Page images
PDF
EPUB

ordinary dissuasions to the woman, and to promise her a livelihood in case she survived; but the victim, as usual, was resolute. To the offer of a maintenance she is reported to have answered -- There are a hundred people related to me-and I have no such thoughts to annoy me. I am about to obey the influence of God.' The sight of her infant son did not shake her. All the marvels which the arts of the priesthood conjure up on such occasions, were employed to convince the populace that it was the will of Heaven that the sacrifice should proceed. “It has been usual'-naively wrote the Kotah minister in his exculpatory account of the catastrophe to the chargé d'affaires—it has been usual, on a disposition to burn being evinced, to confine the individual in a room under lock and key; and if these efforts should be frustrated by the voluntary barsting of the locks and doors, it was a sure sign that her intention was pure and sincere, and that it was useless to oppose it. This test was applied on the present occasion, and both locks and doors flew open! Moreover, it was known that a Suttee's words for good or for evil would assuredly come true, which of itself deterred any spectator from interfering. Your Agency messenger brought her to the palace and took her by the hand; though, as she was regarded as dead to the world and all its creatures, this ought not to have been done. He was told to take a guard and dissuade her if he could, but he did not succeed.'--The chief constable soon obtained sufficient warranty of the strength of the woman's determination to satisfy him of the propriety of ordering the pile. Twenty pounds of sandal wood, and twenty more of cotton rope, together with faggots and flax, were accordingly put together in haste by the river side ; and the funeral procession was on the point of commencing, when the Resident sent a servant of his own to make one more effort to dissuade the victim. The messenger found the Brahmins plying her with camphor, and was wholly unable to overcome the natural and artificial exaltation which she exhibited. Moreover, the crowd were impatient at what they deemed so pertinacious an opposition to the Divine will, and bore the woman off to the palace, in order to obtain the chief's prohibition of any further attempts of the kind. The messenger had the courage to accompany them. On being admitted to the presence, he reminded his Highness of his late promise to the Resident; but his remonstrances were quickly neutralized by an adroit hint to the prince from a native courtier, that if the widow's purpose were thwarted, she might utter some imprecations fatal to the state !' On this his Highness declared that he would stand neutral in the matter – he would neither assent nor dissent—the messenger might do his best. The Brahmins and crowd of course inter

preted preted this as it was meant; they jostled the emissaries of the chargé d'affaires, and even threw out threats against that officer himself, in case of any further interference. Musicians now came out from the palace to assist at the ceremony; a sumptuous dress and ornaments were presented to the woman; and thus decorated and attended, she was conducted to the place of sacrifice. Secret orders to use despatch had in the mean time been sent by the Prince; and so well were these obeyed, that within three hours of Luchmun Brahmin's death his widow had shared his obsequies.

It is true that cases are on record in which, at the supreme moment, women have lost courage, and, starting from the pile, have torn off their sacrificial garlands, and cried aloud for mercy! Unhappily, too, it is not improbable that on such occasions the fatal belief that a suttee's resolution once voluntarily taken is irrevocable, may have caused the bystanders to thrust the victim remorselessly back into the flames; or if, from British interposition, a rescue has been effected, the woman has, it may be, survived only to curse the pity which, to save her from a few moments of pain, has deprived her, as she deemed, of ages of happiness. These things have been; but, with very rare exceptions, the Suttee has been a voluntary victim. Resolute, undismayed, confident in her own inspiration, but betraying by the tone of her prophecieswhich are almost always auspicious—and by the gracious acts with which she takes leave of her household, and by the gifts which she lavishes on the bystanders, that her tender woman's heart is the true source whence that inspiration flows, the childwidow has scarcely time to bewail her husband ere she makes ready to rejoin him. She is dressed like a bride, but it is as a bride who has been received within the zenána of her bridegroom. Her veil is put off, her hair unbound ; and so -adorned and so exposed, she goes forth to gaze on the strange world for the first time, face to face, ere she leaves it. She does not blush or quail. She scarcely regards the bearded crowd who press so eagerly towards her. Her lips move in momentary prayer:

Paradise is in her view. She sees her husband awaiting with approbation the sacrifice which shall restore her to him dowered with the expiation of their sins, and ennobled with a martyr's crown. What wonder if, dazzled with these visionary glories, she heeds not the shouting throng, the ominous pile? Exultingly she mounts the last earthly couch which she shall share with her lord. His head she places fondly on her lap. The priests set up their chant-it is a strange hymeneal--and her first-born son, walking thrice round the pile, lights the flame. If the impulse which can suffice to steel a woman's nerves to encounter

SO

so painful a death, and to overpower the yearnings of her heart towards the children she may leave behind her—if such an impulse is, even to the eye of philosophy, a strange evidence of the power of faith, and of the depth and strength of tenderness, surely we may well conceive how the superstitious Hindoo should trace in it more directly the finger of God himself. They, we are persuaded, will best cope with this superstition—for they alone will comprehend the grounds on which it rests - who, content with the weapons of truth, will own, that love, and beauty, and death-terror, wonder, pity-never conspired to form a rite more solemn and affecting to the untutored heart of man.*

The confirmation that the Kotah case appeared to give to the current opinions on the danger of interference, had naturally caused an official neutrality on the subject to be prescribed more strictly than ever to our Residents at native courts; and a complete inaction was the order of the day. Not to multiply instances of this policy, we may mention that in 1842 Lord Ellenborough expressly declined to sanction an offer made by the chargé d'affaires at Hyderabad, to procure from its Mahomedan ruler a prohibition of the rite.

