from the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan
Chapter Eight -- God's Warrior
The direction of our pilgrimage of self-improvement lay towards the north-west, as was previously decided. We were very impatient to see these status in statu of Anglo-India, but.... Do what you may, there always will be a but.
We left the Jubbulpore line several miles from Nassik; and to return to it, we had to go back to Akbarpur, then travel by doubtful Local-Board roads to the station Vanevad and take the train of Holkar's line, which joins the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.
Meanwhile, the Bagh caves were quite close to us, not more than fifty miles off, to the east from Mandu. We were undecided whether to leave them alone or go back to the Nerbudda. In the country situated on the other side of Kandesh, our Babu had some "chums," as everywhere else in India; the omnipresent Bengali Babus, who are always glad to be of some service to you, are scattered all over Hindostan, like the Jews in Russia. Besides, our party was joined by a new member.
The day before we had received a letter from
Swami Dayanand, carried to us by a traveling Sannyasi. Dayanand informed
us that the cholera was increasing every day in Hardwar, and that we must
postpone making his acquaintance personally till the end of May, either
in Dehra-Dun at the foot of Himalaya, or in Saharanpur, which attracts
every tourist by its charming situation.
Strange, mysterious beings are found sometimes
amongst these traveling monks. Some of them are very learned, read and
talk Sanskrit, know all about modern science and politics, and nevertheless
remain faithful to their ancient philosophical conceptions. Generally they
do not wear any clothes, except a piece of muslin round the loins, which
is insisted upon by the police of the towns inhabited by Europeans. They
wander from the age of fifteen, all their lives, and die generally very
aged. They live never giving a thought to the morrow, like the birds of
heaven and the lilies of the field. They never touch money, and are contented
with a handful of rice. All their worldly possessions consist of a small
dry pumpkin to carry water, a rosary, a brass cup, and a walking stick.
The Sannyasis and the Swamis are usually Sikhs from the Punjab, and monotheists.
They despise idol-worshipers, and have nothing to do with them, though
the latter very often call themselves by their names.
His name was Ram-Runjit-Das, and his personal
appearance was in perfect accordance with his title of "God's warrior."
His exterior was very remarkable and typical; and he looked like a muscular
centurion of ancient Roman legions, rather than a peaceable servant of
the altar. Ram-Runjit-Das appeared to us mounted on a magnificent horse,
and accompanied by another Sikh, who respectfully walked some distance
behind him, and was evidently passing through his noviciate. Our Hindu
companions had discerned that he was an Akali, when he was still in the
distance. He wore a bright blue tunic without sleeves, exactly like that
we see on the statues of Roman warriors. Broad steel bracelets protected
his strong arms, and a shield protruded from behind his back. A blue, conical
turban covered his head, and round his waist were many steel circlets.
The enemies of the Sikhs assert that these sacred sectarian belts become
more dangerous in the hand of an experienced "God's warrior" than any other
The following details are known generally: the Sikhs are ardent monotheists; they refuse to recognize caste; have no restrictions in diet, like Europeans; and bury their dead, which except among Mussulmans is a rare exception in India. The second volume of the Adigrantha teaches them "to adore the only true God; to avoid superstitions; to help the dead, that they may lead a righteous life; and to earn one's living, sword in hand." Govinda, one of the great Gurus of the Sikhs, ordered them never to shave their beards and moustaches, and not to cut their hair -- in order that they may not be mistaken for Mussulmans or any other native of India.
Many a desperate battle the Sikhs fought and
won, against the Mussulmans, and against the Hindus. Their leader, the
celebrated Runjit-Sing, after having been acknowledged the autocrat of
the Upper Punjab, concluded a treaty with Lord Auckland at the beginning
of this century in which his country was proclaimed an independent state.
But after the death of the "old lion," his throne became the cause of the
most dreadful civil wars and disorders. His son, Maharaja Dhulip-Sing,
proved quite unfit for the high post he inherited from his father, and
under him the Sikhs became an ill-disciplined restless mob. Their attempt
to conquer the whole of Hindostan proved disastrous. Persecuted by his
own soldiers, Dhulip-Sing sought the help of Englishmen, and was sent away
to Scotland. And some time after this, the Sikhs took their place amongst
the rest of Britain's Indian subjects.
