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STRAY LEAVES FROM THE ROYAL SCHOOL-ROOM TABLE.
THE three temples around which the city of the (Tang Harm had taken root and gradually grown to its present dimensions were especially remarkable. The one in which I taught, Watt Khoon Chom Manda Thai, — Temple of the Mothers of the Free, — was formerly dedicated to the mother of the Buddha, as its ancient name Manda Maia Goudamana clearly shows; and the other was dedicated to the "Buddha Thapinya," Buddha the Omniscient, and the third and most beautiful to the "Buddha Annando,"1 Buddha the Infinite, — all names from the Pali. The general effect of each of these buildings is that of some great church in the southern part of Europe. The basement story is a square mass of about two hundred feet on each side, with double rows of windows flanked by pilasters and crowned with a curious flamboyant spiral canopy, in what may be called the French-Gothic style. These pilasters and this canopy are the two most marked and universal features in the Buddhist architecture; at the middle of each side of the basement rises a lofty porch or ante-hall, terminating in an immense gabled façade, pilastered and canopied like the windows. These halls or vestibules convert the temple into a vast Greek cross. Over the basement rise a number of diminishing terraces with small pagodas at the angles, the whole culminating in a pyramidal steeple like the Hindoo shivala; and lastly the steeple itself is crowned with a chayatree, or tapering umbrella of gilt ironwork, rising to nearly two hundred feet from the ground.
The interior consists of two great concentric corridors with large recesses for the images. Most of the images are standing figures; the Buddha alone is either seated or reclining, in various attitudes of benediction, or preaching on elevated lotus-shaped pedestals. The vaulted cells in which the Buddha is seated reach up to the second and sometimes to the third terrace, and from a small window in the roof there streams a flood of sunlight downwards on the head and shoulders of the colossus, with wonderful effect.
There is great uncertainty about the dates and builders of these three temples, and I know nothing more interesting and beautiful than the legend which is attached to the spot on which they stand. In the Siamese annals, however, it is stated that these temples have stood here for nearly twelve hundred years, embedded in what was once a sacred grove of olive, palm, and boh trees, before Bangkok was ever settled, and in the palmy days of the ancient and beautiful city of Ayodhya or Ayudia; that they then attracted pilgrims from all parts of the world, particularly women, who came to perform vows or to offer votive sacrifices at their shrines.
It was P'hra P'huthi Chow L'huang, a usurper, who, in order to establish more securely his throne, selected the vicinity of these triad temples as the seat of government, removed his palace from the west to the east bank of the Mèinam, founded a city, surrounded it with triple walls, and called it the abode of the beautiful and invincible archangel.
As often as I sat in the porches of these temples, the chanted prayers of the worshippers boomed through the aisles and inspired me with feelings of the devotion; and whenever I passed along the dim, silent corridors, and came unexpectedly m front of one of the great golden images with its folded anus and drooping eyelids, looking down upon me in monitory sadness, with the wisdom of ages stamped upon its brow, amid the gloom of a never-ending twilight, while the head and shoulders were illuminated by a halo of light from the unseen source above, the effect was strangely mystical, solemn, and profound.
The character of these buildings I do not exaggerate in calling them sublime; they prove unmistakably that the architect, whoever he was,
"Wrought in a sad sincerity; Himself from God he could not free; He builded better than he knew: The conscious stone to beauty grew."
This impression was deepened every time I visited them, and, though I knew every inch of the temples and their surroundings, the meanings of some of the symbols remained mysterious and incomprehensible. If I succeeded in unravelling one portion, the remainder was lost in inextricable perplexity and doubt.
My pupils in that wonderful city numbered from twenty to twenty-five boys and girls, the loveliest and most remarkable of whom were the heir-apparent, the Prince Somdetch P'hra Paramendr Maha Chuklonkorn, his younger sister, the little fairy-like creature Fa Ying,2 the Princesses Wanee, Ying-You Wahlacks, Somawati, the Prince Kreta-Bhinniharn, the only son of Hidden-Perfume, P'hra Ong Dwithwahabh, and Kabkranockratin, the sons of the child-wife; and in addition to these were several gentlewomen of the harem.
