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Letter XIX[1]

Acording to the original plan, the direction of our pilgrimage of self-improvement lay towards the North-Western provinces, these status in statu of Anglo-India, where they know about the Viceroy, but try to ignore him, his orders are accepted, but few people follow them – provinces with government despotic, suspicious and restless. But we shall talk about them later ...

We left the Jabalpur line several miles from Nashik; and, to return to it, we had to go back to Akbarpur, then travel by doubtful country roads to the station Sanevad 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 [80.47 km] off, to the east from Mandu and they were the strongest bait for us. 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 “chumocracy,” as everywhere else in India, which is called here “same-caste-hood”; the omnipresent Bengali babus, who are always glad to be of some service to you, are scattered all over Hindustan, like the Jews in Russia. Besides, our “regiment” grew by one more comrade.

The day before we had received a letter from Swamija Dayananda, carried to us by a traveling Sannyasi. Dayananda 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 forty miles [64.37 km] away from it, in Saharanpur, which attracts every tourist by its charming situation.

The Sannyasi brought us also a nosegay from the Swami, a nosegay of the most extraordinary flowers, which are totally unknown in Europe, as I suppose. They grow only in certain Himalayan valleys; they possess the wonderful capacity of changing their color after midday, and do not look dead even when faded. The Latin name of this charming plant is Hibiscus mutabilis. At night they are nothing but a large knot of pressed green leaves, but from dawn till 10 o'clock the flowers open and look like large snow-white roses; then, towards twelve o'clock, they begin to redden, and later towards four afternoon they look as crimson as a peony. These flowers are sacred to the asuras, – a kind of peris or angels in Hindu mythology, – and to the god Surya (sun). The latter deity fell in love with an Asura at the beginning of creation, and since then is constantly caught whispering words of fiery love to the flower that shelters her. But the Asura is a virgin; she gives herself entirely to the service of the goddess of chastity, who is the patroness of all the ascetic brotherhoods. The love of Surya is vain, Asura will not listen to him... But under the flaming arrows of the enamoured god she blushes and in appearance loses her purity... The natives call this plant lajjalu[2], the modest one.

We were spending that night by a brook, under a shadowy fig-tree. The Sannyasi, who had made a wide circuit to fulfill the request of Swamija, made friends with us; and we sat up late in the night, listening whilst he talked about his travels, the wonders of his native country, once so great, and about the heroic deeds of old Runjit-Sing[3], the “lion” of the Punjab.

Strange, mysterious beings are found sometimes amongst these pilgrims. Many of them are very learned; read and talk Sanskrit; seems to follow the news in modern science and politics; and, nevertheless, remain faithful to their ancient philosophical conceptions. Generally they do not wear any clothes, except a piece of yellow-red 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, live by alms, 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.

Our new friend was a native of Amritsar, in the Punjab, and had been brought up in the “Golden Temple,” on the banks of Amrita-Saras, the “Lake of Immortality.” The head Guru, or instructor, of Sikhs resides there. He never crosses the boundaries of the temple. His chief occupation is the study of the book called Adigrantha, which belongs to the sacred literature of this strange bellicose sect. The Sikhs respect him as much as the Tibetans respect their Dalai-Lama. The lamas in general consider the latter to be the incarnation of Buddha, the Sikhs think that the Maha-Guru of Amritsar is the incarnation of Nanak, the founder of their sect. Although according to Sikhs’ concepts, Nanak was never a deity, but only a prophet, inspired by the spirit of the only God. This shows that our Sannyasi was not one of the naked pilgrims, but a true akali – one of the six hundred warrior-priests attached to the Golden Temple, for the purpose of serving God and protecting the temple from the greedy Mussulmans. His name was Ram-Runjit-Das; and his personal appearance was in perfect accordance with his title of “God's warrior,” as brave akali call themselves. His exterior was very remarkable and typical; and he looked like a Hercules-like centurion[4] of ancient Roman legions, rather than a peaceable servant of the altar, even if it is a Sikhs’ one.

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 his novice or servant. 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 cold weapon.

