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DELHI.
In the centre of the modern fort, a belt of walls with gates that form palaces under the arches, is the ancient residence of the Moguls. Beyond the barracks full of native and English soldiers, we reached the cool silence of the throne-room. Colonnades of red stone surround a throne of white marble inlaid with lilies in carnelian on tall stems of jasper. All round this throne, to protect it from the tourists, but also as if to emphasize its vanity, is a railing.

On the very edge of the Jumna, where russet fields break the monotony of its white sandy banks, is the private state-room, the residence of the sovereigns of Delhi, built of translucent milky[Pg 217] marble, warmed by the reflection of gold inlaid on the columns and merged with the stone that is turned to amber.

Under the white dome a wooden ceiling, gilt in the hollows of the carving, has taken the place of an earlier ceiling of massive silver, worth seventy lacs of rupees, which was carried off by the conquerors after some long-ago seizure of the city. Inside, by way of walls, are carvings in marble of twisted lilies, inconceivably graceful and light. And then, at one of the entrances, those marble lattices, once gilt and now bereft of their gold, look just like topaz in the midday sun. After that magic splendour of gold and marbles fused to topaz and amber, the rest of the palace—the sleeping-rooms, the couches inlaid with mosaic flowers, the pierced stone balconies overlooking the Jumna—all seemed commonplace and familiar.

From a quite small garden close to the palace a bronze gate with three medallions of lilies in high relief, of marvellous workmanship, opens on the Pearl Mosque, exquisitely white, at the end of its forecourt of immaculate pavement enclosed by a marble balustrade. Three polished and shining domes are supported by columns of snow made of a hard white marble, scarcely broken by [Pg 218]ornament, and carrying a roof hollowed into three vaults. The rings are still to be seen on the marble walls outside, to which, when the great Mogul came to prayer, curtains were attached made of gold net and spangled with diamonds and pearls.

In the evening I was to dine with the officers of the Artillery mess, and in going I lost my way. Suddenly before me stood the amber palace, with blue shadows, moon-coloured, the carvings like opal in changing hues of precious gems. Half hidden by a growth of jasmine that loaded the air with fragrance, up rose the cupolas of the little mosque, like pearls reflecting the sparkle of the stars.

Outside the town of Delhi a road bordered by great trees leads across the white plain, all strewn with temples and tombs, to Khoutab, the ancient capital of the Moguls—a dead city, where the ruins still standing in many places speak of a past of unimaginable splendour. There is a colossal tower of red masonry that springs from the soil with no basement; it is reeded from top to bottom, gradually growing thinner as it rises, with fillets of letters in relief, and balconies on brackets as light as ribbands alternating to the top. It is an enormous mass of red stone, which the ages have scarcely discoloured,[Pg 219] and was built by Khoutab-Oudeen Eibek to commemorate his victory over the Sultan Pithri-Raj, the triumph of Islam over Brahminism.

To reach this tower in its garden of flowering shrubs the way is under the Alandin gate of pink sandstone; the name evokes a tale of wonder, and the pointed arch, exquisitely noble in its curve, looks like pale vellum, graven all over with ornaments, and inscriptions to the glory of Allah.

Close to the monumental trophy of Khoutab is a temple with columns innumerable, and all different, overloaded with carvings incised and in relief, with large capitals; beams meet and cross under the roof, also carved in the ponderous stone, and the whole forms a cloister round a court; while in the centre, amid Moslem tombs, an iron pillar stands, eight metres high, a pillar of which there are seven metres sunk in the ground—a colossal casting placed here in 317, when half the civilized world was as yet ignorant of the art of working in metal. An inscription records that "King Dhava, a worshipper of Vishnu, set up this pillar to commemorate his victory over the Belikas of Sindhu."

And side by side with history a pleasing legend tells that King Anang-Pal yearned to atone for his faults and redeem the earth from sin. So by the[Pg 220] counsels of a wise Brahmin he caused this vast iron spike to be forged by giants, to be driven into the earth and pierce the serpent Sechnaga, who upholds the world. The deed was done, but because certain disbelieving men denied that the monster was dead, the king caused the weapon to be pulled up, and at the end of it behold the stain of blood; so the iron beam was driven in again. But the spell was broken—the creature had escaped. The column remained unstable, prefiguring the end of the dynasty of Anang, and the serpent still works his wicked will.

