THE RAJPUTS AND THEIR COUNTRY
In India, as everywhere else, the climate and physical features of the country have exercised a sharp and lasting influence upon the race that lives therein. The noblest characters, the brave, the strong, the enduring and the progressive come from the north, where the air is keen and encourages activity, while those who dwell in the south have hereditary physical and moral lassitude. The geographical names are typical of the people. They all mean something and have a poetical and oftentimes a political significance. "The Mountains of Strength" encompass a plateau called "The Abode of Princes," and beyond and behind them stretches a desert called the "Region of Death." This country is called the Rajputana - pronounced Raashpootana - and is composed of the most interesting of all the native states of India, twenty in number, with an area of 150,000 square miles and a population of more than 12,000,000. They are the only part of the empire where ancient political institutions and dynasties survive, and their preservation is due to the protection of the British authorities. Each prince is the hereditary chief of a military clan, the members of which are all descended from a common ancestor, and for centuries have been the lords of the soil. Many of the families are Mohammedans, and they are famous for their chivalry, their loyalty, their independence and love of the truth. These characteristics, I contend, are largely due to the climate and the topography of the territory in which they live.
Mount Abu, the sacred Olympus of western India, a huge heap of granite rising 5,650 feet above the sea, is in the center of Rajputana. It is called the "Pinnacle of the Saints," and upon its summit may be found the highest ideals of Indian ecclesiastical architecture in a group of five marble temples erected by peace-loving and life-protecting Jains, the Quakers of the East. These temples were built about a thousand years ago by three brothers, pious merchant princes, Vimala Sah, Tejpala and Vastupala. The material was carried more than 300 miles over mountains and across plains - an undertaking worthy of the ancient Egyptians. The columns and pillars, the cornices, the beams that support the roofs, the arches of the gateways, windows and doors, the sills and lintels, the friezes and wainscoting, all of the purest and daintiest marble, were chiseled by artists of a race whose creed pronounces patience to be the highest virtue, whose progenitor lived 8,000,000 years, and to whom a century is but a day. The purpose of the prayers of these people is to secure divine assistance in the suppression of all worldly desires, to subdue selfishness, to lift the soul above sordid thoughts and temptations. Therefore they built their temples amid the most beautiful scenery they could find. They made them cool and dark because of the heat and glare of this climate, with wide porticoes, overhanging eaves that shut out the sunshine and make the interior one great refreshing shadow, tempting the warm and weary to enter the cool twilight, for all the light they have is filtered through screens made of great sheets of fine-grained marble, perforated with tracery and foliage designs as delicate as Brussels lace.
In the center of this wonderful museum of sculpture, surrounded by a forest of carved columns, which in the minuteness and beauty of detail stand almost unrivaled even in this land of lavish labor and inexhaustible patience, sits the image of Parswanatha, the god of Peace and Plenty, a divinity that encourages love and gentleness and truth, to whom these temples were dedicated. He is seated upon an exquisite platform of alabaster, with legs crossed and arms folded, silent and immovable, engaged in the contemplation of the good and beautiful, and his lips are wreathed in a smile that comprehends all human beings and will last throughout eternity. Around this temple, as usual with the Jains, is a cloister - a wide colonnade supported by a double row of pillars. There are fifty-five cells opening upon it, but instead of being occupied by monks or priests, in each of them, upon a throne of lotus leaves, sits an exact miniature duplicate of the image of the same god, in the same posture, with the same expression of serene and holy calm. A number of young priests were moving about placing fresh flowers before these idols, and in the temple was a group of dusty, tired, hungry, half-naked and sore-footed pilgrims, who had come a long way with packs on their backs bearing their food and seeking no shelter but the shade of temples or trees. Here at last they found rest and relief and consolation, and it seems a beautiful religion that requires nothing more from its devotees.
The forty-eight columns which sustain the dome of this temple have been pronounced the most exquisite examples of carved marble in existence, and the highest authority on Indian architecture declares that the dome "in richness of ornament and delicacy of detail is probably unsurpassed in the world."
Facing the entrance to the temple is a square building, or portico, containing nine large white elephants, each carved from a monolith of marble. Originally they all had riders, intended to represent Vimala Sah, the Jain merchant, and his family going in procession to worship, but several of the figures have been broken entirely away and others have been badly damaged. These five temples, with their courtyards and cloisters, are said to have cost $90,000,000 and to have occupied fourteen years in building, from 1032 to 1046 A. D.