Fragrance in Travel Literature- Siam/Thailand




Siam
Loti, Pierre, 1850-1923

It is the enchanted hour of these regions, the
hour when the brazier of the sun is extinguished,
and the evil dew has not begun to shed its
moisture. In the immense glade, defended
by moats and walls, in the middle of which
the temple is throned, one has a feeling of
complete security, notwithstanding the sur-
roundings and the proximity of the great
forests. The tigers do not cross the bridges
of stone, although now the gates are never
shut, and, save for some curious monkeys, the
beasts of the forests respect the enclosed park
where men dwell and sing.
And the long causeway is there, stretching
before me, whitish in the night, between the
dark tufts of the bushes scented with jasmine
and tuberose. Without aim, 1 begin to wander
slowly over its flagstones, getting further and
further away from the temple, hearing less and
less distinctly the song of the monks, which
by degrees dies away behind me into the
infinite silence.


A heat more and more oppressive is exhaled
from this crowd, which is perfumed with musk
and flowers ; the torrential rain continues to
fill the background of the picture with its
stream of sparkling gems ; from all the neigh-
bouring bush, myriads of little winged beasts
come without ceasing to hurl themselves upon
the lustres and torches ; there come, too, large
bats and nocturnal birds ; the exuberant animal
life, with which the air is filled to excess,
envelops us and penetrates us.

The
road which leads me to the spot, along the
bank of the river, is like the avenue of some
trim park, only the trees that overhang it with
their branches are larger than ours, and fireflies
everywhere flicker their nimble, dancing fires.
Peace and silence. The place would be perfect
were it not for the eternal heaviness of the air
and the enervating perfumes. A number of
lights in row amongst the greenness indicate
the streets, or rather the alleys, of the humble
provincial town, which was laid out in a single
planning on the level plain.

They offer us as lodging the large shelter
provided for the use of the faithful during the
pilgrimages. Raised on piles like the houses, it
consists of a kind of open-work floor with a roof
of thatch supported by pillars of reddish wood.
It boasts no wall, and to screen us, night and
day, we have only the transparent curtains of
our mosquito nets. By way of furniture there
is nothing but an old Buddhist altar, with gods
of fading gold, before which little heaps of
ashes attest the burning of many a perfumed
twig.

A number of Buddhist idols,
some small, some of medium size, and some
giantlike, seated on thrones are smiling at
nothing. They had been carved out of hard
stone, and have remained, each in its place, after
the downfall of the temples, which it would
seem must have been made of sculptured wood.
In almost every case pious pilgrims have made
for them a roof of thatch as a shelter from the
heavy storm showers ; some one has even burnt
sticks of incense to them, and brought them
flowers. But no monks dwell in their neighbour-
hood on account of the dreaded " fever of the
woods," which makes it dangerous to sleep under
the thickness of the green tufts, and even at
the times of the great pilgrimages they are left
to pass their nights in solitude.

I thought I should be alone to wander till
nightfall in these high galleries. But, while I
am watching, between the massive bars of a
window, the sun, which before setting is turn-
ing everything to fire, some visitors, behind
me, arrive with timid, velvety steps, old grey-
bearded men. Their costumes proclaim them
to be pilgrims from Burmah. Before each
Buddha they make a salutation, deposit a
flower, and light a stick of incense. Even to
the most shapeless debris littering the floor,
they pay a reverence, and whenever the remnant
is in any way recognisable, an arm, a worm-
eaten trunk, a head without a body, they stop
and plant close by, between the joints of the
pavement, one of their burning sticks. And
thus once more the dead and musty air in
which these images and these vestiges are
achieving their return to dust is filled for a
moment with a suave fragrance.

Outside, sudden peace, serenity of sky, and
splendour of stars. We arrest the course of our
flight to inhale deliciously ; the air is fragrant
with jasmine, and the tranquil psalmody of the
monks, after those multitudinous cries, seems
an exquisite music.

With time and neglect each of the superposed
terraces of the temple has become a kind of
suspended garden where the immense leaves of
the banana palms are mingled with the white
tufts of a most fragrant jasmine clustered with
blossom. All this, and a thousand other exotic
plants and the tall wanton herbage all this,
after seeming to die beneath the whipping of
the rain, has risen again more vigorous than
before, and with a freshness more sparkling
amidst the decrepitude of the stones.


