It has been stated that Hindostan and the Deckan are equal, in extent, to all Europe; except the Russian part of it, and the countries north of the Baltic560. Ten different civilised nations are found within the above space. All these nations differ from each other, in manners and language561, nearly as much as those inhabiting the corresponding portion of Europe. They have, also, about the same degree of general resemblance which is observable among the nations of Christendom, and which is so great that a stranger from India cannot, at first, perceive any material difference between an Italian and an Englishman. In like manner Europeans do not at once distinguish between the most dissimilar of the nations of India. The greatest difference is between the inhabitants of Hindostan proper, and of the Deckan. The neighbouring parts of these two great divisions naturally resemble each other; but in the extremities of the north and south the languages
have no resemblance, except from a common mixture of Shanscrit; the religious sects are different; the architecture, as has been mentioned elsewhere, is of different characters; the dress differs in many respects, and the people differ in appearance; those of the north being tall and fair, and the others small and dark. The northern people live much on wheat, and those of the south on ragi, a grain almost as unknown in Hindostan as in England562. Many of the points of difference arise from the unequal degrees in which the two tracts were conquered and occupied: first, by the people professing the Braminical religion, and afterwards by the Mussulmans; but more must depend on peculiarities of place and climate, and, perhaps, on varieties of race. Bengal and Gangetic Hindostan, for in. stance, are contiguous countries, and were both early subjected to the same governments; but Bengal is moist, liable to inundation, and has all the characteristics of an alluvial soil; while Hindostan, though fertile, is comparatively dry, both in soil and climate. This difference may, by forming a diversity of habits, have led to a great dissimilitude between the people: the common origin of the languages appears, in this case, to forbid all suspicion of a difference of race.
From whatever causes it originates, the contrast is most striking. The Hindostanis on the Ganges are the tallest, fairest, and most warlike and manly of the Indians; they wear the turban, and a dress
resembling that of the Mahometans; their houses are tiled, and built in compact villages in open tracts; their food is unleavened wheaten bread.
The Bengalese, on the contrary, though good-looking, are small, black, and effeminate in appearance; remarkable for timidity and superstition, as well as for subtlety and art. Their villages are composed of thatched cottages, scattered through woods of bamboos or of palms: their dress is the old Hindu one, formed by one scarf round the middle and another thrown over the shoulders. They have the practice, unknown in Hindostan, of rubbing their limbs with oil after bathing, which gives their skins a sleek and glossy appearance, and protects them from the effect of their damp climate. They live almost entirely on rice; and, although the two idioms are more nearly allied than English and German, their language is quite unintelligible to a native of Hindostan.
Yet those two nations resemble each other so much in their religion and all the innumerable points of habit and manners which it involves, in their literature, their notions on government and general subjects, their ceremonies and way of life, that a European, not previously apprised of the distinction, might very possibly pass the boundary that divides them, without at once perceiving the change that had taken place.
The distinction between the different nations will appear as each comes on the stage in the
course of the following history. All that has hitherto been said, and all that is about to follow, is intended to apply to the whole Hindu people.
Notwithstanding the abundance of large towns in India, the great majority of the population is agricultural. The peasants live assembled in villages; going out to their fields to labour, and returning, with their cattle, to the village at night.
Villages vary much in different parts of the country: in many parts they are walled, and capable of a short defence against the light troops of a hostile army; and, in some disturbed tracts, even against their neighbours, and against the government officers: others are open; and others only closed by a fence and gate, to keep in the cattle at night.
The houses of a Bengal and Hindostan village have been contrasted. The cottage of Bengal, with its trim curved thatched roof and cane walls, is the best looking in India.
Those of Hindostan are tiled, and built of clay or unburnt bricks; and, though equally convenient, have less neatness of appearance. The mud or stone huts and terraced roofs of the Deckan village look as if they were mere uncovered ruins, and are the least pleasing to the eye of any. Further south, though the material is the same, the execution is much better; and the walls, being painted in broad perpendicular streaks of white and red, have an appearance of neatness and cleanness.
Each village has its bazar, composed of shops for
the sale of grain, tobacco, sweetmeats, coarse cloth, and other articles of village consumption. Each has its market day, and its annual fairs and festivals; and each, in most parts of India, has, at least, one temple, and one house or shed for lodging strangers. All villages make an allowance for giving food or charity to religious mendicants, and levy a fund for this and other expenses, including public festivities on particular holidays. The house for strangers sometimes contains also the shrine of a god, and is generally used as the town house; though there are usually some shady trees in every village, under which the heads of the village and others meet to transact their business. No benches or tables are required on any occasion.
In houses, also, there is no furniture but a mat for sitting on, and some earthen and brass pots and dishes, a hand-mill, pestle and mortar, an iron plate for baking cakes on, and some such articles. The bed, which requires neither bedding nor curtains, is set upright against the wall during the day; and cooking is carried on under a shed, or out of doors. The huts, though bare, are clean and neat.
There is scarcely more furniture in the houses of the richer inhabitants of the village. Their distinction is, that they are two stories high, and have a court-yard.
The condition of the country people is not, in general, prosperous. They usually borrow money to pay their rent, and consequently get involved in accounts and debts, through which, they are so liable
to imposition, that they can scarcely get extricated. They are also, in general, so improvident, that if they were clear, they would omit to lay up money for their necessary payments, and soon be in debt again. Some, however, are prudent, and acquire property. Their villages are sometimes disturbed by factions against the headman, or by oppression on his part, or that of the government; and they have more litigation among themselves than the same class in England; but violence of all sorts is extremely rare, drunkenness scarcely known, and, on the whole, the country people are remarkably quiet, well-behaved, and, for their circumstances, happy and contented.
The husbandman rises with the earliest dawn; washes, and says a prayer; then sets out with his cattle to his distant field. After an hour or two, he eats some remnants of his yesterday’s fare for breakfast, and goes on with his labour till noon, when his wife brings out his hot dinner; he eats it by a brook or under a tree, talks and sleeps till two o’clock, while his cattle also feed and repose. From two till sunset he labours again; then drives his cattle home, feeds them, bathes, eats some supper, smokes, and spends the rest of the evening in amusement with his wife and children, or his neighbours. The women fetch water, grind the corn, cook, and do the household work, besides spinning, and such occupations.
Hindu towns are formed of high brick or stone houses, with a few small and high-placed windows,
over very narrow streets, which are paved (if paved at all) with large uneven slabs of stone. They are crowded with people moving to and fro; processions, palankeens, and carriages drawn by oxen; running footmen with sword and buckler, religious mendicants, soldiers out of service smoking or lounging; and sacred bulls, that can scarcely be made to move their unwieldy bulk out of the way of the passenger, or to desist from feeding on the grain exposed for sale.
The most conspicuous shops are those of confectioners, fruiterers, grainsellers, braziers, druggists, and tobacconists; sellers of cloth, shawls, and other stuffs, keep their goods in bales; and those of more precious articles do not expose them. They are quite open towards the street, and often are merely the veranda in front of the house; the customers standing and making their purchases in the street.
Towns are often walled, and capable of defence.
They have not hereditary headmen and officers, like villages, but are generally the residence of the government agent in charge of the district, who manages them, with the help of an establishment for police and revenue. They are divided into wards for the purposes of police; and each cast has its own elected head, who communicates between the government and its members. These casts, being in general trades also, are attended with all the good and bad consequences of such combinations.
The principal inhabitants are bankers and merchants, and people connected with the government.
Bankers and merchants generally combine both trades, and farm the public revenues besides. They make great profits, and often without much risk. In transactions with governments they frequently secure a mortgage on the revenue, or the guarantee of some powerful person, for the discharge of their debt. They lend money on an immense premium, and with very high compound interest, which increases so rapidly, that the repayment is always a compromise, in which the lender gives up a great part of his demand, still retaining an ample profit. They live plainly and frugally, but often spend vast sums on domestic festivals or public works.
The great men about the government will be spoken of hereafter, but the innumerable clerks and hangers on in lower stations must not be passed over without mention. Not only has every office numbers of these men, but every department, however small, must have one: a company of soldiers would not be complete without its clerk. Every nobleman (besides those employed in collections and accounts) has clerks of the kitchen, of the stable, the hawking establishment, &c. Intercourse of business and civility is carried on through these people, who also furnish the newswriters; and, after all, great numbers are unemployed, and are ready agents in every sort of plot and intrigue.
The food of the common people, both in the
country and in towns, is unleavened bread with boiled vegetables, clarified butter or oil, and spices. Smoking tobacco is almost the only luxury. Some few smoke intoxicating drugs; and the lowest casts alone, and even they rarely, get drunk with spirits. Drunkenness is confined to damp countries, such as Bengal, the Concans, and some parts of the south of India. It increases in our territories, where spirits are taxed; but is so little of a natural propensity, that the absolute prohibition of spirits, which exists in most native states, is sufficient to keep it down. Opium, which is used to great excess in the west of Hindostan, is peculiar to the Rajputs, and does not affect the lower classes. All but the poorest people chew bitel (a pungent aromatic leaf) with the hard nut of the areca, mixed with a sort of lime made from shells, and with various spices, according to the person’s means. Some kinds of fruit are cheap and common.