We always began school immediately after the Buddhists' morning service, which I was obliged to attend, so as to muster my pupils together in good order, and which was held precisely at nine o'clock in the temple of the Chom Manda Thai. The long inlaid and richly gilt table on which we pursued our studies day after day was the same on which had been laid every morning for hundreds of years offerings to the priests of Buddha, and whereon stood the bronze censers and the golden vases from which ascended clouds of fragrant incense amid the perfume of still more fragrant flowers, while the brilliant colors of the silks, satins, diamonds, and jewels that adorned the regal worshippers relieved the gloom.
The studies that took the most absolute possession of the fervid Eastern imaginations of my pupils were geography and astronomy. But each had his or her own idea about the form of the earth, and it needed no small amount of patient repetition to convince them that it was neither flat nor square, but round.
The only map — and a very ancient one it was — which they had ever seen was one drawn and painted about a century before, by a Siamese who was thought to possess great scientific and literary attainments.
This map was five feet long by three wide; in the centre was a great patch of red, and above it a small patch of green. On the part painted red — which was intended to represent Siam — was pasted a comical-looking human figure, cut out of silver paper, with a huge pitchfork in one hand and an orange in the other. There was a crown on the head and spurs on the heels, and the sun was shining over all. The legs, which were of miserably thin dimensions, met sympathetically at the knees. And this cadaverous-looking creature was meant for the king of Siam, — indicating that so vast were his strength and power they extended from one end of his dominions to the other. In the little patch of green, intended to represent Birmah, was a small Indian-ink figure, consisting of a little dot for the body, another smaller one for the head, and four scratches of the pen for the Legs and arms; this was meant for the king of Birmah. A Legion of little imps, in many grotesque attitudes, were seen dancing about his dominions; and these almost unintelligible hieroglyphics were to show to the uninitiated in what a disturbed state the Birman Empire was, and what an insignificant personage in his own dominions was the king of that country. On the north side of the green patch was painted a huge Englishman, sporting a cocked hat with red feathers, clasping in his arms what was meant for a vast tract of land. This was marked as British Birmah, and the Englishman was Lord Clive, holding on to it. The rest of the map was all blue, and all around the Siamese territories richly painted and heavily freighted ships were sailing to and fro. But the poor Birmese monarch had not a boat to display. My simple pupils knew just so much as this map taught them, and no more. Birmah on the north, and Siam on the south, and the sea all around, — this was the world to them.
QUEEN OF SIAM
But of their celestial geography they could tell me a host of interesting particulars, all of which they would relate with the accuracy and picturesque vividness of a fairy tale; and whenever a dispute arose as to the height of some of the mountains or the depth or breadth of the oceans in the celestial worlds, they would at once refer to a Siamese book, called "Tri Loke Winit Chai," — a book which settles all questions about the three worlds, of angels, of demons, and of gods, — .and find therein a satisfactory solution of their difficulties. In their celestial chronology they were all equally will grounded. A little fellow of nine years old, when speaking of "time," stood upright in his chair and informed me that he was "time." His name signified a period of time appointed for the creation or the destruction of a world. He then proceeded to tell me with wonderful clearness for one so young," that the first time, or Kâp, is reckoned by the Siamese from the appearance of a certain cloud called god-thirst, which was the harbinger of a creative rain, and which brought into existence the worlds and their attendant suns and moons; that the second Kâp, or time, is the period between the creation of these worlds and the coming of another great cloud denominated the dissolving cloud, arid which is the third Kâp and the forerunner of the dissolution of the worlds; and the fourth Kâp is the period when matter remains in a chaotic mass, waiting for the generative cloud, — god-thirst, — which again pours forth the creative rain, and life once more springs into being. These four periods added together make a Maha-Kâp."
When I pressed him to state the number of years contained in a Maha-Kâp, he became indignant, and replied, "that as the length of a single Kâp could not be computed by the gods themselves, it was unreasonable for me to suppose that he could give me any correct estimate of their actual duration."
I soon found that my pupils were in some respects much wiser than I, and thenceforth we exchanged thoughts and ideas. I gave them sound realities in return for their poetic illusions and chimeras, which had for me a certain charm and a great deal of odd reasonableness, for it was their way of explaining the incomprehensible.