The sun is already low in the heavens and
beginning to cast a ruddy light when my
little train of ox-carts gets under way, leaving
Angkor behind for ever, along the paved cause-
way, between the bushes clustered with the
white bloom of the fragrant jasmine. Beyond
the large pools choked with weeds and water-
lilies, beyond the bridge, the last porticoes and
the great seven-headed serpents which guard the
threshold, the pathway of departure opens before
us. It plunges under the trees which are ready
at once to hide the great temple from us.
I turn, therefore, to take a last look at Angkor.
This pilgrimage, which, since my childhood, I
had hoped to make, is now a thing accomplished,
fallen into the past, as soon will fall my own
brief human existence, and I shall never see
again, rising into the sky, those great strange
towers. I cannot even, this last time, follow
them for long with my eyes, for very quickly
the forest closes round us, ushering in a sudden
twilight.

We
are before a village, on a little river with flowery
banks. Through the reeds the rising sun shoots
everywhere its golden arrows. Little thatched
houses built upon piles make a line along a
pathway of fine sand. Men and women, half-
nude, slender, with bodies copper-coloured, come
and go amongst the verdure. They pass and
pass again, a little out of curiosity, perhaps ; but
their curiosity is not impertinent, and their
eyes are smiling and kindly. The flowers shed
a surpassing fragrance : an odour of jasmine, of
gardenia, of tuberose. In the clear light of the
broadening day this simple coming and going
of the morning seems like a scene of the early
ages, when tranquillity was still the lot of
man. And, too, used as we had become to
the ugliness of the daughters of Annam, who
see only through cramped eyelids, through
two little oblique slits, what a change it
seems, and what a comfort, to come amongst
a people who open their eyes more or less as
we open our own.

-----

Early in the morning the Prince rises and puts on a
special suit of clothes of the richest material. Over his
robes he wears a long cloak of white net, which is
heavily embroidered with figures of fruit and flowers,

worked in gold and silver. Before he leaves his house
he entertains his friends, so that they may get a good
look at him in all his holiday finery. When he is quite
ready he sits in a gilded chair, and is carried on the
shoulders of eight stalwart men. He Is accompanied
by a crowd of noblemen, some of whom carry curious
things that are considered necessary for the success of
the fete. Amongst these are a royal umbrella, a large
fan such as the priests carry, a sword decorated with
white flowers, and a small gold cow with a wreath of
sweet-smelling blossoms round its neck.

Siam, the land of the white elephant, as it was and is

Bacon, George B. (George Blagden), 1836-1879

The fruit here is exquisite, particularly the man-
go, the mangosteen, the pineapple, so fragrant and
melting in the mouth, and, what is superior to any-
thing I ever imagined or tasted, the famous ' dnrian '
or ' dourion,' which justly merits the title of king of
fruits. But to enjoy it thoroughly one must have
time to overcome the disgust at first inspired by its
smell, which is so strong that I could not stay in the
same place with it. On first tasting it I thought it
like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefac-
tion, but after four or five trials I found the aroma
exquisite. The durian is about two-thirds the size
of a jacca, and like it is encased in a thick and prickly
rind, which protects it from the teeth of squirrels and
other nibblers ; on opening it there are to be found
ten cells, each containing a kernel larger than a date,
and surrounded by a sort of white, or sometimes yel-
lowish, cream, which is most delicious. By an odd
freak of nature, not only is there the first repugnance
to it to overcome, but if you eat it often, though with
ever so great moderation, you find yourself next day
covered with blotches, as if attacked with measles, so
heating is its nature. A durian picked is never good,
for when fully ripe it falls off itself ; when cut open
it must be eaten at once, as it quickly spoils, but
otherwise it will keep for three days. At Bangkok
one of them costs one sellung / at Chantaboun nine
may be obtained for the same sum.

The large sums frequently expended in the decora-
tion of the little children with anklets and bracelets
and necklaces and chains of gold (often hundreds of
dollars in value and constituting their sole costume),
are another proof of the same parental fondness.
The great beauty of the children has attracted the
notice of almost all travellers, and they seem as ami-
able as they are beautiful. Their skins are colored
with a fine powder, of a deep, golden color, and an
aromatic smell. " In the morning, Siamese mothers
may be seen industriously engaged in yellowing their
offspring from head to heel. So universal is the
custom, that in caressing the children of the king or
nobles, you may be certain to carry away yellow
stains upon your dress.

