NATIVE LIFE IN TRAVANCORE
The REV. SAMUEL MATEER, F.L.S.
Of the London Missionary Society
HISTORY OF TRAVANCORE
It is refreshing to find the natives of India, who are, of course, best acquainted with the details of their own manners and customs, undertaking the task of publishing them for the information of English readers.
Hindu writers may not, as yet, be generally capable of reasoning or commenting accurately upon facts, or displaying them with impartiality and independence of judgment, for history never has been their forte. But whatever errors they may fall into in the philosophical view of historical questions, there is no doubt that the rough materials are, to a large extent, in their hands : their views of their own history and usages, even if illogical or warped by party spirit, are of high interest to observers; and it is only by calm and frank discussion between Europeans and natives that the whole of the facts connected with any particular topic can be brought to light. Truth must gain in the end, and that not a little, on Indian subjects, by almost any mode of treatment that a Hindu writer may bestow on them.
At the least, the peculiar characteristics of the Indian mind are more fully revealed by the indigenous literature.
A handsome volume on the history of Travancore, published a few years ago, furnishes a good illustration of these remarks.* It is written in very respectable English by the late Mr. Shungoonny Menon, a talented official in high office of the native Government. He appears to have had access to direct sources of information, and to have been encouraged in his literary task by individuals high in rank in the country. Many of these sources of information have long been accessible to scholars acquainted with the vernacular languages and literature; as for example.
Sir Madava Row’s and Pachu Moothathu’s histories, the Keralolpatti and other Malayalam classics, Bartolomeo’s, Welsh’s, and Day’s volumes, pamphlets by “A Travancorean,” the Madras Journal of Literature and Science, and other publications. Sundry political records and letters, however, are for the first time published, and many remarks by the author himself on the native manners and customs are new — some of them worthy of further investigation. But it must be admitted — and it has been known from the period of the publication of the “History”— that the statements and views of the author are by no means reliable in point of impartiality; and require a great amount of sifting and balancing, limitation, and discussion as to their actual historical value.
This done, considerable light may be obtained from the work. Many of Mr. Shungoonny Menon’s allegations and opinions might, if left on record without some protest and exposure of their inaccuracy, come, in course of time and by dint of constant reiteration, to be regarded as correct; especially as the book seems to be highly thought of by natives as a defence of their peculiar usages and institutions. This would seriously damage our prospects of ever recovering the true history of this most interesting and now renascent kingdom.
It was with some curiosity that one applied to this goodly volume in order to discover what information would be communicated as to the real facts of the history of Travancore and their true causes — the secret history of legislative and political measures — the precise origin and results of incidents which have been placed before the public in an official and diplomatic light in state annals, proclamations, and polite communications. As events transpire, their true history and antecedents are more or less known to contemporaries; but sometimes they dare not be revealed for want of legal proof, or for other reasons; sometimes they are forgotten and lost for ever.
Little or nothing unfavourable to his own side is, however, divulged by this writer; and damaging facts that are well known to many are either courageously denied, or quietly glossed over.
It seems evident that we shall never, in all probability, in such a country, obtain complete information as to the history of court intrigues, immoralities, and follies, as well as of reforms and political progress — the sale of offices, bribery, and interference with the course of justice — factions and cabals in favour of the sovereign, or of the heir, or of rival ministers — secret executions and assassinations, and other events that would reveal the actual state of things in the past or at present, and prove a warning beacon for the future.
What a history all this would make !
But, indeed, this author seems neither desirous to furnish full and impartial information concerning Travancore, nor scarcely endowed with the capacity for doing so. The historical faculty appears absolutely wanting, and the gift of weighing facts and evidence, and of estimating the relative importance of events.
He begins long before the earliest ages — assigns “the origin of the present dynasty” to “the beginning of the world”— gives “many hundred thousands of years without interruption” as the period of rule of a single dynasty, for which circumstance he has “valuable evidence”— refers to “a peculiar adventure by which Hen, a male, became a female”— and supplies a portrait, in modern Malabar dress and accoutrements, of the Emperor Yayathi, who reigned we know not how many ages ago !
The last chapters, again, read somewhat like a court journal, giving particulars of the furniture, down to the lining of the sofas, and the list of game for dinner at the reception of a distinguished visitor to the country; and even ludicrous details of the sea-sickness of sepoys, and the cleaning of the decks. The author proves native historical works to be almost entirely worthless, yet appeals to them.
Every one who differs from him, even with the fullest available opportunities for information, is one-sided, inconsiderate, or misled. He endeavours to cast the blame of local official waste or indifference on the British Resident — falls foul of Pachu Moothathu, who has not sufficiently exalted his country, for undue exercise of imagination, and for want of literary diligence — and attacks Sashiah Sastri, Dewan, for admitting into the Almanac some historical memoranda compiled on the basis of the hitherto recognised histories, even though accompanied by a note declining responsibility for their historical accuracy.