It was in the midst of this general despondency that Major (now Lieutenant-Colonel) Ludlow, chargé d'affaires at Jypore, conceived the idea of assailing the superstition in its stronghold. His scheme was simple and not new-qualities which are the best evidence of the difficulties that had hitherto prevented its execution. Long ago, Oriental scholars, both native and European, had shown that the rite was not only unsanctioned, but inferentially forbidden, by the earliest and most authoritative Hindoo scriptures. Nay, Colonel Tod in his book on Rajpootana had actually indicated this anomaly in Hindoo doctrine as the best point of attack for abolitionists to select. Yet though that valuable work was published in 1829, and though the author, from the position he long held as chief diplomatic officer in the country he so well describes, had the amplest opportunities for carrying out his own suggestion, it was reserved for Major

* I have heard,' says Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone, ‘that in Guzerat women about to burn are often stupefied with opium. In most other parts this is certainly not the case.

Women go through all the ceremonies with astonishing composure and presence of mind, and have been seen seated, unconfined, among the flames

, apparently praying, and raising their joined hands to their heads with as little agitation as at their ordinary devotions. The sight of a widow burning is a most painful one; but it is hard to say whether the spectator is most affected by pity or admiration. The more than human serenity of the victim, and the respect which she receives from all around her, are heightened by her gentle demeanor and her care to omit nothing in distributing her last presents, and paying the usual marks of courtesy to the bystanders; while the cruel death that awaits her is doubly felt from her own apparent insensibility to its terrors.'--History of India, i. 361.

Ludlow,

Ludlow, in 1844, to put it to the test of practice, and to vanquish the obstacles which had hitherto confined it to the dream-land of speculative benevolence.

The explanation of this previous inaction is not difficult. Scholars, it is true, had proved Suttee to be an innovation and a heresy; but it was an innovation of 2000 years' standing, and a heresy abetted by the priesthood since the days of Alexander. Though unnoticed by Menu, the supplementary writings with which the Hindoos, like the Jews, have overlaid their primitive books, are profuse in its praise. Above all—let the force of the appeal from the more recent to the primitive code be what it might-it could not but be attended with suspicion when proceeding from religionists who equally repudiated both the one and the other. It is no matter for surprise that Englishmen should have hesitated long to assail with the delicate weapon of theological criticism a rite thus strong in remote antiquity, in venerated records, in a hierarchy at once ignorant and unscrupulous, and in the associations with which innumerable traditions of womanly courage and constancy had ennobled it in the eyes of the Hindoo people.

His resolution once taken, however, there were circumstances in Major Ludlow's position not unfavourable to the enterprise. He enjoyed peculiar opportunities of intercourse with the nobles of the court to which he was accredited. The prince of Jypore was a minor, and the government was carried on by a council of regency, over which the Major presided. Not only did he thus possess a more direct voice in the administration than his post of chargé d'affaires would have given him, but he had already so used this vantage-ground as to dissipate to an extraordinary degree the jealousies likely to be excited in his native colleagues by any interference with their domestic customs.

He had even contrived to bring the other Rajpoot states to combine with Jypore for an object not wholly alien from that which he had at present in view. Then, as now, the abuse which he had undertaken to assail concerned their zenánas; and his bitterest opponents were likely to be found amongst the priests.

Old maids, as our readers have probably heard, are sadly de preciated in the East. A Rajpoot girl who remains long unwedded is a disgrace to her house ; but that was not the only danger which but a few years ago her father had to fear. Should he succeed in finding her a husband, the chances were that the family estates would be hopelessly encumbered in providing the gratuities claimed by the priests and minstrels who were certain to flock to the nuptials. No Rajpoot is above the dread of satire and imprecations; and those worthies notoriously dispensed their blessings

and

and applauses, or their curses and lampoons, according to the price at which their services were retained. The result was that their favour was purchased at almost any cost. "The Dahima emptied his coffers on the marriage of his daughter,' ran a favourite distich of these venal bards, but he filled them with the praises of mankind.' The Rajpoots at large were not disposed to be Dahimas, nor yet to brave the scandal of housing marriageable daughters. They found refuge from the dilemma in infanticide. Parents reared just so many girls as they could afford to marry off, and destroyed the rest. The criminality of the practice was, indeed, acknowledged. Rajpoot decorum demanded that it should be veiled in secrecy; but that was all. · A trifling penance absolved the perpetrator. Nobody dreamed of dragging such affairs into publicity. If a son was born, the fact was announced to inquirers with exultation ; if a daughter, the answer was

- Nothing! and those who came to congratulate went silent away. It must not be supposed that this system had grown up to such monstrous maturity without some degree of resistance on the part of the native rulers. It appears that here and there, and at various periods, a Rajpoot prince had sought to reach the evil by sumptuary enactments in restraint of nuptial gratuities; but that fear of the reproach of their kinsmen in neighbouring communities had invariably deterred his subjects from taking advantage of the remedy.

Major Ludlow conceived that he saw his way to improving on these precedents. He conjectured that if the various states throughout Rajpootána could be brought to agree to a common scale of such largesses, apportioned to the revenue of the bride's parents, with uniform penalties for all demands in excess, the problem might be solved. Nothing, however, is harder than to bring the tenacious principalities of Rajpootána to act together on any subject. What could seem more so than to bring them to work in concert on a question involving points so delicate as the largesses to be dispensed on their daughters' weddings, and the comparative claims of their minstrels and priests?-It was certain, too, that, failing this agreement, no measure of the kind could be demanded of them by the British Government without a breach of the treaties that secured the freedom of their internal administrations. In spite of these obstacles Major Ludlow obtained permission to do his best, on the single condition of using no direct solicitation towards the chiefs. His first efforts were thus confined to his brother diplomatists, and such native deputies as resided at Jypore for the purpose of communicating on plunder-cases. The latter, gradually coming into the idea, promulgated it among their respective governments; and by this indirect process he at length succeeded in obtaining the

enactment

« PreviousContinue »