Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.

Interview with the Rājā who marries the Stone to the Shrub—Order of the Moon and the Fish.

On the 8th,[1] after a march of twelve miles, we readied Tehrī, the present capital of the Rājā of Orchhā.[2] Our road lay over an undulating surface of soil composed of the detritus of the syenitic rock, and poor, both from its quality and want of depth. About three miles from our last territory we entered the boundary of the Orchhā Rājā's territory, at the village of Aslōn, which has a very pretty little fortified castle, built upon ground slightly elevated in the midst of an open grass plain.

This, and all the villages we have lately passed, are built upon the bare back of the syenitic rock, which seems to rise to the surface in large but gentle swells, like the broad waves of the ocean in a calm after a storm. A great difference appeared to me to be observable between the minds and manners of the people among whom we were now travelling, and those of the people of the Sāgar and Nerbudda territories. They seemed here to want the urbanity and intelligence we find among our subjects in the latter quarters.

The apparent stupidity of the people when questioned upon points the most interesting to them, regarding their history, their agriculture, their tanks, and temples, was most provoking; and their manners seemed to me more rude and clownish than those of people in any other part of India I had travelled over. I asked my little friend the Sarīmant, who rode with me, what he thought of this.

'I think', said he, 'that it arises from the harsh character of the government under which they live; it makes every man wish to appear a fool, in order that he may be thought a beggar and not worth the plundering.'

'It strikes me, my friend Sarīmant, that their government has made them in reality the beggars and the fools that they appear to be.'

'God only knows', said Sarīmant; 'certain it is that they are neither in mind nor in manners what the people of our districts are.'

The Rājā had no notice of our approach till intimation of it reached him at Ludhaura, the day before we came in. He was there resting, and dismissing the people after the ceremonies of the marriage between the Salagrām and the Tulasī. Ludhaura is twenty-seven miles north-west of Tehrī, on the opposite side from that on which I was approaching. He sent off two men on camels with a 'kharītā' (letter),[3] requesting that I would let him know my movements, and arrange a meeting in a manner that might prevent his appearing wanting in respect and hospitality; that is, in plain terms, which he was too polite to use, that I would consent to remain one stage from his capital, till he could return and meet me half-way, with all due pomp and ceremony. These men reached me at Bamhaurī,[4] a distance of thirty-nine miles, in the evening, and I sent back a kharītā, which reached him by relays of camels before midnight. He set out for his capital to receive me, and, as I would not wait to be met half-way in due form, he reached his palace, and we reached our tents at the same time, under a salute from his two brass field-pieces.

We halted at Tehrī on the 9th, and about eleven o'clock the Rājā came to pay his visit of congratulation, with a magnificent cortège of elephants, camels, and horses, all mounted and splendidly caparisoned, and the noise of his band was deafening. I had had both my tents pitched, and one of them handsomely fitted up, as it always is, for occasions of ceremony like the present. He came to within twenty paces of the door on his elephant, and from its back, as it sat down, he entered his splendid litter, without alighting on the ground.[5] In this vehicle he was brought to my tent door, where I received him, and, after the usual embraces, conducted him up through two rows of chairs, placed for his followers of distinction and my own, who are always anxious to assist in ceremonies like these.

At the head of this lane we sat upon chairs placed across, and facing down the middle of the two rows; and we conversed upon all the subjects usually introduced on such occasions, but more especially upon the august ceremonies of the marriage of the Salagrām with the Tulasī, in which his highness had been so piously engaged at Ludhaura.[6] After he had sat with me an hour and a half he took his leave, and I conducted him to the door, whence he was carried to his elephant in his litter, from which he mounted without touching the ground.