On this day the king and his court, with a long
retinue of slaves, go to the river. Some of the at-
tendants carry silver or brass basins filled with water
perfumed with some scented shrub or flower. "When
the king reaches the river's brink he goes a few steps
into the water, where he takes his stand, while the
princes and nobles surround him. The perfumed
water is poured on the king's head, afterward on the
heads of the nobles, and they plunge into the river
with noisy splashings and laughter. The custom is
also observed in families. A basin of water is poured
on the head of the father, mother, and grandparents,
by the eldest son or by some respected member of the
family. The ceremony lias some religious signifi-
cance, being symbolical of blessings and felicity ; a
formula of prayer accompanies the ceremony in each
case."


From the rounded summit rises, like
a needle, a sharp spire. This was the temple tower,
and all over the magnificent pile, from the tip of the
highest needle to the base, from every prominent
angle and projection, there were hanging sweet-toned
bells, with little gilded fans attached to their tongues ;
so swinging that they were vocal in the slightest
breeze. Here was where the music came from.
Even as I stood and looked I caught the breezes at
it. Coining from the unseen distance, rippling the
smooth surface of the swift river, where busy oars
and carved or gilded prows of many boats were
flashing in the sun, sweeping with pleasant whispers
through the varied richness of the tropical foliage,
stealing the perfume of its blossoms and the odor of
its fruits, they caught the shining bells of this great
tower, and tossed the music out of them. Was I
awake I wondered, or was it some dream of Oriental
beauty that would presently vanish ?

Having spent a part of an hour in surveying the
village, we followed our honorable guide along the
beach, among immense ferruginous and quartz rocks
having apparently been undermined by the restless
ocean, and these were interlaid with small seashells
of great variety. On the one hand we had the music
of the roaring tide, on the other an admirable jungle,
overhanging the beach from the east, and thus pro-
tecting us from the blaze of the rising sun, while the
air was perfumed with many a flower. Several boat-
loads of Luang Xai Sit's retinue soon came off the
brig to the shore, which composed a company of
fifty or more.

The eagle-wood
is hard and speckled, and diffuses a powerful aro-
matic odor when burnt. It is used at the increma-
tion of the bodies of princes and high dignitaries,
which are previously kept in the coffins for a twelve-
month. The Siamese also employ it as a medicine.
The wood of the tree which yields it the Aquilara
Agallocha of Roxburgh is white and very soft ;
arid the trunk must be cut down, or split in two, to
find the eagle-wood, which is in the interior. The
Annamites make a kind of secret of the indications
by which they fix upon the right trees, but the few
instructions given me put me on the right track. I
had several cut down, and the result of my observa-
tions was, that this substance is formed in the cavi-
ties of the trees, and that as they grow older it in-
creases in quantity. Its presence may be pretty
surely ascertained by the peculiar odor emitted, and
the hollow sound given out on striking the trunk.

The pearl of Asia: Reminiscences of the court of a supreme monarch; or, Five years in Siam

Child, Jacob T

While admiring the sashes Mis Majesty presented the
Duke DeLucca with a magnificent crimson rose about
eight inches in diameter, a marvelous flower, which
astonished everyone at its mammoth proportions ; it was
the imperial rose of roses. Upon close examination it
was discovered to be a manufactured article, each leaf
was carefully sewed to a center and so deftly was it
done that it required the closest scrutiny to discover
that it was not one of nature's choicest productions.
The natives are very skillful in the fashioning of flowers
into hanging baskets, chandeliers, wreaths, ornaments
and bouquets ; they revel in their beauty and seem to
become intoxicated with their perfume. Flowers are
used upon every occasion, and they can be found orna-
menting the lowliest hut as well as shedding their
fragrance in the palaces of the nobles ; the women
wreathe them into coronets to decorate their
children, and they are sold in the bazaars for that pur-
pose, a large bunch of tuberoses being sold for a
couple of pennies. I was particularly impressed with
the skill shown by these people in the manufacture of
flowers and blossoms, many artificial ones are as hand-
some as the dew-kissed buds that hang upon the parent
stem.

