Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
Mrs. Meer Hassan Ali
Part 4 out of 10
The tenths, or Syaads' dues, are never appropriated to any other use than
the one designed. Thus they evince their respect to the descendants of
Mahumud; by these tenths the poorer race of Syaads are mainly supported;
they rarely embark in trade, and never can have any share in banking, or
such professions as would draw them into dealings of usury. They are
chiefly employed as writers, moonshies, maulvees, and moollahs, doctors
of law, and readers of the Khoraun; they are allowed to enter the army, to
accept offices of state; and if they possess any employment sufficient to
support themselves and family, the true Syaad will not accept from his
neighbours such charitable donations as may be of service to the poor
brethren of his race. The Syaads, however poor, are seldom known to
intrude their distresses, patiently abiding until relief be sent through
the interposing power of divine goodness.
Such is the way in which they receive the blessings showered by the
orderings of the Almighty, that one never hears a Mussulmaun offer thanks
to his earthly benefactor, in return for present benefits; but 'Shooghur
Allah!' all thanks to God! I was somewhat surprised when first
acquainted with these people, that they accepted any kind of service done
them with the same salutation as when first meeting in the morning, viz.
salaam, and a bow. I inquired of the Meer if there was no word in
Hindoostaunie that could express the 'Thank you!' so common to us in
England? He bade me remark that the Mussulmauns return thanks to God
whenever they receive a benefit from mortals, whom they consider but as
the agents appointed by God to distribute His gifts. 'All thanks to God!'
is repeated with every benefit received; and this follows every meal or
cup of water as naturally, as to eat or to drink is preceded by 'Bis ma
Allah!'--In the name, or to the praise of God!
Amongst the many choice things I have gleaned from the work so often
quoted in my Letters, viz. 'Hyaatool Kaaloob', the following, through my
Meer's aid in translation, may here be inserted.
'Observe, ye faithful, there are five things most acceptable to God the
Creator, from man, His creature:--
1st. 'A generous gift, made when you have the greatest necessity yourself
for that which you give away.
2nd. 'All gifts that are free-will offerings of the heart, neither
expecting nor desiring your bounty, should be rewarded, either by returns
3rd. 'To be most humble, when in the enjoyment of the greatest prosperity.
4th. 'To promote peace, when the reason for indulging your anger is most
5th. 'To forgive freely from the heart, when the power to revenge is
present with you.'
You perceive a system of charitable feeling is inculcated by the laws of
Mahumud; and in every-day practice it is found to be the prominent feature
in their general habits. It is common with the meanest of the people to
offer a share of their food to any one calling upon them at meal-time. I
have seen this amiable trait of character in all classes of the people;
and often on a river voyage, or a land journey, when the servants cook
their dinner under a tree or by the bank of the river, if a dog, which
they consider an unclean animal, advances within their reach, a portion of
their food is thrown to him with that kindliness of feeling which induces
them to share with the hungry, whatever gifts they receive from the Author
of all good. Except in seasons of famine, no one need despair of
having sufficient to support nature, wherever the Mussulmauns congregate.
I speak it to their credit, and in justice to their character.
 See p. 67.
 Known among Indian Musalmans as _dasaundh_, 'tithes'.
 _Sadaqah_, used in the Koran (ii. 265) for almsgiving. In India the
term is applied to the custom by which money, clothes, grain, &c., are
waved over a patient, or only shown to him, and then given away to
beggars; or they are placed near the foot of a tree, on the bank of a
river, or where four roads meet, and are then supposed to carry away
the disease with them.--Jaffur Shurreef, _Qanoon-e-Islam_, p. 252.
 _Imam zamini_, 'a gift to the guardian saint'. When about to
go on a journey, or when any misfortune befalls a person, a coin or
metal ring is tied up in a cloth coloured with turmeric, in the name
of the Imam Zamin, and worn on his left arm. When the traveller
reaches his destination, or gets rid of his affliction, it is taken
off, and its value, with some money in addition, is spent in food or
sweetmeats, which are offered in the name of the saint.--Jaffur
Shurreef, p. 182.
 _Imam Zamani, Zamani tum karo_.
 _Munshi_, 'a writer, secretary'.
 _Shukr Allah_.
 _Bi'smi'llah_: the full form is
_bi'smi'llah'r-rahmani'r-rahim_, 'In the name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful!' These latter titles are omitted when
going into battle, or when slaughtering animals.
 The Prophet ordered that when a dog drinks from a vessel, it must be
washed seven times, the first cleansing being with earth. But the dog
of the Seven Sleepers will be admitted into Heaven.--_Koran_,
Mussulmaun festivals.--Buckrah Eade.--Ishmael believed to have been
offered in sacrifice by Abraham and not Isaac.--Descent of the
Mussulmauns from Abraham.--The Eade-gaarh.--Presentation of
Nuzzas.--Elephants.--Description of the Khillaut (robe of
honour).--Customs on the day of Buckrah Eade.--Nou-Roze (New Year's
Day).--Manner of its celebration.--The Bussund (Spring-colour).--The
Sah-bund.--Observances during this month.--Festival of the New
Moon.--Superstition of the Natives respecting the influence of the
Moon.--Their practices during an eclipse.--Supposed effects of the
Moon on a wound.--Medicinal application of lime in
Hindoostaun.--Observance of Shubh-burraat.
An account of the Mussulmaun festivals, I imagine, deserves a Letter; for
in many of them I have been able to trace, not only the habits and manners
of the people with whom I was sojourning, but occasionally marks of their
particular faith have been strongly developed in these observances, to
most of which they attach considerable importance. Buckrah Eade, for
instance, is a festival about as interesting to the Natives, as
Christmas-day is to the good people of England; and the day is celebrated
amongst all classes and denominations of Mussulmauns with remarkable zeal
The particular event which gives rise to Buckrah Eade is the well-known
circumstance of Abraham offering his son in sacrifice to God. The
Mussulmauns, however, insist that the son so offered was Ishmael, and not
Isaac, as our Scriptures declare. I have before remarked that I had
frequent arguments with the learned men of that persuasion on this subject,
which provoked a minute investigation of their most esteemed authors, to
decide between our opinions. The author of 'The Hyaatool Kaaloob' advances
many authorities, which the Mussulmauns deem conclusive, all of whom
declare that Ishmael was the son demanded and offered in sacrifice; and
two only, I think, of the many names that author quotes, were disposed to
doubt whether it was Isaac or Ishmael. An evident proof, I think, that on
some former occasion there had existed a difference of opinion on this
subject among men of their persuasion. The result of the present inquiry,
however, is that they believe Ishmael was the offering and not Isaac;
whilst I remain equally convinced of the correctness of our sacred book.
The Mussulmauns, I should remark, as well as the Jews, trace their origin
to Abraham, the former through Ishmael, and the latter through Isaac; and
it is more than probable that to this circumstance may be attributed the
decided prejudice of opinion, in favour of Ishmael being the person
offered in sacrifice. Whether this be the case or not, these children of
Abraham annually testify their reverence for their progenitor, and respect
for his faith towards God, in the way most congenial to their particular
ideas of honouring the memory of their forefathers.
I have thus attempted to sketch the origin of the festival, it shall now
be my task to describe the way in which the Mussulmauns of Hindoostaun
celebrate Buckrah Eade.
On this day all classes of people, professing 'the faith' sacrifice
animals, according to their circumstances; some offer up camels, others
sheep and goats, lambs or kids. It is a day of religious veneration, and
therefore by the pious prayers are added to sacrifice;--it is also a day
of joyful remembrances, consequently one of festivity amongst all ranks of
the Mussulmaun population.
Kings, Princes, or Nuwaubs, with the whole strength of their
establishments, celebrate the event, by going in great state to an
appointed place, which is designated 'The Eade-Gaarh' where the animals
designed for immediate sacrifice are previously conveyed. On the arrival
of the cavalcade at the Eade-gaarh, the head Moollah reads the form of
prayer appointed for the occasion, and then presents the knife to the
royal personage, who with his own hand sheds the blood of the camel he
offers in sacrifice, repeating an impressive prayer as he presents the
steel to the throat of the animal. The exact moment of the King's
sacrifice is announced by signal, when a grand salute from the artillery
and infantry commences the day's rejoicing.
An account of the procession on these occasions may be interesting to my
readers, though no description can give an adequate idea of its imposing
appearance. I have witnessed the Buckrah Eade celebrations at Lucknow,
where expense and good taste are neither wanted nor spared, to do honour
to the great occasion.
The several persons forming the King's suite, whether nobles or menials,
together with the military, both horse and foot, are all dressed in their
best apparel. The elephants have undergone a thorough cleansing in the
river, their hides have been well oiled, which gives a jetty hue to the
surface, and their heads painted with bright colours, according to the
fancy of their keepers; their housings and trappings are the most costly
and brilliant the possessors can procure, some with gold, others with
silver howdahs (seats), and draperies of velvet or fine cloth embroidered
and fringed with gold.
The horses of individuals, and those of the irregular troops, are, on this
occasion, caparisoned with embroidered horsecloths and silver ornaments,
necklaces of silver or gold; or in the absence of these costly adornings,
the less affluent substitute large coloured beads and tufts of variegated
silk on their horses' necks. Many of the horses have stars and crescents
painted upon the chest and haunches: the tail and mane are dyed red with
The procession is formed in the following order: Fifty camels, in pairs,
carrying swivels, and each attended by two gunners and a camel-driver; the
men dressed in clean white dresses, with turbans and sashes of red and
green: the trappings of the camel are composed of broadcloth of the same
colours. Next to these is a park of artillery, the men in new regimentals
of blue, faced with red and yellow lace. Two troops of horse soldiers, in
new regimentals, scarlet cloth unrurkas (coats) and white trousers,
with high-crowned caps of lambskin, similar to the Persian caps: these
horsemen have black belts, and are armed with pistols in the holsters, a
sabre and lance.
Then follows a regiment of nujeebs (foot soldiers), their jackets red,
with small cap turban of black leather ornamented with the kirrich or
dirk (part of the armorial bearings of the House of Oude): their trousers
reach no lower than the hams, where they are ornamented with black points
turning upwards on the white, leaving the thighs and legs perfectly bare.
The dunkah (kettle drums) on a horse, richly ornamented with scarlet
cloth drapery, embroidered and fringed with gold, the rider dressed in
scarlet and gold, with a turban to correspond, both being ornamented with
the royal insignia,--a fish.
The elephant carriages, containing first his Majesty and the Resident, the
others conveying the Prime Minister and the favoured nobles of his
Majesty's suite, form an impressive feature in the cortege, from their
splendour and novelty. The King's carriage is composed chiefly of silver,
open on every side, with a canopy of crimson velvet, embroidered and
fringed with gold, the curtains and lining to correspond; this carriage is
drawn by four elephants, exactly of one size (the rest have but two), each
very richly attired in velvet and gold coverings. The King and his suite
are very splendidly dressed in the Native costume. The chowries and
afthaadah are flourished before him, and on each side; the royal carriage
is guarded by the irregular horse in great numbers, and immediately
followed by led horses, very richly caparisoned, their grooms neatly
dressed in white, with turbans of red and green. To these succeed the
royal naalkie, a species of conveyance supported by bearers,
constructed of beautifully wrought gold; the bearers in loose scarlet
coats, embroidered with gold, bearing the royal insignia on their coats
and turbans. A gold palkie, supported in the same style; an elegant state
carriage, with eight black horses in hand, the coachman (a European)
dressed in scarlet, with a cocked-hat and staff feather.
Hurkaarahs (running messengers), chobdhaahs with gold and silver staffs,
are seen on either side and in front of the King's carriage, reiterating
the King's titles and honours as they proceed. Then follow the English
gentlemen composing the King's suite, in their court dresses, on elephants.
