Delhi, 16 February 1893

After a night not spent in comfortable warmth we arrived early in the morning in Delhi while it was raining and cold. O, often praised and often rebuked heat of India, where are you?

Delhi, „the Rome of Asia“, is the oldest, largest and also the most sparkling city of the Punjab, of India even, and had been the pompous residence of the Grand Mughals. Since 1803 under British rule it is considered holy by the Hindus by the Yamuna river, to be venerated by Muslims for the spectacular Shah Jahan mosque. Modern Delhi, North-northwest of Agra, on the right bank of the Yamuna fills in the wide fertile and climatically favored plain towards the north which is surrounded by the Mewat hills on the one side and the river on the other. Since ancient times, this urban, strategically and commercially important place has been settled.

These settlements have switched their location during the centuries — soon filling this, soon that part of the plains — and have been abandoned time and again to decay so that modern Delhi , a city of around 200.000 inhabitants, represents but a small part of all that what constituted Delhi during the different periods. The circumference of the Delhi is no less than 155 km!

Even though Dehli is the junction of multiple railway lines, on a navigable river and close to well irrigated lands and even though it is today the most active and largest trading and industrial city of the whole Punjab, it has nevertheless been pushed down to the status of a provincial city by the British government probably due to political considerations from the fatal insurrection of 1857.

The downpour which came to greet us with many tears did not prevent us after a short rest in our quarters, the Metropolitan Hotel, to undertake a sightseeing tour of the city The city forms nearly a semi-circle where the part of the river forms the  diameter.

We first turned to the fort which contains the old palace of the Grand Mughals. It is situated in the eastern part of the city high above the Yamuna and is so similar ot the fort at Agra that it can be called a miniature copy of it. It is built out of red sandstone and enclosed by a 2,5 km long wall and a ditch and ornamented with beautiful gates. The highlight is naturally that part of the interior which contains the palace of Shah Jahan. While Akbar mostly took residence in Agra and Lahore, Jahan transferred his residence to Delhi, where he lived in the north of the city where also his ancestor Humayun had lived and founded a new Delhi which he called Shah-Jahanabad.

Like the fort of Agra, the one in Delhi also contains splendid palaces, halls, rooms and mosque. But their number is much smaller than in Fort Agra as the English destroyed, after the suppression of the great rebellion of 1857 which had started in Delhi with the murder of the local Europeans by Shah Bahadur, a large part of the buildings of the fort to build barracks and batteries in their stead.

Entering through the music hall (Nakar khana or Naubakhana) we first saw the two rooms intended for receptions The large reception hall Diwan-i-Am is open on three sides and carried by pillars made out of red sandstone. It is decorated everywhere especially the throne and the wall behind it and rises out of a niche are decorated with painting and delicious mosaics.

I can’t approve the renovation undertaken by the English government recently on many of the walls on this and other monuments  Even if the motif of this beginning is to be applauded, it seems to go too far. In my view the original old surface decorations, if painted if mosaics,  and may it already be much damaged should be left in the otherwise unchanged halls and has more style than the imitations with their fresh gold splendor and their loud color which replace the faded and crumbling but original ornamentation. But the question how far a renovation of damaged art may go is continually debated by the experts which are for the complete restoration of the original form and the subconsciously not less sensitive layman. I recall here the clean-up of the patina from the inner walls of St. Stephen’s cathedral. This restoration has awakened the desire of a large crowd for the return of the former almost mythical darkness which gave the cathedral a strange quiet beauty. Likewise I would consider it a sacrilege to add the missing arm to the statue of the Venus of Milo as has been planned.

The small reception hall, Diwan-i-Khas, in the fort of Delhi is a open pavilon completely made out of marble and decorated with golden ornaments and pietra-dura. On its east side once stood the famous golden peacock throne covered with precious gemstones (Tacht-i-taus), which Nadir Shah, the Persian conqueror of Delhi, has taken away as the proudest piece in his war booty in 1739. In the same area are the Grand Mughal’s private chambers and the female quarters filled with marble as well as the baths.

On the west side of Diwan-i-Khas stands a gracious building. the pearl mosque (Moti Mesjid), very artfully built out of gleaming white marble and ornamented with reliefs and delicate ornaments., despite its small dimensions. But its artistic creation and the wealth of its decoration makes it highly remarkable. The bronze gate of the mosque is a repoussé master work, a craft still very successful in India.