Who does not know the history of the Sikhs, the bravest and the most warlike sect of the whole Punjab? The word sikh means disciple. Founded in the XVth century by the wealthy and noble brahmin Nanak, the new teaching spread so successfully amongst the northern warriors, that in 1539 AD, when the founder died, it counted one hundred thousand followers. At the present time, this sect, harmonizing closely with the fiery natural mysticism, and the warlike tendencies of the natives, is the reigning creed of the whole Punjab. It is based on the principles of theocratic rule; but its dogmas are almost unknown to Europeans, and completely unknown to the British; the teachings, the religious conceptions, and the rites of the Sikhs, are kept in the greatest secret. 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 is a rare exception among Hindus. The second volume of the Adigrantha teaches them “to adore the only true God; to avoid superstitions; to help the dead (?) to lead a righteous life; and to earn one's living by the sword.” 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[5], 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 between Sikhs themselves. Maharaja Dhulip-Sing (his bastard son by a public dancer) turned out to be so weak that he allowed his Sikhs, who had hitherto remained loyal allies of the British, to try to win the whole of Hindustan from the latter, as they once conquered border villages and fortresses in Afghanistan. The attempt ended disastrously for both the violent Sikhs and the weak Dhulip-Sing. Persecuted by his own soldiers, Dhulip-Sing sought the help of Englishmen, and so was converted to Christianity and was secretly transported to Scotland. He was replaced by Gulab-Sing. True to the word and the political program of Runjit-Sing. He refused to become a traitor, therefore he received as a reward the charming Kashmir Valley from the British frightened by the Sikhs, and the Sikhs went into captivity to them, like the rest of the Hindus.

But still there are kukas remains, a branch from the broken old oak of Sikhism. The kukas represent the most dangerous underground current of the Indian people's hatred. This new sect was founded about 30 years ago [written in 1879] by Balak-Rama[6], and, at first, formed a bulk of people near Attok, in the Punjab, on the east bank of the Indus, exactly on the spot where the latter becomes navigable, being filled with the water from Kabul river. Balak-Rama had a double aim: to restore the religion of the Sikhs to its pristine purity, and to organize a secret political body, which must be ready for everything, at a moment's notice. This brotherhood consists of more then 60,000 members, who bound themselves by the most terrible oaths and pledges: firstly never to reveal their secrets, and secondly never to disobey any order of their leaders. In Attok itself they are few, because the population of the fortress is two or three thousands. But we were assured that the kukas live everywhere in India. Despite all the efforts, it is absolutely impossible to convict them of anything illegal, to such an extent their society is well organized. Their leaders are also unknown.

In the course of the evening our akali presented us with a little crystal bottle, filled with water from the “Lake of Immortality.” The gift was not from Swami Dayananda, but from akali himself. 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 and even every smallest spot on it is seen perfectly distinctly, all over the 150 square yards [125.42 sq. km] of the lake. Amrita-Saras is the most charming of all the sights of Northern India. The reflection of the Golden Temple in its crystal waters represents something magical and delightful. Aivazovsky[7] alone would be able to convey this picture on canvas.

We had still seven weeks at our disposal. We were undecided between exploring the Bombay Presidency, the North-West Provinces and the Rajasthan. Which were we to choose? Where were we to go? Before such a variety of interesting places we hesitated like a famous animal between two stalls. Hyderabad, which is said to transport the tourists into the scenery of the Arabian Nights, seemed so attractive that we seriously thought of turning our elephants back to the territory of the Nizam[8]. We grew fond of the idea of visiting this “City of the Lion,”[9] which was built in 1589 by the magnificent Mohamed-Kuli-Kuth-Shah, who was so used to luxuries of every kind as to grow weary even of Golkonda, with all its fairyland castles and treasures. Some buildings of Hyderabad, mere remnants of the past glory, are still known to renown. Mir-Abu-Talib, the keeper of the Royal Treasury, states that Mohamed-Kuli-Shah spent the fabulous sum of 2,800,000 pounds sterling (in British currency) on the embellishment of the town, at the beginning of his reign; though the labor of the workmen did not cost him a pice[10]... Save these few memorials of greatness, the town looks like a heap of rubbish and manure nowadays. But on the other hand, according to eyewitnesses, the "British Residence" of Hyderabad is still famous throughout the country and is not for nothing called the Versailles of India. The history of this residence is highly curious and clearly characterizes the Anglo-Indian mores.

