James Tod’s journeys among the Rajputs

James Tod (1782-1835) spent twenty-two years in India (1800-1822), during the last five of which he was Political Agent of the British Government in India to the Western Rajput States in north-west India. His book studies Tod’s relationships with particular Rajput leaders and with the Rajputs as a group in general, in order to better understand his attempts to portray their history, geographical moorings and social customs to British and European readers. The book highlights Tod’s apparently numerous motivations in writing on the Rajputs: to bring knowledge about the Rajputs into European circles, to demonstrate that the Rajputs maintained historical records from the early middle ages and were thus not a primitive people without awareness of their own history, and to establish possible ethnic links between the warrior-like Rajputs and the peoples of Europe, as also between the feudal institutions of Rajputana and Europe. Fierce criticisms in Tod’s time of his ethnic and institutional hypotheses about connections between Rajputs and Europeans illustrate that Tod’s texts did not leave his readers indifferent.

The approach adopted uses available documents to go beyond a binary opposition between the colonisers and the colonised in India, by focusing on traces of friendly exchanges between Tod and his British colleagues on the one hand, and on the other hand, various members of the kingdoms of western India, with whom they interacted. Under themes like landscape, anthropology, science, Romantic literature, approaches to government policy, and knowledge exchanges in India and in London, this volume analyses Tod’s role as a mediator of knowledge through his travels across a little-known part of the British Empire in the early 19th century.

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James Tod’s role in knowledge exchanges with the Rajputs
Florence D’Souza

Attempting to analyse James Tod’s position as self-elected defender of the cause of the Rajputs, this book takes "shape-shifting" and "self-translation" in the encounter with human difference, to account for Tod’s exhortation of respect for Rajput pride and honour to the British Government in India. Thomas Metcalf’s distinction between a Romantic sensitivity to Indian tradition, and a Whiggish, rational reforms and laws among British administrators in India, enables us to situate Tod as an ambivalent Romantic with a leaning to rational capitalist improvement in Rajputana. Dane Kennedy’s and David Washbrook’s emphasis on the porous relations between British colonial officials and Indians, using Bakhtin’s concept of many-voiced "dialogism" is particularly applicable to Tod’s context. Christopher A. Bayly and Michael S.Dodson refer to Homi Bhabha"s "hybridity" to better understand the processes of knowledge exchanges in the colonial situation, which is helpful in explaining Tod’s premature retirement from Rajasthan. Daniel Carey and Lynn Festa have drawn together Enlightenment ideas and Postcolonial ideas, advocating attention to diverse practices over umbrella concepts, contrapuntal readings over teleological readings of individual texts, and the importance of the HOWs over the WHATs of colonial encounter, all of which strategies are useful in understanding the paradoxes of Tod’s experience of Rajasthan. The Introduction closes with a summary of the book’s seven chapters.

in Knowledge, mediation and empire
Florence D’Souza

Based on the "Personal Narrative" or travel journal sections of Tod’s two major published works, this first chapter compares Tod’s depiction of landscape scenes with the ways in which Tod’s contemporaries Francis Buchanan Hamilton and Bishop Reginald Heber deal with landscape in their respective travel accounts. This leads to an understanding of the specificity of Tod’s overlapping use of existing aesthetic categories (the sublime, the picturesque and attention to light effects), and ideological frameworks (comparisons with well-known European landscape scenes and monuments, the concept of remoteness to evoke imposing size and grandeur, acknowledgement of the superiority of ancient structures, an avoidance of feminising, inferiorising descriptions of oriental landscapes, and a preference for an 18th century civic humanism that viewed all human communities as variations of a common humanity over the later 19th-century hierarchisation of cultures). Thus, Tod’s textual portrayals of landscape scenes in Rajasthan and Gujarat can be seen as attempts to make accessible to his European readers those aspects of the Rajput and Gujarati landscapes that struck him the most.

in Knowledge, mediation and empire
Trying to understand
Florence D’Souza

Tod’s observations on the social practice of the Rajputs and the Gujaratis can be situated in a context of attention by thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment and French Enlightenment philosophers to kinship systems, social customs, gradations and hierarchisations among different human groups. Tod seems to have tried to adapt his written reports to his field observations of the manners and customs, and the relation to history of the Rajputs and the Gujaratis, rather than project a preconceived grid of interpretation on their social practices with the sole object of consolidating the superiority of Western societies and justifying British colonial intervention in India. Whether it was concerning different, tribes, ethnic groups and dynasties, varying interpretations of the rights to the land, the social status of women, or local histories, Tod seems to have spent his energy mainly in trying to understand and then in presenting to his European readers, the complexities of his observations on the social practices of the Rajputs and the Gujaratis, rather than in situating them in any abstract, hierarchical scale of civilisations.

in Knowledge, mediation and empire
Voyages through empirical, common sense
Florence D’Souza

Tod’s practice of science in India took place in the scientific context of the first two decades of the nineteenth century in Britain, which were the occasion of the institutionalisation of major earth sciences like topographical surveying, geology and botany. In India, colonial British scientists practised empirical field observations in these physical sciences in an overall framework of classifications and causatory explanations, inspired by the Common Sense philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment. With the help of his British companions, his Indian assistants and Western scientific instruments, Tod recorded notations of relative topographical positions of places, geological formations and botanical specialities of the regions he traversed. Since he was not a trained scientist himself, Tod’s scientific remarks include utilitarian reflections on the economic potential of the natural resources of Rajasthan and Gujarat, but also show that in his own way he participated in the introduction of Western science into Indian contexts.

