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152

BEXARES, THE SACRED CITY

fir-cones or cypress-trees, and suggest Saracenic rather than Hindu origin.

Probably they were made for the service of the mosque, and appropriated by the Hindus on the de

cline of Muhammadan rule. The mosque itself has no special interest, except for its historical associations, and were it not for its splendidly-chosen situation it would command no special attention; but it is worth while to climb the great pyramid of steps in order to see the little piazza in front of the mosque, which overlooks the river.

It is like any piazza in Italy or Spain, but it gives an excellent coign of vantage where, after the time of the morning sandhya, one can observe the crowd returning from the river, take notes, or admire the groups which arrange themselves continually in all sorts of suggestive

tableaux vivants. Here are LAMP-STAND AT

three old women, who pause PANCHGANGA

to barter with a seller of pots and pans, unconsciously posing themselves with their classic drapery like the Fates, or the Weird Sisters (p. 153). There is a shrine built round a pippal-tree, round which a procession of worshippers is constantly passing, sprinkling it with water of the sacred river. Later on, when the crowd is smaller, one notices a

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« Three old women, who pause to barter with a seller of pots and pans, unconsciously posing themselves with their classic drapery like the Fates, or the Weird Sisters" (page 152)

SCENES AT PANCHGANGA

155

Sådhu, who at first sight seems to be inflicting upon himself a terrible penance. He is reclining on a low wooden bed, which, by way of a mattress, is studded all over with long iron spikes. On closer observation, however, it will be found that he has been careful to provide himself with a cushion for his back; the spikes are blunt, and so close together that probably they have never caused him very great inconvenience. He may impress the simple-minded pilgrim with an appearance of frightful austerity, but to the ordinary observer he presents rather an idyll of peace and self-satisfaction, as he reclines at ease in the sunshine, puffing occasionally at the chillum by his side and reading a pocket edition of the Bhagavad Gita.

As a contrast to this innocent imposture, there is a young Vaishnavite nun worshipping in a primitive shrine close by, who seems to be an example of that simple piety which is often found among Indian women. The by-standers say that she has followed a religious life since childhood, and her modest demeanour and absence of affectation speak for her sincerity. She is wholly absorbed in reading the sacred books, and takes not the least notice either of the by-standers or of the camera which is levelled at her (p. 157).

Beyond Panchganga there is not much of interest until we get to Gâi Ghât. A colossal statue of the sacred cow, carved with much monumental dignity, here holds the place of honour on the ghất steps. Grouped in front of it you may often see statuesque women like nymphs or nereids, who, as they are bathing or robing themselves, take attitudes of perfect classic grace with an unconscious ease no artist's model could ever imitate. One could go on day after day

(B 488)

156 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY along the ghâts through this wonderful panorama of Indian life,' every day observing new customs and ceremonies, seeing new types of race, fresh motifs for

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the painter or sculptor, different scenes in the drama of human existence--for Benares is the microcosm of all India. .

After Gái Ghât is Palhvad Ghât, another great Hight

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