To them succeed the Native nobility, great officers of state, &c., on many
elephants,--I should think more than fifty,--and the whole followed by
military, both horse and foot. The procession has an imposing effect,
particularly when viewed from an open space. The regiments have each their
colours unfurled, and their bands of music playing English pieces. I have
often thought if our theatrical managers could witness some of these
splendid processions, they might profit by representing on the stage the
grand exhibition of an Eastern monarch, which loses much of its splendour
by my indifferent powers of description.
After the ceremony at the Eade-gaarh has concluded, the King and his suite
return in the same well-arranged order, and arriving at his palace, enters
the throne-room, where being seated, he receives nuzzas in due form,
presented in turn by every person belonging to the court, whether
relations, nobles, courtiers, dependants, servants, or slaves; every
person observing a proper etiquette in their approach to the throne, the
inferiors keeping back until their superiors retire,--which each one does
immediately after presenting his nuzza; thus confusion is prevented in the
hall of audience.
As a description of the ceremony of presenting nuzzas, on such occasions,
may be acceptable to some of my friends, I will describe that which I
witnessed at the Court of Oude.
The King was seated on his throne of pure gold, dressed in a very costly
habit of Persian velvet, embroidered with gold; on his neck, valuable
haarhs (necklaces) of diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds, were
suspended in many rows, reaching from the neck nearly to the waist.
The throne is a flat surface, about two yards square, raised about two
feet from the floor, upon three sides of it is a railing; a square canopy,
supported by poles, is attached to the four corners of the throne, which,
together with the poles, are formed of wood, and cased over with pure gold,
into which are set precious stones of great value. The canopy and cushions,
on which the King takes his seat, are of crimson velvet, very richly
embroidered with gold and pearls; a deep fringe of pearls of a good size
finishes the border of the canopy. The chattah is of corresponding costly
materials (crimson velvet and gold), fringed also with red pearls.
The King's crown is elegantly formed, richly studded with diamonds, and
ornamented with handsome plumes of the birds of Paradise. Over his head
was supported the velvet chattah. On either side of the throne stood a
nobleman with chowries of peacock's-feathers in gold handles, which they
kept waving continually over the King's person.
To the right of the throne were gilt chairs with velvet seats placed for
the accommodation of the Resident and his lady, who were accompanied by
many English ladies and gentlemen standing, as also by the European
gentlemen attached to the King's suite: the latter, in their court dresses
of puce cloth, richly embroidered with gold, had a very good effect,
mingled with the well-dressed lady-visitors of the Resident.
To the left of the throne stood the Native gentlemen holding high offices
in the Court of Oude, each richly dressed in the Asiatic costume.
At the King's feet stood the Vizier (Prime Minister), whose business it is,
on such occasions, to deposit the nuzzas on the throne after they have
been accepted by his Majesty.
As the company advanced the head Chamberlain announced the name and rank
of each person in the presence of the King. The second Chamberlain
directed such persons, after presenting the nuzza, the way they must
retire from the hall.
The nuzzas of the first nobility consisted of twenty-one gold mohurs;
those of less exalted persons were proportioned to their rank and
circumstances; whilst servants and slaves, with inferior dependants of the
Court, tendered their humble tribute of respect in rupees of silver.
The person presenting has the offering placed on a clean white folded
kerchief; he advances with his head bowed low, until within ten paces of
the throne; he then stands erect for a few seconds, with his hands folded
and held forward, after which he bows his head very low three times, and
each time places his open hand to his forehead,--this is called
'salaaming'; this done, he advances to the foot of the throne, repeats the
three salaams, then presents with both hands the nuzza on the kerchief,
which the King touches with, his hand, and the Vizier receives and
deposits with the collected heap by the side of his Majesty.
When the ceremony of presenting nuzzas has concluded, the King rises and
advances with the Resident to the centre of the audience hall, where the
person in charge of the haarhs is in attendance with several of these
marks of distinction, one of which the King selects and places with his
own hands over the head of the Resident; the Resident then takes one and
places it on the King in a similar way. Should the Vizier be in favour at
this time, he is invested with the haarh, both by his Majesty and the
Resident; but if, unfortunately for him, he does not enjoy his royal
master's confidence, he takes this opportunity of testifying his
dissatisfaction by omitting the favour to his Vizier. The haarh is
actually of very little value but as a badge of distinction peculiar to
Native courts, to which the Natives attach so much importance, that I
wonder not at their anxiety to be honoured with this distinguishing mark
of the King's satisfaction.
European visitors, both male and female, are generally adorned with haarhs
on these occasions. The King then conducts the Resident to the
entrance,--when taking leave, he pours otta on his hands, with the
'Khodah Afiz!' (God be with you!) and sometimes out of compliment to
the Resident, his Majesty offers otta also to each of the English visitors,
as they pass him at the door.
On these great court days, the Vizier's nuzza is usually of great
value,--sometimes a lac of rupees has been presented, when the Vizier is
much in favour, who is sure to receive ten times the value of his nuzza
ere the day is passed. When this large sum is presented, the Minister has
his one hundred bags (each containing a thousand rupees), covered with
crimson silk, and tied with silver ribands, placed on each side the throne
prior to the King's arrival; who, on seeing this proof of his faithful
servant's attachment, condescends to embrace him in the presence of the
assembled court--an honour of vast magnitude in the estimation of Natives.
The King confers favour on, as well as receives homage from, his subjects,
on the day of Buckrah Eade. On some, titles or other distinctions are
conferred; to others presents, according to his good will and pleasure:
many receive khillauts; and should there be an unfortunate omission, in
the distribution of princely munificence, that person understands to his
sorrow, that he is out of favour, without needing to be told so by word of
The title of Khaun, Nuwaub, Rajah, or any other distinction conferred by
the King, is accompanied by the dress of honour, and often by elephants,
horses, or the particular kind of Native palkie which are alone used by
princes and the nobility. The elephant is always given ready furnished
with the several necessary appendages, as silver howdah, embroidered
jhewls (draperies), &c.; and the horse richly caparisoned for riding.
The naalkie and palkie are vehicles conferred on Native gentlemen with
their titles, which cannot be used by any persons than those who have
received the grant from their Sovereign; and there is quite as much
ambition to be thus distinguished in a Native Court, as may be traced
amongst the aspirants for 'the orders' in the several European states.
Though the naalkie and palkie are restricted to the use of privileged
persons, all are allowed the services of the elephant. I knew a professed
beggar, who made his diurnal tour through the city of Lucknow on one. A
beggar, however, in Native estimation, is not the despicable creature he
is in European opinion; a degree of veneration is always evinced towards
men, who live on the casual bounty of their fellow mortals, and profess
not to have either a worldly calling or other means of support. The beggar,
I allude to, was called Shaah Jhee; he had originally been a
travelling mendicant, and made a visit to Lucknow, when the late King was
a young man, whom he met by accident outside the town; and, I believe,
without knowing to whom he was speaking, predicted some favourable
circumstances which should attend him eventually; the young prince then
disclosed himself to the beggar, and promised him if his predictions were
verified, he would reward him in the way he wished. Shaah Jhee left the
Oude district, and travelled over most parts of Hindoostaun. Returning
after many years' absence to Lucknow, he found the prince seated on the
throne of his ancestors, and watching for a favourable opportunity to
present himself, made his claims to the sovereign, who, remembering the
circumstance and his promise, conferred the required reward--to be allowed
to demand five cowries daily from every shopkeeper in the city of Lucknow.
The King added to this humble demand a house to reside in, and the
elephant on which he went to collect his revenue. Eighty-five cowries
(shells) are valued at one pice, or a halfpenny; yet so vast is this
capital of Oude, that Shaah Jhee was in the receipt of a handsome daily
allowance, by this apparently trifling collection.
Most of the respectable gentlemen in Lucknow maintain an elephant for
their own use, where it is almost as common to meet them as horses. Though
most persons, I observe, avoid falling in with, the royal cortege, (which
is always announced by the sound of the dunkah), unless they are disposed
to court the King's observation; then they draw up their elephant, and
oblige the animal to kneel down whilst the King passes on, the owner
standing in his howdah to make salaams; others, I have seen, dismount in
time, and stand in a humble posture, with the hands folded and the head
bowed low, doing reverence and attracting his Majesty's notice as he
passes on. These little acts of ceremonious respect are gratifying to the
King, and are frequently the means of advancing the views of the subject
to his favour.
The khillauts, presented by the King, vary in the number of the articles
composing the gift, as well as in the quality. The personal rank, and
sometimes the degree of estimation in which the receiver is held, is
defined by the value and number of an individual's khillaut. I have known
some gentlemen tenacious to a foible, about the nature of the khillaut
that could consistently be accepted; I have heard it even expressed, 'I
shall be disgraced in the eyes of the world, if my khillaut has not the
full complement usually conferred on men of my rank'. It is the honour
they value, not the intrinsic worth of the articles, for it is no uncommon
thing to find them distributing the dress of honour amongst their
dependants, on the same day they have received it.
The splendid articles composing khillauts are as follows: swords with
embroidered belts, the handle and scabbard either enamelled or embossed
silver, often set with precious stones; the most inferior have silver
mountings and velvet scabbards; shields studded with silver; kirrich
(dirk), the handle and sheath equally as rich as the swords; embroidered
or gold cloth chupkunds (coats); shawl-stuff labaadahs (pelisses),
trimmed with sable; turbans of shawl or muslin; ornaments for the turban
of diamonds and emeralds, the inferior of paste; strings of pearls and
emeralds for the neck; shawls, always in pairs, of more or less value;
shawl-kerchiefs; shawl cummerbunds (girdles); shawl lahaafs
(counterpanes); gold cloth, gold and silver muslins, and shawl stuff, in
pieces, each being sufficient to form a dress; Benares silks, or rich
satin for trousers; pieces of fine embroidered muslin for shirts. These
are the usual articles of value given in khillauts to the most exalted
favourites. In some instances the King confers one hundred and one pieces
in a khillaut; in others seventy-five, and down to five articles, which is
the lowest number given in this much-prized dress of honour. In a khillaut
of five pieces, I have observed, generally, a coarser kind of gold cloth
dress, a coloured muslin turban, a pair of coarse shawls, a coarse shawl
romall (kerchief), and a girdle. I have also observed, that the higher
the numbers rise, the quality of the articles increased in value;
consequently, when we hear of any one being invested with the highest
number, we calculate that each piece is of the very best quality and
When khillauts are conferred, the investiture usually takes place in the
King's presence, who sometimes condescends to place one of the articles on
the receiver with his own hands; at other times he merely touches the
turban with his hand, and the individuals are clothed by the Prime
Minister. After receiving the khillaut, each person approaches the throne
and does homage to the King, presenting a nuzza in accordance with his
rank, and the value of the khillaut.
The Revenue Collectors and Zemindhaars (landlords of farms) crowd to
the Court on these days, to testify their respect and share in the honours
distributed with a liberal hand. These persons may well be solicitous to
receive this badge of distinction, which they find increases their
influence over the Ryotts (cultivators).
On the morning of Buckrah Eade, the King gives a public breakfast at
Lucknow, to the Resident and his suite, and to such of the Native nobility
as are privileged to 'the chair' at the royal banquets. The breakfast
concluded, many varieties of sports commence, as elephant-fighting, tiger
sports, &c. The entertainment is got up with great magnificence,
neither expense nor trouble being spared to render the festivities of the
After the Resident and his party have retired, the King returns to his
private apartments, where the forms of state are thrown aside with the
splendid robes; and the ease and comfort of real Asiatic life is again
indulged in, without the parade so studiously observed in public, as being
essential to the sovereign's dignity. The trammels of state must indeed be
irksome to those who indulge in that sort of luxurious ease which forms
the chief comfort of Native life.
