VIII.—THE POSITION OF WOMEN.
Oh fairest of creation! last and best
Of all God’s works Creature in whom exedra Whatever can to sight or thought be formed
Holy, divine, good, amiable, or sweet.
-MILTON: Paradise Lost.
MR. HERBERT Spencer, the great apostle of individual freedom, says that the position of women supplies a good test of the civilization of a people:
Colonel Tod also says: “ It is universally admitted that there is no better criterion of the refinement of a nation than the condition of the fair sex therein.”‘
The high position Hindu women have always occupied in India would, if this is true, argue a very advanced state of civilization in that country. Even of the modern Hindu society, Colonel Tod says: “If devotion to the fair sex be admitted as a criterion of civilization, the Rajput must rank very high. His susceptibility is extreme, and fires at the slightest offence to female delicacy, which he never forgives. A satirical impromtu, offending against female delicacy, dissolved the coalition of the Rahtores and Cutchwahas, and laid each prostrate before the Mahrattas, whom when united they had crushed; and a jest, apparently trivial, compromised the right of promogeniture to the throne of Chitor, and proved more disastrous in its consequences than the arms either of Moghuls or Mahrattas.”
‘Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 609.
2Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 276.
Professor H. H. Wilson says: “And it may be confidently asserted that in no nation of antiquity were women held in so much esteem as amongst the Hindus.”‘
In Ancient India, however, they not only possessed equality of opportunities with men, but enjoyed certain rights and privileges not claimed by the male sex. The chivalrous treatment of women by Hindus is well known to all who know anything of Hindu society.
“Strike not even with a blossom a wife guilty of a hundred faults,” says a Hindu sage, “a sentiment so delicate,” says Colonel Tod “that Rignald-de-Born, the prince of troubadours, never uttered any more refined.”2
Manu (Chapter V. 130) says: “The mouth of a woman is constantly pure,” and he ranks it with the running waters and the sunbeam.”3 He also says (Chapter II. 33), “ where the females are honoured, there the deities are pleased; but where dishonoured, there all religious rites become useless.”
The Hindus seem to have laid special stress on honouring the wife and treating her with ever-increasing delicacy, The nearest approach to these ideas are the views of Mr. Herbert Spencer, who in a letter dated the 18th March 1845, to his friend Lott, says: “And on this ground I conceive that instead of there being, as is commonly the case, a greater familiarity and carelessness with regard to appearances between husband and wife,
Mill’s History of India, Vol. II, p. 51.
2Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 611.
3The women are recommended “ to preserve a cheerful temper,” and -to remain always well-dressed. “ If the wife be not elegantly attired she will not exhilarate her husband. A wife gaily adorned, the whole house is embellished.”
there ought to be a greater delicacy than between any other parties.”‘
A rather forcible illustration of this view is the reply of the Hariji, queen of the famous Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur. One day when the Raja was alone with the queen, he began playfully to contrast the sweeping jape of Kotah with the more scanty robe of the belles of his capital; and taking up a pair of scissors, said he would reduce it to an equality with the latter. Offended at his levity, she seized his sword, and assuming a threatening attitude, said, “ that in the house to which she had the honour to belong, they were not habituated to jests of this nature; that mutual respect was the guardian not only of happiness but of virtue ;” and she assured him that if he ever again so insulted her, he would find that the daughter of Kotah could use a sword more effectively than the prince of Amber the scissors.2
Manu commands that “ whoever accosts a woman shall do so by the title of sister, and that way must be made for her even as for the aged, for a priest, a prince, or a bridegroom ;” and, in the law of hospitality, he ordains that pregnant women, brides, and damsels shall have food before all the other guests.” (Education, art. 129).
The legal status of a wife in ancient India and her equal treatment with her husband is thus defined by Manu, the great lawgiver of the Hindus :—
1. If a wife dies, her husband may marry another wife. (Manu, Chapter V, verse 1.68).
‘Herbert Spencer’s Autobiography, Vol. I, p. 268. 2 Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 626,
If a husband dies, a wife may marry another husband - (Manu, quoted by Madhava and Vydia, natha Dikshita; Parasara; Narada; Yagnavalkya, quoted by Krishnacharya Smriti; Agni Purana; Smriti, quoted by Chetti Koneri Acharya and Janardana Bhatta).
2. If a wife becomes fallen by drunkenness or immorality, her husband may marry another (Manu, Chapter IX, verse 80; Yagnavalkya, page 416, verse 73).
If a husband becomes fallen, a wife may re-marry another husband (Manu, quoted by Madhava and several other authorities above mentioned).
3. If a wife be barren, her husband may marry another wife (Manu, Chapter IX, verse 81).
If a husband be impotent she may marry another husband (Manu, and several other authorities quoted above).