Only one entrance to the temple remains, built of polished red stone mingled harmoniously with marble, toned by time to a warm golden hue almost rose-colour. All the profusion of Indian design is lavished on this gateway framing the marvel erected by Pal. Tangles of interlacing letters incised and in relief, mingling with trails of flowers as lissom as climbing plants, and supporting figures of gods; while a fine powdering of white dust over the dimmed warm yellow of marble and sandstone softens yet more the carved flowers and sinuous patterns, amid which the images sit in tranquil attitudes.

A roofless mausoleum is that of the Sultan[Pg 221] Altamsh, who desired to sleep for ever with no vault over his tomb but that of the heavens; a vast hall, its walls wrought with inscriptions in Persian, Hindostanee, and Arabic, built of brick-red granite and yellow marble softened to pale orange in the golden sunshine. Here and there traces may be seen of wall-paintings, green and blue, but quite faded, and now merely a darker shadow round the incised ornament. Hibiscus shrubs mingle their branches over the tomb and drop large blood-red blossoms on the stone sarcophagus. Further on is another mausoleum, in such good preservation that it has been utilized as a bungalow for some official.

After passing the temples and tombs that surround the Khoutab, the town of ruins lies scattered over the plain of pale sand and withered herbage.

A prodigious palace has left the skeleton of its walls pierced with large windows, and in the blackened stone, almost at the top of the building, a balcony with a canopy over it, resting on fragile columns, is still uninjured; of a pale yellow, like lemon-tree wood, it looks as if it had come into existence only yesterday, a flower risen from the death of the ruins.

Huge vultures were prowling about the place.[Pg 222] At our approach they flapped a little away, and then perching on a heap of stones preened their feathers with clumsy, ungraceful movements.

A tank here is deep below ground, down three flights of galleries. Quite at the bottom is a little stagnant water, into which children leap from the top of the structure, a plunge of twenty metres, ending in a great splash of green mud that smells of water-lilies and grease.

More and yet more palaces; remains of marble porticoes and columns, walls covered with tiles glittering in the blazing sunshine like topaz and emerald; and over all the peace of dust and death, the only moving thing those vultures, in shades of dull grey almost indistinguishable from the colour of the stones.

And suddenly, emerging from the ruins, we came on a Moslem street with high walls, windowless, and waving plumes of banyan and palm trees rising above the houses.

At the top of the street a caravan of moollahs were performing their devotions at the tomb of a Mohammedan saint, whose sarcophagus was enclosed within a balustrade of marble and a border of lilies, alternately yellow and green, with large full-blown flowers in blue, fragile relics that have[Pg 223] survived for centuries amid ruins that are comparatively recent.

The road goes on. Trees cast their shade on the flagstone pavement, but between the houses and through open windows the sandy plain may be seen, the endless whiteness lost in a horizon of dust.

And again ruins. Under an archway still left standing on piers carved with lilies and foliage, lay a whole family of pariahs covered with leprosy and sores.

Close to a village that has sprouted under the baobab-trees, in the midst of the plain that once was Khoutab, in the court of a mosque, is the marble sarcophagus of a princess. Grass is growing in the hollow of the stone that covers her, in fulfilment of the wishes of the maiden, who in her humility desired that when she was dead she should be laid to rest under the common earth whence the grass grows in the spring. And not far from the rajah's daughter, under a broad tamarind tree, in the blue shade, is the tomb of Kushru, the poet who immortalized Bagh-o-Bahar. On the sarcophagus, in the little kiosk, was a kerchief of silk and gold, with a wreath of fresh flowers renewed every day by the faithful.

[Pg 224]

A humble poet, more venerated than the kings whose superb mausoleums are crumbling to dust in subjugated India, who, though she forgets her past, is still true to her dreams.

Another magnificent temple, with marble arcades wrought to filigree, curved in frilled arches, on spindle-like columns that soar to support the cupolas, as light as flower-stems. A gem of whiteness and sheen in the desert of ruins where yet stand three matchless marvels: the tower of Khoutab, the gate of Alandin, and the column of Dhava.