The upper classes, at least the Bramin part of them, have very little more variety; it consists in the greater number of kinds of vegetables and spices, and in the cookery. Assafoetida is a favourite ingredient, as giving to some of their richer dishes something of the flavour of flesh. The caution used against eating out of dishes or on carpets defiled by other casts gives rise to some curious customs. At a great Bramin dinner, where twenty or thirty different dishes and condiments are placed before each individual, all are served in vessels made of leaves sewed together. These are placed
on the bare floor, which, as a substitute for a table cloth, is decorated for a certain distance in front of the guests, with patterns of flowers, &c., very prettily laid out in lively-coloured sorts of sand, spread through frames in which the patterns are cut, and swept away after the dinner. The inferior casts of Hindus eat meat, and care less about their vessels; metal, especially, can always be purified by scouring. In all classes, however, the difference of cast leads to a want of sociability. A soldier, or any one away from his family, cooks his solitary meal for himself, and finishes it without a companion, or any of the pleasures of the table, but those derived from taking the necessary supply of food. All eat with their fingers, and scrupulously wash before and after meals.
Though they have chess, a game played with tables and dice as backgammon is, and cards, (which are circular, in many suits, and painted with Hindu gods, &c., instead of kings, queens, and knaves,) yet the great in-door amusement is to listen to singing interspersed with slow movements which can scarcely be called dancing. The attitudes are not ungraceful, and the songs, as has been mentioned, are pleasing; but it is, after all, a languid and monotonous entertainment; and it is astonishing to see the delight that all ranks take in it; the lower orders, in particular, often standing for whole nights to enjoy this unvaried amusement.
These exhibitions are now often illuminated,
when in rooms, by English chandeliers; but the true Hindu way of lighting them up is by torches held by men, who feed the flame with oil from a sort of bottle constructed for the purpose. For ordinary household purposes they use lamps of earthenware or metal.
In the houses of the rich, the doorways are hung with quilted silk curtains; and the doors, the arches, and other wood-work in the rooms are highly carved. The floor is entirely covered with a thin mattress of cotton, over which is spread a clean white cloth to sit on; but there is no other furniture of any description. Equals sit in opposite rows down the room. A prince or great chief has a seat at the head of the room between the rows, very slightly raised by an additional mattress, and covered with a small carpet of embroidered silk. This, with a high round embroidered bolster behind, forms what is called a masnad or gadi, and serves as a throne for sovereigns under the rank of king.
Great attention is paid to ceremony. A person of distinction is met a mile or two before he enters the city; and a visitor is received (according to his rank) at the outer gate of the house, at the door of the room, or by merely rising from the seat. Friends embrace if they have not met for some time. Bramins are saluted by joining the palms, and raising them twice or thrice to the forehead: with others, the salute with one hand is used, so well known by the Mahometan name of
salam. Bramins have a peculiar phrase of salutation for each other. Other Hindus, on meeting, repeat twice the name of the god Rama. Visitors are seated with strict attention to their rank, which, on public occasions, it often takes much previous negotiation to settle. Hindus of rank are remarkable for their politeness to inferiors, generally addressing them by some civil or familiar term, and scarcely ever being provoked to abusive or harsh language.
The lower classes are courteous in their general manners among themselves, but by no means so scrupulous in their language when irritated.
All visits end by the master of the house presenting bitel leaf with areca nut, &c. to the guest: it is accompanied by attar of roses or some other perfume put on the handkerchief, and rose-water sprinkled over the person; and this is the signal for taking leave.
At first meetings, and at entertainments, trays of shawls and other materials for dresses are presented to the guests, together with pearl necklaces, bracelets, and ornaments for the turban of jewels: a sword, a horse, and an elephant are added when both parties are men of high rank. I do not know how much of this custom is ancient, but presents of bracelets, &c. are frequent in the oldest dramas.
Such presents are also given to meritorious servants, to soldiers who have distinguished them. selves, and to poets or learned men: they are showered on favourite singers and dancers.
At formal meetings nobody speaks but the principal persons, but in other companies there is a great deal of unrestrained conversation. The manner of the Hindus is polite, and their language obsequious. They abound in compliments and expressions of humility even to their equals, and when they have no object to gain. They seldom show much desire of knowledge, or disposition to extend their thoughts beyond their ordinary habits. Within that sphere, however, their conversation is shrewd and intelligent, often mixed with lively and satirical observations.
The rich rise at the same hour as the common people, or, perhaps, not quite so early; perform their devotions in their own chapels; despatch private and other business with their immediate officers and dependants; bathe, dine, and sleep. At two or three they dress, and appear in their public apartments, where they receive visits and transact business till very late at night. Some also listen to music till late: but these occupations are confined to the rich, and, in general, a Hindu town is all quiet soon after dark.
Entertainments, besides occasions of rare occurrence, as marriages, &c., are given on particular festivals, and sometimes to show attention to particular friends. Among themselves they commence with a dinner but the essential part of the entertainment is dancing and singing, sometimes diversified with jugglers and buffoons; during which time perfumes are burnt, and the guests are dressed
with garlands of sweet-smelling flowers: presents, as above described, are no less essential.
At courts there are certain days on which all the great and all public officers wait on the prince to pay their duty; and, on those occasions, the crowd in attendance is equal to that of a birthday levee in Europe.
All go up to the prince in succession, and present him with a nazzer, which is one or more pieces of money laid on a napkin, and which it is usual to offer to superiors on all formal meetings. The amount depends on the rank of the offerer; the lowest in general is a rupee, yet poor people sometimes present a flower, and shopkeepers often some article of their traffic or manufacture. A dress of some sort is, on most occasions, given in return. The price of one dress is equal to many nazzers. The highest regular nazzer is 100 ashrefis, equal to 150 or 170 guineas; but people have been known to present jewels of high value; and it is by no means uncommon, when a prince visits a person of inferior rank, to construct a low base for his masnad of bags containing in all 100,000 rupees (or 10,000l.), which are all considered part of the nazzer. So much is that a form, that it has been done when the Nizam visited the resident at Hyderabad, though that prince was little more than a dependant on our government. I mention this as a general custom at present, though not sure that it is originally Hindu.
The religious festivals are of a less doubtful character.
In them a great hall is fitted up in honour of the deity of the day. His image, richly adorned, and surrounded by gilded ballustrades, occupies the centre of one end of the apartment, while the prince and his court, in splendid dresses and jewels, are arranged along one side of the room as guests or attendants. The rest of the ceremony is like other entertainments. The songs may, perhaps, be appropriate; but the incense, the chaplets of flowers, and other presents are ` as on ordinary occasions: the bitel leaf and attar, indeed, are brought from before the idol, and distributed as if from him to his visitors.
Among the most striking of these religious exhibitions is that of the capture of Lanka, in honour of Rama, which is necessarily performed out of doors.
Lanka is represented by a spacious castle with towers and battlements, which are assailed by an army dressed like Rama and his followers, with Hanuman and his monkey allies. The combat ends in the destruction of Lanka, amidst a blaze of fireworks which would excite admiration in any part of the world, and in a triumphal procession sometimes conducted in a style of grandeur which might become a more important occasion.
This festival is celebrated in another manner, and with still greater splendor, among the Marattas. It is the day on which they always commence their military operations; and the particular event which they commemorate is Rama’s devotions and his
plucking a branch from a certain tree, before he set out on his expedition.
A tree of this sort is planted in an open plain near the camp or city; and all the infantry and guns, and as many of the cavalry as do not accompany the prince, are drawn up on each side of the spot, or form a wide street leading up to it. The rest of the plain is filled with innumerable spectators. The procession, though less regular than those of Mahometan princes, is one of the finest displays of the sort in India. The chief advances on his elephant, preceded by flags and gold and silver sticks or maces, and by a phalanx of men on foot bearing pikes of fifteen or sixteen feet long. On each side are his nobles and military leaders on horseback, with sumptuous dresses and caparisons, and each with some attendants selected for their martial appearance; behind are long trains of elephants with their sweeping housings, some with flags of immense size, and glittering with gold and embroidery; some bearing howdahs, open or roofed, often of silver, plain or gilt, and of forms peculiarly oriental: around and behind is a cloud of horsemen, their trappings glancing in the sun, and their scarfs of cloth of gold fluttering in the wind, all overtopped by sloping spears and waving banners; those on the flanks dashing out, and returning after displaying some evolutions of horsemanship: the whole moving, mixing, and continually shifting its form as it advances, and presenting one of the most animating and most
gorgeous spectacles that is ever seen, even in that and of barbarous magnificence. As the chief approaches, the guns are fired, the infantry discharge their pieces, and the procession moves on with accelerated speed, exhibiting a lively picture of an attack by a great body of cavalry on an army drawn up to receive them.
When the prince has performed his devotions and plucked his bough, his example is followed by those around him: a fresh salvo of all the guns is fired; and, at the signal, the other troops break off, and each man snatches some leaves from one of the fields of tall grain which is grown for the purpose near the spot: each sticks his prize in his turban, and all exchange compliments and congratulations. A grand darbar, at which all the court and military officers attend, closes the day.