When a large English map and globes of the celestial and terrestrial spheres arrived, they created quite a sensation in the ancient temple of the "Mothers of the Free." His Majesty caused the map to be set in a massive gold frame, and placed it with the globes on ponderously gilt supporters in the very middle of the temple, and for nine days crowds of women came to be instructed in the sciences of geography and astronomy, so that I found my hands quite full. It was hard for them to see Siam reduced to a mere speck on the great globe, but there was some consolation in the fact that England occupied even a smaller space. After the first excitement had worn off, my pupils began to enjoy their lessons; they would cluster round the globes, delighted with the novel idea of a world revolving in space, and some of them were as keen as any Arctic explorer for the discovery of the North Pole, where they could some day sit astride, as they thought, with perfect ease and security, and satisfy their doubts about the form and the revolution of the earth
I found them always full of eager inquiry, unlike most Western children, about the sun and moon and stars; but they preferred to have them peopled with demons, ghosts, and hobgoblins, rather than to have them uninhabited.
On one occasion, when I informed them that the moon was supposed to be uninhabited, all the little eager faces were clouded, and their interest flagged, and little Wanee declared, "that for her part she was convinced that the moon was the beautiful daughter of a great king of Ayudia, who lived many thousands of years ago, and the head wife of the sun, and not a great stupid ball of earth and rock rolling about in the sky to no purpose but for the sun to shine upon."
One day the steamer "Chow P'haya" brought his Majesty a box of ice from Singapore, and I obtained some for an object-lesson. The women and children found do difficulty in believing that it was water frozen; but when I went to tell them about snow, the whole school became indignant at what they considered an evident stretch of my imagination, and my dear simple Mend, Bidden-Perfume, laid her hand gently upon my arm, and said, "Please do not say that again. I believe yon like my own heart in everything yon have taught to me, but this sounds like the story of a little child who wishes to say something more wonderful than anything that was ever said before." So my lesson of the snow proved a stumbling-block to me for several days; my pupils' imaginations had taken alarm, and they could not be brought to believe the simplest statements.
I informed his Majesty of my dilemma; he came to my aid, and assured the royal children that it was just possible that there was such a thing as snow, for English books of travel spoke frequently of some phenomenon which they designated as "snow."
On another occasion, as we were all busily engaged in tracing the river Nile on an ancient map of Egypt, there fell suddenly from the vaulted roof above our heads, and upon the very centre of our chart on the table, a coil of something that looked at first like a beautiful thick silk cord neatly rolled up; in another instant, however, the coil unrolled itself, and began to move slowly away. I screamed, and fled to the extreme end of the temple. But what was my surprise to see all my pupils sitting calmly in their seats, with their hands folded in veneration and their eyes fixed in glowing admiration on the serpent as it moved in tortuous curves along the entire length of the table. With a blush of shame and a sense of inferiority I returned to my seat and watched with them the beautiful creature; a certain feeling of fascination dawned upon me as I looked into its clear, bright, penetrating eyes; the upper part was of a fine violet color, its sides covered with large scales of crimson edged with black; the abdominal parts were of a pale rose-color edged likewise with black; while the tail terminated in tints of a bluish ash of singular delicacy and beauty. As the snake slowly dragged itself to the end of the table I held my breath in terror, for it dropped on the arm of the chair on which the Prince Somdetch Choufa Chulalonkorn was seated, whence it fell on the floor, trailed itself along through the dim corridor and down the steps, and finally passed out of sight under the stone basement of the temple.
On the moment of its disappearance my pupils jumped
up from their seats and clustered around me in the wildest joy, caressing me, and declaring that the gods loved me dearly, else they would not have sent me such an auspicious token in favor of my teaching, I was told that the gliding of the snake all over the table was lull of happy omens, and that its dropping on the arm of the Prince's chair was an unmistakable sign that I would one day become famous in wisdom and knowledge. All the old and young women congratulated me, as did even the king himself, who, when he heard of the singular visitor we had had, caused the circumstance to be made known to the wise men and women of the court, and they all united in pronouncing it to be a wonderful and inspiring recognition of favor from on high. From this time I was treated with great consideration and respect by the simple-hearted women and mothers of the harem, hut I nevertheless felt not a little uncomfortable for days after the sudden descent of the snake, and secretly hoped I might never again be so signally favored by the gods.