4. In particular circumstances, a wife may cease to cohabit with her husband (Manu, Chapter IX, verse 79).
5. If a husband deserts his wife, she may marry another. (Manu, Chapter IX, verse 76, and several others).
6. If a wife treats her husband with aversion, he may cease to cohabit with her. (Manu, Chapter IX, verse 77).
7. A husband must be revered (Manu, Chapter V, verse 154).
A wife must be honoured by the husband (Mania, Chapter III, verse 55).
8. A good wife irradiates the house and is a goddess of wealth (Mann, Chapter IX, verse 26).
A good husband makes his wife entitled to honour
(Manu, Chapter XI, verse 23).
The high ethical teachings of the Hindu Shastras prepared the men to assign to women a peculiarly pri vileged position, keeping them safe from the rough and degrading work that now often falls to their lot in the West, in consequence of the severe struggle for existence raging there. While providing the freest possible scope for the exercise of their peculiar gifts, which enabled them to achieve in the superlative degree, the high and noble work which it is the privilege of women to perform for the well-being and advancement of a people, the ancient Hindu constitution not only accorded to them the position which the mothers, the sisters, the wives, and the daughters of the highest and the lowest in the nation are justly entitled to, but which enabled their true feminine nature and character to receive full development, so as to fulfil their high destiny of giving to the world a race of men yet unequalled in intellect, character and energy.
In Europe, as well as in India, the woman is styled “ the half of the man “—in Europe, as “the better half,” in India, simply as Ardhangini (lit, half-self). In Europe, however, it is a meaningless phrase, rather pointing to the desirability of assigning woman a position which is hers by nature than signifying the position actually occupied by her—showing the desirable but yet-unattained ideality rather than, as amongst the Hindus an actual reality. No doubt there are women in Europe, who as wives, are treated by their husbands with the same respect and generous consideration as Hindu ladies command in all truly Hindu families. True, in every grade of European society women are to be met with, whose position, domestic as well as social, is not only perfectly happy and satisfactory, but, to all outward appearance, looks higher than that enjoyed by their Hindu sisters: True also, that European women enjoy in some respects, and in certain directions, privileges neither enjoyed by any Asiatic women nor desired by them. They enjoy a freedom of action in certain matters which is not only one of the distinguishing features of the European civilization, but emphasizes the negation of all that is meant by ardhangni or the half. In Europe, woman has a distinct individuality of her own, which flourishes independently of man, though by his side and connected with him. Both men and women there lead separate, distinct, independent lives, albeit Nature and necessity compel them to live together. Not so in India. Woman has no distinctive, independent individuality in Hindu social polity. From her birth to her death she is a part of man, and cannot be separated from him. With marriage, she merges her individuality into her husband’s, and both together form a single entity in society. The one without the other is only a part and not a whole.
It must not, however, be supposed that the woman loses herself in the man, and is therefore inferior to him. The man, too, after his union with woman is, like her, only a part of the social entity. All important religious, social, and domestic concerns of life recognise the entity only when it is complete, i.e., formed of a man and a woman.
In Europe, the power and position enjoyed by woman are not recognised by the authority which sanctions all social law, and on which the entire fabric of society is ultimately based. What position and privilege she enjoys she evidently cannot claim as of right—a right inherent in and inseparable from womanhood. In some of the most important concerns of life she is utterly ignored. Not so amongst the Hindus. In India she is in possession of her rights, which no power on earth, can take away from her. The Hindu woman is not indebted, like her European sister, for her position to a man’s love’or affectionate regard or to the exigencies of social life. It is her birthright, inalienable, and recognised by all; it lives with her and dies with her. Man is as much subject to it as the woman is to a man’s. Take, for instance, the most important concern of life, the marriage. In Europe, the father gives away the daughter; in his absence, the brother, or the uncle or some near male relation, as the case may be. He by himself performs this sacred and most important function in life. Where comes in the better half of the father, the brother, the uncle or the other relation? She has no place in the rite, no locus standi, no indispensable, inalienable position in the function, She is not a necessary party. She may be happy in the event and join the festivities, but she is an utter outsider so far as the rite itself—the right of giving away—is concerned. But what do we find in India? Amongst the Hindus, in order that the ceremony of giving away (called Kanyadan) may be complete, the ardhangni, or the wife of the father, the brother, the uncle or the other male relative must take part in it. The “giving away” is not complete till the husband and the wife both do it. Nay, there is something more to mark the unalterable position of the wife as the “other half “ of the husband. If, owing to any cause—death, illness or unavoidable absence—the better half of the father, brother or the other relative cannot be present at the Sacrament, a piece of cloth or something else is placed by his side as a substitute for her, to show that he, by himself, is only an incomplete individual, and cannot perform the most important functions of life unless and until joined by his wife. And it is not so with marriage only. From the marriage down to a dip in the sacred Ganges; the worship of the sacred bar tree (the Ficus Indica) in the Bar Tirat ceremony ;1 the worship of the household gods, and other simple, ordinary duties, ordained by religion or sanctioned by social usage, no ceremony is complete unless the wife joins the husband in its performance. What a difference here between the respective positions of the European and the Hindu woman! How inferior is the position of a European woman to that of her Hindu sister! With all the love and devotion she receives and the freedom of action she enjoys, she in Europe is even now as far away from the position of the other half of a man as she was two thousand years ago. But society in Europe is still in its making. Important and far-reaching changes will yet have to be made before it arrives at a stage of evolution, when it will come into line with its sister organization, the Hindu society, as it is found in the Sastras.