There is less grandeur, but scarcely less interest, in the fairs and festivals of the common people.
These have a strong resemblance to fairs in England, and exhibit the same whirling machines, and the same amusements and occupations. But no assemblage in England can give a notion of the lively effect produced by the prodigious concourse of people in white dresses and bright coloured scarfs and turbans, so unlike the black head-dresses and dusky habits of the north. Their taste for gaudy shows and processions, and the mixture of arms and flags, give also a different character to the Indian fairs. The Hindus enter into the amusements of these meetings with the utmost relish,
and show every sign of peaceful festivity and enjoyment. They may, on all these occasions, have some religious ceremony to go through, but it does not take up a moment, and seldom occupies a thought. At the pilgrimages, indeed, the long anticipation of the worship to be performed, the example of other pilgrims invoking the god aloud, and the sanctity of the place, concur to produce stronger feelings of devotion. There are also more ceremonies to be gone through, and sometimes these are joined in by the whole assembly; when the thousands of eyes directed to one point, and of voices shouting one name, is often impressive even to the least interested spectator.
But, even at pilgrimages, the feeling of amusement is much stronger than that of religious zeal; and many such places are also among the most celebrated marts for the transfer of merchandise, and for all the purposes of a fair.
Among the enjoyments of the upper classes, I should not omit their gardens, which, though always formal, are nevertheless often pleasing. They are divided by broad alleys, with long and narrow ponds or canals inclosed with regular stone and stucco work running up the centre, and, on each side, straight walks between borders of poppies of all colours, or of other flowers in uniform beds or in patterns. Their summer houses are of white stucco, and though somewhat less heavy and inelegant than their ordinary dwellings, do not much relieve the formality of the garden: but there is
still something rich and oriental in the groves of orange and citron trees, the mixture of dark cypresses with trees covered with flowers or blossoms, the tall and graceful palms, the golden fruits and highly scented flowers. In the heats of summer, too, the trellised walks, closely covered with vines, and the slender stems and impervious shade of the areca tree, afford dark and cool retreats from the intolerable glare of the sun, made still more pleasant by the gushing of the little rills that water the garden, and by the profound silence and repose that reign in that overpowering hour.
I have great doubts whether the present kind of gardens has not been introduced by the Mussulmans, especially as I remember no description in the poets that are translated which suggests this sort of formality.
The flowers and trees of Indian gardens are neither collected with the industry, nor improved with the care, of those in Europe; and it is amidst the natural scenery that we see both in the greatest perfection. The country is often scattered with old mangoe trees and lofty tamarinds and pipals, which, in Guzerat especially, are accompanied with undulations of the ground that give to extensive tracts the varied beauties of an English park. In other parts, as in Rohilcand, a perfectly flat and incredibly fertile plain is scattered with mangoe orchards, and delights us with its extent and prosperity, until at last it wearies with its monotony. In some parts of Bengal the traveller enters on a
similar flat covered with one sheet of rice, but without a tree, except at a distance on every side, where appears a thick bamboo jungle, such as might be expected to harbour wild beasts. When this jungle is reached, it proves to be a narrow belt filled with villages and teeming with population; and when it is passed, another bare flat succeeds, again encircled with bamboo jungle almost at the extremity of the horizon.
The central part of the Deckan is composed of waving downs, which at one time present, for hundreds of miles, one unbroken sheet of green harvests, high enough to conceal a man and horse,563 but in the hot season bear the appearance of a desert, naked and brown, without a tree or a shrub to relieve its gloomy sameness. In many places, especially in the west, are woods of old trees filled with scented creepers, some bearing flowers of the most splendid colours, and others twining among the branches, or stretching boldly from tree to tree, with stems as thick as a man’s thigh. The forests in the east564 and the centre of India565, and near one part of the western Ghats566, are composed of trees of prodigious magnitude, almost undisturbed by habitations, and imperfectly traversed by narrow roads, like the wildest parts of America.
In the midst of the best cultivated country are often found spaces of several days’ journey across covered with the palas or dak tree, which in spring loses all its leaves and is entirely covered with large red and orange flowers, which make the whole of the hills seem in a blaze.
The noblest scenery in India is under Hemalaya, where the ridges are broken into every form of the picturesque, with abrupt rocks, mossy banks, and slopes covered with gigantic pines and other trees on the same vast scale, mixed with the most beautiful of our flowering shrubs and the best of our fruits in their state of nature. Over the whole towers the majestic chain of Hemalaya covered with eternal snow; a sight which the soberest traveller has never described without kindling into enthusiasm, and which, if once seen, leaves an impression that can never be equalled or effaced. The western Ghats present the charms of mountain scenery on a smaller scale; but it is no exaggeration of their merits to say that they strongly resemble the valleys of the Neda and the Ladon, which have long been the boast of Arcadia and of Europe.
The beauty of the Ghats, however, depends entirely on the season when they are seen; in summer, when stripped of their clouds and deprived of their rich carpet of verdure and their innumerable cascades, the height of the mountains is not sufficient to compensate by its grandeur for their general sterility, and the only pleasure they afford is
derived from the stately forests which still clothe their sides.
The day of the poor in towns is spent much like that of the villagers, except that they go to their shop instead of the field, and to the bazar for amusement and society. The villagers have some active games; but the out of door amusements of the townspeople are confined to those at fairs and festivals; some also perform their complicated system of athletic exercise, and practise wrestling; but there are certain seasons which have their appropriate sports, in which all descriptions of people eagerly join.
Perhaps the chief of these is the holi, a festival in honour of the spring, at which the common people, especially the boys, dance round fires, sing licentious and satirical songs, and give vent to all sorts of ribaldry against their superiors, by whom it is always taken in good part. The great sport of the occasion, however, consists in sprinkling each other with a yellow liquid, and throwing a crimson powder over each other’s persons. The liquid is also squirted through syringes, and the powder is sometimes made up in large balls covered with isinglass, which break as soon as they come in contact with the body. All ranks engage in this sport with enthusiasm, and get more and more into the spirit of the contest, till all parties are completely drenched with the liquid, and so covered with the red powder, that they can scarcely be recognised.
A grave prime minister will invite a foreign ambassador to play the holi at his house, and will take his share in the most riotous parts of it with the ardour of a schoolboy.
There are many other festivals of a less marked character; some general, and some local. Of the latter description is the custom among the Marattas of inviting each other to eat the toasted grain of the bajri (or Holcus spicatus) when the ear first begins to fill. This is a natural luxury among villagers; but the custom extends to the great: the raja of Berar, for instance, invites all the principal people of his court, on a succession of days, to this fare, when toasted grain is first served, and is followed by a regular banquet.
The diwali is a general festival, on which every house and temple is illuminated with rows of little lamps along the roofs, windows, and cornices, and on bamboo frames erected for the purpose.
Benares, seen from the Ganges, used to be very magnificent on this occasion. During the whole of the month in which this feast occurs, lamps are hung up on bamboos, at different villages and private houses, so high as often to make the spectator mistake them for stars low in the horizon.
The jannam ashtomi is a festival at which a sort of opera is performed by boys dressed like Crishna and his shepherdesses, who perform appropriate dances and sing songs in character.
The military men (that is, all the upper class not engaged in religion or commerce,) are fond of
hunting, running down wolves, deer, hares, &c. with dogs, which they also employ against wild boars, but depending chiefly, on these last occasions, on their own swords or spears. They shoot tigers from elephants, and sometimes attack them on horseback and on foot; even villagers sometimes turn out in a body to attack a tiger that infests their neighbourhood, and conduct themselves with great resolution. As long as a tiger does not destroy men, however, they never quarrel with him.
The military men, notwithstanding their habitual indolence, are all active and excellent horsemen. The Marattas in particular are celebrated for their management of the horse and lance. They all ride very short, and use tight martingales, and light but very sharp bits. Their horses are always well on their haunches, and are taught to turn suddenly when at speed, in the least possible room. They are also taught to make sudden bounds forward, by which they bring their rider on his adversary’s bridle arm before he has time to counteract the manoeuvre.
The skirmishers of two Indian armies mix and contend with their spears in a way that looks very like play to an European. They wheel round and round each other, and make feigned pushes apparently without any intention of coming in contact, though always nearly within reach. They are in fact straining every nerve to carry their point, but each is thrown out by the dexterous evolutions of his antagonist, until, at length, one
being struck through and knocked off his horse, first convinces the spectator that both parties were in earnest.
The Hindus are also good shots with a matchlock from a horse; but in this they are much excelled by the Mahometans.
Among other instances of activity, great men sometimes drive their own elephants; defending the seeming want of dignity, on the ground that a man should be able to guide his elephant in case his driver should be killed in battle. In early days this art was a valued accomplishment of the heroes.
