Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
The Great Iconoclast—Troops routed by Hornets—The Rānī of Garhā—Hornets' Nests in India.

On the 23rd,[1] we came on nine miles to Sangrāmpur, and, on the 24th, nine more to the valley of Jabērā,[2] situated on the western extremity of the bed of a large lake, which is now covered by twenty-four villages. The waters were kept in by a large wall that united two hills about four miles south of Jabērā. This wall was built of great cut freestone blocks from the two hills of the Vindhiya range, which it united. It was about half a mile long, one hundred feet broad at the base, and about one hundred feet high.


The stones, though cut, were never, apparently, cemented; and the wall has long given way in the centre, through which now falls a small stream that passes from east to west of what was once the bottom of the lake, and now is the site of so many industrious and happy little village communities.[3]


The proprietor of the village of Jabērā, in whose mango grove our tents were pitched, conducted me to the ruins of the wall; and told me that it had been broken down by the order of the Emperor Aurangzēb.[4]


History to these people is all a fairy tale; and this emperor is the great destroyer of everything that the Muhammadans in their fanaticism have demolished of the Hindoo sculpture or architecture; and yet, singular as it may appear, they never mention his name with any feelings of indignation or hatred.


With every scene of his supposed outrage against their gods or their temples, there is always associated the recollection of some instance of his piety, and the Hindoos' glory—of some idol, for instance, or column, preserved from his fury by a miracle, whose divine origin he is supposed at once to have recognized with all due reverence.


At Bherāgarh,[5] the high priest of the temple told us that Aurangzēb and his soldiers knocked off the heads, arms, and noses of all the idols, saying that 'if they had really any of the godhead in them, they would assuredly now show it, and save themselves'. But when they came to the door of Gaurī Sankar's apartments, they were attacked by a nest of hornets, that put the whole of the emperor's army to the rout; and his imperial majesty called out: 'Here we have really something like a god, and we shall not suffer him to be molested; if all your gods could give us proof like this of their divinity, not a nose of them would ever be touched'.


The popular belief, however, is that after Aurangzēb's army had struck off all the prominent features of the other gods, one of the soldiers entered the temple, and struck off the ear of one of the prostrate images underneath their vehicle, the Bull. 'My dear', said Gaurī, 'do you see what these saucy men are about?' Her consort turned round his head;[6] and, seeing the soldiers around him, brought all the hornets up from the marble rocks below, where there are still so many nests of them, and the whole army fled before them to Teorī, five miles.[7]


It is very likely that some body of troops by whom the rest of the images had been mutilated, may have been driven off by a nest of hornets from within the temple where this statue stands. I have seen six companies of infantry, with a train of artillery and a squadron of horse, all put to the rout by a single nest of hornets, and driven off some miles with all their horses and bullocks. The officers generally save themselves by keeping within their tents, and creeping under their bed-clothes, or their carpets; and servants often escape by covering themselves up in their blankets, and lying perfectly still.


Horses are often stung to a state of madness, in which they throw themselves over precipices and break their limbs, or kill themselves. The grooms, in trying to save their horses, are generally the people who suffer most in a camp attacked by such an enemy. I have seen some so stung as to recover with difficulty; and I believe there have been instances of people not recovering at all. In such a frightful scene I have seen a bullock sitting and chewing the cud as calmly as if the whole thing had been got up for his amusement. The hornets seldom touch any animal that remains perfectly still.


On the bank of the Bīnā river at Eran, in the Sāgar district, is a beautiful pillar of a single freestone, more than fifty feet high, surmounted by a figure of Krishna, with the glory round his head.[8] Some few of the rays of this glory have been struck off by lightning; but the people declare that this was done by a shot fired at it from a cannon by order of Aurangzēb, as his army was marching by on its way to the Deccan. Before the scattered fragments, however, could reach the ground, the air was filled, they say, by a swarm of hornets, that put the whole army to flight; and the emperor ordered his gunners to desist, declaring that he was 'satisfied of the presence of the god'.