In the West, women’s sphere is yet limited women’s position yet precarious, owing to the selfish and hypocritical conduct of man, the product of a material civilization divorced from spiritual ideals.
I When the wife keeps a fast for three days.
Their principal interest in public affairs, however, is directed to secure for themselves rights which they regard as essential to assure their position in the cold, pitiless struggle for existence, which respects neither age nor sex. In ancient India people never thought of usurping from women their rights and privileges. They were safe from the turmoil of life; they were secure against the attacks which all have to meet who are governed by the complicated machinery of a civilization based on the worship of Mammon, with its horizon bounded by the desires, aspirations and capabilities of the physical man.
Sri Madhavacharya says that Draupadi’s part in the administration of the empire was to instruct the subjects as to the duties and rights of women, super-, intend the management of the Palace and its treasuries, to assist in the management of the finances of the empire, and to supervise the religious institutions of the nation.
The character and ideals of Hindu women may be inferred from the conduct of Maitreye, wife of Yagyavalka, who declined to accept the estate offered to leer by her husband, on his entering the third Ashram (Vanaprasta.) She told him that she also would like to have that which he was going in search of, and that, if the estate had been worth having, he would not have given it away.
Avvayar, Damyanti and Savitri were women whose lives would have purified the national life of any people. The learning of Gargya, the intellect and -character of Tara, the fidelity of Anasuya and the devotion and love ilof Sita would do honour to any nation.
The courage and valour displayed by Kekayi in the battle-field by the side of Dasratha are no less remarkable than the heroism displayed by Satyabhama, of whom Madhavacharya says that, when she saw her husband tired and his enemy exulting in strength, she fought with him and deprived him of his arms. These facts show that in ancient times the women of India were not unused to warfare, and that they accompanied their husbands everywhere. They did not lead secluded lives; they were not kept in the zenana. The pardah system, which marks the advent into India of foreigners of a much lower civilization, was unknown in ancient India,
It has sometimes been urged by men unacquainted with the social life of the Hindus that the fact that daughters do not share in the paternal property in the same way as the sons, and that the widow does not share equally with her sons the property left by the husband, argue a low state of civilization amongst them. In the first place, the law of inheritance in this respect is no proof of the high or the low refinement of a people; or the Arabs would be held to be more refined than the Hindus. In the second place, it is not a fact that women do not inherit or are incompetent to hold property.
Professor Wilson says: “Their right to property is fully recognised and fully secured.”‘ He also says “ In the absence of direct male heirs, widows succeed to a life interest in real, and absolute interest in personal property. Next, daughters inherit absolutely. Where there are sons, mothers and daughters are entitled to shares, and wives hold peculiar property from a variety of
- 1 IViiirs History of India, p. 446, footnote,
sources, besides those specified by the text, over which a husband has no power during their lives, and which descends to their own heirs, with a preference in some cases to females. It is far from correct, therefore, to say that women amongst the Hindus are excluded from the rights of property.”
Commenting on Mr. James Mill’s opinion that according to Manu (Chapter IV, 43) women among the Hindus are excluded from sharing in the paternal property, Professor Wilson says: “The reference is incorrect, so is the law; as the passage in the first volume adverted to might have shown had the writer remembered it. For, after stating in the text, in the same unqualified manner, that daughters are altogether debarred from a share, it is mentioned in a note that those who are unmarried are to receive portions out of their brothers’ allotments. It is mere quibbling, therefore, to say they have no shares. But the more important question, as affecting the position of women in society, is not merely the shares of daughters,, although this is artfully put forward as if it was decisive of the rio’hts of the whole sex, but what rights women have in regard to property; and as we have already shown, the laws do not very materially differ in this respect from those which are observed in the civilized countries of modern Europe.”‘
Foreigners imbibe unfavourable notions regarding the position of Hindu women from their ignorance of the working of Hindu society and of the principles on which it is based. The Hindu law of inheritance in this respect is somewhat different from that obtaining in Europe, but in no way behind the latter in safeguarding the position of women.
1 Mill’s History of India, Vol, I, p, 151,
When men in all grades of society recognise the rights and privileges of women, and the social system of the nation is so framed as to provide means to enforce those rights, the aid of legislation becomes unnecessary. Those who are acquainted with the working of the social system of the Hindus know that the rights of women are recognised in a far more substantial manner than by giving them a. certain portion of the inheritence in final settlement of all their claims on the family.