He argues largely on assumption and by guess; and throughout the whole work freely indulges in exaggeration, suppression of the truth, and special pleading. In a word, the whole production appears to be an eulogium on Travancore and its rulers and customs. * “History of Travancore from the Earliest Times.”By P. Shungoonny Menon; Madras: 1878.
The degrading adulation of an oriental courtier appears everywhere. His kings are almost divine — were formerly Emperors of a wide extent of territory — were ever the wisest, most valiant, and best of men; except, indeed, one of them, who is admitted to have erred through the evil advice of his counsellors in attacking the British power.
Each ruler, we are told, introduced such great and comprehensive improvements in the government that it is difficult to see where any room was left for the radical reforms which every one knows have been carried out during the last twenty years.
Men are still alive who remember what Travancore was some thirty years ago — who found it then in the lowest depths of misrule, oppression, and corruption prevalent amongst all grades of society. Officials occupying the very position of our author received bribes with both hands, and administered the country with shameless and unblushing corruption, as every native knows; and yet, except in so far as Mr. Shungoonny Menon incidentally, or by implication, reveals the true state of things, these facts are concealed, misrepresented, or extenuated.
Notwithstanding that so much improvement has been effected, for which due credit ought gladly to be accorded, the country is still but semi-civilised; wide reforms and radical changes are still required; for some of which the public are looking with hope to the present Maharajah, whose intelligence, ability, and desire to rule well are undoubted, as his opportunities for the enlightened study of the principles of political and social science have, of necessity, been far beyond those of his predecessors.
In the work before us, the connection of Travancore with the paramount British power, and the subsidy paid in consideration of the essential aid rendered by the latter, are not placed before the reader with sufficient clearness, and in an accurate light. It is evident on the surface that the raj of Travancore would have been easily and completely extinguished by Tippu Saib; and the Rajah knew that, and was glad to be rescued from utter destruction at any price.
He had only “a dastardly crew not deserving the name of soldiers” to defend the country; and was obliged “to trust for all that was valuable to him, his territory, his honour, and even his personal safety,” to the East India Company, who carried on the war undertaken on his account, with all their forces, and at an enormous expense, “appropriating to this great undertaking not only the revenues of Madras Presidency, but those of Bengal, and the greatest part of the resources of the Carnatic and Tanjore.”
Owing all this to the British power, whatever independence remained was also owing to them, and was, at the time, gratefully accepted and acknowledged. It was not merely the power of a particular dynasty that was at stake, but the national liberties and religion, domestic security, and even the existence of the kingdom. What, indeed, if the British had not then aided Travancore?
The treaty of 1795 virtually surrendered all real independence. The Rajah also bound himself to pay the utmost attention to such advice as the English Government should judge it necessary to offer him, with a view to the good government of the State; and this has been the foundation and origin of all the reforms that have been effected since.
He admitted himself to be “an ally and dependent of the British Government.” The tone of the letters shows the subjugation of Travancore; and the forfeiture of the Company’s protection, in case of obstinate resistance to good advice, is threatened. After the rebellion of 1808, Travancore was virtually conquered by the British arms, and surrendered at discretion; but was again spared, and the administration of the country was undertaken by Col. Munro, who nursed it into financial vigour, reestablished order, and set it on the fair road to prosperity.
Of this period the ‘Standing Information’ of the Madras Government states : — “The Rajah tendered his submission, and disclaimed any sympathy with the insurgents. The debts, however, into which the country was thrown by these events, prevented the punctual payment of the subsidy, and the administration of the territory would have been assumed under the terms of the treaty of 1805, had not the death of the Rajah and the succession of a female led to the union, in the person of Col. Munro, of the combined functions of Resident and Dewan.”
The term sovereign, therefore, applied of late to the Maharajah, is evidently used in the modified sense referred to by Wheaton. “Tributary states, and states having a feudal relation to each other, are still considered as sovereign so far as their sovereignty is not affected by this relation.”*
It was but natural and customary under the circumstances, to expect the Native State to contribute its quota of the imperial expenditure incurred on its account; and as the expenditure for the external protection of the Indian Empire still continues, and peace is henceforth absolutely assured to Travancore and other Native States so long as the British supremacy abides, the subsidy, amounting to some £8o,ooo per annum, is still paid.
The military expenses, indeed, were, as is perhaps always the case in war, much greater than had been anticipated. A good deal of grumbling is indulged in; but there seems no doubt that Travancore has received, and is receiving, good value for its contribution, in the form of efficient and complete protection from external outrage, and a share in the general advancement of the Empire. The subsidy is but a small payment for immense advantages permanently secured; and is fixed at a rate which is now far below the average proportion of military expenditure for the whole of India.
