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A RAJPUT CITY
THE Rathores, the ruling family of Jodhpur, are probably — bracketed with one or two other Rajput stocks — the most noble house in the world. Their pedigree begins with the beginning of time, but for practical purposes it need not be followed back beyond 470 A. D. At that time they are certainly known to have been kings; and kings they have been ever since — at first in Kanauj, in the Ganges Valley, and afterwards, driven thence, in Rajputana. In the undesirable scrub and desert they cut out their kingdom, and perched their fort on the rock; seven centuries of unequal war with Afghan and Mogul emperors, with Maratha rievers and with their brother States of Rajputana, had left them faint but surviving, when the British Peace came to give them rest.
As the Rajputs are the purest blood of India, so their social structure is the oldest — a mixture of feudalism and clanship, where the nobles hold the lands their ancestors won in war or received from kings as younger sons' portions. Elsewhere in India the Maharajah is the State and his subjects nothing; in Rajputana he is the head of the family, first among his peers. The lower castes, descendants of the conquered aborigines, are nothing; but the poorest Rajput is kin to the king.
The cenotaphs of the Rathore rulers are at Mandore, three miles out. There they had their capital before, in 1459, Jodla built his castle above the city that bears his name; and here their ashes were buried. Through a gate of carved stone, you come into a garden cool with green leaves, starred with ruddy-purple bougainvillea, blooming richly under the brow of bare precipices. Beyond are the tombs — tapering masses of dark, red-brown stone, as proud as pyramids, as graceful as spires. Terrace rises from square arch, pillar and capital climb above terrace; over all towers a cone-shaped dome — not the plain dome we know, but the union of a multitude of tiny ones running one into the other, till the whole is ribbed and fluted and looks like a pine-apple. From a coping-stone here, from a seam in the pine-apple there, looks out the sculptured head of the royal elephant. At one tomb, says the custodian with a tear for the past and a sigh for the degenerate present, no less than eighty-four widows were burned.
But before you come to the cenotaphs of the kings, — and this is the point, as illustrating Raj put society, — you will have passed a gallery something between statuary and fresco. Under a colonnade is a huge procession of coloured figures in relief — colossal and crude, with faces like the necklaced cats you buy in china shops, and horses less horse-like than the toys of our childhood. They are so naïvely hideous, the contrast between the babyish statuary and the effortless, masterly architecture is so astounding, that you ask the Vakil whether these are not gods. The Vakil is officially a sort of agent between the Marwar Government and the Resident, and personally a pleasant, dark-faced, black-moustached young man in a sweater and tunic and the celebrated Jodhpur riding-breeches. "No, sir, not god," he replies. "Kings, then?" "No, sir, not king — gentleman — like me." These are heroes who have distinguished themselves in War — not monarchs, not necessarily of the immediate Royal Family; simply Rajputs, "gentleman, like me," and as such fitted for any gallery of glories.
In the city that nestles under the sheer scarped rock you will see those who are not Rajputs — the subjects. Driving in through the gate, under the battlements of the broad, crumbling wall, you are instantly in complete India, unspoiled and unimproved. Jodhpur has its Decauville railway, you are aware; it also has its froward camels, who lie down across the High Street and refuse to move for royal carriages. Over any booth in the bazaar, on any poor man's house, you will see stonework — latticed windows, mouldings, traceries, cornices overhanging the street — so exquisite that they seem wafted out of a fairy tale. Yet, when it wanted but another foot of stone, another week of work, to be perfect, the artist broke off, and the delicate masterpiece is finished by a few roughhewn slabs piled on anyhow, a mat or a heap of sods, a paintless broken shutter framed in a jewel of carving. It is the East, you murmur, enraptured — the undiluted East at last, opulent, shiftless, grotesque, magical. There is a temple — pure Orient. The central shrine rises in tiers of jutting eaves like a pagoda; the front is an embroidery of stone screens; down over the Windows droop long crescent-shaped cornices like a gull's wings; at each side of the entrance-steps stands a marble-elephant, all straight lines and square corners, as if it had just stepped out of a Noah's ark. Passing on, you catch a glimpse of another façade of tracery, lavished on a street a yard wide where nobody could ever see it; on the other side, over a bunch of wood-and-straw hovels on a rock, soars another pine-apple dome. There is another marvel of stonework, arches and window-frames finished with the finger-nail but blending into one long harmonious front; the thousand points of its cornice overhang a row of shabby shops, whose fires have blackened the fretwork with generations of smoke.
