Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Marriage of a Jāt Chief
ON the 19th we came on to Balamgarh, fifteen miles over a plain, better cultivated and more studded with trees than that which we had been coming over for many days before. The water was near the surface, more of the field were irrigated, and those which were not so looked better—[a] range of sandstone hills, ten miles off to the west, running north and south.
Balamgarh is held in rent-free tenure by a young Jāt chief, now about ten years of age. He resides in a mud fort in a handsome palace built in the European fashion. In an extensive orange garden, close outside the fort, he is building a very handsome tomb over the spot where his father's elder brother was buried. The whole is formed of white and black marble, and the firm white sandstone of Rūpbās, and so well conceived and executed as to make it evident that demand is the only thing wanted to cover India with works of art equal to any that were formed in the palmy days of the Muhammadan empire.
The Rājā's young sister had just been married to the son of the Jāt chief of Nābhā, who was accompanied in his matrimonial visit (barāt) by the chief of Ludhaura, and the son of the Sikh chief of Patiālā, with a cortège of one hundred elephants, and above fifteen thousand people.
The young chief of Balamgarh mustered a cortège of sixty elephants and about ten thousand men to attend him out in the 'istikbāl', to meet and welcome his guests. The bridegroom's party had to expend about six hundred thousand rupees in this visit alone. They scattered copper money all along the road from their homes to within seven miles of Balamgarh. From this point to the gate of the fort they had to scatter silver, and from this gate to the door of the palace they scattered gold and jewels of all kinds.
The son of the Patiālā chief, a lad of about ten years of age, sat upon his elephant with a bag containing six hundred gold mohurs of two guineas each, mixed up with an infinite variety of gold earrings, pearls, and precious stones, which he scattered in handfuls among the crowd. The scattering of the copper and silver had been left to inferior hands.
The costs of the family of the bride are always much greater than that of the bridegroom; they are obliged to entertain at their own expense all the bridegroom's guests as well as their own, as long as they remain; and over and above this, on the present occasion, the Rājā gave a rupee to every person that came, invited or uninvited. An immense concourse of people had assembled to share in this donation, and to scramble for the money scattered along the road; and ready money enough was not found in the treasury. Before a further supply could be got, thirty thousand more had collected, and every one got his rupee.
They have them all put into pens like sheep. When all are in, the doors are opened at a signal given, and every person is paid his rupee as he goes out. Some European gentlemen were standing upon the top of the Rājā's palace, looking at the procession as it entered the fort, and passed underneath; and the young chief threw up some handfuls of pearls, gold, and jewels among them. Not one of them would of course condescend to stoop to take up any; but their servants showed none of the same dignified forbearance.
1. January, 1836.
2. 'Balamgarh' is a mistake for Ballabgarh of I. G. (properly Ballabhgarh), which is about twenty-four miles from Delhi. In 1857 the chief was hanged for rebellion. The estate was confiscated and included in the Delhi District, under the Panjāb Government. From October 1, 1912, that District ceased to exist. Part of the Ballabhgarh sub-district has been included in the new Chief Commissioner's Province of Delhi, and part in the Gurgāon District.
3. Few observers will accept this proposition without considerable reservation.
4. Patiālā is the principal of the Cis-Satlaj Sikh Protected States. Nābhā belongs to the same group. Both states are very loyal, and supply Imperial Service troops. For a sketch of their history see chapters 2 and 9 of Sir Lepel Griffin's Ranjīt Singh.
5. The Sikh is a military nation formed out of the Jāts (who were without a place among the castes of the Hindoos),[a] by that strong bond of union, the love of conquest and plunder. Their religions and civil codes are the Granths, books written by their reputed prophets, the last of whom was Guru Govind,[b] in whose name Ranjīt Singh stamps his gold coins with this legend:
'The sword, the pot, victory, and conquest were quickly found in the grace of Guru Govind Singh,'[c] This prophet died insane in the end of the seventeenth century. He was the son of a priest Tēg Bahādur, who was made a martyr of by the bigoted Muhammadans of Patna in 1675. The son became a Peter the Hermit, in the same manner as Hargovind before him, when his father, Arjun Mal, was made a martyr by the fanaticism of the same people. A few more such martyrdoms would have set the Sikhs up for ever.
They admit converts freely, and while they have a fair prospect of conquest and plunder they will find them; but, when they cease, they will be swallowed up in the great ocean of Hinduism, since they have no chance of getting up an 'army of martyrs' while we have the supreme power.[d]
They detest us for the same reason that the military followers of the other native chiefs detest us, because we say 'Thus far shall you go, and no farther' in your career of conquest and plunder.[e]
As governors, they are even worse than the Marāthās—utterly detestable. They have not the slightest idea of a duty towards the people from whose industry they are provided. Such a thing was never dreamed of by a Sikh. They continue to receive in marriage the daughters of Jāts, as in this case; but they will not give their daughters to Jāts. [W. H. S.]