I afterwards learned that this snake has three names. In Sanskrit it is celebrated as the Sarpa Rakta, the snake, who brings secret omens from the gods; in Pali, as the Naghalalvana, the crimson snake of the woods, who carries on his person in glowing letters the name of his great master; and in Siamese, Gnuthongdang, the crimson-bellied snake, who brings with its appearance all that is good and great to the beholder.
I leave it with my readers to decide which is the letter, our inherited dread of and desire to destroy the serpent race, or the Siamese custom of idealizing, though with a certain superstitions reverence, the meanest of the works of nature.
Among the ladies of the harem, I knew one woman who more than all the rest helped to enrich my life and to render fairer and more beautiful every lovely woman I have since chanced to meet. Her name translated itself — and no other name could ever have been so appropriate — into "Hidden Perfume." Her clear, dark eyes were clearer and calmer, her full lips had a stronger expression of tenderness about them, and her brow, which was at times smooth and open, and at others contracted with pain, grew nobler and more beautiful as the purposes of her life, strengthened by new elements, grew deeper and broader each day.
She had been deprived of her opportunity of loving as a wife and a woman, and the sorrow that had broken up the fountains of her nature now caused them to flow into deeper channels, for she had become an earnest and devoted mother.
Our daily lessons and talks had become a part of her happiest moments. They gave her entrance into a new world, without requiring that she should abandon any part of the old world she had known, or that she should accept any new religious feelings or dogmas. Her aim was to find out all things that are pure, noble, brave, and good, and to adopt them, whether Pagan or Christian in their origin, and to leave dogmas, creeds, and doctrines to those who were inclined to them by temperament.
One day, it being the Siamese Sabato (Sabbath), I called at her house on my way home. In passing into the little room that she had fitted up to receive me, and which we had dignified with the title of "the study," I saw that my friend, in the room adjoining, was at prayer, kneeling before her altar, on which was a gilt image of the Buddha, while on either side hung pictures of the king and her little son. The room in which she knelt was a gay one, covered with Birmese paper, on which were seen huge trees, some standing, and others uprooted and carried away by the inundation of a mighty tropical river, here and there drifting along passive and lifeless, and anon covered with gay flowers. Thousands of miles distant the sun left open his golden gates, that his waves of light might rest in benediction and with protecting fondness on her dark, upturned face and colored brow. There was a mysterious joy in her worship, which transfigured by its soft inner light her otherwise not beautiful face, and she seemed as if she were holding direct communion in her inner soul with the Infinite Spirit. I stepped into the study and waited until her prayer was offered up. In a little time after I heard her clear voice calling me, and in another moment I was seated beside her at the foot of her pretty little altar. She then asked me to Look at her paper, which I did, telling her that I thought it was a very gay one indeed for her little oratory.
"I see you do not understand the meaning of it." And she proceeded to explain the allegory to me in her quaint and broken English.
"That big green tree there," said she, "is like unto me when I was young and ignorant, rejoicing in earthly distinctions and affections; and then I am brought as a gift to a great king, and only think how grand and how rich I may become; and there you see that I am drooping and my leaves are all withering and begin to Call; here I am shattered and uprooted by a sense of sorrow and humiliation, drifting along an impetuous river, but by and by a little flower stops my downward course. That little flower is my child; he springs out of the very waters which threatened my destruction; and now he grows into a garden of flowers, to hide away from me that which would make me sad and sorrowful again; and now I am always glad."
After a little while, desirous of knowing what the glittering image of Buddha really was to her, I said kindly: "Sonn Klean, you were praying to that idol?"
She did not reply at once, but at length, laying her hand gently upon my arm, said: "Shall I say of you, dear friend, that you worship the ideal or image which you have of your God in your own mind, and not the God? Even so say not of me that I worship the golden image up there, but the Great One who sent me my teacher Buddha, that he might be the guide and the light of my life."
