Page images
PDF
EPUB

HINDOO STUDIES OF ENGLISH. 261

others. We cast off prejudice and all its concomitants, as objects abhorrent to the principles which are calculated to ennoble us before the world. Assisted by the light of reason, we have the gladdening prospect before us of soon coming to the standard of civilization, which has established the prosperity of the European nations. Let us then, my countrymen, pursue with diligence and care the track laid open by these glorious nations. Let us follow the ensign of liberty and truth, and, emulating their wisdom and their virtues, be in our own turn the guiding needle to those who are blinded by the gloom of ignorance and superstition." This desire to improve themselves by an acquaintance with European literature has, it is true, been hitherto confined chiefly to Calcutta; but that city, being now considered as the capital of India, is likely soon to give the tone to the rest of the empire. Indeed the light which has been elevated there already begins to radiate to the great towns in the upper provinces. At the same time it cannot be concealed, that it has encountered in some quarters a violent opposition. Such studies have been represented as at variance with the fundamental principles of Hindoo learning and religion. The very language is denounced as utterly unfit to be known by a Bramin; who, if he should unguardedly utter, while officiating on any solemn occasion, one word of this unholy tongue, would instantly render the whole ceremony profane and useless. Still we have little doubt that under the continuance of the mild government of Britain, the enlightened views inspired by intercourse with her citizens will be gradually disseminated; and that the influence of a purer religion will raise the inhabitants of this vast empire to a higher rank in the scale of society than they have ever yet attained. Notwithstanding the similarity which stamps the inhabitants of Hindostan as one people, there are tribes distinguished by peculiarities so striking that some notice of them is necessary to complete the view of her social condition. Among these the most remarkable are the Rajpoots, the only large class of natives who, amid so many revolutions, have preserved an almost complete independence, and thus present a picture of what that country must have been long before it was subjected to a foreign yoke.

Rajpootana, Raj ostium, or Rajwarra, is a mountainous territory of considerable extent, situated at the south-western extremity of the magnificent plain which is watered by the Ganges and Jumna. It is chiefly marked by the long range of the Aravulli, which, beginning at the frontier of Guzerat, extends north-north-east to the borders of Delhi. On the western side it descends into the district of Marwar, whose arid surface is gradually confounded with the great desert. On the east it slopes down into a prolonged table-plain, forming the district round the city of Ajmere, and the territories of Mewar, Kishenghur, and Jyepore; while still farther in the same direction, and on a lower level, are the states of Boondee and Kota, passing into the plain of Malwa. Aboo, the loftiest pinnacle of this chain, looks down from its eastern side upon the champaign country of Mewar, with its capital Oodipoor, long the most flourishing of these states, and whose princes still hold the highest rank of any in India. Although this territory bordered so closely on the centre of the Mogul dominion, the warlike character of its inhabitants secured it from conquest. Akbar, indeed, overthrew their armies and reduced their capital Chittore; but they afterward rallied their strength, and their princes in general rendered to the emperor nothing more than homage and feudal service. Sometimes they commanded his armies, of which their cavalry in many instances composed the main strength; retaining, meanwhile, the exercise of their internal government almost uncontrolled. When Aurengzebe, by his persecuting zeal, had driven them into rebellion, he sustained several reverses which darkened the latter period of his reign. After his death, the Mogul power, sinking into rapid decline, scarcely made any further attempt to preserve dominion over Rajpootana. But the rise of the fierce and lawless Mahrattas exposed them to greater calamities than they had yet endured. Sindia, Holkar, and Ameer Khan, aided by internal dissension, ravaged their fields, sacked their cities, and caused the death of some of their noblest chiefs. They sought relief in British alliance; but this connexion having been dissolved by the political system of Marquis Cornwallis and Sir George Barlow, they were again exposed to the inroads of their predatory neighbours. At the breaking out of the Pindaree war,

RAJPOOTS THEIR HISTORY. 263

Rajpootana presented a scene of great desolation. After the triumphant issue of that contest, Britain extended her full protection to these states, which have consequently begun to revive, and regain their former prosperity. This region has a social and political character very different from that which we denominate Oriental, and bears more analogy to the state of Europe during the feudal ages. Its petty princes carry the distinction of birth to an extravagant height, and boast a loftier origin than can be claimed by the proudest families of the West. The revolutions which swept away successive races of kings and nobles from the great plain of Hindostan, never effected any permanent change among the brave inhabitants of this mountain-territory. Its rulers trace their genealogy to the earliest sovereigns and deified heroes, who, according to national belief, reigned once on earth and now in heaven. The chiefs of Marwar exult in a line of male ancestors for 1300 years, during part of which period they held sway in Kanough, and formed perhaps the most powerful dynasty that was ever known in native India. The sovereign is said to have been able to bring 600,000 troops into the field; and on one occasion proposed a marriage for his daughter, at which the humblest offices of the kitchen and the hall were to be performed by kings. The blood of the Rajpoots is therefore considered the highest and purest in the East. To form a matrimonial alliance in the family of one of these petty chieftains was a subject of pride to the Great Mogul; who, although he ruled over almost the whole of India, was scarcely esteemed a fitting match for the haughty dames of Rajpootana. The political system of these states is by no means distinguished by that implicit submission to the will of one ruler, which forms the general basis of Eastern government. There is a class of rahtores or nobles, who claim almost as high a descent as the ranas or sovereigns, and some of them intermarry with the royal family. They hold lands, some by original right, others by grant from the crown; but all with a great measure of independence. They are divided into three orders, one with estates above 50,000 rupees, who rank as the hereditary advisers of the crown, but reside chiefly, like the feudal barons of Europe, in their strong castles, and appear at court only by special invitation open

[graphic][subsumed]
[merged small][ocr errors][graphic]

acquired the epithet of "faithful of the faithful," by his promptitude to submit to the loss of life, on an occasion connected with the most atrocious superstition. Jesswint, through the pressure of deep remorse, had become subject to a temporary alienation of mind, imputed by the magicians to the operation of an evil spirit, which, being exorcised, was said to declare that the chief could only be restored by some one suffering death as a voluntary sacrifice. Nahur Khan instantly offered himself as the victim. The magicians, however, saved him, by pretending that the spirit had descended into a vessel of water, which being swallowed by Nahur, the reason of his illustrious master resumed its seat. At another time, Jesswint, in a fit of rage, ordered his faithful chief to be thrown into the den of a tiger, and there to contend, unarmed, for his life. But Nahur presented to the monster so firm an aspect that it turned away; when the brave commander observed that honour forbade him to attack an adversary who would not look him in the face. On another occasion, when employed against Soortan, also one of the most gallant of these chieftains, with a chosen band, he surprised him in the dead of night, stabbed a solitary sentinel, and having bound the warrior with his own turban to his pallet, sounded the alarm, that the surVol. II.—2

« PreviousContinue »