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Significant Scots
James Tod

TOD, LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JAMES.—Of the early life of this distinguished historian of the East we have been able to glean only a few particulars. Such, however, is frequently the case with his countrymen. Their talents and enterprise lead them to eminence, and place them full in the view of the world; but when the general curiosity is expressed in, Where was he born?—who were his parents? —how was he trained and educated for the place he so worthily occupies?—the biographer is compelled to confess his ignorance, or feel his way at hap-hazard and by conjecture.

With these remarks we judge it necessary to premise a notice of Lieutenant-Colonel Tod, of the Honourable East India Company’s Service, and their political agent in the Western Rajpoot states. He was born in Scotland about the year 1782; but in what district, or of what parentage, we are unable to ascertain. In March, 1800, he went to India, being then only in his eighteenth. year, and obtained a commission in the second Bengal European regiment. Although he commenced his career thus early, he appears to have arrived in India an unbefriended adventurer; for, instead of waiting for promotion like his brother officers, who had patronage to back their merits, he volunteered for the Molucca Isles, was transferred to the marine service on board the Mornington, and afterwards, to use his own expression, "ran the gauntlet from Calcutta to Hurdwar." In the course of this run, however, he not only escaped the dangers that crossed it, but reached the starting-place of a new and better career. At the close of 1805, when he was nothing more than a subaltern in the subsidiary force at Gwalior, an embassy was to be sent, at the close of the Mahratta war, to Sindhia, at that time encamped at Mewar, in Rajpootana. Tod’s friend, Mr. Graeme Mercer, was sent as ambassador on this occasion, while Tod himself was to accompany him as assistant. The country of Rajast’han, of which it formed a part, was thenceforth to be the "home of his adoption," as he affectionately called it, and the place to which the best part of his life was to be enthusiastically and usefully devoted.

On settling down amidst the official duties with which he was intrusted, Tod, now scarcely twenty-four years old, resolved to be something more than a mere political resident. Great capacities, hitherto undeveloped, were struggling within him, which the new land of his abode was calculated to call forth; and, under this inspiration, he successively became geographer, historian, and archaelogist. As was natural, the geography of Rajast’han was the first subject of his inquiry, into which he threw himself with ardour, almost as soon as he arrived; and for this there was urgent need—for large and important though the country was, it was still a mere terra incognita to his employers, the conquerors of the East. Once a vast cluster of provinces, that composed an empire extending, in all probability, from the Jumna and Ganges to the base of the Himalaya, comprehending nearly eight degrees of latitude, and nine of longitude, it still was a large territory, inhabited by a variety of interesting races, but who, from the misgovernment of their own chiefs, and the absence of European instruction, were fast sinking into hopeless barbarism. He therefore began the survey of the country, which hitherto, in the maps of India, had been almost a total blank, while the course of rivers and the position of capitals were in most cases utterly reversed. All this mass of ignorance and error was superseded by his ample and accurate map of Rajast’han, which he completed and presented to the Marquis of Hastings in 1815. To the country itself thus delineated he gave the name of Central India, and that name it has ever since retained. The value of the map was fully tested as a guide in the operations of the government only two years afterwards, as its information was adopted in the plan of operations, by Lord Hastings, in 1817.

It was not enough for Tod, however, that he should be the geographer of his adopted country: he resolved also to be its historian. It was a bold attempt. Hitherto it had generally been thought in Europe that Indian history was but a myth—a collection of opium dreams, more unreal than even the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments—and therefore unworthy of a moment’s attention. The names, indeed, of Alexander of Macedon and Timour, of Mahmoud of Gazni, Baber, and Acbar, were familiar as invaders and conquerors of India; but the peoples and heroes whom they slew or subjugated in the lands which they formed into new empires, were as unknown as if they had been the inhabitants of a different planet; and yet these people must have had a history of some kind or other, and, perchance, a history worth reading, if it were only written. This, he resolved, should be done; but where were the materials? Rajast’han had abounded in poets and fabulists, and these, too, of the true eastern stamp; but it had not a Herodotus or a Xenophon, nor yet even a Bede or Fordun. These were all but insuperable difficulties, let the amount of research and talent be what it might. All this, however, he overcame. The labour which he endured in such a task, while it has a startling sound to European ears, gives a high idea of his indomitable zeal and perseverance. He began with the sacred genealogies contained in the Puranas, examined the Mahabharat, studied the historical poems of Chund, Jesselmer, Marwar, and Mewar, and the bardic lays containing the history of the Kheetchies, and that of the Hara princes of Kotah and Boondi. He also procured and carefully studied a large portion of the compilations of Jeysing of Amber or Jeypoor, the learned rajah of modern times, illustrating the history of his race. For ten years he was occupied with this mountain of recondite matter, being assisted in his labours by an erudite scholar of that eastern sect called the Jains, who made copious extracts from the above-mentioned mass, and translated them into those more familiar dialects of the East with which Tod was acquainted. He also mingled in frequent conversation with the most intelligent of the people; and having made himself master of their language, he extracted from them the knowledge of their historical traditions, whether in tales, allegories, or poems, and questioned them about their religious opinions, and their daily habits and usages. His ardent enthusiasm, and the Asiatic character that was rapidly ingrafting itself upon his Scottish temperament, admirably fitted him for such a task; and seated amidst the ruins of ancient cities, with a group of these story-tellers around him, he listened for hours to their stirring tales of the wild chivalry of the East, and the patriotic deeds of their ancestors, until he felt as if he was a Rajpoot, and that the bleak northern country in which his boyhood had been spent was nothing more than a dream of the night. But still his hereditary caution—canniness if you will—did not desert him under such tempting circumstances; and, therefore, independently of such sources of information, he studied every authentic monument, inscription, and architectural relic, by which he tested the innumerable legends that solicited his notice; and the result was his "Annals and Antiquities of Rajast’han," of which the first volume was published in London in 1829. This splendid work at once demonstrated that India has actually a native history, while it became the text-book and authority of our most distinguished Oriental scholars. It also gave an irresistible impulse to that study of Indo-Grecian antiquities which has since been so extensively prosecuted, and by which so much new light has been thrown upon ancient history, by revealing the connection between the European and Asiatic races.