6. The Emperors of Delhi, from Jahāngīr onwards, used to strike special coins, generally of small size, bearing the word nisār, which means 'scattering', for the purpose of distribution among the crowd on the occasion of a wedding, or other great festivity.
a. It has already been observed that the author was completely mistaken in his estimate of the social position of Jāts. It is not correct to say that they 'were without a place among the castes of the Hindoos'.
'The Jāt is in every respect the most important of the Panjāb peoples. . . . The distinction between Jāt and Rājpūt is social rather than ethnic. . . .
Socially the Jāt occupies a position which is shared by the Rōr, the Gūjar, and the Ahīr; all four eating and smoking together. Among the races of purely Hindoo origin I think that the Jāt stands next after the Brahman, the Rājpūt, and the Khatrī. . . .
There are Jāts and Jāts. . . . His is the highest of the castes practising widow marriage.' (Ibbetson, Outlines of Panjāb Ethnography, Calcutta, 1883, pp. 220 sqq.) The Jāts in the United Provinces occupy much the same relative position.
b. The Sikhs are mostly, but not all, Jāts. The organization is essentially a religions one, and a few Brahmans and many members of various other castes join it. Even sweepers are admitted with certain limitations. The word Sikh means 'disciple'.
Nānak Shāh, the founder, was born in A.D. 1469. The Ādi Granth, the Sikh Bible, containing compositions by Nānak, his next four successors, and other persons, was completed in 1604. A second Granth was compiled in 1734 by Govind Singh, the tenth Guru. The only authoritative version of the Sikh scriptures is the great work by Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion (Oxford, 1909, 6 vols.).
The political power of the sect rested on the institutions of Guru Govind, as framed between 1690 and 1708. In 1764 the Sikhs occupied Lahore. Full details of their history will be found in Cunningham, A History of the Sikhs (1st ed., 2 vols. 8vo, London, 1849, suppressed and scarce; 2nd ed. 1853); and more briefly in Sir Lepel Griffin's excellent little book, Ranjīt Singh (Oxford, 'Rulers of India' series, 1892).
c. See R. 0. Temple, 'The Coins of the Modern Chiefs of the Panjāb' (Ind. Ant., vol. xviii (1889), pp. 321-41); and C. J. Rodgers, 'On the Coins of the Sikhs' (J.A.S.B., vol. 1. Part I (1881), pp. 71-93). The couplet is in Persian, which may be transliterated thus:—
Dēg, tēgh, wa fath, wa nasrat bē darang
Yāft az Nānak Gūrū Govind Singh.
The word dēg, meaning pot or cauldron, is used as a symbol of plenty. The correct rendering is:—
Plenty, the sword, victory, and help without delay,
Gūrū Govind Singh obtained from Nānak.
d. This prophecy has not been fulfilled. The annexation of the Panjāb in 1849 put an end to Sikh hopes of 'conquest and plunder', and yet the sect has not been 'swallowed up in the great ocean of Hinduism'.
At the census of 1881 its numbers were returned as 1,853,426, or nearly two millions, for all India. The corresponding figure for 1891 is 1,907,833. At the time of the first British census of 1855 the outside influences were depressing: the great Khālsa army had fallen, and Sikh fathers were slow to bring forward their sons for baptism (pāhul).
The Mutiny, in the suppression of which the Sikhs took so great a part, worked a change. The Sikhs recovered their spirits and self-respect, and found honourable careers open in the British army and constabulary.
'Thus the creed received a new impulse, and many sons of Sikhs, whose baptism had been deferred, received the pāhul, while new candidates from among the Jāts and lower caste Hindoos joined the faith.' Some reaction then, perhaps, took place, but, on the whole, the numbers of the sect have been maintained or increased. (Sir Lepel Griffin, Ranjīt Singh, pp. 25-34.)
For various reasons, which I have not space to explain, the statistics of Sikhism are untrustworthy. The returns for 1911 show an increase of 37 per cent. in the Panjāb. We may, at least, be assured that the numbers are not diminishing.
e. The Sikhs do not now detest us. They willingly furnish soldiers and military police of the best class, equal to the Gōrkhās, and fit to fight in line with English soldiers. The Panjāb chieftains have been among the foremost in offers of loyal assistance to the Government of India in times of danger, and in organizing the Imperial Service troops. The Sikh states are now sufficiently well governed.