The Khan's Palace at Shandu
( Originally Published 1934 )
DEPARTING from the city last mentioned, and proceeding three days' journey in a north-easterly direction, you arrive at a city called Shandu, built by the grand khan Kublai, now reigning. In this he caused a palace to be erected, of marble and other handsome stones, admirable as well for the elegance of its design as for the skill displayed in its execution. The halls and chambers are all gilt, and very handsome. It presents one front towards the interior of the city, and the other towards the wall; and from each extremity of the building runs another wall to such an extent as to enclose sixteen miles in circuit of the adjoining plain, to which there is no access but through the palace. Within the bounds of this royal park there are rich and beautiful meadows, watered by many rivulets, where a variety of animals of the deer and goat kind are pastured, to serve as food for the hawks and other birds employed in the chase, whose mews are also in the grounds. The number of these birds is upwards of two hundred ; and the grand khan goes in person, at least once in the week, to inspect them. Frequently, when he rides about this enclosed forest, he has one or more small leopards carried on horseback, behind their keepers ; and when he pleases to give direction for their being slipped, they instantly seize a stag, or goat, or fallow deer, which he gives to his hawks, and in this 'manner he amuses himself. In the centre of these grounds, where there is a beautiful grove of trees, he has built a royal pavilion, supported upon a colonnade of hand-some pillars, gilt and varnished. Round each pillar a dragon, likewise gilt, entwines its tail, whilst its head sustains the projection of the roof, and its talons or claws are extended to the right and left along the entablature. The roof is of bamboo cane, likewise gilt, and so well varnished that no wet can injure it. The bamboos used for this purpose are three palms in circumference and ten fathoms in length, and being cut at the joints, are split into two equal parts, so as to form gutters, and with these (laid concave and convex) the pavilion is covered ; but to secure the roof against the effect of wind, each of the bamboos is tied at the ends to the frame. The building is supported on every side (like a tent) by more than two hundred very strong silken cords, and otherwise, from the lightness of the materials, it would be liable to oversetting by the force of high winds. The whole is constructed with so much ingenuity of contrivance that all the parts may be taken asunder, removed, and again set up, at his majesty's pleasure. This spot he has selected for his recreation on account of the mild temperature and salubrity of the air, and he accordingly makes it his residence during three months of the year, namely, June, July, and August; and every year, on the twenty-eighth clay of the moon, in the last of these months, it is his established custom to depart from thence, and proceed to an appointed place, in order to perform certain sacrifices, in the following manner. It is to be understood that his majesty keeps up a stud of about ten thousand horses and mares, which are white as snow; and of the milk of these mares no person can presume to drink who is not of the family descended from Jengizkhan, with the exception only of one other family, named Boriat, to whom that monarch gave the honourable privilege, in reward of valorous achievements in battle, performed in his own presence. So great, indeed, is the respect shown to these horses that, even when they are at pasture in the royal meadows or forests, no one dares to place himself before them, or otherwise to impede their movements. The astrologers whom he entertains in his service, and who are deeply versed in the diabolical art of magic, having pronounced it to be his duty, annually, on the twenty-eighth day of the moon in August, to scatter in the wind the milk taken from these mares, as a libation to all the spirits and idols whom they adore, for the purpose of propitiating them and ensuring their protection of the people, male and female, of the cattle, the fowls, the grain and other fruits of the earth ; on this ac-count it is that his majesty adheres to the rule that has been mentioned, and on that particular day proceeds to the spot where, with his own hands, he is to make the offering of milk. In such occasions these astrologers, or magicians as they may be termed, sometimes display their skill in a wonderful manner ; for if it should happen that the sky becomes cloudy and threatens rain, they ascend the roof of the palace where the grand khan resides at the time, and by the force of their incantations they prevent the rain from falling and stay the tempest ; so that whilst, in the surrounding country, storms of rain, wind, and thunder are experienced, the palace itself remains unaffected by the elements. Those who operate miracles of this nature are persons of Tebeth and Kesrmir, two classes of idolaters more profoundly skilled in the art of magic than the natives of any other country. They persuade the vulgar that these works are effected through the sanctity of their own lives and the merits of their penances; and presuming upon the reputation thus acquired, they exhibit themselves in a filthy and indecent state, regardless as well of what they owe to their character as of the respect due to those in whose presence they appear. They suffer their faces to continue always uncleansed by washing and their hair uncombed, living altogether in a squalid style. They are addicted, moreover, to this beastly and horrible practice, that when any culprit is condemned to death, they carry off the body, dress it on the fire, and devour it; but of persons who die a natural death they do not eat the bodies. Besides the appellations before mentioned, by which they are distinguished from each other, they are likewise termed baksi, which applies to their religious sect or order,--as we should say, friars, preachers, or minors. So expert are they in their infernal art, they may be said to perform whatever they will ; and one instance shall be given, although it may be thought to exceed the bounds of credibility. When the grand khan sits at meals, in his hall of state (as shall be more particularly described in the following book), the table which is placed in the centre is elevated to the height of about eight cubits, and at a distance from it stands a large buffet, where all the drinking vessels are arranged. Now, by means of their supernatural art, they cause the flagons of wine, milk, or any other beverage, to fill the cups spontaneously, without being touched by the attendants, and the cups to move through the air the distance of ten spaces until they reach the hand of the grand khan, As he empties them, they return to the place from whence they came ; and this done in the presence of such persons as are invited by his majesty to witness the performance. These baksis, when the festival days of their idols draw near, go to the palace of the grand khan, and thus ad-dress him :—"Sire, be it known to your majesty, that if the honours of a holocaust are not paid to our deities, they will in their anger afflict us with bad seasons, with blight to our grain, pestilence to our cattle, and with other plagues. On this account we supplicate your majesty to grant us a certain number of sheep with black heads, together with so many pounds of incense and of lignum aloes, in order that we may be enabled to perform the customary rites with due solemnity." Their words, however, are not spoken immediately to the grand khan, but to certain great officers, by whom the communication is made to him. Upon receiving it he never fails to comply with the whole of their request; and accordingly, when the day arrives, they sacrifice the sheep, and by pouring out the liquor in which the meat has been seethed, in the presence of their idols, perform the ceremony of worship. In this country there are great monasteries and abbeys, so extensive indeed that they might pass for small cities, some of them containing as many as two thousand monks, who are devoted to the service of their divinities, according to the established religious customs of the people. These are clad in a better style of dress than the other inhabitants ; they shave their heads and their beards, and celebrate the festivals of their idols with the utmost possible solemnity, having bands of vocal music and burning tapers. Some of this class are allowed to take wives. There is likewise another religious order, the members of which are named sensim, who observe strict abstinence and lead very austere lives, having no other food than a kind of pollard, which they steep in warm water until the farinaceous part is separated from the bran, and in that state they eat it. This sect pay adoration to fire, and are considered by the others as schismatics, not worshipping idols as they do. There is a material difference between them in regard to the rules of their orders, and these last described never marry in any instance. They shave their heads and beards like the others, and wear hempen garments of a black or dull colour ; but even if the material were silk, the colour would be the same. They sleep upon coarse mats, and suffer greater hardships in their mode of living than any people in the world. We shall now quit this subject, and proceed to speak of the great and wonderful acts of the supreme lord and emperor, Kublai-kaan.