The evening at Court is passed by the King and his favourite courtiers,
with music and the performances of dancing-girls; a variety of fire-work
exhibitions; the witticisms of the Court-jesters, and such other
amusements as are suited to Asiatic taste.
The magnificent style of celebrating Buckrah Eade at Lucknow is perhaps
unequalled by any other Native Court now existing in Hindoostaun. The
rejoicings on this festival are not confined to the higher classes alone;
but it is a period of equal interest to every individual of the Mussulmaun
community. The custom of the Court is imitated by the subjects in their
several grades, each striving to do honour to the day according to their
ability. The religious classes add, to their usual Namaaz, the appointed
prayer for the occasion of Buckrah Eade.
The rich send presents of goats and sheep to their neighbours and to the
poor, so that the meanest of the people are enabled to offer sacrifice and
rejoice in the good things of which they partake: new suits of clothes are
also distributed to the dependants of the family and to the poor. In short,
on this day, there seems a spirit of benevolence abroad, that is even
remarkable beyond the general generosity of their natural character, as
all who have any thing to share will assuredly, on this occasion, impart a
blessing to the needy, and gratify their friends and acquaintances.
The bride and bridegroom elect exchange presents of goats, &c.; the tutor
writes a copy of verses on the day, and presents it to his pupil; the
pupil in return sends his tutor a dress and money to enable him to keep
Eade with his family.
The ladies dress in their most costly jewels and apparel to receive or pay
visits. The children have their sports and amusements. Whenever I have
entered a Native house on these days, all seemed cheerful and happy, and
enjoying themselves in whatever way was most congenial to their particular
tastes; 'every one must be cheerful (they say) on Buckrah Eade'.
On this day, millions of animals are sacrificed in remembrance of
Abraham's faith. I have often thought how striking is the similarity
between the Mosaic and Mussulmaun institutes,--indeed my recollections of
Scripture history have frequently been realized in the views I have had of
the domestic habits of the Mussulmauns. They are forbidden the use of
unclean animals; the swine is equally abominable to Mussulmauns as to the
Jews; neither are they less scrupulous in discarding from their kitchen
any kind of animal food prohibited by their laws, or which has not been
killed by one of their faith. In this process the person, who is to slay,
turns the animal's head towards Mecca, repeats the short appointed prayer,
and with one plunge the animal has ceased to feel: they are expert in the
art of despatching life, so that the animal's sufferings may not be
protracted unnecessarily;--an amiable trait of character and worthy of
* * * * *
'Nou-Roze' (New Year's Day) is a Festival of Eade of no mean
importance in the estimation of Mussulmaun society.
The exact period of commencing the Mussulmaun new year is the very moment
of the sun's entering the sign Aries. This is calculated by those
practical astronomers, who are in the service of most great men in Native
cities;--I should tell you they have not the benefit of published
almanacks as in England,--and according to the hour of the day or night
when the sun passes into that particular sign, so are they directed in the
choice of a colour to be worn in their garments on this Eade: if at
midnight, the colour would be dark puce, almost a black; if at mid-day,
the colour would be the brightest crimson. Thus to the intermediate hours
are given a shade of either colour applicable to the time of the night or
the day when the sun enters the sign Aries; and whatever be the colour to
suit the hour of Nou-Roze, all classes wear the day's livery, from the
King to the meanest subject in the city. The King, on his throne, sits in
state to receive congratulations and nuzzas from his nobles, courtiers and
dependants. 'Mabaarukh Nou-Roze!' (May the New Year be fortunate!) are
the terms of salutation exchanged by all classes of society, the King
himself setting the example. The day is devoted to amusements, a public
breakfast at the palace, sending presents, exchanging visits, &c.
The trays of presents prepared by the ladies for their friends are
tastefully set out, and the work of many days' previous arrangement. Eggs
are boiled hard, some of these are stained in colours resembling our
mottled papers; others are neatly painted in figures and devices; many are
ornamented with gilding; every lady evincing her own peculiar taste in the
prepared eggs for 'Nou-Roze'. All kinds of dried fruits and nuts,
confectionary and cakes, are numbered amongst the necessary articles for
this day's offering: they are set out in small earthen plates, lacquered
over to resemble silver, on which is placed coloured paper, cut out in
curious devices (an excellent substitute for vine leaves) laid on the
plate to receive the several articles forming 'Nou-Roze' presents.
Amongst the young people these trays are looked forward to with child-like
anxiety. The ladies rival each other in their display of novelty and good
taste, both in the eatables and the manner of setting them off with effect.
The religious community have prayers read in their family, and by them it
is considered both a necessary duty and a propitious commencement to bring
in the new year by 'prayer and praises'.
When it is known that the Nou-Roze will occur by daylight, the ladies have
a custom of watching for the moment the year shall commence by a fresh
rose, which being plucked from the stalk is thrown into a basin of water,
the eye downwards. They say, this rose turns over of itself towards the
sun at the very moment of that luminary passing into the sign Aries. I
have often found them thus engaged; but I never could say I witnessed the
actual accomplishment of their prediction.
The Nou-Roze teems with friendly tokens between the two families of a
bride and bridegroom elect, whose interchange of presents are also
strictly observed. The children receive gifts from their elders; their
nurses reap a harvest from the day; the tutor writes an ode in praise of
his pupil, and receives gifts from the child's parents; the servants and
slaves are regaled with dainties and with presents from the superiors of
the establishment; the poor are remembered with clothes, money and food;
the ladies make and receive visits; and the domenie attend to play and
sing in the zeenahnah. In short, the whole day is passed in cheerful
amusements, suited to the retirement of a zeenahnah and the habits of the
* * * * *
There is a festival observed at Lucknow called Bussund (spring-colour).
I should remark here, that almost all the trees of India have perpetual
foliage; as the season approaches for the new leaves to sprout, the young
buds force off the old leaves; and when the trees are thus clothed in
their first delicate foliage, there is a yellow tinge in the colour which
is denominated Bussund (Spring). A day is appointed to be kept under this
title, and then every one wears the Bussund colour: no one would be
admitted at Court without this badge of the day. The elephants, horses and
camels of the King, or of his nobles, are all ornamented with the same
colour on their trappings.
The King holds a Court, gives a public breakfast, and exhibits sports with
ferocious animals. The amusements of this day are chiefly confined to the
Court: I have not observed much notice taken of it in private life.
The last month of the periodical rains is called Sahbaund. There is a
custom observed by the Mussulmaun population, the origin of which has
never been clearly explained to me; some say it is in remembrance of the
Prophet Elisha or Elijah, and commences the first Friday of Sahbaund, and
is followed up every succeeding Friday through this concluding month of
the rainy season.
This ceremony may have had its origin with devout persons willing to
honour or to invoke the Prophet Elijah, who, as our Scripture informs us,
'prayed, and the clouds gave no rain for the space of three years; and
again he prayed and the heavens were opened to his prayer'. Or in that of
Elisha parting the waters with the mantle of Elijah, after succeeding him
in the Prophetic office, 2 Kings ii. 14; or a still more probable event,
calculated to excite the pious to some such annual notice as is observed
with these people, in the same chapter, the twentieth and following verses,
where we find it said of Elisha, 'And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and
put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the
spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the
Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more
dearth or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according
to the saying of Elisha which he spake.'
The learned men call it a zeenahnah, or children's custom; but it is
common to see children of all ages amongst the males, partake of, and
enjoy the festival with as much glee as the females or their juniors.
A bamboo frame is formed to the shape of a Chinese boat: this frame-work
is hidden by a covering of gold and silver tissue, silk, or coloured
muslin, bordered and neatly ornamented with silver paper. In this light
bark many lamps are secreted, of common earthenware. A procession is
formed to convey the tribute, called 'Elias ky Kishtee', to the river.
The servants of the family, soldiers, and a band of Native music attend in
due order of march: the crowd attracted by this childish play is immense,
increasing as they advance through the several streets on the way to the
river, by all the idlers of the place.
The kishtee (boat) is launched amidst a flourish of trumpets and drums,
and the shouts of the populace; the small vessel, being first well lighted,
by means of the secreted lamps, moves down gently with the stream. When at
a little distance, on a broad river, in the stillness of evening, any
one--who did not previously know how these little moving bodies of light
were produced--might fancy such fairy scenes as are to be met with in the
well-told fables of children's books in happy England.
This custom, though strongly partaking of the superstitious, is not so
blameable as that which I have known practised by some men of esteemed
good understanding, who having a particular object in view, which they
cannot attain by any human stratagem or contrivance, write petitions to
the Emaum Mhidhie on Fridays, and by their own hands commit the paper to
the river, with as much reverence as if they thought him present in the
water to receive it. The petition is always written in the same respectful
terms, as inferiors here well know how to address their superiors; and
every succeeding Friday the petition is repeated until the object is
accomplished, or the petitioner has no further inducement to offer one.
I have made particular inquiries whether such sensible people (as I have
seen thus engaged) placed any dependence on this mode of petitioning. The
only answer I have received, is, 'Those who think proper thus to petition,
certainly believe that it will be effectual, if they persevere in it.'
The New Moon is a festival in the family of every good Mussulmaun.
They date the new moon from the evening it first become visible, and not
as we do--from the moment it changes. The event is announced in Native
cities by firing salutes from the field-pieces of Kings, Nuwaubs, &c.
Amongst the religious people there is much preparation in bathing and
changing the dress against the evening the moon is expected to be visible,
and when the guns have announced that it is visible, they have the Khoraun
brought, which they open at the passage where Mahumud praises God for this
particular blessing. A small looking glass is then brought, on which
passage it is placed, and the book held in such a position that the moon
may be first seen by the person reflected in the glass. They then repeat
the prayer, expressly appointed for this occasion, and that done, the
whole family rise and embrace each other, making salaams and reverence to
their superiors and elders. The servants and slaves advance for the same
purpose, and nothing is heard for some minutes, but 'May the new moon be
fortunate!' reiterated from every mouth of the assembled family.
I cannot answer for the motives which actuate the ignorant people to bow
when they first see the new moon; but the pious Mussulmaun, I am assured,
bows to the Creator for the visible blessing, and not to the object.
The first eatables handed round to secure good luck and health throughout
the month are sugar-candy and cheese. I fancy this is a mere zeenahnah
custom, for I do not find the males so particular about eating this most
extraordinary mixture as the females.
The servants' wages are paid by the month, and in well-regulated families
the first day of the moon is hailed by dependants and domestics with no
small share of anxiety. Indeed, these people make the moon of much more
importance in the regulation of domestic affairs than the inhabitants of
more polished countries, for they attribute the influence of that planet
over the inhabitants of the earth in many extraordinary ways. It may be
deemed superstitious, but as my business is to relate the most material
ceremonies among this people, I cannot well omit noticing some of their
observances at this time.
If any person is ill, and bleeding is the only good remedy to be pursued,
the age of the moon is first discussed, and if it happens to be near the
full, they are inflexibly resolute that the patient shall not lose blood
until her influence is lessened. And should it happen at the commencement
of the second quarter, or a few days after the full, the difficulty is to
be overcome by deprecating the evil influence of the moon over the patient,
by burning a brand of straw which is flourished about the sick person's
head, who is brought out into the moon's presence for this important
operation. Many equally extraordinary things of this sort I have been
obliged to witness in the zeenahnah.
The full moon is deemed propitious for celebrating the marriage festivals.
If this be not possible, care is always to be taken that the ceremony does
not fall at the period when she is in the unfavourable sign; they say the
happiness of the young couple depends on this being carefully avoided, as
in the opinion of every Mussulmaun 'the moon in Scorpio' is unpropitious
for any business of moment.
When a journey is contemplated the moon's age is the first consideration;
indeed, the favourable signs of Madam Luna's movements are not only
selected for commencing a journey, but for all undertakings of like
importance;--whether to build, to write, to plant, to take medicine, &c.