It would not have taken much guesswork by the company S. J. Tellery & Co. which has its main subsidiary and manufacture of art objects here that we would come and visit them. Above the gate of the company was a triumphal arch decorated with bands in Austrian and Hungarian colors as well as sentences which proclaimed in large golden letters“Hoch“ and „Eljen“. We found here mostly the same objects which we had already seen in Bombay and Calcutta, art objects and curiosities from all Indian regions but of such diversity and choice that the shopping urge was triggered to the utmost and turned into an insatiable craving.

I used the afternoon to visit the famous mosque Dschama Mesdschid in the southern part of Delhi. It is the largest and most beautiful Muslim place of prayer in India. Mighty open stairs on whose steps linger all kinds of merchants and agents lead to the grand gates which allow access to the foreyard of the mosque. This foreyard is a square of 99 m lengthwise and is enclosed on three sides by pillar pathways with corner kiosks which form from the outside seen the first floor of the high wall built out of red sandstone. The fourth side of the courtyard is the mosque itself on an area of 2243 m2. The gates mentioned above bear above the keel arch of the entrance galleries and pointed domes above which rise lean marble minarets with pointed peaks.

The mosque was built in 1658 in the same style as the one in Agra and here too are above the facade three domes with minarets  while the main part is built out of red sandstone. The domes and the peaks of the two high minarets are made out of marble. The sometimes inharmonious mixture of red and white lessens the total impression considerably; I particularly disliked that the white marble plates of the domes alternated with rows of black stones. A motif I hadn’t seen before I found on the minarets as the foot of each was formed by a marble flower calyx out of which rises the lean tower which is patterned along its whole length by vertical stripes that end at the top in a leafy crown.

In one corner of the pillar hall of the mosque we saw the actual sanctuary, a delicate marble shrine with the relics of the prophet. In artless containers that resembled those used by insect collectors to store their beetles are here preserved: a fire-red hair from the prophet’s beard, the worn slippers of Mohammed, lines from the Koran in the handwriting of the Imams Hussain and Hassan and — as we hunters would call this — the „track“ of Mohammed, i.e. his foot print in clay.

From the mosque we marched through the main street of Delhi, the long Chandni CHauk, where shop follows shop, shouts, noise of every kind, pitches and bargaining is heard everywhere so that the senses my be numbed.

The bazaar has like the whole city and like Agra an unmistakable Muslim appearance. The vivid streets of Delhi presents us with types and dresses which we could not find in Calcutta for example. The main contingent of the crowd in the bazaar are Muslims with colorful turbans and embroidered kaftans, veiled Muslim women with colorful pants and colorful cloths. In between these figures move Hindus and in noticeably large numbers Afghans. It was interesting to see this tall, strong figures, those energetic even sullen faces of the bearded Afghans. The confident demeanor, the strong posture of these highland sons made it believable that each man of this untamed, predatory and war-loving people has as little respect for his own life than that of other men and if fate demands it will step forward quietly to either murder or be executed.

At Tellery’s, where I returned after the end of the glittering bazaar, I visited the workshops in which the art objects were made by hand without assistance of any machine by very skilled native workers in a relatively short time. I would not have expected to see such effort and skill among the otherwise quite indolent Indians. It is however, a compatriot from Vienna who leads the enterprise with a strong grip. In the workshops for rugs eight to ten-year-old Hindu boys produce the most beautiful textiles, while in a separate room out of various wood types are carved wonderful works completely in free hand style. Metal workers produce gorgeous containers out of silver, copper and bronze.The clay modelers perform miracles without having gone to school. They form all types in India plus the scenes, processions and groups from the life of the different native populations in beautiful clay figurines. The individual figurines are truly artistically completed and of a highly naturalistic manner. Every fold in a cloth, every vein in the skin is fully life-like formed.

The evening saw us reunited in the Metropolitan Hotel, which left much to be desired, at a indigestible dinner in rooms which were rich in doors, windows and draft.

Links

  • Location: Dehli, India
  • ANNO – on 16.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria has found a bride during his visit of Europe’s courts: Princess Marie-Louise of Bourbon. Franz Ferdinand’s journey does not offer similar opportunities. The Austrian and Hungarian manufacturers have decided to raise their prices of candles and soaps. The excuse are pig fat production capacity problems in the United States.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays a comedy “Die Biedermänner“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing Rossini’s „Der Barbier von Sevilla“.

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