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

Though no doubt very familiar to our ancestors during the Middle Ages, this is a thing happily but little understood in Europe at the present day. 'Bhūmiāwat', in Bundēlkhand, signifies a war or fight for landed inheritance, from 'bhūm', the land, earth, &c.; 'bhūmia', a landed proprietor.

When a member of the landed aristocracy, no matter how small, has a dispute with his ruler, he collects his followers, and levies indiscriminate war upon his territories, plundering and burning his towns and villages, and murdering their inhabitants till he is invited back upon his own terms. During this war it is a point of honour not to allow a single acre of land to be tilled upon the estate which he has deserted, or from which he has been driven; and he will murder any man who attempts to drive a plough in it, together with all his family, if he can.

The smallest member of this landed aristocracy of the Hindoo military class will often cause a terrible devastation during the interval that he is engaged in his bhūmiāwat; for there are always vast numbers of loose characters floating upon the surface of Indian society, ready to 'gird up their loins' and use their sharp swords in the service of marauders of this kind, when they cannot get employment in that of the constituted authorities of government.

Such a marauder has generally the sympathy of nearly all the members of his own class and clan, who are apt to think that his case may one day be their own. He is thus looked upon as contending for the interests of all; and, if his chief happens to be on bad terms with other chiefs in the neighbourhood, the latter will clandestinely support the outlaw and his cause, by giving him and his followers shelter in the hills and jungles, and concealing their families and stolen property in their castles.

It is a maxim in India, and, in the less settled parts of it, a very true one, that 'one Pindhāra or robber makes a hundred'; that is, where one robber, by a series of atrocious murders and robberies, frightens the people into non- resistance, a hundred loose characters from among the peasantry of the country will take advantage of the occasion, and adopt his name, in order to plunder with the smallest possible degree of personal risk to themselves.

Some magistrates and local rulers, under such circumstances, have very unwisely adopted the measure of prohibiting the people from carrying or having arms in their houses, the very thing which, above all others, such robbers most wish; for they know, though such magistrates and rulers do not, that it is the innocent only, and the friends to order, who will obey the command.

The robber will always be able to conceal his arms, or keep with them out of reach of the magistrate; and he is now relieved altogether from the salutary dread of a shot from a door or window. He may rob at his leisure, or sit down like a gentleman and have all that the people of the surrounding towns and villages possess brought to him, for no man can any longer attempt to defend himself or his family.[1]

Weak governments are obliged soon to invite back the robber on his own terms, for the people can pay them no revenue, being prevented from cultivating their lands, and obliged to give all they have to the robbers, or submit to be plundered of it. Jhānsī and Jālaun are exceedingly weak governments, from having their territories studded with estates held rent-free, or at a quit-rent, by Pawār, Bundēla, and Dhandēl barons, who have always the sympathy of the numerous chiefs and their barons of the same class around.

In the year 1832, the Pawār barons of the estates of Noner, Jignī, Udgāon, and Bilharī in Jhānsī had some cause of dissatisfaction with their chief; and this they presented to Lord William Bentinck as he passed through the province in December.

His lordship told them that these were questions of internal administration which they must settle among themselves, as the Supreme Government would not interfere. They had, therefore, only one way of settling such disputes, and that was to raise the standard of bhūmiāwat, and cry, 'To your tents, O Israel!'

This they did; and, though the Jhānsī chief had a military force of twelve thousand men, they burnt down every town and village in the territory that did not come into their terms; and the chief had possession of only two, Jhānsī, the capital, and the large commercial town of Mau,[2] when the Bundēla Rājās of Orchhā and Datiyā, who had hitherto clandestinely supported the insurgents, consented to become the arbitrators.

A suspension of arms followed, the barons got all they demanded, and the bhūmiāwat ceased. But the Jhānsī chief, who had hitherto lent large sums to the other chiefs in the province, was reduced to the necessity of borrowing from them all, and from Gwālior, and mortgaging to them a good portion of his lands.[3]

Gwālior is itself weak in the same way. A great portion of its lands are held by barons of the Hindoo military classes, equally addicted to bhūmiāwat, and one or more of them is always engaged in this kind of indiscriminate warfare; and it must be confessed that, unless they are always considered to be ready to engage in it, they have very little chance of retaining their possessions on moderate terms, for these weak governments are generally the most rapacious when they have it in their power.