in Knowledge, mediation and empire
Florence D’Souza

Tod’s use of a heroic Romantic register and of quotations from British Romantic writers like Byron and Scott in his published works is compared here with James Forbes’ and Bishop Reginald Heber’s recourse to literary quotations. Tod’s renderings of succession conflicts, of marriages and sati-sacrifices by Rajput princesses, and his reconstitutions of famous battles from Rajput bardic chronicles seem to be inspired by Romanticism’s idealisation of the heroic spirit and its nostalgia for a chivalrous past. David Arnold’s tripartite classification of Tod’s use of literary Romanticism with first a sentimental Romanticism (bleak ruins), then with a brooding, Orientalist Romanticism (cosmic elements and an epic register) and finally with a heroic, Byronic Romanticism (poetic meditations on the futility of life and on human love) is helpful in making sense of the various literary quotations that appear through Tod’s texts. These literary excursions in Tod’s writings seem to play a double role: an aesthetic role of making strange settings and events familiar through well-known literary favourites, deployed as cultural bridges; and then an ideological role of advocating a flexible, colonial regime, respectful of age-old Rajput customs and the Rajput sense of honour, while awakening in Britain, "sympathy for… the interesting people of Rajasthan" (Annals, II-vii).

in Knowledge, mediation and empire
Florence D’Souza

James Mill (1773-1836) never visited India, adhered to Jeremy Bentham’s rational, utilitarian philosophy and in his History of British India (1817), attributed India’s "low" and "rude" state of civilisation in the 1800s to an absence of reliable, historical records and to a too great submission to superstition and despotism. James Tod, on the other hand, spent 22 years in India, respected the non-European uniqueness of Rajput historical chronicles, and spent much energy in establishing a coherent narrative of the past exploits of the various Rajput clans, in order to secure policies that would ensure Rajput support for the British Government in India. In 1831-32, in their recommendations to the British Parliament in the context of the renewal of the East India Company’s Charter, the respective views of Mill and Tod, while seeming to be poles apart at first, reveal, in fact, similar high ideals for a British Government in India beneficial to all concerned, while undergoing similar bureaucratic pressures. In reality, James Mill actually supported innovative reforms and liberating change for India, while Tod combined an ethos of Romanticism with an agenda of down-to-earth improvements.

in Knowledge, mediation and empire
Florence D’Souza

Chapter 6 aims to arrive at a complete a picture of Tod as possible through his written mentions of and exchanges during his stay in India. Tod’s family had Scottish connections and his two maternal uncles, names Heatly, were members of the Bengal Civil Service in India. Mentions of encounters with wild animals, hunting and fishing in India provide light entertainment for Tod’s readers, in the midst of his dense historical and political accounts. Allusions to tensions about British appointments and responsibilities, and a textual ellipsis in the travel narrative of Tod’s third journey from Mewar (June 1821 to March 1822) reveal official distrust between Tod and his hierarchical superior, David Ochterlony. Similarly, very few mentions of illness during the early years of Tod’s stay in Rajasthan (1819-1820), contrasted with more frequent experiences of ill health from 1820 onwards, indicate increased official pressures and professional worries. Tod’s field account book covering 30 months, from November 1819 to April 1822, provides some precise amounts Tod had to spend in his official capacity. Eleven letters in the local Urdu dialect, written from field positions in Rajasthan and Gujarat, by Tod to Rana Bheem Singh of Mewar, reveal Mewar political matters and the personal relationship between Tod and the Rana. Through a study of the various mentions and documents, we catch glimpses of a tormented but committed Tod.

in Knowledge, mediation and empire
Florence D’Souza

The seventh chapter deals with Tod’s twelve shorter essays, presented by him before learned societies in London and Paris, between 1824 and 1835. In two steps concerning these shorter essays, an analysis is made of (a)Tod’s deployment of an apparatus of erudition; (b)Tod’s attention to language. By unfolding parallels between the Rajput artefacts he had gathered in India, with texts and historical vestiges from various other ancient and medieval cultures, Tod was probably underlining the suitability for scholarly attention of Rajput history and culture, with the stamp of his own eye-witness authenticity. This seventh chapter concludes with a brief presentation of the reviews of Tod’s various publications in the journals of his time, illustrating the contemporary reception of the published results of his knowledge-gathering on the Rajputs and Western India.

in Knowledge, mediation and empire
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Tod’s sympathetic understanding of Rajput difference
Florence D’Souza

Tod’s deliberate choice to simultaneously defend the Rajputs as a historically grounded people capable of moving into the modern world, while also upholding the beneficial effects of prolonged British rule in India can explain his political efforts to incite respect among the British authorities for the Rajputs’ sense of honour, with the intention of preventing Rajput rejection of any humiliating imposition of external British Rule. This political message of tolerance, which went against the dominant British way of thinking at the time, also situates Tod as an individual who refused to conform to simplistic, binary oppositions of powers, or races, or nations. A few comparisons of Tod’s trajectory with other scholarly British traveller-philanthropists, in the Middle East for example, highlight the particularities of Tod’s role concerning knowledge constructions about the Rajputs and the Gujaratis.

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