Respect for feminine nature, considerations of honour and chivalry towards the sex, and the ingrained feeling of regard and esteem for womanhood, urged the Hindus to take measures to safeguard the position of woman against all possible but avoidable contingencies. A woman accordingly has claims on her father and brothers and sons for a suitable maintenance under all circumstances. A father may leave nothing to his sons, yet they are bound to suitably maintain their mother so long as she is alive.
Sisters claim maintenance. their marriage expenses, and presents on all ceremonial occasions, no matter whether their brothers have inherited any paternal estate or not. And, not daughters and sisters alone enjoy such rights in Hindu society. Their children, too, have certain well-defined claims, and Hindu society possesses means to see that those claims are satisfied. The ceremonial institutions of the Hindus controlled by the caste organization, recognise and fulfil these obligations. Those who are acquainted with the inner working of Hindu society know that the sisters and the daughters not only enjoy certain rights in connection with every festival and every event of importance in their father’s and brothers’ families—at some of which functions they play the leading part, but that even after their marriages their connection with the families in which they were born is one of a perennial flow towards them of presents and gifts, to which they are entitled by social law, irrespective of the relations existing between them being cordial or strained.
Thus, while their rights are secured against contingencies, women altogether get from their fathers and brothers far more than is generally received by them anywhere else in Europe or Asia. Moreover, the joint Hindu family system is highly conducive to the preservation of their influence—in some respects predominent--in the families in which they were born.
Even at the present day, though the women are not so prominent, their influence is supreme. They talk slander and tell mischievous falsehoods who say that the Hindu women are prisoners in the zenana, that their condition is a pitiable one, that they claim the philanthropic efforts of men and women to alleviate their hard lot, and that they deserve all the sympathy that suffering humanity may receive. Colonel Tod says: “The superficial observer, who applies his own standard to the customs of all nations, laments, with an affected philanthropy, the degraded condition of the Hindu female, in which sentiment he would find her little disposed to join. He particularly laments her want of liberty and calls her seclusion, imprisonment. From the knowledge I possess of the freedom, the respect, the happiness which Rajput women enjoy, I am by no means inclined to deplore their state as one of captivity.” And, who does not know that amongst no people in India is pardah observed more strictly than by the Rajputs ?
Every Sanskrit scholar knows in what respect and veneration ladies like Gargya, Draupadi, Sakuntala, Mandodari, and Rukmanil were held. Who can listen, without admiration and strong emotion, to the celebrated forest speech of Draupadi, after the banishment of the Panda vas.
“Hindu female devotion” is a hackneyed phrase. Colonel Tod says: “Nor will the annals of any nation afford more numerous or more sublime instances of female devotion than those of the Rajputs.”2 Even in mediaeval ages, India produced women that would make the darkest page of history resplendent. “ The annals of no nation on earth,” says Colonel Tod, “ record a more ennobling or more magnanimous instance of female loyalty than exemplified by Dewalde, mother of the Binafur brothers.”3
As the incident alluded to above throws a flood of light on the high character of the Rajput women, and fully illustrates the commanding influence they exercise in society, a short account of this inspiring episode that occurred when Hindu independence was about to be overthrown, may well be inserted.
While the last Hindu emperor of India, the chivalrous Prithviraj, was returning to Delhi from Sameta, some of the wounded, who covered his retreat, were assailed and put to death by Parmal, the Chundail prince of Mahoba. In order to avenge this insult, the emperor
1Within the last 100 years, the name of Maharani Ahalyabai Holkar was prominently before the world. She is known from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, and her memory is actually worshipped in some places.
2Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 613. 3 Tod’3 Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 614.
invaded the territory of the Chundail, whose troops were cut to pieces at Sirswah. The Chundail by the advice of his queen, Malundevi, demanded a truce of his adversary, on the plea of the absence of his chieftains, Ala and Udila. The envoy found the Chohan ready to cross the Pahouj. The chivalrous Prithviraj, unused to refusing such requests, granted the truce.
The two brothers, Ala and Udila, the Sardars of Mohaba, had been made to abandon their home because Ala had refused to part with one of his mares which Parmal desired to possess. They went away to Kanauj, where they were received with open arms by Jai Chand.