The regular dress of all Hindus is probably that which has been mentioned as used in Bengal, and which is worn by all strict Bramins. It consists of two long pieces of white cotton cloth, one of which is wrapped round the middle and tucked up between the legs, while part hangs down a good deal below the knees; the other is worn over the shoulders, and occasionally stretched over the head, which has no other covering567. The head and beard are shaved, but a long tuft of hair is left on the crown. Mustachios are also worn, except perhaps by strict Brahmins. Except in Bengal, all Hindus, who do not affect strictness, now wear the lower piece of cloth smaller and tighter, and over it a white cotton, or chintz, or silk tunic, a coloured muslin sash round the middle, and a scarf of the same material over the shoulders,
with a turban; some wear loose drawers like the Mahometans.
The full dress is a long white gown of almost transparent muslin close over the body, but in innumerable loose folds below the waist. This, with the sash and turban, bracelets, necklaces, and other jewels and ornaments, make the dress complete. As this dress is partly borrowed from the Mahometans, and cannot be very ancient, it is singular that it should be accurately represented in some of the figures of kings on the tombs at Thebes in Egypt568, where the features, attitudes, and every thing else are, by a remarkable coincidence (for it can be nothing more), exactly what is seen in a Hindu raja of the present day.
The dress of the women is nearly the same as that first described for the men; but both the pieces of cloth are much larger and longer, and they are of various bright colours as well as white. Both sexes wear many ornaments. Men even of the lower orders wear earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. They are sometimes worn as a convenient way of keeping all the money the owner has; but the necklaces are sometimes made of a particular berry that hardens into a rough but handsome dark brown bead, and sometimes of particular kinds of wood turned; and these are mixed alternately with beads of gold or coral. The neck and legs are bare; but on going out, embroidered slippers
with a long point curling up are put on, and are laid aside again on entering a room or a palankeen. Children are loaded with gold ornaments, which gives frequent temptation to child murder.
Women, under the ancient Hindus, appear to have been more reserved and retired than with us; but the complete seclusion of them has come in with the Mussulmans, and is even now confined to the military classes. The Bramins do not observe it at all. The Peshwa’s consort used to walk to temples, and ride or go in an open palankeen through the streets with perfect publicity, and with a retinue becoming her rank.
Women, however, do not join in the society of men, and are not admitted to an equality with them. In the lower orders, the wife, who cooks and serves the dinner, waits till the husband has finished before she begins. When persons of different sexes walk together, the woman always follows the man, even when there is no obstacle to their walking abreast. Striking a woman is not so disgraceful with the lower orders as with us. But, in spite of the low place systematically assigned to them, natural affection and reason restore them to their rights: their husbands confide in them, and consult with them on their affairs, and are as often subject to their ascendancy as in any other country.
Another reproach to Hindu civilization, though more real than that just mentioned, falls very short of the idea it at first sight suggests. Domestic slavery in a mild form is almost universal. The
slaves are home-born, or children sold by their parents during famine, and sometimes children kidnapped by Banjaras, a tribe of wandering herdsmen, who gain their subsistence by conveying grain and merchandise from one part of the country to another. Such a crime is, of course, liable to punishment; but from its being only occasionally practised, it is even more difficult to detect than slave trading among ourselves.
Domestic slaves are treated exactly like servants, except that they are more regarded as belonging to the family. I doubt if they are ever sold; and they attract little observation, as there is nothing apparent to distinguish them from freemen. But slavery is nowhere exempted from its curse. The female children kidnapped are often sold to keepers of brothels to be brought up for public prostitution, and in other cases are exposed to the passions of their masters and the jealous cruelty of their mistresses.
In some parts of India slaves are not confined to the great and rich, but are found even in the families of cultivators, where they are treated exactly like the other members. Among the ancient Hindus it will have been observed, from Menu, that there were no slaves attached to the soil. As the Hindus spread to the south, however, they appear in some places to have found, or to have established, praedial servitude. In some forest tracts there are slaves attached to the soil, but in so loose a way, that they are entitled to wages, and, in fact,
are under little restraint. In the south of India they are attached to and sold with the land; and in Malabar (where they seem in the most abject condition), even without the land. The number in Malabar and the extreme south is guessed at different amounts, from 100,000 to 400,000. They exist also in some parts of Bengal and Behar, and in hilly tracts like those in the south-east of Guzerat. Their proportion to the people of India is however insignificant; and in most parts of that country the very name of praedial slavery is unknown.
Marriages are performed with many ceremonies, few of which are interesting: among them are joining the hands of the bride and bridegroom, and tying them together with a blade of sacred grass; but the essential part of the ceremony is when the bride steps seven steps, a particular text being repeated for each. When the seventh step is taken, the marriage is indissoluble569. This is the only form of marriage now allowed, the other seven being obsolete570.
The prohibition, so often repeated in Menu, against the receipt by the bride’s father of any present from the bridegroom, is now more strictly observed than it was in his time. The point of honour in this respect is carried so far, that it is reckoned disgraceful to receive any assistance in after life from a son-in-law or brother-in-law. It is indispensable that the bridegroom should come to
the house of the father-in-law to sue for the bride, and the marriage must also be performed there.
At the visit of the suitor, the ancient modes of hospitality are maintained according to a prescribed form. The sort of entertainment still appears in the production of a cow to be killed for the feast; but the suitor now intercedes for her life, and she is turned loose at his request571.
In the case of princes, where the bride comes from another country, a temporary building is erected with great magnificence and expense, as a house for the bride’s father; and in all cases the procession in which the bride is taken home after the marriage is as showy as the parties can afford.
In Bengal these processions are particularly sumptuous, and marriages there have been known to cost lacs of rupees572. The parties are generally children; the bride must always be under the age of puberty, and both are usually under ten. These premature marriages, instead of producing attachment, often cause early and lasting disagreements.
Hindu parents are remarkable for their affection for their children while they are young; but they not unfrequently have disputes with grown up sons, the source of which probably lies in the legal restrictions on the father’s control over his property.
Boys of family are brought into company dressed like men (with little swords, &c.), and behave with all the propriety, and almost all the formality, of grown up people.
The children of the common people sprawl about the streets, pelt each other with dust, and are less restrained even than children in England. At this age they are generally very handsome.
The education of the common people does not extend beyond writing and the elements of arithmetic. There are schools in all towns, and in some villages, paid by small fees; the expense for each boy in the south of India is estimated at from 15s. to 16s. a-year573; but it must be very much less in other places. In Bengal and Behar the fee is often only a small portion of grain or uncooked vegetables574.
They are taught, with the aid of monitors, in the manner introduced from Madras into England.
The number of children educated at public schools under the Madras presidency (according to an estimate of Sir T. Munro) is less than one in three; but, low as it is, he justly remarks, this is a higher rate than existed, till very lately, in most countries in Europe. It is probable that the proportion under the other presidencies is not greater than under Madras. I should doubt, indeed, whether the average was not a good deal too
high. Women are every where almost entirely uneducated.
People in good circumstances seldom send their children to school, but have them taught at home, by Bramins retained for the purpose. The higher branches of learning are taught gratuitously; the teachers maintaining themselves, and often a portion of their scholars, by means of presents received from princes and opulent individuals.
There is now no learning, except among the Bramins, and with them it is at a low ebb.
The remains of ancient literature sufficiently show the far higher pitch to which it had attained in former times. There is no such proof of the greater diffusion of knowledge in those days; but when three of the four classes were encouraged to read the Vedas, it is probable that they were more generally well informed than now.
More must be said of Indian names than the intrinsic importance of the subject deserves, to obviate the difficulty of recognising individuals named in different histories.
Few of the Hindu nations have family names. The Marattas have them exactly as in Europe. The Rajputs have names of clans or tribes, but too extensive completely to supply the place of family names; and the same is the case with the Bramins of the north of India.
In the south of India it is usual to prefix the name of the city or place of which the person is an inhabitant to his proper name, (as Carpa
Candi Rao, Candi Rao of Carpa, or Caddapa575.) The most general practice on formal occasions is that common in most parts of Asia, of adding the father’s name to that of the son; but this practice may, perhaps, have been borrowed from the Mussulmans.
An European reader might be led to call a person indifferently by either of his names, or to take the first or last for shortness; but the first might be the name of a town, and the last the name of the person’s father, or of his cast, and not his own.
Another difficulty arises, chiefly among the Mahometans, from their frequent change of title; as is the case with our own nobility.
The Hindus in general burn their dead, but men of the religious orders are buried in a sitting posture cross-legged. A dying man is laid out of doors, on a bed of sacred grass. Hymns and prayers are recited to him, and leaves of the holy basil scattered over him. If near the Ganges, he is, if possible, carried to the side of that river. It is said that persons so carried to the river, if they recover, do not return to their families; and there are certainly villages on the Ganges which are pointed out as being entirely inhabited by such people and their descendants; but the existence of such a custom is denied by those likely to be best informed; and the story has probably originated in some misconception. After death,
the body is bathed, perfumed, decked with flowers, and immediately carried out to the pyre. It is enjoined to be preceded by music, which is still observed in the south of India. There, also, the corpse is exposed on a bed with the face painted with crimson powder. In other parts, on the contrary, the body is carefully covered up. Except in the south, the corpse is carried without music, but with short exclamations of sorrow from the attendants.