A good deal of the lands of the Muhammadan sovereign of Oudh are, in the same manner, held by barons of the Rājpūt tribe; and some of them are almost always in the field engaged in the same kind of warfare against their sovereign.

The baron who pursues it with vigour is almost sure to be invited back upon his own terms very soon. If his lands are worth a hundred thousand a year, he will get them for ten; and have this remitted for the next five years, until he is ready for another bhūmiāwat, on the ground of the injuries sustained during the last, from which his estate has to recover. The baron who is peaceable and obedient soon gets rack- rented out of his estate, and reduced to beggary.[4]

In 1818, some companies of my regiment were for several months employed in Oudh, after a young 'bhūmiāwatī' of this kind, Sheo Ratan Singh. He was the nephew and heir of the Rājā of Partābgarh,[5] who wished to exclude him from his inheritance by the adoption of a brother of his young bride. Sheo Ratan had a small village for his maintenance, and said nothing to his old uncle till the governor of the province, Ghulām Husani[6], accepted an invitation to be present at the ceremony of adoption.

He knew that, if he acquiesced any longer, he would lose his inheritance, and cried, 'To your tents, 0 Israel!' He got a small band of three hundred Rājpūts, with nothing but their swords, shields, and spears, to follow him, all of the same clan and true men. They were bivouacked in a jungle not more than seven miles from our cantonments at Partābgarh, when Ghulām Husain marched to attack them with three regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and two nine-pounders. He thought he should surprise them, and contrived so that he should come upon them about daybreak. Sheo Ratan knew all his plans.

He placed one hundred and fifty of his men in ambuscade at the entrance to the jungle, and kept the other hundred and fifty by him in the centre. When they had got well in, the party in ambush rushed upon the rear, while he attacked them in front. After a short resistance, Ghulām Husain's force took to flight, leaving five hundred men dead on the field, and their guns behind them. Ghulām Husain was so ashamed of the drubbing he got that he bribed all the news-writers[7] within twenty miles of the place to say nothing about it in their reports to court, and he never made any report of it himself.

A detachment of my regiment passed over the dead bodies in the course of the day, on their return to cantonments from detached command, or we should have known nothing about it. It is true, we heard the firing, but that we heard every day; and I have seen from my bungalow half a dozen villages in flames, at the same time, from this species of contest between the Rājpūt landholders and the government authorities. Our cantonments were generally full of the women and children who had been burnt out of house and home.

In Oudh such contests generally begin with the harvests. During the season of tillage all is quiet; but, when the crops begin to ripen, the governor begins to rise in his demands for revenue, and the Rājpūt landholders and cultivators to sharpen their swords and burnish their spears. One hundred of them always consider themselves a match for one thousand of the king's troops in a fair field, because they have all one heart and soul, while the king's troops have many.[8]

While the Pawārs were ravaging the Jhānsī state with their bhūmiāwat, a merchant of Sāgar had a large convoy of valuable cloths, to the amount, I think, of forty thousand rupees,[9] intercepted by them on its way from Mirzāpur[10] to Rājputāna. I was then at Sāgar, and wrote off to the insurgents to say that they had mistaken one of our subjects for one of the Jhānsī chiefs, and must release the convoy. They did so, and not a piece of the cloth was lost. This bhūmiāwat is supposed to have cost the Jhānsī chief above twenty lākhs of rupees,[11] and his subjects double that sum.

Gopāl Singh, a Bundēla, who had been in the service of the chief of Pannā,[12] took to bhūmiāwat in 1809, and kept a large British force employed in pursuit through Bundēlkhand and the Sāgar territories for three years, till he was invited back by our Government in the year 1812, by the gift of a fine estate on the banks of the Dasān river, yielding twenty thousand rupees[13] a year, which his son now enjoys, and which is to descend to his posterity, many of whom will, no doubt, animated by their fortunate ancestor's example, take to the same trade. He had been a man of no note till he took to this trade, but by his predatory exploits he soon became celebrated throughout India; and, when I came to the country, no other man's chivalry was so much talked of.

A Bundēla, or other landholder of the Hindoo military class, does not think himself, nor is he indeed thought by others, in the slightest degree less respectable for having waged this indiscriminate war upon the innocent and unoffending, provided he has any cause of dissatisfaction with his liege lord; that is, provided he cannot get his land or his appointment in his service upon his own terms, because all others of the same class and clan feel more or less interested in his success.