In 1788, probably imagining himself the Caliph, – anch'io son pittore[11] (the residents are true caliphs), an Irishman, colonel Kirkpatrick[12], who in those days had this beneficial position under nizami, planned to begin construction of this residence, of course, at the expense of Hyderabad ruler. The building was one of the wonders of the world. It combines the magical gardens of Babylon and the luxury palaces of the French Regency. Twenty-two steps, each from a single piece of pink granite of huge dimensions in width, decorated on both sides with colossal sphinxes, leading to the portico, in full-width of which giant Corinthian columns of pure white marble ascended to the top floor of the main building. These columns are 8 vershoks [35.56 cm, 14 in] higher than the columns of the famous “Halls of the thousand columns” of Chidambram temple in the Madras Presidency. The floors are of black and white marble; over the doors there are coats of arms of the East India Company and England; in some of which pieces of pure gold replace bronze lions. If the staircase to the portico is rightly considered “the greatest and most splendid one in India,” the reception hall of the residence could be envied by any of the hall of the Royal palaces of Europe. The hall stretches along the facade of the Palace in full length and on both sides of it, as in the famous cathedrals, there are two rows of marble columns. As in Chidambram where the “hall of a thousand columns,” so called probably because it has 936 columns, so the hall of residence is called the “hall of a hundred columns” since it has only 32 columns in a row, for a total of 64, which is already very respectable. But in addition to the columns of carved marble and bronze work, in this hall there are niches with statues of the Hindu and Greek gods and goddesses – works of the best at that time sculptors of Italy. All the hangings are of crimson velvet embroidered with gold; mahogany inlaid furniture are covered with such fabric; there are 60 mirrors between the windows, all over the wall, from ceiling to floor in the most expensive frames, and three chandeliers, which the Hindus who built this palace, at one time worshiped as gods, were ordered at a fabulous price from France. These are the main features of this worthy of Aladdin's Palace, which now is home to residents, the responsibility of which – the known noble pretext, chosen by England for annexation of Indian provinces – to stand as advocates and intermediaries between oppressed people and their “not knowing how to govern” influential princes of India. The people, meanwhile, periodically dying of hunger in millions, while the lighting alone of the British residence during parties, according to official reports costs the treasury 1,000 pounds sterling a night...

Oh, Tartuffe[13]! Is your name Great Britain now?..

But this is nothing compared to the past. In the History of Hyderabad (by Edward Westwick) we read the following:

“Whilst the residents entertained the gentlemen, their wives were similarly employed receiving the ladies a few sazhens[14] off, in a separate palace, which was as sumptuous (if not more), 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 center of the garden is adorned with a large marble swimming pool with scenes of Ramayana history laid out with mosaics on the walls. 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 (professional dancers), magnificently dressed, thanks to the generosity of the Resident. Some of them wore a cargo of jewels worth 30,000 pounds sterling, and literally shone from head to foot with diamonds and other precious stones...”

The glory of the East India Company, during which the company residents could be so "generous" at the expense of the princes, has already faded. Now there is nothing left for the residents or the princes themselves. Like the ancient alchemists, the British melted down, in the hope of finding the philosopher's stone of politics, all the gold of Hindustan; and even India itself – "the most precious diamond in the crown of England" – was ground into dust, melted and charred. Still happy the Britishman will be if Afghanistan (considered as an “addition” to their charred “diamond” of India) will not grind them into fine powder in its enchanted mortar...[15]