What will be said of the singular custom, 'drinking the moon at a
draught'? A silver basin being filled with water is held in such a
situation that the full moon may be reflected in it; the person to be
benefited by this draught is required to look steadfastly at the moon in
the basin, then shut his eyes and quaff the liquid at one draught.
This remedy is advised by medical professors in nervous cases, and also
for palpitations of the heart. I have seen this practised, but I am not
aware of any real benefit derived by the patient from the prescription.
When the planet Venus is in conjunction with the moon, they say the time
is most favourable to offer prayers to God for any particular object they
may have in view. At this time they write charms or talismans to be worn
by children. I remember having witnessed a gentleman thus occupied, who
wrote little scraps in the Arabic character to distribute amongst the
children of his friends, who wore them enclosed in silver cases on their
An eclipse of the moon is an event of great interest, both with the
Mussulmaun and the Hindoo population, although they have very opposite
ideas of the causes of an eclipse.
Many of the notions entertained by the lower classes of Mussulmauns upon
the nature of an eclipse are borrowed from the Hindoos. Some think
that it is caused by the anger of God towards the people of the earth;
others say the moon is in debt, and many other equally odd conceits exist
amongst the ignorant people, and among them only. Yet a sensation of awe
is felt by most; and where is the intelligent creature who can view an
eclipse or any other phenomenon of Nature without the same feeling of awe,
although all are not equally ready to express the sensation?
Loud cries from the mixed population, Mussulmauns and Hindoos, announce
the commencement of an eclipse, whether it be of the sun or the moon. The
voice of the Mussulmaun is distinguished by the Namaazies' call to
prayers--'Allah wo uckbaar! (God alone is great!) To this summons the
faithful attend diligently, and they are generally occupied in the form of
prayer appointed by Mahumud until the shadow has passed over the sun or
The ladies prepare offerings of corn, oil, and money to be distributed
amongst the poor. The gentlemen give presents to the needy. The astronomer
who predicts to his royal or noble master the exact period of an eclipse,
is rewarded, when it is over, with money, a dress, and a crescent of pure
gold in some instances. A bride elect sends sutkah to her intended
husband, accompanied by a goat or kid, which must be tied to the leg of
his bedstead during the continuance of an eclipse: these offerings are
afterwards distributed in charity. Women expecting to become mothers are
carefully kept awake during an eclipse, as they declare the infant's
security depends on the mother being kept from sleep; they are not allowed
to use a needle, scissors, knife, or any other instrument during an
eclipse, for fear of drawing blood, which would be injurious at that
period, both to the mother and child; neither are the animals in a similar
state neglected; a mixture of cow-dung and drugs is rubbed over the belly
of such animals, whether cows, sheep, goats, &c., and all these are
securely housed until the planet is again resplendent: they fancy that
both the animal and its young would be endangered by exposure during the
time of the eclipse.
The power of the moon on wounded persons is believed universally to be of
dangerous tendency. I have heard many extraordinary relations by people
who, as they tell me, have suffered from exposure to the moon whilst a
wound was fresh. One person had received a severe sabre-cut on his arm;
the place was sewed up by the barber (the only surgeon amongst the
Natives), and being much exhausted he laid down to sleep in the open air.
The moon was near the full, and after some hours' exposure to her
influence he awoke in great agony; the barber examined the arm early in
the morning and found the cut in a state of corruption, the sewing having
burst; the wound was cleansed, and dressed with pounded camphor; the place
eventually healed, and the man lived many years to tell his story, always
declaring his belief that the moon had been the cause of his sufferings;
he was the more certain of this as he dreamed whilst exposed to her
influence, that a large black woman (an inhabitant of the moon) had
wrestled with him, and hurt his wound.
The usual application in India to a fresh wound is that of slacked lime. A
man in our employ was breaking wood, the head of the hatchet came off, and
the sharp edge fell with considerable force on the poor creature's foot;
he bled profusely and fainted, lime was unsparingly applied, to the wound,
the foot carefully wrapped up, and the man conveyed to his hut on a
charpoy (bedstead), where he was kept quiet without disturbing the wound;
at the end of a fortnight he walked about, and in another week returned to
Lime is an article of great service in the domestic economy of the Natives.
I have experienced the good effects of this simple remedy for burns or
scalds: equal proportions of lime, water, and any kind of oil, made into a
thin paste, and immediately applied and repeatedly moistened, will
speedily remove the effects of a burn; and if applied later, even when a
blister has risen, the remedy never fails: I cannot say how it might act
on a wound, the consequence of a neglected burn.
The lime used with pawn by the natives of India is considered very
beneficial to health; and they use it in great quantities, considering
that they never eat pawn without lime, and the most moderate pawn eaters
indulge in the luxury at least eight times in the course of the day. The
benefit of lime is worth the consideration of the medical world--as a
preventive in some climates, as a renovater in others.
Shubh-burraat, is the designation of one of the months of the
Mussulmauns (you are aware their month is the duration of the moon). The
night of the full moon Shubh-burraat is a period of great and interesting
importance to the Mussulmaun people of every degree; for on this night
they are persuaded the fate of every human being is fixed in heaven; and
that whatever is to be their doom is then registered in the Book of Life.
Those who are to retain health, life, prosperity, or any other blessing,
and those who are to be visited by sickness, sorrows, adversity or death;
in short, whatever is to occur throughout the year is on this night
assuredly noted in heaven for each individual on earth.
On this night they are instructed also to remember their friends and
relatives who have been separated from them by death, and the injunction
is followed up with much pious respect and marked veneration. Food is
cooked and portioned out in the name of each departed object of their
regard, over which the elder of the family,--if a Maulvee is not
available,--reads a certain form of prayer called Fahteeah; this done,
each portion (if convenient) is conveyed to the several tombs wherein
those friends are deposited; or if not convenient to send the food to the
burying ground, it is distributed amongst the poor of the city and the
suburbs; the beggars congregating in those places to indulge in the
luxuries prepared to the memory of the dead. The food prepared on this
occasion must not contain any animal food. Bread of various kinds, sweet
rice, and meetah (a mixture of sugar, ghee, and flour), are the usual
dainties I have observed in these offerings. Fireworks are in universal
request on the night of Shubh-burraat, which is required to be passed in
wakefulness; and to this may be ascribed the never-varying custom of
letting them off: it is an amusement these people take delight in at all
times, and on this occasion most usefully, to keep them awake. The younger
branches, at all events, derive this benefit from the pastime.
The religious community make it a night of strict devotion; they offer
prayers and intercessions for the souls of their departed friends, since
they imagine that this period, of all others, is most favourable to prayer,
as they believe the heart is more open to the throne of mercy, the prayer
more effectual, and that the real penitent suing for pardon on the night
of Shubh-burraat, is certainly heard and his sins forgiven.
The Sheah sect attach still greater importance to this night, as the
anniversary of the birth of Emaum Mhidhie. They also remember Hasan
and Hosein as martyrs; and in memory of their sufferings the zeearut
(circuit as at Mahurrum), is performed by walking round the ground in front
of their apartments, repeating the burial service, with some trifling
alterations; likewise the salaams to the Prophets and Emaums are duly
performed during this night of fate.
There is a singular opinion current amongst the Mussulmauns, that the
trees hold converse at this momentous period. The really pious
characters amongst the Mussulmauns declare that they discountenance
superstition in every way; but they strictly adhere to every habit or
custom on record which was the practice of Mahumud and his family, the
Emaums. Of course, they do not think the observances of Shubh-burraat are
at all bordering on superstition, whatever may be thought of the practice
 See p. 78.
 'Idgah, the place where the rites of the 'Id festival are
conducted. It generally consists of a pavement, with a wall to the
west, facing east.
 See p. 42.
 _Najib_, 'noble'; the half-disciplined militia of Native States.
 _Kirch_, a straight thrusting sword.
 See p. 48.
 See p. 43.
 _Nalki_, a kind of litter, the use of which was regarded as a
mark of dignity: see Sleeman, _Rambles_, p. 135.
 A coin worth, about Rs. 16.
 Haarh is a name given to any sort of ornament which we should
designate a necklace. The haarhs presented on these occasions at the
Oude court are composed of silver ribands very prettily platted and
confined at each division of plats by knobs covered with silver riband.
The prices of these haarhs are from five to twenty-five rupees each,
depending on the size. [_Author_.] See p. 62.
 _'Itr_, essence of roses.
 _Shahji_, 'my lord'.
 _Chapkan_, the cassock-like frock, which is the usual dress of
 _Labada_, a sort of overcoat.
 _Kamarband_, 'loin-band'.
 _Lahaf_, a corruption of _ghilaf_, 'a wrapper'.
 _Rumal_, 'face-wiper'.
 _Zamindar_, 'a landowner'.
 Many native gentlemen are allowed to be seated in the king's presence
at court daily, but not at the banquet, which is a distinction
reserved only for the nobility and favourites. [_Author_.]
 For an account of the animal fights before Lord W. Bentinck in 1831
see Mrs. F. Parks, _Wanderings of a Pilgrim_, i. 176 ff.; W. Knighton,
_Private Life of an Eastern King_, p. 147 ff.
 _Nauroz_. Specially a Persian feast: see Sir J. Malcolm, _History of
Persia_, ii. 341 _n_., 404; S.G.W. Benjamin, _Persia and the
Persians_, p. 198; O.J. Wills, _The Land of the Lion and the Sun_, ed.
1891, p. 48.
 _Nauroz mubarak_.
 Basant or spring feast, held at the vernal equinox.
 Sawan, the fourth month of the Hindu year, July-August.
 The feast is held in honour of the mythical Khwaja Khizr, 'the
green one', a water spirit identified with the Prophet Elisha (see
Sale on _Koran_, xviii. 63). The launching of the little boats is,
in essence, a form of magic intended to carry away the evils which
menace the community, and to secure abundant rainfall.
 _Ilyas ki kishti_.
 This is known as Hilal.
 The Semites, like other races, believed in the influence of the moon.
'The sun shall not strike thee by day, nor the moon by night' (Ps.
cxxi. 6). It was believed to cause blindness and epilepsy. Sir J.G.
Frazer has exhaustively discussed the question of the influence of the
moon. The harvest moon, in particular, brings fertility, and hears the
prayers of women in travail: the moon causes growth and decay, and she
is dangerous to children. Many practical rules are based on her
influence at the various phases (_The Golden Bough_ Part I, vol. ii,
p. 128; Part IV, vol. ii, p. 132 ff.).
 'The sixth house is Scorpio, which is that of slaves and servants,
and of diseases' (Abul Fazl, _Akbarnama_, tr. H. Beveridge, ii. 12).
 Here the moon is supposed to exert a curative influence.
 Hindus believe that during an eclipse the moon is being strangled by
a demon, Rahu. Cries are raised, drums and brazen pans are beaten
to scare him.
 Properly the Mu'azzin or official summoner to prayer.
 _Allahu akbar_.
 All offerings of intercession or thanksgivings are denominated sutkah
[_Author_] (_sadaqah_, see p. 136).
 Lime liniment, composed of equal parts of lime-water and a bland oil,
is recognized in surgical practice.
 _Shab-i-bara'at_, 'the night of record', is a feast held on the
15th of the month Sha'ban, when a vigil is kept, with prayers and
illuminations. On this occasion service in memory of the deceased
ancestors of the family is performed. On this night the fortunes of
mortals during the coming year are said to be recorded in Heaven. See
 Al-Fatihah, 'the opening one', the first chapter of the Koran.
 _Mitha, mithai_, 'sweetmeats'.
 Imam Mahdi, see pp. 72, 76.
 _Ziyarat_, see p. 15.