There is hardly any part of India in which, according to popular belief, similar miracles were not worked to convince the emperor of the peculiar merits or sanctity of particular idols or temples, according to the traditions of the people, derived, of course, from the inventions of priests. I should mention that these hornets suspend their nests to the branches of the highest trees, under rocks, or in old deserted temples. Native travellers, soldiers, and camp followers, cook and eat their food under such trees; but they always avoid one in which there is a nest of hornets, particularly on a still day.


Sometimes they do not discover the nest till it is too late. The unlucky wight goes on feeding his fire, and delighting in the prospect of the feast before him, as the smoke ascends in curling eddies to the nest of the hornets. The moment it touches them they sally forth and descend, and sting like mad creatures every living thing they find in motion. Three companies of my regiment were escorting treasure in boats from Allahabad to Cawnpore for the army under the Marquis of Hastings, in 1817.[9]


The soldiers all took their dinners on shore every day; and one still afternoon a sipāhī (sepoy), by cooking his dinner under one of those nests without seeing it, sent the infuriated swarm among the whole of his comrades, who were cooking in the same grove, and undressed, as they always are on such occasions. Treasure, food, and all were immediately deserted, and the whole of the party, save the European officers, were up to their noses in the river Ganges.


The hornets hovered over them; and it was amusing to see them bobbing their heads under as the insects tried to pounce upon them. The officers covered themselves up in the carpets of their boats; and, as the day was a hot one, their situation was still more uncomfortable than that of the men. Darkness alone put an end to the conflict.


I should mention that the poor old Rānī, or Queen of Garhā, Lachhmī Kuār, came out as far as Katangī with us to take leave of my wife, to whom she has always been attached. She had been in the habit of spending a day with her at my house once a week; and being the only European lady from whom she had ever received any attention, or indeed ever been on terms of any intimacy with, she feels the more sensible of the little offices of kindness and courtesy she has received from her.[10]


Her husband, Narhar Sā, was the last of the long line of sixty-two sovereigns who reigned over these territories from the year A.D. 358 to the Sāgar conquest, A.D. 1781.[11] He died a prisoner in the fortress of Kūrai, in the Sāgar district, in A. D. 1789, leaving two widows.[12]


One burnt herself upon the funeral pile, and the other was prevented from doing so, merely because she was thought too young, as she was not then fifteen years of age. She received a small pension from the Sāgar Government, which was still further reduced under the Nāgpur Government which succeeded it in the Jubbulpore district in which the pension had been assigned; and it was not thought necessary to increase the amount of this pension when the territory came under our dominion,[13] so that she has had barely enough to subsist upon, about one hundred rupees a month.


She is now about sixty years of age, and still a very good-looking woman. In her youth she must have been beautiful. She does not object to appear unveiled before gentlemen on any particular occasion; and, when Lord W. Bentinck was at Jubbulpore in 1833, I introduced, the old queen to him. He seemed much interested, and ordered the old lady a pair of shawls. None but very coarse ones were found in the store-rooms of the Governor-General's representative, and his lordship said these were not such as a Governor-General could present, or a queen, however poor, receive; and as his own 'toshakhāna' (wardrobe) had gone on,[l4] he desired that a pair of the finest kind should be purchased and presented to her in his name.


The orders were given in her presence and mine. I was obliged to return to Sāgar before they could be carried into effect; and, when I returned in 1835,[15] I found that the rejected shawls had been presented to her, and were such coarse things that she was ashamed to wear them, as much, I really believe, on account of the exalted person who had given them, as her own.


She never mentioned the subject till I asked her to let me see the shawls, which she did reluctantly, and she was too proud to complain. How the good intentions of the Governor-General had been frustrated in this case I have never learned. The native officer in charge of the store was dead, and the Governor-General's representative had left the place. Better could not, I suppose, be got at this time, and he did not like to defer giving them.


