Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Legend of the Nerbudda River.
The legend is that the Nerbudda, which flows west into the Gulf of Cambay, was wooed and won in the usual way by the Sōn river, which rises from the same tableland of Amarkantak, and flows east into the Ganges and Bay of Bengal.
All the previous ceremonies having been performed, the Sōn  came with 'due pomp and circumstance' to fetch his bride in the procession called the 'Barāt', up to which time the bride and bridegroom are supposed never to have seen each other, unless perchance they have met in infancy. Her Majesty the Nerbudda became exceedingly impatient to know what sort of a personage her destinies were to be linked to, while his Majesty the Sōn advanced at a slow and stately pace.
At last the Queen sent Johilā, the daughter of the barber, to take a close view of him, and to return and make a faithful and particular report of his person. His Majesty was captivated with the little Johilā, the barber's daughter, at first sight; and she, 'nothing loath', yielded to his caresses.
Some say that she actually pretended to be Queen herself; and that his Majesty was no further in fault than in mistaking the humble handmaid for her noble mistress; but, be that as it may, her Majesty no sooner heard of the good understanding between them, than she rushed forward, and with one foot sent the Sōn rolling back to the east whence he came, and with the other kicked little Johilā sprawling after him; for, said the high priest, who told us the story, 'You see what a towering passion she was likely to have been in under such indignities from the furious manner in which she cuts her way through the marble rocks beneath us, and casts huge masses right and left as she goes along, as if they were really so many coco-nuts'.
'And was she', asked I, 'to have flown eastward with him, or was he to have flown westward with her?' 'She was to have accompanied him eastward', said the high priest, 'but her Majesty, after this indignity, declared that she would not go a single pace in the same direction with such wretches, and would flow west, though all the other rivers in India might flow east; and west she flows accordingly, a virgin queen.'
I asked some of the Hindoos about us why they called her 'Mother Nerbudda', if she was really never married. 'Her Majesty', said they with great respect, 'would really never consent to be married after the indignity she suffered from her affianced bridegroom the Sōn; and we call her Mother because she blesses us all, and we are anxious to accost her by the name which we consider to be at once the most respectful and endearing.'
Any Englishman can easily conceive a poet in his highest 'calenture of the brain' addressing the ocean as 'a steed that knows his rider', and patting the crested billow as his flowing mane; but he must come to India to understand how every individual of a whole community of many millions can address a fine river as a living being, a sovereign princess, who hears and understands all they say, and exercises a kind of local superintendence over their affairs, without a single temple in which her image is worshipped, or a single priest to profit by the delusion.
As in the case of the Ganges, it is the river itself to whom they address themselves, and not to any deity residing in it, or presiding over it: the stream itself is the deity which fills their imaginations, and receives their homage.
Among the Romans and ancient Persians rivers were propitiated by sacrifices. When Vitellius crossed the Euphrates with the Roman legions to put Tiridates on the throne of Armenia, they propitiated the river according to the rites of their country by the suovetaurilia, the sacrifice of the hog, the ram, and the bull. Tiridates did the same by the sacrifice of a horse.
Tacitus does not mention the river god, but the river itself, as propitiated (see [Annals,] book vi, chap. 37). Plato makes Socrates condemn Homer for making Achilles behave disrespectfully towards the river Xanthus, though acknowledged to be a divinity, in offering to fight him, and towards the river Sperchius, another acknowledged god, in presenting to the dead body of Patroclus the locks of his hair which he had promised to that river.
The Sōn river, which rises near the source of the Nerbudda on the tableland of Amarkantak, takes a westerly course for some miles, and then turns off suddenly to the east, and is joined by the little stream of the Johilā before it descends the great cascade; and hence the poets have created this fiction, which the mass of the population receive as divine revelation.
The statue of little Johilā, the barber's daughter, in stone, stands in the temple of the goddess Nerbudda at Amarkantak, bound in chains. It may here be remarked that the first overtures in India must always be made through the medium of the barber, whether they be from the prince or the peasant. If a sovereign prince sends proposals to a sovereign princess, they must be conveyed through the medium of the barber, or they will never be considered as done in due form, as likely to prove propitious.