We were burning with curiosity after hearing the stories of Hyderabad miracles, and we wanted to see firsthand this magical country. And Narayan, and Babu, both of them visited it several times, and Narayan even has relatives there. He particularly fascinated us with his stories and descriptions, since he was familiar with each corner of the Central India. The great past of India, the great even so recently – in the past [18th] century was so sadly reflected in his eloquent tales, in comparison with its present bitter situation. How far down fell the beauty of the East, before which once sought to prostrate themselves all the sages of Greece and whose wealth was the envy of all the kings of the earth!.. Everything in it trampled in the dust, the downtrodden, gradually is fading and disappearing, from the smallest national impulse, immediately repressed by jealous, suspicious England, to the once magnificent virgin forests... now falling on hundreds of desyatins[16] at a time under the axe of the railroads makers.

There was something extremely captivating in these simple stories of the poor Hindu. Like the last song of the swan sounded in them a note of patriotism, the downtrodden, restrained but just as heartfelt as the love for the motherland of his glorious ancestors, forcing them to sacrifice not only wealth and their own lives but even the lives of all their loved ones – wives and children, – to the glory of the fatherland under the victorious banner of Shivaji. Besides ruining themselves and the country, the Anglo-Indians commit the greatest blunders, at least in two points of their present Government system. These two points are: first, the Western education they give to the higher classes; and, secondly, the protection and maintenance of the rights of idol worship. Neither of these systems is wise. 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 Brahmins; 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, whose most sacred feeling – love and devotion to the motherland – the English trample under their feet at every opportunity. The more educated and developed the Hindu becomes, the more bitter for him the comparison of the present with what was.

Let’s provide one example out of a thousand. Hindus are most proud of their past civilization, the greatness of their homeland in those days when Europe was still immersed almost in the darkness of the Stone age. In the unanimous opinion of travelers and antiquarians, the most interesting building of Hyderabad is Chahar-Minar, a once well-known 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 “Veuve Clicquot”[17] drink, which are prohibited by the Koran, as well as by the Brahmins.

We were ready to leave for Hyderabad, when our ciceroni and companions destroyed all our plans and terrified us by a single word. The fact is that during the six so-called "hot" months of the year in Hyderabad (in the Lower Sindhu[18]) the thermometer reaches 98 degrees Fahrenheit [37° С] in the shade, and the temperature of the water in the Indus is the temperature of the blood. As to Upper Sindhu, where the extreme dryness of the air together with the infertility of the sandy soil make the climate of this country something similar to the “charm” of the temperature of African deserts, the thermometer shamelessly reaches 130° Fahrenheit [54° С] in the shade. 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, wherever our eyes look. Due to such a plan in the next day we dismissed our elephants and took tongas[19], in which we arrived a little before sunset 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. In front of us, like a monster lurking on the opposite shore, the mountain gaped with its four holes, as if blinking its sunken, black eyes in the gloomy fog... These were the notorious Bagh caves...

We thought of crossing to them immediately, by the help of a ferry boat, but this time prudence prevailed over the attractive prospect of a night spent in the caves of ancient hermits (like we did in Karli). Besides, our Hindus and even the tangavallas with the ferrymen flatly refused to accompany us. The former said that visiting these caves is dangerous even by daytime, without first sending people there with torches and armed shikari (hunters); because this part of Amdjir Raga is full of beasts of prey, especially of tigers, who, obviously, are like the Bengali Babus, to be met with everywhere in India. As to the boatmen, they protested because no Hindu would dare to approach these caves within a mile after the sun set. No one but a bellati with their “foolish geographical concepts” 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, as sahibs think. These tigers are the servants of the sadhus, of the holy miracle-workers, who have haunted the caves now for many centuries, they are often even "werewolves" of these most ancient elders. And neither the gods, nor the sadhus, nor the werewolves, nor the tigers are fond of being disturbed in their nightly rest...

There was nothing to do about it. We cast one more sorrowful look at the caves, and returned to our antediluvian carriages and went on. The Babu and Narayan decided that we would spend the night at the house of a certain “chum” of the Babu in Bagh town, three miles [4.83 km] further on.

