Twice every week Elephants fight before him

These fragments come from Thomas Coryat (1577?-1617), an English travel writer responsible for introducing the idea of the Grand Tour to the English. In 1616, just a year before his death, his account of his travels in India were printed in London. What follows are his comments on the court of the Maharajah, usually resident in Agra, now home to the Taj Mahal, but then temporarily located in the town of Ashmere (modern day Ajmer near Pushkar).

Now I am at the Moguls Court, I think you would be glad to receive some narration thereof from me, though succinctly handled: for I meane to be very compendious.  This present Prince is a verie worthy person, by name Selim, of which name I never read or heard of any more than one Mahometan King, which was Suliam Selim of Constantinople, that lived about 80 years since; the same that conquered Jerusalem and Damascus.

He is 53 yeares of age, his nativitie day having beene celebrated with wonderfull pompe since my arrivall here. For that day he weighed himselfe in a paire of golden Scales, which by great chance I saw the same day (a custome that he observeth every year) laying so much golde in the other scale as countervaileth the weight of his body, and the same he afterward distributed to the poore. He is of complection neither white nor blacke, but of a middle betwixt them. I know not how to expresse it with a more expressive & significant epitheton then Olive: an Olive colour his face presenteth.  He is of a seemelie composition of bodie, of a stature little unequall (as I guesse not without grounds of probabilitie) to mine, but much more corpulent then my selfe.

The extent of his Dominion is verie spacious, beeing in circuite, little lesse then 4000 English miles, which verie neere answereth the compass of the Turks territorie. In these two thinges hee exceedeth the Turks, in the fatnesse (as I have said) of his Land, no part of the world yeelding a more fruitfull veine of ground then all that which lieth in his Empire, saving that part of Babylonia, where the terrestriall Paradise once stoode/ Whereas a great part of the Turkes Land is extreme barren and sterill, as I have observed in my peregrination thereof, especially in Syria, Mesopotamia and Armenia; many large portions thereof beeing so wonderfull fruitelesse, that it beareth no good thing at all. Secondly, in the conjunction and union of all his Territories, together in one & the same goodly continent of India, no Prince having a foote of land within him.

Hee speaketh very reverently of our Saviour, calling him in the Indian tongue, Ifazaret Eesa, that is, the great Prophet Jesus. And all Christians, especiallie us English, he useth so benevolently as no Mahometan Prince the like.  Hee keepeth abundance of wilde Beasts, & that of diuers sorts, as Lyons, Elephants Loepards, Beares, Antlops, Vnicornes; whereof two I have seene at his Court, the strangest beasts of the world: they were brought hither out of the Countrie of Bengala, which is a kingdome of most singular fertilitie within the compasse of his Dominion, about foure moneths journey from this, the midland parts therof being watered by divers channels of the famous Ganges, which I have not as yet seene, but (God willing) I meane to visite it before my departure out of this Countrie, the neerest part of it beeing not aboue twelve daies journy from this Court.

The King presenteth himselfe thrice every daie without faile to his Nobles, at the rising of the Sunne, which he adoreth by the elevation of his hands; at noone, and at five of the clocke in the evening: but he standeth in a roome aloft, alone by him selfe, and looketh uppon them from a window that hath an embroidered sumptuous coverture, supported with two silver pillasters to yeeld shaddowe unto him. Twice every week Elephants fight before him, the bravest spectacle in the worlde: many of them are thirteene foot and a halfe high; and they seeme to justle together like two little Mountaines, and were they not parted in the middest of their fighting by certaine fire-workes, they would exceedingly gore and cruentate one another by their murdering teeth.  Of Elephants the King keepeth 30000 in his whole Kingdome at an unmeasurable charge; in feeding of whom, and his Lyons, and other Beasts, he spendeth an incredible masse of money, at the least ten thousand pounds sterling a day. I have rid upon an elephant since I came to this Court, determining one day (by Gods leave) to have my picture expressed in my next Booke, sitting upon an Elephant. The King keepeth a thousand women for his own body, whereof the chiefest (which is his Queene) is called Normal.

A good piece on Coryat in India can be found here

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