The moral obliquity displayed in the book now under review is at times quite startling, and is remarkable even for a Hindu. Illustrations of this frequently occur. We find, for instance, that the only burden that bore heavy on the conscience of a distinguished statesman on his death-bed, was that he had never had a chance to seize upon the neighbouring kingdom of Cochin, as several other states had been reduced by him to subjection. A curious specimen of the domestic morals of this minister is given.
Too conscientious and devoted to public duty to marry properly, he simply kept a concubine; but, though she tended him with the greatest devotion, he left no provision for her support, merely commending her to the charity of the Rajah after his death.
So also Vurmah Kulasekhara Rajah, who ruthlessly attacked all his neighbours and seized on their territories, slew the sons of the last King for aspiring to inherit the throne, barbarously buried alive fifteen infants to ensure good luck in his undertakings, and tortured and put to death Devasagayam Pilley, a Nair convert to Christianity, is pointed out as specially pious and favoured with Divine protection. And we read that for the correction and warning of a selfish and illiberal subject who refused alms, he summarily confiscated the whole property of the unlucky miser, and dedicated it to the support of a charitable foundation !
A point here brought under discussion and of considerable scientific interest to the ethnological student is the position in the scale of Hindu caste of the royal family of Travancore, as well as of the other Rajahs and chieftains of Malabar. It is unfortunate that this curious historical question is not only somewhat obscure from the absence of reliable records, and from the existence of puzzling anomalies in their domestic usages; but it is also unavoidably encumbered with various personal and political considerations which tend to take it out of the region of abstract discussion.
The Rajahs of Malabar are undoubtedly kings of very ancient lineage, and were formerly, of course, to a greater or less degree, warriors; but the question discussed by Mr. Shungoonny Menon is, whether they are descended by birth from the ancient Aryan Kshatriyas, who are reckoned as the royal or military caste of India. Much delicacy must naturally be felt in discussing the genealogy of distinguished families; but certainly an official, dependent, as was Mr. S. Menon, solely on personal favour for promotion and honours, could not approach the subject with an unbiassed mind, nor feel at liberty, if unbiassed, to express his views without reserve.
I have heard a distinguished Brahman acknowledge that he felt restrained by delicacy and prudence from carrying out his own convictions as to individuals really lower in the scale of caste than himself, but higher in authority and social influence. Happily the Rajahs of Travancore have, in a most dignified manner, refrained from interposing in the discussion of this question; but while, up till somewhat recently, it was almost universally admitted that the dynasty was of Nayar lineage, attempts have of late been made by partisans to claim for them Kshatriya rank and birth as respects Hindu caste, and to becloud the right apprehension of various considerations on which the decision of this purely historical question depends.
Our historian, for instance, says “We wonder how, and upon what authority, the authors of ‘ The Land of the Perumals,’ and ‘ The Land of Charity,’ and other learned writers, state that the Rajah of Travancore is a Sudra. If these authors will but search the Sanscrit works they will be obliged to acknowledge that they are in the wrong, as no mention is made therein as regards the caste of the Travancore sovereigns, except that they are Soma Vamsa Kshatrias.”
As bearing upon this subject, it is very curious to notice with what tenacity the Hindus cling to caste, and what sticklers they are for its minutest distinctions and privileges. It is difficult for Europeans to form any adequate conception of the sway of caste and the power of its traditions over the minds of each class of native society — the amount of research bestowed by each to discover local traditions, verbal derivations, analogies in ceremonies or usages, or anything whatever that might enable them to outvie rival castes — the contempt felt for the boasting of others — and the age-long memories of reported or imagined honours once enjoyed by them.
The ancient Puranas are ransacked to find something that can be twisted by ingenious special pleading into allusions to the ancestors of each modern caste; aged sires hand down traditions to their descendants; and incessant controversy is waged, even to blows, on the recurrence of public festivals or processions.
Titles are altered, new customs adopted, lawsuits conducted to checkmate opposing castes or clans. And each caste reproaches the other with any peculiarities or absurdities which they themselves do not practise. Not that they are at all unlike other men in this respect; for everywhere social prestige and titles are valued, and not unreasonably so. But caste, the form which the claim for precedence and respectability takes amongst the Hindus, is really a most injurious and hurtful distinction, prohibitory of all progress and improvement.
In this way “right hand” and “left hand” castes carry on interminable disputes, often leading to breaches of the peace. The Panars, or tailors of Travancore, pretend to be Sudras, but are repudiated by the latter. Between the Pariahs and the Pallars of Tinnevelley there is an unsettled dispute respecting precedence; as also between the Shanars and the Ilavars of Travancore, a moot question which, we fancy, must be decided differently in the north and in the south.