Many things in India are wonderful and unintelligible, but one of the most wonderful and the most unintelligible, is the geographical and the topographical disposition of the numberless territories of this country. Political conjunctures in India seem to be everlastingly playing the French game casse-tete[20], changing the pattern, diminishing one part and adding to another. The land that only yesterday belonged to this Raja or that Thakur, is sure to be found today in the hands of quite a different set of people. For instance, we were in the raj or state of Amjir in Malva, and we were going to the little city of Bagh, which also belongs to Malva and is included in the Amjir Raj. In the documents, Malva is included in the independent possessions of Holkar; and nevertheless the Amjir Raj does not belong to Tukuji-Rao-Holkar, but to the son of the independent raja of Amjir, who was hanged in 1857 “by inadvertence” as we were assured. 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 9,000 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 thakur 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 Udaipur, which is owned accordingly by the maharana of Udaipur. 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 center 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?” asked we 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.”

The “chum” however was absent, and we were received by a relation of his, somewhat helper of bhamya (chief). 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 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.

Reasoning with these people turned out to be in vain. We were in Central India, the very nest of all kinds of superstitions, and were surrounded by Bhils. All along the Vindya ridge, from Yama, on the west of the “dead city” and all around Rajputana, the country is thickly populated by this most daring, restless and superstitious of all the half-savage tribes of India. A few words about them may be interesting.

The Orientalists assure that the name Bhils comes from the Sanskrit root bhil, which means “to separate”. Sir J. Malcolm supposes accordingly that the Bhils are sectarians, who separated from the Brahminical 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 or Bills are the descendants of one of the sons of Mahadeva (god Shiva), and of a fair outlandish 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 Mahadeva, and was banished by his father over the sea 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 and began to settle 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 predatory tendencies and all of 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 (i.e. god) said to him: 'Go, wretched murderer of my son and your brother, the ox Nardi[21]; go and live the life of an exile and a brigand, to be an everlasting warning to your brethren!..' So how would we dare to disobey the orders of our great god? The least of our actions is always regulated by our bhamyas – chieftains – who are the direct descendants of Nadir-Sing, the first bhilal, the fruit of the marriage of a Rajput with a Bhil woman, so bhamyas are considered by us to be direct mediators between our people and Mahadeva-Shiva.”

The “mediators” 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 Udaipur 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 Brahmins 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[22] 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 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 Rajasthan, 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 in the most ancient songs of the Bhil bhattas, their origin is "over the seas", that is, somewhere 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 (by the way Scythians, who worshipped the sword as the main deity, did not worship sun at all); (3) the passion of gambling (which is much stronger 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.

I do not intend entering here on a scientific ethnological discussion; and, besides, I am sure no one fails to see that the reasoning of scientists sometimes takes a very strange turn when they set to prove some favorite theory of theirs. It is enough to remember how entangled and obscure is the history of the ancient Scythians to abstain from drawing any positive conclusions whatsoever from it. The tribes that go under one general denomination of Scythians were many, and still it is impossible to deny that there is a good deal of similitude between the customs of the old Scandinavians, worshipers of Odin, – whose land indeed was occupied by the Scythians more than 500 years B.C. – and the customs of the Rajputs. But this similitude gives as much right – if not more – to the Rajputs to say that we are a “colony of surya-vansas settled in the West” as to us to maintain that the Rajputs are “the Scythians emigrated to India.”[23] The Scythians of Herodotus and the Scythians of Ptolemy, and Roman 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), or 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 (China). Besides, this Scythia was divided by the western Himalayas, which the Roman writers call Imaus, into Scythia intra Imaum, and Scythia extra Imaum.[24] Given this lack of precision, the Rajputs may be called the Scythians of Asia, and the Scythians may be called the Rajputs of Europe, with the same degree of likelihood. 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 Rajasthan, 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 chronicles. The Scythians were a wandering nation, and are described by Hesiod as “living in covered carts and feeding on mare's milk” (kumis). 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 (horse sacrifices to the sun), 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.

