Page images


(Referred to, vol. i. pp. 270, 272, and p. 320, of this volume.)

On the Origin of Casts in India; together with an Account of the different Classes of Brahmins, and their respective Pursuits.

THE division into four distinct casts or tribes, of a people so numerous as the Hindus, and diffused over so large a portion of the globe, together with the invariable duration of that institution through a series of so many ages, is perhaps one of the most extraordinary circumstances to be found in the history of social order; especially when the humble state of the fourth class, or great body of the people, is considered.

The Hindu tradition concerning the origin of casts is, that, on the creation of human beings, the Brahmins proceeded from the mouth of Brahma; the Cshatryas from his arms; the Vaisyas from his thighs; and the Sudras from his feet. To the first was committed the instruction of mankind; to the second, their protection; to the third, the cares of traffic and agriculture; and to the fourth, servitude.

With respect to the privileged cast of Brahmins, when the Hindu institutions existed in their purity, there were four religious orders (Asrama) to one of which every Brah

min belonged; the two first were obligatory, the other two optional.

I. The Brachmachari, or those who studied, and occupied themselves with the study of theology. The second book of the Institutes of Menu contains the rules of this order. The principal of these are, residence in the house where they study and are instructed, strict celibacy, and subsisting on alms.

II. The Griharta, or housekeeper. The third, fourth, and fifth books of Menu comprise rules for his observance, and the means by which he may lawfully gain a subsistence.

III. The Vanaprastha, or hermit, having no house or fixed habitation, but living in woods, and generally retired from the usual haunts of man.

IV. The Yati, or Yoghi, who devotes himself to penances and the performance of extraordinary vows.

The Griharta, or Brahmin-householder, is directed to derive a subsistence from sacrificing and teaching; and to employ his time in study. Hence there is a great variety of appellations for the various sub-divisions of such employments; as, 1st, Guru, a spiritual preceptor ;-2d, Acharya, a teacher of the Vedas;-3d, Upadhyaya, a teacher of a particular part of it ;-4th, Ritvij, an officiating priest ;5th, Purochita, a family priest to a king, or man of rank; ---6th, Yajya, one who gains a subsistence by performing sacrifices for individuals ;—7th, Grama Yajyaca, a priest hired by the inhabitants of a village to perform religious rites;-8th, Devalaca, a priest who has the charge of a temple. The three last offices are considered to be mean, and are never held by men of learning or family. Besides the above appellations, there are innumerable others, derived from the particular studies to which individuals



have devoted themselves; as, Srotriya, one skilled in the Vesta;-Smarta, learned in the law;—Jyautisha, an astrologer, &c. &c.

Brahmins exercising these functions, and distinguished by these appellations, are found over every part of India at this day. But, exclusive of the occupations assigned by Menu to the sacerdotal class, multitudes of Brahmins are now found in the army and engaged in commerce. This deviation is not the consequence of distinctions among them, but the result of the general license granted by Menu, in times of distress, to seek a subsistence by the duties of inferior classes, when it cannot be procured by their own. The permission and its restrictions are contained in the tenth book of the Institutes of Menu. The whole period that has elapsed since the conquest of India, by the Mohammedans, is considered by Hindu casuists as a time of distress; and individuals have sought a subsistence, or fortune, by professions from which they were originally excluded. In a country where every man pursues the profession of his father, this naturally led to certain families of Brahmins becoming, in their occupations and pursuits, entirely secular, though this circumstance does not at all detract from the respect they personally require from the inferior classes, or exempt them from restrictions in regard to diet, from mixing with other tribes, or from the observance of other rules originally prescribed to their class.


(Referred to, vol. i. p. 301.)

Historical Sketch of the Mahrattas.

THE first person upon record, who distinguished himself as chief of the Mahratta nation, and who may be considered as the founder of their empire, was Seeva, or Seeva-jee, who began to flourish so lately as about the middle of the 17th century. His great grandfather, Bhaugah Booslah, is said to have been an illegitimate son of Rana Bheem, sovereign of the Rajahpoot State of Oudiapoor, and of the most ancient race of Hindu princes. Booslah finding himself, on account of the illegitimacy of his birth and the obscure origin of his mother, of no consideration at Oudiapoor, went into Candeish, where, after having acquired considerable wealth and reputation in the service of a Rajah of that province, he quitted it, and purchased a tract of land near to the city of Poonah. Booslah left a son, named Maulo-jee, who, after the death of his father, entered into the service of a chief, named Jaddoo Roy. His son, named Shah-jee, married the only daughter of Jaddoo. From that marriage was born Seevajee, in the year 1628. In consequence of a dispute between Jaddoo Roy and his son-in-law Shah-jee, the latter, quitting him, entered into the service of the King of Beejapoor, who gave him the command of 10,000 horse, and, as is frequently practised in India, a Jagheer for the

charge of maintaining them. Shah-jee married a second wife, named Toka Bee, by whom he had a son, named Eko-jee, who was afterwards Rajah of Tanjore. Shahjee was killed, in 1667, by a fall from his horse in hunting, and was succeeded by his son, Seeva-jee. The King of Beejapour dying, Seeva-jee, taking advantage of feuds that then prevailed, resolved to make himself independent; he accordingly took arms, and, having made himself master of several important places, they were afterwards, together with their territories, ceded to him by his late master's widow, who exercised the office of Regent.* Seeva-jee established his chief residence at Sattarah, about fifty miles from Poonah. Having declared hostility to the Mohammedans, numerous Hindus resorted to his standard. Aurengzebe, unable to subdue him, and finding some of his finest provinces constantly exposed to his incursions, entered into an accommodation with him, by which the Mahrattas pretend, that he consented to their having a certain part of the clear revenue of the Deckhan, which has been denominated Choute. This real or pretended arrangement, furnished them with a pretext for invading the territories of the different princes and viceroys of the southern provinces of the empire, in order to levy what was claimed by them.

Seeva-jee, who had taken the title of Rajah of Satarah, dying in the year 1680, left the extensive territories he had acquired to his son Samba-jee. In 1689, Samba-jee was assassinated, and, it is alleged, at the instigation of Aurengzebe, with whom war had been renewed. He was succeeded by his son Saho-jee, or, as named by some, Rajah

* Tavernier mentions his having seen this Queen-Regent.

« PreviousContinue »