On another occasion when she read and translated the Sermon on the Mount, she suddenly exclaimed with great emotion: "O, your sacred P'hra Jesus is very beautiful! Let us promise one another that whenever you pray to P'hra Jesus you will call him Buddha, the Enlightened One; and I, when I pray to my Buddha, I will call him P'hra Jesu Karuna, the tender and sacred Jesus, for surely these are only different names for the one and the same God."
Her favorite book, however, was "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and she would read it over and over again, though she knew all the characters by heart, and spoke of them as if she had known them all her life.
On the 3d of January, 1867, she invited me to dinner, and she sent to me, in the course of the day, so many messages, telling me to be sure to come, that I began to suspect it was going to be a very grand entertainment. So I put on my best dress, and made myself as fine as I could.
My friend was looking down the street, with her head and shoulders out of her window, as we appeared, and the moment she saw us she rushed to greet us in her own sweet, cordial manner. Dinner was served in the study, for it boasted of one table and five chairs; but our party numbered six in all, so my boy and the Prince Kreta B'hiniharn were obliged to squeeze themselves into one chair, and then there was one apiece for the rest of us. We were served by Peguan slave-girls in the Peguan fashion, on little silver plates, the slave-girls kneeling around us. Fish, rice, jelly, and a variety of sweetmeats, came first, then different kinds of vegetables; alter them a course of meat, venison, and birds of all kinds, and we finished with sweet drinks, preserves, and fruit.
When dinner was over, my friend, in concert with her sisters and slave-girls, performed on several musical instruments with wonderful effect. At last all Sonn Khan's slave-women with their children appeared in a group, one hundred and thirty-two in all, in nice new dresses, all looking particularly happy.
"I am wishful to be good like Harriet Beecher Stowe," — or Stowâ, as my friend persisted in pronouncing that name, — "and never to buy human bodies again, but only to let go free once more, and so I have now no more slaves, but hired servants. I have given freedom to all of my slaves to go or to stay with me as they wish. If they go away to their homes, I am glad; if they stay with me, I am still more glad; and I will give them each four ticals every month after this day, with their food and clothes."
Thenceforth, to express her entire sympathy and affection for the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," she always signed herself Harriet Beecher Stowe; and her sweet voice trembled with love and music whenever she spoke of the lovely American lady who had taught her, "even as Buddha had once taught kings," the rights of her fellow-creatures.
During a severe illness which confined me a month or more to my room, I used to receive the most affectionate letters from this dear lady, signed Harriet Beecher Stowe; and when I once more returned to the palace, she took all the credit of my recovery from an illness so fatal as cholera as due to her intercessions and prayers. In one temple she had vowed that she would save seven thousand lives if mine were granted to her prayers.
I was perplexed and curious to know how she would perform the conditions of such a vow, but she assured me there would be no difficulty about it, and forthwith despatched her servant-women to the market to purchase seven baskets, containing each a thousand live fish, which, with great pomp and ceremony, were set free again in the river, and the seven thousand lives were thus actually saved.
One day, when I was sitting with my friend in her little study, she learned that I had recently lost a very dear relative, and she related to me, in a voice full of the tenderest sympathy and affection, the following Buddhist legend, which I give here as nearly as possible in her own words.
"In the village of Sârvâthi there lived a young wife named Keesah, who at the age of fourteen gave birth to a son; and she loved him with all the love and joy of the possessor of a newly found treasure, for his face was like a golden cloud, his eyes fair and tender as a blue lotus, and his smile bright and beaming like the morning light upon the dewy flowers. But when the boy was able to walk, and could run about the house, there came a day when he suddenly fell sick and died. And Keesah, not understanding what had happened to her fair lotus-eyed boy, clasped him to her bosom, and went about the village from house to house, praying and weeping, and beseeching the good people to give her some medicine to cure her baby.
"But the villagers and neighbors, on seeing her, said: 'Is the girl mad, that she still bears about on her breast the dead body of her child?'
"At length a holy man, pitying the girl's sorrow, said to himself: 'Alas! this Keesah does not understand the law of death; I will try to comfort her.' And he answered her, and said; 'My good girl, I cannot myself give you any medicine to cure your boy, but I know a holy and physician who can.'
" 'O,' said the young mother, ' do tell me who it is, that I may go at once to him!'