Some Shanars, who ought to have regarded themselves as simply “Christians,” without claiming any merit on the ground of heathen caste, published a pamphlet in 1871, seeking to prove by a variety of farfetched and ridiculous arguments that they once belonged to the Chetry or kingly caste; and in the census of that year some thousands of them in Tinnevelly described themselves as Kshatriyas, in so far falsifying and invalidating the enumeration.
And now English writers, unacquainted with this circumstance, are quoting the supposed fact that the converts to Christianity in Tinnevelly comprise some thousands of Kshatriyas. The Kuravars have a tradition that they were once kings of the hill country in the south.
The Pariahs also claim, on the most trifling and unhistoric grounds, to have been once a royal caste; and we have even known the degraded Pulayars, than whom none can be conceived lower both in ceremonial caste and in social circumstances, pride themselves on their superiority to Pariahs on the ground that they do not eat beef like the latter.
The enslaved Pulayar also keeps, in his turn, the Parayan twelve feet from his sacred person. Indeed, this very competition, along with the spread of education and the acquisition of wealth and office through the knowledge of English, is breaking down the artificial system of caste, in individual instances, at the present day.
The struggle for caste superiority is incessant throughout the whole of India, and Christian Missionaries at times find it difficult to restrain even their converts from taking part in it. Various Mahratta castes and some of the Gond Hill Rajas are pretenders to the honour of Kshatriya descent.
“It is a fact,” says Dalton, in his “Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal,” “that many Rajahs and chiefs who are invested by Brahmans in due form, at the proper age, with the sacred string, and who may show you a pedigree proclaiming their descent through fifty generations from a Rishi, or a cow, or a snake, or some other animal or thing, are Kols, or Bhuiyas, or Gonds.”
The Brahmans, who located themselves in Nepaul a few centuries ago, accorded to their earliest Turanian converts, and also to their own offspring by mountaineer concubines, the lofty rank and honours of the Kshatriya tribe. A curious instance of a kind of fiction, which probably was in more common use in the earlier ages of Hinduism, is seen in the conversion of the border tribes of Manipuri, about a century ago, by a wandering Sanyasi, who prescribed a suitable expiation for their neglect of orthodox faith and practice; and then declared that the whole people were received back into the Kshatriya caste, to which they had formerly belonged. (“Indian Caste,” Vol. 11. p. 221.).
Even the humble Bhil tribes claim descent from the Rajputs, who themselves are simply the least degenerate descendants of the Aryan Kshatryas. The Pandian Kings are traditionally supposed to have been Kshatriyas, but there is no proof whatever of this, and little reason to make such a supposition.
The Vadiyar dynasty of Mysore, though commencing about the beginning of the 16th century, had no difficulty of getting certification of the most ancient descent even from the Yadava line. “
After the establishment of the chiefs of Marawa or Ramnad as independent princes,” says Prof. H. H. Wilson, “adulatory ingenuity was employed to devise for them an honourable origin.
The founder of the family was accordingly made contemporary with Rama : who was said to have consigned the hereditary charge of the deity and temple at Rameswaram to the Adi Setupati or “first lord of the cause- way.” Manifold instances occur in which the position in the scale of Hindu caste does not precisely connote that in the scale of actual rank and dignity. Some of the reigning dynasties of India have been really of humble origin.
The Gaikwar (or “cowherd,” as the name denotes) was a Sudra official of the Peishwa, having charge of flocks.
He became independent of his former master, and, by entering into treaty with the English, saved a part of Guzerat and Kattiawar, which is now held by his successors. Holkar is of the shepherd caste; the Rajah of Soondee a Vedar; Pattiala and others descended from peasants of the Jat tribe; and the Tondiman of Puthucotta a Marava chieftain, as were also the Polygars of Tinnevelly.
All such are Kshatriyas only by courtesy. Mr. S. Menon himself correctly states that “each of the various rulers of India, irrespective of caste, became supreme in his own kingdom.” Sudras occasionally rose to power and eminence even during the political ascendency of the Brahmans. Sudra dynasties are sometimes mentioned as dominant in certain parts of Hindustan. The Brahma Vaibarta makes mention of Dramila, king of Kanyakubja, a Chanddla by caste.
Chandragupta also was a Sudra. Such instances of Indian rulers, who are Sudras by caste, but by office kings and warriors, tend to introduce uncertainty into the historical question; and courtiers by their flatteries soon cause still greater confusion. A considerable portion of the work before us is occupied with the subject of the descent and caste of the royal family of Travancore, who, it is repeatedly urged, are not Sudras but Kshatriyas — a somewhat unnecessary anxiety for their reputation; for in the South of India, Sudras, and especially the Nayars of the Western Coast, though not regarded as “twice born,” are yet not socially a low caste, but constitute the mass of the respectable population — the landowners and employers of labour, the agricultural and military classes. Some are nobles and even kings.
