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.The orchestra, consisting of a harmonium, a violin, and a darboukha, played a languishing, drawling air to a halting rhythm, while the chorus, standing in a line on the stage, sang the introductory verses.
We drove across a succession of parks to visit[Pg 175] Sumer Mundir, a too elaborately carved temple, the panels representing scenes from the Ramayana set in ornamental borders. On the roof, which bristled with sculptured stone, thousands of blue pigeons were perched asleep, their iridescent plumage scarcely stirring in the sunshine. Beyond a tank at the end of the park was a palace in the Arab style with incredibly delicate ornaments of wrought marble, open halls painted in subdued colouring, and lighted by the golden reflections from the water. The pool had steps all round it, in which crowds seat themselves on the occasions of pilgrimage, and far away the enchanting vision of Benares, the holy city, in every shade of amber and honey.And as the priests knew that the beast would need no help they again left me to myself. Up came the elephant at a brisk trot, flourishing his trunk and hooting; within two yards of me he stopped and stood still. He accepted a four-anna piece that I offered him, and handed it up for his driver, but finding no one on his back he put the coin back into my pocket, and sniffing all over my coat found a biscuit, ate it, and then quietly went back to his stable.
And, quite unexpectedly, as we turned a corner beyond the coppersmiths' alley, we came on a row of tea-shops, displaying huge and burly china jars. Chinamen, in black or blue, sat at the shop doors in wide, stiff armchairs, their fine, plaited pigtail hanging over the back, while they awaited a customer with a good-humoured expression of dull indifference.
He appeared without a sound, visible only as a white figure, his brown face lost, effaced in the gloom of the dimly-lighted room. For a moment I had a really uncanny sensation at this headless apparition, but in an instant there was the gleam of a row of brilliant teeth, the light in the eyes, and the eternally smiling face of the household coolie.
On entering this portal, lo, a miraculous vision! At the end of an avenue of dark cypress trees stands the tomb of Mumtaj-Mahal, a dream in marble, its whiteness, crowned by five cupolas that might be pearls, mirrored in a pool edged with pink stone and borders of flowers.
The little palace of Nilam Bagh, panelled inside throughout with carved wood, looks like a jewel-casket dropped in a vast park of green shade and[Pg 85] broad lawns. Rawl Shri Bhaosinhji, Rajah of Bhawnagar, is very young, almost a child, and still very shy, dressed in the European fashion in a long grey overcoat, with a voluminous turban of turquoise-blue gauze.
All round the mosque, in narrow alleys, are more and yet more tombs, strewn with roses and enclosed in little plots. Some stand out in the street unenclosed, like milestones.Before daybreak, before the réveillée, the moollah's prayer roused the Sikhs, of which two regiments were quartered in the fort; and till it was broad daylight, till the sun had chased away shadows and sadness, I still felt the melancholy, the twilight sense of uneasiness left by that slow and plaintive chant.
Within the gateway, carved all over with foliage and rosettes, a footway, paved with bright mosaic, leads to the interior of the temple. All along a corridor, enormous prancing horses, mounted by men-at-arms, support the roof which is deeply carved all over, and at the foot of these giants a sacred tank reflects the sky. In front of us were gaps of black shadow, and far, far away, lamps, shrouded in incense, were twinkling behind the gratings.Then, in a blaze of coloured fire, a fortissimo of music, and a whirlwind of drapery, they stopped exhausted in front of the idol. The lights were put out, the tom-toms were the only sound, and the procession moved on, escorting the shrine which glittered for some time yet, till it disappeared at an angle, leaving the temple in darkness just tinted blue by the moon.
In the distance we heard a sound of pipes, and the merchant hastened out to call the nautch-girls, who began to dance in the street just below us, among the vehicles and foot-passengers. There were two of them; one in a black skirt spangled with silver trinkets, the other in orange and red with a head-dress and necklace of jasmine. They danced with a gliding step, and then drew themselves up with a sudden jerk that made all their frippery tinkle. Then the girl in black, laying her right hand on her breast, stood still, with only a measured swaying movement of her whole body, while the dancer in yellow circled round, spinning as she went. Next the black one performed a sort of goose-step with her feet on one spot, yelling a so-called tune, and clacking her anklets one against the other. Then, after a few high leaps that set her saree flying, the dance was ended; she drew a black veil over her head, and turned with her face to the wall. The other boldly asked for backsheesh, held up her hands, and after getting her money, begged for cakes and sugar.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.Near the statues, which are placed in a row close to the wall, other statues, finer, slenderer, and more graceful, stood before the pedestals, anointing the stone with some oil which in time soaks in and blackens it, or else hanging lanterns up over the divinities. These were the temple servants, wearing nothing but the langouti tied round their loins; they either shuffle about barefoot, or remain motionless in rapt ecstasy before the little niches where the idols grin or scowl among branches of roses and amaryllis.详情
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