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.

Mount Abu is the headquarters of the Rajputana administration, the hot weather station for the British troops, and the favorite summer resort of the European colonies of western India. The mountain is encircled with well-made roads, winding among the forests, and picturesque bridle paths. There are many handsome villas belonging to officials and private citizens, barracks, schools, asylums, clubs and other modern structures.

In several of the larger cities of the province can be found temples similar to those I have described; some of them of Saracenic architecture, equal to that of the Alhambra or the Persian palaces. The pure Hindu designs differ from the Saracenic as widely as the Gothic from the Romanesque, but often you find a mixture embracing the strongest features of both. The rich and the strong gave expression to their own sense of beauty and taste when by the erection of these temples they sought to honor and glorify the gods to whom they pray.

Ajmere, the winter capital of the governor general of Rajputana, is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities of western India, having been founded only a hundred years after the beginning of the Christian era, and occupying a picturesque position in an amphitheater made by the mountains, 3,000 feet above the sea. It is protected by a stone wall, with five gateways; many of the residences and most of the buildings are of stone, with ornamental facades, and some of them are of great antiquity. In the olden days it was the fashion to build houses to last forever. Ajmere has a population of about 70,000. It is surrounded by a fertile country, occupied by an industrious, wealthy, and prosperous people. The city is commanded by a fortress that crowns a noble hill called "The Home of the Stars," possesses a mosque that is one of the most successful combinations of Hindu and Saracenic architecture of which I have spoken, the conception of some unknown genius, combining the Mohammedan ideas of grandeur with Hindu delicacy of taste and prodigality of detail. In its decorations may be found some of the most superb marble embroidery that the imagination can conceive of. One of the highest authorities dates its erection as far back as the second century before Christ, but it is certainly of a much later date. Some architects contend that it belongs to the fourteenth century; it is however, considered the finest specimen of early Mohammedan architecture in existence. The mosque can be compared to a grand salon, open to the air at one side, the ceiling, fifty feet high, supported by four rows of columns, eighteen in each row, which are unique in design, and no two of them are alike. The designs are complex and entirely novel, and each is the work of a different artist, who was allowed entire liberty of design and execution, and endeavored to surpass his rivals.

There are several other mosques and temples of great beauty in Ajmere, and some of them are sacred places that attract multitudes of pilgrims, who are fed daily by the benevolence of rich contributors. Enormous rice puddings are cooked in eight enormous earthen caldrons, holding several bushels each, which are ready at noon every day. The composition contains rice, butter, sugar, almonds, raisins and spices, and to fill all of the eight pots costs about $70. The moment the pudding is cooked a bell is rung, and the pilgrims are allowed to help themselves in a grab-game which was never surpassed. Greedy creatures scald themselves in the pudding so badly that they sometimes carry the marks for life. It is counted a miracle caused by the intercession of the saints that no lives have ever been lost in these scrambles, although nearly every day some pilgrim is so badly burned that he has to be taken to a hospital. The custom is ancient, although I was not able to ascertain its origin or the reason why the priests do not allow the pudding to cool below the danger point before serving it.

Ajmere is the headquarters of one of the greatest railways in India, with extensive shops, employing several thousand natives and Europeans. The chief machinists, master mechanics and engineers are almost exclusively Scotchmen.

In this province may be found an excellent illustration of the effect of the policy of the British government toward the native princes. It had good material to work with, because the twenty independent Rajput princes are a fine set of men, all of whom trace their descent to the sun or the moon or to one of the planets, and whose ancestors have ruled for ages. Each family has a genealogical tree, with roots firmly implanted in mythology, and from the day when the ears of their infants begin to distinguish the difference in sounds, and their tongues begin to frame thoughts in words, every Rajput prince is taught the tables of his descent, which read like those in the Old Testament, and the names of his illustrious ancestors. Attached to each noble household is a chronicler or bard, whose business is to keep the family record straight, and to chant the epics that relate the achievements of the clan. As I have said, all the Rajput families are related and belong to the same caste, which has prevented them from diluting their blood by marriage with inferior families. It is his blood, and not the amount of his wealth or the extent of his lands, that ennobles a Rajput. Many of the noblest families are very poor, but the poorest retains the knowledge and the pride of his ancestors, which are often his only inheritance.

These characteristics and other social and religious customs make Rajputana one of the most romantic and fascinating spots in India, and perhaps there is no more interesting place to study the social, political and economical development of a people who once held that only two professions could be followed by a gentleman - war and government. But their ancient traditions have been thoroughly revised and modified to meet modern ideas. They have advanced in prosperity and civilization more rapidly than any other of the native states. Infanticide of girl babies was formerly considered lawful and generally practiced among them, and widows were always burned alive upon the funeral pyres of their husbands, but now the Rajput princes are building hospitals and asylums for women instead, bringing women doctors from Europe to look after the wives and daughters in their harems, and are founding schools for the education of girls.

About three miles from the center of Ajmere is Mayo College, for the exclusive education of Rajput princes, and erected by them. The center building, of white marble, is surrounded by villas and cottages erected for the accommodation of the members of the princely families who are sent there. The villas are all of pure Hindu architecture, and there has been considerable rivalry among the different families to see which should house its cadets in the most elegant and convenient style. Hence, nowhere else in India can be found so many fine examples of modern native residence architecture. The young princes live in great style, each having a little court around him and a number of servants to gratify his wants. It is quite the usual arrangement for a college student to live in a palatial villa, with secretaries, aides-de-camp, equerries and bodyguards, for Indian princes are very particular in such matters, and from the hour of birth their sons are surrounded with as much ceremony as the King of Spain. They would not be permitted to attend the college if they could not continue to live in regal state. Some of them, only 10 or 12 years old, have establishments as large and grand as those of half the kings of Europe, and the Princes Imperial of England or of Germany live the life of a peasant in comparison.