“This caste,” says Monier Williams, “was probably formed from the more respectable of the aboriginal inhabitants, who joined themselves to the conquering Hindus, and preferred serving them to leaving their homes.” On this subject various arguments are brought forward, some of which may be noticed. “The Keralolpathi does not say that the King of Travancore is a Sudra, nor is this stated in Sanscrit works.”
But Mr. Shungoonny Menon has already given his opinion, and that a correct one, of the compositions which he calls Sanscrit, that they are “embellished with ideas and statements supplied by imagination, a practice common among Sanscrit authors.”
Again, he says : On such a work as the Kerala Ulpathy little reliance can be placed.” As to the Keralolpathi, though said by some to be translated from the Sanscrit, such an original is nowhere to be found, and it is comparatively a recent composition, dating only from the 16th or 17th century, than which there is no earlier Malayalam literature. It is asserted that the investiture with the Brahmanical thread, and the use of Sanscrit names and titles, prove the Kshatriya origin of the princes of Malabar. But this is no proof whatever, for we know that aboriginal tribes have often picked up, and are still adopting, high-sounding and Brahmanical names, rites, and institutions.
Many Roman Catholic natives have assumed the patronymics of distinguished Portuguese families, a precisely similar case. The Kallar or robber caste of Tinnevelly add deva “god,” to their names as a caste title, as also did the Pandian kings; and this has been regarded by some as an objection to the Christian use of divat to denote the Supreme Being.
Some Shanars have asserted that the true form of their caste name is sanaor, “the learned,” in order to apply to themselves the frequent allusions in Tamil literature to “the learned” and their superior excellence in comparison with the illiterate.
So of the Brahmanical thread. Being worn by various castes in imitation of the Brahmans, who are naturally everywhere taken as models, it is no proof of Aryan descent. Besides some castes in Bengal and Bombay who are of dubious purity or of acknowledged inferiority, all the artisans of the South — goldsmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, stonemasons, and braziers — none of whom are supposed to be higher than Sudras — wear it. Even Pariahs don the thread occasionally — a few of their Vallavar priests constantly — and at marriages the bride and groom for sixteen days, after which they leave it off; and this they are accustomed to appeal to as a remnant and token of their Chetry descent.
Next, the Rajahs of Cochin, Calicut and Colastri are respectively referred to, and their relation to Travancore. Cochin is said to be of the same caste and original stock as Travancore; the Zamorin inferior, “not being permitted to wear the Brahmanical thread, or touch a Brahman or Kshatriya without contamination;” and Colastri or Cherical is given as the stock from which children were usually adopted into the Travancore house when heirs failed.
Now the Zamorin is admitted by all to be simply a Nayar chieftain and decidedly inferior to Cochin. The males consort only with Nayar women : the princes are called Erattu or cow-herd, and they have no ceremony to raise them to caste rank. But Travancore also is admitted by almost every native to be beneath Cochin in caste; and this has, at times, caused some little difficulties as to the forms of courtesy to be observed on public occasions. Kolastri, again, is usually asserted to be the origin of the Travancore dynasty. But all these royal houses are interrelated — their traditions point in the same direction and to a similarity of origin; as their names and customs are also in some respects identical, the descent of the throne by nepotistic law, and their children falling into the ranks of the ordinary Nayars of Malabar.
The Zamorin’s family and that of Neeleswaram, a branch of Kolastri, partake in each other’s funeral ceremonies. Travancore, also, is said to be connected with Neeleswaram. All, until recently, claimed descent and grant of authority from Cheraman Perumal, who is supposed to have been a Kshatriya, yet there is a tradition that the last of the Perumals was a Sudra,
This appears to have hit upon the truth, that all alike are of Nayar or Sudra lineage. Travancore, by extreme subservience to the Brahmans, to the extent of devoting the whole country to religious service, and by extravagant donations and costly ceremonies, has been rewarded with various Brahmanical privileges and distinctions; and Cochin, mainly by paying Namburi Brahmans to consort with their females, has won an admitted superiority of caste.
Two of our oldest and most faithful allies in the Madras Presidency,” says Dr. Hunter,* “the enlightened dynasty of Travancore and the ancient princes of Pudukotta, are survivals of the time when non-Aryan sovereigns ruled over Southern India.”
It is asserted, again, that the aim of the Hiranya Garbha (golden womb) ceremony is not to advance the celebrator in caste rank, but a mere donation, or religious coronation ceremony. This ceremony has to be performed by the Maharajah of Travancore. His Highness is weighed in a scale against his weight of gold. This is made into a hollow vessel or tub (see frontispiece), which is half filled with holy water and panchagavya — “the five products of the cow”— into which the Maharajah enters, is covered in with the lid, bathes, and comes out again.
