Two men were quarrelling; one had robbed the other. The dispute went on endlessly, and no one, not the priest even, had succeeded in pacifying them. At last an elephant was fetched; he came up without being noticed by the disputants, and trumpeted[Pg 122] loudly just behind them. The thief, convinced that the animal in its wisdom had discovered his crime, took to his heels and fled.The elephant of ceremony, covered with a velvet cloth embroidered with gold, on which was placed a massive silver howdah edged with gold, was in waiting to take me for a ride. Round the beast's neck hung a huge necklace of balls as large as apples and long pendants from his ears, all of silver, tinkling as he moved and glittering in the sun. The mahout rested a ladder against the elephant's head for me to mount by, and we set out, following the Rajah and escorted by sowars, to the very modern tennis club of Palitana.
In the island of Srirangam we visited a temple to Vishnu, enclosed within eight walls, of which the three first only contain any dwellings. A crowd of pilgrims swarmed about the steps, where everything was on sale: little gods in bronze, in painted marble, in clay, and in wood; paper for[Pg 111] writing prayers on; sacred books; red and white face-paints, such as the worshippers of Vishnu use to mark their foreheads with a V; little baskets to hold the colours, with three or four divisions, and a mirror at the bottom; coco-nuts containing kohl; stuffs of every dye; religious pictures, artless indeed, and painted with laborious dabs of the brush in the presence of the customer; chromo-lithographs from Europe, sickeningly insipid and mawkishly pretty.Then there were races of baggage-mules, and competitions of speed in harnessing horses and in striking the tents. Finally the English officers rode a race, and then the prizes were distributed—money to the men and blue pugarees with gold thread to the native officers.
In the close-shut room the air, loaded with scent and smoke, was quite unbreathable; musicians playing behind a partition added to the irritating effect of all this perfume and noise.
After him came another little Hindoo, dragging a mongoose, very like a large weasel with a fox's tail. He took a snake out of a bag, and a battle began between the two brutes, each biting with all its might; the sharp teeth of the mongoose tried to seize the snake's head, and the reptile curled round the mongoose's body to bite under the fur. At last the mongoose crushed the serpent's head with a fierce nip, and instantly a hawk flew down from a tree and snatched away the victim."A doctor? I cannot say," replied Abibulla, "but the sahib knows many things." The woman's eyes entreated me. Would I not come? it would comfort the sick man, and help him, perhaps, to die easily if the gods would not spare him.[Pg 73]
Then starting to his feet, and stretching out his arm to point at me, he poured forth invective in sharp, rapid speech. The words flowed without pause:—At Mazagoon, one of the suburbs of Bombay, behold a Parsee wedding.
And in the evening at mess—a dinner given in honour of a regiment marching through—news was brought in that close to Bunnoo, in the Kurrum valley, two travellers had been murdered in the night.Here, one by one, in came the nautch-girls, dancers. Robed in stiff sarees, their legs encumbered with very full trousers, they stood extravagantly upright, their arms away from their sides and their hands hanging loosely. At the first sound of the tambourines, beaten by men who squatted close to the wall, they began to dance; jumping forward on both feet, then backward, striking their ankles together to make their nanparas ring, very heavy anklets weighing on their feet, bare with silver toe-rings. One of them spun on and on for a[Pg 29] long time, while the others held a high, shrill note—higher, shriller still; then suddenly everything stopped, the music first, then the dancing—in the air, as it were—and the nautch-girls, huddled together like sheep in a corner of the room, tried to move us with the only three English words they knew, the old woman repeating them; and as finally we positively would not understand, the jumping and idiotic spinning and shouts began again in the heated air of the room.
At Byculla in the evening we went to Grant Road, the haunt of the street beauties, where the gambling-houses are. At the open windows under the lighted lamps were coarsely-painted women dressed in gaudy finery. In the entries were more of such women, sitting motionless in the attitude of idols; some of them real marvels—thin, slender bronze limbs scarcely veiled in dark, transparent gauze, gold rings round their neck and arms, and heavy nanparas on their ankles.
The ripe rice, in golden ears, is cut with sickles; a row of women in red gather it into sheaves, which men carry on their back, at once, to the next village, and there it is threshed out forthwith on floors but just swept.A desolate strand, all the vegetation burnt by the sun and the sea-breeze. The pearl-oyster, which made the fortune of the district, disappeared four years since, and has migrated to other parts. The fisheries no longer pay, and the boats are dropping to pieces on the beach, while the divers beg, decimated by want.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.
Under each plate, a large square cut out of a banana leaf serves as a finger-napkin. Innumerable are the dishes of sweetmeats made with ghee (clarified butter), the scented ices, the highly-coloured[Pg 18] bonbons; while the young couple walk round the rooms, and hang garlands of flowers about the necks of the feasters.
Then some men go past who have a stick like a distaff thrust through their belt with a net wound round it; they net as they walk, heedless of jostling, their eyes fixed on their work.All round the sanctuary, in niches under a square cloister, are three hundred and fifty alabaster Buddhas, all alike, with the same jewel in their forehead, and on their shoulders and round their bodies[Pg 61] gold bands set with imitation gems and cut glass. An old woman, who had come thither at daybreak, had prayed to each of these Buddhas; to each she had offered up the same brief petition, she had struck the three bells on her way, and she was now in the sanctuary, calling out a prayer while beating a gong that hangs from the arch. Meanwhile other worshippers were murmuring their invocations prostrate before the jewelled Buddha.详情
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