An account of Nagpur state from 1790

This is an interesting account of Nagpur state from late eighteenth century. It is part of a small book titled Journal Of A Route To Nagpore by Daniel Robinson Leckie. I have taken some liberty to replace the long s typeset as f with regular s. For example, coft is cost. Some of the names are in archaic English but one can make sense of the them. For example Peshwa is Paishwah. This account shows the extent of the Rajah of Nagpore’s territories as well as some peculiarities of the region. Some of the places that are mentioned are the fortifications, palace, Jumma Talao, Sakkardarah etc. The account also has a short, somewhat incorrect, history of the house of the Bhoslas. Leckie says the Nagpur Bhoslas were descended from Shivaji’s house which clearly was not the case. Also there are remarks on the current affairs of the Nagpur state with the Peshwa in Pune and Chatrapati in Satara.

ACCOUNT OF NAGPORE,

&c. &c.

NAGPORE, situated in 79º 46′ east longitude from Greenwich, and 21º 49′ north latitude, is the present capital of Gondwauna1, a name little known to Europeans, perhaps owing to the remote situation of it from our settlements, and the Rauj2 of that name having been dismembered before we possessed any territory in India, at which time the comparatively confined state of the affairs of the Company did not lead to geographical inquiries.

I have taken no small degree of pains to ascertain the boundaries of Gondwauna; and though I will not pretend to say that the information I have procured is in every respect: exact, yet it may serve to give a general idea of the extent of the country.

It is not amiss to observe, that the people of this place are by no means communicative, and very circumspedt in giving information, particularly to Europeans, and it has cost me no small degree of trouble to collect what trifling information this account contains.

Gondwauna is bounded on the north-east; by an imaginary line, drawn from the town of Belhare to the city of Ruttunpoor; on the south-east by such another imaginary line, drawn from Ruttunpoor through the village of Soormul (situated about five coss to the north-east of Nurrah, which last is laid down in the map), to the junction of the Oordah and Beingunga rivers; on the south-wedt by the Oordah (Wadha) river; and pn the north-east by that chain of mountains which separates it from Malwa.

When Gondwauna was partly reduced by Aulumgwer, he obliged a great number of the natives together with the Rajah, to embrace the Mahomedan religion ; and the country remained for a series of years in this situation, the Rajah paying a fort of homage to the Moghul, as lord paramount : when, in the beginning of the present century, Ragojee Bhooshla, descended from the great Sevagi, reduced the greatest part of Gondwauna, to the south of the Nurbudda, with the province of Berar. The lenity with which he treated the Gonde Rajah deserves particular mention, as it shows a trait of humanity in the Merhattahs worthy of the highest pitch of civilization. He not only abstained from all forts of personal violence, but allotted three lachs of rupees annually for the Gonde Rajah’s maintenance, and the fort for him to live in, by no means as a confinement. Burhaun Shah, the son of the conquered Rajah, has still handsome allowances, and the fort to live in ; and the confidence which the late Moodajee placed in him was great: for what could be a greater mark of it in the East, than putting his family and women under his charge when he went upon any warlike expedition? which he constantly did.

Ragojee was the founder of Nagpore, which he surrounded with a rampart, it being only an insignificant village appertaining to the fort prior to his capture of it. It is situated oh a high plain, is richly cultivated, and produces fine wheat, and bounded by hills to the north- west and south. The Nag Nudde, a rivulet running to the southward, gives name to the town.

The houses are generally meanly built and covered with tiles, and the streets are narrow and filthy. The only good building is the palace, begun by the late Moodajee, and now finishing by his fon, the present Rajah ; it is built of a blue done dug out of a quarry in large blocks on the western skirts of the town. The present Rajah, however, has destroyed the grand effect which would have been produced by the stone alone, by intermixing brick-work in the building. There is a very large and deep3 tank near the west gate, called Jumma Tallow, three sides of which are handsomely built up with masonry ; and the Rajah has a foundery to the southward of the town, called Shukerderri, where he calls tolerably good brass guns. There, with some few gardens of the Rajah’s, neatly laid out in walks planted with cypress-trees, and interspersed with fountains, are the only places of note at Nagpore.