In “The Land of Charity,” I have given my authority for the assertion that the intention of the ceremony is the regeneration of the Sudra King — a detailed description, written by a Brahman who had access to the ceremonies, published on the spot and at the time, and never repudiated nor rebutted. Mr. S. Menon makes no allusion to this document. It says : —
“The performance of this ceremony was thought indispensably necessary in order that the Maharajah might assume the crown which, according to the Vedas and the custom of the country, he could not wear till he should be re-born from a cow, or a lotus flower. — The prince about to be crowned enters and sits for a short time within the belly of a cow, or the corolla of a lotus flower, made of the purest gold procurable, and issues thence as if born again. Such ceremony is termed Hiranya Garbham, or Padma Garbham, according as the vessel employed is made in the shape of a cow or of a lotus flower.”
Amongst Hindus garbha dhana is the ceremony on conception of a child. The phrase constantly applied by every Sudra in the country to those who have performed this ceremony is pasuvin vayittil piranna thamburan “the prince born of the womb of the cow.” Mr. S. Menon himself refers to the construction of “a golden cow” for some such occasion. The panchagavya, or five products of the cow — milk, butter, curd, dung, and urine — half filling the vessel, are the very things always used for restoration to caste, and the only substance sacred enough to effect this important purpose. The Bombay prescription to this end is to swallow a pill of this mixture.
It is said that Ragonath Row the Mahratta Peishwa, when expelled from his capital and defeated by his enemies, passed through a golden cow, in hopes of better fortune : and two Brahmans whom he* sent as ambassadors to England, were on their return to Hindustan, compelled to pass through the sacred yoni, made of the finest gold.
After performing this ordeal, and making valuable presents to the Brahmans, they were restored to the privileges of their caste, which they had lost by the impurities contracted in travelling through so many polluted countries.”(Forbes, Or, Mem, vol. i. p. 240.) Men are not rarely raised in caste, or restored to its privileges, by penances for expiation, or by largesses to Brahmans; just as some sink by marrying their inferiors, or in other ways. Cheaper and easier methods than bestowing one’s weight in gold have been invented by the Brahmans.
While it is conceded that the Tulabharam or scale-weighing is primarily a religious donation as atonement for sin, or as a deed of merit not uncommonly practised in Bengal, where not only gold, but silver, rice and other articles are weighed against the donor and presented to the Brahmans; the Hiranya Garbha, (which is very briefly referred to by our author, while the other is quoted in extenso), is altogether distinct. The two ceremonies are lumped together under the head of “coronation ceremonies;” and it is worthy of notice that no descriptive accounts have been published of the last celebration of the latter ceremony, and it is passed over with but the barest mention in the Administration Report for M.E. 1047 as being “to complete the coronation.”
This very ceremony has been used by others, and for similar purposes. Some time ago “the illegitimate son of a Collector by a Moor-woman was privately raised to the Brahmanical order, the child’s weight in gold poured over its head being the preliminary ceremony.” (Taylor’s First Century, p. 363.) The quiet change in modern times from the shape of a cow to that of a flower shows the influence of the enlightenment of the present age in making the Hindus ashamed of the absurdities of superstition. The Tanjore Rajah also performed this ceremony.*
The social effect of the second ceremony also is patent and most significant The Maharajah ceases to partake of food, as formerly, along with the members of his family, but is yet not allowed to eat with Brahmans, only admitted to be present at their meals.
The opinion which I have formed respecting this interesting question after lengthened consideration of all that has hitherto been advanced upon it, and after considerable inquiry amongst various classes of natives, is that the European writers referred to in the volume before us, who have no personal interest in the discussion, and who are usually best able to reason upon the interesting facts supplied by native witnesses, and to form a broad and unbiassed opinion ab extra, and have also paid more attention to Hindu literature and ethnology than most of the natives themselves, are, in the main, right as to those Malabar princes being virtually Sudras, which is admitted also by many of the natives.
The facts that they can only marry Sudra ladies — that their children are simply Nayars according to the ordinary Malabar law, without any caste pre-eminence on account of their father’s rank — that the laws of nepotism prevail in the descent of the throne and inheritance — that all the chieftains of Malabar agree to a large extent in traditions and usages — and that the mass of the population of Malabar, over whom they exercise rule and with whom they are so intimately connected, are Sudras — all indubitably point to the original Nayar origin of those families.