 Compare the oracular trees of the Greeks (Sir J.G. Frazer,
_Pausanias_, ii. 160). For legends of speaking trees in India,
W. Crooke, _Popular Religion and Folklore of N. India_, ii. 89.
The Zeenahnah.--Its interior described.--Furniture, decorations,
&c.--The Purdah (curtains).--Bedstead.--The Musnud (seat of
honour).--Mirrors and ornamental furniture disused.--Display on
occasions of festivity.--Observations on the Mussulmaun
Ladies.--Happiness in their state of seclusion.--Origin of secluding
females by Mahumud.--Anecdote.--Tamerlane's command prohibiting
females being seen in public.--The Palankeen.--Bearers.--Their
general utility and contentedness of disposition.--Habits peculiar
to Mussulmaun Ladies.--Domestic arrangements of a Zeenahnah.--Dinner
and its accompanying observances.--The Lota and Lugguns.--The
Hookha.--Further investigation of the customs adopted in Zeenahnahs.
Before I introduce the ladies of a Mussulmaun zeenahnah to your notice, I
propose giving you a description of their apartments.
Imagine to yourself a tolerably sized quadrangle, three sides of which is
occupied by habitable buildings, and the fourth by kitchens, offices,
lumber rooms, &c.; leaving in the centre an open court-yard. The habitable
buildings are raised a few steps from the court; a line of pillars forms
the front of the building, which has no upper rooms; the roof is flat, and
the sides and back without windows, or any aperture through which air can
be received. The sides and back are merely high walls forming an enclosure,
and the only air is admitted from the fronts of the dwelling-place facing
the court-yard. The apartments are divided into long halls, the extreme
corners having small rooms or dark closets purposely built for the
repository of valuables or stores; doors are fixed to these closets, which
are the only places I have seen with them in a zeenahnah or mahul
(house or palace occupied by females); the floor is either of beaten earth,
bricks, or stones; boarded floors are not yet introduced.
As they have neither doors nor windows to the halls, warmth or privacy is
secured by means of thick wadded curtains, made to fit each opening
between the pillars. Some zeenahnahs have two rows of pillars in the halls
with wadded curtains to each, thus forming two distinct halls, as occasion
may serve, or greater warmth be required: this is a convenient arrangement
where the establishment of servants, slaves, &c., is extensive.
The wadded curtains are called purdahs; these are sometimes made of
woollen cloth, but more generally of coarse calico, of two colours, in
patchwork style, striped, vandyked, or in some other ingeniously contrived
and ornamented way, according to their individual taste.
Besides the purdahs, the openings between the pillars have blinds neatly
made of bamboo strips, wove together with coloured cords: these are called
jhillmuns or cheeks. Many of them are painted green; others are more
gaudy both in colour and variety of patterns. These blinds constitute a
real comfort to every one in India, as they admit air when let down, and
at the same time shut out flies and other annoying insects; besides which
the extreme glare is shaded by them,--a desirable object to foreigners in
The floors of the halls are first matted with the coarse date-leaf matting
of the country, over which is spread shutteringhies (thick cotton
carpets, peculiarly the manufacture of the Upper Provinces of India, wove
in stripes of blue and white, or shades of blue); a white calico carpet
covers the shutteringhie, on which the females take their seat.
The bedsteads of the family are placed, during the day, in lines at the
back of the halls, to be moved at pleasure to any chosen spot for the
night's repose; often into the open courtyard, for the benefit of the pure
air. They are all formed on one principle, differing only in size and
quality; they stand about half-a-yard from the floor, the legs round and
broad at bottom, narrowing as they rise towards the frame, which is laced
over with a thick cotton tape, made for the purpose, and platted in
checquers, and thus rendered soft, or rather elastic, and very pleasant to
recline upon. The legs of these bedsteads are in some instances gold,
silver gilt, or pure silver; others have enamel paintings on fine wood;
the inferior grades have them merely of wood painted plain and varnished;
the servants' bedsteads are of the common mango-wood without ornament, the
lacing of these for the sacking being of elastic string manufactured from
the fibre of the cocoa-nut.
Such are the bedsteads of every class of people. They seldom have
mattresses; a soojinee (white quilt) is spread on the lacing, over
which a calico sheet, tied at each corner of the bedstead with cords and
tassels; several thin flat pillows of beaten cotton for the head,--a
muslin sheet for warm weather, and a well wadded ruzzie (coverlid) for
winter, is all these children of Nature deem essential to their comfort in
the way of sleeping. They have no idea of night dresses; the same suit
that adorns a lady, is retained both night and day, until a change be
needed. The single article exchanged at night is the deputtah, and that
only when it happens to be of silver tissue or embroidery, for which a
muslin or calico sheet is substituted.
The very highest circles have the same habits in common with the meanest,
but those who can afford shawls of cashmere prefer them for sleeping in,
when the cold weather renders them bearable. Blankets are never used
except by the poorest peasantry, who wear them in lieu of better garments
night and day in the winter season: they are always black, the natural
colour of the wool. The ruzzies of the higher orders are generally made of
silk of the brightest hues, well wadded, and lined with dyed muslin of
assimilating colour; they are usually bound with broad silver ribands, and
sometimes bordered with gold brocaded trimmings. The middling classes have
fine chintz ruzzies, and the servants and slaves coarse ones of the same
material; but all are on the same plan, whether for a queen or the meanest
of her slaves, differing only in the quality of the material.
The mistress of the house is easily distinguished by her seat of honour in
the hall of a zeenahnah; a musnud not being allowed to any other person
but the lady of the mansion.
The musnud carpet is spread on the floor if possible near to a pillar
about the centre of the hall, and is made of many varieties of
fabric,--gold cloth, quilted silk, brocaded silk, velvet, fine chintz, or
whatever may suit the lady's taste, circumstances, or convenience. It is
about two yards square, and generally bordered or fringed, on which is
placed the all-important musnud. This article may be understood by those
who have seen a lace-maker's pillow in England, excepting only that the
musnud is about twenty times the size of that useful little article in the
hands of our industrious villagers. The musnud is covered with gold cloth,
silk, velvet, or calico, with square pillows to correspond, for the elbows,
the knees, &c. This is the seat of honour, to be invited to share which,
with the lady-owner, is a mark of favour to an equal or inferior: when a
superior pays a visit of honour, the prided seat is usually surrendered to
her, and the lady of the house takes her place most humbly on the very
edge of her own carpet.
Looking-glasses or ornamental furniture are very rarely to be seen in the
zeenahnahs, even of the very richest females. Chairs and sofas are
produced when English visitors are expected; but the ladies of Hindoostaun
prefer the usual mode of sitting and lounging on the carpet; and as for
tables, I suppose not one gentlewoman of the whole country has ever been
seated at one; and very few, perhaps, have any idea of their useful
purposes, all their meals being served on the floor, where dusthakhawns
(table-cloths we should call them) are spread, but neither knives, forks,
spoons, glasses, or napkins, so essential to the comfortable enjoyment of
a meal amongst Europeans. But those who never knew such comforts have no
desire for the indulgence, nor taste to appreciate them.
On the several occasions, amongst Native society, of assembling in large
parties, as at births and marriages, the halls, although extensive, would
be inadequate to accommodate the whole party. They then have awnings of
white calico, neatly flounced with muslin, supported on poles fixed in the
courtyard, and connecting the open space with the great hall, by wooden
platforms which are brought to a line with the building, and covered with
shutteringhie and white carpets to correspond with the floor-furniture of
the hall; and here the ladies sit by day and sleep by night very
comfortably, without feeling any great inconvenience from the absence of
their bedsteads, which could never be arranged for the accommodation of so
large an assemblage--nor is it ever expected.
The usually barren look of these almost unfurnished halls is on such
occasions quite changed, when the ladies are assembled in their various
dresses; the brilliant display of jewels, the glittering drapery of their
dress, the various expressions of countenance, and different figures, the
multitude of female attendants and slaves, the children of all ages and
sizes in their variously ornamented dresses, are subjects to attract both
the eye and the mind of an observing visitor; and the hall, which when
empty appeared desolate and comfortless, thus filled, leaves nothing
wanting to render the scene attractive.
The buzz of human voices, the happy playfulness of the children, the
chaste singing of the domenies fill up the animated picture. I have
sometimes passed an hour or two in witnessing their innocent amusements,
without any feeling of regret for the brief sacrifice of time I had made. I
am free to confess, however, that I have returned to my tranquil home with
increased delight after having witnessed the bustle of a zeenahnah
assembly. At first I pitied the apparent monotony of their lives; but this
feeling has worn away by intimacy with the people, who are thus precluded
from mixing generally with the world. They are happy in their confinement;
and never having felt the sweets of liberty, would not know how to use the
boon if it were to be granted them. As the bird from the nest immured in a
cage is both cheerful and contented, so are these females. They have not,
it is true, many intellectual resources, but they have naturally good
understandings, and having learned their duty they strive to fulfil it. So
far as I have had any opportunity of making personal observations on their
general character they appear to me obedient wives, dutiful daughters,
affectionate mothers, kind mistresses, sincere friends, and liberal
benefactresses to the distressed poor. These are their moral
qualifications, and in their religious duties they are zealous in
performing the several ordinances which they have been instructed by their
parents or husbands to observe. If there be any merit in obeying the
injunctions of their Lawgiver, those whom I have known most intimately
deserve praise, since 'they are faithful in that they profess'.
To ladies accustomed from infancy to confinement this is by no means
irksome; they have their employments and their amusements, and though
these are not exactly to our taste, nor suited to our mode of education,
they are not the less relished by those for whom they were invented. They
perhaps wonder equally at some of our modes of dissipating time, and fancy
we might spend it more profitably. Be that as it may, the Mussulmaun
ladies, with whom I have been long intimate, appear to me always happy,
contented, and satisfied with the seclusion to which they were born; they
desire no other, and I have ceased to regret they cannot be made partakers
of that freedom of intercourse with the world we deem so essential to our
happiness, since their health suffers nothing from that confinement, by
which they are preserved from a variety of snares and temptations; besides
which, they would deem it disgraceful in the highest degree to mix
indiscriminately with men who are not relations. They are educated from
infancy for retirement, and they can have no wish that the custom should
be changed, which keeps them apart from the society of men who are not
very nearly related to them. Female society is unlimited, and that they
enjoy without restraint.
A lady whose friendship I have enjoyed from my first arrival in India,
heard me very often speak of the different places I had visited, and she
fancied her happiness very much depended on seeing a river and a bridge. I
undertook to gain permission from her husband and father, that the treat
might be permitted; they, however, did not approve of the lady being
gratified, and I was vexed to be obliged to convey the disappointment to
my friend. She very mildly answered me, 'I was much to blame to request
what I knew was improper for me to be indulged in; I hope my husband and
family will not be displeased with me for my childish wish; pray make them
understand how much I repent of my folly. I shall be ashamed to speak on
the subject when we meet.'
I was anxious to find out the origin of secluding females in the
Mussulmaun societies of Hindoostaun, as I could find no example in the
Mosaic law, which appears to have been the pattern Muhumud followed
generally in domestic habits. I am told by the best possible authority,
that the first step towards the seclusion of females occurred in the life
of Mahumud, by whose command the face and figure of women were veiled on
their going from home, in consequence of some departure from strict
propriety in one of his wives (Ayashur, the daughter of Omir); she is
represented to have been a very beautiful woman, and was travelling with
Mahumud on a journey in Arabia.
'The beautiful Ayashur, on her camel, was separated from the party; she
arrived at the serai (inn, or halting-place) several hours after they had
encamped, and declared that her delay was occasioned by the loss of a
silver bangle from her ankle, which after some trouble she had discovered,
and which she produced in a bruised state in testimony of her assertion.