It should appear that Major Rennell (Memoir, second edition, 4to. page 12) is not perfectly clear with regard to the idea he has formed of the Merhattah state, that all the chiefs owe a fort of obedience to the Paishwah, resembling that of the German Princes to the Emperor. The account I heard from the Dewaun4 in the Durbar5 was,

But the fine extensive country which the Paishwah occupies, together with the advantage of playing the Sattarah puppet, will always give him influence with the other chiefs.

“That there is a person whom they call the representative of the Rauj, who is kept in the fort of Sattarah, and he is treated with all imaginable respect when he makes his appearance at Poonah, which is only upon particular occassions ; and when at Sattarah he is supplied with every luxury, and magnificently attended. On the demise of this image of government the handsome son of some poor man is chosen to supply his room. The Paishwah is prime minister to the Merhattah state; the Rajah of Nagpore, &c. commander in chief of the armies ; and they, as well as the rest of the chiefs, call themselves. servants of the Rauj; and none acknowledges the least immediate authority of the Paishwah, but they are all bound in cafes of necessity to render mutual assistance to each other, for the public good of the constitution.’’

The present Rajah, Rogojee Bhooshla, the grandson of the Conqueror (Ragojee the first was succeeded by his eldest son, Jannojee who was succeeded by his brother Sabage, who was slain in battle by Moodajee, the father of the. present Rajah. I have not the particulars their histories) does not seem to be either adapted to civil or military business ; he is generally dressed plainly in white, but wears costly diamonds and pearls; his behaviour is courteous to strangers. His great penchant is for elephants and mares. He has about 200 of the former, the finest; I ever beheld; and they are fed so sumptuously with sugar-cane, treacle, ghee, &c.. and not unfrequently fowl pallow, that they become almost mad with lust, breaking their chains and doing great mischief, which is considered by the Merhattahs as fine sport. The principal people about the Rajah are, his brother, Munnea Bapoo, a very quiet young man; Bhowaunny Caulloo, the Dewaun, a shrewd old fellow, and his nephew, Pondrang, the commander and paymaster of the army; Siree Dhur, the Monshee; and Mahadajee Leshkery, the Rajah’s confident, who is consulted on all occasions.

The Rajah does not keep up above 10,000 horse, the pay of which, as is the custom among all native princes, is irregularly distributed. He has two battalions of Sepoys, armed and clothed like ours ; and although they have been drilled by black officers, formerly belonging either to the Nabob of Lucknow, or our service, yet they go through their exercise very badly, and I do not think they will be able to make a stand against any body of native Sepoys disciplined by European officers.

I have heard that the total collections of the Rajah’s dominions, including Ruttunpore and Cuttae, only amount to seventy lacks of rupees per annum. I will not, however, pretend to affirm that this is exact though I do not think it can much exceed that sum; for the Rajah’s country, notwithstanding the great extent of it, does not contain a proportionable quantity of cultivated land to that which is waste and occupied by forests.

It is generally supposed that Nagpore is the capital of Berar. This is evidently a mistake. The inhabitants of Nagpore talk relatively of Berar as an adjoining province, as we do of Bahar to Bengal; and it has been shown that Nagpore is a city of late date. Elichpour is the capital of Berar, by the accounts I have received from the natives, who represent it as a very ancient city, and much larger than Nagpore.

A custom prevails in this town, which I cannot forbear taking notice of, because it serves to prove that long usage will give a plausibility to things seemingly the most preposterous. The bramins and best people at Nagpore have women attendants upon their families, whom they breed up from their childhood, and are called Butkies, or Slauls. They attend on their masters and mistresses during the day-time, and are permitted to go to any man they please in the night; some of them become very rich, and they are in general very handsome, fine women.

Nagpore,

August 20, 1790.

(Daniel Robinson Leckie)

Journal Of A Route To Nagpore

1The three ancient capitals of Gondwauna were Gurry Mudlah, Gurry *****, and Deogur.

