Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Sporting at Datiyā—Fidelity of Followers to their Chiefs in India—Law of Primogeniture wanting among Muhammadans
The morning after we reached Datiyā, I went out with Lieutenant Thomas to shoot and hunt in the Rājā's large preserve, and with the humane and determined resolution of killing no more game than our camp would be likely to eat; for we were told that the deer and wild hogs were so very numerous that we might shoot just as many as we pleased.[l]
We were posted upon two terraces, one near the gateway, and the other in the centre of the preserve; and, after waiting here an hour, we got each a shot at a hog. Hares we saw, and might have shot, but we had loaded all our barrels with ball for other game. We left the 'ramnā', which is a quadrangle of about one hundred acres of thick grass, shrubs, and brushwood, enclosed by a high stone wall.
There is one gate on the west side, and this is kept open during the night, to let the game out and in. It is shut and guarded during the day, when the animals are left to repose in the shade, except on such occasions as the present, when the Rājā wants to give his guests a morning's sport.
On the plains and woods outside we saw a good many large deer, but could not manage to get near them in our own way, and had not patience to try that of the natives, so that we came back without killing anything, or having had any occasion to exercise our forbearance. The Rājā's people, as soon as we left them, went about their sport after their own fashion, and brought us a fine buck antelope after breakfast.
They have a bullock trained to go about the fields with them, led at a quick pace by a halter, with which the sportsman guides him, as he walks along with him by the side opposite to that facing the deer he is in pursuit of. He goes round the deer as he grazes in the field, shortening the distance at every circle till he comes within shot. At the signal given the bullock stands still, and the sportsman rests his gun upon his back and fires. They seldom miss.
Others go with a fine buck and doe antelope, tame, and trained to browse upon the fresh bushes, which are woven for the occasion into a kind of hand-hurdle, behind which a man creeps along over the fields towards the herd of wild ones, or sits still with his matchlock ready, and pointed out through the leaves. The herd seeing the male and female strangers so very busily and agreeably employed upon their apparently inviting repast, advance to accost them, and are shot when they get within a secure distance.
The hurdle was filled with branches from the 'dhau' (Lythrum fructuosum) tree, of which the jungle is for the most part composed, plucked as we went along; and the tame antelopes, having been kept long fasting for the purpose, fed eagerly upon them. We had also two pairs of falcons; but a knowledge of the brutal manner in which these birds are fed and taught is enough to prevent any but a brute from taking much delight in the sport they afford.
The officer who conducted us was evidently much disappointed, for he was really very anxious, as he knew his master the Rājā was, that we should have a good day's sport. On our way back I made him ride by my side, and talk to me about Datiyā, since he had been unable to show me any sport. I got his thoughts into a train that I knew would animate him, if he had any soul at all for poetry or poetical recollections, as I thought he had.
'The noble works in palaces and temples,' said he, 'which you see around you, Sir, mouldering in ruins, were built by princes who had beaten emperors in battle, and whose spirits still hover over and protect the place. Several times, under the late disorders which preceded your paramount rule in Hindustan, when hostile forces assembled around us, and threatened our capital with destruction, lights and elephants innumerable were seen from the tops of those battlements, passing and repassing under the walls, ready to defend them had the enemy attempted an assault. Whenever our soldiers endeavoured to approach near them, they disappeared; and everybody knew that they were spirits of men like Bīrsingh Deo and Hardaul Lāla that had come to our aid, and we never lost confidence.'
It is easy to understand the devotion of men to their chiefs when they believe their progenitors to have been demigods, and to have been faithfully served by their ancestors for several generations. We neither have, nor ever can have, servants so personally devoted to us as these men are to their chiefs, though we have soldiers who will fight under our banners with as much courage and fidelity.
They know that their grandfathers served the grandfathers of these chiefs, and they hope their grandchildren will serve their grandsons. The one feels as much pride and pleasure in so serving, as the other in being so served; and both hope that the link which binds them may never be severed. Our servants, on the contrary, private and public, are always in dread that some accident, some trivial fault, or some slight offence, not to be avoided, will sever for ever the link that binds them to their master.
The fidelity of the military classes of the people of India to their immediate chief, or leader, whose salt they eat, has been always very remarkable, and commonly bears little relation to his moral virtues, or conduct to his superiors. They feel that it is their duty to serve him who feeds and protects them and their families in all situations, and under all circumstances; and the chief feels that, while he has a right to their services, it is his imperative duty so to feed and protect them and their families.
He may change sides as often as he pleases, but the relations between him and his followers remain unchanged. About the side he chooses to take in a contest for dominion, they ask no questions, and feel no responsibility. God has placed their destinies in dependence upon his; and to him they cling to the last. In Mālwa, Bhopāl, and other parts of Central India, the Muhammadan rule could be established over that of the Rājpūt chief only by the annihilation of the entire race of their followers.
In no part of the world has the devotion of soldiers to their immediate chief been more remarkable than in India among the Rājpūts; and in no part of the world bas the fidelity of these chiefs to the paramount power been more unsteady, or their devotion less to be relied upon.
The laws of Muhammad, which prescribe that the property in land be divided equally among the sons, leaves no rule for succession to territorial or political dominion.
It has been justly observed by Hume: 'The right of primogeniture was introduced with the feudal law; an institution which is hurtful by producing and maintaining an unequal division of property; but it is advantageous in another respect by accustoming the people to a preference for the eldest son, and thereby preventing a partition or disputed succession in the monarchy.'