Toglackabad, again an ancient Delhi, a rock on the bank of the Jumna after crossing a white desert; walls of granite, massive bastions, battlemented towers of a Saracen stamp, rough-hewn, devoid of ornament, and uniform in colour—bluish with light patches of lichen. The enclosure has crumbled into ruin, in places making breaches in the walls, which nevertheless preserve the forbidding aspect of an impregnable citadel.

Entering by one of the fourteen gates in the ramparts of stone blocks scarcely hewn into shape, the city of palaces and mosques is found in ruins, matching the fortifications, without any decoration,[Pg 225] and all of the same cold grey hue, like a city of prisons.

At a short distance from Toglackabad, on a solitary rock, stands a square building of massive architecture, sober in outline, and crowned by a stone dome. It dwells alone, surrounded by walls; the mausoleum of Toglack, containing his tomb with that of his wife and his son, Mohammed the Cruel.

And there are ruins all the way to Delhi, whither we returned by the old fortress of Purana Kila, with its pink walls overlooked by a few aerial minarets and more traces of graceful carving, the precursors of the Divan i Khas and Moti Musjid the Pearl Mosque.

In the town camels were harnessed to a sort of carriage like a hut perched on misshapen wheels, and rumbling slowly through the streets, seeming very heavy at the heels of the big beast with its shambling gait.

To the Chandni Chowk—the bazaar. In a miniature-painter's shop was a medley of ivories, of boxes inlaid with silver and ebony, and toys carved in sandal-wood.

The artist sat at work in a corner of the window, copying minutely, for the thousandth time perhaps, a Taj or a Moti Musjid. Quite unmoved while his[Pg 226] shopman displayed his wares, he worked on with brushes as fine as needles; but when, on leaving, I asked him where I could procure some colours I needed, "Then the sahib paints?" said he; and he rose at once, insisted on my taking a seat, pressed me to accept a little sandal-wood frame, as a fellow-artist, and then would positively paint my portrait.

In a little alley of booths was a shop with no front show, and behind it a sort of studio full of carvers and artists working on sandal-wood boxes, ivory fans as fine as gauze, and wooden lattices with elaborate flower patterns, used to screen the zenana windows. And in little recesses workmen dressed in white, with small copper pots about them in which they had brought rice for their meals, were chasing and embossing metal with little taps of their primitive tools, never making a mistake, working as their fancy might suggest, without any pattern, and quite at home in the maze of interlacing ornament.

In order that I might be far from the noise of the street the merchant had the objects I wished to see brought to me in a little room over the shop. Everything was spread before me on a white sheet, in the middle of which I sat. Refreshments were[Pg 227] brought, fruits and sweetmeats, while a coolie waved a large fan over my head—a huge palm-leaf stitched with bright-hued silks.

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.

[Pg 228]

In the evening to the theatre—a Parsee theatre; a large tent, reserved for women on one side by a hanging of mats. The public were English soldiers and baboos with their children, and in the cheapest places a packed crowd of coolies.

The manager also traded in clocks, and a selection was displayed for sale at one end of the stalls.

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.

The actors were exclusively men and boys, those who took female parts wore rusty wigs over their own long, black hair; these were plaited on each side of the face, and waxed behind to fall over the shoulders. The costumes of velvet and satin, heavily embroidered with gold and silver, were hideous.

The scenery was preposterous: red and green flowers growing on violet boughs, with forests in the background of pink and yellow trees; perspective views of streets, in which the houses were climbing over each other, and finally a purple cavern under a brilliant yellow sky.

The actors spoke their parts like lessons, with a gesture only now and then, and invariably wrong;[Pg 229] and they all spoke and sang through the nose in an irritating voice pitched too high.

The play was Gul-E-Bakaoli.

King Zainulmulook has lost his sight, and can recover it only if someone will bring to him a miraculous flower from the garden of Bakaoli. His four sons set out in search of it. Zainulmulook has a fifth son, named Tazulmulook. At the birth of this child the king has had his horoscope cast by the astrologers of the palace, who declared that the king would become blind if he should see his son before his twelfth year; but hunting one day the king has met Tazulmulook, who was walking in the forest, and has lost his sight.