While lying on the river at Petchaburee, an inland
city, about seventy-five miles from Bangkok, I was
awakened by the most hideous noise ; the firing of
guns, shooting of crackers, beating of drums and tom-
toms and the shouting of a vast multitude. Looking
out of the window of my boat a weird spectacle pre-
sented itself to my vision. The whole place was lighted
up by huge bonfires on the banks of the stream and
the air full of glittering rockets. Calling my kavass I
inquired what was the occasion of the hubbub? With
his usual vye, touching the points of his fingers
together and raising them up on a level with his breast,
he replied, " Your Excellency, the great dragon has
the moon swallowed up." Having heard that the
natives thus celebrated the approach of an eclipse, I
stepped ashore and mingled with the crowd Which was
made up of all classes, old and young, with a large
sprinkling of yellow-robed priests who were as active
as the others in keeping up the unearthly din. It was
a lovely morn, the southern cross hung like a gleaming
jewel in the upper deep, gentle zephyrs perfumed by
myriads of flowers fanned the brow and waved the
feathery bamboo as gently as the coquette her fan,
the round orbed moon, a bright silver disk, was sus-
pended in the western heavens, burnished like the
shield of Achilles, while all around burned the many
fires which shed a glare on the crowd of half-clad
adults and naked children. A shadow had just fallen
upon the surface of the queen of night, slowly it spread
over it until the face of the great luminary was covered,
and it hung in the cloudless heavens an orb of roseate
hue, its radiance all gone. Then the noise became terrific,
the reports of guns and crackers were almost deafening,
which increased as a gleam of silver tinged the outer
rim of the dimmed goddess. Slowly the shadow passed
away, the light growing brighter and brighter, the great
dragon Asura Eahu, that had attempted to swallow
the moon, had been driven away and it again shone in
all of its brilliancy, but soon faded away before the
corruscations of the coming dawn.


Among the many religious ceremonies of the Sia-
mese none is more peculiar or more closely observed
than the water (nom) rite, which takes place during
the month of April, about the time the mangoes are
ripe. Then the natives assemble at the nearest wat
close to the shore of the gulf or by the banks of a
river and build myriads of sand piles about eighteen
inches high, shaped like a bee-hive, which they decor-
ate with flowers and small paper flags of various colors,
then sprinkle them with water highly perfumed. I
have frequently seen hundreds of men, women and
children, with a number of priests mingled with the
crowd, making these mounds. After the sprinkling is
over each person fills a cocoanut shell with water which
they throw over one another amid shouts of laughter;
the half-clad lithe-limbed maids enjoying the fun
immensely as the young men chase them backward and
forward over the beach, when, to escape, they fre-
quently plunge into the tide and swim out into the
water, diving like mermaids, the sport ending in a
ducking match. When tired out they swim back to
the beach, amid the laughter of the spectators.

Many of the Buddhist ceremonies consist in the
pouring of water, and are frequently mentioned in
Buddhistic literature. In the life of Buddha, when the
village maiden Suchada is about to present him, whom
she believes to be an angel, an offering that she had
prepared especially for him, she, as a preliminary, poured
water perfumed by the mogra, sweetest of India's blos-
soms, and other flowers on his hands, and when the
King of Magodho tendered Weloowon, his pleasure
garden, to the great teacher as a site for a monastery,
he ratified the gift by pouring water from a jeweled
shell on the earth, and as the glittering drops fell
Buddah blessed the ground which rendered it sacred.

To the right of the King
was arranged the Princes and high officials, in front
the diplomatic body and to the left the lesser nobles.
The large audience room was ablaze with light from
crystal chandeliers filled with perfumed oil that threw
a mellow glow over silken curtains, burnished arms,
and rich tapestry, falling with most pleasing eifect on
the vast number present, their gorgeous uniforms
lending additional brilliancy to the scene, while the
myriad jewels on their belts, scarfs and breasts flashed
and scintillated like glow worms in a parterre of flowers.


Reaching the mouth of the river our boys rowed
rapidly up stream and all were much pleased with the
scenery along its meanderings, most of the time pass-
ing under the shade of majestic trees and flowering
vines, the air heavy with its weight of perfume, while
at every turn could be seen numbers of natives sporting
in the sparkling water which was as limpid as a dew-
drop. The sun had well-nigh reached its meridian ere
we made the landing that led to the abode of the mis-
sionaries.

A month or so after this,
while the priests were worshipping in wat Ma-ha-t'at,
where there is a very precious image of Buddha,of great
antiquity, they beheld a red smoke ascending from this
idol, having the fragrance of incense, while it glowed
as if red hot. Somewhat frightened they examined it,
there was no heat, but the smoke hung about it like
incense and filled the temple with its fragrance, seem-
ingly a profound mystery.