Mahumud was displeased, and her father enraged beyond measure at his
daughter's exposing herself to the censure of the public, by allowing any
thing to detach her from the party.' Mahumud assuaged Omir's anger by a
command then first issued, 'That all females, belonging to the faithful,
should be compelled to wear a close veil over their face and figure
whenever they went abroad.'
In Arabia and Persia the females are allowed to walk or ride out with a
sort of hooded cloak, which falls over the face, and has two eye-holes for
the purpose of seeing their way. They are to be met with in the streets
of those countries without a suspicion of impropriety when thus habited.
The habit of strict seclusion, however, originated in Hindoostaun with
Tamerlane the conqueror of India.
When Tamerlane with his powerful army entered India, he issued a
proclamation to all his followers to the following purport, 'As they were
now in the land of idolatry and amongst a strange people, the females of
their families should be strictly concealed from the view of strangers';
and Tamerlane himself invented the several covered conveyances which are
to the present period of the Mussulmaun history in use, suited to each
grade of female rank in society. And the better to secure them from all
possibility of contamination by their new neighbours, he commanded that
they should be confined to their own apartments and behind the purdah,
disallowing any intercourse with males of their own persuasion even, who
were not related by the nearest ties, and making it a crime in any female
who should willingly suffer her person to be seen by men out of the
prescribed limits of consanguinity.
Tamerlane, it may be presumed, was then ignorant of the religious
principles of the Hindoos. They are strictly forbidden to have intercourse
or intermarry with females who are not strictly of their own caste or
tribe, under the severe penalty of losing that caste which they value as
their life. To this may be attributed, in a great degree, the safety with
which female foreigners travel daak (post) in their palankeens, from
one point of the Indian continent to another, without the knowledge of
five words of the Hindoostaunie tongue, and with no other servant or
guardian but the daak-bearers, who carry them at the rate of four miles an
hour, travelling day and night successively.
The palankeen is supported on the shoulders of four bearers at once,--two
having the front pole attached to the vehicle, and two supporting the pole
behind. The four bearers are relieved every five or six minutes by other
four, making the set of eight to each palankeen,--this set conveys their
burden from eight to ten miles, where a fresh party are in waiting to
relieve them, and so on to the extent of the projected journey; much in
the same way as relays of horses are stationed for post-travelling in
England. Perhaps the tract of country passed through may not present a
single hut or habitation for miles together, often through jungles of
gloomy aspect; yet with all these obstacles, which would excite fear or
distrust in more civilized parts of the world, females travel in India
with as perfect security from insult as if they were guarded by a company
of sepoys, or a troop of cavalry.
I am disposed to think that the invention of covered conveyances by
Tamerlane first gave rise to the bearers. It seems so probable that the
conqueror of the Hindoos should have been the first to degrade human
nature, by compelling them to bear the burden of their fellow-creatures. I
can never forget the first impression, on my mind, when witnessing this
mode of conveyance on my landing at Calcutta; and although I am willing to
agree that the measure is one of vast utility in this climate, and to
acknowledge with gratitude the benefit I have derived by this personal
convenience, yet I never seat myself in the palankeen or thonjaun
without a feeling bordering on self-reproach, as being one amongst the
number to perpetuate the degradation of my fellow-mortals. They, however,
feel nothing of this sentiment themselves, for they are trained from
boyhood to the toil, as the young ox to the yoke. It is their business;
the means of comfort is derived to them by this service; they are happy in
the employment, and generally cheerful, and form a class of people in
themselves respected by every other both for their services and for their
general good behaviour. In the houses of foreigners they are the most
useful amongst the whole establishment; they have charge of property, keep
the furniture in exact order, prepare the beds, the lamps, and the candles,
where wax is used. Tallow having beef-fat in its manufacture is an
abomination, to the Hindoos, by whom it is considered unholy to slay, or
even to touch any portion of the slaughtered cattle of their respect: for
believing in transmigration, they affirm that these animals receive the
souls of their departed relations. The bearers make the best of nurses to
children, and contribute to the comfort of their employer by pulling the
punkah night and day: in short, so necessary are these servants to the
domestic economy of sojourners in the East, that their merits as a people
must be a continual theme of praise; for I know not how an English
establishment could be concluded with any degree of comfort without these
most useful domestics. But I have allowed my pen to stray from the subject
of female seclusion, and will here bring that part of my history to a
close in very few words.
Those females who rank above peasants or inferior servants, are disposed
from principle to keep themselves strictly from observation; all who have
any regard for the character or the honour of their house, seclude
themselves from the eye of strangers, carefully instructing their young
daughters to a rigid observance of their own prudent example. Little girls,
when four years old, are kept strictly behind the purdah, and when they
move abroad it is always in covered conveyances, and under the
guardianship of a faithful female domestic, who is equally tenacious us
the mother to preserve the young lady's reputation unblemished by
concealing her from the gaze of men.
The ladies of zeenahnah life are not restricted from the society of their
own sex; they are, as I have before remarked, extravagantly fond of
company, and equally as hospitable when entertainers. To be alone is a
trial to which they are seldom exposed, every lady having companions
amongst her dependants; and according to her means the number in her
establishment is regulated. Some ladies of rank have from two to ten
companions, independent of slaves and domestics; and there are some of the
Royal family at Lucknow who entertain in their service two or three
hundred female dependants, of all classes. A well-filled zeenahnah is a
mark of gentility; and even the poorest lady in the country will retain a
number of slaves and domestics, if she cannot afford companions; besides
which they are miserable without society, the habit of associating with
numbers having grown up with infancy to maturity: 'to be alone' is
considered, with women thus situated, a real calamity.
On occasions of assembling in large parties, each lady takes with her a
companion besides two or three slaves to attend upon her, no one expecting
to be served by the servants of the house at which they are visiting. This
swells the numbers to be provided for; and as the visit is always for
three days and three nights (except on Eades, when the visit is confined
to one day), some forethought must be exercised by the lady of the house,
that all may be accommodated in such a manner as may secure to her the
reputation of hospitality.
The kitchen and offices to the zeenahnah, I have remarked, occupy one side
of the quadrangle; they face the great or centre hall appropriated to the
assembly. These kitchens, however, are sufficiently distant to prevent any
great annoyance from the smoke;--I say smoke, because chimneys have not
yet been introduced into the kitchens of the Natives. The fire-places are
all on the ground, something resembling stoves, each admitting one
saucepan, the Asiastic style of cooking requiring no other contrivance.
Roast or boiled joints are never seen at the dinner of a Native: a leg of
mutton or sirloin of beef would place the hostess under all sorts of
difficulties, where knives and forks are not understood to be amongst the
useful appendages of a meal. The variety of their dishes are countless,
but stews and curries are the chief; all the others are mere varieties.
The only thing in the shape of roast meats, are small lean cutlets bruised,
seasoned and cemented with pounded poppy-seed, several being fastened
together on skewers: they are grilled or roasted over a charcoal fire
spread on the ground, and then called keebaab, which word implies,
The kitchen of a zeenahnah would be inadequate to the business of cooking
for a large assembly; the most choice dishes only (for the highly favoured
guests), are cooked by the servants of the establishment. The needed
abundance required on entertaining a large party is provided by a regular
bazaar cook, several of whom establish themselves in Native cities, or
wherever there is a Mussulmaun population. Orders being previously given,
the morning and evening dinners are punctually forwarded at the appointed
hours in covered trays, each tray having portions of the several good
things ordered, so that there is no confusion in serving out the feast on
its arrival at the mansion. The food thus prepared by the bazaar cook
(naunbye, he is called), is plain boiled-rice, sweet-rice, kheer
(rice-milk), mautungun (rice sweetened with the addition of preserved
fruits, raisins, &c., coloured with saffron), sallons (curries) of
many varieties, some cooked with vegetables, others with unripe fruits
with or without meat; pillaus of many sorts, keebaabs, preserves, pickles,
chatnees, and many other things too tedious to admit of detail.
The bread in general use amongst Natives is chiefly unleavened; nothing in
the likeness of English bread is to be seen at their meals; and many
object to its being fermented with the intoxicating toddy (extracted from
a tree). Most of the Native bread is baked on iron plates over a charcoal
fire. They have many varieties, both plain and rich, and some of the
latter resembles our pastry, both in quality and flavour.
The dinners, I have said, are brought into the zeenahnah ready dished in
the Native earthenware, on trays; and as they neither use spoons or forks,
there is no great delay in setting out the meal where nothing is required
for display or effect, beyond the excellent quality of the food and its
being well cooked. In a large assembly all cannot dine at the dustha-khawn
of the lady-hostess, even if privileged by their rank; they are, therefore,
accommodated in groups of ten, fifteen, or more, as may be convenient;
each lady having her companion at the meal, and her slaves to brush off
the intruding flies with a chowrie, to hand water, or to fetch or carry
any article of delicacy from or to a neighbouring group. The slaves and
servants dine in parties after their ladies have finished, in any retired
corner of the court-yard--always avoiding as much as possible the presence
of their superiors.
Before any one touches the meal, water is carried round for each lady to
wash the hand and rinse the mouth. It is deemed unclean to eat without
this form of ablution, and the person neglecting it would he held unholy;
this done, the lady turns to her meal, saying, 'Bis ma Allah!'--(In the
name or to the praise of God!) and with the right hand conveys the food to
her mouth, (the left is never used at meals); and although they
partake of every variety of food placed before them with no other aid than
their fingers, yet the mechanical habit is so perfect, that they neither
drop a grain of rice, soil the dress, nor retain any of the food on their
fingers. The custom must always be offensive to a foreign eye, and the
habit none would wish to copy; yet every one who witnesses must admire the
neat way in which eating is accomplished by these really 'children of
The repast concluded, the lota (vessel with water), and the luggun
(to receive the water in after rinsing the hands and mouth), are passed
round to every person, who having announced by the 'Shuggur Allah!'--All
thanks to God!--that she has finished, the attendants present first the
powdered peas, culled basun,--which answers the purpose of soap in
removing grease, &c., from the fingers,--and then the water in due course.
Soap has not even yet been brought into fashion by the Natives, except by
the washermen; I have often been surprised that they have not found the
use of soap a necessary article in the nursery, where the only substitute
I have seen is the powdered pea.
Lotas and lugguns are articles in use with all classes of people; they
must be poor indeed who do not boast of one, at least, in their family.
They are always of metal, either brass, or copper lacquered over, or zinc;
in some cases, as with the nobility, silver and even gold are converted
into these useful articles of Native comfort.
China or glass is comparatively but little used; water is their only
beverage, and this is preferred, in the absence of metal basins, out of
the common red earthen katorah (cup shaped like a vase).
China dishes, bowls, and basins, are used for serving many of the savoury
articles of food in; but it is as common in the privacy of the palace, as
well as in the huts of the peasantry, to see many choice things introduced
at meals served up in the rude red earthen platter; many of the delicacies
of Asiatic cookery being esteemed more palatable from the earthen flavour
of the new vessel in which it is served.
I very well remember the first few days of my sojourn at Lucknow, feeling
something bordering on dissatisfaction, at the rude appearance of the
dishes containing choice specimens of Indian cookery, which poured in (as
is customary upon fresh arrivals) from the friends of the family I had
become a member of. I fancied, in my ignorance, that the Mussulmaun people
perpetuated their prejudices even to me, and that they must fear I should
contaminate their china dishes; but I was soon satisfied on this point: I
found, by experience, that brown earthen platters were used by the
nobility from choice; and in some instances, the viand would have wanted
its greatest relish if served in China or silver vessels. Custom
reconciles every thing: I can drink a draught of pure water now from the
earthen katorah of the Natives with as much pleasure as from a glass or a
silver cup, and feel as well satisfied with their dainties out of an
earthen platter, as when conveyed in silver or China dishes.
