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

Religious Sects—Self-government of the Castes—Chimney- sweepers—Washerwomen[1]—Elephant Drivers.

Mīr Salāmat Alī, the head native collector of the district, a venerable old Musalmān and most valuable public servant, who has been labouring in the same vineyard with me for the last fifteen years with great zeal, ability, and integrity, came to visit me after breakfast with two very pretty and interesting young sons.

While we were sitting together my wife's under-woman[2] said to some one who was talking with her outside the tent-door, 'If that were really the case, should I not be degraded?' 'You see, Mīr Sāhib',[3] said I, 'that the very lowest members of society among these Hindoos still feel the pride of caste, and dread exclusion from their own, however low.'[4]

'Yes', said the Mīr, 'they are a very strange kind of people, and I question whether they ever had a real prophet among them.'

'I question, Mīr Sahib, whether they really ever had such a person. They of course think the incarnations of their three great divinities were beings infinitely superior to prophets, being in all their attributes and prerogatives equal to the divinities themselves.[5] But we are disposed to think that these incarnations were nothing more than great men whom their flatterers and poets have exalted into gods—this was the way in which men made their gods in ancient Greece and Egypt.

'These great men were generally conquerors whose glory consisted in the destruction of their fellow creatures; and this is the glory which their flatterers are most prone to extol. All that the poets have sung of the actions of men is now received as revelation from heaven; though nothing can be more monstrous than the actions attributed to the best incarnation, Krishna, of the best of their gods, Vishnu.[6]

'No doubt', said Salāmat Ali; 'and had they ever had a real prophet among them he would have revealed better things to them. Strange people! when their women go on pilgrimages to Gayā, they have their heads shaved before the image of their god; and the offering of the hair is equivalent to the offer of their heads;[7] for heads, thank God, they dare no longer offer within the Company's territories.'

'Do you. Mīr Sahib, think that they continue to offer up human sacrifices anywhere?'

'Certainly I do. There is a Rājā at Ratanpur, or somewhere between Mandlā and Sambalpur, who has a man offered up to Dēvī every year, and that man must be a Brahman. If he can get a Brahman traveller, well and good; if not, he and his priests offer one of his own subjects. Every Brahman that has to pass through this territory goes in disguise.[8] With what energy did our emperor Aurangzēb apply himself to put down iniquities like this in the Rājputāna states, but all in vain.

'If a Rājā died, all his numerous wives burnt themselves with his body—even their servants, male and female, were obliged to do the same; for, said his friends, what is he to do in the next world without attendants? The pile was enormous. On the top sat the queen with the body of the prince; the servants, male and female, according to their degree, below; and a large army stood all round to drive into the fire again or kill all who should attempt to escape.'[9]

'This is all very true, Mīr Sāhib, but you must admit that, though there is a great deal of absurdity in their customs and opinions, there is, on the other hand, much that we might all take an example from. The Hindoo believes that Christians and Musalmāns may be as good men in all relations of life as himself, and in as fair a way to heaven as he is; for he believes that my Bible and your Korān are as much revelations framed by the Deity for our guidance, as the Shāstras are for his.

'He doubts not that our Christ was the Son of God, nor that Muhammad was the prophet of God; and all that he asks from us is to allow him freely to believe in his own gods, and to worship in his own way. Nor does one caste or sect of Hindoos ever believe itself to be alone in the right way, or detest any other for not following in the same path, as they have as much of toleration for each other as they have for us.[10]

'True,' exclaimed Salāmat Alī, 'too true! we have ruined each other; we have cut each other's throats; we have lost the empire, and we deserve to lose it. You won it, and you preserved it by your union—ten men with one heart are equal to a hundred men with different hearts.

'A Hindoo may feel himself authorized to take in a Musalmān, and might even think it meritorious to do so; but he would never think it meritorious to take in one of his own religion. There are no less than seventy- two sects of Muhammadans; and every one of these sects would not only take in the followers of every other religion on earth, but every member of every one of the other seventy-one sects; and the nearer that sect is to its own, the greater the merit in taking in its members.'[11]

'Something has happened of late to annoy you, I fear, Mīr Sāhib?'

'Something happens to annoy us every day, sir, where we are more than one sect of us together; and wherever you find Musalmāns you will find them divided into sects.'

It is not, perhaps, known to many of my countrymen in India that in every city and town in the country the right of sweeping the houses and streets is one of the most intolerable of monopolies, supported entirely by the pride of caste among the scavengers, who are all of the lowest class.