This litter is called a 'nālkī'. It is one of the three great insignia which the Mogul Emperors of Delhi conferred upon independent princes of the first class, and could never be used by any person upon whom, or upon whose ancestors, they had not been so conferred. These were the nālkī, the order of the Fish, and the fan of the peacock's feathers. These insignia could be used only by the prince who inherited the sovereignty of the one on whom they had been originally conferred. The order of the Fish, or Mahī Marātib, was first instituted by Khusrū Parvīz, King of Persia, and grandson of the celebrated Naushīrvān the Just. Having been deposed by his general, Bahrām, Khusrū fled for protection to the Greek emperor, Maurice, whose daughter, Shīrīn, he married, and he was sent back to Persia, with an army under the command of Narses, who placed him on the throne of his ancestors in the year A.D. 591.[7] He ascertained from his astrologer, Araz Khushasp, that when he ascended the throne the moon was in the constellation of the Fish, and he gave orders to have two balls made of polished steel, which were to be called Kaukabas (planets),[8] and mounted on long poles. These two planets, with large fish made of gold, upon a third pole in the centre, were ordered to be carried in all regal processions immediately after the king, and before the prime minister, whose cortège always followed immediately after that of the king. The two kaūkabas are now generally made of copper, and plated, and in the shape of a jar, instead of quite round as at first; but the fish is still made of gold. Two planets are always considered necessary to one fish, and they are still carried in all processions between the prince and his prime minister.

The court of this prince Khusrū Pārvīz was celebrated throughout the East for its splendour and magnificence; and the chaste love of the poet Farhad for his beautiful queen Shīrīn is the theme of almost as many poems in the East as that of Petrarch's for Laura is in the West. Nūh Samānī, who ascended the throne of Persia after the Sassanians,[9] ascertained that the moon was in the sign Leo at the time of his accession, and ordered that the gold head of a lion should thenceforward accompany the fishes, and the two balls, in all royal processions. The Persian order of knighthood is, therefore, that of the Fish, the Moon, and the Lion, and not the Lion and Sun, as generally supposed. The emperors of the house of Taimūr in Hindustan assumed the right of conferring the order upon all whom they pleased, and they conferred it upon the great territorial sovereigns of the country without distinction as to religion. He only who inherits the sovereignty can wear the order, and I believe no prince would venture to wear or carry the order who was not generally reputed to have received the investiture from one of the emperors of Delhi.[10]

As I could not wait another day, it was determined that I should return his visit in the afternoon; and about four o'clock we set out upon our elephant—Lieutenant Thomas, Sarīmant, and myself, attended by all my troopers and those of Sarīmant. We had our silver-stick men with us; but still all made a sorry figure compared with the splendid cortège of the Rājā. We dismounted at the foot of the stairs leading to the Rājā's hall of audience, and were there met by his two chief officers of state, who conducted us to the entrance of the hall, when we were received by the Rājā himself, who led us up through two rows of chairs laid out exactly as mine had been in the morning. In front were assembled a party of native comedians, who exhibited a few scenes of the insolence of office in the attendants of great men, and the obtrusive importunity of place- seekers, in a manner that pleased us much more than a dance would have done. Conversation was kept up very well, and the visit passed off without any feeling of ennui, or anything whatever to recollect with regret. The ladies looked at us from their apartments through gratings, and without our being able to see them very distinctly. We were anxious to see the tombs of the late Rājā, the elder brother of the present, who lately died, and that of his son, which are in progress in a very fine garden outside the city walls, and, in consequence, we did not sit above half an hour. The Rājā conducted us to the head of the stairs, and the same two officers attended us to the bottom, and mounted their horses, and attended us to the tombs.

After the dust of the town raised by the immense crowd that attended us, and the ceremonies of the day, a walk in this beautiful garden was very agreeable, and I prolonged it till dark. The Rājā had given orders to have all the cisterns filled during our stay, under the impression that we should wish to see the garden; and, as soon as we entered, the jets d'eau poured into the air their little floods from a hundred mouths. Our old cicerone told us that, if we would take the old capital of Orchhā in our way, we might there see the thing in perfection, and amidst the deluges of the rains of Sāwān and Bhādon (July and August) see the lightning and hear the thunder. The Rājās of this, the oldest principality in Bundēlkhand, were all formerly buried or burned at the old capital of Orchhā, even after they had changed their residence to Tehrī. These tombs over the ashes of the Rājā, his wife, and son, are the first that have been built at Tehrī, where their posterity are all to repose in future.