In the course of the evening our Akali presented
us with a little crystal bottle, filled with water from the "Lake of Immortality."
He said that a drop of it would cure all diseases of the eye. There are
numbers of fresh springs at the bottom of this lake, and so its water is
wonderfully pure and transparent, in spite of hundreds of people daily
bathing in it. When later on we visited it, we had the opportunity to verify
the fact that the smallest stone at the bottom is seen perfectly distinctly,
all over the one hundred and fifty square yards of the lake. Amrita-Saran
is the most charming of all the sights of Northern India. The reflection
of the Golden Temple in its crystal waters makes a picture that is simply
The title the British Residency bears, and
everything it may contain at the present time, are mere trifles compared
with the past. I remember reading a chapter of the History of Hyderabad,
by an English author, which contained something to the following effect:
Whilst the Resident entertained the gentlemen, his wife was similarly employed
receiving the ladies a few yards off, in a separate palace, which was as
sumptuous, and bore the name of Rang-Mahal. Both palaces were built by
Colonel Kirkpatrick, the late minister at the Nizam's court. Having married
a native princess, he constructed this charming abode for her personal
use. Its garden is surrounded by a high wall, as is customary in the Orient,
and the centre of the garden is adorned with a large marble fountain covered
with scenes from the Ramayana, and mosaics, pavilions, galleries and terraces
-- everything in this garden is loaded with adornments of the most costly
Oriental style, that is to say, with abundance of inlaid designs, paintings,
gilding, ivory, and marble. The great attraction of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's
receptions were the nautches, magnificently dressed, thanks to the generosity
of the Resident. Some of them wore a cargo of jewels worth L 30,000, and
literally shone from head to foot with diamonds and other precious stones.
By means of the first they successfully replace the religious feelings of old India, which however false had the great advantage of being sincere, by a positive atheism amongst the young generation of the Brahmans; and by the means of the second they flatter only the ignorant masses, from whom nothing is to be feared under any circumstances. If the patriotic feelings of the bulk of the population could possibly be roused, the English would have been slaughtered long ago. The rural populace is unarmed, it is true, but a crowd seeking revenge could use the brass and stone idols, sent to India by thousands from Birmingham, with as great success as if they were so many swords.
But as it is, the masses of India are indifferent and harmless; so that the only existing danger comes from the side of the educated classes. And the English fail to see that the better the education they give them, the more careful they must be to avoid reopening the old wounds, always alive to new injury, in the heart of every true Hindu. The Hindus are proud of the past of their country, dreams of past glories are their only compensation for the bitter present. The English education they receive only enables them to learn that Europe was plunged in the darkness of the Stone Age, when India was in the full growth of her splendid civilization. And so the comparison of their past with their present is only the more sad.
This consideration never hinders the Anglo-Indians [=English in India] from hurting the feelings of the Hindus. For instance, in the unanimous opinion of travelers and antiquarians, the most interesting building of Hyderabad is Chahar-Minar, a college that was built by Mohamed Kuli-Khan on the ruins of a still more ancient college. It is built at the crossing of four streets, on four arches, which are so high that loaded camels and elephants with their turrets pass through freely. Over these arches rise the several stories of the college. Each story once was destined for a separate branch of learning. Alas! the times when India studied philosophy and astronomy at the feet of her great sages are gone, and the English have transformed the college itself into a warehouse. The hall, which served for the study of astronomy and was filled with quaint medieval apparatus, is now used for a depot of opium; and the hall of philosophy contains huge boxes of liqueurs, rum, and champagne, which are prohibited by the Koran, as well as by the Brahmans.