The right of sweeping within a certain range is recognized by the caste to belong to a certain member; and, if any other member presumes to sweep within that range, he is excommunicated—no other member will smoke out of his pipe, or drink out of his jug; and he can get restored to caste only by a feast to the whole body of sweepers. If any housekeeper within a particular circle happens to offend the sweeper of that range, none of his filth will be removed till he pacifies him, because no other sweeper will dare to touch it; and the people of a town are often more tyrannized over by these people than by any other.[12]

It is worthy of remark that in India the spirit of combination is always in the inverse ratio to the rank of the class; weakest in the highest, and strongest in the lowest class. All infringements upon the rules of the class are punished by fines. Every fine furnishes a feast at which every member sits and enjoys himself. Payment is enforced by excommunication—no one of the caste will eat, drink, or smoke with the convicted till the fine is paid; and, as every one shares in the fine, every one does his best to enforce payment.

The fines are imposed by the elders, who know the circumstances of the culprit, and fix the amount accordingly. Washermen will often at a large station combine to prevent the washermen of one gentleman from washing the clothes of the servants of any other gentleman, or the servants of one gentleman from getting their clothes washed by any other person than their own master's washerman. This enables them sometimes to raise the rate of washing to double the fair or ordinary rate; and at such places the washermen are always drunk with one continued routine of feasts from the fines levied.[13]

The cost of these fees falls ultimately upon the poor servants or their masters. This combination, however, is not always for bad or selfish purposes. I was once on the staff of an officer commanding a brigade on service, whose elephant driver exercised an influence over him that was often mischievous and sometimes dangerous;[14] for in marching and choosing his ground, this man was more often consulted than the quarter-master-general.

His bearing was most insolent, and became intolerable, as well to the European gentlemen as to the people of his caste.[15] He at last committed himself by saying that he would spit in the face of another gentleman's elephant driver with whom he was disputing. All the elephant drivers in our large camp were immediately assembled, and it was determined in council to refer the matter to the decision of the Rājā of Darbhanga's driver, who was acknowledged the head of the class.

We were all breakfasting with the brigadier after muster when the reply came-the distance to Darbhanga from Nāthpur on the Kūsī river, where we then were, must have been a hundred and fifty miles.[16] We saw men running in all directions through the camp, without knowing why, till at last one came and summoned the brigadier's driver. With a face of terror he came and implored the protection of the brigadier; who got angry, and fumed a good deal, but seeing no expression of sympathy on the faces of his officers, he told the man to go and hear his sentence. He was escorted to a circle formed by all the drivers in camp, who were seated on the grass.

The offender was taken into the middle of the circle and commanded to stand on one leg[17] while the Raja's driver's letter was read. He did so, and the letter directed him to apologize to the offended party, pay a heavy fine for a feast, and pledge himself to the offended drivers never to offend again.

All the officers in camp were delighted, and some, who went to hear the sentence explained, declared that in no court in the world could the thing have been done with more solemnity and effect. The man's character was quite altered by it, and he became the most docile of drivers.

On the same principle here stated of enlisting the community in the punishment of offenders, the New Zealanders, and other savage tribes who have been fond of human flesh, have generally been found to confine the feast to the body of those who were put to death for offences against the state or the individual.

I and all the officers of my regiment were at one time in the habit of making every servant who required punishment or admonition to bring immediately, and give to the first religious mendicant we could pick up, the fine we thought just. All the religionists in the neighbourhood declared that justice had never been so well administered in any other regiment; no servant got any sympathy from them—they were all told that their masters were far too lenient.

We crossed the Hiran river[18] about ten miles from our last ground on the 22nd,[19] and came on two miles to our tents in a mango grove close to the town of Katangī,[20] and under the Vindhya range of sandstone hills, which rise almost perpendicular to the height of some eight hundred feet over the town.

This range from Katangī skirts the Nerbudda valley to the north, as the Sātpura range skirts it to the south; and both are of the same sandstone formation capped with basalt upon which here and there are found masses of laterite, or iron clay. Nothing has ever yet been found reposing upon this iron clay.[21]

The strata of this range have a gentle and almost imperceptible dip to the north, at right angles to its face which overlooks the valley, and this face has everywhere the appearance of a range of gigantic round bastions projecting into what was perhaps a lake, and is now a well-peopled, well-cultivated, and very happy valley, about twenty miles wide. The river crosses and recrosses it diagonally.

