Page images

united.” The matter on which they are assembled being then exposed, they proceed to deliberate upon it, to adopt plans of conduct, and if in danger of being attacked by any power, or in case of resolving to wage war themselves, they chuse generals to lead their armies. * The army thus assembled, is called the D'al Khalsa, or army of the state.

The chiefs are all descended from Hindū tribes, “ and there is no instance of any Sikh of a Mohammedan family attaining any high situation among them.” The hatred, entertained by the followers of Guru Govind against his persecutors, exists with all its primitive warmth; the offspring of those who changed Islamism for the Sikh faith, are not regarded with the same cordiality as the Sikhs of Hindū origin ; and the Mohammedans, who yet remain in the Sikh territories, though numerous, are a poor, oppressed, and despised people; while the Sikhs in general, Singhs and others, are secured from violence; not only by the precepts of their religion, but by the state of the country, which, being divided under numerous chieftains, enables those who may be dissatisfied with their own particular chief, to quit him, and soon place themselves under another, perhaps his enemy or rival. The persons to whom the chiefs commit the management of the revenue and other civil employments, are Sikhs, named Khalasa, who are strict followers of the doctrines of Nanac, and brought up to peaceful occupations.

* General Malcolm observes, that the first GuruMata was assembled by Guru Govind, and the latest he knew of, in 1805, when the Mahratta chief, Holkar, fled into the Panjab, and the British army, under Lord Lake, went thither in pursuit of him.

It is a general rule throughout the Panjab, and we presume through the Sikh territories in general, that the chiefs, or proprietors of the land, should receive onehalf of its produce, and the cultivator the other half: “ but the chief never levies the whole of his share, and in no country, perhaps, is the Rayat, or cultivator, treated with more indulgence.”* The portion to the chief in grain, is paid in kind, but the sugar-cane and other articles of produce, in money, by estimation. The distracted state in which the Panjab was so long involved, and afterwards, the heavy duties exacted by the different chiefs on the transit of merchandize through their territories, had induced the merchants of other parts of India, in their commerce with Cashmire, instead of bringing their goods, as formerly, through the Panjab, to carry them by the circuitous and mountainous tract through Jammu, Nadôn, and Srinagur; but the Sikh chiefs seeing the hurtful consequences of their impolitic exactions, have for some years past, by a wise and moderate conduct, restored confidence to the merchant, and the immense quantity of shawls brought yearly into the peninsula of India, now passes through the cities of Lahore and Amritsar.*

* Sketch of the Sikhs, by General Malcolm.

The administration of justice among the Sikhs is in a comparatively loose and imperfect state; for, though their sacred writings inculcate certain general maxims, they are not considered as positive laws, like the institutes of Menu among the Hindūs, or the Korān among the Mohammedans. The decision of criminal matters, and civil cases of importance, depends almost entirely on the will of the chief. Trifling contests, and matters of property to a certain amount, are settled by the heads of the village where the parties reside, by whom they are mutually chosen. This is called Panjayat, or court of five, the number of arbitrators. Such courts and modes of proceeding, are much in use among the Hindūs in general; and as the members of it are chosen from men of the best reputation, there is rarely

* Mr. Elphinston, in his account of Cabul, estimates the number of shawls made annually in Cashmire at eighty thousand.

cause to complain of injustice or partiality in their decisions. *

The Sikhs have, in general, the Hindū cast of countenance, though by the Singhs it is somewhat disfigured by their long beards. + The Singhs are bold, and, perhaps, rather rough in their address, but this is less the effect of character, than a habit of speaking in a loud tone of voice, for they have no intention to offend, or be imperious. I The Sikh merchant, or

* General Malcolm, in his Sketch of the Sikhs, says, that a Sikh priest who had been several years at Calcutta, spoke of this mode of administering justice, with rapture; and insisted, says the general, “ with true patriotic prejudice," on its great superiority to the system and forms of the English laws, which were, he said,

tedious, vexatious, and expensive, and advantageous only to a set of clever rogues.

† Tour to Lahore, As. An. Reg. vol. xi.

I “ The old Sikh soldier generally returns to his native village, where his wealth, courage, or experience, always obtains him respect, and sometimes station and consequence. The second march which the British army made into the country of the Sikhs, the headquarters were near a small village, the chief of which,

« PreviousContinue »