In a jungle we now see Tazulmulook banished and solitary, and he relates his woes.

The four sons of the king presently come to a town. They ring at the door of a house inhabited by a woman who, as the little English translation tells us, carries on a foul trade, and Dilbar the dancing-girl appears.

This Dilbar was a boy with a more woolly wig than the others, and to emphasize her sex wore a monstrous display of trinkets round her neck and arms, in her ears and nose.

Dilbar dances and sings before the brothers, and[Pg 230] then proposes to play cards. The stake is the liberty of the loser. The four princes play against the dancing-girl, who wins and has them imprisoned on the spot.

Tazulmulook arrives in the same town, and is on the point of ringing at Dilbar's door when he is hindered by his father's vizier, who tells him how many times this dangerous woman has been the ruin of kings' sons. But Tazulmulook, in a discourse on valour addressed to the audience, who stamped applause, rejects the counsels of prudence and rings at the dancer's door. Tazulmulook wins the game with Dilbar, and compels her to release his brothers, but only after branding each on the back of his neck.

The young prince then goes on his way in search of the magical flower. He is about to rest awhile in a cavern, but at the moment when he lies down on a stone it is transformed into a monster made of bladder, which rears itself enraged in the air with a trumpet-cry. By good luck the king's son calls upon the aid of the prophet Suleiman, whom the dragon also reveres, and the pacified monster conveys Tazulmulook to the garden of Bakaoli, and, moreover, gives him a ring which will be a talisman in danger.

[Pg 231]

Tazulmulook finds Bakaoli asleep in her garden, and after plucking the miraculous flower he exchanges the ring for that of the princess and departs. Bakaoli awakes, and discovering the theft of the flower and of her ring is much disturbed, and gives orders that the thief is to be caught.

Tazulmulook on his way meets a blind man, whom he restores to sight by the help of the magical flower; the man relates the story of the cure to the four brothers, who quickly follow up Tazulmulook and presently overtake him. After a short conflict they rob him of the talisman and fly. The young prince is in despair, but as he wrings his hands he rubs Bakaoli's ring and the dragon instantly appears. Tazulmulook commands him forthwith to build a palace in front of that of King Zainulmulook.

While all this is going forward in the jungle, Bakaoli, disguised as an astrologer, comes to the king, to whom she promises the coming of the miraculous flower, and even while she is speaking the return of the four princes is announced.

The old king is at once cured; he embraces his sons again and again. After this emotion the first thing he remarks is the new palace that has sprung from the ground exactly opposite his own.

[Pg 232]

He, with his four sons, goes to pay a call on Tazulmulook, whom he does not recognize in his palace, when suddenly Dilbar arrives to claim her prisoners. The fifth son then relates to the king the deeds of his elder brothers, and in proof of his words points to the mark each of them bears on his neck. The king anathematizes the princes, and sends them to prison, but loads Tazulmulook with honours and affection.

Bakaoli, having returned to her own country, sends her confidante, named Hammala, with a letter to Tazulmulook, who at once follows the messenger. The prince and the queen fall in love with each other. Bakaoli's mother finds them together, and furious at the disobedience of her daughter, who is affianced to another rajah, she calls up a djinn to plunge Tazulmulook in a magic fount. The prince finds himself transformed into a devil with horns, and wanders about the jungle once more. There he meets a pariah woman with three children, who begs him to marry her. Tazulmulook in despair leaps back into the spring to die there, and to his great surprise recovers his original shape.

Bakaoli bewails her lover's departure, for which no one, not even her mother, can comfort her.
 
Tazulmulook, again an outcast in the jungle, rescues a lady related to Bakaoli from the embrace of a demon, and she in gratitude takes the prince to Bakaoli's court. So at last the lovers are united and married.

This interminable piece, with twenty changes of scene, dragged its weary length till two in the morning. One by one the soldiers went away; even the baboos soon followed them, and only the coolies remained, enthusiastically applauding every scene, every harangue, in a frenzy of delight, before the final apotheosis of Tazulmulook and Bakaoli, as man and wife, lovingly united against a background of trees with golden boughs.


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