1. December, 1835.

2. The State of Orchhā, also known as Tehrī or Tīkamgarh, situated to the south of the Jhānsī district, is the oldest and the highest in rank of the Bundela principalities. The town of Tehrī is seventy-two miles north- west of Sāgar. The town of Orchhā, founded in A.D. 1531, is 131 miles north of Sāgar, and about forty miles from Tehrī. Tīkamgarh is the fort of Tehrī.

3. A kharītā is a letter enclosed in a bag of rich brocade, contained in another of fine muslin. The mouth is tied with a string of silk, to which hangs suspended the great seal, which is a flat round mass of sealing-wax, with the seal impressed on each side of it. This is the kind of letter which passes between natives of great rank in India, and between them and the public functionaries of Government. [W. H. S.]

4. Ante, Chapter 19, after note [15].

5. The Rājā's unwillingness to touch the ground is an example of a very widespread and primitive belief. 'Two of those rules or taboos by which . . . the life of divine kings or priests is regulated. The first is . . . that the divine personage may not touch the ground with his foot.' This prohibition applies to the Mikado of Japan and many other sacred personages. 'The second rule is that the sun may not shine upon the sacred person.' This second rule explains the use of the umbrella as a royal appendage in India and Burma. (Frazer, The Golden Bough, 1st ed., vol. ii, pp. 224, 225.)

6 Ante, Chapter 19, note 3.

7. During the time he remained the guest of the emperor he resided at Hierapolis, and did not visit Constantinople. The Greeks do not admit that Shīrīn was the daughter of Maurice, though a Roman by birth and a Christian by religion. The Persians and Turks speak of her as the emperor's daughter. [W. H. S.] Khusrū Pārvīz (Eberwiz), or Khusrū II, reigned as King of Persia from A.D. 591 to 628. In the course of his wars he took Jerusalem, and reduced Egypt, and a large part of northern Africa, extending for a time the bounds of the Persian empire to the Aegean and the Nile. Khusrū I, surnamed Naushīrvān, or (more correctly) Anushīrvān, reigned from A.D. 531 to 579. His successful wars with the Romans and his vigorous internal administration captivated the Oriental imagination, and he is generally spoken of as Ādil, or The Just. His name has become proverbial, and to describe a superior as rivalling Naushīrvān in justice is a commonplace of flattery. The prophet Muhammad was born during his reign, and was proud of the fact. The alleged expedition of Naushīrvān into India is discredited by the best modern writers. Gibbon tells the story of the wars between the two Khusrūs and the Romans in his forty- sixth chapter, and a critical history of the reigns of both Khusrū (Khosrau) I and Khusrū II will be found in Professor Rawlinson's Seventh Great Oriental Monarchy (London, 1876). European authors have, until recently, generally written the name Khusrū in its Greek form as Chosroes. The name of Shīrīn is also written Sira.

'With the name of Shirin and the rock of Bahistun the Persians have associated one of those poetic romances so dear to the national genius. Ferhad, the most famous sculptor of his time, who was very likely employed by Chosroes II to execute these bas-reliefs, is said in the legend to have fallen madly in love with Shīrīn, and to have received a promise of her from the king, if he would cut through the rock of Behistun, and divert a stream to the Kermanshah plain. The lover set to work, and had all but completed his gigantic enterprise (of which the remains, however interpreted, are still to be seen), when he was falsely informed by an emissary from the king of his lady's death. In despair he leaped from the rock, and was dashed to pieces. The legend of the unhappy lover is familiar throughout the East, and is used to explain many traces of rock- cutting or excavation as far east as Beluchistan' (Persia and the Persian Question, by the Hon. George N. Curzon, M.P. (London, 1892), vol. i, p. 562, note. See also Malcolm, History of Persia, vol. i, p. 129).