We were so enchanted by what we heard about Hyderabad that we resolved to start thither the very next morning -- when our ciceroni and companions destroyed all our plans by a single word. This word was: heat. During the hot season in Hyderabad the thermometer reaches ninety-eight degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, and the temperature of the water in the Indus is the temperature of the blood. As to Upper Sindh, where the dryness of the air and the extreme aridity of the sandy soil reproduce the Sahara in miniature, the usual shade temperature is one hundred and thirty degrees Fahrenheit. No wonder the missionaries have no chance there. The most eloquent of Dante's descriptions of hell could hardly produce anything but a cooling effect on a populace who live perfectly contented under these circumstances.
Calculating that there was no obstacle to our going to the Bagh caves, and that going to Sindh was a perfect impossibility, we recovered our equanimity. Then the general council decided that we had better abandon all ideas of a predetermined plan, and travel as fancy led us. We dismissed our elephants, and next day, a little before sunset, arrived at the spot where the Vagrey and Girna join. These are two little rivers, quite famous in the annals of the Indian mythology, and which are generally conspicuous by their absence, especially in summer. At the opposite side of the river, there lay the illustrious Bagh caves, with their four openings blinking in the thick evening mist.
We thought of crossing to them immediately, by the help of a ferry boat, but our Hindu friends and the boat-men interposed. The former said that visiting these caves is dangerous even by daytime, because all the neighborhood is full of beasts of prey and of tigers; who, I concluded, are like the Bengali Babus, to be met with everywhere in India. Before venturing into these caves, you must send a reconnbn ,oitring party of torch-bearers and armed shikaris. As to the boatmen, they protested on different grounds, but protested strongly. They said that no Hindu would dare to approach these caves after the sun set. No one but a Bellati would fancy that Vagrey and Girna are ordinary rivers, for every Hindu knows they are divine spouses, the god Shiva and his wife Parvati. This, in the first instance; and in the second, the Bagh tigers are no ordinary tigers either. The sahibs are totally mistaken. These tigers are the servants of the Sadhus, of the holy miracle-workers, who have haunted the caves now for many centuries, and who deign sometimes to take the shape of a tiger. And neither the gods, nor the Sadhus, nor the glamour [=illusory magic "tigers" created by Sadhus], nor the true tigers, are fond of being disturbed in their nightly rest.
What could we say against all this? We cast
one more sorrowful look at the caves, and returned to our antediluvian
carriages. The Babu and Narayan said we must spend the night at the house
of a certain "chum" of the Babu, who resided in a small town three miles
further on, and bearing the same name as the caves; and we unwillingly
The city, and the caves of Bagh, very oddly belong to the Maharaja Sindya of Gwalior -- who, besides, does not own them personally, having made a kind of present of them, and their nine thousand rupees of revenue, to some poor relation. This poor relation, in his turn, does not enjoy the property in the least, because a certain Rajput Takur stole it from him, and will not consent to give it back. Bagh is situated on the road from Gujerat to Malva, in the defile of Oodeypur, which is owned accordingly by the Maharana of Oodeypur. Bagh itself is built on the top of a woody hillock, and being disputed property, does not belong to any one in particular, properly speaking; but a small fortress, and a bazaar in the centre of it, are the private possessions of a certain Dhani who, besides being the chieftain of the Bhimalah tribe, was the personal "chum" of our Babu, and a "great thief and highway robber," according to the assertions of the said Babu.
"But why do you intend taking us to the place of a man whom you consider as a thief and a robber?" objected one of us timidly.
"He is a thief and a brigand," coolly answered the Bengali, "but only in the political sense. Otherwise he is an excellent man, and the truest of friends. Besides, if he does not help us, we shall starve; the bazaar and everything in the shops belong to him."
These explanations of the Babu notwithstanding,
we were glad to learn that the "chum" in question was absent, and we were
received by a relation of his. The garden was put at our disposal, and
before our tents were pitched we saw people coming from every side of the
garden, bringing us provisions. Having deposited what he had brought, each
of them, on leaving the tent, threw over his shoulder a pinch of betel
and soft sugar, an offering to the "foreign bhutas" which were supposed
[=believed] to accompany us wherever we went. The Hindus of our party asked
us, very seriously, not to laugh at this performance, saying it would be
dangerous in this out-of-the-way place.