The prince will, of course, send some relation or high functionary with him; but in all the credentials the barber must be named as the principal functionary. Hence it was that Her Majesty was supposed to have sent a barber's daughter to meet her husband.
The 'Mahātam' (greatness or holiness) of the Ganges is said, as I have already stated, to be on the wane, and not likely to endure sixty years longer; while that of the Nerbudda is on the increase, and in sixty years is entirely to supersede the sanctity of her sister.
If the valley of the Nerbudda should continue for sixty years longer under such a government as it has enjoyed since we took possession of it in 1817, it may become infinitely more rich, more populous, and more beautiful than that of the Nile ever was; and, if the Hindoos there continue, as I hope they will, to acquire wealth and honour under a rule to which they are so much attached, the prophecy may be realized in as far as the increase of honour paid to the Nerbudda is concerned.
But I know no ground to expect that the reverence paid to the Ganges will diminish, unless education and the concentration of capital in manufactures should work an important change in the religious feelings and opinions of the people along the course of that river; although this, it must be admitted, is a consummation which may be looked for more speedily on the banks of the Ganges than on those of a stream like the Nerbudda, which is neither navigable at present nor, in my opinion, capable of being rendered so.
Commerce and manufactures, and the concentration of capital in the maintenance of the new communities employed in them, will, I think, be the great media through which this change will be chiefly effected; and they are always more likely to follow the course of rivers that are navigable than that of rivers which are not.
1. Amarkantak, formerly in the Sohāgpur pargana of the Bilāspur District of the Central Provinces, is situated on a high tableland, and is a famous place of pilgrimage. The temples are described by Beglar in A.S.R., vol. vii, pp. 227-34, pl. xx, xxi. The hill has been transferred to the Rīwā State (Central Provinces Gazetteer (1870), and I.G. (1908), s.v. Amarkantak).
2. The name is misspelled Sohan in the author's text. The Sōn rises at Sōn Mundā, about twenty miles from Amarkantak (A.S.R., vol. vii, 236).
3. 'Sacrificantibus, cum hic more Romano suovetaurilia daret, ille equum placando amni adornasset.'
4. μέγας ποταμòς βαθυδίνης,
δυ Ξάνθον καλέουσι θεοί, άνδρες δè Σκάμανδρον. —Iliad xx, 73.
5. Iliad xxiii. 140-153.
6. Mr. Crooke observes that the binding was intended to prevent the object of worship from deserting her shrine or possibly doing mischief elsewhere, and refers to his article, 'The Binding of a God, a Study of the Basis of Idolatry', in Folklore, vol. viii (1897), p.134. The name is spelt Johillā in I.G. (1908), s.v. Sōn River.
7. Monier Williams denies the barber's monopoly of match-making. 'In some parts of Northern India the match-maker for some castes is the family barber; but for the higher castes he is more generally a Brahman, who goes about from one house to another till he discovers a baby-girl of suitable rank' (Religious Thought and Life in India, p. 377). So far as the editor knows, the barber is ordinarily employed in Northern India.
8. During the operations against the Pindhārī freebooters. Many treaties were negotiated with the Peshwa and other native powers in the years 1817 and 1818.
9. The word in the text is 'revenue'.
10. Concerning the prophecy that the sanctity of the Ganges will cease in 1895, see note to Chapter 1, ante, . The prophecy was much talked of some years ago, but the reverence for the Ganges continues undiminished, while the development of commerce and manufactures has not affected, the religious feelings and opinions of the people.
Railways, in fact, facilitate pilgrimages and increase their popularity. The course of commerce now follows the line of rail, not the navigable rivers. The author, when writing this book, evidently never contemplated the possibility of railway construction in India. Later in life, in 1852, he fully appreciated the value of the new means of communication (Journey, ii, 370, &c.).
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