The bard, Yagnuk, now repaired to Kanauj to beg the two heroes on behalf of Parmal to return to Mahoba, as their fatherland demanded their services. He said, “ the Chohan is encamped on the plains of Mahoba, Nursing and Birsing have fallen, Sirswah is given to the flames, and the Kingdom of Parmal laid waste by the Chohan. For one month a truce has been obtained; while to you I am sent for aid in his griefs. Listen, Oh sons of Binafur, sad have been the days of Malundevi since you left Mahoba! Oft she looks towards Kanauj; and, while she recalls you to mind, tears gush from her eyes and she exclaims, ‘the fame of the Chundail is departing, but when gone, Oh, sons of Jasraj, great will be your self-accusing sorrow I yet, think of Mahoba.’ “
“ Destruction to Mahoba? Annihilation to theChundail, who, without fault, expelled us our home; in whose service fell our father, by whom his kingdom was extended. Send the slanderous Purihara—let him lead your armies against the heroes of . Delhi. Our heads
were the pillars of Mahoba; by us were the Goands expelled, and their strong-holds, Deogarh and Chandbari, added to his sway. We maintained the field against the Jadoon, sacked Hindown, and planted his standard on the plains of Kuttair. It was I (continued Ala) who stopped the sword of the conquering Cutchwaha. The Amirs of the Sultan fled before us. At G-ya we were victorious, and added Rewah to his kingdom. ‘Anterved’ I gave to the flames and levelled to the ground the towns of Mewat. From ten princes did Jasraj bring spoil to Mahoba. This have we done; and the reward is exile from our home! Seven times have I received wounds in his service, and since my father’s death gained forty battles; and from seven has Udila conveyed the record of victory to Parinal. Thrice my death seemed inevitable. The honour of his house I have upheld—yet exile is my reward.”
The bard replies:--” The father of Parmal left him when a child to the care of Jasraj. Your father was in lieu of his own; the son should not abandon him when misfortune makes him call on you. The Rajput who abandons his sovereign in distress will be plunged into hell. Then place on your head the loyalty of your rather. Can you desire to remain at Kanauj while he is in trouble who expended thousands in rejoicings for your birth? Malundevi (the queen), who loves you as her own, presses your return. She bids me demand of Dewalde, fulfilment of the oft-repeated vow that your life and Mahoba, when endangered, were inseparable. The breakers of vows, despised on earth, will be plunged into hell, there to remain while sun and moon endure.”
Dewalde heard the message of the queen. “Let us fly to Mahoba,” she exclaimed. Ala was silent, while Udila said aloud, “ May evil spirits seize upon Mahoba. Can you forget the day when, in distress, he drove us forth? Return to Mahoba—let it stand or fall, it is the same to me; Kanauj is henceforth my home.”
“ Would that the gods had made me barren,” said Dewalde, “ that I had never borne sons who thus abandon the paths of the Rajput, and refuse to succour their prince in danger.” Her heart bursting with grief, and her eyes raised to heaven, she continued: “Was it for this, 0 universal lord, thou mad’st me feel a mother’s pangs for these destroyers of Binafur’s fame? Unworthy offspring! the heart of the true Rajput dances with joy at the mere name of strife—but ye, degenerate, cannot be the sons of Jasraj—some earl must have stolen to my embrace, and from such ye must be sprung.” This was irresistible. The young Chiefs arose, their faces withered in sadness. “ When we perish in defence of Mahoba, and, covered with wounds, perform deeds that will leave a deathless name, when our heads roll in the fields, when we embrace the valiant in fight, and, treading in the foot-steps of the brave, make resplendent the blood of both lines, even in the presence of the heroes of the Chohan, then will our mother re- j (nee.’
The chieftains took leave of the King of Kanauj and returned to Mahoba. On their return a grand Council assembled at a final deliberation, at which the mother of the Binafurs and the queen Malundevi were present. The latter thus opens the debate: “Oh, mother of Ala, how may we succeed against_ the lord of the world? If defeated, lost is Mahoba; if we pay tribute, we are loaded with shame.” Dewalde recommends hearing seriatim the opinions of the chieftains, when Ala thus speaks: “Listen, Oh mother, to your son I he alone is of pure lineage, who, placing loyalty on his head, abandons all thoughts of self, and lays down his life for his prince; my thoughts are only for Parmal. If she’ lives, she will show herself a woman or emanation of Parvati. The warriors of Sambhur shall be cut in pieces. I will so illustrate the blood of my fathers that my fame shall last for ever. My son, Eendal, Oh prince! I bequeath to you, and the fame of Dewalde is in your keeping.” The queen thus replies: “The warriors of the Chohan are fierce as they are numerous; pay tribute, and save Mahoba.” The soul of Udila was inflamed, and turning to the queen said “ Why thought you not thus when you slew the defenceless? but then I was unheard. Whence now your wisdom? thrice I beseeched you to pardon. Nevertheless Mahoba is safe while life remains in me, and in your cause, Oh Parmal we shall espouse celestial brides.”
“Well have you spoken, my son,” said Dewalde, c4 nothing now remains but to make thy parent’s milk resplendent by thy deeds. The calls of the peasant driven from his home meets the ear, and while we deliberate, our villages are given to the flames.” But Parmal replied: “Saturn rules the day, to-morrow we shall meet the foes” With indignation, Ala turned to the king: “He who can look tamely on while the smoke ascends from his ruined towns, his fields laid waste, can be no Rajput: he who succumbs to fear when his country is invaded,
1 Hindus do not call their wives now-a-day by their names,
his body will be plunged into the hell of hells, his soul a wanderer in the world of spirits for sixty thousand years; but the warrior who performs his duty will be received into the mansion of the sun, and his deeds will last for ever.”
