Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Feeding Pilgrims—Marriage of a Stone with a Shrub
At Sayyidpur we encamped in a pretty little mango grove, and here I had a visit from my old friend Jānkī Sewak, the high priest of the great temple that projects into the Sāgar lake, and is called Bindrāban. He has two villages rent free, worth a thousand rupees a year; collects something more through his numerous disciples, who wander over the country; and spends the whole in feeding all the members of his fraternity (Bairāgīs), devotees of Vishnu, as they pass his temple in their pilgrimages.
Every one who comes is considered entitled to a good meal and a night's lodging; and he has to feed and lodge about a hundred a day. He is a man of very pleasing manners and gentle disposition, and everybody likes him. He was on his return from the town of Ludhaura, where he had been, at the invitation of the Rājā of Orchhā, to assist at the celebration of the marriage of Sālagrām with the Tulasī, which there takes place every year under the auspices and at the expense of the Rājā, who must be present.
'Sālagrāms' are rounded pebbles which contain the impressions of ammonites, and are washed down into the plains of India by the rivers from the limestone rocks in which these shells are imbedded in the mountains of the Himalaya. The Spiti valley contains an immense deposit of fossil ammonites and belemnites in limestone rocks, now elevated above sixteen thousand feet above the level of the sea; and from such beds as these are brought down the fragments, which, when rounded in their course, the poor Hindoo takes for representatives of Vishnu, the preserving god of the Hindoo triad.
The Sālagrām is the only stone idol among the Hindoos that is essentially sacred, and entitled to divine honours without the ceremonies of consecration. It is everywhere held most sacred. During the war against Nepāl, Captain B———, who commanded a reconnoitring party from the division in which I served, one day brought back to camp some four or five Sālagrāms, which he had found at the hut of some priest within the enemy's frontier.
He called for a large stone and hammer, and proceeded to examine them. The Hindoos were all in a dreadful state of consternation, and expected to see the earth open and swallow up the whole camp, while he sat calmly cracking their gods with his hammer, as he would have cracked so many walnuts. The Tulasī is a small sacred shrub (Ocymum sanctum), which is a metamorphosis of Sītā, the wife of Rāma, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu.
This little pebble is every year married to this little shrub; and the high priest told me that on the present occasion the procession consisted of eight elephants, twelve hundred camels, four thousand horses, all mounted and elegantly caparisoned.
On the leading elephant of this cortège, and the most sumptuously decorated, was carried the pebble god, who was taken to pay his bridal visit (barāt) to the little shrub goddess. All the ceremonies of a regular marriage are gone through; and, when completed, the bride and bridegroom are left to repose together in the temple of Ludhaura till the next season. 'Above a hundred thousand people', the priest said, 'were present at the ceremony this year at the Rājā's invitation, and feasted upon his bounty.'
The old man and I got into a conversation upon the characters of different governments, and their effects upon the people; and he said that bad governments would sooner or later be always put down by the deity; and quoted this verse, which I took down with my pencil:
Tulasī, gharīb na sātāe,
Burī gharīb kī hai;
Marī khāl ke phūnk se
Lohā bhasm ho jāe.
'Oh, Rājā Tulasī! oppress not the poor; for the groans of the wretched bring retribution from heaven. The contemptible skin (in the smith's bellows) in time melts away the hardest iron.'
On leaving our tents in the morning, we found the ground all round white with hoar frost, as we had found it for several mornings before; and a little canary bird, one of the two which travelled in my wife's palankeen, having, by the carelessness of the servants been put upon the top without any covering to the cage, was killed by the cold, to her great affliction. All attempts to restore it to life by the warmth of her bosom were fruitless.
On the 7th we came nine miles to Bamhaurī over a soil still basaltic, though less rich, reposing upon syenite, which frequently rises and protrudes its head above the surface, which is partially and badly cultivated, and scantily peopled. The silent signs of bad government could not be more manifest. All the extensive plains, covered with fine long grass, which is rotting in the ground from want of domestic cattle or distant markets.
Here, as in every other part of Central India, the people have a great variety of good spontaneous, but few cultivated, grasses. They understand the character and qualities of these grasses extremely well. They find some thrive best in dry, and some in wet seasons; and that of inferior quality is often prized most because it thrives best when other kinds cannot thrive at all, from an excess or a deficiency of rain. When cut green they all make good hay, and have the common denomination of 'sahīa'. The finest of these grasses are two which are generally found growing spontaneously together, and are often cultivated together-'kēl' and 'musēl'; the third 'parwana'; fourth 'bhawār', or 'gūniār'; fifth 'sainā'.
1. Spelled Siedpore in the author's text.
2. More correctly Brindāban (Vrindāvana). The name originally belongs to one of the most sacred spots in India, situated near Mathurā (Muttra) on the Jumna, and the reputed scene of the dalliance between Krishna and the milkmaids (Gopīs); also associated with the legend Rāma.