And worthy, indeed, were the past achievements of the Rajpoots of such a commemoration. Proud of our northern chivalry of ancient days, and the national liberties which it established, we are too apt to lose sight of other nations that have struggled as bravely, though not so successfully, as ourselves. But Rajast’han, through the labours of Colonel Tod, has now a chronicle to unfold to the world, in which a patriotism as devoted, and sacrifices as great, and valiant deeds as illustrious are to be found as adorn the pages of Greece and Rome, or even our own Britain. "What nation on earth," he exclaims triumphantly, "could have maintained the semblance of civilization, the spirit or the customs of their forefathers, during so many centuries of overwhelming depression, but one of such singular character as the Rajpoot? . . . Rajast’han exhibits the sole example in the history of mankind, of a people withstanding every outrage barbarity could inflict, or human nature sustain, from a foe whose religion commands annihilation; and bent to the earth, yet rising buoyant from the pressure, and making calamity a whetstone to courage. . . . Not an iota of their religion or customs have they lost, though many a foot of land." That so noble and gallant a people should have been overcome, and that in the midst of such achievements the country should still have continued to diminish, so that it became the very Poland of the East, can be easily explained, as in the case of Poland, by the defective nature of its government. Wherever the patriarchal system of rule predominates, the bravery, the devotedness, and patriotism of its people have been unavailing. They have furnished, indeed, a glorious and spirit-stirring history; but decay and downfall have been the inevitable close. Such was the fate of Rajast’han, a land of many tribes and many princes. The Parthians, by whom they were overrun, and the Tartars, by whom they were finally subdued, were united nations; and that single advantage made them victorious over a people braver perhaps than themselves, but divided by the feudality which prevented a united and universal resistance, and insured a piecemeal destruction.

Such was the nature of Tod’s labours till 1817, when he was appointed political agent of government over that extensive country, comprising the five principal states of Rajast’han, viz., Mewar, Marwar, Jessulmer, Kotah, and Boondi. It was a high office for one holding his subordinate military rank although scarcely too high for his service and merits, and the confidence which the Rajpoots reposed in him. But the appointment seems to have given umbrage to those who perhaps thought themselves better entitled to promotion, irrespective of their fitness for such a peculiar office. The sympathy also which he felt for the people, and the influence which he possessed among the native princes caused him for a short time to be regarded at head-quarters with suspicion and jealousy. But these unseemly feelings, although they annoyed him at first, he soon refuted by his conduct, while the excellence of his administration endeared him more and more every day to the people. This Bishop Heber found afterwards, in his Episcopal tour, when he passed through the province of Mewar. On this occasion, the inquiries of the people as to the welfare of their "Tod Sahib" were incessant, and whether they should ever see him again. It is not often that the deputy who rules in the name of foreign masters is thus endeared to a subjugated, but still high-spirited people. The nature of his administration, his attempts for the restoration of Rajpootana, and the estimation in which his labours were held, can be best understood from the following letter to a friend—"Regarding Bhilwana, the work of my hands, in February, 1818, there was not a dog in it; in 1822 I left 3000 houses, of which 1200 were bankers and merchants; an entire street, arcaded, was built under my directions, and with my means. The merchants from Calcutta, Jessulmer, Delhi, Surát—from every mart in India—had their correspondents; and, in fact, it was becoming the chief mart of Rajast’han. The affection of these people a thousand times repaid my cares. The females met me at a distance, with vessels of water on their heads, singing the Sohaloh, and the whole of the merchants and bankers advanced in a body to conduct me through it. The streets were crowded; brocades of gold silks were suspended from the shops—it made me proud, not vain. It was with difficulty I checked the determination to call it Todgunge; but whatever I did was in the Rana’s name. My conscience tells me I deserved their love. How health and comfort were spurned in their behalf! I have lain on my pallet with high fever, my spleen so enlarged as to be felt in every part of my ribs; fifty leeches at work, left to a servant to superintend, whilst I had the whole of the territorial officers of the district of Mondelgurh, consisting of 250 towns and villages, at the other side, taking the whole of their accounts, and separating the fisc and the lands of the chiefs even to a beegah—all the while half-dead with inanition. But I had the principle of life strong within me. It appears now a dream. But a week before I was at the point of death; but it was vain to tell me to desist from work. A short time after I was knocked off my elephant in going to restore to the chief of the Megawats twenty-seven villages, alienated for forty-five years, which I recovered from the fangs of the Mahrattas. The animal ran off, crossing the wooden bridge of his moat, and the arch, being too low, carried me fairly off. That I was not crushed was a miracle. That night the triumphal arch of the Megawats was levelled to the ground! These are the men without gratitude! It was worth a broken limb, yet I escaped with bruises. But my head burns as did my heart for my Rajpoots."

