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Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Pindhārī System—Character of the Marāthā Administration—Cause of their Dislike to the Paramount Power

The attempt of the Marquis of Hastings to rescue India from that dreadful scourge, the Pindhārī system, involved him in a war with all the great Marāthā states, except Gwālior; that is, with the Peshwā at Pūnā, Holkār at Indore, and the Bhonslā at Nāgpur; and Gwālior was prevented from joining the other states in their unholy league against us only by the presence of the grand division of the army, under the personal command of the Marquis, in the immediate vicinity of his capital.

It was not that these chiefs liked the Pindhārīs, or felt any interest in their welfare, but because they were always anxious to crush that rising paramount authority which had the power, and had always manifested the will, to interpose and prevent the free indulgence of their predatory habits—the free exercise of that weapon, a standing army, which the disorders incident upon the decline and fall of the Muhammadan army had put into their hands, and which a continued series of successful aggressions upon their neighbours could alone enable them to pay or keep under control.

They seized with avidity any occasion of quarrel with the paramount power which seemed likely to unite them all in one great effort to shake it off; and they are still prepared to do the same, because they feel that they could easily extend their depredations if that power were withdrawn; and they know no other road to wealth and glory but such successful depredations. Their ancestors rose by them, their states were formed by them, and their armies have been maintained by them.

They look back upon them for all that seems to them honourable in the history of their families. Their bards sing of them in all their marriage and funeral processions; and, as their imaginations kindle at the recollection, they detest the arm that is extended to defend the wealth and the industry of the surrounding territories from their grasp. As the industrious classes acquire and display their wealth in the countries around during a long peace, under a strong and settled government, these native chiefs, with their little disorderly armies, feel precisely as an English country gentleman would feel with a pack of foxhounds, in a country swarming with foxes, and without the privilege of hunting them.[1]

Their armies always took the auspices and set out kingdom taking (mulk gīrī) after the Dasahra,[2] in November, as regularly as English gentlemen go partridge-shooting on the 1st of September; and I may here give, as a specimen, the excursion of Jean Baptiste Filose,[3] who sallied forth on such an expedition, at the head of a division of Sindhia's army, just before this Pindhārī war commenced.

From Gwālior he proceeded to Karaulī,[4] and took from that chief the district of Sabalgarh, yielding four lākhs of rupees yearly.[5] He then took the territory of the Rājā of Chandērī,[6] Mor Pahlād, one of the oldest of the Bundēlkhand chiefs, which then yielded about seven lākhs of rupees,[7] but now yields only four. The Rājā got an allowance of forty thousand rupees a year.

He then took the territories of the Rājās of Raghugarh and Bajranggarh,[8] yielding three lākhs a year; and Bahādurgarh, yielding two lākhs a year;[9] and the three princes got fifty thousand rupees a year for subsistence among them. He then took Lopar, yielding two lākhs and a half, and assigned the Rājā twenty-five thousand. He then took Garhā Kota,[10] whose chief gets subsistence from our Government.

Baptiste had just completed his kingdom taking expedition, when our armies took the field against the Pindhārīs; and, on the termination of that war in 1817, all these acquisitions were confirmed and guaranteed to his master Sindhia by our Government. It cannot be supposed that either he or his army can ever feel any great attachment towards a paramount authority that has the power and the will to interpose, and prevent their indulging in such sporting excursions as these, or any great disinclination to take advantage of any occasion that may seem likely to unite all the native chiefs in a common effort to crush it.

The Nepalese have the same feeling as the Marāthās in a still stronger degree, since their kingdom-taking excursions had been still greater and more successful; and, being all soldiers from the same soil, they were easily persuaded, by a long series of successful aggressions, that their courage was superior to that of all other men.[11]

In the year 1833, the Gwālior territory yielded a net revenue to the treasury of ninety-two lākhs of rupees, after discharging all the local costs of the civil and fiscal administration of the different districts, in officers, establishments, charitable institutions, religions endowments, military fiefs, &c.[12]

In the remote districts, which are much infested by the predatory tribes of Bhīls,[13] and in consequence badly peopled and cultivated, the net revenue is estimated to be about one-third of the gross collections; but, in the districts near the capital, which are tolerably well cultivated, the net revenue brought to the treasury is about five-sixths of the gross collections; and these collections are equal to the whole annual rent of the land; for every man by whom the land is held or cultivated is a mere tenant at will, liable every season to be turned out, to give place to any other man that may offer more for the holding.