The Orientalists think that the name Bhils comes from the Sanskrit root bhid, which means to separate. Sir J. Malcolm supposes accordingly that the Bhils are sectarians, who separated from the Brahmanical creed, and were excommunicated. All this looks very probable, but their tribal traditions say something different. Of course in this case, as in every other, their history is strongly entangled with mythology; and one has to go through a thick shrubbery of fancy before reaching the tribe's genealogical tree.
The relation of the absent Dhani, who spent the evening with us, told us the following: The Bhils are the descendants of one of the sons of Mahadeva, or Shiva, and of a fair woman with blue eyes and a white face, whom he met in some forest on the other side of the Kalapani, "black waters" or ocean. This pair had several sons, one of whom, as handsome as he was vicious, killed the favorite ox of his grandfather Maha-deva, and was banished by his father to the Jodpur desert. Banished to its remotest southern corner, he married; and soon his descendants filled the whole country. They scattered along the Vindya ridge, on the western frontier of Malva and Kandesh, and later in the woody wilderness, on the shores of the rivers Maha, Narmada, and Tapti. And all of them, inheriting the beauty of their forefather, his blue eyes and fair complexion, inherited also his turbulent disposition and his vice.
"We are thieves and robbers," naively explained the relative of the Babu's "chum," "but we can't help it, because this is the decree of our mighty forefather, the great Maha-deva-Shiva. Sending his grandson to repent his sins in the desert, he said to him: 'Go, wretched murderer of my son and your brother, the ox Nardi -- go and live the life of an exile and a brigand, to be an everlasting warning to your brethren!...' These are the very words of the great god. Now, do you think we could disobey his orders? The least of our actions is always regulated by our Bhamyas -- chieftains -- who are the direct descendants of Nadir-Sing, the first Bhil, the child of our exiled ancestor; and being this, it is only natural that the great god speaks to us through him."
Is not it strange that Apis, the sacred ox of the Egyptians, is honored by the followers of Zoroaster, as well as by the Hindus? The ox Nardi, the emblem of life in nature, is the son of the creating father, or rather his life-giving breath. Ammianus Marcellinus mentions, in one of his works, that there exists a book which gives the exact age of Apis, the clue to the mystery of creation and the cyclic calculations. The Brahmans also explain the allegory of the ox Nardi by the continuation of life on our globe.
The "mediators" between Shiva and the Bhils possess such unrestricted authority that the most awful crimes are accomplished at their lightest word. The tribe have thought it necessary to decrease their power to a certain extent by instituting a kind of council in every village. This council is called tarvi, and tries to cool down the hot-headed fancies of the Dhanis, their brigand lords. However, the word of the Bhils is sacred, and their hospitality is boundless.
The history and the annals of the princes of Jodpur and Oodeypur confirm the legend of the Bhil emigration from their primitive desert, but how they happened to be there nobody knows. Colonel Tod is positive that the Bhils, together with the Merases and the Goands, are the aborigines of India, as well as the tribes who inhabit the Nerbuda forests. But why the Bhils should be almost fair and blue-eyed, whereas the rest of the hill-tribes are almost African in type, is a question that is not answered by this statement. The fact that all these aborigines call themselves Bhumaputra and Vanaputra, sons of the earth and sons of the forest; when the Rajputs, their first conquerors, call themselves Surya-vansa and the Brahmans Indu-putras, descendants of the sun and the moon, does not prove everything.
It seems to me that in the present case their appearance, which confirms their legends, is of much greater value than philology. Dr. Clark, the author of Travels in Scandinavia, is very logical in saying that "by directing our attention on the traces of the ancient superstitions of a tribe, we shall find out who were its primitive forefathers much more easily than by scientific examination of their tongue; the superstitions are grafted on the very root, whereas the tongue is subjected to all kinds of changes."
But unfortunately, everything we know about the history of the Bhils is reduced to the above-mentioned tradition, and to a few ancient songs of their bards. These bards or bhattas live in Rajistan, but visit the Bhils yearly, in order not to lose the leading thread of the achievements of their countrymen. Their songs are history, because the bhattas have existed from time immemorial, composing their lays for future generations, for this is their hereditary duty. And the songs of the remotest antiquity point to the lands over the Kalapani as the place whence the Bhils came; that is to say, some place in Europe.
