DEAR WILLIAM, I am staying at the house of Mr. Sewall, the chief collector of this district, who has taken us in and given us his hospitality for a couple of days. We have reached southern India, and the hot weather is on us, so that except in early morning and late afternoon there is no possibility of moving about and seeing things. What people will do here two or three months hence I can hardly imagine. The sun’s heat is tremendous, and even with perpetual punkahs swinging in every room where anything is being done, eating, or writing, or reading, or talking, or sleeping, life is hardly tolerable. Nevertheless, we have had a good sort of week. Last Sunday evening we went on board a canal-boat at Madras, a funny little tub of a thing, and were towed all night by coolies, running along the bank for about thirty miles, to a place called Mahabalihuram, where there are some wonderful pagodas or Hindoo temples, and some remarkable old sculptures on the rocks of enormous size.
It was a gorgeous moonlight night, and the sensation of being pulled along through this wild country by these naked figures, striding and tugging on the banks, was very curious. The next day we spent at the pagodas, which were built nobody knows when or by whom, and which have the whole Hindoo mythology marvelously carved in their rocky walls. Mon-day night we took the same way back, and it was hard to turn in and leave the strange picture which I saw, as I sat in the stern of the little craft.
We took our own servants, beds, and provisions with us, and stopped each evening and spread our table for dinner in the desert, by the side of the canal. After our return, we spent one more day in Madras, and then started southward toward Ceylon. We stopped first at Chedambaram, where there is a stupendous temple, with heathenism in full blast, processions of Vishnu, Siva, and the other gods going about with drums, trumpets, and cymbals all the time. Then to Tanjore, where there is the most beautiful of the big pagodas, and where we spent a delightful day. Thence to this place, where yesterday we saw the richest temple of all, in which the jewels and gold clothing of two horrid little brass idols are worth ten lacs of rupees, $1,000,000. The collector had sent word that we were coming, and they had the jewels all spread out for us to see, while crowds of gaping natives stood outside the rope and watched the precious things as we examined them. A dozen officials had to show them, for the great chest has so many locks, and each official keeps a separate key. It cannot be unlocked without the presence of them all, sort of combination-safety arrangement which I commend to the Boston bank directors.
I am sincerely blue at the prospect of leaving India in ten days more. I try to fix every picture in my memory, so that I may not lose it. But I hate to think that I shall never see it again. The people cheat, lie, worship false gods, and do all sorts of horridly wicked things, but they are evidently capable of a better life. Their land is full of monuments which show what they once were, and there is a courtesy, mild dignity, and perpetual picturesqueness about them which is fascinating.
This morning I went to an early service and saw the grave of Bishop Heber in the chancel. I was going to preach for the minister this evening, but he could not find a surplice of decent length, and it had to be given up.
On Friday I shall be at Colombo, and then shall get some letters from you all and learn what you are doing. I can imagine, but very often I wish that I could look through the thick world and see. At this moment you are sound asleep, preparing for the Sunday and the excitement of hearing some great man at Trinity. I hope it isn’t very cold. Oh, that I could give you some of this heat ! My love to everybody.
Always affectionately, P.