3. Twenty-seven miles north-west of Tehrī in the Orchhā State.
4. The Tulasī plant, or basil, Ocymum sanctum, is 'not merely sacred to Vishnu or to his wife Lakshmī; it is pervaded by the essence of these deities, and itself worshipped as a deity and prayed to accordingly. . . . The Tulasī is the object of more adoration than any other plant at present worshipped in India. . . .It is to be found in almost every respectable household throughout India.
It is a small shrub, not too big to be cultivated in a good-sized flower-pot, and often placed in rooms. Generally, however, it is planted in the courtyard of a well-to-do man's house, with a space round it for reverential circumambulation. In real fact the Tulasī is par excellence a domestic divinity, or rather, perhaps, a woman's divinity' (M. Williams, Religious Thought and Life in India, p. 333).
5. The fossil ammonites found in India include at least fifteen species. They occur between Trichinopoly and Pondicherry as well as in the Himalayan rocks. They are particularly abundant in the river Gandak, which rises near Dhaulagiri in Nepāl, and falls into the Ganges near Patna. The upper course of this river is consequently called Sālagrāmī.
Various forms of the fossils are supposed to represent various avatārs of Vishnu (Balfour, Cyclopaedia, 3rd ed., s.v. 'Ammonite', 'Gandak', 'Salagrama'; M. Williams, Religious Thought and Life in India, pp. 69, 349). A good account of the reverence paid to both sālagrāms and the tulasī plant will be found in Dubois, Hindu Manners, &c., 3rd ed. (1906), pp. 648-51.
6. The author writes 'Himmalah'. The current spelling Himalaya is correct, but the word should be pronounced Himālaya. It means 'abode of snow'.
7. The north-eastern corner of the Punjāb, an elevated valley along the course of the Spiti or the Li river, a tributary of the Satlaj.
8. Fossils of the genus Belemnites and related genera are common, like the ammonites, near Trichinopoly, as well as in the Himalaya.
9. This statement is not quite correct. The pebbles representing the Linga of Siva, called Bāna-linga, or Vāna-linga, and apparently of white quartz, which are found in the Nerbudda river, enjoy the same distinction. 'Both are held to be of their own nature pervaded by the special presence of the deity, and need no consecration. Offerings made to these pebbles—such, for instance, as Bilwa leaves laid on the white stone of Vishnu—are believed to confer extraordinary merit' (M. Williams, Religious Thought and Life in India, p. 69).
10. In 1814-16.
11. 'Sadora' in author's text, which seems to be a misprint for Ludora or Ludhaura.
12. The Tulasī shrub is sometimes married to an image of Krishna, instead of to the sālagrāma, in Western India (M. Williams, Religious Thought and Life in India, p. 334). Compare the account of the marriage between the mango-tree and the jasmine, ante, Chapter 5, Note .
13. These Hindī verses are incorrectly printed, and loosely rendered by the author. The translation of the text, after necessary emendation, is: 'Tulasī, oppress not the poor; evil is the lot of the poor. From the blast of the dead hide iron becomes ashes.'
Mr. W. Crooke informs me that the verses are found in the Kabīrkī Sakhī, and are attributable to Kabīr Dās, rather than to Tulasī Dās. But the authorship of such verses is very uncertain. Mr. Crooke further observes that the lines as given in the text do not scan, and that the better version is:
Durbal ko na satāiye,
Jāki māti hai;
Mūē khāl ke sāns se
Sār bhasm ho jāe.
Sār means iron. The author was, of course, mistaken in supposing the poet Tulasī Dās to be a Rājā. As usual in Hindī verse, the poet addresses himself by name.
14. Such slight frosts are common in Bundēlkhand, especially near the rivers, in January, but only last for a few mornings. They often cause great damage to the more delicate crops. The weather becomes hot in February.
15. December, 1835.
16. 'Musēl' is a very sweet-scented grass, highly esteemed as fodder. It belongs to the genus Anthistiria; the species is either cimicina or prostrata. 'Bhawār' is probably the 'bhaunr' of Edgeworth's list, Anthistiria scandens. I cannot identify the other grasses named in the text. The haycocks in Bundēlkhand are a pleasant sight to English eyes. Edgeworth's list of plants found in the Bāndā district, as revised by Messrs. Waterfield and Atkinson, is given in N.W.P. Gazetteer, 1st ed., vol. i, pp. 78-86.
