TRICHINOPOLYIn one tent there was a display of innumerable gilt images, very suggestive of Jesuit influence—mincing, chubby angels, martyrs carrying palm-branches, and ecstatic virgins with clasped hands, all serving to decorate the shrine in which the god was to be carried back to the temple. Coloured fires lighted the workmen, and in the background the temple was darkly visible, with only a few dim lamps shrouded in incense, and burning before Rama, whose festival was being kept.
A muffled sound of instruments, mingling in confusion in the myriad echoes, came dying on my ear, hardly audible. A gleam of light flashed in the corridor and then went out. Then some lights seemed to be coming towards me, and again all was gloom. An orchestra of bagpipes, of kemanches and darboukhas sounded close by me, and then was lost in the distance, and the phantasmagoria of lights still went on. At last, at the further end of the arcade where I was standing, two men raised green-flamed torches at the end of long poles, followed by two drummers and musicians playing on bagpipes and viols. Children squatting on the ground lighted coloured fire that[Pg 118] made a bright blaze, and died out in stifling smoke, shrouding the priests—a cloud hardly tinted by the torches.So, after waiting for the reply of the gentleman whose business it was to give me this free pass, seeing that he could not make up his mind, I left the town without it.
He came into ours as if he were at home, and amused himself by worrying me. At first he made believe to throw my rings out of window, substituting others, I know not how, which I saw fall on the line and roll into the grass on the bank. My watch got into his hands and vanished; I found it in my friend T——'s pocket, and afterwards in a basket of provender closed at Bhawnagar, and which I unpacked with my own hands.
THE SACRED HILLAt the first ray of sunrise I went down to the temples, hewn out of the side of the hill and extending for above a mile and a quarter. Gigantic stairs are cut in the rock, and lead to caves enshrining immense altars, on which Buddha or other idols of enormous size are enthroned. Hall after hall is upheld by carved pillars. Bas-reliefs on the walls represent the beatitudes of Krishna surrounded by women, or the vengeance of Vishnu the terrible, or the marriage of Siva and Parvati; while on the flat roof, on the panels and architraves—all part of the solid rock—there is an endless procession of Krishnas and Vishnus, on a rather smaller scale, producing utter weariness of their unvaried attitudes and beatific or infuriated grimacing."She is the mother of Christ, you say? You are a stranger, and you cannot know all the mischief they do us in the name of her Son."
One of these halls, almost at the top of the mount, accommodated a school. The elder pupils sat on stools by the master's side; the little ones and the girls, in groups of five or six, squatted on mats in the corners; and all the little people were very quiet in the atmosphere of sandal-wood and flowers brought as offerings, read gravely out of big religious books, and listened to the Brahmin as, in a deep, resonant voice, he chanted a sort of strongly-marked melody. There was scarcely an ornament on the light-coloured walls, pierced with deep windows showing foliage without; and among the dead whiteness of the mats and the schoolchildren's draperies there was but one bright light,[Pg 109] the bell over the pulpit, surmounted by the sacred bull in bronze, of precious workmanship.On the sloping bank to the river stood a large wooden mosque falling into ruins. In front of this building was a plot full of tombstones, some overthrown, some still standing on the declivity.
Then, from a bridge across the Ganges, for a moment we had a last glimpse of the sacred city—the gold-coloured umbrellas, the throng of bathers on the steps to the river—and then Abibulla gravely remarked, "If only India had three cities like Benares it would be impossible ever to leave it."These gentlemen of the Civil Service would put in an appearance "now and then"—the eternal "now and then" that answers every question in India. They stepped out of a buggy, walked quickly round, had seen, and were gone again in a great hurry to finish some important work for the next European mail.
Close to us on each level spot of the scarped rock was a little fortified look-out where three or four soldiers kept watch, with here and there a larger tower, reached only by a ladder, and in these six or eight men.
One of them was standing against a curtain of black satin embroidered with gold; muslin that might have been a spider's web hardly cast a mist over her sheenless skin, pale, almost white against the glistening satin and gold, all brightly lighted up. With a large hibiscus flower in her hand she stood in a simple attitude, like an Egyptian painting, then moved a little, raising or lowering an arm, apparently not seeing the passers-by who gazed at her—lost in a dream that brought a strange green gleam to her dark eyes.And then seeing that I did not go, that on wakening again from his dream I was still there, he fixed his eyes on me and caught sight of a medal that I wear.
The night was spent in travelling: an oppressive night of crushing heat, with leaden clouds on the very top of us; and next day, in the blazing sunlight, nothing seemed to have any colour—everything was white and hot against a blue-black sky that seemed low enough to rest on the earth. Wayfarers slept under every tree, and in the villages every place was shut, everything seemed dead. It was only where we changed horses that we saw anyone—people who disappeared again immediately under shelter from the sun.After dinner, with the dessert, the head orderly of the mess marched in with the decanters. He set them on the table, and then stood immovable at his post behind the colonel's chair, shouldering his gun till everybody had done, when he carried off the bottles with the same air of being on parade.详情
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