Jacob Haafner’s Mahabalipuram, part 7

Jacob Haafner’s deep interest and love for the Indian civilisation is expressed through his travelogues. Especially by his description of the ruins of Mahabalipuram, or Mavelievarom, as he called it in his day. Here he muses about the fate of human effort in the face of time.


Jacob Haafner was inspired by the ancient monumnets of Mahabalipuram.
Jacob Haafner was the first to describe the monuments of Mahabalipuram

The Coolies were, according to their habit, gone to sleep immediately after dinner; my travel buddy and I remained up until eleven o’clock, with a bowl of punch; where after he also went to rest.

I had the first watch, until two hours after midnight; a few Coolies kept me company, and, after having loaded my gun loaded with a bullet, I lit a cigar, and sat down on the steps of the Chauderie.

A black night lay over the whole valley. I saw no other light than that of the glowworms, which hovered over the bushes, the deadly stillness, that reigned around us, was only disturbed by the dismal howling of jackals, who at intervals answered each other troop by troop, from hill to hill, and by the night owls who had left their living places in the clefts of rocks, and in the dark ruins, now and then sounded their mournful screech.

An involuntary shudder seized me when I beheld this frightening loneliness, and the thoughts of impermanence, rose up in my soul. I was despondent and melancholy – and the life of men lost all its charm for me.

Is it possible, I said to myself, that in this wilderness, now inhabited only by some poor Bramins (*), so great and wonderful city prospered? That it was the seat of a powerful kingdom? that a lively crowd previously occupied this desolate region?
(*) The inhabitant of Maveliewarom are mostly all Braminen.

Great God! What a striking picture of the instability of the sublunar things presents itself to the thoughtful man.

In this vast valley, where now reigns the silence of the grave, reverberated previously the din of arts and crafts, and the cries and calls of the workers; from the beautiful buildings and palaces, whose ruins and fallen columns lie scattered everywhere, joyful cheers sounded of feasts and banquets; to these majestic temples the people flowed as a stream, to sacrifice to the gods and to pour out their prayers at the altars; with loud jubilance the idols were ushered through the wide gates of pagodas, countless worshipers followed the procession; thousand torches reflected their light against the hills, and the noise of instruments rustled between the gorges of the mountains. How it formerly swarmed here of people who brought together pursuits, needs and entertainment and entertainment, and how today – how empty! how terribly empty!

Where is this mighty population? where is the fame, the glory and brilliance of this famous city? the mighty heroes, who had settled here their throne? They have disappeared, unto the shadow of remembrance.

This gigantic ruins, formerly the palaces of the great, have now become the dwelling of wild beasts, poisonous vermin now houses in the sanctum of the Gods! – It is thus that Nations are destroyed! – Thus must eventually, in the course of time, the rich, now elevated to the pinnacle of glory, come to not, the mighty nations, who now rise so gloriously, will once disappear from  the earth like chaff, nothing but the faint memory that they once existed, will remain in the uncertain history.

The war, which has turned upside down so many mighty realms, destroyed so many large and famous cities, had probably also turned Maveliewarom into a mess, and I cursed by myself those who had caused this, and who, to gratify his gold thirst or insatiable ambition, had brought devastation and disaster upon this city and its inhabitants.

I brought back to my mind again the horrors of war, of which I had been an eyewitness, and fell into a deep reverie, from which I was suddenly aroused by the dreadful roar of a tiger, accompanied by the howling of jackals, answered by others, a little distance away, the sound seemed no twenty steps away from us, and came from the other side of the Chauderie.

The two Coolies, who had the watch with me, and who had fallen asleep leaning with their backs against the pillars of the Chauderie, while I was immersed in thought, jumped up in shock. The Lord Cockrel even was awakened by it, and jumped anxious from his Palanquin.

I hurriedly took my rifle, the two coolies each took a burning wood in the hand, and we walked to the side of the Chauderie, where we had heard the roar, but saw nothing. A few steps further was thicket, likely that these animals were hidden in it, and laid in wait for us; I shot in it, in order to expel them, in case they were in it.

All the Coolies awoke, startled by the blow, not knowing what it meant, I assured them immediately, and they went to sleep again. But I and mister Cockrel decided to stay up, and await the day. It was one hour after midnight, and we passed the time with smoking and talking.

How good was it that we had made fire, and stood guard! We now saw clearly that what the Bramins had told us about tigers was true; it could have, if we had not been on our guard, cost possibly the life of one of our people.

When the day began to break, I woke up Francisco, to cook coffee; We stayed until eight o’clock at Maveliewarom, then seated ourselves in our Palanquins – and left.


You can read the full chapter HERE

2 Responses

  1. RAVI

    An wonderful rendering of a travelogue in translation that should have been after an awful toil of the translator,Ms Liesbeth which takes us into the very night that Mr.Haffner and his companions forced to spend at Mahabalipuram in the distant past.His musings on the possible glory of the place in bygone era and the sordid time that ushered such a wonderful place to decay and habitat of the wilds really bears a testimony of a connoisseur though not connected to land by birth,but willing avocation and force of circumstances. Well done Ms.Liesbeth

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