"And the holy man replied, 'He is called the Buddha; he alone can cure thy child.'
"Then Keesah, on hearing this, was comforted, and set out to find the Buddha, still clasping to her heart the lifeless body of her child. And when she found him she bowed down before him, and said: 'O my lord and master, do you know of any medicine that will cure my baby?'
"And the Buddha replied and said: 'Yes, I know of one, but you must get it for me.'
"And she asked: 'What medicine do you want? Tell me, that I may hasten in search of it.'
"And the Buddha said: 'I want only a few grains of mustard-seed. Leave here the boy, and go you and bring them to me.'
"The girl refused to part with her baby, but promised to get the seed for him.
"As she was about to set out, the pitiful Buddha, recalling her, said: 'My sister, the mustard-seed that I require must be taken from a house where no child, parent, husband, wife, relative, or slave has ever died.'
"The young mother replied, 'Very good, my lord'; and went her way, taking her boy with her, and setting him astride on her hip, with his lifeless head resting on her bosom.
"Thus she went from house to house, from palace to hut, begging for some grains of mustard-seed.
"The people said to her: 'Here are the seeds; take them, and go thy way.'
"But she first asked: 'In this, my friend's house, has there ever died a child, a husband, a parent, or a slave?'
"And they one and all replied: 'Lady, what is this that thou hast said? Knowest thou not that the living are few, but that the dead are many? There is no such house as thou seekest.'
"Then she went to other houses and begged the grains of mustard-seed, which they gladly gave her, but to her questionings one said, 'I have lost a son '; another, 'I have lost a parent '; and yet another, 'I have lost a slave'; and every one and all of them made some such reply.
"At last, not being able to discover a single house free from the dead, whence she could obtain the mustard-seed, and feeling utterly faint and weary, she sat herself down upon a stone, with her baby in her lap, and thinking sadly said to herself: 'Alas! this is a heavy task I have undertaken. I am not the only one who has lost her baby. Everywhere children are dying, parents are dying, loved ones are dying, and everywhere they tell me that the dead are more numerous than the living. Shall I then think only of my own sorrow?'
"Thinking thus, she suddenly summoned courage to put away her sorrow for her dead baby, and she carried him to the forest and laid him down to rest under a tree; and having covered him over with tender leaves, and taking her last look of his loved face, she betook herself once more to the Buddha and bowed before him.
"And he said to her: 'Sister, hast thou found the mustard-seed? '
" 'I have not, my lord, she replied, 'for the people in the village tell me there is no house in which some one has not died; for the living are few, but the dead are many.'
" 'And where is your baby?'
" 'I have laid him under a tree in the forest, my lord,' said Keesah, gently.
"Then said the Buddha to her: 'You have found the grains of mustard-seed; you thought that you alone had lost a son, but now you hare learned that the law of death and of suffering is among all living, and that here there is no permanence.'
"On hearing this Keesah was comforted, and established in the path of virtue, and was thenceforth called Keesah Godami, the disciple of the Buddha."3
The pleasantest of the days that I spent in the city of the "Nang Harm" were those that fell on the first full moons in the months of May, which days are always held as the anniversary of the birth, inspiration, and death of the Buddha. On the morning of the 21st of May, 1864, was conducted by a number of well-dressed slave-women to the residence of my pupil, the "child wife." Her house was a brick building with a low wall running round it, which took in some few acres of ground devoted to gardens and to residences for her numerous slaves and attendants. I was the first, that morning, to pass between the two brick and mortar lions which guarded the entrance, and after a kindly greeting I took my place at the inner end of the hall or antechamber which gave access to the residence.
The "child wife," a remarkably pretty little woman, dressed in pure white silk, stood in the hall beside a small marble fountain, with her two sons on either ride of her. All round the fountain were huge China vases containing plants, covered with flowers, and between them were immense silver water-jars, each large enough to hold a couple of men, and each containing a huge silver ladle, Thirty or more young slave-women were engaged in filling them with cool fresh water drawn from a well in the garden.