2The dominion of a Raujah is called a Rauj, that of a King is denominated a kingdom.

3Pond

4Minister

5Court

Review of Laal Kaptaan

Recently I saw the movie Laal Kaptaan (लाल कप्तान, literal translation Red Captain). Though I had seen the trailer when it was released sometime back this year, I did not see the movie. The visuals in the trailer were quite good, so I decided to finally watch it. And I was not disappointed. This is one of the few movies in recent times that I have managed to see in one shot. Or rather the movie managed to make me do it.

 

The major part of the movie is set in the region of Bundelkhand (literally the dominion of the Bundelas). This region which falls South-East of Agra and Delhi has historical places like Jhansi, Gwalior, Panna, Chhatarpur, Banda and Orchha within its folds has been historically important. The province of Awadh (Oudh) lies to the east of Bundelkhand and Ganges marks the boundary to the East, while the Rajputana lies to the West. The Yamuna divides the region into two, with the majority of the part lying to the West of Yamuna. The region between the two mighty rivers is known as a doab (marked yellow in the map below). Many of these were erstwhile princely states, which also existed until 1947, when they were merged with the Indian republic.

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The era when the Mughal empire was disintegrating post the death of Aurangazeb in 1707, was especially tumultuous for this region. With the power vacuum created by the decaying Mughal empire being filled by the Marathas, by this time the Chatrapati was only a titular head and real power rested with the Peshwas and the various great houses of the Marathas (Shinde, Holkar, Bhosle, Gaikwad). The Marathas laid waste to large tracts and levied chauth ( collection of one-fourth of income ) on these regions mercilessly. But in general, they were hated in this region for their bullishness and general havoc they perpetrated on the public and places. For example, they looted the Red Fort in Delhi with impunity, scrapping off precious and semi-precious stones from the Diwan-e-Khaas to do a vasuli. (I might make a dedicated post for this later.)

If the Battle of Plassey (1757) was the founding stone of the British in India, then the battle of Buxar (1764) was the first real fortification of this foundation, and the British really established themselves in India as a potent force. Though the Marathas were the most powerful, the British did not engage with them directly until the end of the century. The third Battle of Panipat (1761), a few years before the battle of Buxar limited the Maratha presence in the North severely and was one of the major reasons that led to its full demise as a political and military power by the start of the next century. Though, this enabled the houses of Shinde, Holkar, Bhosle and Gaikwad to establish their own semi-independence over the Peshwas. Eventually, everyone became under the British. But the time in which the movie is set, the Marathas were still a force to reckon with and the EIC has just established itself as a millitary and political power in much of the region from Bengal to North India along the Gangetic plains.

The movie starts just after the Battle of Buxar (1764) when a large number of people are hanged outside the fortress of Shergarh (most probably a fictional place, as I could not find it anywhere in the sources). after the British win the battle. One of the persons who sides with the British named Rehmat Khan is especially despised upon, with him being called a gaddar (traitor) by the hanged. The accused are hanged on a huge banyan tree, with their bodies hanging like overgrown fruits along its branches. It is raining and in this scene, a young teenage boy promises Rehmat Khan that one day he will also hang on the same tree.

Fast forward 25 years (1789), we are taken to the den of a dacoit (डकैत /डाकू ) where the Bairagi called by another generic name Gossain (this term I had not heard before this film). He comes in and asks for fire for his chillam. Mayhem ensues and the hunter takes his prey. The entire scene starts with dark of the night and ends in the early morning.

The horde of warrior ascetics (of which were the Gossain/Naga) came to prominence in the resulting political instability and shifting sands post the fall of the Mughal empire.

…these orders became politically significant only after the collapse of the Mughal Empire, and more particularly after British activities created political and economic chaos in the second half of the eighteenth century.

 

Going forward, the hunter goes on to take his reward, where the local chieftain mocks him and doesn’t want to pay. He is made to pay by the Gossain. The film then follows the Gossain on his quest to locate and kill Rehmat Khan. Though there are hints that there is a link between the Gossain and the teenage boy who is hanged in the beginning, we are not sure how they are connected. I won’t go into the plot of the film, but will instead focus on some of the characters and background of the film.

