Here again the cars of the gods were neglected in the open air, and one of them, older than the rest, was fast being transfigured into a pyramid of shrubs and flowers.At the further end of the last turning I saw a fire like blazing gold, the soaring flames flying up to an enormous banyan tree, turning its leaves to living fire. All round the pile on which the dead was being burned was a crowd drumming on copper pots and tom-toms.
Then a fat native lawyer began to speak, and silence fell on the crowd of three or four hundred listeners sitting behind the accused, as if they were in church. The monotonous voice went on and on, urging every plea.
The large town lies along the bank of the Jellum; the houses are of wood, grey and satiny with old age, and almost all tottering to their end on the strand unprotected by an embankment. The windows are latticed with bent wood in fanciful designs. Large houses built of brick have thrown out covered balconies and verandahs, supported on tall piles in the water, and on brackets carved to represent monsters or flowering creepers.A long train of wailing women, loud in lamentation, came slowly out of a house where one lay dead whom they had just been to look at, on their way now to wash their garments, defiled by contact with the body. But all dressed in red, with gaudy embroidery in yellow, white, and green, and large spangles of looking-glass glittering in the sun, they did not look much like mourners.
A vision of Europe. Cottages surrounded by lawns under the shade of tall trees, and against the green the scarlet coats of English soldiers walking about. And close about the houses, as if dropped there by chance, tombs covered with flagstones and enclosed by railings, and on all the same date, June or July, 1857. Further away, under the trees, are heaps of stones and bricks, the ruins of mosques and forts, hardly visible now amid the roots and briars that look like the flowery thickets of a park, varied by knolls to break the monotony of the level sward. In the native town that has grown up on the site of the palace of Nana Sahib, built indeed of the[Pg 186] ruins of its departed splendour, dwell a swarm of pariahs, who dry their rags and hang out clothes and reed screens over every opening, living there without either doors or windows, in utter indifference to the passer-by.
A little way off, in the burning sandy plain, is a pagoda sacred to the pigeons. Lying as close as tiles, in the sun, they hide the roof under their snowy plumage. Round pots are hung all about the building, swaying in the wind, for the birds to nest in, a red decoration against the russet stone; each one contains an amorous and cooing pair.All about the town of pink plaster, in the dust of the roads and fields, are an endless number of dead temples—temples of every size and of every period; and all deserted, all empty; even those that are uninjured look like ruins.In the coppersmiths' street was a booth that seemed to be a school of art, where little fellows of seven or eight were engraving platters and pots with the decision of practised craftsmen.
In the atmosphere floated a pale blue smoke, rising from a heap of weeds that some children were burning, a weird sort of incense, acrid and aromatic, fading against the too-blue sky.
That evening, near the temple where the god, having left the tank, was receiving the flowers and scents offered by his votaries, there was howling and yelling from the crowd of Hindoos, all crushing and pushing, but going nowhere. And louder yet the noise of the tom-toms, which the musicians raised to the desired pitch by warming them in front of big fires throwing off clouds of acrid smoke.Then the procession, with music, makes its way back to the bridegroom's house. On the threshold the priest says one more short prayer over the bowed heads of the newly-married couple, and at last the whole party go into the room, where the guests take their places at the long tables.
In the midst of the Lake of Immortality stands a marble temple with a roof and decorations of gold. All round the sacred lake palaces of delicate hue form a circle about the sanctuary, which glistens in the sun, its gilding and pale-tinted marbles reflected like the gleam of precious stones in the calm, sheeny, deeply transparent water.A dancing-girl went by, wrapped in white muslin as thin as air, hardly veiling the exquisite grace of her shape. Close to us, in front of two musicians playing on the vina and the tom-tom, she began to dance, jingling the rattles and bells on her anklets: a mysterious dance with slow movements and long bows alternating with sudden leaps, her hands crossed on her heart, in a lightning flash of silver necklets and bangles. Every now and then a shadow passed between the nautch-girl and the lights that fell on her while she was dancing, and then she could scarcely be seen to touch the ground, she seemed to float in her fluttering[Pg 301] drapery; and presently, before the musicians had ceased playing, she vanished in the gloom of a side alley. She had asked for nothing, had danced simply for the pleasure of displaying her grace.
[Pg 136]Before daybreak, in the doubtful light of waning night, dim masses are visible—grey and purple mountains—mountains shaped like temples, of which two indeed seem to be crowned with low squat towers as if unfinished.[Pg 19]
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.详情
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