Calcutta, 3 February 1893

A museum official had responded to my question that there was a salt lake near Calcutta with plenty of interesting waterfowl and advised to undertake an expedition there with the promise to personally show me the best spots. Thrilled by the chase we decided to devote this day to hunting and hastened early in the morning, armed to the teeth, to the meeting point where our guide should have been waiting for us. The ride went through many suburbs along the canals where we could observe the cumbersome moving of the ships and boats by the natives. Nearly every ship was loaded with wood and was drawn upstream by a rope fixed to the mast from the land. During this ride we learned about the strange method used by the natives to pump water for irrigation purposes from the lower canals to a higher one. They applied ropes to both sides of an ox stomach hide and then standing in pairs on each side catapulted the water with the help of this sack up into the higher canal, often to a considerable height. At  home one would use at least a simple pump. In India where labor is so cheap, this method seems to be more profitable.

Who did not show up at the meeting was our informant. He let himself be excused due to sickness. Instead we were met by a canal inspector who explained that there was nothing to hunt here but vultures. Boats could take us there to hunt vultures. Not very pleased with the bad news we decided to go to that place and everyone floated there in his own boat down the canal after the usual local discussions among the boatmen and their clamor. During the trip, one of my entourage shot two domestic ducks with a confident double shot which were pointed out to him as wild ducks by an Englishman.

After a short drive we saw a multitude of vultures and black kites circling in the air or sit in trees in their hundreds. We had reached the spot where we were supposed to disembark but soon noticed that it was the place where all of Calcutta deposited its garbage, rubble and waste — the transfer of the garbage was performed by a small railway. No wonder that thousands of vultures, harriers and black kites, among which the Indian pariah kite formed the largest group, had selected this place for foraging. We drove on lowries in between two not exactly clean walls of garbage and reached a flaying house around which lay many gnawed bones and a kettle of around 400 vultures. We shot some of them but gave up the hunt as these carrion-feeding birds could not really move in their fully cropped state and their despicable appearance in this place. They did not seem timid either as one could shoot one or the other with a bullet without the others taking off. I was glad to escape this disgusting place full of bacteria.

As we still wanted to fulfil the original goal of our excursion, namely the hunt for waterfowl, we had us rowed to the other side of the canal to enter the wet jungle of the salt lake. We waded up to the knees in the marsh but had to, at any moment, evade underground watercourses and fought our way through only with difficulty — all, only to realize that we had been completely misinformed. There was actually no game here, although I saw some herons and storks on a mango tree but these seemed to be just passing through the area,

With a few salty blessings for our advisor we left the marsh all wet, had breakfast in the boats and then returned to Calcutta. In the skyline of the city we could detect a marriage procession; At the front a shouting crowd and carriers of pictures of saints and artificial flowers; then in a palankeen the barely fourteen-year-old groom armed with a huge sun screen, In a closed  palankeen followed the bride which we couldn’t see, guarded by a mounted escort; the closest relatives in carriages with servants carrying wedding gifts and fruits in large tin bowls.

Towards evening Kinsky and I went for a drive through the avenues of the Maidan and watched for some time the military-sportive exercises among them tentpegging which were held on the racing track,

At sunset we returned home by the river. The last rays of the day star basked in gold every yard and  boom, the complete  forest of masts of the moored ships in the waves.

At 8 o’clock we met for a small comfy dinner organized by the Austro-Hungarian consul Heilgers in the Bengal club of merchants.

The day was to conclude with a musical choreographic soirée at Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore — a member of a noble family from a Brahmin caste and a multi-millionaire — who had developed a special passion for music and musical history. He is the editor and publisher of quite a number of related poetic works and even a composer. A number of his works ha been shown in the 1892 music and theater fair in Vienna.

After a long drive through the native city we reached our destination. The whole road in which the raja’s domicile, the Pathuriaghata Radsch Bati palace, was located was illuminated bright as daylight by lamps. The private and life guard of our host, a comically clad group stood in line when I entered through the gate of the palace and I was received by the Raja, a tiny old man with a kind timid face. He wore the  commander decoration with a star of the Franz Joseph order, happy about this distinction awarded by His Majesty. A dear friend of our country, he invites every compatriot he reaches to dinner and is a most friendly host.