This is surely pure East. Your eye has strung itself to the high tones of colour by now, and what at first only dazzled now shows you shades and symphonies. The people group themselves for you: every window-space and roof is full of their radiance. Blues soften from cobalt through peacock to indigo; turbans are no longer merely flaring red or yellow, but magenta, crimson, flame-colour, salmon-colour, gold, orange, lemon. The group of women bunched in the street in worn garments is a study in brick-red and old gold. Every shop in the bazaar — an old man squatting among metal pots, a boy with liquid eyes dilating at the unknown sahib, both in a bare cube of dirty plaster four steps above the street — becomes a picture in its frame. Here is the Royal Mint, and they bring you a chair to see the fashioning of gold mohurs and silver rupees. One man weighs out the metal, another fuses it in a blow-pipe flame to a fat disc, another holds it on a die, and yet another smites it with a die-hammer. The coin jumps out jingling, and they will sell it you warm; only the mauve-clad master of the mint forgets how much it is worth, and will send you your change to-morrow. Next, jingling bells and flinging abroad their harlequin rags of yellow, dull red and citron, come a group of fakirs; round the next corner is a yet holier man, flowing grey-bearded, his face white with ashes; turn again and a votary is sitting cross-legged on an empty petroleum-box with his nose against a six-armed, three-headed, monkey-grinned god. Then you pass through a wide market, floored with sacks of corn and roofed with clouds Of blue pigeons, to the tank — a sheet of green-gold water walled with stone, With parapets and broad staircases, and at the foot of each, purple- or brown- or carnation-clad women dipping with shining brass.
Oh yes, pure East — and here vaguely sways an elephant up the street; and there — there — O disillusion! — a little shabby box on wheels switchbacks along little rails, bumps into camels, jaggernauts over lop-eared goats, and bears the inscription, "Jodhpur Tramways." And now I see, amid strange vegetables and fruits, amid loin-clothed bakers kneading strange dough into strange confectionery, cheap, gaudy German pictures, illuminated for the export market, daubing native gods even more brutally hideous than the reality.
Alas! there seems no East without its smudge of West. Come up to the fort on the rock; perhaps we shall find an untainted sanctuary there. The rock springs sheer up from the nestling town, every face scarped into smooth precipice; the ancient palace of the Rathores lifts its diadem from the summit. To reach the zigzags that climb to it you must sweep all round the city, up rock-fringed serpentines; and when you have climbed to the gate the palace seems more inaccessibly lofty than before.
Look up. White walls, half bastion, half Titanic pillar, mount up and up; small over your head, up in the very sky, leaning over dizzy nothing, hang blush-red fairy houses with pin-point windows. Under a frowning gateway, past the trapping-houses of the royal elephants, turn, and up another steep-walled slope, another — there are the rough heaps of stone still in place to hurl down on to a storming party--till you come to another tall, grim gateway. Here on slabs on either side you see the rough prints of hands — five on the right, some thirty on the left — each the mark of a queen as she came down from the fort for the last time to be burned with her dead lord.
You still feel like a beetle as you look up at the brows of the palace, but there is only one long ramp to pull up. And then you stand in front of buildings laced all over with carving, rigid as the stone it is, light as the air it breathes. You pass from arch to arch, to court within court, till you are mazed with gull-wing window-shades, lattice-windows, fretted screens, thousand-pointed pendent cornices, the epitome of all the beauties below. Description melts away powerless before the myriad touches, the majestic whole: you can only murmur, a fairy tale charmed into stone.
And then when you go into the royal saloons you find them illuminated like an old missal with labyrinths of gold and azure and scarlet, lustrous with gold and rose-coloured silks, and furnished with the crudest, ugliest, gaudiest, vulgarest drawing-room suites and ottomans and occasional tables. You look for the ticket on the back: "In this style, complete, one million rupees." And the richest apartment of all is bile and jaundice with cheap green and yellow panes from the window of a suburban lavatory!
Yet it is very good. They can turn splendour into grotesqueness, but after all they will hardly face the stone poetry with red brick and stucco. And there always remains the fort. The rows of guns on the terrace — from the little dragon-mouthed, dragon-tailed one, almost scraping ground with its fat belly, to the black four-wheeled leviathan that must have used up elephants on elephants to mount here — the antique guns will always look out to the white and green checker-board of Jodhpur. At sundown, when the mile-long columns of cattle trail in from pasture, and the golden clouds rise up from the Prime Minister's polo-ground, the naked rock and hard-browed walls stand up, steadfast, indestructible, proud, above the dust-veil and the city sheltering at their feet. At sundown they are lambent in every seam and wrinkle with cold violet-blue; at dawn they will glow with hot carmine; but always they will be there. The city may change, the cattle and the very polo may pass away; but, night and morning, the fastness of the Rathores will endure for ever.