Near Jubbulpore it flows along for some distance close under the Sātpura range to the south; and crossing over the valley from Bheraghāt, it reaches the Vindhya range to the north, at the point where it reaches the Hiran river, forty miles below.


1. This is a slip, probably due to the printer's reader. There are no chimney-sweepers in India. The word should be 'sweepers'. The members of this caste and a few other degraded communities, such as the Doms, do all the sweeping, scavenging, and conservancy work in India. 'Washerwomen' is another slip: read 'Washermen'.

2. The 'under-woman', or 'second ayah', was a member of the sweeper caste.

3. The title Mīr Sāhib implies that Salāmat Alī was a Sayyid, claiming descent from Alī, the cousin, son-in-law, and pupil of Muhammad, who became Khalīf in A.D. 656.

4. The sweeper castes stand outside the Hindoo pale, and often incline to Muhammadan practices. They worship a special form of the Deity, under the names of Lāl Beg, Lāl Guru, &c.

5. No avatār or incarnation of Brahma is known to most Hindoos, and incarnations of Siva are rarely mentioned. The only avatārs ordinarily recognized are those of Vishnu, as enumerated ante. Chapter 2, note 4.

6. This theory is a very inadequate explanation of the doctrine of avatārs.

7. 'Women . . . are most careful to preserve their hair intact. They pride themselves on its length and weight. For a woman to have to part with her hair is one of the greatest of degradations, and the most terrible of all trials. It is the mark of widowhood. Yet in some sacred places, especially at the confluence of rivers, the cutting off and offering of a few locks of hair (Venī- dānam) by a virtuous wife is considered a highly meritorious act' (Monier Williams, Religious Thought and Life in India, p, 375). Gayā in Bihār, fifty-five miles south of Patna, is much frequented by pilgrims devoted to Vishnu.

8. All the places named are in the Central Provinces. Ratanpur, in the Bilāspur District, is a place of much antiquarian interest, full of ruins; Mandlā, in the Mandlā District, was the capital of the later Gond chiefs of Garhā Mandlā; and Sambalpur is the capital of the Sambalpur District. If the story is true, the selection of a Brahman for sacrifice is remarkable, though not without precedent. Human sacrifice has prevailed largely in India, and is not yet quite extinct.

In 1891 some Jāts in the Muzaffarnagar District of the United Provinces sacrificed a boy in a very painful manner for some unascertained magical purpose. It was supposed that the object was to induce the gods to grant offspring to a childless woman. Other similar cases have occurred in recent years. One occurred close to Calcutta in 1892.

In the hill tracts of Orissa bordering on the Central Provinces the rite of human sacrifice was practised by the Khonds on an awful scale, and with horrid cruelty, It was suppressed by the special efforts of Macpherson, Campbell, MacViccar, and other officers, between the years 1837 and 1854.

Daring that period the British officers rescued 1,506 victims intended for sacrifice (Narrative of Major-General John Campbell, C.B., of his Operations in the Hill Tracts of Orissa for the Suppression of Human Sacrifices and Female Infanticide. Printed for private circulation. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1861).

The rite, when practised by Hindoos, may have been borrowed from some of the aboriginal races. The practice, however, has been so general throughout the world that few peoples can claim the honour of freedom from the stain of adopting it at one time or another, Much curious information on the subject, and many modern instances of human sacrifices in India, are collected in the article 'Sacrifice' in Balfour, Cyclopaedia of India, 3rd edition, 1885. Major S. C. Macpherson, Memorials of Service in India (1865), and Frazer, Golden Bough, 3rd edition, Part V, vol. i (1912), pp. 236 seq., may also be consulted.

9. Bernier vividly describes an 'infernal tragedy' of this kind which he witnessed, in or about the year 1659, during Aurangzēb's reign, in Rājputāna. On that occasion five female slaves burnt themselves with their mistress (Travels, ed. Constable and V. A. Smith (1914), p. 309).

10. Hinduism is a social system, not a creed, A Hindoo may believe, or disbelieve, what speculative doctrine he chooses, but he must not eat, drink, or marry, save in accordance with the custom of his caste. Compare Asoka on toleration; 'The sects of other people all deserve reverence for one reason or another' (Rock Edict xii; V. A. Smith, Asoka, 2nd edition (1909), p. 170).

11. Mīr Salāmat Alī is a stanch Sunnī, the sect of Osmān; and they are always at daggers drawn with the Shīas, or the sect of Alī. He alludes to the Shīas when he says that one of the seventy-two sects is always ready to take in the whole of the other seventy-one.

