to rooms where crystal lustres hang like tears above Oxford Street furniture, and lovely chromo-lithographs in massive and glittering frames.详情
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