Some Orientalists, especially Colonel Tod,
seek to prove that the Rajputs, who conquered the Bhils, were newcomers
of Scythian origin, and that the Bhils are the true aborigines. To prove
this, they put forward some features common to both peoples, Rajput and
Scythian, for instance (1) the worship of the sword, the lance, the shield
and the horse; (2) the worship of, and the sacrifice to, the sun (which,
as far as I know, never was worshiped by the Scythians); (3) the passion
of gambling (which again is as strong amongst the Chinese and the Japanese);
(4) the custom of drinking blood out of the skull of an enemy (which is
also practised by some aborigines of America), etc., etc.
The Scythians of Herodotus and the Scythians of Ptolemy and some other classical writers, are two perfectly distinct nationalities. Under Scythia, Herodotus means the extension of land from the mouth of Danube to the Sea of Azoff, according to Niebuhr; and to the mouth of Don, according to Rawlinson; whereas the Scythia of Ptolemy is a country strictly Asiatic, including the whole space between the river Volga and Serika, or China. Besides this, Scythia was divided by the western Himalayas, which the Roman writers call Imaus, into Scythia intra Imaum, and Scythia extra Imaum. Given this lack of precision, the Rajputs may be called the Scythians of Asia, and the Scythians the Rajputs of Europe, with the same degree of likelihood.
Pinkerton's opinion is that European contempt for the Tartars would not be half so strong if the European public learned how closely we are related to them; that our forefathers came from northern Asia, and that our primitive customs, laws and mode of living were the same as theirs; in a word, that we are nothing but a Tartar colony... Cimbri, Kelts and Gauls, who conquered the northern part of Europe, are different names of the same tribe, whose origin is Tartary. Who were the Goths, the Swedes, the Vandals, the Huns, and the Franks, if not separate swarms of the same beehive? The annals of Sweden point to Kashgar as the fatherland of the Swedes. The likeness between the languages of the Saxons and the Kipchak Tartars is striking; and the Keltic, which still exists in Brittany and in Wales, is the best proof that their inhabitants are descendants of the Tartar nation.
Whatever Pinkerton and others may say, the modern Rajput warriors do not answer in the least the description Hippocrates gives us of the Scythians. The "father of medicine" says: "The bodily structure of these men is thick, coarse and stunted; their joints are weak and flabby; they have almost no hair, and each of them resembles the other." No man who has seen the handsome, gigantic warriors of Rajistan, with their abundant hair and beards, will ever recognize this portrait drawn by Hippocrates as theirs. Besides, the Scythians, whoever they may be, buried their dead, which the Rajputs never did, judging by the records of their most ancient manuscripts. The Scythians were a wandering nation, and are described by Hesiod as "living in covered carts and feeding on mare's milk."
And the Rajputs have been a sedentary people from time immemorial, inhabiting towns, and having their history at least several hundred years before Christ -- that is to say, earlier than the epoch of Herodotus. They do celebrate the Ashvamedha, the horse sacrifice; but will not touch mare's milk, and despise all Mongolians. Herodotus says that the Scythians, who called themselves Skoloti, hated foreigners, and never let any stranger in their country; and the Rajputs are one of the most hospitable peoples of the world. In the epoch of the wars of Darius, 516 B.C., the Scythians were still in their own district, about the mouth of the Danube. And at the same epoch the Rajputs were already known in India and had their own kingdom. As to the Ashvamedha, which Colonel Tod thinks to be the chief illustration of his theory, the custom of killing horses in honor of the sun is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, as well as in the Aitareya-Brahmana. Martin Haug states that the latter has probably been in existence since 2000-2400 B.C.
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But it strikes me that the digression from the Babu's chum to the Scythians and the Rajputs of the antediluvian epoch threatens to become too long, so I beg the reader's pardon and resume the thread of my narrative.