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

On the 20th[1] we came to Badarpur, twelve miles over a plain, with the range of hills on our left approaching nearer and nearer the road, and separating us from the old city of Delhi. We passed through Farīdpur, once a large town, and called after its founder, Shaikh Farīd, whose mosque is still in good order, though there is no person to read or hear prayers in it.[2]


We passed also two fine bridges, one of three, and one of four arches, both over what were once streams, but are now dry beds of sand.[3]


The whole road shows signs of having been once thickly peopled, and highly adorned with useful and ornamental works when Delhi was in its glory.


Every handsome mausoleum among Muhammadans was provided with its mosque, and endowed by the founder with the means of maintaining men of learning to read their Korān over the grave of the deceased and in his chapel; and, as long as the endowment lasted, the tomb continued to be at the same time a college. They read the Korān morning and evening over the grave, and prayers in the chapel at the stated periods; and the rest of their time is commonly devoted to the instruction of the youths of their neighbourhood, either gratis or for a small consideration.


Apartments in the tomb were usually set aside for the purpose, and these tombs did ten times more for education in Hindustan than all the colleges formed especially for the purpose.[4] We might suppose that rulers who formed and endowed such works all over the land must have had more of the respect and the affections of the great mass of the people than we, who, as my friend upon the Jumna has it, 'build nothing but private dwelling-houses, factories, courts of justice, and jails', can ever have; but this conclusion would not be altogether just.[5]


Though every mosque and mausoleum was a seat of learning, that learning, instead of being a source of attraction and conciliation between the Muhammadans and Hindoos, was, on the contrary, a source of perpetual repulsion and enmity between them—it tended to keep alive in the breasts of the Musalmāns a strong feeling of religions indignation against the worshippers of idols; and of dread and hatred in those of the Hindoos.


The Korān was the Book of books, spoken by God to the angel Gabriel in parts as occasion required, and repeated by him to Muhammad; who, unable to write himself, dictated them to any one who happened to be present when he received the divine communications;[6] it contained all that it was worth man's while to study or know—it was from the Deity, but at the same time coeternal with Him—it was His divine eternal spirit, inseparable from Him from the beginning, and therefore, like Him, uncreated.


This book, to read which was of itself declared to be the highest of all species of worship, taught war against the worshippers of idols to be of all merits the greatest in the eye of God; and no man could well rise from the perusal without the wish to serve God by some act of outrage against them. These buildings were, therefore, looked upon by the Hindoos, who composed the great mass of the people, as a kind of religions volcanoes, always ready to explode and pour out their lava of intolerance and outrage upon the innocent people of the surrounding country.


If a Hindoo fancied himself injured or insulted by a Muhammadan he was apt to revenge himself upon the Muhammadans generally, and insult their religion by throwing swine's flesh, or swine's blood, into one of their tombs or churches; and the latter either flew to arms at once to revenge their God, or retaliated by throwing the flesh or the blood of the cow into the first Hindoo temple at hand, which made the Hindoos fly to arms.


The guilty and the wicked commonly escaped, while numbers of the weak, the innocent and the unoffending were slaughtered.


The magnificent buildings, therefore, instead of being at the time bonds of union, were commonly sources of the greatest discord among the whole community, and of the most painful humiliation to the Hindoo population. During the bigoted reign of Aurangzēb and his successors a Hindoo's presence was hardly tolerated within sight of these tombs or churches; and had he been discovered entering one of them, he would probably have been hunted down like a mad dog.


The recollection of such outrages, and the humiliation to which they gave rise, associated as they always are in the minds of the Hindoos with the sight of these buildings, are perhaps the greatest source of our strength in India; because they at the same time feel that it is to us alone they owe the protection which they now enjoy from similar injuries.


Many of my countrymen, full of virtuous indignation at the outrages which often occur during the processions of the Muharram, particularly when these happen to take place at the same time with some religious procession of the Hindoos, are very anxious that our Government should interpose its authority to put down both. But these processions and occasional outrages are really sources of great strength to us; they show at once the necessity for the interposition of an impartial tribunal, and a disposition on the part of the rulers to interpose impartially.


The Muhammadan festivals are regulated by the lunar, and those of the Hindoos by the solar year, and they cross each other every thirty or forty years, and furnish fair occasions for the local authorities to interpose effectually.[7]


People who receive or imagine insults or injuries commonly postpone their revenge till these religious festivals come round, when they hope to be able to settle their accounts with impunity among the excited crowd. The mournful procession of the Muharram, when the Muhammadans are inflamed to madness by the recollection of the really affecting incidents of the massacre of the grandchildren of their prophet, and by the images of their tombs, and their sombre music,[8] crosses that of the Holī[9] (in which the Hindoos are excited to tumultuous and licentious joy by their bacchanalian songs and dances) every thirty- six years; and they reign together for some four or five days, during which the scene in every large town is really terrific.


