The Europeans have given the name of Hindoostan to that beautiful portion of Asia, which is commonly called the East Indies. According to the native geographers, Hindoostan Proper extends only from Thibet to the river Nerbudda, and consequently comprehends about half of the Peninsula. All that lies to the south of this line they denominated Deccan. Following the practice of the European geographers, we shall apply, indiscriminately the name of India or Hindoostan, to the whole region which is bounded on the east by the Ganges, on the west by the Indus on the north by the mountains of the Thibet and Tartary, and on the South by the ocean.
Nature seems to have taken delight in lavishing upon this beautiful country her most valuable gifts. Beneath a serence sky and an ever -brilliant sun, the soil produces exquisite species of fruit, and diffuse fertility over every part of the country. The cotton- plant furnishes in profusion the material for the light garments adapted to the climate. The Traveller, whether he journeys along the cost, or penetrates into the interior, is enchanted with a succession of scenery of superlative beauty.
It is not by objects, however that the mind of the philosophic observer is most powerfully struck. Immense cities, now too larger for the reduced number of their inhabitants, and still adorned with the ruins of magnificent temple and tombs; and wonderful edifices, which have not even transmitted to us the names of their founders, attest at once the ancient splendour and the present degradation of the people of Hindoostan. But amidst the ruins of these master-pieces of the arts, the manners and customs of the natives seem to have remainded unchanged and exhibit the same features under which they were portrayed by the Greeks, who visited India two thousand years ago.
Nature in Bestwing upon Hindoostan all that was calcuted to tempt rapacity of foreigners whose country had not been favoured with the like advantage seems to have denied to the people of this highly favored region the strength and courage with the like advantages seem to have denied to the people of this highly: they have therefore, been successively subdued by the Persians, the moguls, and the Europeans. Their Institutions have no doubt tended to facilitate the conquests of these nations. The voluntary penances to which certain devotees doom themselves for life prove at least that the Hindoo is not deficient either in courage or fortitude: but the odious institution of castes which has condemned the greatest part of the inhabitants of India to perpetual abjection and misery could not fail to degrade their souls and stifles within them every feeling of love for a country which knew them not or for a government which oppressed instead of protecting them. When this institution was first established it was natural to expect that it would be revolting to those classes of the people whom it so deeply humbled. To prevent the effects of their discontent it was deemed necessary to enchain them by the terrors of religion. Hence all those superstitious practices which accompany the Hindoo from his cradle to his death. The laws, manners and customs nay the useful arts themselves, are all subject to religion which interferes with even the most indifferent actions of life: and as it was no doubt apprehended that despair would drive the Hindoo to seek a more comfortable life in a less genial clime a religious injunction forbade him to pass the Indus.
Times, superstition and the very necessity of dying in the caste and the profession in which he was born, have by degrees accustomed the Hindoo to his fate. Provided you leave him his usages and his superstitions which time and habit have rendered essential to him he cares not who is his master. Such is probably the cause of the little resistance experienced by the conquerors who have successively reduced this country.
Be that as it may if we except some military tribes who have had the good sense to shake off the yoke of this law of castes and have hitherto retained their independence, there is scarcely any part of Hindoostan but is now under foreign dominion: indeed the whole of the Peninsula if not actually subject to the British government may be said to be under its influence.
With each new conquest the number of foreigners settled in the country was increased to such a degree as at length perhaps, to exceed that of the original natives. Hence the difficulty of furnishing an accurate description of the people of India. A writer has in fact to treat not of a single nation, but of a great number of nations intermixed together. Under the same sovereign and in the same country we find a nation of Mahometans another of Christians, a third of Guebres and a fourth of Hindoos each of which is subdivided into as many more nations as there are different castes sects or tribes. Among the Mahometans for instance some are sectaries of Ali, others of Omar. These came from Arabia to India, those from Tartary or Persia: and all brought with them opinions manners and customs widely differing from one another and from those of the natives.
If we moreover consider the number of British French Portuguese Dutch Armenians and foreigners of all nations either settled in the various parts of India or incessantly traveling through the country on commercial business we shall be still more sensible of the difficulty of doing justice to its population. No wonder then that in the earlier accounts there is so much confusion exaggeration and inaccuracy. Indeed we may truly assert that before the appearance of the Asiatic Researches, and the works of Hodges Rennell Daniell, Moor, Slvyns Buchanan Forbes Broughton &c. &c. India was but very imperfectly known to European.
Not only have these and other recent publications been consulted in the compilation of these volumes but material assistance has also been derived from private sources and chiefly from a collection in four folio volumes containing coloured drawings of the Hindoo deities and the natives of all professions executed by a Hindoo artist for and under the inspection of M. Leger formerly governor of Pondicherry and now in the possession of M. Nepveu bookseller of Paris. Seven eighths of the plates which illustrate this work are engraved from those designs and great part of the explanations relative to the trades of the Hindoos which accompany them have been introduced into these volumes.
The first treats of the religion, the religious opinions and sects of the Hindoos.
The second and the greater part of the third are occupied with the first caste of the Bramins, and whatever is connected with them such as the religious ceremonies marriages funerals laws and superstitions.
The latter part of the third volume is devoted to the second caste or the caste of the rajahs and the military and consequently embraces all that relates to government armies encampments, &c.
The fourth and half of the fifth volume treat of the third and fourth castes and describe the trades and professions followed by the persons belonging to those castes.
The security of person and property is an advantage enjoyed by the natives of British India in a degree unknown under any other eastern government. Of this the Hindoos themselves are so sensible that many of them who had fled from the tyranny of their native rulers have been known to return to their respective countries as soon as the latter became subject to the British dominion under which they can peaceably Purdue their professions and the practices enjoined by their religion. The natural results of this security and indulgence are an increase of population and an agricultural and commercial prosperity never attained by those provinces under their former sovereigns.
When we farther consider the establishment of the College of Calcutta for the study of the native languages and literature of India; the ardour with which these are cultivated by many of our countrymen in the east as is abundantly attested by the Asiatic Researches, and other publications; when we moreover reflect on the zeal which is manifested in the establishment of missions and the preparation of translations of the sacred Scriptures in the different dialects of the vast peninsula of Hindoostan we cannot help viewing in the events which have placed so large a portion of it in British hands the dawn of an era brought about by providence for the purpose of conferring the blessing of civil and religious liberty on the hitherto enslaved Hindoos, of communicating to them the light of genuine science and producing an immense accession to the mass of human happiness.
From the Jacket
Hindoostan is a major contribution to the study of the encounter between Europeans and non- Europeans in the early colonial period. It is an in -depth analysis of Hindu society politics and religion it offers a detailed and systematic study of character manners habits and costume of the Hindu way of life as the author encountered. It is further embellished by the presence of upwards of one hundred coloured engravings dating back to the year 1822. It records a description of the people of India, which as rightly pointed out by the editor is 'not a single nation but a great number of nations intermixed together.' Hindoostan tries to capture the verve and variety of this land and it is unique in its effective conceptualization of a vast cultural terrain.
Hindoostan is a rare documentation by a European, edited by Frederic Shoberi about the western perception of the ways and customs of the east. It is for those interested in the historiography of the period. This book is a treat for students and scholars of anthropology and ethnography as well as for book lovers and collectors.
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