Folk-Lore/Volume 31/Review/Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan

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Folk-Lore, Volume XXXI (1920)
Review of Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan
by Mansel Longworth Dames


Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, by Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod, edited by William Crooke. 3 vols. Oxford University Press. London: Milford.

Tod’s Rajasthan has long been established in the estimation of all qualified judges and in the affections of all Anglo-Indians as one of the few great classics produced since the establishment of British supremacy in India. And this position it will not easily lose in spite of its deficiencies from the point of view of modern scholarship. These can be made good, and are made good, in the present edition by Mr. Crooke, without in any way interfering with the essential merits of the work, which consist in the enthralling accounts of the tribes of Rajputana, their history real and legendary, and in the spirit of enthusiastic sympathy with a noble race which breathes through the whole book.

The great value of Tod’s work at the present day consists in the fact that its materials were collected in the early years of the nineteenth century, at a time when the traditions of the Rājput tribes were still preserved almost intact. These legends are not always in accordance with recorded history, but they give a faithful picture of the conditions under which the tribes were formed and developed, and of their settlement in the country to which they have given their name. The earlier legends are filled with incidents of the greatest folklore interest, which are not lacking even in those of later date, such as those relating to the struggle for independence with the Mughal Empire and to the devastating invasions of the Mahrattas. The correspondence with historical fact becomes closer as time goes on, and in the later events the author himself took part and is a witness of first-class importance. And even in earlier times, when it is impossible to obtain absolute corroboration, yet it is clear that the traditions which have been handed down by the bards or orally are not unconnected with events which actually occurred.

For example, in the Annals of Mewar (Vol. I., p. 345), in the story of the adventures of Prithirāj, he is said to have taken refuge with Muzaffar the Sultan of Malwa. On this Mr. Crooke has noted that there was no contemporary Sultan of Malwa of this name. But on p. 361 we are told that Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat invaded Mewar to avenge the disgrace of the defeat and captivity of his predecessor, Muzaffar, taken, as Tod explained, “by Prithirāj and carried to Rana Raemall, who exacted a large sum of money and seven hundred horses as his ransom.” This also is impossible, as Sultan Muzaffar II. of Gujarat, who reigned from 1515 to 1525, was never taken prisoner, and Prithirāj died in 1508 while Raemall was still Rana. The king really taken prisoner was Sultan Mahmūd of Malwa. In 1517 the power in Malwa fell into the hands of a Hindu leader. Mahmūd was supported by Sultan Muzaffar of Gujarat, who took the capital city, Mandu. Rana Sanga of Mewar supported the Hindus, and in 1520 he defeated Sultan Mahmūd and carried him as a prisoner to Chitor, but treated him well, and finally released him. (See the Mirāt-i-Sikandari, Fazlullah’s translation, pp. 106, 107.) Under these circumstances the confusion between Muzaffar and Mahmud, and between Gujarat and Malwa, was natural, more especially as a few years later (1530) Malwa was conquered and annexed by Gujarat.

We have here therefore a confused memory of an actual event, and similar confusion occurred in other cases. The names of many of the Sultans of Delhi are mixed up and mis-dated, but in every case there is probably a reminiscence of an actual event. There was no doubt much exaggeration and some falsification by the tribal bards who desired to enhance the glory and reputation of the family to whose interests they were devoted. Such inaccuracy is to be expected, and is indeed inevitable and universal in similar cases. Mr. Crooke has pointed out and corrected the mis-statements, and given the actual facts in his notes wherever it has been possible to do so, leaving Tod’s inimitable narrative and his notes intact. This is the only way to deal with a work of this kind, whose value does not depend upon historical accuracy but upon its vivid representation of the life and character of the Rajput race.

A considerable part of the work is occupied by Tod’s “Personal Narrative” of his travels and adventures in Rajasthan, and of the part he took as Political Agent in helping to settle the numerous feuds which had developed during the anarchical conditions of the eighteenth century, and in advocating the cause of the Rājputs and combating the policy of the Indian Government when he thought it unjust or injudicious. His early retirement from the service and the, neglect of the Government to recognize his merits may probably be attributed to this cause. The last thirteen years of his life were devoted to the composition of his great work, which perhaps without this period of comparative leisure would never have seen the light.

In spite of his numerous mistakes in philology or ethnology, due to the mistaken theories in vogue in his day, Tod’s keen instinct often led him to correct conclusions in spite of the theories. Mr. Crooke has pointed out that he arrived at the firm belief that the Rājputs were of Scythic origin, and that this belief is fully justified by the results of modern research, which tend to show that many of the more noble septs are descended from the Hūnas and Gurjaras and other invaders from Central Asia, and that the tales of divine or royal descent were invented after their gradual adoption into the Hindu confraternity. The importance of their connection with the primitive tribes of the country, such as the Bhīls and Mīnas, and of the part taken by these in investiture ceremonies, is also well brought out by Tod, and is of great value from the folk-lore point of view as accentuating the position held by these autochthonic tribes who were believed to have intercourse with and control over the mysterious powers of nature in their country.

The most interesting and fascinating part of Tod’s work is that in which he deals with the fortunes of the Sesodias of Mewār and the Rāthors of Mārwār. Here he is himself to the fullest extent; he enters into his subject con amore, and few readers can escape from the charm of his animated narrative.

The original edition of Rajasthan is scarce and expensive, and the Clarendon Press has done well to bring out this excellent edition. It is well-printed and in a convenient form, and the beautiful illustrations of the original, though reduced in size, are well reproduced.

It would have been impossible to find a better editor than Mr. Crooke, who is admirably qualified by his experience and his knowledge of the races of Northern India to deal with all the difficult points which are found in such a work, and he must be heartily congratulated on the result of his labours.