The heroes embraced their wives for the last time, and with the dawn, performed their pious rites. Then Ala, calling his son Eendel and Udila, his brother, he once more poured forth his vows to the universal mother, “ that he would illustrate the name of Jasraj, and evince the pure blood derived from Dewalde, whenever he met the foe.” “Nobly have you resolved,” said Udila, “ and shall not my kirban’ also dazzle the eyes of Sambhur’s lord? Shall he not retire from before me ?” “ Farewell, my children,” said Dewalde, “ be true to your salt, and should you lose your heads for your prince, doubt not you will obtain the celestial crown.” Having ceased, the wives of both exclaimed, “ what virtuous wife survives her lord? For, thus says Goriji, “the woman who survives her husband who falls in the field of battle will never obtain bliss, but wander a discontented ghost in the region of unhallowed spirits.”
The fidelity of a nurse is well exemplified by the conduct of Punna, the dhai of Udai Singh, son of Rana Sanga, who was a Kheechee Rajputani, when Bunbir, after killing the Rana, Bikrarnjit, entered the Raola2 to kill the heir-apparent, Udai Singh, also. Aware that one murder was the precursor of another, the faithful nurse put her charge into a fruit basket, and covering it with leaves, she delivered it to the baPi, enjoining him to escape with it from the fort. Scarcely had she time to
1A scimitar. 2Queen’s quarters in the palace,
substitute her own infant in the room of the prince, when Buiibir, entering, enquired for him. Her lips refused their office, she pointed to the cradle, and beheld the murderous steel buried in the heart of her babe.’
The exploits of the heroic Tara Bai of Bednore and those of her gallant husband, Prithviraj, the brother of the celebrated Rana Sanga, who opposed Baber at Biana,. would give a clear idea of the dominating influence which the Rajput fair exercise not only in the formation of Rajput character but on Rajput conduct throughout life.
Colonel Tod says: “Tara Bai was the daughter of Rao Surtan, the chieftain of Bednore. He was of the Solanki tribe, the lineal descendant of the famed Balhara kings of Anhulwara. Thence expelled by the arms of Alla in the thirteenth century, they migrated to Central India, and obtained possession of Tonk-Thoda and its lands on the Banas, which from remote times had been occupied (perhaps founded) by the Taks, and hence bore the name of Taksilla-nagar, familiarly Takitpur and Thoda. Surtan had been deprived of Thoda by Lilla the Afghan, and now occupied Bednore at the foot of the Aravalli, within the bounds of Mewar. Stimulated by the reverses of her family, and by the incentives of its ancient glory, Tara Bai, scorning the habiliments and occupations of her sex, learned to guide the war-horse, and to throw with unerring aim the arrow from his back, even while at speed. Armed with the bow and quiver, and mounted on a fiery Kathyawar, she joined the cavalcade in their unsuccessful attempts to wrest Thoda from the Afghan. Jaimul, the third son of Rana Rai Mul, in person made proposals for her
‘Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol, I, p. 315,
hand. ‘Redeem Thoda,’ said the star of Bednore, ‘and my hand is thine.’ He assented to the terms; but evincing a rude determination to be possessed of the prize ere he had earned it, he was slain by the indignant father. Pirthiraj, the brother of the deceased, was then an exile in Marwar; he had just signalized his valour and ensured his father’s forgiveness, by the redemption of Godwar, and the catastrophe at Bednore determined him to accept the gage thrown down to Jaimul. Fame and the bard had carried the renown of Pirthiraj far beyond the bounds of Mewar; the name alone was attractive to the fair, and when thereto he who bore it added all the chivalrous ardour of his prototype, the Chohan, Tara Bai, with the sanction of her father, consented to be his, on the simple asseveration that ‘he would restore to them Thoda or he was no true Itajput.’ The anniversary of the martyrdom of the sons of Alli was the season chosen for the exploit. Pirthiraj formed a select band of five hundred cavaliers and accompanied by his bride, the fair Tara, who insisted on partaking of his glory and his danger, he reached Thoda at the moment the tazzia or bier containing the martyr-brothers, was placed in the centre of the chouk or square.’
The prince, Tara Bai and the faithful Senger Chief, the inseparable companion of Pirthiraj, left their cavalcade and joined the procession as it passed under the balcony of the palace, in which the Afghan was putting on his dress preparatory to descending. Just as he had asked who were the strange horsemen that had joined the throng, the lance of Pirthiraj and an arrow from the bow of his Amazonian bride stretched him on the floor. Before the crowd recovered from the panic, the three had reached the gate of the town, where their exit was obstructed by an elephant. Tara Bai with her scimitar divided his trunk, and the animal flying, they joined their cavalcade, which was close at hand,
“ The Afghans were encountered, and could not stand the attack. Those who did not fly were cut to pieces; and the gallant Prithiraj inducted the father of his bride into his inheritance. A brother of the Afghans, in his attempt to recover it, lost his life. The Nawab, 1111 ulloo Khan, then holding Ajmer, determined to oppose the Sesodia prince in person, who, resolved upon being the assailant, advanced to Ajmer, encountered his foe in the camp at day-break, and after great slaughter entered Gurh Beetli, the citadel, with the fugitives.
By these acts’ says the Chronicle, ‘his fame increased in Raj warra: one thousand Rajputs, animated by the same love of glory and devotion, gathered round the nakarras of Prithiraj. Their swords shone in the heavens, and were dreaded on the earth; but they aided the defence-less.’’
The strong affection of a Hindu wife for her husband is typified in the conduct of Chandandas’s wife, so beautifully described in the political drama of Mudra Rakhshas.2
The Rajput mother claims full share in the glory of her son, who imbibes at the maternal fount his first rudiments of. chivalry; the importance of this parental instruction cannot be better illustrated than in the ever-recurring simile, “make thy mother’s milk resplendent,” the full force of which we have in the powerful though
iTod’s’Rajasthan, Vol. 1, pp. 673, 74, ‘2 See Infra, “Hindu Drama,”
overstrained expression of the Bundi Queen’s joy on the announcement of the heroic death of her son.
Nor has the Rajput mother failed to defend her son’s rights with exemplary valour, and to teach her son how life should be sacrificed at the altar of the country and in defence of the country’s independence. Look at the animated picture given by Ferishta of Durgavati, Queen of Gurrah, defending the rights of her infant son against Akbar’s ambition. “ Like another Boadecea, she headed her army and fought a desperate battle with Asafkhan, in which she was defeated and wounded. Scorning flight or to survive the loss of independence, she, like the antique Roman in such a predicament, slew herself on the field of battle.”‘
Durgavati was only following in the footsteps of the earlier queens, the exploits of some of whom are well known in Raj putana. For instance, after the death of Rana Samarsi, on the field of Thaneshwar, his heir, Kurna, being a minor, Kurna’s mother, Korum Devi, a princess of Patun, headed her Raj puts and gave battle in person to Kutbuddin Aibak, near Amber, when the Viceroy (Kutbuddin) was defeated and wounded.”
“ In the second Sa.ka of Chitor, when Bahadur, Sultan of Gujrat, invaded that far-famed fortress, the queen-mother, Jawahir Bai, in order to set an example of courageous devotion to their country, appeared clad in armour and headed a sally, in which she was slain.”3
During the famous assault on Chitor by Akbar, when the command of the fortress fell on Fattah, who
Pl’od’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 642. 2Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, p. 259, 3 Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. L p. 311.
was only sixteen years of age at the death of the Chandawat leader, his mother displayed heroism unparalleled in history. Colonel Tod says:—” When the Saloomra fell at the gate of the Sun, the command devolved on Putta Fatta ) of Kailwa. He was only sixteen: his father had fallen in the last shock, and his mother had survived but to rear this the sole heir of their house. Like the Spartan mother of old, she commanded him to put on the saffron robe’ and to die for Chitor: but surpassing the Grecian dame, she illustrated her precept by example; and lest any soft compunctious visitings ‘ for one dearer than herself Might dim the lustre of Kailwa, she armed the young bride with a lance, with her descended the rock, and the defenders of Chitor saw her fall, fighting by the side of her Amazonian mother. When their wives and daughters performed such deeds, the Rajputs became reckless of life.”‘
“Nor do I deem him worthy who prefers
A friend, how dear so ever to his country”
An incident taken from the annals of Mewwar will illustrate the strength, the courage and the general character of Rajput women. Ursi, the elder brother of the Rana Ajeysi, “being out on a hunting excursion in the forest of Ondwa, with some young chiefs of the court, in pursuit of the boar entered a field of maize, when a female offered to drive out the game Pulling one of the stalks of maize, which grows to the height of ten or twelve feet, she pointed it, and mounting the platform made to watch the corn, impaled the hog, dragged him before the hunters,
‘Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. 1, p. 326.
and departed. Though accustomed to feats of strength. and heroism from the nervous arms of their countrywomen, the act surprised them. They descended to the stream at hand and prepared the repast, as is usual, On the spot. The feast was held, and comments were passing on the fair arm which had transfixed the boar, when a ball of clay from a sling fractured a. limb of the prince’s steed. Looking in the direction whence it came, they observed the same damsel, from her elevated stand, preserving her fields from a3rial depredators; but seeing the mischief she had occasioned she descended to express regret, and then returned to her pursuit. As they were proceeding homewards after the sports of the day, they again encountered the damsel with a vessel of milk on her head, and leading in either hand a young buffalo. It was proposed, in frolic, to overturn her milk, and one of the companions of the prince dashed rudely by her; but -without being disconcerted, she entangled one of her charges with the horse’s limbs, and brought the rider to the ground. On inquiry the prince discovered that she was the daughter of a poor Rajput of the Chundano tribe. He returned the next day to the same quarter and sent for her father, who came and took his seat with perfect independence close to the prince, to the merriment of his companions, which was checked by Tirsi, asking his daughter to wife. They were yet more surprised by the demand being refused. The Rajput, on going home, told the more prudent mother, who scolded him heartily, made him recall the refusal and seek the prince. They were married, and Hamir was the son of the Chundano Rajputni.”‘
‘Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. I, pp. 267, 68. It was this Rana Hamir who attacked, defeated and made prisoner the Khilji king, Mahmud, the successor of Allahuddin Khilji. The king suffered a confinement of three months in Chitor. Nor was he liberated till he had surrendered A3mer, lianthambhor, Nag-any and Soe Sopur, besides paying fifty lakhs of rupees and one hundred elephants, See Vol. I, p. 272.
“The romantic history of the Chohan Emperor of Delhi abounds in sketches of female character; and in the story of his carrying off Sanjogta, the princess of Kanauj, we have a faithful picture of the sex. We see her, from the moment when, rejecting the assembled princes, she threw the ‘garland of marriage’ round the neck of her hero, the Chohan, abandon herself to all the influences of passion, mix in a cambat of five days’ continuance against her father’s array, witness his overthrow and the carnage of both armies, and subsequently, by her seductive charms, lulling her lover into a neglect of every princely duty. Yet when the foes of his glory and power invade India, we see the enchantress at once start from her trance of pleasure, and exchanging the softer for the sterner passions, in accents not less strong because mingled with deep affection, she conjures him, while arming him for the battle, to die for his fame, declaring that she will join him in the ‘mansions of the sun.’ “
What Hindu can read without emotion the reply of the brave and beautiful Sanjogta, then in the heydey of her honeymoon? On Prithvi’s relating to her the dream, he saw the previous night, she said: “Victory and fame to my lord! Oh Sun of the Chohans, in glory or in pleasure, who has tasted so deeply as you? To die is the destiny not only of man but of the gods , all desire to throw off the old garment; but to die well is to live for ever. Think not of self, but of immortality; let your sword divide your foe, and I will be your ardhanga (the other half) hereafter.”
The army having assembled and all being prepared to march against the Islamite, the fair Sanjogta armed her lord for the encounter. “ In vain she sought the rings of his corslet; her eyes were fixed on the face of the Chohan, as those of the famished wretch who finds a piece of gold. The sound of the drum reached the ear of the Chohan; it was as a death-knell on that of Sanjogta: and as he left her to head Delhi’s heroes, she vowed that henceforth water only should sustain her. I shall see him again in the region of Surya, but never more in Yoginipur.”
A more recent instance of the high spirit, undaunted courage and a high sense of duty and honour displayed by a queen of Marwar, has been recorded by a Frenchman of note. In the Civil War for empire amongst the sons of Shah Jahan, when A urangzeb opened his career by the deposal of his father and the murder of his brothers, the Rajputs, faithful to the Emperor, determined to oppose him. Under the intrepid Rahtore, Jaswant Singh, thirty thousand Rajputs chiefly of that clan, advanced to the Narbada, and with a magnanimity amounting to imprudence, they permitted the junction of Murad with Aurangzeb.
Next morning the action commenced, which continued throughout the day. The Rajputs behaved with their usual bravery, but were surrounded on all sides, and by sunset left ten thousand dead on the field. The Maharaja retreated to his own country, but his wife, a daughter of the Rana of Udaipur, “disdained (says Ferishta) to receive her lord, and shut the gates of the castle.”
The French traveller, Bernier, who was present in India at the time, says: “I cannot forbear to relate the fierce reception which the daughter of the Rana gave to her husband, Jaswant Singh, after his defeat and flight. When she heard he was nigh, and had understood what had passed in the battle—that he had fought with all possible courage; that he had but four or five hundred men left; and at last, no longer able to resist the enemy, had been forced to retreat; instead of sending some one to condole him in his misfortunes, she commanded in a dry mood to shut the gates of the castle, and not to let this infamous man enter; that he was not her husband; that the son-in-law of the great Rana could not have so mean a soul; that he was to remember, that being grafted into so illustrious a house, he was to imitate its virtue; in a word, he was to vanquish, or to die. A moment after, she was of another humour. She commands a pile of wood to be laid, that she might burn herself; that they abused her; that her husband must needs be dead; that it could not be otherwise. And a little while after she was seen to change countenance, to fall into a passion, and break into a thousand reproaches against him. In short, she remained thus transported eight or nine days, without being able to resolve to see her husband, till at last her mother coming, brought her in time to herself, composed by assuring her that as soon as the Raja had but refreshed himself, he would raise another army to fight Aurangzeb, and repair his honour. By which story one may see a pattern of the courage of the women in that country.”‘
1Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol, I, p. 622,