I confess that the digression from the Babu's chum to the Scythians and the Rajputs of the antediluvian epoch threatens to become too long. Fearing to put the reader to sleep, I hurry back to the caves.[25]

While the local shikaris went under the leadership of the warlike Akali, to hunt tigers and werewolf, which could inhabit the caves, our Bhil received permission for us to be present at the wedding ceremony taking place in the city. One brahmin gave his daughter in marriage, and she was married on the same day. These new ceremonies for us were so entertaining that the day passed unnoticed. When we got home, it was too late to go to the caves, and we postponed the trip until the next day. Meanwhile, I will describe the festivities we have seen, all the more entertaining because the rites of matchmaking, betrothal, wedding, etc. have not changed in India during the last two millenniums at least. They are performed according to the directions of Manu, and the old theme has no variations. India's religious rites have crystallized long ago. Whoever has seen a Hindu wedding in 1879, saw it as it was celebrated in ancient Aryavarta many centuries ago.



  1. Moscow News, No. 97, 07.04.1880, pp. 4-5; Russian Herald, January 1883, Supplement, vol 163, pp. 179-196. In V. Johnston edition here starts the chapter “God's Warrior”.
  2. Touch me not plant (Lat. Mimosa pudica). – Ed.
  3. Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) was the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, which ruled the northwest Indian subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century. The word “singh” means lion. – Ed.
  4. Centurion (Latin: centurio) was the commander of a century, a military unit of around 80 legionaries in the Roman army. – Ed.
  5. Auckland Colvin (1838-1908) was a colonial administrator in India (most of the time) and Egypt (1880–2). He served as Lieutenant-governor of the North-West Provinces (as his father had been), the area included Punjab. – Ed.
  6. Balak Singh (1797-1862) was an Indian Sikh religious leader who founded namdhari (kuka) sect. Baba Ram Singh (1816-1885) was a successor of Balak Singh. – Ed.
  7. Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900) was a Russian painter who is considered one of the greatest masters of marine art. – Ed.
  8. Nizam is the hereditary title of the rulers of the Hyderabad dynasty. – Ed.
  9. Haidar is a lion in Arabic, and abad is a settlement, a dwelling. Hyderabad was formerly called Bhagnagar (the happy city), having received its name from the Shah's beloved concubine Muhammad-Kuli, whose name was Bhagmati; but after her death, the name was changed.
  10. Pice is a small coin in India (until 1950) equals to 1/64 of a rupee. – Ed.
  11. “I am a painter too” (it.) – the exclamation that escaped Correggio at the sight of Raphael's painting "Sistine Madonna" and became proverbial as a manifestation of confidence in ones vocation and skill. – Ed.
  12. James Achilles Kirkpatrick (1764-1805) served as the Resident at Hyderabad Deccan from 1798 until 1805. – Ed.
  13. Tartuffe is the common name of the hero of Moliere's comedy of the same name, the personification of hypocrisy. – Ed.
  14. 1 sazhen = 2.13 m = 7 ft. – Ed.
  15. The Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1881 is probably meant. – Ed.
  16. Desyatina (tithe) is a measure of area in Russia before the introduction of the metric system. There were several values of it, including "state desyatina", equal to 2400 square sazhens = 1.09 hectares = 2.69 acres. – Ed.
  17. Veuve Clicquot is a French white champagne. – Ed.
  18. The Indus River is called Sindhu in Sanskrit and Hindi, which literally means "river" or "stream". – Ed.
  19. Tonga is a light carriage drawn by one horse. – Ed.
  20. Casse-tête (Fr.) is a puzzle–mosaic game, which is a set of chiseled geometric shapes and a book with drawn images; the task of the players is to put the figures so as to repeat the drawing in the book. – Ed.
  21. 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. Ormazd creates an ox, and Ahriman kills him. 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 Brahmins also explain the allegory of the ox Nardi by the continuation of life on our globe.
  22. Travels in Scandinavia, vol. I, p. 33.
  23. 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.
  24. That is Scythia inside of Himalayas and the one outside. – Ed.
  25. The following paragraph was included by Vera Johnston in chapter “The Banns Of Marriage” combined with letter 20. – Ed.