They feel that their tenure of land, or of office, is improved by the mischief he does; because every peasant he murders, and every field he throws out of tillage, affects their liege lord in his most tender point, his treasury; and indisposes him to interfere with their salaries, their privileges, or their rents. He who wages this war goes on marrying his sisters or his daughters to the other barons or landholders of the same clan, and receiving theirs in marriage during the whole of his bhūmiāwat,[14] as if nothing at all extraordinary had happened, and thereby strengthening his hand at the game he is playing.

Umrāo Singh of Jaklōn in Chandērī, a district of Gwālior bordering upon Sāgar,[15] has been at this game for more than fifteen years out of twenty, but his alliances among the baronial families around have not been in the slightest degree affected by it. His sons and his grandsons have, perhaps, made better matches than they might, had the old man been at peace with all the world, during the time that he has been desolating one district by his atrocities, and demoralizing all those around it by his example, and by inviting the youth to join him occasionally in his murderous enterprises.

Neither age nor sex is respected in their attacks upon towns or villages; and no Muhammadan can take more pride and pleasure in defacing idols—the most monstrous idol—than a 'bhūmiāwatī' takes in maiming an innocent peasant, who presumes to drive his plough in lands that he chooses to put under the ban.

In the kingdom of Oudh, this bhūmiāwat is a kind of nursery for our native army; for the sons of Rājpūt yeomen who have been trained in it are all exceedingly anxious to enlist in our native infantry regiments, having no dislike to their drill or their uniform.

The same class of men in Bundēlkhand and the Gwālior State have a great horror of the drill and uniform of our regular infantry, and nothing can induce them to enlist in our ranks. Both are equally brave, and equally faithful to their salt—that is, to the person who employs them; but the Oudh Rājpūt is a much more tameable animal than the Bundēla.

In Oudh this class of people have all inherited from their fathers a respect for our rule and a love for our service. In Bundēlkhand they have not yet become reconciled to our service, and they still look upon our rule as interfering a good deal too much with their sporting propensities.[16]


1. Since the author's time conditions have much changed. Then, and for long afterwards, up to the Mutiny, every village throughout the country was fall of arms, and almost every man was armed. Consequently, in those tracts where the Mutiny of the native army was accompanied by popular insurrection, the flame of rebellion burned fiercely, and was subdued with difficulty. The painful experience of 1857 and 1858 proved the necessity of general disarmament, and nearly the whole of British India has been disarmed under the provisions of a series of Acts.

Licences to have and carry ordinary arms and ammunition are granted by the magistrates of districts. Licences to possess artillery are granted only by the Governor-General in Council. The improved organization of the police and of the executive power generally renders possible the strict enforcement of the law. Some arms are concealed, but very few of these are serviceable.

With rare exceptions, arms are now carried only for display, and knowledge of the use of weapons has died out in most classes of the population. The village forts have been everywhere dismantled. Robbery by armed gangs still occurs in certain districts (see ante, Chapter 23, note 14), but is much less frequent than it used to be in the author's days.

2. Many towns and villages bear the name of Mau (auglicè, Mhow), which may be, as Mr. Growse suggests, a form of the Sanskrit mahi, 'land' or 'ground'. The town referred to in the text is the principal town of the Jhānsī district, distinguished from its homonyms as Mau- Rānīpur, situated about east-south-east from Jhānsī, at a distance of forty miles from that city. Its special export used to be the 'kharwā' cloth, dyed with 'ai' (see ante., Chapter 31, note 4).

3. This insurrection continued into the year 1833. 'The inhabitants were reduced to the greatest distress, and have, even to the present day, scarcely recovered the losses they then sustained' (N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. i (1870), p. 296).

4. See the author's Journey through the Kingdom of Oude, passim.

5. Partābgarh is now a separate district in the Fyzābād Division of Oudh. The chief town, also called Partābgarh, is thirty-two miles north of Allahabad, and still possesses a Rājā, who, at present (1914), is a most respectable gentleman, with no thoughts of violence. Further details about the Partābgarh family are given in the Journey, vol. i, p. 231.

6. Transcriber's note:- The author then uses the spelling 'Husain' consistently.

7. 'The news department is under a Superintendent-General, who has sometimes contracted for it, as for the revenues of a district, but more commonly holds it in amānī, as a manager. . . . He nominates his subordinates, and appoints them to their several offices, taking from each a present gratuity and a pledge for such monthly payments as he thinks the post will enable him to make.