There is nowhere to be seen upon the land any useful or ornamental work, calculated to attach the people to the soil or to their villages; and, as hardly any of the recruits for the regiments are drawn from the peasantry of the country, the agricultural classes have nowhere any feeling of interest in the welfare or existence of the government. I am persuaded that there is not a single village in all the Gwālior dominions in which nine-tenths of the people would not be glad to see that government destroyed, under the persuasion that they could not possibly have a worse, and would be very likely to find a better.

The present force at Gwālior consists of three regiments of infantry, under Colonel Alexander; six under the command of Apājī, the adopted son of the late Bālā Bāī;[14] eleven under Colonel Jacobs and his son; five under Colonel Jean Baptiste Filose; two under the command of the Māmū Sāhib, the maternal uncle of the Mahārājā; three in what is called Bābū Bāolī's camp; in all thirty regiments, consisting, when complete, of six hundred men each, with four field-pieces. The 'Jinsī', or artillery, consists of two hundred guns of different calibre. There are but few corps of cavalry, and these are not considered very efficient, I believe.[15]

Robbers and murderers of all descriptions have always been in the habit of taking the field in India immediately after the festival of the Dasahrā,[16] at the end of October, from the sovereign of a state at the head of his armies, down to the leader of a little band of pickpockets from the corner of some obscure village. All invoke the Deity, and take the auspices to ascertain his will, nearly in the same way; and all expect that he will guide them successfully through their enterprises, as long as they find the omens favourable.

No one among them ever dreams that his undertaking can be less acceptable to the Deity than that of another, provided he gives him the same due share of what he acquires in his thefts, his robberies, or his conquests, in sacrifices and offerings upon his shrines, and in donations to his priests.[17] Nor does the robber often dream that he shall be considered a less respectable citizen by the circle in which he moves than the soldier, provided he spends his income as liberally, and discharges all his duties in his relations with them as well; and this he generally does to secure their goodwill, whatever may be the character of his depredations upon distant circles of society and communities.

The man who returned to Oudh, or Rohilkhand, after a campaign under a Pindhārī chief, was as well received as one who returned after serving one under Sindhia, Holkār, or Ranjīt Singh. A friend of mine one day asked a leader of a band of 'dacoits', or banditti, whether they did not often commit murder.

'God forbid', said he, 'that we should ever commit murder; but, if people choose to oppose us, we, of course, strike and kill; but you do the same. I hear that there is now a large assemblage of troops in the upper provinces going to take foreign countries; if they are opposed, they will kill people. We only do the same.'[18]

The history of the rise of every nation in the world unhappily bears out the notion that princes are only robbers upon a large scale, till their ambition is curbed by a balance of power among nations.

On the 25th[19] we came on to Dhamēlā, fourteen miles, over a plain, with the range of sandstone hills on the left, receding from us to the west; and that on the right receding still more to the east. Here and there were some insulated hills of the same formation rising abruptly from the plain to our right. All the villages we saw were built upon masses of this sandstone rock, rising abruptly at intervals from the surface of the plain, in horizontal strata.

These hillocks afford the people stone for building, and great facilities for defending themselves against the inroads of freebooters. There is not, I suppose, in the world a finer stone for building than these sandstone hills afford; and we passed a great many carts carrying them off to distant places in slabs or flags from ten to sixteen feet long, two to three feet wide, and six inches thick. They are white, with very minute pink spots, and of a texture so very fine that they would be taken for indurated clay on a slight inspection. The houses of the poorest peasants are here built of this beautiful freestone, which, after two hundred years, looks as if it had been quarried only yesterday.

About three miles from our tents we crossed over the little river Ghorapachhār,[20] flowing over a bed of this sandstone. The soil all the way very light, and the cultivation scanty and bad. Except within the enclosures of men's houses, scarcely a tree to be anywhere seen to give shelter and shade to the weary traveller; and we could find no ground for our camp with a shrub to shelter man or beast.