Even if the father be of higher caste, this makes no difference to a Nayar — the male parent being of little or no account in the Malabar domestic system, and many respectable families regarding themselves as honoured by the visits of Brahmans in this way. Indeed, there seems little ground for supposing that the so-called Kshatriya families who intermarry with the royal ladies, are really such, for their social and domestic usages also point to a Nayar origin. Even the Malayali Brahmans have been supposed to have no higher original, as some of their own traditions assert.
The whole case is put in a nutshell by the learned Bishop Caldwell — “The Aryan immigrants to the South appear to have been generally Brahmanical priests and instructors, rather than Kshatriya soldiers, and the Kings of the Pandyas, Cholas, Kalingas, and other Dravidians, appear to have been simply Dravidian chieftains, whom their Brahmanical preceptors and spiritual directors dignified with Aryan titles, and taught to imitate and emulate the grandeur and cultivated tastes of the Solar, Lunar, and Agni-Kula races of Kings. In later times we may see the progress of a similar process in Gondwana, where we find that Gond chieftains have learned from their Brahman preceptors, not only to style themselves Rajahs, but even to assume the sacred thread of the ‘ twice-born ‘ Kshatriyas.
"The gradual transformation of these semi-barbarous chieftains into Kshatriya princes shows how the Pandya and Chola chieftains of the South may originally have been Polygars like those of Ramnad and Puducottah in later times; and may, in process of time, have risen in rank as in power, assuming, as they did so, the Kshatriya titles of Deva, Vurma, &c. and finally, in some instances at least, succeeding in getting themselves recognized as Kshatriyas by the orignal Kshatriyas of the North.’’
When natives are asked how otherwise can they account for these royal families being unable to intermarry with Chetry ladies, or any higher than Sudras, they sometimes answer that the warriors from the north might have brought no females with them; or, as G. V. Tirumulpad suggests, that these families all belong to one gotra or clan, so closely related as to be unable to intermarry; and when asked how, if the principal Rajahs be descended from Cheraman Perumal, they are supposed to be of diverse castes, the reply is that Cheraman Perumal married four wives from four separate castes, whose posterity consequently vary in this respect.
These explanations are simply absurd and ex post facto inventions of persons hard driven to find some basis for their theories.
The last point which I would here particularly notice is the spirit of shallowness, unfairness, and scarcely concealed antagonism which Mr. Shungoonny Menon displays towards Christian truth and Christian missions. In one brought up with such surroundings, and under the power of such prejudices, this is not altogether to be wondered at.
Still, he had considerable opportunities for learning what Christians really are, opportunities quite equal to those of some of his compatriots who have borne very different testimony concerning the missionaries and their work; and he might, for the sake even of his own reputation, have shown some leanings in favour of popular liberties and the progress of reform. Would that this talented man had better known, and had sought, the blessings bestowed by Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.
The course often adopted by educated Hindus hard pressed by the enlightenment of the age, is to apply Christian phraseology to the heathen deities as if they were but synonymous with the One and Living God; or, at times, to brazen out their degrading superstitions by audacious assertions of the truth and excellence of Hinduism, and the evils of the Christian religion, just as in the flattery of individuals they apply it most vigorously, precisely where it is not deserved, and could not for a moment be justified.
Here we find the Hindu Puranas, with their monstrous tales and immoral superstitions, placed on a level with the Bible — the idolatrous worship of Padmanabha Swamy (who is enumerated in the Census Report simply as one of a long list of deities) is made synonymous with “the praises of God” and “supplicating the Creator; “ and “the will of Sri Padmanabha Swamy” equivalent to “the divine will.” “Padmanabha Swamy alone protects”— What then about the multitude of other deities and demons worshipped in the country, and how comes it that this god is clothed with rich garments, anointed, and bathed, if he is the Almighty Creator of the universe ?
As to the origin of Modern missions in Travancore we find the marvellous assertion that Rani Gouri Parwathi Bhye “was the founder and supporter of the English missions in Travancore.” It is, on the contrary, well-known, and even apparent from some portions of the History, that it was due, if to any local patrons, to the English officers, who procured for the missionaries permission to reside and to labour in the country.
Such were Col. Macaulay, who obtained a passport for Ringeltaube, and gave personal contributions to his work; and the distinguished Col. Munro, who was at the same time a zealous friend of missions, and a lover of beautiful Travancore. To reduce the administration to order, and save the country from the effects of misrule, he assumed almost autocratic power by uniting in himself the functions of Resident and Dewan. He was the real author of the grants referred to, which were intended for, and are still devoted to, the education of the native Christian youth, rather than the direct work of the Missions — it was he who appointed Mr. Mead a judge, as he found so few trustworthy persons available, which office, however, the Missionary Society requested Mr. Mead to resign, as unsuitable to his position — and it was he who applied to the Church Missionary Society for missionaries, and helped them in manifold ways.