The funeral pile for an ordinary person is not above four or five feet high; it is decorated with flowers, and clarified butter and scented oils are poured upon the flames. The pyre is lighted by a relation, after many ceremonies and oblations; and the relations, after other observances, purify themselves in a stream, and sit down on a bank to wait the progress of the fire. They present a melancholy spectacle on such occasions, wrapped up in their wet garments, and looking sorrowfully on the pyre. Neither the wet dress nor the sorrow is required by their religion: on the contrary, they are enjoined to alleviate their grief by repeating certain verses, and to refrain from tears and lamentations576.
The Hindus seldom erect tombs, except to men who fall in battle, or widows who burn with their husbands. Their tombs resemble small square altars.
The obsequies performed periodically to the dead have been fully explained in another place577. I may mention here the prodigious expense sometimes incurred on those occasions. A Hindu family in Calcutta were stated in the newspapers for June, 1824, to have expended, besides numerous and most costly gifts to distinguished Bramins, the immense sum of 500,000 rupees (50,000l.) in alms to the poor, including, I suppose, 20,000 rupees, which it is mentioned that they paid to release debtors578.
It is well known that Indian widows sometimes sacrifice themselves on the funeral pile of their husbands, and that such victims are called Sattis. The period at which this barbarous custom was introduced is uncertain. It is not alluded to by Menu, who treats of the conduct proper for faithful and devoted widows, as if there were no doubt about their surviving their husbands579. It is thought by some to have been recognised in ancient authorities, particularly in the Rig Veda; but others deny this construction
of the text580. It certainly is of great antiquity, as an instance is described by Diodorus (who wrote before the birth of Christ), and is stated to have occurred in the army of Eumenes upwards of 300 years before our aera581. The claim of the elder wife to preference over the younger, the Indian law against the burning of pregnant women, and other similar circumstances mentioned in his narrative, are too consistent with Hindu institutions, and the ceremonies are too correctly described, to leave the least doubt that Diodorus’s account is authentic, and that the custom was as fully, though probably not so extensively, established in the time of Eumenes as at present.
The practice is ascribed by Diodorus, as it still is by our missionaries, to the degraded condition to which a woman who outlives her husband is condemned. If the motive were one of so general an influence, the practice would scarcely be so rare. It is more probable that the hopes of immediately entering on the enjoyment of heaven, and of entitling the husband to the same felicity, as well as the glory attending such a voluntary sacrifice, are sufficient to excite the few enthusiastic spirits who go through this awful trial.
It has been said that the relations encourage self-immolation
for the purpose of obtaining the property of the widow. It would be judging too harshly of human nature to think such conduct frequent, even in proportion to the number of cases where the widow has property to leave; and, in fact, it may be confidently relied on, that the relations are almost in all, if not in all cases, sincerely desirous of dissuading the sacrifice. For this purpose, in addition to their own entreaties, and those of the infant children, when there are such, they procure the intervention of friends of the family, and of persons in authority. If the case be in a family of high rank, the sovereign himself goes to console and dissuade the widow. It is reckoned a bad omen for a government to have many Sattis. One common expedient is, to engage the widow’s attention by such visits, while the body is removed and burnt.
The mode of concremation is various: in Bengal, the living and dead bodies are stretched on a pile where strong ropes and bamboos are thrown across them so as to prevent any attempt to rise. In Orissa, the woman throws herself into the pyre, which is below the level of the ground. In the Deckan, the woman sits down on the pyre with her husband’s head in her lap, and remains there till suffocated, or crushed by the fall of a heavy roof of logs of wood, which is fixed by cords to posts at the corners of the pile.
The sight of a widow burning is a most painful one; but it is hard to say whether the spectator is
most affected by pity or admiration. The more than human serenity of the victim, and the respect which she receives from those around her, are heightened by her gentle demeanour, and her care to omit nothing in distributing her last presents, and paying the usual marks of courtesy to the bystanders; while the cruel death that awaits her is doubly felt from her own apparent insensibility to its terrors. The reflections which succeed are of a different character, and one is humiliated to think that so feeble a being can be elevated by superstition to a self-devotion not surpassed by the noblest examples of patriots or martyrs.
I have heard that, in Guzerat, women about to burn are often stupified with opium. In most other parts this is certainly not the case. Women go through all the ceremonies with astonishing composure and presence of mind, and have been seen seated, unconfined, among the flames, apparently praying, and raising their joined hands to their heads with as little agitation as at their ordinary devotions. On the other hand, frightful instances have occurred of women bursting from amidst the flames, and being thrust back by the assistants. One of these diabolical attempts was made in Bengal, when an English gentleman happened to be among the spectators, and succeeded in preventing the accomplishment of the tragedy; but, next day, he was surprised to encounter the bitterest reproaches from the woman, for having been the occasion of her disgrace, and the obstacle
to her being then in heaven enjoying the company of her husband, and the blessings of those she had left behind.
The practice is by no means universal in India. It never occurs to the south of the river Kishna; and under the Bombay presidency, including the former sovereignty of the Bramin Peshwas, it amounts to thirty-two in a year. In the rest of the Deckan it is probably more rare. In Hindostan and Bengal it is so common, that some hundreds are officially reported as burning annually within the British dominions alone.
Self-immolation by men also is not uncommon, but it is generally performed by persons lingering under incurable disorders. It is done by leaping into fire, by burying alive, by plunging into a river, or by other modes, such as throwing one’s self before the sacred car at Jagannat.
During the four years of Mr. Stirling’s attendance at Jagannat, three persons perished under the car; one case he ascribed to accident, and the other two persons had long suffered under excruciating disorders582.
The Hindus have some peculiarities that do not admit of classification. As they have casts for all the trades, they have also casts for thieves, and men are brought up to consider robbing as their hereditary occupation. Most of the hill tribes, bordering on cultivated countries, are of this description;
and even throughout the plains there are casts more notorious for theft and robbery than gipsies used to be for pilfering in Europe.
In their case hereditary professions seem favourable to skill, for there are no where such dexterous thieves as in India. Travellers are full of stories of the patience, perseverance, and address with which they will steal, unperceived, through the midst of guards, and carry off their prize in the most dangerous situations. Some dig holes in the earth, and come up within the wall of a well-closed house: others, by whatever way they enter, always open a door or two to secure a retreat; and proceed to plunder, naked, smeared with oil, and armed with a dagger; so that it is as dangerous to seize them as it is difficult to hold.
One great class, called Thags, continually travel about the country assuming different disguises; an art in which they are perfect masters. Their practice is to insinuate themselves into the society of travellers whom they hear to be possessed of property, and to accompany them till they have an opportunity of administering a stupifying drug, or of throwing a noose over the neck of their unsuspecting companion. He is then murdered without blood being shed, and buried so skilfully that a long time elapses before his fate is suspected. The Thags invoke Bhawani, and vow a portion of their spoil to her. This mixture of religion and crime might of itself be mentioned as a peculiarity; but it is paralleled by the vows of pirates and banditti
to the Madonna; and in the case of Mussulmans, who form the largest portion of the Thags, it is like the compacts with the devil, which were known in days of superstition.
It need scarcely be said that the long descent of the thievish casts gives them no claim on the sympathy of the rest of the community, who look on them as equally obnoxious to punishment, both in this world and the next, as if their ancestors had belonged to the most virtuous classes.
The hired watchmen are generally of these casts, and are faithful and efficacious. Their presence alone is a protection against their own class; and their skill and vigilance, against strangers. Guzerat is famous for one class of people of this sort, whose business it is to trace thieves by their footsteps. In a dry country a bare foot leaves little print to common eyes; but one of these people will perceive all its peculiarities so as to recognise it in all circumstances, and will pursue a robber by these vestiges for a distance that seems incredible583.
In another instance, a cast seems to employ its privilege exclusively for the protection of property. These are the Bhats and Charans, of the
west of India, who are revered as bards, and in some measure as heralds, among the Rajput tribes. In Rajputana they conduct caravans, which are not only protected from plunder, but from legal duties. In Guzerat they carry large sums in bullion, through tracts where a strong escort would be insufficient to protect it. They are also guarantees of all agreements of chiefs among themselves, and even with the government.
Their power is derived from the sanctity of their character and their desperate resolution. If a man carrying treasure is approached, he announces that he will commit traga, as it is called; or if an engagement is not complied with, he issues the same threat unless it is fulfilled. If he is not attended to, he proceeds to gash his limbs with a dagger, which in the last resort he will plunge into his heart; or he will first strike off the head of his child; or different guarantees to the agreement will cast lots who is to be first beheaded by his companions. The disgrace of these proceedings, and the fear of having a bard’s blood on their head, generally reduce the most obstinate to reason. Their fidelity is exemplary, and they never hesitate to sacrifice their lives to keep up an ascendancy on which the importance of their cast depends584.