All are swept away to form gun-carriages for the Gwālior artillery, with a philosophical disregard to the comforts of the living, the repose of the dead who planted them with a view to a comfortable berth in the next world, and to the will of the gods to whom they are dedicated. There is nothing left upon the land of animal or vegetable life to enrich it; nothing of stock but what is necessary to draw from the soil an annual crop, and which looks to one harvest for its entire return.

The sovereign proprietor of the soil lets it out by the year, in farms or villages, to men who depend entirely upon the year's return for the means of payment. He, in his turn, lets the lands in detail to those who till them, and who depend for their subsistence, and for the means of paying their rents, upon the returns of the single harvest.

There is no manufacture anywhere to be seen, save of brass pots and rude cooking utensils; no trade or commerce, save in the transport of the rude produce of the land to the great camp at Gwālior, upon the backs of bullocks, for want of roads fit for wheeled carriages. No one resides in the villages, save those whose labour is indispensably necessary to the rudest tillage, and those who collect the dues of government, and are paid upon the lowest possible scale.

Such is the state of the Gwālior territories in every part of India where I have seen them.[21] The miseries and misrule of the Oudh, Hyderabad, and other Muhammadan governments, are heard of everywhere, because there are, under these governments, a middle and higher class upon the land to suffer and proclaim them; but those of the Gwālior state are never heard of, because no such classes are ever allowed to grow up upon the land. Had Russia governed Poland, and Turkey Greece, in the way that Gwālior has governed her conquered territories, we should never have heard of the wrongs of the one or the other.

In my morning's ride the day before I left Gwālior, I saw a fine leopard standing by the side of the most frequented road, and staring at every one who passed. It was held by two men, who sat by and talked to it as if it had been a human being. I thought it was an animal for show, and I was about to give them something, when they told me that they were servants of the Mahārājā, and were training the leopard to bear the sight and society of man.

'It had', they said, 'been caught about three months ago in the jungles, where it could never bear the sight and society of man, or of any animal that it could not prey upon; and must be kept upon the most frequented road till quite tamed. Leopards taken when very young would', they said, 'do very well as pets, but never answered for hunting; a good leopard for hunting must, before taken, be allowed to be a season or two providing for himself, and living upon the deer he takes in the jungles and plains.'


1. For the characteristics of the Marāthās and Pindhārīs, see ante, Chapter 21, note 2.

2. Ante, Chapter 26, note 8, and Chapter 32, note 9.

3. Ante, Chapter 17, note 6.

4. A small principality, about seventy miles equidistant from Agra, Gwālior, Mathurā, Alwar, Jaipur, and Tonk. The attack on Karaulī occurred in 1813. Full details are given in the author's Report on Budhuk alias Bagree Decoits, pp. 99- 104.

5. Four hundred thousand rupees.

6. Ante, Chapter 33, note 15.

7. Seven hundred thousand rupees.

8. Raghugarh is now a mediatized chiefship in the Central India Agency, controlled by the Resident at Gwālior. Bajranggarh, a stronghold eleven miles south of Gūnā (Goonah), and about 140 miles distant from Gwālior, is in the Raghugarh territory.

9. Three hundred thousand and two hundred thousand rupees, respectively. Bahādurgarh is now included in the Isāgarh district of the Gwālior State.

10. I cannot find any mention of Lopar, if the name is correctly printed. Garhā Kota seems to be a slip of the pen for Garhā. Garhā Kota is in British territory, in the Sāgar District, C. P. But Garhā is a petty state, formerly included in the Raghugarh State. The town of Garhā is on the eastern slope of the Mālwā plateau in 25º 2' N. and 78º 3' E. (I.G., 1908, s.v.).

11. On the coronation or installation of every new prince of the house of Sindhia, orders are given to plunder a few shops in the town as a part of the ceremony, and this they call or consider 'taking the auspices'. Compensation is supposed to be made to the proprietors, but rarely is made.

I believe the same auspices are taken at the installation of a new prince of every other Marāthā house. The Moghal invaders of India were, in the same manner, obliged to allow their armies to take the auspices in the sack of a few towns, though they had surrendered without resistance. They were given up to pillage as a religions duty. Even the accomplished Bābar was obliged to concede this privilege to his army. [W. H. S.]