The processions are liable to meet in the street, and the lees of the wine of the Hindoos, or the red powder which is substituted for them, is liable to fall upon the tombs of the others. Hindoos pass on, forgetting in their saturnalian joy all distinctions of age, sex, or religion, their clothes and persons besmeared with the red powder, which is moistened and thrown from all kinds of machines over friend and foe; while meeting these come the Muhammadans, clothed in their green mourning, with gloomy downcast looks, beating their breasts, ready to kill themselves, and too anxious for an excuse to kill anybody else.


Let but one drop of the lees of joy fall upon the image of the tomb as it passes, and a hundred swords fly from their scabbards; many an innocent person falls; and woe be to the town in which the magistrate is not at hand with his police and military force.


Proudly conscious of their power, the magistrates refuse to prohibit one class from laughing because the other happens to be weeping; and the Hindoos on such occasions laugh the more heartily to let the world see that they are free to do so.


A very learned Hindoo once told me in Central India that the oracle of Mahādēo had been at the same time consulted at three of his greatest temples—one in the Deccan, one in Rājputāna, and one, I think, in Bengal—as to the result of the government of India by Europeans, who seemed determined to fill all the high offices of administration with their own countrymen, to the exclusion of the people of the country.


A day was appointed for the answer; and when the priest came to receive it they found Mahādēo (Siva) himself with a European complexion, and dressed in European clothes. He told them that their European Government was in reality nothing more than a multiplied incarnation of himself; and that he had come among them in this shape to prevent their cutting each other's throats as they had been doing for some centuries past; that these, his incarnations, appeared to have no religion themselves in order that they might be the more impartial arbitrators between the people of so many different creeds and sects who now inhabited the country; that they must be aware that they never had before been so impartially governed, and that they must continue to obey these their governors, without attempting to pry further into futurity or the will of the gods.


Mahādēo performs a part in the great drama of the Rāmāyana, or the Rape of Sīta, and he is the only figure there that is represented with a white face.[10]


I was one day praising the law of primogeniture among ourselves to a Muhammadan gentleman of high rank, and defending it on the ground that it prevented that rivalry and bitterness of feeling among brothers which were always found among the Muhammadans, whose law prescribes an equal division of property, real and personal, among the sons, and the choice of the wisest among them as successor to the government.[11]


'This', said he, 'is no doubt the source of our weakness, but why should you condemn a law which is to you a source of so much strength? I, one day', said he, 'asked Mr. Seaton, the Governor-General's representative at the court of Delhi, which of all things he had seen in India he liked best. "You have", replied he, smiling, "a small species of melon called 'phūt' (disunion); this is the thing we like best in your land."


There was', continued my Muhammadan friend, 'an infinite deal of sound political wisdom in this one sentence. Mr. Seaton was a very good and a very wise man. Our European governors of the present day are not at all the same kind of thing. I asked Mr. B., a judge, the same question many years afterwards, and he told me that he thought the rupees were the best things he had found in India. I asked Mr. T., the Commissioner, and he told me that he thought the tobacco which he smoked in his hookah was the best thing. And pray, sir, what do you think the best thing?'


'Why, Nawāb Sāhib, I am always very well pleased when I am free from pain, and can get my nostrils full of cool air, and my mouth full of cold water in this hot land of yours; and I think most of my countrymen are the same. Next to these, the thing we all admire most in India, Nawāb Sāhib, is the entire exemption which you and I and every other gentleman, native or European, enjoy from the taxes which press so heavily upon them in other countries.[12]


'In Kāshmīr, no midwife is allowed to attend a woman in her confinement till a heavy tax has been paid to Ranjīt Singh for the infant; and in England, a man cannot let the light of heaven into his house till he has paid a tax for the window.'[13]


'Nor keep a dog, nor shoot a partridge in the jungle, I am told,' said the Nawāb.


'Quite true, Nawāb Sāhib.'


'Hindustan, sir,' said he, 'is, after all, the best country in the world; the only thing wanted is a little more (rozgār) employment for the educated classes under Government.'


'True, Nawāb Sāhib, we might, no doubt, greatly multiply this employment to the advantage of those who got the places, but we should have to multiply at the same time the taxes, to the great disadvantage of those who did not get them.'


'True, very true, sir,' said my old friend.


Notes:


1. January, 1836.


2. Farīdpur is a mistake for Farīdābād, a small town sixteen miles from Delhi, founded in 1607 by Shaikh Farīd, treasurer of Jahāngīr, to protect the high road between Agra and Delhi.


3. The beds are dry in the cold season, but the streams, which flow from the hills to the south of Delhi, are torrents in the rainy season.


4. But the education in such schools is of very little value, being commonly confined to the committing of the Korān to memory by boys ignorant of Arabic.


5. In modern India the British buildings are far more varied, and many aspire to some architectural merit.


6. Muhammad is said to have received these communications in all situations; sometimes when riding along the road on his camel, he became suddenly red in the face, and greatly agitated; he made his camel sit down immediately, and called for some one to write.