IT was almost midnight, as the moon grew near the full, when we looked for the first time on the fortress of Chitore. The lights in the village at its foot had been extinguished, and the hill with its great length stood dark and isolated against the sky. Almost directly above the black cleft of the Cow's Mouth stood the Tower of Victory of Kumbha Rana, like a finger pointing upwards in witness of past glory. And even in the darkness we could see the gentle curving lines of the walls following the contour of hillside, with its three miles of length and one of breadth. Silently we sat on a low stone a mile off and drank in the scene. Even thus, on the first or last night of his journey, may some Rajput of old have gazed hour after hour on this beloved home. Even thus may Padmini have caught her first glimpse of this city of her fate I
It is not a connected story, this for which Chitore is famous. The wild romance of which her annals are so full is a series of gleams and flashes, lasting through hundreds of years. Like
watching from the plain the escalade of some rocky summit is the effort of one who strives to picture the past of Chitore. Again and again do the banners of the clansmen appear amidst trees and crags, only again and again to be lost to sight. Wherever the mists of history lift, there are revealed the old-time ideals of the courage and pride of woman and the glory of man. Chitore is no mere chronological record; she is an eternal symbol, the heart's heart of one phase of the Indian genius.
Architecturally the splendour of the city justifies her pride. The rock on which she stands slopes inwards from all sides, with the result that there are innumerable tanks and a water supply practically unlimited. Within the walls are the remains of what has been virtually two cities, one to the north-east, the ancient capital of the time before Bappa Raoul, and one more modern which grew up between his accession in A.D. 728 and the evacuation under Akbar in 1568.
The old manor-grange, on whose veranda Bappa Raoul, in the eighth century, administered justice, scarcely comports with our modern notions of a palace. In front of it, not far away, is a Tower of Victory, now crumbling to pieces, and everywhere the living rock of the original foundation is close at hand. The life of the garrison within this fortress must have been strangely like that of a camp.
Long and narrow, like some lean grey lion crouching for the spring, lies walled Chitore on its craggy hill. And the newly-arrived traveller watching it may see it to-night, as the returning escort may have seen it when Padmini's marriage procession halted for the last time on the homeward way, more than seven centuries ago. Then, as now, the long heavy walls curved lovingly, like the canvas of a tent, about the city. Little can the "lotus fair" Padmini have slept that night, the last of the long journey from her father's distant stronghold. Rather must she have gazed on through hour after hour of waking dreamfulness, counting the tale of the turrets and bastions of the fortress that to-morrow she would enter as bride and queen. Within her was the confidence of the Indian wife, who thinks of herself as beginning what is only a new chapter in an old story, as recovering a thread that was held but a while ago, and dropped at death. Not for the first time were they to take up to-morrow the tale of life together--it was an ancient comradeship of the soul. Did no vision of the future cast its shadow across the path before her to make Padmini shrink and pause, in the glory of this her great homecoming? Had the bard whispered no word above her cradle of the tragedy of greatness that lay before her? Did she know that as long as winds should wail over Chitore they would sing her name, that with her
would every stone and every building be associated in the world's memory till the end of time? To her, what would be was but the following of the path of Rajput honour. Was it not always said that, in the hour of birth, the eyes of a boy were set upon a knife and those of a girl upon a lamp--for the man must leave life by way of the sword and woman by that of fire?