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TRICHINOPOLY
High on a hill, one with the rock, are built the temples, up to which is a flight of steps hewn in the stone itself. At every stage, or nearly, are little shrines with images of Ganesa, the elephant-headed god, or of Ananta, the sacred serpent, decked with flowers, the mindi flower, which has[Pg 108] a strong scent of pepper. In some places the whole temple, as vast as a cathedral, is hewn out of the hillside; the columns in elaborate and intricate patterns, the niches and altars wrought with inconceivable toil and patience, not a scrap added or stuck on. In the dim distance is a huge red statue of Siva, wreathed with flowers.

The colouring in all these rock-temples is a softened harmony of yellow stone, hardly darkened in some places, forming a setting for the gaudier tones of the idols, all sparkling with gold and showy frippery.

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.

From the summit we looked down over a panorama of the town, set out in square blocks sunk in the verdure of palms, bamboos, and banyans. At our feet was the cupola of the temple of Siva, all gold, and covered with bosses, the edges of the mouldings catching the sun. Besides this a number of coloured domes, painted in pale shades faded by the sunshine, descended the almost perpendicular incline down to the bazaar, where the throng was beginning to stir like white ants, of slow gait and deliberate gestures, their light-hued dhoutis flitting about the stalls for drink and fruit. Far away, beyond the bright green rice-fields, and against the horizon of intensely blue hills, the rocks stand out—French rocks and Golden rocks—where the treasure of the conquered natives was distributed to English soldiers. It might almost be fancied that a glow of metal still shines on the smooth stone, a warm, yellow stone bathed in sunshine.

A Catholic church flanking the Jesuit college persistently sent up to us the shrill tinkle of a little bell, rattling out its quick, harsh strokes like a factory bell for workmen.

[Pg 110]

At the bottom of the steps, almost in the street, was another school at the entrance to a temple. The children, in piercing tones, were all spelling together under the echoing vault, a terrible noise which seemed to trouble nobody.

On reaching the temple of Vishnu, on the very threshold, we met an elephant marching in front of the Brahmin priests, who were carrying water in copper amphor? to bathe the idols withal. Musicians followed the elephant, playing on bagpipes, on a kind of little trumpet, very short and shrill-toned, and on drums; and the beast, with its trunk swaying to right and left, begged a gift for the expenses of the temple.

The priests slowly mounted the stairs, the music died away in echoes more and more confused, ceasing at last, while the sacred animal, going off to the right at the foot of the steps, disappeared into its stable.

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.

Ekkas, and chigrams closed with thick curtains, came galloping past with loud cries from within. All was noise and a shifting of many colours, seeming more foolish here, in this large island, with its deserted avenues of tall trees, than anywhere else.

A portico, supporting two stories of an unfinished building, forms the principal entrance; the pilasters are crowned with massive capitals scarcely rough-hewn in the stone. This porch alone gives an impression of repose, from its simplicity of line amid the medley of statues and incongruous ornaments loaded with strong colours, which, diminishing by degrees, are piled up to form each temple, ending almost in a spire against the sky. Vishnu, reclining on the undulating rings[Pg 112] of Ananta Sesha the god of serpents, whose name is the Infinite; idols with human faces riding on bulls, and elephants, and prancing horses; terrible Kalis with two fists rammed into their mouth, and six other arms spread like open wings; Ganesa, the elephant-headed god, ponderously squatting, his hands folded over his stomach; Garudha, the bird-headed god, ridden by Vishnu when he wanders through space; Hanuman, the monkey god, perched on a pedestal in an acrobatic attitude, the face painted bright green; gods of every size and every colour mixed up in a giddy whirl, round and round to the very summit of the structure.

In one of the inmost circles, a sacred elephant had gone must, breaking his ropes, and confined now by only one leg. The chains fastened round his feet as soon as he showed the first symptoms of madness were lying broken in heaps on the ground. The brute had demolished the walls of his stable and then two sheds that happened to be in his way; now he was stamping a dance, every muscle in incessant motion, half swallowing his trunk, flinging straw in every direction, and finally heaping it on his head. A mob of people stood gazing from a distance, laughing at his heavy, clumsy movements; at the least step forward they[Pg 113] huddled back to fly, extending the circle, but still staring at the patient. In an adjoining stable were two more elephants very well cared for, the V neatly painted in red and white on their trunks, quietly eating and turning round only at the bidding of the driver; but one of them shed tears.

Inside the temple long arcades connect the shrines sunk in the thickness of the walls, gloomy recesses with images of Vishnu and other idols; where the corridors or arcades cross each other there are vast halls with a sculptured roof supported by thousands of columns. In one of these halls there is a chariot full of divinities. The wheels, the horses, the highly-venerated images, are all of marble very delicately wrought, and amazing after the coarse caricatures on the outside. In the courts again, under sheds, there are cars; one of enormous size in black wood carved with innumerable figures and interlacing patterns; pendant ornaments of the same wood sway in the wind. The solid wheels, without spokes, small and having huge axles, seem made not to turn, and the shafts, to which a whole army of the faithful harness themselves on the occasion of a high festival, are long and as thick as masts.[Pg 114] Another car, past service, lay slowly rotting in a corner; almost all its images had vanished, and its canopy had fallen off; it was almost completely hidden under aristolochia in blossom.


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