Though some of the other reviews have portrayed the character of Rehmat Khan (played by Manav Vij) as just grunting. But I think he played the role very well, perhaps these reviewers are used to seeing villains as people who yell and show a lot of emosions on their faces. He subtly played the act of a cold-blooded, calculating and cruel character quite well and was never out of character. Rehmat Khan is a Rohilla. Now, the Rohillas were of an Afghan ethnicity, and they sided against the Marathas (led by Najib ad-Dawlah) with Ahemdshah Abdali during the third battle of Panipat. The Marathas were very enraged by this and Mahadji Shinde did collect his revenge on them a few years in 1772 after Panipat by destroying Rohilkhand and scattering bones of Najib ad-Dawlah. After this defeat, the First Rohilla war happened in which the British siding with the Nawab of Oudh defeated the Rohillas and the state of Rampur of established. The second Rohilla war, in 1794, between British and the Rohillas ended their supremacy in the region. Now, the time between the two wars, there was lot of guerilla activity carried out by the Rohillas, which led them to be set as Nawabs of Rampur. Given all this chaos and uncertainty,  there were no permanent alliances or allegiances. The main part of Laal Kaptaan (c. 1789) is set in this era for the Rohillas. So, Rehmat Khan, a prominent Rohilla, defecting over to British was noteworthy, but not out of the line.

Pindaris

Pindaris were not a tribe, but a military system of bandits of all races and religions. They fluctuated in numbers, being augumented from time to timeby military adventurer from every State, and frequently amounted to as many as 30,000 men.

Pindaris present an episode in history of India, which is quite extraordinary, though skimmed upon in the history texts. Here we are witnessing a rise of a band of people whose existence was based on terrorising and looting people in distant provinces.  The Pindaris were roughly active in the last three decades of eighteenth century to the first two decades of nineteenth. Earlier they were under tutelage of Maratha cheiftains who used them as militias to wreck havoc on supply lines of the enemies and disrupt civilian peace. So them accompanying the Maratha camp is completely normal. The depiction of the Pindari lust for the loot (tum log lo khazana, mai chala lene zanana) is well done in the film. In fact, the comedy of errors that the bunch sent to hunt down Rehmat Khan is something to relish. The frustration of the little Maratha knight in being unable to  control them is well worth seeing.

But as the Maratha power came to a decline, the Pindaris in the nineteenth century became a force of their own, without masters. They would raid far, and were viscious and cruel in their tactics to make people pay. There are reports that people even committed suicides when they came to know that a Pindari raid was imminent.

Another thing worth mentioning in the film is the settings in which the film is shot. The cinematography is par excellence, set amongst fantastic fort ruins. I cannot identify the actual locations used in the film, so any information on that would be welcome.

The other character in the film worth mentioning is the Dog Walker played by Deepak Dobriyal. He has a pair of very fine Mudhol hounds (also known as Caravan hounds) named Sukhiram and Dukhiram.

Screenshot 2019-12-14 at 7.33.46 PMThe character has no name in the film, but he finds people who are wanted for a price. That is how he makes his living. He refuses a horse mount saying it interferes with  His character has many layers and he shares a special relationship with the Gossain, they respect each other. It was a treat to watch Dobriyal play this character with English hat and his greeting of:

Howde do…

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The two female characters in the film, one played by Zoya and other by Heena are in their niche. Zoya as a courtesan who is neglected, while Heena playing the wife of a chieftain carries herself well. Their characters are in emotional turmoil with maternal love and the surrounding situation.

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The clothing, the artefacts are all era-appropriate and so are the languages used. A lot of work must have gone in background research and it shows in the quality of the film. Kudos to the production team for that. Just that the look of Saif has a semblance to Depp’s Jack Sparrow, that could have been avoided.

Overall a very watchable film, if you have not, do watch it.

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PS: A special ode to Saif Ali Khan.