On the steps to the private rooms of the palace stood a life guard clad in an ancient dress and armed with long swords and engraved shields. The large reception hall as well as all the spaces we visited are designed without a common style and are richly equipped with European paintings, mostly copies of works from the Italian school, so that we sat down under a whole series of Venus and Amor illustrations, when the first part of the production, the musical section, started.

It began with a blessing the raja had made in Sankrit in my honor in a meter called Särdülavikridita and using our anthem in Hindu style as melody, performed on Indian instruments and presented by multiple singers. The words of this blessing were : Dikpäläh paripälayantu satatan tväm Francis Ferdinand — Kirttis tvadgunamadhuripranayini nityam samälingatu — Sarvaträbhyudayo jayascha bhuv ane nityänuvarttyastu te — Kalyänarn kurutäm sadaiva bhavato Dhatä Bhavo Madhavah. In translation: May the (8) guardians of the world always protect you, Franz Ferdinand! May  Fama which holds your grace dear due to your virtues always embrace you! May victory and luck in this world never part from your side! And May Brahma, Mahadewa and Vishnu spill their blessings over you!

The following lists the numbers of the program:

1. A South-Indian song by Pandit Anantra Sästri, a virtuoso from Southern India, supported by the instruments Rudra Vinä, Tumburä, Bänyä and Tablä. The Rudra Vinä is a classic Hindu instrument, which is highly used in Maisur and other parts of Southern India.It has four gut strings, on a second field three musical wires and is played with the finger cups. The Tumburä is an old indoor Hindu instrument which is played with the tip of the index finger and was allegedly invented by the celestial musician Tumburu, who has given his name to the instrument. Usually it serves to accompany vocal and instrumental music and sets the base note. The Bänyä is played with the left, the Tablä with the right hand; they provide the beat. These instruments are recent inventions. As inspiration served Mridanga whose lower head presents Bänyä and whose upper one Tablä.

2. A presentation on the Surbahär by Sangitä Upadhyäya Kali Prosonno Banerdschi, a Calcutta native and professor at the Bengal Music School, accompanied on the Tumburä. The Surbähar is a large Setär, invented by  Mohammed Khan in Lucknow about 70 years ago and especially suited for the  Aläpa, i.e. melodious music.

3. A presentation on the Dschaltaranga by Babu Kristo Lal Banerdschi, a Bengal native, accompanied by the Tumburä, Bänyä and Tablä. For the Dschaltaranga or the musical bowls which are known in Sanskrit as Sapta Scharäva one used in ancient times Terracotta bowls while today porceline bowls are now commonly used. The tuning is done by water which is filled into bowls. The bowls are hit with two  sticks.

4. A presentation on the Nyästaranga by Sangitä Upadhyäya Kali Prosonno Banerdschi, accompanied on the Esrär. The Nyästaranga is an instrument  formed like a trumpet; It is placed on the outside of the larynx, so that the vibrations of the vocal chords produce a clear and strong tone. As stated, one finds this instrument only in India. In the Sanskrit language it is called Upänga. The Esrär is an indoor instrument which is played with a bow and is a combination of a Setär and a Särangi.

Satisfied by this highly interesting strange production we walked in a solemn procession in the palace courtyard where we sat down on a balcony to enjoy the second part of the program — large scale processions and a choir.

1. The songs of the Bäuls, accompanied by Änanda Lahari, Gopiyantra, Khanjäni and Mandirä. Bäuls are a sect of religious beggars which go in colorful dress from house to house, seeking alms by dancing and singing. Many of these songs contain simple and beautiful metaphors. The Ananda Lahari is a shepherd’s Instrument which Bäuls and other singing beggars use; it has but a singing beggars. It has but a single gut string which is touched with a wooden prong. The Gopiyantra is also an instrument,with which shepherd songs are accompanied. It has a single string which is made to sing by the touch of a finger tip. The Khanjäni is a shepherd instrument in the manner of a tambourine. The Mandiräs are small bowls made out of bell metal whose mission is to set the beat.