Annual Fairs held on the Banks of Sacred Streams in India
Hindoo System of Religion
Legend of the Nerbudda River
A Suttee on the Nerbudda
Marriages of Trees—The Tank and the Plantain—Meteors—Rainbows
The Purveyance System
Religious Sects—Self-government of the Castes—Chimneysweepers—Washerwomen —Elephant Drivers
The Great Iconoclast—Troops routed by Hornets—The Rānī of Garhā—Hornets' Nests in India
The Peasantry and the Land Settlement
The Silver Tree, or 'Kalpa Briksha'—The 'Singhāra', or Trapa bispinosa, and the Guinea-Worm
Thugs and Poisoners
Basaltic Cappings of the Sandstone Hills of Central India—Suspension Bridge—Prospects of the Nerbudda Valley—Deification of a Mortal
Legend of the Sāgar Lake—Paralysis from eating the Grain of the Lathyrus sativus
Suttee Tombs—Insalubrity of deserted Fortresses
Basaltic Cappings—Interview with a Native Chief—A Singular Character
Birds' Nests—Sports of Boyhood
Feeding Pilgrims—Marriage of a Stone with a Shrub
Burning of Deorī by a Freebooter—A Suttee
Interview with the Rājā who marries the Stone to the Shrub—Order of the Moon and the Fish
The Rājā of Orchhā—Murder of his many Ministers
Corn Dealers—Scarcities—Famines in India
Artificial Lakes in Bundēlkhand-Hindoo, Greek, and Roman Faith
Pestle-and-Mortar Sugar-Mills—Washing away of the Soil
Interview with the Chiefs of Jhānsī—Disputed Succession
Interview with the Rājā of Datiyā—Fiscal Errors of Statesmen—Thieves and Robbers by Profession
Sporting at Datiyā—Fidelity of Followers to their Chiefs in India—Law of Primogeniture wanting among Muhammadans
The Suicide-Relations between Parents and Children in India
Gwālior Plain once the Bed of a Lake—Tameness of Peacocks
Gwālior and its Government
Contest for Empire between the Sons of Shah Jahān
Aurangzēb and Murād Defeat their Father's Army near Ujain
Dārā Marches in Person against his Brothers, and is Defeated
Dārā Retreats towards Lahore—Is robbed by the Jāts—Their Character
Shāh Jahān Imprisoned by his Two Sons, Aurangzēb and Murād
Aurangzēb Throws off the Mask, Imprisons his Brother Murād, and Assumes the Government of the Empire
Aurangzēb Meets Shujā in Bengal, and Defeats him, after Pursuing Dārā to the Hyphasis
Aurangzēb Imprisons his Eldest Son—Shujā and all his Family are Destroyed
Second Defeat and Death of Dārā, and Imprisonment of his Two Sons
Death and Character of Amīr Jumla
Reflections on the Preceding History
The Great Diamond of Kohinūr
Pindhārī System—Character of the Marāthā Administration—Cause of their Dislike to the Paramount Power
Dhōlpur, Capital of the Jāt Chiefs of Gohad—Consequence of Obstacles to the Prosecution of Robbers
Influence of Electricity on Vegetation—Agra and its Buildings
Nūr Jahān, the Aunt of the Empress Nūr Mahal, over whose Remains the Tāj is built
Father Gregory's Notion of the Impediments to Conversion in India—Inability of Europeans to speak Eastern Languages
Fathpur-Sīkrī—The Emperor Akbar's Pilgrimage—Birth of Jahāngīr
Bharatpur—Dīg—Want of Employment for the Military and the Educated Classes under the Company's Rule
Govardhan, the Scene of Kriahna's Dalliance with the Milkmaids
Declining Fertility of the Soil—Popular Notion of the Cause
Concentration of Capital and its Effects
Transit Duties in India—Mode of Collecting them
Peasantry of India attached to no existing Government—Want of Trees in Upper India—Cause and Consequence—Wells and Groves
Public Spirit of the Hindoos—Tree Cultivation and Suggestions for extending it
Cities and Towns, formed by Public Establishments, disappear as Sovereigns and Governors change their Abodes
Murder of Mr. Fraser, and Execution of the Nawāb Shams-ud- dīn
Marriage of a Jāt Chief
Collegiate Endowment of Muhammadan Tombs and Mosques
The Old City of Delhi
New Delhi, or Shāhjahānābād
Indian Police—Its Defects—and their Cause and Remedy
Rent-free Tenures—Right of Government to Resume such Grants
The Station of Meerut—'Atālīs' who Dance and Sing gratuitously for the Benefit of the Poor
Subdivisions of Lands—Want of Gradations of Rank—Taxes
Pilgrims of India
The Bēgam Sumroo
ON THE SPIRIT OF MILITARY DISCIPLINE IN THE NATIVE ARMY OF INDIA
Abolition of Corporal Punishment—Increase of Pay with Length of Service—Promotion by Seniority
Thuggee and the part taken in its Suppression by General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B., by Captain J. L. Sleeman
Supplementary Note by the Editor
Additions and Corrections