Of the same nature with this is the custom by which Bramins seat themselves with a dagger or with poison at a man’s door, and threaten to make away with themselves if the owner eats before he has
complied with their demands. Common creditors also resort to this practice (which is called dherna); but without threats of self-murder. They prevent their debtor’s eating by an appeal to his honour, and also by stopping his supplies; and they fast, themselves, during all the time that they compel their debtor to do so. This sort of compulsion is used even against princes, and must not be resisted by force. It is a very common mode employed by troops to procure payment of arrears, and is then directed either against the paymaster, the prime minister, or the sovereign himself.
The practice of sworn friendship is remarkable, though not peculiar, to the Hindus. Persons take a vow of friendship and mutual support with certain forms; and, even in a community little remarkable for faith, it is infamous to break this oath585.
The hills and forests in the centre of India are inhabited by a people differing widely from those who occupy the plains. They are small, black, slender, but active, with peculiar features, and a quick and restless eye. They wear few clothes, are armed with bows and arrows, make open profession of plunder, and, unless the government is strong, are always at war with all their neighbours. When invaded, they conduct their operations with secrecy and celerity, and shower their arrows from rocks and thickets, whence they can escape before
they can be attacked, and often before they can be seen.
They live in scattered and sometimes moveable hamlets, are divided into small communities, and allow great power to their chiefs. They subsist on the produce of their own imperfect cultivation, and on what they obtain by exchanges or plunder from the plains. They occasionally kill game, but do not depend on that for their support. In many parts the berries of the mahua tree form an important part of their food.
Besides one or two of the Hindu gods, they have many of their own, who dispense particular blessings or calamities. The one who presides over the small-pox is, in most places, looked on with peculiar awe.
They sacrifice fowls, pour libations before eating, are guided by inspired magicians, and not by priests, bury their dead, and have some ceremonies on the birth of children, marriages, and funerals, in common. They are all much addicted to spirituous liquors; and most of them kill and eat oxen. Their great abode is in the Vindya mountains, which run east and west from the Ganges to Guzerat, and the broad tract of forest which extends north and south from the neighbourhood of Allahabad to the latitude of Masulipatam, and, with interruptions, almost to Cape Comorin. In some places the forest has been encroached on by cultivation; and the inhabitants have remained in the plains as village watchmen, hunters, and other
trades suited to their habits. In a few places their devastations have restored the clear country to the forest; and the remains of villages are seen among the haunts of wild beasts.
The points of resemblance above mentioned lead to the opinion that all these rude tribes form one people; but they differ in other particulars, and each has a separate name; so that it is only by comparing their languages (where they retain a distinct language) that we can hope to see the question of their identity settled.
These people, at Bagalpur, are called paharias, or mountaineers. Under the name of Cols they occupy a great tract of wild country in the west of Bengal and Behar, and extend into the Vindya mountains, near Mirzapur. In the adjoining part of the Vindya range, and in the centre and south of the great forest, they are called Gonds; further west, in the Vindya chain, they are called Bhils; and in all the western hills, Colis; which name probably has some connection with the Cols of Behar, and may possibly have some with the Colaris, a similar tribe in the extreme south. The Colis stretch westward along the hills and forests in Guzerat, nearly to the desert; on the south they take in part of the range of Ghats.
These tribes are known by different names in other parts of the country; but the above are by far the most considerable.
Their early history is uncertain. In the Deckan they were in their present state at the time of the
Hindu invasion; and probably some of them were those allies of Rama whom tradition and fiction have turned into a nation of monkeys.
That whole country was then a forest; and the present tribes are in those portions of it which have not yet been brought into cultivation. The great tract of forest, called Gondwana, lying between the rich countries of Berar and Cattac, and occasionally broken in upon by patches of cultivation, gives a clear idea of the original state of the Deckan, and the progress of its improvement. `
In Hindostan they may be the unsubdued part of the nation from whom the servile class was formed; or, if it be true that even there their language is mixed with Tamul, they may possibly be the remains of some aboriginal people anterior even to those conquered by the Hindus.
There are other tribes of mountaineers in the north-eastern hills, and the lower branches of Hemalaya; but they all differ widely from those above described, and partake more of the features and appearance of the nations between them and China.
No separate mention is made of the mountain tribes by the Greeks; but Pliny more than once speaks of such communities.
Englishmen in India have less opportunity than might be expected of forming opinions of the native character. Even in England few know much of the people beyond their own class, and what they do know they learn from books and newspapers, which do not exist in India. In that country,
also, religion and manners put bars to our intimacy with the natives, and limit the number of transactions as well as the free communication of opinions. We know nothing of the interior of families but by report; and have no share in those numerous occurrences of life in which the amiable parts of character are most exhibited.
Missionaries of a different religion, judges, police magistrates, officers of revenue or customs, and even diplomatists, do not see the most virtuous portion of a nation, nor any portion, unless when influenced by passion, or occupied by some personal interest. What we do see we judge by our own standard. We conclude that a man who cries like a child on slight occasions, must always be incapable of acting or suffering with dignity; and that one who allows himself to be called a liar would not be ashamed of any baseness. Our writers also confound the distinctions of time and place; they combine in one character the Maratta and the Bengalese; and tax the present generation with the crimes of the heroes of the “Maha Bharat.” It might be argued, in opposition to many unfavourable testimonies, that those who have known the Indians longest have always the best opinion of them; but this is rather a compliment to human nature than to them, since it is true of every other people. It is more in point, that all persons who have retired from India think better of the people they have left after comparing them with others even of the most justly admired nations.
These considerations should make us distrust our own impressions, when unfavourable, but cannot blind us to the fact that the Hindus have, in reality, some great defects of character.
Their defects, no doubt, arise chiefly from moral causes; but they are also to be ascribed, in part, to physical constitution, and in part to soil and climate.
Some races are certainly less vigorous than others; and all must degenerate if placed in an enervating atmosphere.
Mere heat may not enervate: if it is unavoidable and unremitting, it even produces a sort of hardiness like that arising from the rigours of a northern winter. If sterility be added, and the fruits of hard labour are contested among scattered tribes, the result may be the energy and decision of the Arab.
But, in India, a warm temperature is accompanied by a fertile soil which renders severe labour unnecessary, and an extent of land that would support an almost indefinite increase of inhabitants. The heat is moderated by rain, and warded off by numerous trees and forests: every thing is calculated to produce that state of listless inactivity which foreigners find it so difficult to resist. The shades of character that are found in different parts of India tend to confirm this supposition. The inhabitants of the dry countries in the north, which in winter are cold, are comparatively manly and active. The Marattas, inhabiting a mountainous and unfertile region, are hardy and laborious; while the Bengalese, with their moist climate
and their double crops of rice, where the cocoanut tree and the bamboo furnish all the materials for construction unwrought, are more effeminate than any other people in India. But love of repose, though not sufficient to extinguish industry or repress occasional exertions, may be taken as a characteristic of the whole people.
Akin to their indolence is their timidity, which arises more from the dread of being involved in trouble and difficulties than from want of physical courage: and from these two radical influences almost all their vices are derived. Indolence and timidity themselves may be thought to be produced by despotism and superstition without any aid from nature; but if those causes were alone sufficient, they would have had the same operation on the indefatigable Chinese and the intrepid Russian: in the present case they are as likely to be effect as cause.
The most prominent vice of the Hindus is want of veracity, in which they outdo most nations even of the East. They do not even resent the imputation of falsehood; the same man would calmly answer to a doubt by saying, “Why should I tell a lie ?” who would shed blood for what he regarded as the slightest infringement of his honour.
Perjury, which is only an aggravated species of falsehood, naturally accompanies other offences of the kind (though it is not more frequent than in other Asiatic countries); and those who pay so little regard to statements about the past, cannot be
expected to be scrupulous in promises for the future. Breaches of faith in private life are much more common in India than in England; but even in India, the great majority, of course, are true to their word.
It is in people connected with government that deceit is most common; but in India, this class spreads far; as, from the nature of the land revenue, the lowest villager is often obliged to resist force by fraud.
In some cases, the faults of the government produce an opposite effect. Merchants and bankers are generally strict observers of their engagements. If it were otherwise, commerce could not go on where justice is so irregularly administered.
Hindus are not ill fitted by nature for intrigue and cunning, when their situation calls forth those qualities. Patient, supple, and insinuating, they will penetrate the views of a person with whom they have to deal; watch his humours; soothe or irritate his temper; present things in such a form as suits their designs, and contrive, by indirect manoeuvres, to make others even unwillingly contribute to the accomplishment of their ends. But their plots are seldom so daring or flagitious as those of other Asiatic nations, or even of Indian Mussulmans, though these last have been softened by their intercourse with the people among whom they are settled.
It is probably owing to the faults of their government that they are corrupt; to take a bribe in a
good cause is almost meritorious; and it is a venial offence to take one when the cause is bad. Pecuniary fraud is not thought very disgraceful, and, if against the public, scarcely disgraceful at all.
It is to their government, also, that we must impute their flattery and their importunity. The first is gross, even after every allowance has been made for the different degrees of force which nations give to the language of civility. The second arises from the indecision of their own rulers: they never consider an answer final, and are never ashamed to prosecute a suit as long as their varied invention, the possible change of circumstances, or the exhausted patience of the person applied to gives them a hope of carrying their point.
