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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Tod’s sympathetic understanding of Rajput difference

installing the image of Srinathji in a tented enclosure. (By kind permission of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland) Tod also wishes ‘to provoke further investigation’, being conscious of the shortcomings of his own historiographical enterprise in relation to the available accounts of the Rajputs’ past: 3

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own request in April 1822, since his immediate hierarchical superiors as well as the East India Company authorities in Calcutta had apparently considered his close relationships with the Rajput princes under his jurisdiction as going against the interests of the British Government in India. In London therefore, Tod tried to turn the page on his abrupt separation from India, by turning to advantage his knowledge of the

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Trying to understand

permission of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland) I would like to argue here that perhaps Tod did not have a preconceived grid of interpretation when he set out to describe the genealogies and social practices of the Rajputs and the Gujaratis. To do so, concerning the Rajputs, I will proceed in two steps

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James Tod’s role in knowledge exchanges with the Rajputs

In a context of the expanding presence of the East India Company in India in the early decades of the nineteenth century, James Tod (1782–1835) had the opportunity to be in close contact with the Rajputs in central and northwestern India between 1800 and 1822. He chose to learn their language (a dialect of Urdu) and to observe their way of life, their history and their social

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poetic quotations and of rendering his accounts heroic, Tod can be understood to have been trying to build bridges between the Rajput culture he was describing and the British culture of his readership. He seems almost to be blending the two cultures together, by stressing their similarities and by drawing parallels between these disparate cultural spheres. Tod’s use of heroic legends based on the

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’, which did not exist in the Rajput ‘pallias’ which Tod had had occasion to observe. By situating these new phenomena through connections with familiar Scottish terms, or well-known European architectural monuments or through imagined meanings, later rectified by information gleaned from local people, Tod manifests a typical Enlightenment-influenced approach of proceeding rationally through ground

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particular the Rajputs, whose history and customs he studied in detail during his five years as the British Governor-General in India’s political agent to the western Rajput states between 1818 and 1823. After his return to England he spent a large amount of his time putting together his two large volumes on the Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan , which appeared in 1829 and 1832, some ten years after his

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commander of Sindhia’s troops from 1785 to 1795, particularly at the 1791 Battle of Merta, where the Maratha troops under de Boigne defeated the Rajput forces, thanks to their European artillery (eighty cannon as against the twenty-five of the Rajputs) and the European training of the Maratha infantry, with use of the hollow square formation. 10 Tod was present in 1806, with Graeme

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Kipling’s North Indian travels

or even wondering ‘Englishman’, but as a story-teller who describes the first sacking in the fourteenth century when the Raja of Chitor had married theRajput princess of Ceylon Pudmini, “And she was fairest of all flesh on earth” . . . and she became, in some sort, the Helen of Chitor, sought by Ala-ud-din the Pathan emperor.’ Having trapped her husband by treachery, he attacked the city,’ killed the flower of the Rajputs’, and sacked it, prompting an appalling sati: When everything was hopeless and the very terrible Goddess, who lives in the bowels of Chitor

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