Then the golden urn containing the corpse is removed '
from the top of the pyramid and the copper urn
taken out of the golden one. This has an iron grating
at the bottom overlaid with spices and fragrant pow-
ders. All the precious articles with which the pyramid
was decorated are temporarily removed from it, and
some eight or ten feet of the upper part of it is taken
down to form a place of suitable dimensions for the
burning. Then the fragrant wood is laid in order in
cross layers on the platform, having a bellows attached
to the pile. Precious spices and fragrant articles, many
in kind, are put among the wood. A gunpowder match
is laid from a certain part of the hall set apart for the
seat of the King, reaching to a spot made particularly
combustible in the pile of wood.

The Siamese are
very generous to their physicians and frequently after
the patient is convalescent he will send presents to
him, the most beautiful and fragrant flowers, in the
form of chandeliers and baskets, to be suspended in
his room.


As a general thkig, the palaces are handsomely fur-
nished, especially the drawing-rooms , pictures adorn
the walls and rare articles of bronze and porcelain
add additional interest to the surroundings and show
the artistic taste of the occupant; the grounds are kept
in admirable order, and on all sides the serpentine walks
are bordered with crotons and other rare flowers, gor-
geous in coloring and as fragrant as the breath of
morn swpeping over a bed of violets, amid which spring,
at intervals, the graceful palm and feathery bamboo
making an admirable framework for the white-winged
edifice thus held in the clasp of nature's choicest treas-
ures. The Siamese are natural gardeners, are imbued
with an idea of the beautiful, which they display
in laying off the grounds in the best of taste, and thus
the parterre of many a palace is an artistic picture, bril-
liant with coloring and musical with birds.

When evening comes and the
shadows fall the air is filled with crows wending their
way to their roosts in the tall trees that embower
some wat. Myriads of little sparrows fly through the
verandahs and nest in the ceilings and curtains of your
home ; parrots and paroquets flash their gorgeous plum-
age amid the foliage of the banyan and tamarind trees;
humming birds, with tremulous wings, suck the sweets
from fragrant flowers, pelicans sit moodily on the
banks of river or canal with pouch filled with fish, and
tbe miner bird, the rarest of its species, with ebon
plumage and gold band around its neck, talks as
fluently as if of humankind. Hanging on trees can be
seen hundreds of curiously fashioned cones, about a
foot in length, woven from straw and bark by a small
bird about the size of a swallow, their nests, into which
they enter at an aperture near the bottom so as to pro-
tect the inside from rain or the depredation of hostile
birds, who would otherwise rob their dwellings.

Though the King does
not speak English, he understands it perfectly, and
could do so fluently if he so desired, but prefers to
express himself in his own tongue, which is then inter-
preted by one of the Princes or the court interpreter.
Upon entering the reception room each one was pre-
sented with a sash of white flowers, woven in the shape
of a rope, Indian mogaries, the tassel or pendant made
of a salmon-colored flower, very fragrant. These
sashes are worn over the shoulder and hang down on
the left side and are as fragrant as they are beauti-
ful.


The King's chamber, bath and toilet rooms were
magnificent and his couch a thing of beauty. It was
made of ebony und carved with the most exquisite
designs, draped with rare lace curtains trimmed with
gold, a gold embroidered quilt covering the mattress,
the pillows and bolster trimmed with gold lace and it
looked more like a work of art, to please the eye, than
the resting place of one who wears a crown and sways
the destiny of ten million people. Each room was fur-
nished in the richest manner many containing rare
padoo tables, handsome cabinets, crystal and alabaster
vases, etc. It was just such a place as one tired with
pomp and power could spend a month most pleasantly
in, in oriental ease, waited on by jewelled Queens and
servile servitors, lulled to slumber by the fragrant
breath of the lotus and the carrolling of birds amid the
hush of the golden afternoon. In the center of several
of the lakes pavilions have been erected where a
band discourses music and on their rippling surface
float barges to bear the wives and children of the
King from sylvan spot to marble steps as fancy dic-
tates. In various parts of the garden are large cages
containing monkeys, birds and animals that add no little
to the picturesqueness of the scene. In the palace is
preserved a rare collection of serpents found in the
dank vegetation of this country, some unknown in
other sections.


As our time was limited we had to take a
hurried view of this lovely place, with its various
palaces scattered over its floral grounds, the tall orien-
tal watch tower that stands like a sentinel looking
down on all its sylvan lakes mirroring the bluest of
skies, but the shrill whistle of the boat reminded us
that time was up and with a sigh of regret we left
Bang-Pa-In, its world of flowers, towering trees,
fragrant atmosphere and paradisacal beauty, an elysium
where one could dream life away without a pang or
wish for wordly honors, the Nirvana of a poet.