They receive from four to fifteen rupees a month each, and have each to pay to their President, for distribution among his patrons or patronesses at Court, from one hundred to five hundred rupees a month in ordinary times. Those to whom they are accredited have to pay them, under ordinary circumstances, certain sums monthly, to prevent their inventing or exaggerating cases of abuse of power or neglect of duty on their part; but, when they happen to be really guilty of great acts of atrocity, or great neglect of duty, they are required to pay extraordinary sums, not only to the news-writers, who are especially accredited to them, but to all others who happen to be in the neighbourhood at the time.

There are six hundred and sixty news-writers of this kind employed by the king, and paid monthly three thousand one hundred and ninety-four rupees, or, on an average, between four and five rupees each; and the sums paid by them to their President for distribution among influential officers and Court favourites averages [sic] above one hundred and fifty thousand rupees a year. . . .

Such are the reporters of the circumstances in all the cases on which the sovereign and his ministers have to pass orders every day in Oudh. . . . the European magistrate of one of our neighbouring districts one day, before the Oudh Frontier Police was raised, entered the Oudh territory at the head of his police in pursuit of some robbers, who had found an asylum in one of the King's villages.

In the attempt to secure them some lives were lost: and, apprehensive of the consequences, he sent for the official news-writer, and gratified him in the usual way. No report of the circumstances was made to the Oudh Darbār; and neither the King, the President, nor the British Government ever heard anything about it' (Journey through the Kingdom of Oude, vol. i, pp. 67- 69). Such a System of official news-writers was usually maintained by Asiatic despots from the most ancient times.

8. full details of the rotten state of the king's army are given in the Journey through the Kingdom of Oude.

9. Then worth £4,000, or more.

10. Mirzāpur (Mirzapore) on the Ganges, twenty-seven miles from Benares, was, in the author's time, the principal depot for the cotton and cloth trade of Northern India. Although the East Indian Railway passes through the city, the construction of the railway has diverted the bulk of the trade from Mirzāpur, which is now a declining place. The population, which wag 70,621 in 1881, fell to 32,332 in 1911. The carpets made there are well known.

11. Then equal to £200,000, or more.

12. The Pannā State lies between the British districts of Bāndā, in the United Provinces, on the north, and Damoh and Jabalpur, in the Central Provinces, on the south. The chief is a descendant of Chhatarsāl. For description and engraving of the diamond mines see Economic Geology (1881), p. 39.

13. Then equivalent to £2,000, or more.

14. The words 'of the same clan' are inexact. The author has shown (ante, Chapter 23 following [10], and Chapter 26 following [32]) that Rājpūts never marry into their own clan.

15. 'The Rājā of Chandērī belonged to the same family as the Orchhā chief. Sindhia annexed a great part of the Chandērī State in 1811. Chandērī was for a time British territory, but is now again in Sindhia's dominions. Its vicissitudes are related in N.W.P. Gazetteer (1870), vol. i, pp. 351-8.

16. In Oudh the misgovernment, anarchy, and cruel rapine, briefly alluded to in the text, and vividly described in detail by the author in his Journey through the Kingdom of Oude, lasted until the annexation of the kingdom by Lord Dalhousie in 1856, and, after a brief lull, were renewed during the insurrection of 1857 and 1858. The events of those years are a curious commentary on the author's belief that the people of Oudh entertained 'a respect for our rule and a love for our service'.

The service of the British Government is sought because it pays, but a foreign Government must not expect love. Respect for the British rule depends upon the strength of that rule. Oudh still sends many recruits to the native army, though the young men no longer enjoy the advantage of a training in 'bhūmiāwat'.

An occasional gang-robbery or bludgeon fight is the meagre modern substitute. The Rājpūts or Thākurs of Bundēlkhand and Gwālior still retain their old character for turbulence, but, of course, have less scope for what the author calls their 'sporting propensities' than they had in his time.

The book




1893 1915




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


Hindoo Marriages


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


The Men-Tigers


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


Epidemic Diseases—Scape-goat


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


Haunted Villages


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


Meerut-Anglo-Indian Society


Pilgrims of India


The Bēgam Sumroo



Abolition of Corporal Punishment—Increase of Pay with Length of Service—Promotion by Seniority


Invalid Establishment


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

Maps Showing Author's Route


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