2. Nagar Kirtana, accompanied by the Khol, Karatäla and Kiimsringa. The Nagar Kirtana is a song invented in the 15th century by Tschaitanya, the great religious reformer of Bengal; This song should be heard according to the opinion of Tschaitanya in public streets to win the people over to Vishnu. The adherents of the Vishnu creed usually organize a Nagar Kirtana feast when they receive their spiritual councilor in their home. The procession consists of a group of singers that follow people with flags, Khuntis and other symbols of the Vishnu creed.

The Khol is a small drum covered in leather which usually accompanies the Kirtana and other religious chants. It is a sort of derivation of the classical Mridanga. The Karatälas are cymbals to play the beat. The Räm-sringa is an instrument played outdoors and used for religious processions to increase the ceremony’s festive nature.

3. Dschaträ, performed by a group of young girls from Manipore, in the North-east of Bengal. The Dschaträ is a sort of mythological presentation which unites the character of medieval mysteries in Europe with a primitive opera. This is very popular in Bengal. The content is usually about the shepherd games of Vishnu in the incarnation as Krishna and his affairs with shepherdesses from Brindäban.

4. Sonthal dance. Some Sonthals, members of one of the ancient tribes of India had been especially transported to Schamsandarpur fortress, a country retreat of the raja Sir S. M. Tagore — from Bengal, iin the district Bankura — and then to Calcutta.

The third part of the festive presentation performed in the reception hall was a dance called  Nautch,  performed by four young female dancers accompanied by the instruments Särangi, Mandirä, Bänyä and Tablä. The Särangi is an ancient instrument that serves to accompany female voices.  The Nautch girls (dancing girls) are known in cosmopolitical circles under the name of Bajaderes (from the Portuguese Bailadeira = dancer). The music is rather monotone. The dance is also not very varied; the girls sing and sway their hips, assume gracious positions and spin in circles like a gyro. The dance girls are indefatigable and dance for hours if one doesn’t stop them. Strange cases with pearls covered their ears. The girls‘ dresses were splendid and also covered with jewels. Three of the artists seemed to be of pure Indian origin with rather plain faces. The fourth dancer, however, was a beautiful young Jewess from Baghdad with most beautiful eyes which she, by the way, knew expertly how to use as she sent fiery glances in all directions much to the discomfort of our dignified host.

During the intermission the king of music showed me his valuable collection of instruments which is unique in the world and contains all instruments of India in their most original forms and shapes. He had sent part of it to the Vienna music exhibition. The walls of the collection are covered with membership and honor diplomas of musical associations and societies from all parts of the world; About these credentials of his artistic endeavor the raja is very proud.  In between the instruments stand small ornamented house altars; one od the altars contained objects used and worn by the raja’s ancestors: their clothes, their turban and as his father has been also a very keen musician, his compositions etc. This Hindu piety shown by our host towards his father amazed me very much. Also a vitrine with numerous decorations and medals of the raja had to be paid tribute to.

At the end of the festive presentation which I thanked our charming host very much we were decorated according to the Indian manner with wreaths and given gilded betel leaves, as well as sandalwood oil whose smell persists for a long time. Then the brahmin of the house spoke a long blessing. To the sound of the British and our anthem we returned home.

Links

  • Location: Calcutta, India
  • ANNO – on 03.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. In Paris, the defense of Gustave Eiffel gave their final speech in which they declared that Eiffel had acted correctly and only earned about 15 millions francs, half of it in Panama railroad shares of questionable value, instead of 33 or even 73 millions. In Copenhagen, three Norwegian seamen had been arrested for cannibalism. After a shipwreck, they had eaten their Dutch colleague.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays Shakespeare’s comedy „Was Ihr wollt“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Opermtheater is performing Rossini’s „Barbiere die Sevilla“.

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