Like all that are slow to actual conflict, they are very litigious, and much addicted to verbal altercation. They will persevere in a law-suit till they are ruined; and will argue, on other occasions, with a violence so unlike their ordinary demeanour, that one unaccustomed to them expects immediate blows or bloodshed.
The public spirit of Hindus is either confined to their cast or village, in which cases it is often very strong; or if it extends to the general government, it goes no further than zeal for its authority on the part of its agents and dependents. Great national spirit is sometimes shown in war, especially where religion is concerned, but allegiance in general sits very loose: a subject will take service against his natural sovereign as readily as for him; and always
has more regard to the salt he has eaten than to the land in which he was born.
Although the Hindus, as has been seen, break through some of the most important rules of morality, we must not suppose that they are devoid of principle. Except in the cases specified, they have all the usual respect for moral obligations; and to some rules which, in their estimation, are of peculiar importance, they adhere, in spite of every temptation to depart from them. A Bramin will rather starve to death than eat prohibited food: a headman of a village will suffer the torture rather than consent to a contribution laid on the inhabitants by a tyrant, or by banditti: the same servant who cheats his master in his accounts may be trusted with money to any amount in deposit. Even in corrupt transactions, it is seldom that men will not rather undergo a punishment than betray those to whom they have given a bribe.
Their great defect is a want of manliness. Their slavish constitution, their blind superstition, their extravagant mythology, the subtilties and verbal distinctions of their philosophy, the languid softness of their poetry, their effeminate manners, their love of artifice and delay, their submissive temper, their dread of change, the delight they take in puerile fables, and their neglect of rational history, are so many proofs of the absence of the more robust qualities of disposition and intellect throughout the mass of the nation.
But this censure, though true of the whole, when
compared with other nations, by no means applies to all classes, or to any at all times. The labouring people are industrious and persevering; and other classes, when stimulated by any strong motive, and sometimes even by mere sport, will go through great hardships and endure long fatigue.
They are not a people habitually to bear up against desperate attacks, and still less against a long course of discouragement and disaster; yet they often display bravery not surpassed by the most warlike nations; and will always throw away their lives for any consideration of religion or honour. Hindu Sepoys in our pay have, in two instances, advanced, after troops of the King’s service had been beaten off; and on one of these occasions they were opposed to French soldiers. The sequel of this history will show instances of whole bodies of troops rushing forward to certain death, while, in private life, the lowest orders do not hesitate to commit suicide if they once conceive their honour tarnished.
Their contempt of death is, indeed, an extraordinary concomitant to their timidity when exposed to lesser evils. When his fate is inevitable, the lowest Hindi encounters it with a coolness that would excite admiration in Europe, converses with his friends with cheerfulness, and awaits the approach of death without any diminution of his usual serenity.
The best specimen of the Hindu character, retaining its peculiarities while divested of many of
its defects, is found among the Rajputs and other military classes in Gangetic Hindostan. It is there we are most likely to gain a clear conception of their high spirit, their enthusiastic courage, and generous self-devotion, so singularly combined with gentleness of manners and softness of heart, together with a boyish playfulness and almost infantine simplicity.
The villagers are everywhere an inoffensive amiable people, affectionate to their families, kind to their neighbours; and, towards all but the government, honest and sincere.
The townspeople are of a more mixed character; but they are quiet and orderly, seldom disturbing the public peace by tumults, or their own by private broils. On the whole, if we except those connected with the Government, they will bear a fair comparison with the people of towns in England. Their advantages in religion and government give a clear superiority to our middle classes; and even among the labouring class, there are many to whom no parallel could be found in any rank in India; but, on the other hand, there is no set of people among the Hindus so depraved as the dregs of our great towns; and the swarms of persons who live by fraud – sharpers, impostors, and adventurers of all descriptions, from those who mix with the higher orders down to those who prey on the common people – are almost unknown in India.
Some of the most conspicuous of the crimes in India exceed those of all other countries in atrocity.
The Thags586 have been mentioned; and the Decoits are almost as detestable for their cruelty as the others for their deliberate treachery.
The Decoits are gangs associated for the purpose of plunder, who assemble by night, fall on an unsuspecting village, kill those who offer resistance, seize on all property, and torture those whom they imagine to have wealth concealed. Next morning they are melted into the population; and such is the dread inspired by them, that, even when known, people can seldom be found to come forward and accuse them. Except in the absence of political feeling, and the greater barbarity of their proceedings, their offence resembles those which have, at times, been common in Ireland. In India it is the consequence of weak government during the anarchy of the last hundred years, and is rapidly disappearing under the vigorous administration of the British. Both Thags and Decoits are at least as often Mahometans as Hindus.
The horror excited by such enormities leads us at first to imagine peculiar depravity in the country where they occur; but a further inquiry removes that impression. Including Thags and Decoits, the mass of crime in India is less than in England. Thags are almost a separate nation, and Decoits are desperate ruffians who enter into permanent gangs and devote their lives to rapine; but the remaining part of the population is little given to such passions as disturb society. By a series of
Reports laid before the House of Commons in 1832587, it appears that, on an average of four years, the number of capital sentences carried into effect annually in England and Wales was 1 for 203,281 souls; and in the provinces under the Bengal presidency, 1 for 1,004,182588; transportation for life, in England, 1 for 67,173, and in the Bengal provinces, 1 for 402,010.
We may admit that the proportion of undetected crimes in Bengal is considerably greater than in England; but it would require a most extravagant allowance on that account to bring the amount of great crimes in the two countries to an equality.
Murders are oftener from jealousy, or some such motive, than for gain: and theft is confined to particular classes; so that there is little uneasiness regarding property. Europeans sleep with every door, in the house open, and their property scattered about as it lay in the day time, and seldom have to complain of loss: even with so numerous a body of servants as fills every private house, it is no small proof of habitual confidence to see scarcely any thing locked up.
The natives of India are often accused of wanting gratitude; but it does not appear that those who make the charge have done much to inspire
such a sentiment. When masters are really kind and considerate, they find as warm a return from Indian servants as any in the world; and there are few who have tried them in sickness, or in difficulties and dangers, who do not bear witness to their sympathy and attachment. Their devotion to their own chiefs is proverbial, and can arise from no other cause than gratitude, unless where cast supplies the place of clannish feeling. The fidelity of our Sepoys to their foreign masters has been shown in instances which it would be difficult to match, even among national troops, in any other country.
Nor is this confined to the lower orders; it is common to see persons who have been patronised by men in power, not only continue their attachment to them when in disgrace, but even to their families when they have left them in a helpless condition589.
Though their character is altered since the mixture with foreigners, the Hindus are still a mild and gentle people. The cruel massacres that attended all their battles with the Mahometans must
have led to sanguinary retaliation; and they no longer act on the generous laws of war which are so conspicuous in Menu. But even now they are more merciful to prisoners than any other Asiatic people, or than their Mussulman countrymen.
Tippoo used to cut off the right hands and noses of the British camp followers that fell into his hands. The last Peshwa gave to men of the same sort a small quantity of provisions and a rupee each, to enable them to return to their business, after they had been plundered by his troops.
Cold-blooded cruelty is, indeed, imputed to Bramins in power, and it is probably the result of checking the natural outlets for resentment; but the worst of them are averse to causing death, especially when attended with shedding blood. In ordinary circumstances, the Hindus are compassionate and benevolent; but they are deficient in active humanity, partly owing to the unsocial effects of cast, and partly to the apathy which makes them indifferent to their own calamities, as well as to those of their neighbours.
This deficiency appears in their treatment of the poor. All feed Bramins and give alms to religious mendicants; but a beggar from mere want would neither be relieved by the charity of Europe, nor the indiscriminate hospitality of most parts of Asia.
Though improvidence is common among the poor, and ostentatious profusion, on particular occasions, among the rich, the general disposition of the Hindus is frugal, and even parsimonious. Their
ordinary expenses are small, and few of any rank in life hesitate to increase their savings by employing them indirectly in commerce, or by lending them out at high interest.
Hindu children are much more quick and intelligent than European ones. The capacity of lads of twelve and fourteen is often surprising; and not less so is the manner in which their faculties become blunted after the age of puberty.
But at all ages they are very intelligent; and this strikes us most in the lower orders, who, in propriety of demeanour, and in command of language, are far less different from their superiors than with us.
Their freedom from gross debauchery is the point in which the Hindus appear to most advantage. It can scarcely be expected, from their climate and its concomitants, that they should be less licentious than other nations; but if we compare them with our own, the absence of drunkenness, and of immodesty in their other vices, will leave the superiority in purity of manners on the side least flattering to our self-esteem.
Their indifference to the grossest terms in conversation appears inconsistent with this praise; but it has been well explained as arising from “that simplicity which conceives that whatever can exist without blame, may be named without offence;” and this view is confirmed by the decorum of their behaviour in other respects.
Though naturally quiet and thoughtful, they are
cheerful in society; fond of conversation and amusement, and delighting in anecdote and humour bordering on buffoonery. It has been remarked before, that their conversation is often trifling, and this frivolity extends to their general character, and is combined with a disposition to vanity and ostentation.