8. Kaukab in Arabic means 'a star'. Steingass (Persian Dictionary) defines Kaukaba as 'a polished steel ball suspended to a long pole, and carried as an ensign before the king; a star of gold, silver, or tinsel, worn as ornament or sign of rank; a concourse of people; a royal train, retinue, cavalcade; splendour'.

9. Yezdegird III (Isdigerd), the last of the Sassanians, was defeated in A.D. 641 at the battle of Nahavend by the Arab Nomān, general of the Khalīf Omar, and driven from his throne. The supremacy of the Khalīfs over Persia lasted till A.D. 1258. The subordinate Samāni dynasty ruled over Khurāsān, Seistān, Balkh, and the countries of Trans-Oxiana in the tenth century. Two of the princes of this line were named Nūh, or Noah. The author probably refers to the better known of the two, Amir Nūh II (Malcolm, History of Persia, ed. 1829, vol. i, pp. 158-66).

10. The poor old blind emperor. Shāh Alam, when delivered from the Marāthās in 1803 by Lord Lake, did all he could to show his gratitude by conferring on his deliverer honours and titles, and among them the 'Mahī Maratīb'. The editor has been unable to discover the source of the author's story of the origin of the Persian order of knighthood. Malcolm, an excellent authority, gives the following very different account: 'Their sovereigns have, for many centuries, preserved as the peculiar arms of the country,[e] the sign or figure of Sol in the constellation of Leo; and this device, a lion couchant and the sun rising at his back, has not only been sculptured upon their palaces[f] and embroidered upon their banners.[g] but has been converted into an Order,[h] which in the form of gold and silver medals, has been given to such as have distinguished themselves against the enemies of their country.[i]

Note e. The causes which led to the sign of Sol in Leo becoming the arms of Persia cannot be distinctly traced, but there is reason to believe that the use of this symbol is not of very great antiquity. We meet with it upon the coins of one of the Seljukian princes of Iconium; and, when this family had been destroyed by Hulākū [A.D. 1258], the grandson of Chengiz, that prince, or his successors, perhaps adopted this emblem as a trophy of their conquest, whence it has remained ever since among the most remarkable of the royal insignia. A learned friend, who has a valuable collection of Oriental coins, and whose information and opinion have enabled me to make this conjecture, believes that the emblematical representation of Sol in Leo was first adopted by Ghiās-ud-din Kai Khusrū bin Kaikobād, who began to reign A.H. 634, A.D. 1236, and died A.H. 642, A.D. 1244; and this emblem, he adds, is supposed to have reference either to his own horoscope or to that of his queen, who was a princess of Georgia.

Note f. Hanway states, vol. i, p. 199, that over the gate which forms the entrance of the palace built by Shah Abbās the Great [A.D. 1586 to 1628] at Ashrāf, in Mazenderan, are 'the arms of Persia, being a lion, and the sun rising behind it'.

Note g. The emblem of the Lion and Sun is upon all the banners given to the regular corps of infantry lately formed. They are presented to the regiments with great ceremony. A mūllā, or priest, attends, and implores the divine blessing on them.

Note h. This order, with additional decorations, has been lately conferred upon several ministers and representatives of European Governments in alliance with Persia.

Note i. The medals which have been struck with this symbol upon them have been chiefly given to the Persian officers and men of the regular corps who have distinguished themselves in the war with the Russians. An English officer, who served with these troops, informs me that those on whom these medals have been conferred are very proud of this distinction, and that all are extremely anxious to obtain them (History of Persia, ed. 1829, vol. ii, p. 406).

In Curzon's figure the lion is standing, not 'couchant', as stated by Malcolm, and grasps a scimitar in his off forepaw.