The hall was freshly furnished with striped floor-matting, and with cushioned seats for a hundred guests. In the garden opposite the doors of the hall was a circular thatched roof supported on one great mast, like a single-poled tent, and this was the theatre erected for the occasion. In one part was an elevated stage for the marionettes, and the whole was very gracefully and prettily ornamented, showing, as did everything around, a desire to please and to entertain. Some fifty women-porters came from an inner court, bearing on their heads massive silver dishes of sweetmeats and choice viands, and placed them along the hall; then came some maidens dressed in pure white, and arranged flowers in small gold vases beside each of the seats designed for the expected guests; and when this was clone they took their places behind their mistress.
It was early morning, just seven o'clock. But this entire woman's city had been up for hours engaged in the important work of rightly celebrating the great day. The grounds around the house were all in a glow with roses, and the pure silver of the water-jars glistened resplendently in the morning sunlight.
The gate was thrown wide open, and into this fairy-like scene, amid flowers and sunshine and fragrance, and the dew still trembling on the leaves, were ushered in the guests, one by one, — a hundred decrepit, filthy, unsightly looking beggar-women covered with dirt and rags and the vilest uncleanliness.
And the "child wife," who might have numbered twenty-five summers, but who looked as if she were only sixteen, blushing with a delicacy and beauty of her own, advances and greets her strange guests with all the more respect and tenderness because of their rags and poverty, leads them gently and seats them on low stools around her sparkling fountain, removes their disgusting apparel, and proceeds with the aid of her maidens to wash them clean with fragrant soap and great draughts of cool water ladled out of the silver jars. What a transformation, when the matted hair was washed and combed and parted and dressed with flowers, and the rags were replaced by new robes of purest white! Then she led them towards the hall, and seated them on the silk cushions before the silver trays, and bowed on her knees before them and served to them the delicacies prepared for them, as if they each one and all deserved from her some special token of her love and veneration. After breakfast the music struck up and the actors and puppets appeared on the stage. The music was particularly good. The royal female hands were assembled for the occasion, and relieved each other in succession; the acting was occasionally interspersed with the plaintive notes of female voices; the priest of this beautiful scene, who seemed sometimes deeply moved, collected from within themselves all the charms and joys of love to pour them forth with the inspiration of music at the feet of their lowly listeners.4
And at length, as the curtain of the last act dropped, and the prolonged cadence of the voices and the instruments died away, a loud buzz of delight and pleasure broke from the listening crowd of old, decrepit women, who received each a sum of money from their kind hostess, and went on their lonely way rejoicing.
"This," said my friend to me, "I do every year, to show my love and obedience to my dear teacher, the Buddha." And to my unaccustomed heart and eyes it seemed the sight in all the world the most worth gazing upon.
1 I would here remark that all intelligent Buddhists make a very marked distinction between the Buddha and the Buddh. Buddh, or as he is sometimes called, Adi Buddha, is the Supreme Intelligence, from whom Buddha is only an emanation, has existed from all eternity.
2 See "English Governess at the Siamese Court," Chap. XIII. p. 116.
3 Professor F. Max Müller mentions this parable, in his lecture on "Buddhist Nihilism," as translated from the Burmese by Captain H. T. Rogers; but the Burmese text is slightly different from that of the Siamese.
4 The Siamese are naturally very fond of music, and even persona of high rank think it no disparagement to acquire a proficiency in the art. Whence their great skill in music and in architecture it would be difficult to explain, more especially as their music exhibits great poetical genius and has a remarkably pleasing measure. It might naturally supposed that they had derived their music from the same source that they have their religion; the softness, the playful sweetness and simplicity of the former, seeming to harmonize in great measure with the humane tenets, the pure morality, and the beauty of the tatter.
The music of the Siamese Peguans and of Laos differs from that of most Indian nations in being played upon different keys, a feature which characterizes the pathetic music of certain European, and in particular the Scottish and Welsh nations. There is certainly no harsh or disagreeable sound, no abrupt transition, no grating sharpness; all is soft, lively, sweet, and harmonious to a degree which seemed to me quite surprising. They have certainly arrived far beyond the point of being merely pleased with sound. They have far a higher aim, that of interesting the feelings, of awakening thought or emotion.
Their pieces of music are very numerous; some of the women who perform before the king know by heart a hundred and fifty tunes; their memory and their performance equally remarkable and surprising.