In reply to the editor's inquiries, Colonel Biddulph, officiating Resident at Gwālior, has kindly communicated the following information on the subject of the above note, in a letter dated 30th December, 1892. 'The custom of looting some "Banias'" shops on the installation of a new Maharaja in Gwālior is still observed. It was observed when the present Mādho Rāo Sindhia was installed on the gadī on 3rd July, 1886, and the looting was stopped by the police on the owners of the shops calling out "Dohai Mādho Mahārājkī!" five shops were looted on the occasion, and compensation to the amount of Rs. 427, 4, 3 was paid to the owners.

My informant tells me that the custom has apparently no connexion with religion, but is believed to refer to the days when the period between the decease of one ruler and the accession of his successor was one of disorder and plunder. The maintenance of the custom is supposed to notify to the people that they must now look to the new ruler for protection.

'According to another informant, some "banias" are called by the palace officers and directed to open their shops in the palace precincts, and money is given them to stock their shops. The poor people are then allowed to loot them. No shops are allowed to be looted in the bazaar.

'I cannot learn that any particular name is given to the ceremony, and there appears to be some doubt as to its meaning; but the best information seems to show that the reason assigned above is the correct one.

'I cannot give any information as to the existence of the custom in other Mahratta states.'

The custom was observed late in the sixth century at the birth of King Harsha-vardhana (Harsa-Caritā, transl, Cowell and Thomas, p. 111). Anthropologists classify such practices as rites de passage, marking a transition from the old to the new.

'Bania', or 'baniyā', means shopkeeper, especially a grain dealer; 'gadī', or 'gaddī', is the cushioned seat, also known as 'masnad', which serves a Hindoo prince as a throne; and 'dohāi' is the ordinary form of a cry for redress.

12. Ninety-two lākhs of rupees were then worth more than £920,000. The I.G. (1908) states the normal revenue as 150 lākhs of rupees, equivalent (at the rate of exchange of 1s. 4d. to the rupee, or R 15 = £1) to one million pounds sterling. The fall in exchange has greatly lowered the sterling equivalent.

13. The Bhīl tribes are included in the large group of tribes which have been driven back by the more cultivated races into the hills and jungles. They are found among the woods along the banks of the Nerbudda, Taptī, and Mahī, and in many parts of Central India and Rājputāna. Of late years they have generally kept quiet; in the earlier part of the nineteenth century they gave much trouble in Khāndēsh. In Rājputāna two irregular corps of Bhīls have been organized.

14. Daughter of Māhādajī Sindhia. She died in 1834. See post, Chapter 70.

15. 'In 1886 the fort of Gwālior and the cantonment of Morār were surrendered by the Government of India to Sindhia in exchange for the fort and town of Jhānsī. Both forts were mutually surrendered and occupied on 10th March, 1886. As the occupation of the fort of Gwālior necessitated an increase of Sindhia's army, the Mahārājā was allowed to add 3,000 men to his infantry' (Letter of Officiating Resident, dated 30th Dec., 1892).

In 1908 the Gwālior army, comprising all arms, including three regiments of Imperial Service Cavalry, numbered more than 12,000 men, described as troops of 'very fair quality' (I.G., 1908).

16. Ante, Chapter 26, note 8; Chapter 32, note 9; Chapter 49, note 2.

17. In Ramaseeana the author has fully described the practices of the Thugs in taking omens, and the feelings with which they regarded their profession. Similar information concerning other criminal classes is copiously given in the Report on Budhuk alias Bagree Decoits. See also Meadows Taylor, Confessions of a Thug, in any edition.

18. These notions are still prevalent.

19. December, 1835, Christmas Day.

20. 'Overthrower of horses'; the same epithet is applied to the Utangan river, south of the Agra district, owing to the difficulty with which it is crossed when in flood (N.W.P. Gazetteer, 1st ed., vol. vii, p. 423).

21. Sindhia's territories, measuring 25,041 square miles, are in parts intermixed with those of other princes, and so extend over a wide space. Gwālior and its government have been discussed already in Chapter 36.

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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