China tea sets are very rarely found in the zeenahnah; tea being used by
the Natives more as a medicine than a refreshment, except by such
gentlemen as have frequent intercourse with the 'Sahib Logue' (English
gentry), among whom they acquire a taste for this delightful beverage. The
ladies, however, must have a severe cold to induce them to partake of the
beverage even as a remedy, but by no means as a luxury. I imagined
that the inhabitants of a zeenahnah were sadly deficient in actual
comforts, when I found, upon my first arrival in India, that there were no
preparations for breakfast going forward: every one seemed engaged in pawn
eating, and smoking the hookha, but no breakfast after the morning Namaaz.
I was, however, soon satisfied that they felt no sort of privation, as the
early meal so common in Europe has never been introduced in Eastern
circles. Their first meal is a good substantial dinner, at ten, eleven, or
twelve o'clock, after which follow pawn and the hookha; to this succeeds a
sleep of two or three hours, providing it does not impede the duty of
prayer;--the pious, I ought to remark, would give up every indulgence
which would prevent the discharge of this duty. The second meal follows in
twelve hours from the first, and consists of the same substantial fare;
after which they usually sleep again until the dawn of day is near at hand.
It is the custom amongst Natives to eat fruit after the morning sleep,
when dried fruits, confectionery, radishes, carrots, sugar-cane, green
peas, and other such delicacies, are likewise considered wholesome
luxuries, both with the ladies and the children. A dessert immediately
after dinner is considered so unwholesome, that they deem our practice
extremely injudicious. Such is the difference of custom; and I am disposed
to think their fashion, in this instance, would be worth imitating by
Europeans whilst residing in India.
I have been much amused with the curious inquiries of a zeenahnah family
when the gardener's dhaullie is introduced. A dhaullie, I must first
tell you, is a flat basket, on which is arranged, in neat order, whatever
fruit, vegetables, or herbs are at the time in season, with a nosegay of
flowers placed in the centre. They will often ask with wonder--'How do
these things grow?'--'How do they look in the ground?'--and many such
child-like remarks have I listened to with pity, whilst I have relieved my
heart by explaining the operations of Nature in the vegetable kingdom, a
subject on which they are perfectly ignorant, and, from the habits of
seclusion in which they live, can never properly be made to understand or
I have said water is the only beverage in general use amongst the
Mussulmaun Natives. They have sherbet, however, as a luxury on occasions
of festivals, marriages, &c. This sherbet is simply sugar and water, with
a flavour of rose-water, or kurah added to it.
The hookha is almost in general use with females. It is a common practice
with the lady of the house to present the hookha she is smoking to her
favoured guest. This mark of attention is always to be duly appreciated;
but such is the deference paid to parents, that a son can rarely be
persuaded by an indulgent father or mother to smoke a hookha in their
revered presence;--this praiseworthy feeling originates not in fear, but
real genuine respect. The parents entertain for their son the most tender
regard; and the father makes him both his companion and his friend; yet
the most familiar endearments do not lessen the feeling of reverence a
good son entertains for his father. This is one among the many samples of
patriarchal life, my first Letter alluded to, and which I can never
witness in real life, without feeling respect for the persons who follow
up the patterns I have been taught to venerate in our Holy Scripture.
The hookha, as an indulgence of a privilege, is a great definer of
etiquette. In the presence of the King or reigning Nuwaub, no subject,
however high he may rank in blood or royal favour, can presume to smoke.
In Native courts, on state occasions, hookhas are presented only to the
Governor-General, the Commander-in-Chief, or the Resident at his Court,
who are considered equals in rank, and therefore entitled to the privilege
of smoking with him; and they cannot consistently resist the intended
honour. Should they dislike smoking, a hint is readily understood by the
hookha-bahdhaar to bring the hookha, charged with the materials,
without the addition of fire. Application of the munall (mouth-piece)
to the month indicates a sense of the honour conferred.
 _Jhilmil, chiq,_ the Anglo-Indian 'chick'.
 _Shatranji_, see p. 19.
 _Sozani_ (_sozan_, 'a needle'), an embroidered quilt.
 _Razai_, a counterpane padded with cotton.
 _Dopatta_, a double sheet: see p. 26.
 See p. 24.
 _Dastarkhwan_, see p. 108.
 'Ayishah, daughter of Abubakr, third and best loved wife of the
Prophet, though she bore him no child. The tale of the scandal about
her is historical, but it is treated as a calumny (_Koran_, xxiv.
II, 22, with Sale's note).
 Known as the _burqa_.
 Amir Taimur, known as Taimur Lang, 'the lame', was born A.D.
1336; ascended the throne at Balkh, 1370; invaded India and captured
Delhi, 1398; died 1405, and was buried at Samarkand. There seems to be
no evidence that he introduced the practice of the seclusion of women,
an ancient Semitic custom, which, however, was probably enforced on
the people of India by the brutality of foreign invaders.
 See p. 32.
 _Kabab_, properly, small pieces of meat roasted on skewers.
 _Nanbai_, a baker of bread _(nan)_.
 _Khir_, milk boiled with rice, sugar, and spices.
 _Mutanjan_, a corruption of _muttajjan_, 'fried in a pan'; usually in
the form _mutanjan pulao_, meat boiled with rice, sugar, butter,
and sometimes pine-apples or nuts.
 _Salan_, a curry of meat, fish, or vegetables.
 The left hand is used for purposes of ablution.
 The Musalman _lota_, properly called _badhna_, differs from
that used by Hindus in having a spout like that of a teapot.
 _Lagan_, a brass or copper pan in which the hands are washed: also
used for kneading dough.
 _Besan_, flour, properly that of gram (_chana_). The prejudice
against soap is largely due to imitation of Hindus, who believe
themselves to be polluted by fat. Arabs, after a meal, wash their
hands and mouths with soap (Burton, _Pilgrimage_, ii. 257). Sir G.
Watt (_Economic Dictionary_, iii. 84 ff.) gives a long list of other
detergents and substitutes for soap.
 The prejudice against the use of tea has much decreased since this
book was written, owing to its cultivation in India. Musalmans and
many Hindus now drink it freely.
 _Dali_, the 'dolly' of Anglo-Indians.
 See p. 13.
Plurality of wives.--Mahumud's motive for permitting this
privilege.--State of society at the commencement of the Prophet's
mission.--His injunctions respecting marriage.--Parents invariably
determine on the selection of a husband.--First marriages attended by
a public ceremony.--The first wife takes precedence of all
others.--Generosity of deposition evinced by the Mussulmaun
ladies.--Divorces obtained under certain restrictions.--Period of
solemnizing marriage.--Method adopted in choosing a husband or
wife.--Overtures and contracts of marriage, how regulated.--Mugganee,
the first contract.--Dress of the bride elect on this occasion.--The
ceremonies described as witnessed.--Remarks on the bride.--Present
from the bridegroom on Buckrah Eade.
The Mussulmauns have permission from their Lawgiver to be pluralists in
wives, as well as the Israelites of old. Mahumud's motive for
restricting the number of wives each man might lawfully marry, was, say
his biographers, for the purpose of reforming the then existing state of
society, and correcting abuses of long standing amongst the Arabians.
My authority tells me, that at the period of Mahumud's commencing his
mission, the Arabians were a most abandoned and dissolute people, guilty
of every excess that can debase the character of man: drunkards,
profligate, and overbearing barbarians, both in principle and action.
Mahumud is said unvariedly to have manifested kindly feelings towards the
weaker sex, who, he considered, were intended to be the companion and
solace of man, and not the slave of his ungovernable sensuality or caprice;
he set the best possible example in his own domestic circle, and
instituted such laws as were then needed to restrain vice and promote the
happiness of those Arabians who had received him as a Prophet. He forbade
all kinds of fermented liquors, which were then in common use; and to the
frequent intoxication of the men, were attributed their vicious habits,
base pursuits, and unmanly cruelty to the poor females. Mahumud's code of
laws relating to marriage restricted them to a limited number of wives;
for at that period they all possessed crowded harems, many of the
inhabitants of which were the victims of their reckless persecution; young
females torn from the bosom of their families and immured in the vilest
state of bondage, to be cast out upon the wide world to starvation and
misery, whenever the base master of the house or tent desired to make room
for a fresh supply, often the spoils of his predatory excursions.
By the laws of Mahumud his followers are restrained from concubinage; they
are equally restricted from forced marriages. The number of their wives
must be regulated by their means of supporting them, the law strictly
forbidding neglect, or unkind treatment of any one of the number his
followers may deem it convenient to marry.
At the period when Mahumud issued these necessary laws for the security of
female comfort and the moral habits of the males, there existed a practice
with the Arabs of forcing young women to marry against their inclination,
adding, year by year, to the many wretched creatures doomed, for a time,
to all the miseries of a crowded hut; and at last, when tired of their
persons or unable to provide them with sustenance, turning them adrift
without a home, a friend, or a meal. To the present day the law against
forced marriages is revered, and no marriage contract can be deemed lawful
without the necessary form of inquiry by the Maulvee, who, in the presence
of witnesses, demands of the young lady, 'whether the contract is by her
own free will and consent?' This, however, I am disposed to think, in the
present age, is little else than a mere form of 'fulfilling the law' since
the engagement is made by the parents of both parties, the young couple
being passive subjects to the parental arrangement, for their benefit as
they are assured. The young lady, from her rigid seclusion, has no prior
attachment, and she is educated to be 'obedient to her husband'. She is
taught from her earliest youth to look forward to such match as her kind
parents may think proper to provide for her; and, therefore, can have no
objection to accepting the husband selected for her by them. The parents,
loving their daughter, and aware of the responsibility resting on them,
are cautious in selecting for their girls suitable husbands, according to
their particular view of the eligibility of the suitor.
The first marriage of a Mussulmaun is the only one where a public display
of the ceremony is deemed necessary, and the first wife is always
considered the head of his female establishment. Although he may be the
husband of many wives in the course of time, and some of them prove
greater favourites, yet the first wife takes precedence in all matters
where dignity is to be preserved. And when the several wives meet--each
have separate habitations if possible--all the rest pay to the first wife
that deference which superiority exacts from inferiors; not only do the
secondary wives pay this respect to the first, but the whole circle of
relations and friends make the same distinction, as a matter of course;
for the first wife takes precedence in every way.
Should the first wife fortunately present her husband with a son, he is
the undisputed heir; but the children of every subsequent wife are equals
in the father's estimation. Should the husband be dissolute and have
offspring by concubines--which is not very common,--those children are
remembered and provided for in the distribution of his property; and, as
very often occurs, they are cherished by the wives with nearly as much
care as their own children; but illegitimate offspring very seldom marry
in the same rank their father held in society.
The latitude allowed by 'the law' preserves the many-wived Mussulmaun from
the world's censure; and his conscience rests unaccused when he adds to
his numbers, if he cannot reproach himself with having neglected or
unkindly treated any of the number bound to him, or their children. But
the privilege is not always indulged in by the Mussulmauns; much depends
on circumstances, and more on the man's disposition. If it be the happy
lot of a kind-hearted, good man to be married to a woman of assimilating
mind, possessing the needful requisites to render home agreeable, and a
prospect of an increasing family, then the husband has no motive to draw
him into further engagements, and he is satisfied with one wife. Many such
men I have known in Hindoostaun, particularly among the Syaads and
religious characters, who deem a plurality of wives a plague to the
possessors in proportion to their numbers.
The affluent, the sensualist, and the ambitious, are most prone to swell
the numbers in their harem. With some men, who are not highly gifted
intellectually, it is esteemed a mark of gentility to have several wives.