Muhammad, according to the traditions, was one day heard to say, 'The time will come when my followers will he divided into seventy-three sects; all of them will assuredly go to hell save one.'

Every one of the seventy-three sects believes itself to be the one happily excepted by their prophet, and predestined to paradise. I am sometimes disposed to think Muhammad was self-deluded, however difficult it might be to account for so much 'method in his madness'. It is difficult to conceive a man placed in such circumstances with more amiable dispositions or with juster views of the rights and duties of men in all their relations with each other, than are exhibited by him on almost all occasions, save where the question of faith in his divine mission was concerned.

A very interesting and useful book might be made out of the history of those men, more or less mad, by whom multitudes of mankind have been led and perhaps governed; and a philosophical analysis of the points on which they were really mad and really sane, would show many of them to have been fit subjects for a madhouse during the whole career of their glory. [W. H. S.]

For an account of Muhammadan sects, see section viii of the Preliminary Dissertation in Sale's Korān, entitled, 'Of the Principal Sects among the Muhammadans; and of those who have pretended to Prophecy among the Arabs, in or since the Time of Muhammad'; and T. P. Hughes, Dictionary of Islam (1885). The chief sects of the Sunnīs, or Traditionists, are four in number. 'The principal sects of the Shīas are five, which are subdivided into an almost innumerable number.' The court of the kings of Oudh was Shīa. In most parts of India the Sunnī faith prevails.

The relation between genius and insanity is well expressed by Dryden (Absalom and Achitopfel):

Great wits are sure to madness near allied,

And thin partitions do their bounds divide.

The treatise of Professor Cesare Lombroso, entitled The Man of Genius (London edition, 1891), is devoted to proof and illustration of the proposition that genius is 'a special morbid condition'.

He deals briefly with the case of Muhammad at pages 31, 39, and 325, maintaining that the prophet, like Saint Paul, Julius Caesar, and many other men of genius, was subject to epileptic fits. The Professor's book seems to be exactly what Sir W. H. Sleeman desired to see.

12. In the author's time, when municipal conservancy and sanitation were almost unknown in India, the tyranny of the sweepers' guild was chiefly felt as a private inconvenience. It is now one of the principal of the many difficulties, little understood in Europe, which bar the progress of Indian sanitary reform.

The sweepers cannot be readily coerced because no Hindoo or Musalmān would do their work to save his life, nor will he pollute himself even by beating the refractory scavenger. A strike of sweepers on the occasion of a great fair, or of a cholera epidemic, is a most dangerous calamity. The vested rights described in the text are so fully recognized in practice that they are frequently the subject of sale or mortgage.

13. The low-caste Hindoos are generally fond of drink, when they can get it, but seldom commit crime under its influence.

14. An elephant driver, by reason of his position on the animal, has opportunities for private conversation with his master.

15. Elephant drivers (mahouts) are Muhammadans, who should have no caste, but Indian Musalmāns have become Hinduized, and fallen under the dominion of caste.

16. Darbhanga is in Tirhūt, seventy miles NE. of Dinapore. The Kūsī (Kōsī or Koosee) river rises in the mountains of Nepāl, and falls into the Ganges after a course of about 325 miles. Nāthpur, in the Puraniya (Purneah) District, is a mart for the trade with Nepal.

17. The customary attitude of a suppliant.

18. A small river which falls into the Nerbudda on the right-hand side, at Sānkal. Its general course is south-west.

19. November, 1835.

20. Described in the Gazetteer (1870) as 'a large but decaying village in the Jabalpur district, situated at the foot of the Bhānrer hills, twenty-two miles to the north-west of Jabalpur, on the north side of the Hiran, and on the road to Sāgar'.

21. The convenient restriction of the name Vindhya to the hills north, and of Sātpura to the hills south of the Nerbudda is of modern origin (Manual of the Geology of India, 1st ed., Part I, p. iv). The Sātpura range, thus defined, separates the valley of the Nerbudda from the valleys of the Taptī flowing west, and the Mahānadī flowing east.

The Vindhyan sandstones certainly are a formation of immense antiquity, perhaps pre-Silurian. They are azoic, or devoid of fossils; and it is consequently impossible to determine exactly their geological age, or 'horizon' (ibid. p. xxiii). The cappings of basalt, in some cases with laterite superimposed, suggest many difficult problems, which will be briefly discussed in the notes to Chapters 14 and 17.

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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