As we returned past a village—a hamlet of houses gathering round a well surmounted by a kiosk shading a gaudy idol crowned with red[Pg 176] pinks—a perfectly naked fakir, his straight black hair bound twice round his head like a turban, stood basking in the sun, leaning against a wall, and chanting in a rapid monotone, while two babies, under the shade of a fan-palm leaf, stared up at him and sucked their thumbs.They were all flying from the plague, which was spreading, and emptying the bazaars and workshops. The Exchange being closed, trade was at a standstill, and the poor creatures who were spared by the pestilence were in danger of dying of hunger.
Gauze and muslin dresses moved gracefully about against the background of bamboos and roses. Light footsteps scarcely bent the grass; the ripple of talk, with its sprinkling of Indian words, was sweet and musical. Fireflies whirled above the plants making little tendrils of light; there was dreaminess in the air—an anticipation of fairyland to which the music seemed the prelude.
The bearer of Kali walked into the sacred river up to his knees, and then dropped the idol. The[Pg 143] Hindoos who had followed him fell prostrate in fervent prayer, hiding their face in their hands, and then flung after the goddess, now lost in the waters, all the baskets, jars, and flowers, to be carried down the stream. For a moment the silver paper crown which had floated up spun on the water that was spangled by the moon, and then it sank in an eddy.The want of foresight in the people here is amazing. A servant earning five rupees a month got his son married, a child of fifteen, and for this event he bought fireworks on credit, and at enormous interest, which would cost him three years' wages.
In the Begum's tomb the sarcophagus is on the ground, surrounded by a pale-tinted mosaic pavement. The windows, screened by pierced stone, admit a rosy light, and the walls are painted to imitate Persian tiles, with tall Cyprus trees in blue and green. Incense was burning in one corner, the[Pg 182] perfume mingling with that of the flowers, wafted in at every opening. Doors of massive cedar, carved with the patience of a bygone time, rattle on their hinges as the wind slams them to, but still endure, uninjured by ages.There is a very small and simple niche against the wall of a larger building, and in this, without even a railing to protect it, stands the image of a goddess robed in silk embroidered in gold; and in[Pg 78] such another little recess, not far away, is the sister of this divinity, also dressed in magnificent stuffs, renewed by the faithful at each high festival.
PALITANAWhile I was talking to the postmaster the fakir smoked a hookah, burning amber powder and rose-leaves. The air was full of the narcotic fragrance; a piercing perfume that mounted to the brain.
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.The fog seemed to turn to solid smoke, impenetrably black, wrapping us in darkness which was suddenly rent by a red flash, blood-red, ending in a green gleam. The mist retained a tint of sulphurous copper for some time; then a second flash, and far away among the lurid clouds we had a glimpse of the Himalayas, pallid purple with green shadows against an inky sky. The[Pg 254] thunder, deadened by the masses of snow and very distant, rolled to and fro with a hollow sound, frightening the horses which struggled uphill at a frantic pace. And the dense fog closed round us once more, a dark green milkiness streaked with snow, which was falling in large flakes formed of four or five clinging together like the petals of flowers. Then it hailed, which completely maddened the horses, and then again snow, and it was literally night at ten in the morning when at last we reached this spot and the shelter of a bungalow.
Outside the town of Delhi a road bordered by great trees leads across the white plain, all strewn with temples and tombs, to Khoutab, the ancient capital of the Moguls—a dead city, where the ruins still standing in many places speak of a past of unimaginable splendour. There is a colossal tower of red masonry that springs from the soil with no basement; it is reeded from top to bottom, gradually growing thinner as it rises, with fillets of letters in relief, and balconies on brackets as light as ribbands alternating to the top. It is an enormous mass of red stone, which the ages have scarcely discoloured,[Pg 219] and was built by Khoutab-Oudeen Eibek to commemorate his victory over the Sultan Pithri-Raj, the triumph of Islam over Brahminism.At the bazaar we were positively hunted as customers; the clamour was harassing, and everything was displayed for sale in the open street, while the owner and his family crowded round us and hindered us from going a single step further.
Just within the enclosure to our right is a tomb. A Mohammedan who came forth to take the sacred[Pg 74] hill, the brother of an emperor of Delhi, fell dead at the foot of a Ja?n idol, which he had dared to touch with his staff. How the legend developed it is impossible to say; but this warrior, buried on the spot where he was stricken down by the divinity, has the miraculous power of curing barrenness in the women who invoke him. Votive offerings, little cradles daubed with yellow and red, are heaped on the pavement and hang to the railing.详情
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