There are some instances of remarkable generosity in the conduct of good
wives (which would hardly gain credit with females differently educated),
not necessary to the subject before me; but I may here add to the praise
of a good wife among these people, that she never utters a reproach, nor
gives evidence by word or manner in her husband's presence that she has
any cause for regret; she receives him with undisguised pleasure, although
she has just before learned that another member has been added to his
well-peopled harem. The good and forbearing wife, by this line of conduct,
secures to herself the confidence of her husband; who, feeling assured
that the amiable woman has an interest in his happiness, will consult her
and take her advice in the domestic affairs of his children by other wives,
and even arrange by her judgment all the settlements for their marriages,
&c. He can speak of other wives without restraint,--for she knows he has
others,--and her education has taught her, that they deserve her respect
in proportion as they contribute to her husband's happiness. The children
of her husband are admitted at all times and seasons, without restraint or
prejudice; she loves them next to her own, because they are her husband's.
She receives the mothers of such children without a shade of jealousy in
her manner, and delights in distinguishing them by favours and presents
according to their several merits. From this picture of many living wives
in Mussulmaun society, it must not be supposed I am speaking of women
without attachment to their husbands; on the contrary, they are persons
who are really susceptible of pure love, and the generosity of their
conduct is one of the ways in which they prove themselves devoted to their
husband's happiness. This, they say, was the lesson taught them by their
amiable mother, and this is the example they would set for the imitation
of their daughters.
I do not mean to say this is a faithful picture of all the females of
zeenahnah life. The mixture of good and bad tempers or dispositions is not
confined to any class or complexion of people, but is to be met with in
every quarter of the globe. In general, I have observed those females of
the Mussulmaun population who have any claim to genteel life, and whose
habits are guided by religious principles, evince such traits of character
as would constitute the virtuous and thoroughly obedient wife in any
country; and many, whom I have had the honour to know personally, would do
credit to the most enlightened people in the world.
Should the first wife prove a termagant or unfaithful--rare occurrences
amongst the inmates of the harem,--the husband has the liberty of
divorcing her by paying down her stipulated dowry. This dowry is an
engagement made by the husband on the night of Baarraat (when the
bridegroom is about to take his bride from her parents to his own home).
On which occasion the Maulvee asks the bridegroom to name the amount of
his wife's dowry, in the event of separation; the young man is at liberty
to name any sum he pleases. It would not prevent the marriage if the
smallest amount were promised; but he is in the presence of his bride's
family, and within her hearing also, though he has not yet seen her;--it
is a critical moment for him, thus surrounded. Besides, as he never
intends to separate from the lady, in the strict letter of the law, he
cannot refrain from gratifying those interested in the honour he is about
to confer by the value of the promised dowry, and, therefore, he names a
very heavy sum, which perhaps his whole generation never could have
collected in their joint lives. This sum would of itself be a barrier to
divorce; but that is not the only object which influences the Mussulmaun
generally to waive the divorce; it is because they would not publish their
own disgrace, by divorcing an unfaithful or undutiful wife.
If the first wife dies, a second is sought after on the same principle
which guided the first--'a superior to head his house'. In this case there
would be the same public display which marked the first wife's marriage;
all the minor or secondary wives being introduced to the zeenahnah
privately; they are in consequence termed Dhollie wives, or brought
home under cover.
Many great men appear to be close imitators of King Solomon, with whose
history they are perfectly conversant, for I have heard of the sovereign
princes in Hindoostaun having seven or eight hundred wives at one time in
their palaces. This is hearsay report only, and I should hope an
The first marriage is usually solemnized when the youth is eighteen, and
the young lady thirteen, or fourteen at the most; many are married at an
earlier age, when, in the opinion of the parents, an eligible match is to
be secured. And in some cases, where the parents on both sides have the
union of their children at heart, they contract them at six or seven years
old, which marriage they solemnly bind themselves to fulfil when the
children have reached a proper age; under these circumstances the children
are allowed to live in the same house, and often form an attachment for
each other, which renders their union a life of real happiness.
There are to be found in Mussulmaun society parents of mercenary minds,
who prefer giving their daughters in marriage as dhollie wives to noblemen
or men of property, to the preferable plan of uniting them with a husband
of their own grade, with whom the girl would most likely live without a
rival in the mud-walled tenement; this will explain the facilities offered
to a sovereign or nobleman in extending the numbers of his harem.
Some parents excuse themselves in thus disposing of their daughters on the
score of poverty, and the difficulty they find in defraying the expenses
of a wedding: this I conceive to be one great error in the economy of the
Mussulmaun people,--unnecessary expense incurred in their marriage
ceremonies, which hampers them through life in their circumstances.
Parents, however poor, will not allow their daughter to be conveyed from
their home, where the projected union is with an equal, without a
seemingly needless parade of music, and a marriage-portion in goods and
chattels, if they have no fortune to give beside; then the expense of
providing dinners for friends to make the event conspicuous, and the
useless articles of finery for the girl's person, with many other ways of
expending money, to the detriment of the parents' finances, without any
very substantial benefit to the young couple. But this dearly-loved custom
cannot be passed over; and if the parents find it impossible to meet the
pecuniary demands of these ceremonies, the girl has no alternative but to
live out her days singly, unless by an agent's influence she is accepted
as a dhollie wife to some man of wealth.
Girls are considered to have passed their prime when they number from
sixteen to eighteen years; even the poorest peasant would object to a wife
There has been the same difficulty to encounter in every age of Mussulmaun
history in Hindoostaun; and in the darker periods of civilization, the
obstacles to settling their daughters to advantage induced the villagers
and the uneducated to follow the example of the Rajpoots, viz., to destroy
the greater proportion of females at their birth. In the present age, this
horrid custom is never heard of amongst any classes of the Mussulmaun
population; but by the Rajpoot Hindoos it is still practised, as one of
their chiefs very lately acknowledged in the presence of a friend of mine.
I have often heard Meer Hadjee Shaah declare that it was a common
occurrence within his recollection, among the lower classes of the people
in the immediate vicinity of Loodeeanah, where he lived when a boy; and
that the same practice existed in the Oude territory, amongst the
peasantry even at a much later date. One of the Nuwaubs of Oude,--I think
Asoof ood Dowlah,--hearing with horror of the frequent recurrence of this
atrocity in the remote parts of his province, issued a proclamation to his
subjects, commanding them to desist from the barbarous custom; and, as
an inducement to the wicked parents to preserve their female offspring
alive, grants of land were to be awarded to every female as a
marriage-portion on her arriving at a proper age.
It is generally to be observed in a Mussulmaun's family, even at this day,
that the birth of a girl produces a temporary gloom, whilst the birth of a
boy gives rise to a festival in the zeenahnah. Some are wicked enough to
say, 'It is more honourable to have sons than daughters', but I believe
the real cause is the difficulty to be encountered in settling the latter
The important affair of fixing upon a desirable match for their sons and
daughters is the source of constant anxiety in the family of every
Mussulmaun, from the children's earliest years to the period of its
There is a class of people who make it the business of their lives to
negotiate marriages. Both men and women of this description are of course
ingeniously expert in the art of talking, and able to put the best
colouring on the affair they undertake; they occupy every day of their
lives in roving about from house to house, and, as they have always
something entertaining to say, they generally gain easy admittance; they
make themselves acquainted with the domestic affairs of one family in
order to convey them to another, and so continue in their line of
gossiping, until the economy of every person's house is familiar to all.
The female gossip in her researches in zeenahnahs, finds out all the
expectations a mother entertains for her marriageable sons or daughters,
and details whatever she learns in such or such a zeenahnah, as likely to
meet the views of her present hostess. Every one knows the object of these
visits, and if they have any secret that the world may not participate in,
there is due caution observed that it may not transpire before this Mrs.
When intelligence is brought, by means of such agency, to the mother of a
son who happens to be marriageable, that a lady of proper rank has a
daughter to be sought, she consults with her husband, and further
inquiries are instituted amongst their several friends, male and female;
after due deliberation, the connexion being found desirable, the father
will consult an omen before negotiations are commenced. The omen to decide
the important step is as follows:--Several slips of paper are cut up, on
half the number is written 'to be', on the other half, 'not to be'; these
papers are mixed together and placed under the prayer-carpet. When the
good Mussulmaun is preparing for his evening Namaaz he fails not in his
devotions to ask for help and guidance in an affair of so much importance
to the father as the happiness and well-being of his son. At the portion
of the service when he bows down his head to God, he beseeches with much
humility, calling on the great power and goodness of God to instruct and
guide him for the best interest of his child; and then he repeats a short
prayer expressive of his reliance on the wisdom of God, and his perfect
submission to whatever may be His wise decree in this important business.
The prayer concluded, he seats himself with solemn gravity on the
prayer-carpet, again and again imploring Divine guidance, without which he
is sure nothing good can accrue: he then draws one slip from under his
carpet; if 'to be' is produced, he places it by his left side;--a second
slip is drawn out, should that also bear the words 'to be' the business is
so far decided. He then offers thanks and praises to God, congratulates
his wife on the successful issue of the omen, and discusses those plans
which appear most likely to further the prospects of their dearly-loved
son. But should the second and third papers say 'not to be' he is assured
in his heart it was so decided by 'that Wisdom which cannot err:' to whom
he gives praise and glory for all mercies received at His hand: after this
no overture or negotiation would be listened to by the pious father from
the same quarter.
The omen, however, proving favourable, the affair is decided; and in order
to gain the best possible information of the real disposition of all
parties concerned, a confidential friend is sent to the zeenahnah of the
young lady's mother to make her own observations on what passes within;
and to ascertain, if possible, whether the report brought by the female
agent was true or exaggerated; and finally, to learn if their son would be
received or rejected as a suitor, provided advances were made.
The female friend returns, after a day or two's absence, to the anxious
parents of the youth, and details all she has seen or heard during her
visit. The young lady may, perhaps, have been seen (this is not always
conceded to such visitors), in which case her person, her manners, her
apparent disposition, the hospitality and good breeding of the mother and
other members of the zeenahnah, are described; and lastly, it is hinted
that, all other things suiting, the young lady being yet disengaged, the
projected offer would not be disagreeable to her parents.
The father of the youth then resolves on sending a male agent in due form
to negotiate a marriage, unless he happens to be personally acquainted
with the girl's father; in which case the lady is desired to send her
female agent on the embassy, and the father of the youth speaks on the
subject in the meantime to the girl's father.
A very intimate friend of mine was seeking for a suitable match for her
son, and being much in her confidence, I was initiated in all the
mysteries and arrangements (according to Mussulmaun rule) of the affair
pending the marriage of her son.
The young lady to be sought (wooed we should have it), had been described
as amiable and pretty--advantages as much esteemed as her rank;--fortune
she had none worth mentioning, but it was what is termed in Indian society
a good and equal match. The overture was, therefore, to be made from the
youth's family in the following manner:
On a silver tray covered with gold brocade and fringed with silver, was
laid the youth's pedigree, traced by a neat writer in the Persian
character, on richly embossed paper ornamented and emblazoned with gold
figures. The youth being a Syaad, his pedigree was traced up to Mahumud,
in both paternal and maternal lines, and many a hero and Begum of their
noble blood filled up the space from the Prophet down to the youthful Meer
Mahumud, my friend's son.
On the tray, with the pedigree, was laid a nuzza, or offering of five gold
mohurs, and twenty-one (the lucky number) rupees; a brocaded cover,
fringed with silver, was spread over the whole, and this was conveyed by
the male agent to the young Begum's father. The tray and its contents are
retained for ever, if the proposal is accepted: if rejected, the parties
return the whole without delay, which is received as a tacit proof that
the suitor is rejected: no further explanation is ever given or required.
In the present instance the tray was detained, and in a few days after a
female from their family was sent to my friend's house to make a general
scrutiny of the zeenahnah and its inmates. This female was pressed to stay
a day or two, and in that time many important subjects underwent
discussion. The youth was introduced, and everything according with the
views entertained by both parties, the fathers met, and the marriage, it
was decided, should take place within a twelvemonth, when the young lady
would have accomplished her thirteenth year.
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