It is often difficult in the history of Travancore to distinguish between the spontaneous movements of the Sirkar towards reform, and those which really originated with the British Government, and which simply could not well have been declined by the Native State. It could easily be proved that most of the early reforms were imposed by moral pressure on the Sirkar, though credit is now claimed for these, as it is of course officially due, and willingly accorded by us.
The boasted tolerance of Christianity in Travancore took its rise from a long series of circumstances, rather than from any deliberate policy on the part of the Hindu rulers; and it could not have been successfully refused, though attempts were made from time to time to do so, and even to repress the rising cause. It was not by the “strong protection” of the Sirkar, but of the British officials, and in spite of native intolerance, that the full liberty was won, by which Christian missions have so greatly prospered.
The early Syrian settlers were valuable traders, colonists, and allies to the Hindu chieftains; but even the Syrians with their descendants and converts have, especially since the conquest of the region they inhabit by Travancore, by degrees fallen under various disabilities, and are allowed but little share in the administration or public employment.
In an address to the Madras Government dated from Quilon in 1818, the Resident, Col. Munro, says “The Syrians were exposed to still greater calamities in the conquest of their country by the Rajah of Travancore. The blighting influence of that despotic and merciless government was felt by them in the most aggravated degree, and they were reduced to the lowest state of poverty and depression.”
The Portuguese power aided the admission to the country of Xavier and other early Roman Catholic missionaries. The Portuguese were accustomed to demand toleration and freedom for converts; and the native rulers were quite unable to resist. The Dutch Government also were, unfortunately, always ready to take up arms in defence of religion. But even in the time of Bartolomeo, little over a century ago, though extravagant privileges were sometimes fitfully granted to the Roman Catholic missionaries in response to personal appeals from the Pope, their native converts were required to be present at idolatrous festivals, and their females were dragged by force to heathen dances.
Proselytism being a transgression of the laws of the country, converts could only be baptized in the night, or at Verapoly under the protection of the Dutch Protestant Government. “The king of Travancore,” says Bartolomeo, “threatens with imprisonment and death every nobleman who shall quit his court to become a Christian, and who shall afterwards fall into his hands; and indeed Nilam Pilla, an officer of a noble family, was shot at Aramballi* because he refused to renounce the religion of Jesus Christ. In the year 1787, I saw four Nairs thrown into prison at Tiruvandapuram because they would not apostatise from the Catholic Church.
The Sampradi did everything in his power to make these four Sudras abjure Christianity — even paid them a visit himself, and to gain his point employed every art of persuasion. As these were not attended with success, his substitute proceeded to coercive means; and not only tortured the prisoners with hunger and thirst, but even caused them to be scourged twice a day. They were, at last, transported beyond the boundaries of Tovala.” Such cruelties operated as an effectual warning, so that conversions from the Sudra caste have since been very few.
So when the Protestant Mission was commenced by Ringeltaube in 1806, great difficulty was experienced in obtaining the requisite permission. The Dewan told him frankly the thing was not to be done; evasive answers were given; and it was only through the pertinacious intercession of Col. Macaulay that liberty was at last granted. Afterwards, at various times, the jealousy and rage of the higher caste Hindus, excited by the marked progress of the Gospel and its accompanying civilisation, raged against the Christian converts.
From 1827 for nearly three years, a storm of persecution raged in South Travancore; and again in 1858 persecution broke out, ostensibly on the question of Christian women covering the bosom contrary to ancient usage, which was only settled by the powerful interposition of the Madras Government. Even yet, the letter of the law only allows the use of coarse cloth to cover the bosom; but this is not enforced, and the Protestant Christian community are achieving their just liberties and equal rights of citizenship; and gaining social influence by good conduct and steady advance in moral and material progress.
The London Mission had determined upon the capital being the site of a mission almost from the day of their coming into the country; but permission could not be obtained on account of the strong prejudices of the native government and of the Brahmans, and their dread of pollution by Europeans and Native Christians. For this reason they were obliged to commence their Malayalam Mission in 1821 at Quilon. In 1827, Mr. Miller applied to the Sirkar for permission to establish a mission station at Trevandrum, but was refused.
Mr. Addis was also decidedly forbidden to reside even at Valiatory; and in 1838, it was only through the patronage of General Fraser, that a plot of waste ground at Cannamoola was allowed for the erection of mission premises. The Church Missionary Society experienced less difficulty in opening and conducting their mission in Northern Travancore, partly perhaps, because it was begun after the London Mission had been ten years at work in the South; but chiefly arising from the fact that their first proselytes were from Syrianism, not converts from heathenism, to which therefore the Hindu Government was perfect indifferent.
Complaints, however, of opposition and oppression after the conversion of Hindus, frequently occur in the official chronicles of the Mission, and in the reports of Messrs. Feet, Baker, and others.