In my personal opinion, Saif Ali Khan has really matured as an actor over the years and has earned my respect for it. You can’t really compare his role in Yeh Dillagi and lets say his depiction of Langda Tyagi in Omkara. It is as if you are watching two completely different actors. The variety of roles he has done in recent times, and with grace is just amazing. He has done roles which many of the mainstream actors would shy away from. Hope that we see his good form in the future also.

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References

Lorenzen, D. (1978). Warrior Ascetics in Indian History. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 98(1), 61-75.

 

On the Marathas…

Meanwhile the task of resisting Aurangzeb called less for a saint than for a man of action ; and such a man appeared in the person of Sivaji Bonsla, the son of a chief of no great property in the neighbourhood of the Western Ghauts to the east of Bombay. Born in 1627 – the year when George Villiers, Duke of Bucking- ham, led his abortive expedition to Rochelle – he was brought up at Puna, and early conceived the ambition of dispossessing the Mohammedans of the south, and setting up a Hindu kingdom in their stead. His men were hardy peasants from the mountains ; his horses, not less important than his men, were drawn from the valleys; and with these he sallied forth to capture hill-fortresses, and to use them as bases for raids upon the surrounding country. Being a great military genius he rapidly achieved success; and by 1664 had carried his incursions so far as to seize and sack the imperial city of Gujarat. This was a direct defiance to Aurangzeb, who sent an army to crush him, and succeeded in forcing him to surrender upon terms; but the wily chief soon contrived to escape, and returning to the Dekhan quickly reestablished and widened his ascendancy. He died in 1680, but he had already done his work in founding the power of the Marathas.

What the Marathas exactly were or are no one seems able accurately to define. They were not a caste, they were not a sect, they were not a nation; and, though some of them claim to be of Rajput origin, this pretension seems to be disposed of by anthropometric tests. Their name is taken from the territory of Maharashtra, and their language is called Marathi ; but they are not the only inhabitants of that territory nor the only speakers of that tongue. In 1901 they numbered only five millions; and yet in the seventeenth century they ruined the armies of Aurangzeb, shattered the might of the Moguls and bade fair to become the masters of India. It is difficult therefore to predicate anything certain of them except that they were and are emphatically a power, and that they rose to that eminence wholly by the sword. Yet, though they were valiant warriors, their military organisation was loose enough ; while their military tactics, if one may coin an expression, were of the offensive-elusive order. They swarmed out as great disorderly bodies of horse, devouring the country like locusts, carefully avoiding anything like a pitched battle, but hovering always about their enemy’s flanks and communications, swift to see and to make profit of the slightest advantage, equally swift to perceive and to avoid any danger. Thus they wore out the Mogul armies, and broke the hearts of their generals by remaining always near enough to inflict much mischief, but always remote enough to suffer no harm. If they were suddenly compelled to assume the defensive, they had a perfect genius for choosing and occupying a position where they could resist attack ; and woe to the army that retreated before them. Their leaders have always included some of the deepest and subtlest intellects in India ; and yet their genius, so long as their ascendancy lasted, revealed itself as mainly destructive, and their instincts as wholly predatory. They levied tribute remorselessly, under pain of pillage, upon vast districts, and on condition of payment suffered them to escape famine and desolation. They showed, indeed, remarkable administrative talent in the collection of that tribute; but there their constructive work came to an end. It is therefore hard to see how India could have improved – how indeed it could have failed to deteriorate – under their mastery. The history of the country, so far as we have traced it, has been a continuous record of wars, revolts and intestine divisions ; in the midst of which, at rare intervals of precarious repose, there had sprung up noble monuments of art and literature. There was nothing creative about the Marathas. Their reign, it is true, was short; but, even had it been prolonged, we can hardly conceive of the association of poetry or architecture with their name. For all their valiance and subtlety their rule was a blight rather than an influence. Once indeed, and in one particular, they imitated a foreign model in their own domain of war ; and we must now examine where they found this model, and how it was turned to their own ruin.

via text of “Narrative of the visit to India of their majesties, King George V. and Queen Mary, and of the coronation durbar held at Delhi, 12th December, 1911” by Fortescue, John, Sir, 1859-1933.