In their persons they are, generally speaking, lower, and always more slender, than Europeans590. They have a better carriage and more grace, less strength, but more free use of their limbs.
They are of a brown colour, between the complexion of the southern European and that of the negro. Their hair is long, rather lank, and always jet black. Their mustachios and (in the few cases in which they wear them) their beards are long and strong. Their women have a large share of beauty and grace, set off by a feminine reserve and simplicity.
The cleanliness of the Hindus in their persons is proverbial. They do not change their clothes after each of their frequent ablutions; but even in that respect the lower classes are more cleanly than those of other nations. The public parts of their houses are kept very neat; but they have none of the English delicacy which requires even places out of sight to partake of the general good order.
Before coming to any conclusions from the two views which have been given of the Hindus, – at
the earliest epoch of which we possess accounts, and at the present day, – it will be of advantage to see how they stood at an intermediate period, for which we fortunately possess the means, through the accounts left us by the Greeks, a people uninfluenced by any of our peculiar opinions, and yet one whose views we can understand, and whose judgment we can appreciate.
This question has been fully examined in another place591, and the results alone need be mentioned here.
From them it appears that the chief changes between the time of Menu’s Code and that of Alexander, were – the complete emancipation of the servile class; the more general occurrence, if not the first instances, of the practice of self-immolation by widows; the prohibition of intermarriages between casts; the employment of the Bramins as soldiers, and their inhabiting separate villages; and, perhaps, the commencement of the monastic orders.
The changes from Menu to the present time have already been fully set forth; and if we take a more extensive review (without contrasting two particular periods), we shall find the alterations have generally been for the worse.
The total extinction of the servile condition of the Sudras is, doubtless, an improvement; but in other respects we find the religion of the Hindus debased, their restrictions of cast more rigid (except
in the interested relaxation of the Bramins), the avowed imposts on the land doubled, the courts of justice disused, the laws less liberal towards women, the great works of peace no longer undertaken, and the courtesies of war almost forgotten. We find, also, from their extant works, that the Hindus once excelled in departments of taste and science on which they never now attempt to write; and that they formerly impressed strangers with a high respect for their courage, veracity, simplicity, and integrity, – the qualities in which they now seem to us most deficient.
It is impossible, from all this, not to come to a conclusion that the Hindus were once in a higher condition, both moral and intellectual, than they are now; and as, even in their present state of depression, they are still on a footing of equality with any people out of Europe, it seems to follow that, at one time, they must have attained a state of civilisation only surpassed by a few of the most favoured of the nations, either of antiquity or of modern times.
The causes of their decline have already been touched on in different places. Their religion encourages inaction, which is the first step towards decay. The rules of cast check improvement at home, and at the same time prevent its entering from abroad: it is those rules that have kept up the separation between the Hindus and the Mussulmans, and furnished the only instance in which an idolatrous religion has stood out against the
comparative purity-even of that of Mahomet, when the latter was professed by the government. Despotism would doubtless contribute its share to check the progress of society; but it was less oppressive and degrading than in most Asiatic countries.
The minute subdivisions of inheritances is not peculiar to the Hindus; and yet it is that which most strikes an inquirer into the causes of the abject condition of the greater part of them. By it the descendants of the greatest landed proprietor must, in time, be broken down to something between a farmer and a labourer, but less independent than either; and without a chance of accumulation to enable them to recover their position. Bankers and merchants may get rich enough to leave all their sons with fortunes; but, as each possessor knows that he can neither found a family nor dispose of his property by will, he endeavours to gain what pleasure and honour he can from his life-rent, by ostentation in feasts and ceremonies; and by commencing temples, tanks, and groves, which his successors are too poor to complete or to repair592.
The effect of equal division on men’s minds is as great as on their fortunes. It was resorted to by some ancient republics to prevent the growth of luxury and the disposition to innovation. In India it effectually answers those ends, and stifles all the restless feelings to which men might be led by the
ambition of permanently improving their condition. A man who has amassed a fortune by his own labours is not likely to have a turn for literature or the fine arts; and if he had, his collections would be dispersed at his death, and his sons would have to begin their toils anew, without time for acquiring that refinement in taste or elevation of sentiment which is brought about by the improved education of successive generations.
Hence, although rapid rise and sudden fortunes are more common in India than in Europe, they produce no permanent change in the society; all remains on the same dead level, with no conspicuous objects to guide the course of the community, and no barriers to oppose to the arbitrary will of the ruler593.
Under such discouragements we cannot be surprised at the stagnation and decline of Hindu civilisation. The wonder is, how it could ever struggle against them, and how it attained to such a pitch as exists even at this moment.
At what time it had reached its highest point it is not easy to say. Perhaps in institutions and moral
character it was at its best just before Alexander; but learning was much longer in reaching its acme. The most flourishing period for literature is represented by Hindu tradition to be that of Vicrama Ditya, a little before the beginning of our sera; but some of the authors who are mentioned as the ornaments of that prince’s court appear to belong to later times; and the good writers, whose works are extant, extend over a long space of time, from the second century before Christ to the eighth of the Christian sera. Mathematical science was in most perfection in the fifth century after Christ; but works of merit, both in literature and science, continued to be composed for some time after the Mahometan invasion.
560. Introduction, p. 6. note.
561. See pp. 278, 279.
562. Cynosurus Coracanus.
563. Of bajri (Holcus spicatus) and juar (Holcus sorghum).
564. The sal forests near the mountains.
565. The forest that fills the country from Nagpur to Bengal, and from Bundelcand to the northern Circars.
566. Malabar, &c.
567. This is exactly the Hindu dress described by Arrian, Indica, cap. xvi.
568. Especially on the sides of one of the doors in Belzoni’s cave.
569. Colebrooke, Asiatic Researches, vol. vii. pp. 303. 309.
570. Ibid. p. 311.
571. Colebrooke, Asiatic Researches, vol. vii. pp. 288, 289. So uniform was the practice of sacrificing a cow for the entertainment of a visitor, that goghna (cow-killer) is a Shanscrit term for a guest.
572. Ward, vol. i. p. 170.
573. Captain Harkness, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, No. 1. p. 19.
574. Mr. Adams’s Report on Education (Calcutta, 1838).
575. Men’s offices also often afford a distinguishing appellation.
576. The following are among the verses:–
“Foolish is he who seeks permanence in the human state, unsolid like the stem of the plantain tree, transient like the foam of the sea.”
“All that is low must finally perish; all that is elevated mast ultimately fall.”
“Unwillingly do the Manes taste the tears and rheum shed by their kinsmen: then do not wail, but diligently perform the obsequies of the dead.” – Colebrooke, in Asiatic Researches, vol. vii. p. 244.
577. Book I. p. 80.
578. Quarterly Oriental Magazine for September, 1824, p. 23.
579. Book V. 156, &c.
580. See Translations by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, pp. 200–266. See also Colebrooke, Asiatic Researches, vol. iv. p. 205., and Professor Wilson, Oxford Lectures, p. 19.
581. Diodorus Siculus, lib. xix. cap. ii. The custom is also mentioned, but much less distinctly, by Strabo, on the authority of Aristobulus and Onesicritus.
582. Asiatic Researches, vol. xv. p. 324.
583. One was employed to pursue a man who had carried off the plate belonging to a regimental mess at Kaira; he tracked him to Ahmedabad, twelve or fourteen miles, lost him among the well-trodden streets of that city, but recovered his traces on reaching the opposite gate; and, though long foiled by the fugitive’s running up the water of a rivulet, he at last came up with him, and recovered the property, after a chase of from twenty to thirty miles.
584. See Tod’s Rajasthan, and Malcolm’s Central India, vol. ii. p. 130.
585. Part of the ceremony is dividing a bhel, or wood-apple, half of which is kept by each party, and, from this compact, is called bhel bhandar.
586. See page 362. of this volume.
587. Minutes of Evidence (Judicial), No. IV. p. 103.
588. The annual number of sentences to death in England was 1232, and of executions 64. In Bengal, the sentences were 59, and the executions the same. England is taken at 13,000,000 souls, and the Bengal provinces at 60,000,000.
589. A perfectly authentic instance might be mentioned, of an English gentleman, in a high station in Bengal, who was dismissed, and afterwards reduced to great temporary difficulties in his own country: a native of rank, to whom he had been kind, supplied him, when in those circumstances, with upwards of 10,0001., of which he would not accept repayment, and for which he could expect no possible return. This generous friend was a Maratta Bramin, a race of all others who have least sympathy with people of other casts, and who are most hardened and corrupted by power.
590. The military classes in Hindostan are much taller than the common run of Englishmen.
591. See Appendix III.
592. Hence the common opinion among Europeans, that it is thought unlucky for a son to go on with his father’s work.
593. The great military chiefs may be said to be exceptions to this rule, for they not unfrequently transmit their lands to their children: but they are, for purposes of improvement, the worst people into whose hands property could fall. As their power rests on mercenary soldiers, they have no need to call in the aid of the people, like our barons; and as each lives on his own lands at a distance from his equals, they neither refine each other by their intercourse, nor those below them by the example of their social habits.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage