Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Suwarree of Seiks, and View near the Sutlej River

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


A native Suwarree, or train of a great personage, in India always forms a picturesque and splendid pageant, but in the present dwindled state of Asiatic pride, none can stand a comparison with that of Runjeet Singh. In addition to all the glittering groups which the king of Oude can bring in support of his dignity, the chief of Lahore displays a martial host of followers, who have added many broad lands to his dominions, and rendered numerous warlike tribes tributary to the state.

Runjeet Singh, in the centre of a brilliant cavalcade, composed of superb-looking men, mounted upon stately elephants or gallant steeds, and shining in all the panoply of polished weapons, jewels, and gold, realizes the beau-ideal which the most vivid imagination can have formed of the gorgeous splendours of an Asiatic prince. The scene represented in the accompanying Plate was sketched upon the river Sutlej, near a fortified Seik town, commanding a view of the snowy peaks of the Himalaya mountains, at the distance of a hundred and twenty miles.

Runjeet Singh, like other native potentates, when appearing in public, is attended by hawk and hound, his falconers bearing the regal birds upon their wrists, and a pack of dogs being led before him: his elephants, camels, and horses are of the finest breed, and amongst the latter, he is particularly pleased with a specimen presented by Lord William Bentinck—a noble, though what is esteemed in his native land a clumsy animal, employed only as a beast of draught in the great brewing establishments in England, but which has sometimes the honour of carrying the maha-rajah himself, and has had the title of hathee-sa-ghora bestowed upon it, (elephant-horse.) Runjeet Singh himself is a slim, active personage, and would probably have even been considered handsome, but for the ravages of the small-pox, which has deprived him of the sight of one eye. He dresses richly, and is upon state occasions distinguished for a remarkably fine diamond, called the kohi noor, or hill of light, which is said to be unique, and to exceed in size and splendour any specimens of the gem known in Europe. The manner in which the maha-rajah is stated to have possessed himself of this jewel is not greatly to his credit.

In September, 1812, the queens of Shah Sujah, and Zeman Shah, of Cabul, took refuge from the troubles of their country, and were received in Lahore with every demonstration of respect. Sujah, the deposed king, having been made prisoner by treachery, was conveyed by the governor of Attock to his brother, who at this period ruled over Cashmere. Two grand objects of the Seik's ambition and avarice, the possession of the celebrated valley, and of the hill of light, appearing now to be brought by fortuitous circumstances within his grasp, he determined, if possible, to make the attainment of the one, a pretence for the concession of the other. With this view he gave the queen to understand, that he was resolved to espouse the cause of her husband in the most chivalrous manner; to liberate him from his confinement, and bestow upon him the fort of Rotas, together with a sufficient territory for the maintenance of his dignity. The afflicted lady, overjoyed and gratified, expressed a deep appreciation of the intended
Views in India 0025.png

Runjeet Singh and his Suwarree, or Cavalcade of Seiks.
Encamped under a Banian Tree on the River Sutlej.

kindness, and it was then delicately hinted, that, in order to stimulate her friend to the enterprise, it would be advisable to present him with the kohi noor, a gem which he was very anxious to possess. The queen, who was no bad diplomatist, declared herself quite certain that the moment her husband found himself at liberty, he would be but too happy to gratify the wishes of the invaluable friend who had started up in his distress, but that at present the diamond was in pawn at Candahar, for two lacs of rupees. Runjeet Singh believed as much of the representation as he pleased; but having shewn his desire to obtain the diamond, it was necessary to prevent it from being despatched to a place of security; and, therefore, entirely losing sight of the chivalric character which he had lately assumed, he threw the confidential servants of the unfortunate princesses into close confinement, and surrounded their abode with sentinels, who had strict orders to search every person who should attempt to pass. This measure not having the desired effect, he determined to resort to one still more disgraceful, and deprived the ladies and their household of all supplies, either of food or water, for two days. These heroic women still holding out, the Seik was ashamed of continuing a system likely to end in the death of the parties who had claimed his hospitality, and was fain to be content with a promise of the jewel, to be redeemed when the imprisoned monarch should be put in possession of Rotas. Runjeet Singh now set seriously to work, and having entered into an alliance with the ruler of Affghanistan, they agreed to send a large force into Cashmere, which had rebelled, to subdue the country, and to obtain the person of Shah Sujah.

The expedition was successful, but it cost Runjeet rather dearly, many Seiks perishing in the snow; and his ally, Futty Khan, deriving the greater share of the benefit. This chieftain installed his brother in the government of the valley, and the Seiks were for the present obliged to remain content with the custody of the royal captive, who was conveyed to his family at Lahore. The success of the expedition furnished a fair pretext for the renewal of the inhospitable demand for the great diamond; and the king vainly endeavoured to evade the sacrifice, by professing his willingness to fulfil the promise given by his wife, when the restoration of the territory should enable him to redeem the precious kohi noor now in pledge for two lacs. Runjeet Singh was not so easily cajoled; he therefore proceeded to extremities, imprisoned his unhappy guests, threatened them with perpetual incarceration, and kept them without food for several days. Perceiving resistance to be useless, Shah Sujah at last came to terms, stipulating for a sum of money and a month's time, to recover the diamond, and pay off the loan upon it; but this attempt to gain something in exchange was not successful. Runjeet Singh, too wary to be outwitted, and well knowing how easily he could repossess himself of money advanced to a prisoner, produced the two lacs without hesitation, and a day was appointed for the surrender of the coveted jewel.

Shah Sujah, the representative of a race of kings, sat in dignified silence opposite to the mean-spirited oppressor, whose family, raised to power by a freak of fortune, could only trace their descent from thieves. It is said, that for a whole hour the exiled monarch gazed impressively upon the robber chief without speaking, and that Runjeet Singh, whom this mute eloquence failed to move, desired somebody acquainted with the Persian language to remind his majesty of the purpose for which they had met. The shah, without opening his lips, "spoke with his eyes" to an attendant, who, retiring, returned with a small parcel, which he placed between the great men. The envelopes were speedily removed, and the jewellers, who were stationed behind, recognising the diamond, assured their master, that it was the veritable kohi noor.

Nothing now remained but the repossession of the two lacs; which was speedily accomplished. Runjeet despatched a picked body of his satellites to the residence of his unfortunate guests, with orders to bring away, without any reservation, the money and jewels belonging to the party. These commands were literally obeyed; not only every ornament being taken, but rich dresses also, together with the swords, shields, and matchlocks, which were mounted in gold or silver. The maha-rajah appropriated every thing which he thought worthy of retention to his own use, sending back those articles which he considered to be of little or no value, observing to his courtiers, that it was useless to get a bad name for such rubbish. Nothing more being procurable, and some feeling of policy or remorse preventing him from taking the lives of those whom he had so shamefully pillaged, Runjeet Singh allowed the females to escape to Loodianah, where they were some time afterwards rejoined by their husbands, on whom the British government settled 50,000 rupees, (five thousand pounds a year,) which they continue to enjoy. The Mogul and Affghan horse-dealers, who frequent the fair at Hurdwar, (if their reports may be relied upon,) would give us reason to believe that the situation of the ex-king of Cabool excites great interest and compassion, and that the tributaries of Runjeet Singh would be delighted, were the British to restore Shah Sujah to the throne. These men seem to be much puzzled to guess the reason that the English do not invade the maha-rajah's territories; they abhor the Seiks, because they are gradually seizing the Affghan dependencies, and they fancy that the Lahore chieftain pays six cowries in the rupee to the Company, for permission to hold the countries he has conquered, and to receive their revenues, our non-interference system being otherwise unaccountable.

Runjeet Singh, though owing the greater portion of his acquisitions to craft of the lowest kind, and of the most unjustifiable nature, is possessed of talents of no common order, which, if properly cultivated, would have secured for him an ascendancy based upon a more honourable foundation; but with too many of the vices of the Asiatic character, he has also a very large proportion of those ridiculous notions which are obsolete in countries illuminated by the light of science. The Seik ruler is a great believer in omens, and not only consults the stars, but also the chirpings of birds, previous to any measure of importance. He has lately suffered from ill health, but the remedies prescribed by European physicians have been neglected, for the advice of soothsayers. These personages took upon themselves to discover the cause of the malady of the sovereign, which some old beggar-woman had naturally enough attributed to the oppression of his people. Upon consulting the stars, they found Saturn in the ascendant, a planet which, according to general belief, always exerts a baleful influence. There was no difficulty now in tracing the liver complaint and dysentery of the lion of the Punjab, to its true source: but what was to be done in such an emergence? the dislodgment of a planet from the sky being beyond the power of the maha-rajah, great as he undoubtedly is. Nevertheless, it was necessary to hit upon some method to get rid of the malignant influence, and it was determined to transport the planet in effigy out of the Seik dominions into the British territory, in the expectation, that on its arrival on the coast, the Governor-General would evince his friendship by transporting Saturn beyond the kalapance, or salt ocean. The credit of this ingenious device is due to Mudhsoodun Pundit, and other learned men, who, according to the statement in the Lahore ukhbars, recommended his highness to cause an effigy of the planet Saturn to be made of gold, set with sapphires, and to give the same, with a black shawl, to a brahmin of some other country, who should be placed in a rath, or car, of a dark colour, drawn by buffaloes instead of bullocks, and transported along with the image across the river, when, with the blessing of Providence, the maha-rajah would speedily recover.

This notable expedient was instantly adopted, and a golden effigy of the planet speedily constructed. When it was finished, a brahmin of the Chobal class, a native of Mutah, was found, to undertake this novel charge, who, after being bathed in oil, and his person blackened from head to foot, was clad in sable garments; when the effigy in question, with a pair of gold bracelets, five hundred rupees in cash, and a black horse, with a black saddle, were given, according to the rite called Sung-kluss. After being placed in a covered rath, drawn by a pair of buffaloes, the brahmin, accompanied by two battalions of soldiers, was ordered to be carried across the river. It is needless to add, that the instant that Saturn left Lahore, the maha-rajah nearly recovered; the farther progress of the planet was not stated, but it was supposed that his highness would be quite well before it reached Loodianah.

Runjeet Singh entertains crowds of dancing-girls at his court, and has, in his old age, scandalized the more fastidious portion of the community, by raising one of these ladies to the throne. The celebrated dancer, Gool-bahar, having frequently attracted the attention of her lord, at length obtained sufficient influence over him to induce him to make her his wife. The marriage was solemnized with all the pomp and splendour consistent with the rank and dignity of the bridegroom, made happy in the possession of a beauty, whose charms are stated to be transcendent. It is said that no report can possibly exaggerate the attractions of the lady, whose loveliness far surpasses any idea that can be formed of it.

Not content with the usual number of female attendants, Runjeet Singh has a band of amazons armed, and equipped as a guard to the Zenana; these women are splendidly dressed, and many are said to be very handsome, and great favourites of their sovereign.