In this short account we have the secret of that wondrous spell by which we retain the empire of the East. Compare Colonel Tod with a Roman praetor or pro-consul! It is only when Britain will impose rulers upon her Indian dependencies who will pillage, rather than protect and benefit the people, that her rule over India will pass away into other hands, and leave nothing behind it but the glory and the shame of a historical remembrance.

The rest of Colonel Tod’s proceedings among the Rajpoots may be briefly told. In 1819 he completed the circuit of Marwar, and visited its capital, Joudpoor, by the route of Komulmer, and returned to Oodipoor by the way of Mairta and Ajmer. In 1820 he visited Kotah and Boondi, and on the following year he revisited the latter province, in consequence of the death of his friend, the Rao Rajah Ham Sing, who bequeathed to the colonel the guardianship of his son, the prince of the Haras. It was now time that his personal connection with India should cease, as after a residence of twenty-two years of incessant occupation in that climate, his broken constitution could withstand it no longer. He was accordingly released from his duties as British political agent of Rajast’han, which he had discharged during five years, and allowed to return to England. But instead of instantly availing himself of the opportunity, by hastening to embark when he left the valley of Oodipoor in June, 1822, he crossed the Aravalli to the sacred mountain of Aboo, and explored the remains of that district, so venerated in the religious traditions of Hindoostan. His interest in Rajpootana and love of travel being still unabated, he continued his journey of research, in which he discovered the ruins of an ancient city in the borders of Marwar, explored the ancient capital of the Balhara kings, and crossed the peninsula of Saurashtra, visiting in his way the towns, temples, and shrines that illustrated the ancient history of the country. This journey was so replete with interest that he drew up a full account of it after his return to England. He finally embarked at Bombay in the early part of 1823, and arrived in England the same year.

On returning home, Colonel Tod by no means abandoned himself to a life of rest or recreation. His Indian studies and discoveries, carried over so long a period, and involving such important subjects, were to be arranged and prepared for the press, and to this duty he turned his attention with all his wonted ardour. And how well he discharged his task the "Annals of Rajast’han" will sufficiently attest, independently of his other writings. It opened up new paths in the study of the history, philosophy, and religion of India, which subsequent scholars have entered with the happiest results. But these efforts, upon a constitution already all but exhausted, accelerated the process of decay; and a complaint in the chest obliged him to take up his residence in Italy, where he chiefly abode during the last twelve months of his life. Still his studies were continued, and during the winter while he staid in Rome, he employed himself daily in a work entitled, "Travels in Western India," containing his observations during a journey to the Peninsula of Guzerat, which he had made before his departure for Britain. From Italy he returned to England in the beginning of September, 1835, and on the 14th of November he came from his mother’s residence in Hampshire, to London, ready to publish his work on Western India, and retire for the rest of his life to a property which he had lately purchased. But on the 16th, the anniversary of his marriage, while transacting business at his banker’s, he was suddenly struck with apoplexy, under which he continued speechless and insensible for twenty-seven hours, when he expired on the afternoon of the 17th, 1835.

Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan
Or the Central and Western Rajput States if India by Lieut-Colonel James Tod in 3 volumes (1920)
Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3

Tod's Annals of Rajasthan
The Annals of Mewar
Abridged and Edited by C. H. Payne

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