Among the Muhammadan princes there was no law that bound the whole members of a family to obey the eldest son of a deceased prince. Every son of the Emperor of Hindustan considered that he had a right to set up his claim to the throne, vacated by the death of his father; and, in anticipation of that death, to strengthen his claim by negotiations and intrigues with all the territorial chiefs and influential nobles of the empire.
However prejudicial to the interests of his elder brother such measures might be, they were never considered to be an invasion of his rights, because such rights had never been established by the laws of their prophet. As all the sons considered that they had an equal right to solicit the support of the chiefs and nobles, so all the chiefs and nobles considered that they could adopt the cause of whichever son they chose, without incurring the reproach of either treason or dishonour.
The one who succeeded thought himself justified by the law of self-preservation to put, not only his brothers, but all their sons, to death; so that there was, after every new succession, an entire clearance of all the male members of the imperial family.
Aurangzēb said to his pedantic tutor, who wished to be raised to high station on his accession to the imperial throne, 'Should not you, instead of your flattery, have taught me something of that point so important to a king, which is, what are the reciprocal duties of a sovereign to his subjects, and those of the subjects to their sovereign? And ought not you to have considered that one day I should be obliged, with the sword, to dispute my life and the crown with my brothers? Is not that the destiny, almost of all the sons of Hindustan?'
Now that they have become pensioners of the British Government, the members increase like white ants; and, as Malthus has it, 'press so hard against their means of subsistence' that a great many of them are absolutely starving, in spite of the enormous pension the head of the family receives for their maintenance.
The city of Datiyā is surrounded by a stone wall about thirty feet high, with its foundation on a solid rock; but it has no ditch or glacis, and is capable of little or no defence against cannon. In the afternoon I went, accompanied by Lieutenant Thomas, and followed by the best cortège we could muster, to return the Rājā's visit. He resides within the walls of the city in a large square garden, enclosed with a high wall, and filled with fine orange-trees, at this time bending under the weight of the most delicious fruit.
The old chief received us at the bottom of a fine flight of steps leading up to a handsome pavilion, built upon the wall of one of the faces of this garden. It was enclosed at the back, and in front looked into the garden through open arcades. The floors were spread with handsome carpets of the Jhānsī manufacture.
In front of the pavilion was a wide terrace of polished stone, extending to the top of the flight of the steps; and, in the centre of this terrace, and directly opposite to us as we looked into the garden, was a fine jet d'eau in a large basin of water in full play, and, with its shower of diamonds, showing off the rich green and red of the orange-trees to the best advantage.
The large quadrangle thus occupied is called the 'kila', or fort, and the wall that surrounds it is thirty feet high, with a round embattled tower at each corner. On the east face is a fine large gateway for the entrance, with a curtain as high as the wall itself. Inside the gate is a piece of ordnance painted red, with the largest calibre I ever saw. This is fired once a year, at the festival of the Dasahra.
Our arrival at the wall was announced by a salute from some fine brass guns upon the bastions near the gateway. As we advanced from the gateway up through the garden to the pavilion, we were again serenaded by our friends with their guitars and excellent voices. They were now on foot, and arranged along both sides of the walk that we had to pass through. The open garden space within the walls appeared to me to be about ten acres.
It is crossed and recrossed at right angles by numerous walks, having rows of plantain and other fruit trees on each side; and orange, pomegranate, and other small fruit trees to fill the space between; and anything more rich and luxuriant one can hardly conceive. In the centre of the north and west sides are pavilions with apartments for the family above, behind, and on each side of the great reception room, exactly similar to that in which we were received on the south face.
The whole formed, I think, the most delightful residence that I have seen for a hot climate. There is, however, no doubt that the most healthy stations in this, and every other hot climate, are those situated upon dry, open, sandy plains, with neither shrubberies nor basins.
We were introduced to the young Rājā, the old man's adopted son, a lad of about ten years of age, who is to be married in February next. He is plain in person, but has a pleasing expression of countenance; and, if he be moulded after the old man, and not after his minister, the country may perhaps have in him the 'lucky accident' of a good governor. I have rarely seen a finer or more prepossessing man than the Rājā, and all his subjects speak well of him.
We had an elephant, a horse, abundance of shawls, and other fine clothes placed before us as presents; but I prayed the old gentleman to keep them all for me till I returned, as I was a mere voyageur without the means of carrying such valuable things in safety; but he would not be satisfied till I had taken two plain hilts of swords and spears, the manufacture of Datiyā, and of little value, which Lieutenant Thomas and I promised to keep for his sake.
The rest of the presents were all taken back to their places. After an hour's talk with the old man and his ministers, attar of roses and pān were distributed, and we took our leave to go and visit the old palace, which as yet we had seen only from a distance. There were only two men besides the Rājā, his son, and ourselves, seated upon chairs.
All the other principal persons of the court sat around cross-legged on the carpet; but they joined freely in the conversation, I was told by these courtiers how often the young chief had, during the day, asked when he could have the happiness of seeing me; and the old chief was told, in my hearing, how many good things I had said since I came into his territories, all tending to his honour and my credit.
This is a species of barefaced flattery to which we are all doomed to submit in our intercourse with these native chiefs; but still, to a man of sense, it never ceases to be distressing and offensive; for he can hardly ever help feeling that they must think him a mere child before they could venture to treat him with it. This is, however, to put too harsh a construction upon what in reality, the people mean only as civility; and they, who can so easily consider the grandfathers of their chiefs as gods, and worship them as such, may be suffered to treat us as heroes and sayers of good things without offence.
We ascended to the summit of the old palace, and wer