Notes:


1. November, 1835.


2. Sangrāmpur is in the Jabalpur District, thirty miles north-west of Jabalpur, or the road to Sāgar, The village of Jabērā is thirty-nine miles from Jabalpur.


3. Similar lakes, formed by means of huge dams thrown across valleys, are numerous in the Central Provinces and Bundēlkhand. The embankments of some of these lakes are maintained by the Indian Government, and the water is distributed for irrigation.


Many of the lakes are extremely beautiful, and the ruins of grand temples and palaces are often found on their banks. Several of the embankments are known to have been built by the Chandēl princes between A.D. 800 and 1200, and some are believed to be the work of an earlier Parihār dynasty.


4. A.D. 1658—1707. Aurangzēb, though possibly credited with more destruction than he accomplished, did really destroy many hundreds of Hindoo temples. A historian mentions the demolition of 262 at three places in Rājputāna in a single year (A.D. 1679-80) (E. and D. vii, 188).


5. This name is used as a synonym for Bheraghāt, ante, Chapter 1, paragraph 1. It is written Beragur in the author's text. The author, in Ramaseeana, Introduction, p. 77, note, describes the Gaurī-Sankar sculpture as being 'at Beragur on the Nerbudda river'.


6. Gaurī is one of the many names of Pārvatī, or Dēvī, the consort of the god Siva, Sankar, or Māhadēo, who rides upon the bull Nandī.


7. This village seems to be the same as Tewar, the ancient Tripura, 'six miles to the west of Jabalpur; and on the south side of the Bombay road' (A. S. R., vol. ix, p. 57). The adjacent ruins are known by the name of Karanbēl.


8. The pillar bears an inscription showing that it was erected during the reign of Budha Gupta, in the year 165 of the Gupta era, corresponding to A.D. 484-5. This, and the other important remains of antiquity at Eran, are fully described in A. S. R., vol. vii, p. 88; vol. x, pp. 76-90, pl. xxiii-xxx; and vol. xiv, p. 149, pl. xxxi; also in Fleet, Gupta Inscriptions (Calcutta, 1888).


The material of the pillar is red sandstone. According to Cunningham the total height is 43 feet. The peculiar double-faced, two-armed image on the summit does not seem to be intended for Krishna, but I cannot say what the meaning is (H. F. A., p. 174, fig. 121).


9. During the wars with the Marāthās and Pindhārīs, which ended in 1819.


10. After we left Jubbulpore, the old Rānī used to receive much kind and considerate attention from the Hon. Mrs. Shore, a very amiable woman, the wife of the Governor-General's representative, the Hon. Mr. Shore, a very worthy and able member of the Bengal Civil Service. [W. H. S.] For notice of Mr. Shore, see note at end of Chapter 13.


11. See the author's paper entitled 'History of the Gurha Mundala Rajas', in J. A. S. B., vol. vi (1837), p. 621, and the article 'Mandla' in C. P. Gazetteer (1870).


12. Kūrai is on the route from Sāgar to Nasīrābād, thirty-one miles WNW. of the former.


13. The 'Sāgar and Nerbudda Territories', comprising the Sāgar, Jabalpur, Hoshangābād, Seonī, Damoh, Narsinghpur, and Baitūl Mandlā Districts, are now under the Local Administration of the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces, established in 1861 by Lord Canning, who appointed Sir Richard Temple Chief Commissioner.


These territories were at first administered by a semi-political agency, but were afterwards, in 1852, placed under the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces (now the Agra Province in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh), to whom they remained subject until 1861. They had been ceded by the Marāthās to the British in 1818, and the cession was confirmed by the treaty of 1826.


14. All official presents given by native chiefs to the Governor- General are credited to the 'toshakhāna', from which also are taken the official gifts bestowed in return.


15. By resolution of Government, dated January 10, 1836, the author was appointed General Superintendent of the Operations against Thuggee, with his head-quarters at Jubbulpore.